The horrific events from Monday are still haunting me. I was 12 miles north, but it feels so far away. Most people, including myself and Christa, obviously feel a sense of urgency to want and help ASAP. I know many people have already gone down and found a way to help – whether or not they’ve been asked.
And that’s the tough part – waiting until asked. Disaster/Emergency response is a very tricky situation. Help is always appreciated, but uncontrolled help becomes chaotic and can sometimes lead to more injuries, confusion and delay necessary items.
I am working through the Oklahoma Chapter of the American Public Works Association to coordinate placing new traffic and street signs up in Moore ASAP. The wait is excruciating for me, but I know it’s necessary. We have at least two local cities ready and able to make new signs, and at least 1 more entity ready to supply crews to install, but until we can be properly credentialed and/or escorted, we cannot get into Moore to conduct an assessment of the missing signs and then have them created. OG&E is hard at work energizing (and de-energizing) lines in the area, and we certainly don’t want to get in their way. Hopefully we are allowed in soon so that we can establish the street system again and give people a better sense of place. I’ll write more about the process once we get going.
NOTE: I know plenty of people are already in Moore without permission, and I bet I could be there too. Out of respect to the various agencies involved and the City of Moore, we are not going to do that, as much as it might speed things up a bit. Most people in public works operations are ICS/ NIMS trained, so we respect the necessary lines of communication and the directives that come down from the Incident Commander and others, tough as it is.
A very interesting new study was announced today. You may have seen the main article that people are linking to from the New York Times: Young Americans Lead Trend to Less Driving.
The actual study is located here: A New Direction: Our changing relationship with driving and the implications for America’s future. The have produced a nice infographic for the report as well (A New Direction Infographic).
I downloaded a copy and plan to read the entire study soon. In the meantime, I have a couple observations inspired by the study itself and the reporting about the study. The report is separate from other recent work noted in the Washington Post (Why aren’t younger Americans driving anymore?).
First, great summaries of the report can be found at Strong Towns – Charles Marohn has noted a few very interesting notes about what the report means for the future of transportation planning and funding – and at Streets Blog DC. I almost always agree with Charles 100%, so I don’t have much more to say. Go read his thoughts here: The Driving Boom is Over.
A big takeaway noted by Charles is that for years and years we’ve developed based on traffic projections. Now, we should be projecting vehicle traffic to stay flat or fall, but time and time again we are designing for projected increases. Changing this will require a massive shift in engineering standards and practice for traffic engineers. I wonder if current college and university faculty are educing new traffic engineers this way… Unfortunately, I doubt it. Engineering programs should be shifting to teaching all aspects of transportation facility engineering. I hope to eventually take a good look of the current status of traffic engineering curricula across the US. You know, when I have that spare time I’m always looking for…
The StreetsBlog DC report (U.S. PIRG: The Driving Boom is Over But the Road-Building Binge Continues) pulls out the three possible future scenarios presented in the report. I’ve listed them for brevity – be sure to go to their post to read more, and read the full study itself.
Back to the Future: This is just a dip in driving and we’ll pick back up soon and increase driving.
Enduring Shift: The recent shift will last and keep the current driving amounts flat.
Ongoing Decline: The recent dip is the beginning of a much bigger dip in driving.
Second, the New York Times quotes two people in the 2nd half of the article, likely because they wanted to seek out alternative views to keep the story balanced. I’ve read quite a few stories recently about the drop in driving and the causes behind it. Each time I’m struck by the people that stick to their automobiles rule mantra. This time it’s Robert W. Poole Jr. (listed in the article as “director of transportation policy for the Reason Foundation”, but also known as Reason’s founder).
I think Robert and the like are just old, grumpy men that don’t “get it”. It’s a cliché in a way – we’re the younger generation doing a new thing, and the older generation just doesn’t understand that we are changing this. Robert, according internet research, was born in 1944. He grew up at the heart of the auto-only lifestyle. Should we ever expect him to understand? As a millennial, I get tired of people saying “When twentysomethings get older and start having kids, they move to the more affordable suburbs in search of more space and better schools — and start driving”, as Kenneth Orski does in the same NY Times article. (My limited internet research of Kenneth doesn’t find an age, but he appears to be another old guy that doesn’t “get it”. Sorry Kenneth.) Who are they to assume what someone from my generation will want? I, in fact, don’t want that to happen. I want my local, inner-city school to get better. I don’t want to HAVE to spend life in the suburbs.
The problem with using transportation specific consultants, like Kenneth, is they don’t take into account the whole aspect of change that is going on. This isn’t just about transportation – it’s about changing cities as a whole. Better schools everywhere, more housing options, more choice in everything.
Those of you that know me well know that I’ve long had an interest in all things railroad-related. I have a relatively extensive book collection ranging from railroad operations history to railway station design. I have ridden state-supported Amtrak, subways and tourist rail in the US and enjoyed various passenger rail systems in Europe. I also own (but currently store) various model trains. Tracking back my interest, I’d say I’ve been interesting in railroad operations, rather than mere train watching and model railroading, for over 15 years now. I’ve also had the chance to work with representatives from BNSF on trying to close a couple dangerous crossings and initiating development of a Quiet Zone in downtown OKC. This leads me to today’s post.
Legislation (HB 2180) has been passed by the Oklahoma House and Senate to create a new Oklahoma Railways Commission and rearrange responsibility for railroad oversight from the Department of Transportation to this new Commission. The House and Senate are currently (as of 7 May 2013) working on a conference committee solution to minor amendments adopted by the Senate. Once approved, the bill should go to Governor Fallin’s office soon. The original authors, Representative Joyner and Senator Schulz, should be commended along with all of their co-authors and those that voted to pass the bill. (Special kudos to Representatives Wood and Henke for emailing me back personally when I emailed support of the bill to all Representatives and Senators.)
This bill is a very positive step for Oklahoma. Rail traffic is increasing across Oklahoma, from through-freight on BNSF’s north-south line through Oklahoma City, oil-fueled growth on the Farmrail system in the Anadarko basin and on Kansas City Southern in eastern Oklahoma due to new coal mining activity. These traffic increases and calls for more passenger rail activity will cause rail to become a larger economic generator across Oklahoma. Furthermore, increased activity will create the need for more public input as the citizens of Oklahoma find themselves impacted by trains more often.
According to data from the Railroad Retirement Board, railroads directly employed 2,303 people in Oklahoma in 2011. The average wages and benefits per freight rail employee were $106,000 (data from the Association of American Railroads). Wages and benefits alone have a yearly financial impact of $244,118,000 in Oklahoma. Railroads provide significant economic benefit in employment alone. Furthermore, they carry much of the grain produced in Oklahoma, and are helping the energy industry manufacture and distribute supplies and raw materials across the United States. And, believe it or not, the AAR says Oklahoma was 2nd in the nation in 2010 for origination of crushed stone, sand and gravel (89,700 carloads).
The Oklahoma Railways Commission will create a focused agency that will help railroads thrive in Oklahoma and provide a more direct voice for the public when issues arise (or when they want more rail activity, particularly passenger rail).
Oklahoma City is growing. It is growing with new residents, it is growing up and it is growing out. That is undeniable. How City leaders and residents plan for this growth can engender hot debate.
Steve Lackmeyer has been writing his OKC Central blog for a little over 5 years now. (Sidebar: Steve, it doesn’t seem that long ago that you started this. Congrats.) Steve recently wrote a couple posts that garnered some debate on Twitter and in blog comments about downtown, alternate planning views and placemaking. A thread on OKC Talk praising a recent Joel Kotkin piece started up with some heavy debate about development patterns and future cities. These blogs, Twitter conversations and OKC Talk debates have me frustrated and perplexed.
I am thoroughly frustrated with the status of debate in our country today. The internet and connected age has brought with it the ability for people with drastically different viewpoints to have loud mouthpieces, and people in the middle become drowned out. I dislike most of Joel Kotkin’s work because he generally takes an all-or-nothing approach to pro-suburbia, anti-downtown speech. For instance, the article in question, “Houston Rising-Why the Next Great American Cities Aren’t What You Think” contains this amazing one-liner: ‘Finally, they will not become highly dense, apartment cities — as developers and planners insist they “should.”’ How absurd. I do not know a single planner in Oklahoma that ascribes to this mantra, nor do most of the planners I learn from and follow. The tendency to deal in black and white, rather than, grey, is what causes debates about planning and the future of cities to devolve into suburb vs. downtown, one-way-or-the-highway drivel.
Taking this to Oklahoma City, Steve recently commented about Placemaking on Twitter. A few of the responses he got were relatively “suburb vs. downtown” and anti-bike lane in nature. Placemaking is not simple, nor is it easy. Placemaking is not a one-size-fits-all answer to planning. Planning itself is never simple or easy. Planning, like it or not, is a giant grey area, full of debate, compromise and give-and-take.
Suburbs, downtowns and in the urban core all have their place in the future of Oklahoma City, and all other cities. That is not, and should not, be the issue.
Primers on a few things that I think are misinterpreted by people when talking about planning:
Downtown: Planners want an entire city to thrive, not just downtown (and not just suburbs either). A city draws strength from all aspects. A strong downtown with things to do and places to work, congregate and share ideas will draw people, and most planners recognize that these people all cannot, and will not, live in an urban core, especially in Oklahoma. Oklahoma City is proceeding in the right direction north and east of downtown. Take a look at the Deep Deuce area. The apartments, old and new, are extremely desirable and usually wait-listed. The urban fabric is fantastic. North of downtown, Midtown and the organized ownership and development is really enhancing a rundown area. Open land still exists, but the train is on the right track. Hopefully this can translate to under-utilized land in west and south downtown being developed soon.
Suburbs: People need to live somewhere and certainly not all in high-rise apartments or even in low-to mid-rise townhome developments. The development pattern of suburbs is where OKC runs off track. I am not talking about the actual development OF suburbs, but the street patterns, home designs and lack of connectivity. Some builders are noting that they see the need for change in home design (via NewsOK and Caleb McCaleb, builder). Sidewalks within neighborhoods are now required, but connections to commercial areas are still lacking, even when developments are built adjacent to each other. Why is walking made to be such a chore here?
Transportation Modes: Believe it or not, most planners are not anti-car. We are pro-mobility, which means we want people to be able to choose how to get somewhere, not be forced into driving everywhere. Many people assume that cars = freedom, but a variety of surveys indicate that many Millennials (age 18-32) now find cars to be a burden. Why? We are so virtually connected, we want to be able to move freely, without the need to worry about paying attention to the road. Additionally, we want to spend our money on things other than vehicles. New electronics, phones, music, vacations, clothes, better food (especially with the growth of Oklahoma City’s higher-quality food scene), bikes, etc. take precedence over a car. What this all means is that planners want cities to be built with options in mind – the option to be able to easily walk to a restaurant or a store, to take a (well-scheduled, efficient) bus, light-rail or streetcar, to safely ride a bike OR a simply drive car.
Remember, planning is not simple or easy. No black or white answer exists, and it differs from community to community, even neighborhood to neighborhood.
What best may sum up my personal viewpoint of city development is best represented by the transect-based model of planning. Read more here: http://www.transect.org/ This theory of planning and urban development takes all aspects of development and city-building into account, best represented by the following graphic (courtesy the Center for Applied Transect Studies and Duany Plater-Zyberk & Company):
I am sad to be missing the 2013 Placemaking Conference hosted by the OU Institute for Quality Communities. Not only are the speakers a hit list of big-name placemaking voices, but it also would have been a great opportunity to see friends and acquaintances that are all interested in this area. Sadly, other work calls and I cannot be there.
I actually feel more unfortunate about missing friends and acquaintances than I do missing the speakers. I’ve been studying and living this information for more than 10 years. It started in 2001 when I went to the Netherlands with my main civil engineer professor and geography professor. They still do this, by the way. I continued right after undergrad at the University of Michigan Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning. I studied for 2 years under some fantastic minds in the realm of urban theory, planning theory and history, and environmental planning. The things people are listening to today were already coming to the surface in 2003-2005. And, since I’m so inherently interested in these topics, I’ve tried to stay as up-to-date as possible with them. Therefore, I think today is more important for other people than it is for me. Kudos to Blair and others for putting this together. I hope people realize how good they’ve got it today.
When I moved to Oklahoma City in 2005, the lack of knowledge about placemaking was astonishing. Some planners knew about it, but I probably couldn’t name a single engineer that knew about it. Unfortunately, I would be hard pressed to mention an engineer yet today that knew how he or she impacts placemaking. I wonder if any local engineers are in attendance today… Engineers are the people that currently drive much of placemaking in Oklahoma City today, whether they know it or not. They design the streets, neighborhoods, and developments that shape the way people live. They need to be in tune with what people want.
I hope today’s conference energizes people to get more involved. I really hope it moves people to get involved in backing planokc, the process for a new comprehensive plan for Oklahoma City. If you want change, you have to be the change. This plan will shape the next 20 to 30 years for Oklahoma City. Who will it be designed for? You have a say.
Being educated in planning barely scratches the surface of how the way we design and build our urban, suburban and rural environments affects the way we live. My life has changed in profound ways since I graduated with that beautiful Master of Urban Planning degree. Travel, work, living situations and starting a family have all opened my eyes to how the design of our man-made environment can affect us.
Designing good environments (walkable, connected, affordable, etc) isn’t just for attracted new talent, the creative class, corporate relocations, it’s for all residents. The lower income portion of our cities are the most disadvantaged when it comes to lack of connections. Despite what some people say, owning a car is not feasible for all, and even when some people get a car, it’s hardly reliable or safe transportation.
Today I saw something that gave me pause (a long 5 minutes of pause, actually). It made my heart hurt and it reinforced that planning and urban design are extremely important. My thoughts about the person’s exact situation are pure conjecture, and I actually hope I’m wrong…
Below is an aerial photo of my office building and the area surrounding it. To the southwest is an apartment complex, to the northwest, north, and northeast are office buildings and medical complexes. I sit at the NW corner of my building, overlooking the lake. The red line on the aerial represents a fence that’s intended to stop people from walking to/from the apartments. With the dry weather and some destructive people (knocking out the fence panels), one can walk between regardless.
After lunch today, I saw a young father pushing a young child (who, from my vantage point above, couldn’t be older than 18 months) in a cheap stroller. He pushed his child across the dam, from the apartments and into the parking lot to the north. He wasn’t wearing his coat, but his child appeared to be. He struggled a bit on the uneven ground, but made it safely to the concrete of the parking lot. He then proceeded on to what I imagine was a doctor’s appointment.
I have no idea if he had access to a car today. The weather hasn’t warmed up too much since yesterday, but I doubt most people would willingly make that walk if they had a car. The overall distance is barely 0.5 of a mile, but without connected sidewalks/paths, the journey is much more difficult and dangerous. The bridge over the highway lacks what you’d call sidewalks, and there’s little concern for pedestrians around here.
Being a relatively new father (2 years in, I’m still new, right?), it hurts me to see another father having to risk his and his child’s safety just to get somewhere. Had this been yesterday, their journey would have been downright miserable and nigh unlikely, due to the mud and the moisture all around.
We shouldn’t be designing our cities for the middle to upper-middle class; we should be designed them for all. That means all forms of transportation should be considered and utilized.
I’m a nerd of all trades. I can have a surface level, even slightly subsurface level, conversation on most any topic. I can go from city operations to transportation to geography to politics to literature and back. It shouldn’t be a surprise that I catch on to odd things.
For instance – back in 2009, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) updated standard NFPA 1901: Standard for Automotive Fire Apparatus. One of the changes deals with “chevron” striping on the back of fire apparatus. The text says “18.104.22.168 At least 50 percent of the rear-facing vertical surfaces, visible from the rear of the apparatus, excluding any pump panel areas not covered by a door, shall be equipped with retroreflective striping in a chevron pattern sloping downward and away from the centerline of the vehicle at an angle of 45 degrees.” AND “22.214.171.124.1 Each stripe in the chevron shall be a single color alternate between red and either yellow, fluorescent yellow, or fluorescent yellow-green.” AND “126.96.36.199.2 Each strip shall be 6 in. in width.” Chevrons, especially retroreflective ones, really help drivers see the rear ends of apparatus as drivers come up to them at accident scenes and other times the apparatus are stopped in the roadway. (Retroreflective means that the tape/graphic can catch light from any direction and reflect it back to the viewer – no longer does a light need to be head on for a graphic to reflect back – road signs are all supposed to be this way eventually… delayed for now though)
This is what applying these standards looks like:
NFPA standards are not laws, so departments are free to adopt, apply, ignore, etc at their own will. That said, I find it interesting the way local departments are applying the standard.
For instance, an image of Midwest City engines from Kisha Henry today:
Oklahoma City has taken a very different approach – mimicking the United States’ flag:
Whether or not the OKCFD version results in the desired effect of NFPA 1901.15.9.3.2 is up for discussion. OKC did recently decide to change from red and white to red, blue and white warning lights to increase visibility when running code 3 (lights and sirens) and when on scene. That was a noticeable change.