This book, along with Happy City which I read just after this, was a real eye-opener for me. I enjoyed this book so much that immediately wanted to read more about city planning – thus, Happy City. Compared to Happy City, this book really makes the economic case for good urban planning. For better or worse this book comes across as anti-automobile. This will turn-off people who are very attached to their cars. However, for those open minded enough to see a better – or at least different way – car ownership is really self-defeating.
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This book is not about why cities work or how cities work, but about what works in cities. And what works best in the best cities is walkability. Walkability is both an end and a means, as well as a measure. While the physical and social rewards of walking are many, walkability is perhaps most useful as it contributes to urban vitality and most meaningful as an indicator of that vitality.
Get walkability right and so much of the rest will follow.
whether intentionally or by accident, most American cities have effectively become no-walking zones. In the absence of any larger vision or mandate, city engineers—worshiping the twin gods of Smooth Traffic and Ample Parking—have turned our downtowns into places that are easy to get to but not worth arriving at.
The main thing that makes Rome—and the other winners: Venice, Boston, San Francisco, Barcelona, Amsterdam, Prague, Paris, and New York—so walkable is what we planners call “fabric,” the everyday collection of streets, blocks, and buildings that tie the monuments together. Despite its many technical failures, Rome’s fabric is superb.
Clearly, there is more to walking than just making safe, pretty space for it.
The General Theory of Walkability explains how, to be favored, a walk has to satisfy four main conditions: it must be useful, safe, comfortable, and interesting.
Almost 85 percent of money expended on cars and gas leaves the local economy22—much of it, of course, bound for the pockets of Middle Eastern princes.
While transportation used to absorb only one-tenth of a typical family’s budget (1960), it now consumes more than one in five dollars spent.
Particularly affected have been our children. While fully 50 percent walked to school in 1969, fewer than 15 percent do now.
In the mid-1970s, only about one in ten Americans was obese, which put us where much of Europe is right now. What has happened in the intervening thirty years is astonishing: by 2007, that rate had risen to one in three,
As recently as 1991, no states had adult obesity rates over 20 percent. By 2007, only one state, Colorado, was under 20 percent.
Excessive weight now kills more Americans than smoking.
Car crashes have killed over 3.2 million Americans, considerably more than all of our wars combined.
While the United States in 2004 suffered 14.5 traffic fatalities per 100,000 population, Germany, with its no-speed-limit autobahns, suffered only 7.1. Denmark rated a 6.8, Japan a 5.8, and the U.K. hit 5.3.27 And who beat them all? New York City, with a rate of 3.1. Indeed, since September 11, 2001, New York has saved more lives in traffic than it lost on 9/11.
If our entire country shared New York City’s traffic statistics, we would prevent more than twenty-four thousand deaths a year.
The basic theory held true: car crashes far outweighed murder by strangers as a cause of death in all locations and, in older cities like Pittsburgh, the inner cities were considerably safer overall.
Closer to home, a Miami study found that “after driving their cars across the city for forty-five minutes, university students had higher blood pressure, higher heart rates, and lower frustration tolerance.”
Unsurprisingly, people with longer commutes report “lower satisfaction with life” than those who drive less.
As a result, the most green home (with Prius) in sprawl still loses out to the least green home in a walkable neighborhood.
“LEED architecture without good urban design is like cutting down the rainforest using hybrid-powered bulldozers.”
economist Ed Glaeser, who puts it this way: “We are a destructive species, and if you love nature, stay away from it. The best means of protecting the environment is to live in the heart of a city.”
Sure, New York consumes half the gasoline of Atlanta (326 versus 782 gallons per person per year). But Toronto cuts that number in half again, as does Sydney—and most European cities use only half as much as those places. Cut Europe’s number in half and you end up with Hong Kong.
The gold standard of quality-of-life rankings is the Mercer Survey, which carefully compares global cities in the ten categories of political stability, economics, social quality, health and sanitation, education, public services, recreation, consumer goods, housing, and climate.
The highest-rated American cities in 2010, which don’t appear until number 31, are Honolulu, San Francisco, Boston, Chicago, Washington, New York, and Seattle.
Washington, D.C., is one of a handful of American cities that can accurately be described as car-optional. New York, Boston, Chicago, San Francisco, and not many others, provide an equivalent or better quality of life for the carless,
Lewis Mumford declared that “our national flower is the concrete cloverleaf,”
induced demand is the great intellectual black hole in city planning,
Traffic studies are bullshit. They are bullshit for three main reasons: First: The computer model is only as good as its inputs, and there’s nothing easier than tweaking the inputs to get the outcome you want.
Second: Traffic studies are typically performed by firms that do traffic engineering.
guess who gets the big contract for the roadway expansion that the study deems necessary?
Finally, and most essentially: The main problem with traffic studies is that they almost never consider the phenomenon of induced demand. Induced demand is the name for what happens when increasing the supply of roadways lowers the time cost of driving, causing more people to drive and obliterating any reductions in congestion.
The metro area with the highest estimated road building cost was Nashville, Tennessee with a price tag of $3,243 per family per year.
congestion actually saves fuel—and ultimately is one of the only things that does.
Everybody likes Jane Jacobs, right? She was famous for fighting traffic engineers, and took them to task repeatedly and effectively in her masterpiece, The Death and Life of Great American Cities. Most planners and many public servants swear by that book, but few have read Dark Age Ahead, in which, forty years later, she took off the gloves.
Beyond giving new life to the areas previously blighted by the highways, these road removals have actually been found to reduce overall travel times within their cities. The most celebrated, and properly so, has got to be the Cheonggyecheon (pronounced chung-yay-chun) Freeway in Seoul, where a traffic-choked elevated expressway was hauled down in the mid-2000s, daylighting the river that it had obscured for half a century.25
It would seem that only one thing is more destructive to the health of our downtowns than welcoming cars unconditionally and that is getting rid of them entirely. The proper response to obesity is not to stop eating, and most stores need car traffic to survive. With autos reintroduced, most failed pedestrian malls, like Monroe Place in Grand Rapids, have come back at least partway. The key is to welcome cars in the proper number and at the proper speed.
Mayor Ken Livingstone proposed the only known cure, economics. Against “a massive and sustained media campaign,”36 he introduced a roughly fifteen-dollar fee for any driver who wanted to enter the congested heart of the city on weekdays, with the revenue to be used to support a progressive transportation agenda. Here’s what happened: Congestion dropped 30 percent in the toll zone, and typical journey times went down by 14 percent. Cycling among Londoners jumped 20 percent and air pollution fell about 12 percent.
Ivan Illich, the multinational intellectual who in 1973 wrote the smartest thing that I have yet to read about transportation: “Beyond a certain speed, motorized vehicles create remoteness which they alone can shrink. They create distances for all and shrink them for only a few.”
This is remarkable. Compared to our colonial ancestors, we throw 25 percent more of our national and personal resources into transportation and we ultimately move no faster. But we do move farther,
Illich discovered a hidden physical law: the faster a society moves, the more it spreads out and the more time it must spend moving.
Parking covers more acres of urban America than any other one thing3—just look at an aerial photo of downtown Houston—
Rather than parking working in the service of cities, cities have been working in the service of parking, almost entirely to their detriment.
The first step to understanding how parking works is to get a grasp of how much it costs and who pays for it. Because it is so plentiful and often free to use, it is easy to imagine that it costs very little.
The cheapest urban parking space in America, an 8½-by-18-foot piece of asphalt on relatively worthless land, costs about four thousand dollars to create—and not much urban land is worthless. The most expensive parking space, in an underground parking garage, can cost forty thousand dollars or more to build.
In between those extremes is the standard aboveground urban parking structure, which can usually be built for between twenty and thirty thousand dollars per space.
In 2010, the first nationwide count determined that there are half a billion empty parking spaces in America at any given time.
When parking is no longer the exclusive property of an individual business, it becomes much more efficient. A space that serves an office during the day can serve a restaurant in the evening and a resident overnight.
That is, Americans require parking and limit density, while Europeans require density and limit parking.
With rare exceptions, every transit trip begins and ends with a walk. As a result, while walkability benefits from good transit, good transit relies absolutely on walkability.
Roughly a third of Washingtonians and San Franciscans take transit to work, and the majority of New Yorkers do. Perennial sprawl stars like Jacksonville and Nashville, on the other hand, hover below 2 percent, no matter how you measure them.
According to America’s Finest News Source, The Onion, “98 percent of U.S. commuters favor public transportation for others.”
He determined that each resident of the seven high-quality cities paid roughly $370 more per year for public transportation than a resident of the other forty-three, but saved $1,040 in vehicle, parking, and road costs.
A true neighborhood has a center and an edge, and contains a wide variety of activities in close proximity within an armature of pedestrian-friendly streets and public spaces.
The only way to reduce traffic is to reduce roads or to increase the cost of using them, and that is a bitter pill that few pro-transit cities are ready to swallow.
And without true walkability on both ends of the line, your system is a nonstarter.
If your goals are efficiency and pleasure, rail beats bus hands down.
Recognizing that only 5 percent of pedestrian collisions at twenty miles per hour result in death, versus 85 percent at forty mph,
What makes a sidewalk safe is not its width, but whether it is protected by a line of parked cars that form a barrier of steel between the pedestrian and the roadway.
The other way that cities increase traffic flow at the expense of pedestrians is with the “right on red” rule. God knows, I love this as a driver, but, as Jan Gehl puts it, “the widespread American practice of allowing cars to ‘turn right on red’ at intersections is unthinkable in cities that want to invite people to walk and bicycle.”27 It is banned in the Netherlands.
cycling has got to be the most efficient, healthful, empowering, and sustainable form of transportation there is.
Closer to home, and supposedly part of America, the most bike friendly of our sizeable cities has got to be Portland.
Pedaling Revolution—the seminal book on urban cycling—
the regular cyclists were as fit as the noncyclists ten years younger
From an ecological perspective, then, most U.S. cities offer too much grassland and too little forest.
Get the design right and people will walk in almost any climate.
This error points the way to the first question to ask before investing in walkability: where can spending the least money make the most difference?