Most significantly, generalists—such as planners and, one hopes, mayors—ask the big-picture questions that are so often forgotten among the day-to-day shuffle of city governance. Questions like: What kind of city will help us thrive economically? What kind of city will keep our citizens not just safe, but healthy? What kind of city will be sustainable for generations to come? These three issues—wealth, health, and sustainability—are, not coincidentally, the three principal arguments for making our cities more walkable.
This is an engaging and readable book written by Jeff Speck of Washington, DC. I was captivated by the very first page and read all the way through to the annotated footnotes (which are quite interesting.)
Since I live in a small city, located in the middle of a huge county, next to our Nation’s Capital, this is not an academic exercise. We are in the midst of making decisions about redevelopment and roads that will impact Fairfax City for the next 50 years. If a project turns out to be ill conceived or poorly executed, we will still be stuck with it for decades.
The most striking aspect of this book is how “counter-intuitive” Speck’s advice appears to be. In other words, we tend to accept what I would term “commonly held notions” about traffic, roads, parking, economic development, housing and public transportation. SURPRISE! Just because a lot of people believe something to be true, doesn’t make it true. It just makes it something a lot of people believe.
So let’s try some data analysis, case studies, some actual . . . science.
One of my favorite “aha” moments is about Induced Demand.
Induced demand is the name for what happens when increasing the supply of roadways lowers the time cost of driving, causing more people to drive and obliterating any reductions in congestion.
Speck points out that “there have been so many incentives for driving, cars have behaved like water, flowing into every nook and cranny where they have been allowed.” So our quest to widen roads and reduce congestion only creates capacity for more congestion. Logical – right? So why do we continue to build more roads to try to “ease congestion” when the data shows it just creates more?Read More