Category Archives: Urban Issues

You got the mother and the kid…

… you got the guy and his date.

So sang the Violent Femmes back in the 1980s.  Well, I’ve been taking the bus to and from work for the past week or so.  I’ve been kind of anti-RIPTA in the past because it isn’t overly convenient for me.  However, with 4 new employees in our department and more people using our parking lot outside the building (because the faculty are still too lazy to walk across campus), I have to get up around the same time to get to work early and get a parking space.  So instead of driving, I’ve decided to take the bus.  I get on the 92 Green Line trolley with Susan (she takes it all the way to work) and get off at Kennedy Plaza and wait for the 55 Admiral St./Providence College bus that comes at 8:15.  It gets me right at the Huxley gate at 8:30.  In the past, I never got to work until like 8:35-8:40 (because I’m slow and lazy).  Now I get to work right on time.  The bus is quite relaxing.  I don’t have to deal with idiots on the road and I can just sit and watch the scenery go by on my way to work.  It also puts me downtown more often, which I’ve been wanting to do.  I now get to see the progress of the current projects down there.

There is a downside to the bus.  There’s nothing convenient to bring me back to Federal Hill at the end of the day.  I have to stay about 15 minutes late to get the bus at 4:47 or leave early around 4:20.  I stay late, it’s not bad and lets me get some more things done.  I get home a lot later than I used to.  When I drive and leave at 4:30 (or even 4:45 or closer to 5:00), I am always home no later than 5:10.  However, I now get home around 5:30.  Generally, I make the hike from Kennedy Plaza to Federal Hill.  The bus I would take is the 27 or 28.  They’re always over crowded and standing room only (and there are always way more people waiting).  So instead of waiting 5-10 minutes in Kennedy Plaza, I just walk.  It’s been good for my legs and weight.

I’m going to continue taking the bus until it snows.  It’s an easy and relaxing way to get to and from work.  I’m just tired earlier at night though.  I wake up about 45-60 minutes earlier because I need to get in the shower first (Susan wasn’t willing to change her schedule to accommodate my new mode of transportation).  I feel good doing something for the environment, and I’m saving us money at the same time.

Tearing Down Trees for a “Green” Building

I’m all for biking and green buildings, but Zane’s Cycles in Branford, CT has taken the cake.  They have torn down a bunch of trees to build a “green” building for their bike shop.

The bike shop has been growing over the years.  They originated in a nice storefront on Main Street in the center of Branford.  They have since moved to a larger space in a strip mall on Rt. 1 with oceans of parking.  Their new building is also going to be on Rt. 1, and because it’s not in a dense urban area, it will likely also be surrounded by a sea of surface parking.

Someone needs to inform the owners that if they truly want to be green, they would have renovated their current space or bought an existing building to renovate rather than tear down trees and add more blacktop.

Zane’s Cycles gets an F in environmentalism.

Promoting Public Transit while Promoting Environmentalism

I came across this great idea while reading through some new blogs.  It’s an advertisement on the sides of buses that promotes the bus as an attack vehicle against global warming.  It’s a no brainer really.  A full bus, or even a train or streetcar, is using less energy per rider than a car, even if the car was a carpool of 4 people.  This means less emissions, less greenhouse gases, less cars on the road, and less noise pollution.  More people using public transit will also likely lead to governments (local, state, and federal) giving more funding for transit systems.  This would lead to better urban development and less suburban sprawl.  It would reduce our dependence on oil.  There are a ton of reasons why people should get out of their cars and onto the bus/train/streetcar.

ProJo got it right for once

The Providence Journal has a great editorial today about mass transit issues in Rhode Island.  RIPTA, the public transit system (buses) in the state, is going through a financial crisis, one seemingly worse than their annual crisis.  Unfortunately, the governor, Donald Carcieri, is basically a complete idiot and doesn’t really listen to anyone who actually lives in the state, with maybe the exception of the rich white folks in the suburbs who don’t give a crap about and don’t need public transit as they drive around in their SUVs.

RIPTA is now saying that they will likely need to cut some routes to save money because of high gas prices.  If the governor and the general assembly were smart, they’d allocate more money for RIPTA rather than depend solely on the guys in Washington to get us some money.  We pay a gas tax, but where does that go?  It’s most likely going right into the general fund.  Perhaps they should raise the gas tax and give all (or at least most, RIPTA does need the roads to be improved and the bridges to be repaired) of the money to RIPTA.

The longer I stay here, the more I understand just why the people in Rhode Island are so bitter.  The government goes ’round and ’round and never gets anything done.  They work for themselves and not for the people who elected them.  It’s actually pretty sad.  If you have ever even considered running for office in RI, please do.  We needs new bodies, not more of the same old corrupt politics that have brought this state into the problems that exist.  Dump the state employee unions, they’re great and all helping the people who belong to them, but the state employees aren’t really in too much danger of losing benefits of getting poor wages.  Force them to pay a higher percentage for their medical coverage and dental coverage, something more in line with what people in the private sector pay (something around 15-20%).  They’ll be all up in arms and the unions will threaten strikes, but stick to your guns.  Working for the state should not make you any more special than working in the private sector.  That’ll give the state more money to deal with the state budget crisis, prevent fewer cuts, and allow the state to give more money to RIPTA, even though Carcieri would probably love to see RIPTA stop running.  He won’t even give a boost to it by allowing the state colleges to have a U-Pass (a program that allows college students free or discounted bus rides by swiping their IDs).

Anyway, public transit is the way to go here.  There’s no reason RIPTA should have to reduce the number of routes and increase the headways so that the bus becomes basically unuseable for most people, especially those who rely on it to get to and from work.  If anything RIPTA should be increasing the number of routes and decreasing headways so that more people find it useful.

Why $4+ Gas is a Good Thing

Gas is expensive.  That’s a no brainer.  Most people are bemoaning the increased prices in gasoline and pushing the government to do something about it.  However, I don’t have a problem with expensive gas.  Now before you go and accuse me of being one of those people who doesn’t drive and takes public transportation or walks everywhere, that’s not me.  I drive to work everyday.  Yes, you read that right.  I live in the same city in which I work and I drive to work.  It’s about a mile and a half each way, but I drive.  Why do I drive?  Easy.  I’m lazy.  I don’t like mornings.  Driving gives me the opportunity to sleep a little later.  Why don’t I just take the bus you ask?  Another easy one.  The bus is not convenient in Providence unless you live downtown or live and work on the same bus route.  Susan takes the bus everyday for a couple reasons.  The first is that we live on the same bus route as the one that goes to Brown.  The second is that there’s a waiting list for a parking space at Brown, which would cost $400 per year and would likely be the same distance as if she walked halfway to work.  So long as she’s working at Brown, she will never drive to work.  If I could easily take the bus, I would.  But I can’t.  I don’t walk because I live and work on a hill, but there’s a valley in between and a 4 lane “super highway” is the only reasonable route to walk.  I also sweat a lot, and we have a ridiculous dress code at work (one that no other college I know of has).  Now that the PC gym charges, I can’t just stop there and take a shower at work.  It would take me about half an hour to walk to work, it would actually take me a little longer to take the bus.

Now, why is $4 (and rising) gas a good thing?  Because it forces people and the government (federal, state, and local) to rethink things.  Public transit ridership has increased greatly across the country.  People are moving closer to work.  More people are telecommuting when possible.  All this adds up to less pollution, less congestion on the roads, and less suburban sprawl.

With all of this, there is good reason for people to petition their local and state governments to increase public transportation options and increase the money they spend on public transportation.  Local governments should enforce good urban design and help create walkable neighborhoods.  There is no reason that the United States should not have a quality extensive, inexpensive railway network across the country connecting all the major cities.  People in Europe travel almost exclusively by train, public transportation, walking, or bicycles.  It all depends on how far they’re going.  There is no reason people in the United State shouldn’t be doing just that.  However, we do not have an extensive railway network.  We do not have the extensive public transportation options of Europe.  Aside from our major cities and some smaller village centers, we do not have walkable neighborhoods.  The 50’s and 60’s and the new “American Dream” of white pickett fences, expansive lawns, and large houses in the suburbs killed all of that.  We have taken cheap gas, something Europe has never seen, for granted.  We are now paying the price of the suburban dream.

Time has a great article called “10 Things You Can Like About $4 Gas”.  It’s worth a read.  Maybe I’ll attempt to ride the bus to work sometime this summer.  If it’s not as bad as I expect it to be, perhaps I’ll do it all the time.  In the meantime, I’ll continue to drive.  I have stopped coming home for lunch to save some gas.

US Traffic Congestion is Bad

If the title couldn’t be any more obvious. Highways and roads in metropolitan areas across the country are at or above capacity and the problem is only getting worse. Living in the Northeast, I do experience traffic, but it’s nothing compared to what other areas of the country see. The worst, according to this article on CNN, are Los Angeles, Atlanta, San Francisco, Washington, and Dallas. The only one of these that is surprising to me is Washington as it does have a pretty good public transit system, though the beltway can be pretty rough and a lot of the jobs in the area are not actually in the city. The others are large sprawling southern and western cities that don’t have the best public transportation systems. But this isn’t about those cities, this is about the larger problem at hand. The country’s roads are filled to capacity and we can’t simply keep increasing the number of lanes on the highway. In some cases, there’s no room to increase the size of the highways (such as in the densely populated Northeast). In other cases, it’s just a futile effort. The more you increase the size of the highway, the more people will use it.

There is one good fix that should be considered everywhere – better public transportation. In most of the large cities around the country, there are commuter rails, subways, buses, streetcars, etc. The problems many of these systems face is that they’re overcrowded or they’re not used enough (because of the stigma that it’s the poor man’s transportation and people like their cars) or they’re not efficient or they don’t provide a good service. In the case of Providence, RIPTA provides great service to parts of the city and not so great service to others. All buses stop at around midnight, yet bars are open until 2 (this problem also plagues Boston). People are forced to either take cabs or drive (sometimes drunk). The biggest problem is the headways. The buses come every half hour or every 20 min if you happen to live on one of the better lines. That’s not good enough in a city as densely populated as Providence. Some of the lines (like the one that goes by my house) don’t run on Sundays. It just doesn’t make sense. Providence could also benefit from better commuter rail service. Currently, we only have commuter rail to/from Boston. It’s going to be extended to Warwick by the airport and then possibly farther to Wickford. Any densely populated metropolitan area should have commuter rail service from the other nearby metro areas. They should also have public transit within the city that a person would have to wait no more than 10-15 min at most for a bus or train (subway or streetcar).

The problem that most of these transit authorities have is a lack of funding. Our country is severely auto-centric. Our federal government should be putting more money to support the public transportation systems around the country and increase the usage and coverage of them. The state governments should be doing the same. The benefits of doing so would not only decrease the amount of time people spend and gas people use sitting in traffic, but it’d also provide serious environmental benefits as well. The best answer to the traffic problems is public transportation. I urge anyone who cares (and if you don’t care, you should) to support public transportation and contact your senators and representatives, both in Washington and in your state legislature, and urge them to support it as well.

Walkable neighborhoods are important

While perusing CNN.com this afternoon, I came across an article called “Walking hard for many exercisers“.  My initial reaction was “that’s ridiculous… they’re just being lazy”.  Upon opening the article, I realized that my first impression was very wrong.  In fact, the article is about one of the more important tenets of good urbanism – sidewalks.  The reason walking is hard for people is not because they are too lazy, but rather because it’s just not safe or there’s nothing to walk to.

The article concentrates on Atlanta, where 1 in 4 people who want to exercise live in neighborhoods that do not have sidewalks.  It is unacceptable for any urban area to have any neighborhoods that lack sidewalks.  Now, Atlanta is a large sprawling southern city.  I imagine the neighborhoods being discussed in the article are in the outer sections of the city.  However, Atlanta is a modern city and should have sidewalks in all its neighborhoods.  In fact, the neighborhoods should have been planned so that they are all walkable areas with everything a resident could need within reasonable walking distance, generally defined as up to a 20 minute walk.

This article brings up a major issue.  The United States has an obesity problem.  Much of this problem is due to our automobile-centric lifestyle.  If cities and towns were planned and developed in a more urban nature (urban meaning dense, walkable development; not necessarily tall skyscrapers and no grass), obesity would probably not be as much of an issue.  In fact, it wasn’t until the 50’s and 60’s that suburban communities started to grow.  During this time, the public transit options decreased greatly (in part because the street cars were bought up by General Motors and replaced with buses and eventually those started to dwindle as more people owned cars).  If more communities and neighborhoods were planned and developed as walkable areas, the general health of the public would benefit greatly.  In addition to the health benefits, the environmental benefits would be great as well.  The less people use their cars to get everywhere, the less emissions and traffic there would be.

One of the issues of this is that many think of large highly populated urban areas when they think urban and walkable development.  However, that is not the case.  Some of the most walkable, most urban areas are small village centers in some of the smallest towns in the nation.  Small towns in New England, especially, have these characteristics.  Most of the older towns in the country were built so that the residents didn’t have to go very far to get what they needed and many of these communities still exist.  They should be emulated in any new development that occurs.  The suburban sprawl phenomenon is a big cause for the destruction of open space and for environmental issues.  It also causes people to get less exercise.

Overnight On-Street Parking

Overnight on-street parking is a seemingly silly issue to be writing about. I mean, this shouldn’t even be something anyone would need to discuss. Unless, of course, you live in Providence. You see, Providence has this silly ordinance that says you cannot park overnight on the street between the hours of 1:00 am and 6:00 am. I don’t know the history of this silly 5 hour parking ban, but I do know some of the reasons the opposition gives for lifting the ban. I’ll list the reasons for opposition, followed by a constructive rebuttal. Continue reading Overnight On-Street Parking

Boston v. Providence… one man’s opinion

Ok, so somehow, the W Hotel/110 Westminster thread on UrbanPlanet has become a Providence v. Boston thread. It’s very unfortunate that this has happened. Since it’s off-topic for that thread, I’ll write about it here. Keep in mind that these are all entirely opinions and that I have never lived in Boston (though my fiancée used to and I have several friends who currently reside there, so I have spent a good amount of time there).

First of all, comparing Providence to Boston is comparing apples to oranges. Boston is 5-6 times the size of Providence. It’s a big city, while Providence is a small-medium sized city. Because of that, Boston has a lot more of everything. Also, when I’m referring to Boston, I’m also including Cambridge and Somerville (at least around Davis) because many people consider that “Boston”, even if it’s not Boston proper.

What I like about Boston… well, I’m not a huge fan of it, so this list is going to be relatively short. I like that it’s urban and most of it is walkable. I like that most of the neighborhoods are “full service” neighborhoods where you can either walk or take transit to everything you could ever need. I like that there is an extensive transit system, though I think it could be a lot better (hell, it stops running at midnight while the bars are open until 2, that’s just dumb for a city of its size). I like a lot of the architecture and the history. I like that it has a decent music scene. I think that’s it for what I like about it.

What I don’t like about Boston… traffic, traffic, traffic. Boston isn’t big enough or dense enough to warrant completely not needing a car, though many of the residents would lead you to believe otherwise. When visiting, it’s difficult to do so without getting there by car. The roads suck, the drivers suck, and the street layout really sucks. Yes, I know it’s old, but it seems like planning just didn’t happen then, like it did with New York. I don’t like the lack of diversity. I have never seen a city so large, yet so lacking in diversity… from the ethnic and racial breakdown to the types of people (walk through Harvard Square on any given day in the winter and 70% of the people will be wearing North Face jackets). I get bored there. I have never lived there, yet I feel like I’ve seen it all already.

Now onto Providence… Disclaimer though… I love Providence. Providence is a small, compact city with all the amenities of a big city (though transit could be a whole lot better, but see what I had to say about Boston’s transit) without the negative aspects (see Boston’s traffic issues). Providence has an awesome restaurant scene, probably the best in New England (yes, better than Boston’s). Providence has a great arts scene, though it tends to be more underground (which is part of the issue) and a great music scene (again more underground), yet many music venues have closed recently. Providence has tons of history, lots of great architecture, and a somewhat accessible city government (admittedly don’t know what Boston’s is like). Providence needs better transit, like cross town buses (I want to get from Federal Hill to Providence College without having to go to Kennedy Plaza). Providence’s government can also be more transparent than it is (though it’s not all that bad). Providence is a romantic city and gives me the same feelings I’ve gotten in cities like New York (which can also be very romantic at times). I have never felt that way in Boston, even after discovering the love of my life there.

I won’t get into the sports fans because… well… that’s just another issue that doesn’t need to be brought up (having grown up in southern CT, I am a New York sports fan and I’ve never heard “Red Sox Suck!” chanted at a concert or a Jets game, unlike what I’ve heard at concerts in the Boston area or Patriots games). But I’ll sum it up with this… Boston is a great city and an important city. Providence, however, has more to offer per capita and lacks all the things that make a big city annoying. Providence is not, never has been, and never will be Boston’s bastard child or suburb. While it was combined with Boston based on commuting data for the US Census, it still has its own metro area. I’ve heard Boston referred to as things like “the Hub of the Universe”. That’s just laughable. I’d like to see what New York, Chicago, LA, Paris, London, or Tokyo has to say about that. Of course, this is all based on personal preference, and only you can decide which is “better” for you. If you ask me, Providence wins hands down.

Now let’s just drop the whole Boston v. Providence debate until Providence has a population of 500k (which won’t happen unless the entire city of Providence turned into Manhattan).

The future of Eagle Square

I don’t really have a whole lot to report on the meeting.  It was actually what I worried it would become, more of a bitch-fest against “gentrification”, though that term was not used.  Here’s my notes and thoughts on the whole thing.

The city council was represented, as was Feldco (the developer that owns Eagle Square), the city (through the director of planning), and Shaws (though Supervalue, the company that owns Shaws, was not).  The councilwoman who represents that ward was very much upset with Shaws for pulling out of this and would like to work with the community, the developer, and Supervalue (who has full control over the lease of the property) to get something there that the people want.

Thus, the discussion tended to stay towards what we want to see there.  Different options were tossed around.  The councilwoman mentioned Trader Joe’s (which is a hot topic around here, but would be ideal).  Other thoughts were a flea market, though one does exist only about a block away, an indoor mini-amusement park (like something in, I think, Seekonk), though I don’t see that going over so well, an indoor open market similar to Reading Terminal in Philadelphia or some market in Boston (Hay Market or Quincy Market).  I am not sure about any of those because for it to succeed, it would have to draw people at least 6 days a week.  Most flea markets are only open on the weekends and a lot of these open markets in other cities only have limited hours, such as weekends only.  If whatever goes in this space is not open at least 6 days a week, the other stores in the complex will suffer.

Because Supervalue has full control, I have no doubt in my mind that whatever goes there will be something that benefits them as they will likely be taking a loss on the rent.  I do hope it will be something worthwhile.  I would like to see some sort of market, whether or not it’s a supermarket, I am still somewhat undecided.  I would like to be able to get my groceries closer to home, but if I can get fresher produce, baked goods, deli meats, and cheeses, that would be great too.