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In some previous energy independence diaries (list below the fold), I have mentioned retrofitting the suburbs. That is because suburban sprawl creates gross energy inefficiency. However, one of the common objections, when this point is raised, is that Americans are not going to vote for policies to pack them into dense urban landscape ... Americans, we are told, like the space.

SO I am sketching out how this may work. Retrofitting outer suburbs means recreating the option in the outer suburbs of living in conditions like a compact small town. In the town that I am writing from, large numbers of people drive everywhere they go. However, it is possible to walk to the supermarket, the post office, a pastry shop, a coffee shop, etc.

The sketch of retrofitting an outer suburb begins below the break, and then continues in Part 2. Crossposted from the OAC

Energy Independence Diaries:


 title=

A Dedicated Transport Corridor

The first step to retrofitting an outer suburb is to have a dedicated transport corridor. I am being very deliberate here in not saying a rail corridor or a light rail corridor. Now, rail and light rail was exactly what we were busy building before the auto uber alles development system emerged in the Roaring Twenties and was locked into place by government policy in the Great Depression and immediately after WWII. I am not going to rule out Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) if a locality prefers that option ... as long as the BRT runs through the outer suburb in a dedicated corridor that is free of interference by auto traffic.

There are two reasons why a dedicated transport corridor is essential to the retrofit of an outer suburb. The first is the inflexibility of its route. The second is the interaction between auto congestion and public transport on a dedicated corridor.

A dedicated transport route is much less flexible than the public right of way relied on by motorist and transport cyclists. And that is a very important virtue. That means that development can be planned around stops on the dedicated transport route. Clustering higher density housing (an idea of what that means is sketched below) around those stops means both walk-up demand (from local residents) and walk-past demand (from park and ride users of the public transport) to attract local entrepeneurs. That means that traffic can be attracted to those stops by the establishments in the vicinity. And that is when it becomes a virtuous circle.

Unexpected Allies In the Process

An important ally in this process are local property owners. Under suburban sprawl development, an increase in land values in one place drives larger establishments away from that area, toward cheaper land with not-yet-congested access, and heavy public subsidies for greenfield development. Transport on the public right of way ... cars, cyclists, city buses where they are available ... must then chase the "big boxes" retailers, resulting in the steady increase in miles driven per year to do the things needed for everyday life. However, with a dedicated transport corridor in place, there is only so far a retailer can go before sacrificing a part of the market to someone else.

So land values in the area immediately surrounding a dedicated transport corridor can rise farther than they can elsewhere in outer suburbia. Now, this won't be widely recognized at first. Once the process has started in a few localities and people can see the effect for themselves, property owners will move from undermining public transport access to putting locations forward for stops on the route.

The second reason that a dedicated corridor is the foundation for the strategy is the interaction between traffic congestion and commute times. Increasing traffice congestion is an automatic side-effect of urban sprawl development. If everyone drives further and further each year, then everyone's car is on the road for more and more of the day, so there is more traffic congestion at more places during more periods of the day.

A bus on the public right of way slows down with the cars around it, as traffic congestion increases. Add to that the fact that the bus must stop to take on and let off passengers, and buses are always slower than cars. Now provide a public transport option on a dedicated transport corridor. It does not matter whether it is a bus, train, light rail, or monorail, it does not slow down as traffic congestion worsens, and so the worse traffic congestion becomes, the more attractive the public transport option becomes.

This brings the second major ally into view: motorists. When the transport choice is car or nothing, then no matter how bad the traffic gets, people still have to drive. However, when there is an alternative option, then when congestion gets bad, some drivers will take the public transport instead, which will ease the traffic congestion. The more attractive the public transport option becomes, and the more tasks you can accomplish via public transport, the more likely that other bozo over there will get off the road.

This is simply recognizing that in a traffic jam, the relationship between the American and the Automobile is a Love-Hate relationship ... love ours, hate everyone else's. And congestion is not "linear", but gets worse faster the closer a road gets to full capacity. So taking 10% of the traffic off the road reduces the experience of congestion by more than 10%.

An Example Dedicated Transport Option: the Aerobus

Now, I can say, "whatever option the locality prefers", but to make a sketch, I'll have to use one as an example. I'm going to use the Aerobus, simply because it avoids many site specific problems in the same general way ... by going over them. The Aerobus can be thought of as an upside down subway. It is suspended from its tracks, where it also taps the power to run, with the wheels and engines in an enclosed pod on top, and the passenger cars hanging underneath.

The special twist of the Aerobus is that suspension cable is used to suspend the track. The use of suspension cable means that the overhead structure is less obtrusive than a monorail, elevated light rail line, or elevated rail line. It also means that the support pylons can be much further apart, which keeps the capital cost down. In outer suburban conditions, the pylons can be up to a mile apart.

So in our sketch, we have a number of Aerobus lines from outer suburbs converging to interchange stations interconnecting with existing urban maa transit, if they exist, and continuing on to substantial traffic destinations in the urban core. If this is a typical US city, there may well be an outerbelt, which may be provided with an Aerobus system shadowing the loop, running direct to the main destinations that have emerged in "edge city".

Again, this is a sketch ... this technology lets me leave the city in the background as a couple of rough pencil strokes with some suggestive shading. There may be a river crossing, an Interstate interchange built without allowing for a dedicated transport corridor, etc ... an elevated option lets me leave those details in the background.

However, it also lets me point out, as an aside, the apparent difference between the ambition of America and China for transport infrastructure projects. The Chinese already have an Aerobus system under construction, due to open in mid 2008. The first clip on the Aerobus multimedia page gives a promo for the WeiHai project, providing transport from the city of WeiHai to Liugong Island, with the "Star Tower" as the middle stop on the run.

And here begins .... Part 2 ... Energy Independence: Retrofitting Outer Suburbia, The Sketch

Also, for many more links and for much more on what would be happening in the city at this time, you can go to the Transit Oriented Development website (or google Transit Oriented Development).

Originally posted to BruceMcF on Sun Nov 19, 2006 at 02:08 PM PST.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip comment ... (25+ / 0-)

    ... With the new Ajax editor, if the "preview diary" gives a red flag on the intro being more than 1150 characters long, then it doesn't matter how many times you "preview intro", no matter how much text you take out of the intro.

    There won't be a recount to let you see the magic "publish diary" page until you hit the "preview diary" again.

  •  Put Yourself In This Picture (5+ / 0-)

    I don't know why the tail end of the diary is clipped. This is the final section.

    So now I can pull the sketch together ... though I should say sketches, because I am going to follow the Community Transformations model of sketching stages of transformation.

    In Stage One, the corridor itself is put in place, and the supporting social framework for infill development ... Connie Mae, density-based utility connection fees, zoning changes, changes in taxes and subsidies ... the whole ball of wax. So what you have is what you have now, except for the transport corridor. At each spot is parking for park and ride use of the line, the owners of the highest appeal shopping centers along the line that played along may have a bus interchange, a share of the residents in the suburb who work in the urban area accessed by the line can sit reading their paper or paperback while their hapless colleagues are trapped in the traffic jam below.

    In Stage Two, the suburban village clusters have started to spring up, as developers start to build ... and some of those hapless colleagues decide they want to live near the option to avoid the traffic. Those suburban villages start to attract a mix of local commercial development, with a handful of small professional offices that find the location more convenient than a free standing office park.

    In Stage Three, the increase share of foot traffic coming via the corridor increases the demand for pedestrian friendly development in the vicinity of the main shopping center stops along the line. Indeed, Stage Three may look very much like the Community Transformation pictures, because a radial light rail  (or BRT) corridor may be demanded by commercial establishments who are located off the main dedicated transport corridor ... duplicating the pre-WWI system of interurbans and trolly lines. And of course, as the main shopping center becomes more pedestrian friendly, there will be an increase in demand for professional office space in that area.

    The end picture, then, is a mix of town centers, mini-villages and single dwelling suburban settlement. The energy efficiency of the system per person is substantially higher, further improved by decentralized energy production, and a smaller share of that demand must be served with liquid fuel.

    Of course, that means that a larger share of energy is coming from electricity ... to run transport on the corridor and a major share of transport to reach the corridor. Where that electricity is to come from ... well, that is where Sustainable Energy Independence has to be very careful about the climate crisis and CO2 emissions. That means that the next Energy Independence diary could be about the Winds Of Lake Erie.

  •  This is HUGE! (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    RunawayRose, tryptamine, murasaki

    the diary, that is...
    Everytime i hear the words switchgrass i wanna take a switch to w's ass.

    i am going to post THIS link  http://www.sciencedaily.com/...
    every time an energy diary appears.
    Research like this is what we need to start funding

  •  Kudos on this ... (5+ / 0-)

    ...fine Diary.

    In the 1980s, before Los Angeles began building its light-rail, heavy-rail system (now about one-third complete after massive spending and massive delays and screw-ups and political manuevering), one thing that was pushed hard but didn't get enough support until recently was the idea you support here, namely: That means that development can be planned around stops on the dedicated transport route.

    One expert fellow, whose name escapes me, proposed 5- to 10-story buildings atop every subway stop, combination commercial-residential buildings whose developers would PAY enough for development rights to build the stations themselves. Always a good idea, in my view.

    A little OT:

    Ventura County, California, supervisors are currently looking at an ordinance that would require any house over 3500 square-feet to have an energy "footprint" that is no more than a house that is 3500 square-feet or less.

    Now, given than I live in a solar-powered house that is less than 1750 square-feet, I'd like to see that 3500 reduced considerably, the concept behind this possible ordinance is an excellent one, and one that can be employed quite effectively in those outer suburbs.

    •  Yes, this is the approach used in Sydney ... (0+ / 0-)

      ... not in every part of their (extraordinarily complex, because of the way that it grew over time and co-opted freight lines) rail network, but when it is passing through an urban core.

      At the busiest destination station in the Sydney system, Town Hall, you exit the underground station to the north and have two options to go through to shopping arcades ... one, the classic Queen Victoria Building, retrofitted to being a shopping arcade (and I encourage clicking through to the Wikipedia article, the pictures say it all).

  •  Excellent (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    RunawayRose, tryptamine, Floja Roja

    Going to take some time to absorb all the info. Thanks for taking the time to look at some of the best planning options for smart suburbia growth in the future.

    Recommended.
  •  There's a group (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Ignacio Magaloni

    called Forest Conservation Council that sued the US Army Corps of Engineers for their approval of new suburbs despite the fact that the EPA cites sprawl as an environmental problem.

  •  Wow, awesome. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    RunawayRose

    I am definitely hotlisting this.  

  •  Costs? (0+ / 0-)

    What's the level of cost for this type of development?

    Is it something that a city can undertake with a couple bond measures or is state/federal assistance needed?

    And if I laugh at any mortal thing, 'T is that I may not weep;

    by splinterbrain on Sun Nov 19, 2006 at 03:36:19 PM PST

    •  What is the level of cost for the Interstate ... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      jfm

      ... Highway System?

      These kind of systems can be installed in dense urban areas with local resources and project finance, but to extend them to the outer suburbs, you at the very least have to match the heavy subsidy given to the car system in the outer suburbs.

      For me, the most sensible funding model is to dedicate a stream of federal funds to each county and municipality on a per-capita basis, with the limitation that it be used for a dedicated transport corridor connecting to the center of the larger Local Travel Area.

      It would then be up to the locality whether they are interested in building sooner, topping up with their own funds, or later, once the account has reached its own level. The requirement to connect to the center of the larger LTA is the element that pushes municipalities to work together on regional corridors.

  •  Megalopolis (0+ / 0-)

    Would the logical end game for this type of development be something like Stephenson's (and others') megalopolis stretching from Boston to Atlanta?

    I could see a spine of dedicated transport stretching down the east coast with suburbs spreading out to the east and west of it and smaller dedicated corridors extending out east and west at occasional intervals.

    And if I laugh at any mortal thing, 'T is that I may not weep;

    by splinterbrain on Sun Nov 19, 2006 at 03:39:47 PM PST

    •  The logical end game depends on the area. (0+ / 0-)

      The logical end game in Ohio would involve one or more of these corridors connecting Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinatti, and another lakeshore connecting Cleveland, Toledo and through northern Indiana to Chicago ... with stretches of that corresponding to the last turn of the century interburbans, which is to say scheduled services with 2 hour intervals or longer.

      And, as with the interurbans, it may well be that there are not through services as such, but rather two interurbans meeting at an endpoint ... the commercial logic being that the transfer traffic (for both systems) at the endpoint provides better patronage than an endpoint that is left dangling. And it would certainly connect through to interregional transfer centers ... airports and, one day, long distance rail.

      The logical end game further west may be a collection of star systems that tie in to regional airports and long distance rail.

  •  (1) Excellent work! (2) Decentralization. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Strabo

    (1) Excellent work! Thanks for linking to your related diaries.  I look forward to reading them.

    (2) Decentralization. Here in metro Atlanta, the big problem is property values.  If you want a reasonably safe neighborhood with good schools, you must either (a) have a lot of money so you can afford to live intown, or (b) settle for an affordable place way out in the sprawling 'burbs.  If we could figure out the MONEY -- how people could afford to live within walking or bicycling distance from work -- most people would jump at the chance to ditch their boring, time-consuming, stress-filled auto commutes.  Then there would be great public demand for walkable or bikeable communities -- they would be figured out on a decentralized basis, without the need for giant bureaucracies.  Here is my shot at figuring out the money. (The snail-mail address and phone at this link are no longer good, but the email address is.)

    -4.25, -4.87 "Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it's time to pause and reflect." -- Mark Twain

    by HeyMikey on Sun Nov 19, 2006 at 03:46:11 PM PST

  •  MBTA all the way!! (0+ / 0-)

    spent the weekend just outside Boston and experienced the bus/subway system and it works pretty damn good. Made it easy to get in/out and around the city for 5 bucks each for the day, much cheaper and easier than finding parking,let alone finding your way around a very "unplanned" !

    The people shouldn't fear the government, the government should fear the people!

    by raygungnu on Sun Nov 19, 2006 at 03:53:30 PM PST

    •  Trouble With This Plan (and MBTA) Is... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      mimuspolyglottis

      Every great idea needs to overcome the power of the ubiquitous selfish NIMBY group.  Hell, the little piss-pot highway inaccessible community of Swampscott can't even get a bike trail built on an old railbed.

      Population is up, ridership is up, demand is high, but the communities served by decades of transit access are strangling the system by ignoring the need for system expansion.  One Boston suburb, Newton, has three commuter rail stops and dozens of express bus and subway stops but their board of Alderman has been trading local parking ban votes like baseball cards for years so the sytem is inaccessible for anyone not living within walking distance.  Before moving out, I couldn't even park in front of my own house between 8:00 AM and 10:00 AM on a weekday.  Imagine my surprise to find the petitioners who banned my parking were the only ones invited to the public hearing.

      I still work in the city and can now walk to a station (so hooray for me and screw everyone else I guess?),  but there are people living a couple miles away who are unable to park locally unless they arrive before 6:30 AM.  The answer was a large new station on a brownfield but it is a 10 mile mind numbing drive in rush hour traffic.

      If anyone thinks the solution is that people can ride a bike 5 miles to the local train station ('transport corridor vehicular access point'), sit in a tin cattle car for another 40 minutes, then walk or take another cattle car (rinse and repeat in opposite direction to get home), they are living in a dream world.

      Why shouldn't one option be that the post 50's phenomenon of suburban sprawl may become extinct?  Will all those McMansions be carved up into 6 unit rooming houses?  It happened before it can (an most likely will) happen again.

      •  That board of Alderman can take the system or ... (0+ / 0-)

        ... leave it. Even if this is a federally funded program as part of an Energy Independence policy, there is nothing in this kind of system to force local communities to tap federal money on offer.

        And by and large parking fights are less of an issue in the outer suburbs than in the inner suburbs.

        But the example given of the local Aldermen is an example of the kind of thing that makes me favor Federal funding on a community account model.

        Where this kind of system picks up momentum, just as where the Interstate Highway System started picking up momentum, is if the communities that agree to take advantage of that funding then find that there are positive financial wins for local developers, which then starts to feed the "discovery" that this would be a good thing in other communities in the area. Because the real estate industry is a major source of advertising income for local newspapers, and a developer consensus quickly or slowly filters out to affect the broader consensus.

        And over the next two years, as the construction industry continues to slow down, this kind of public works program will start to gain in appeal.

  •  Nassau County (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Austin in PA, mimuspolyglottis

    Nassau County, NY (on Long Island) is the oldest and most developed suburb in the US. It is the home of the original post WWII tract developments for returning veterans like Levittown.

    Since there is virtually no open space and there is still a desire to accommodate a growing population planners have been look at various plans. One of the most promising is changing the zoning in the small villages to permit taller buildings near the existing Long Island Railroad stations. These would be residential with shops at ground level. There would also be changes to permit multi-level parking, but not as many spots as existing codes require. The idea is that being close to the station people would need fewer cars.

    Many of the village mayors are interested in the idea but there is still a great deal of resistance to change by those who are afraid it will kill the "small town" feel.

    Even if this gets adopted it does nothing to fix the problem that the majority of people within the county now drive to a job within the county. So the old model of dad taking the train to Manhattan is breaking down. Even with a well developed rail system there is no fix for those needing to go north and south instead of east and west. This is why the Long Island Expressway was just widened (again) to four lanes (one HOV) each way - it didn't help.

    Many suburbs (NJ is a good example) have people driving to suburban office parks. Mass transit isn't going to help much in this case either.

    What is needed is planned communities where work, shopping, schools and homes are all close together.

    •  The above was not focused on the ... (0+ / 0-)

      ... situation of expanding the reach of an existing transport corridor ... it is left (as discussed in more depth in part 1) in the background.

      Part 2 goes into more depth on the zoning for mixed use around stops ...

      Even if this gets adopted it does nothing to fix the problem that the majority of people within the county now drive to a job within the county.

      ... it does not eliminate the problem, at least not up front, but it does address the problem for those who work in the mixed use zone around the station.

      No retrofit will provide the same opportunities as ground up development, but then again realizing the gains available from retrofitting will help drive new developments to top what the retrofitting can do.

      The specific technology used in the sketch may have higher capital costs than BRT (depending on the degree of grade separation), but has lower capital costs than traditional light rail and monorail. For a surface rail line, then if there is a suitable approach, it is straightforward to add an elevated interchange platform that crosses above the rail platforms, to provide a crosscutting line that reaches out to bring new traffic drivers into contact with the commuter rail as well as in direct contact with each other.

  •  SkyTrain... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    mimuspolyglottis

    Having used the SkyTrain in Bangkok quite a bit, having used it to escape the slow-crawl traffic of rush hours in Bangkok, I see a need for this type of efficient people mover in most of our urban settings.

    But to make something like this work, IMO, one needs to have the option of personal transportation at both ends of the system.  Walking just isn't going to happen for the majority of the population if they live/work more than a block or two from the station.

    Why not small electric personal vehicles at the residential end.  Plug them in over night and take them to the station/run errands the next day.  Small, lightweight, efficient, small parking footprints, some cargo room for groceries, the ability to pull a small trailer for a short distance when you need to get that new washer home.

    Heck, you could have suburban "feeder buses" cruising the neighborhoods during the commute hours.  Great part-time employment for semi-retired folks.

    At the other end municipality owned personal transportation.  More of the small electrics, Segways, bikes, whatever.  Reserve one over the web/cell phone.  Activate it with a card swipe.  Have a pick it up/return it to the station service for one way use.

    And make sure that there are sufficient "real" car and pickup rentals available for when people need to haul more or go further.

    "It's time we get back to our future." MJF

    by BobTrips on Sun Nov 19, 2006 at 05:13:55 PM PST

    •  You're filling in more of the sketch ... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      jfm

      ... the point is, if it is financed at the federal level in terms of its contribution to Energy Independence, then the original personal transportation at the household end of the system is primarily park and ride, then walk up, then cycle and ride. That is "Stage One" which used to be above (now its in part 2).

      The feeder buses are already in the sketch.

      I expect that as fuel becomes more expensive, and then (unless we plan ahead well enough) hard to obtain, all the other adjuncts to expand the number of people and the variety of transport tasks will occur, because that is the logic of a dedicated transport route ... it pulls the support services that it needs. Look at all the gas stations along the Interstate Highway exits around the country, most of which basically live off of local traffic going to and from the Interstate.

      And yes, that would include people selling appliances and furniture that actually deliver.

    •  picture electric cars & scooters available (0+ / 0-)

      for downtown use lined up in nice little bike barns/ramadas, the roof of each barn covered with solar panels, serenely charging up the vehicles. At least in sprawling sunbelt cities....

  •  the toronto plan (0+ / 0-)

    I read through the Toronto plan some months ago. IIRC, Toronto is attempting to incorporate most of what you recommend into the long-term plan for the city. We'll see if they follow through. It certainly requires a lot of political will-power.

    the toronto plan

  •  A critical area of thought (0+ / 0-)

    The edge cities and exurbs are committed to hodge podge automobile transportation, which in an of itself isn't a bad thing: the office building standing in a sea of asphalt surronded by suburban homes and strip malls is an economic engine and a certain individual freedom.

    Yet, it seem transient, as traffic, gas costs, and the need for everexpanding development into greenfields makes it seem like less of a bargain.

    It's the proto-fascism

    by Inland on Sun Nov 19, 2006 at 08:53:11 PM PST

    •  Its less of an economic engine than it looks. (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      mimuspolyglottis, jfm

      It is more like an economic transmission, which channels the subsidies for the car transport system into further reliance on the car transport system into political support for subsidizing the car transport system.

      In terms of economic engines, cities with higher public transport use tend to have higher local incomes, and to my mind that is most likely due to a local multiplier effect ... with higher public transport use, more of the transport dollar recirculates locally.

  •  and so many social implications (0+ / 0-)

    a cure to what I call the garage door opener syndrome.

    Whoosh, whoosh. No interaction. Increasing paranoia.

  •  TOD (0+ / 0-)

    Nice to read a diary about this! I haven't had time to read it through though, since I am at work, but I'll try to give it some time when I get home tonight.

    But I wanted to point out a keyword, Transit Oriented Development, or TOD. If you already know about it, all the better, if not, do a google and read. It is a 'movement' in urban planning and deals with how to develop cities and neighborhoods arount mass transit systems. As an architect, I must say it is a good approach, that has a lot of potential.

  •  Excellent diary! Lewis Mumford's book (0+ / 0-)

    The City in History would be a good companion book to your diary.

    This is the kind of social and economic discussion that will move America forward.

    Peace is respect for another's rights. Benito Juarez

    by Ignacio Magaloni on Mon Nov 20, 2006 at 04:32:49 AM PST

    •  Or Cities and the Wealth of Nations (1984) .... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Ignacio Magaloni

      ... by Jane Jacobs.

      Indeed, I have to mention Jane Jacobs somewhere, since reading The Death and Life of Great American Cities (1961) back in the late 80's / early 90's is what first attracted my interest in these issues.

      •  And another (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Ignacio Magaloni

        The Regional City - Calthorpe & Fulton.  

        Love the comments on adding carshare / small electric vehicles into the mix for last-mile transport.  Great stuff - thanks for the diary. You make me really miss the planning MS program I had to drop out of (til the kids are bigger).  Thank you!

        It's as if we had gone to war with starfish, and decided the way to win was slice off their arms and toss them back into the ocean. - Devilstower

        by Austin in PA on Mon Nov 20, 2006 at 01:31:04 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

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