Monday, October 23, 2017

All transit lines (?) lead to Rome

If you were to make a big Venn diagram with fans of transit maps in one big bubble and followers of ancient history in another big bubble, I’m not sure how big the intersecting space would be.  But I’m in it!  And gathering from the response to Sasha Trubetskoy’s transit-style map of the main roads of the Roman Empire, there are quite a few of us!
You can see Sasha’s original posting here, with review in CityLab here and Cameron Booth’s Transit Maps site (he gives it four stars – not an easy achievement!) here.  It’s proven so popular that he’s added a more detailed “transit map” of Roman Road in Britain (here).
Sasha notes that he had to “take some liberties” to make this work, but partially that’s a matter of combining a diagrammatic layout with a geographic one.
My only nerdy quibble: the sea connection between Brundisium and Dyrrachium,  a key link between east and west and between Italy and the Via Egnatia, should be shorter.

And yes, you can order a copy.


New study: EV Fast Charging Corridors within reach

A major new study from the US Department of Energy finds that installing Fast Chargers for Electric Vehicles at frequent intervals on the Interstate Highway System is eminently feasible and could have a great impact in accelerating EV adoption (National Plug-In Electric Vehicle Analysis, available here).
The authors say – and I agree – that long-distance travel has been a critical barrier to EV adoption, because people who travel long distances often, or even occasionally, are worried about running out of juice.  The obvious answer, although not universally agreed, is “providing access to an extensive and convenient network of DCFC [Fast Charger] stations along corridors that enable reliable long-distance intercity travel.”
The good news is that “wiring” the Interstate is not that much of a stretch: “Results suggest that relatively few corridor DCFC stations could enable long-distance BEV [battery-only electric vehicle] travel between U. S. cities, where vehicles are concentrated.  Under most scenarios, the number of required stations is similar to the number of DCFC stations already established by Tesla or the number planned by Electrify America within the next two years.”

Electrifying the Interstate with Fast Chargers can make a big difference, and according to this new study is readily attainable.  Folks, we need to make this happen.


Thursday, October 12, 2017

UK: Accelerating the Shift to Low Carbon Transport

Not long after I commented on plans in England (here) and Scotland (here) to advance the electrification of the transportation system, the central (UK) government has put out a report covering much of the same ground.  The report (news story here, link to text here) is actually much broader in scope, detailing a laundry list of initiatives to advance “clean growth” and meet statutory targets for controlling greenhouse gas emissions.
The transportation section – “Accelerating the Shift to Low Carbon Transport” – doesn’t offer much that is new.  But it is useful in reminding us of the commitment of the UK government – a Conservative government – to major GHG reductions.
Some highlights of the transportation policies and proposals list:
·      Reiterates the commitment to ending the sale of conventional gasoline and diesel cars by 2040,
·      Allocates funding to support the Highways England goal of installing EV rapid chargers at 20-mile intervals on 95% of the strategic highway network,
·      Advocates legislation to require new charging stations to be “smart enabled” to encourage off-peak charging,
·      Funds development and implementation of Local Cycling and Walking Infrastructure Plans,
·      Establishes subsidies for alternative fuel taxis, and
·      Supports research and development of alternative fuel propulsion for heavy trucks, trains, and airplanes.

Oh, and did I mention this is the policy of a Conservative government?


Thursday, September 21, 2017

New England Villages: Guilford CT

As noted in recent posts, I have been working on a project which looks at the viability of using historic New England village centers as a framework for supporting 21st rural development.  The idea is that the village model can be updated to support sustainable development in the countryside and to serve as a counterweight to large-lot, exurban sprawl.  I did some field visits recently and thought I would share some highlights.
Guilford CT is a town of some 22,000 people, about 15 miles east of New Haven, on I-95 and Shore Line East.  It isn’t really a village, but it does have one asset that many people in Connecticut view as the epitome of a New England village – a magnificent green.

Now as people who have studied New England village greens will tell you (especially see the definitive book on the subject: The New England Village (Creating the North American Landscape) by Joseph Wood, available here) they come in all sorts of shapes and sizes.  The Guilford green is notable for being big (nearly 12 acres) and rectangular.  It is mainly open space (used as an outdoor concert venue), with only a few monuments – the main one a handsome Civil War monument dedicated to the men of Guilford who died in the war.  The streets bounding the green are home to churches, the town hall, private homes, and a nice business district of small shops.  The look and function of the town green have changed over the nearly four centuries it has been in use (see an interesting history here), but it has continued to be the iconic center of town and by serving as a sort of archetype of the town green it has shared its symbolic value with other New Englanders.







New England Villages: Chester CT

As noted in recent posts, I have been working on a project which looks at the viability of using historic New England village centers as a framework for supporting 21st rural development.  The idea is that the village model can be updated to support sustainable development in the countryside and to serve as a counterweight to large-lot, exurban sprawl.  I did some field visits recently and thought I would share some highlights.
Chester CT is a town of about 3700 (1500 in the center), some 12 miles north of Old Saybrook, in the Connecticut River Valley.  The village center is notable mainly for its collection of art galleries, craft shops, and boutiques along Main Street in the valley of the Pattaconk Brook.  It’s about a 20-minute drive to the Old Saybrook train station on the growing Shore Line East commuter rail line (there is also a bus, which takes twice as long, with two-hour headways).

Chester may not have much to teach us about village form, but it definitely shows that the right, picturesque setting can attract a vibrant arts community and the tourists that that brings.  What economists call the “agglomeration” effect can be seen in villages as well as cities.






Sunday, September 17, 2017

New England Villages: Storrs Center CT

As noted in recent posts, I have been working on a project which looks at the viability of using historic New England village centers as a framework for supporting 21st rural development.  The idea is that the village model can be updated to support sustainable development in the countryside and to serve as a counterweight to large-lot, exurban sprawl.  I did some field visits recently and thought I would share some highlights.

I have written about the Storrs Center “new town” project in Mansfield CT a number of times, most recently when the town was officially built out (here).  The very short version is that a new, village-like, mixed-use development has been built across the street from the University of Connecticut campus in rural eastern Connecticut.  Now having had a chance to revisit Storrs, I have to say that using my eyeballs and legs confirmed what I had seen online.  It is a first-rate piece of urban design, with human-scale architecture, a great mix of activities (including the only state puppet museum in the US!), and a welcoming vibe.  Storrs is a great working model that I – and I’m sure others – will continue to follow closely in the years to come.






Thursday, September 14, 2017

New England Villages: Storrowton Village Museum

As noted in recent posts, I have been working on a project which looks at the viability of using historic New England village centers as a framework for supporting 21st rural development.  The idea is that the village model can be updated to support sustainable development in the countryside and to serve as a counterweight to large-lot, exurban sprawl.  I did some field visits recently and thought I would share some highlights.
Storrowton Village is a recreated village, located on the grounds of the “Big E” exposition in West Springfield MA.  It was created in the 1920s by philanthropist Helen Storrow, who organized and funded the purchase of nine historic New England buildings, dated from the late 18th and early 19th century, and their relocation to the fairgrounds, where they stand today as a living history museum.  Her intent, as stated in the museum’s current literature, was to recreate “a village such as our forefathers built on hills, crossroads and along rivers. Although Storrowton’s buildings come from different states and are of different periods of construction, together they form a typical New England Village and include a Meeting House, Schoolhouse, General Store, Blacksmith Shop, Tavern, Law Office and historic homes all surrounding a traditional village green.”
The museum is at its most active during the Big E fair (in 2017 from September 15 – October 1), but also hosts educational programs for children and a year-round restaurant (Storrowton Tavern).  (See the museum’s website here.
So what does Storrowton Village teach us about the possibility of a 21st Century “New” New England Village?  It displays, in three dimensions, the archetypes of ideal village buildings and, to a lesser extent, the archetype of a village layout (around a very geometric “green”).  These archetypes resonate over time and are powerful still.

If you like fairs (especially if you have younger kids), the Big E (website here) is terrific.  The Storrowton Village Museum is worth a visit any time you are in western Massachusetts.






Wednesday, September 13, 2017

New England Villages: Collinsville CT

As noted in a recent post, I have been working on a project which looks at the viability of using historic New England village centers as a framework for supporting 21st rural development.  The idea is that the village model can be updated to support sustainable development in the countryside and to serve as a counterweight to large-lot, exurban sprawl.  I did some field visits recently and thought I would share some highlights.
Collinsville CT is a classic New England mill village, located in the town of Canton, in the lovely Farmington River Valley, about 15 miles west of Hartford.  Canton has a   population of about 10,000, while the Collinsville census area has about 2,700.
Collinsville was a “company town” serving the Collins Axe Company, which finally went out of business in 1966.  The village has survived and even thrived.  To quote the town’s master plan:  “The business district of Collinsville is a wonderful mix of small retail shops, quasi‐industrial service businesses, restaurants, offices, arts culture, and residential units.  The residential housing includes single family houses, two family units, multi‐unit residential buildings, and residential housing above business establishments.  Most of the area is very pedestrian friendly. In many respects, Collinsville represents the mixed‐use vision that many communities are looking to re‐create in their own village centers.”

So, Collinsville has a lot of the ingredients we are looking for in a 21st-century New England village.  What it could really us now is redevelopment of the beautiful (but dilapidated) mill buildings.  There are some antique shops there now, but one can envision loft housing, incubator businesses, craft shops, etc.  Know any buyers/developers?






New Report Summarizes New Jersey Transportation Dilemmas

The Fund for New Jersey has been publishing a major series of issue papers ahead of next year’s state elections and has now taken on transportation.  “Transportation Must Again Be the Backbone of New Jersey Economy” crisply outlines the key dilemmas facing state policymakers (full report here, two-page summary here; full disclosure, I contributed to the development of the report).
The four main issues:
First, although New Jersey enacted a 23-cent (!) increase in the gas tax in 2016, there are still major funding shortfalls and misallocations.  The funding influx staves off bankruptcy for the state’s Transportation Trust Fund but doesn’t solve long-term problems.  Operations and maintenance are starved for funding on both the highway and transit sides, made up for in part by transfers from capital to operating and by damaging fare increases. 
Second, the massive Gateway rail projects connecting New Jersey to New York are in desperate need of more funding and an accelerated schedule.  These projects are needed not just to cope with the massive growth in rail traffic but to prevent a transportation nightmare.  While our attention is understandably and appropriately concentrated on the human misery and costly damages caused by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, New Jersey and New York are still dealing with the effects of Superstorm Sandy.  To quote the report:
“Corrosive salts left by Superstorm Sandy’s flooding are eating away at the concrete walls and electric-traction and signal systems in the tunnel. Engineers project that, in the next 10 to 20 years, each of the two tubes will have to be taken out of service for overhaul. If either tube goes out of service before a replacement is operational (estimated to be in 2026), today’s peak commuter and intercity service of 24 trains an hour (21 NJ Transit and three Amtrak) would shrink to six.”
Third, the governance structures of New Jersey’s transportation agencies (NJDOT, NJ Transit, the toll authorities) have lots of tangled inefficiencies, often a result – as the report notes – of politicians focusing on the perceived “optics” of government at the expense of actual good practice.  At NJDOT there are chronic staff shortages in key areas, and the management structure has been hollowed out by years of salary compression.  The report makes several recommendations for better governance.
Fourth, New Jersey – like other states – needs to catch up with rapidly evolving transportation technology.
If you read the transportation report and wonder: where is a discussion of land use?  and climate change?  The answer is that those discussions are in an earlier report in the series, “Climate Change Adds Urgency to Restoring Environmental Protection” (see my posting, with links, here).

Congrats again to the Fund for New Jersey for taking on this daunting task!


Monday, September 11, 2017

Scotland goes electric

The Scottish government, which has control over the roads on its own turf within the United Kingdom, has announced plans to accelerate its support for electric vehicles (stories here and here).  The main steps are (1) phasing out the sale of gasoline and diesel vehicles by 2032 (ahead of the overall UK target) and (2) greatly expanding the installation of electric vehicle charging stations.  The current project to dualize 80 miles of the A9, the main road between Perth and Inverness, will include new chargers – enough to make it the “first fully electric-enabled highway” in Scotland.  More details on the EV plans and broader climate change initiatives will be announced in the near future.

Can someone remind me why we can’t do this in the US?

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

New England Villages: Washington Depot CT

I have recently been working on a project which looks at the viability of using historic New England village centers as a framework for supporting 21st rural development.  The idea is that the village model can be updated to support sustainable development in the countryside and to serve as a counterweight to large-lot, exurban sprawl.  I did some field visits recently and thought I would share some highlights.

Washington Depot is the main village center in Washington, Connecticut, a town of about 3,500 people, located about 50 miles west of Hartford.  What first drew my attention to the town was a reference in David Owen’s Green Metropolis.  That book (available here) mostly talks about the (counterintuitive) environmental virtues of New York City, but contains a fascinating discussion of Washington:
Among the most picturesque and locally cherished sections of my town are the old village green and the oldest of our three small business districts.  Both arose long before cars or the concept of zoning, and both have numerous fundamental features that standard zoning regulations explicitly forbid in new construction: the lots are small, the buildings are close to each other and close to the road, public parking is scarce, and commercial and residential uses are mixed, seemingly arbitrarily.  These features—which are among the defining characteristics of the village centers of all picturesque old New England towns…are the ones that make visitors stop their cars and take photographs.  Yet nothing remotely resembling either neighborhood could be built in our town today under our basic regulations for business or residential districts, because as is the case in most towns, our standard rules regarding lot coverage, building setbacks, parking spaces, and the separation of uses, among other things, prohibit them. (page 112)

Washington Depot is today a charming, compact village center nestled in the Shepaug River valley, with an excellent mix of shops and services, although few residents.  The upscale nature of the place is exemplified by an excellent independent bookstore and a J. McLaughlin shop.  Could it become a mixed-use, walkable/bikeable, sustainable village center, modeling rural density in a beautiful, green setting?  Absolutely it could.  The town’s master plan recommends adding infill development, building out the street grid, and providing sidewalks, traffic calming, and other measures to fulfill this goal.  And the town has commissioned a preliminary study (map follows) of potential sites for infill development.

Unfortunately, there are also real obstacles:
·      The zoning issues that Owen mentions are at least in part a result of NIMBYism led by upper-income transplants from the city who want to keep their version of a rural lifestyle, which means large-lot development,
·      There is no public sewage system, and
·      The village center is in a 100-year floodplain.

The master plan indicates that under current zoning the town’s population could more than double in the future – most of it in large-lot, single-family homes, weighing heavily on the environment.  Hopefully, the Washingtonians will choose a better future for their charming town.

Following are a few photos of the village and the conceptual infill development map.




Monday, August 7, 2017

Rest areas should have farmers’ markets

Why don’t all rest areas have farmers’ markets?
Farmers’ markets (or farmstands) provide fresh local produce and farm products for travelers and cash income for local farmers, while advertising the virtues of the host state and the local countryside.
So, why don’t all rest areas have farmers’ markets?
Mainly because of institutional barriers.  (Which, by the way, is no excuse for the poor traffic design and inadequate traveler information at typical rest areas.)

(See below – Jersey tomatoes on the Atlantic City Expressway!  Thanks to South Jersey Transportation Authority.)

UK “drives forward” with EV infrastructure

You may have heard that the UK plans to ban the sale of gasoline and diesel vehicles by 2040 (story here).  You may even have heard that they are experimenting with air quality barriers and canopies to clean the air along highways (story here).
Perhaps less sexy – but I think just as important – is the fact that they are committed to providing electric vehicle charging stations along all major highways (see their new plan here).
“Highways England,” the agency that operates motorways and trunk roads (roughly equivalent to the US Interstate and National Highway Systems) is committed to building a “comprehensive national network” of rapid charging stations, with a goal of placing charging stations at 20-mile intervals on 95 percent of their system.  These will be rapid (30-minute) chargers where feasible.

We need to catch up in this country!

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Climate Change Adds Urgency to Restoring Environmental Protection

A true statement, and also the name of a new report focusing on New Jersey.  The Fund for New Jersey is publishing a series of reports developed by expert groups and aimed at influencing policy debate in the 2017 election cycle for Governor and Legislature (New Jersey, like Virginia, is an odd-year state).  The series, called Crossroads New Jersey (website here), will cover seven topics: state fiscal policy, climate and environment, criminal justice, education, housing and land use, jobs and the economy, and transportation (full disclosure: I participated in the transportation group).
The climate change and environment report (full report here, two-page summary here) advocates a set of “common-sense policies” that will form the framework of “a sustained, well-coordinated effort to prevent climate change from being disastrous for New Jersey.”
Sadly, many of these recommendations would simply restore New Jersey to where it was a decade or so ago.  At that time, New Jersey had a vigorous statewide planning mechanism, aggressive climate change and energy programs, intensive regional planning in environmentally sensitive area (e.g., the Pinelands), and a state DOT in the forefront of linking transportation and land use planning.  These policies fit well with the state’s advantages for the 21st century: a location at the heart of the Northeast Mega-region, an affluent and educated population, enough population density to support transit and walkable communities, a robust (if aging) infrastructure, and a governmental system and political culture oriented toward finding and implementing solutions.  Alas, the past decade has seen considerable slippage in the state’s situation.  The Crossroads New Jersey project, however, looks squarely ahead, “to promote aspiration and action, not blame.”
Some of my favorite recommendations from the report:
·      Rejoin the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative – Should be a no-brainer, but here we are.
·      Expand electric car infrastructure and accelerate expansion of fast charging stations – Despite noble efforts by the Transportation and Climate Initiative (cited in the recommendations) and others, state governments in the Northeast have a very mixed record of putting electric vehicle infrastructure in the ground.  New Jersey should be a leader here!
·      Develop a climate-change action plan to address the coastal threats from rising sea levels; the plan should include effective growth-management strategies, sustainable-development practices, and protective shoreline-management practices – Superstorm Sandy had a huge impact on New Jersey, but the state has not yet made the tough decisions that are needed to ensure a sustainable, resilient shoreline.
·      Update the State Development and Redevelopment Plan, Pinelands Comprehensive Management Plan, and Highlands Regional Master Plan to address the threats New Jersey faces – As I suggested earlier, the statutory and institutional infrastructure for comprehensive planning (including climate change, sustainable energy, and environmental protection) is in place, but it has been allowed to become – in the report’s word – moribund. 
Congrats to the Fund for New Jersey for taking on this challenge.  Let’s hope they are successful in informing the political debates.

Meanwhile, stay tuned for more reports!