Below is a report from our DeKalb Transportation Coordinator, Barbara Wheeler, following her conversation with Dave Pelton, Supervising Engineer at DeKalb County Transportation.
The current proposal for Briarcliff and LaVista is at a standstill, the county is working on a concept to improve the intersection, but there are some objections by the commissioners to making the intersection any bigger.
Among the constraints, the church on the corner, Peachtree Baptist Church, is historic and cannot be altered, and the Whole Foods retaining wall is also immovable.
The commissioners inquired if the intersection could be converted to a roundabout, but the available space is not adequate for a large roundabout.
GDOT has set aside some money to improve the intersection, but the commissioners are not supportive of this current concept, so it is not moving forward.
The county would welcome any creative ideas for improvements that make the intersection flow better AND be more pedestrian friendly which Mr. Pelton believes is the commissioners’ point of view (hence the roundabout idea).
This prediction sounds bold primarily for the fact that most of us don’t think about technology – or the history of technology – in century-long increments: “We’re probably closer to the end of the automobility era than we are to its beginning,” says Maurie Cohen, an associate professor in the Department of Chemistry and Environmental Science at the New Jersey Institute of Technology. “If we’re 100 years into the automobile era, it seems pretty inconceivable that the car as we know it is going to be around for another 100 years.”
Cohen figures that we’re unlikely to maintain the deteriorating Interstate Highway System for the next century, or to perpetuate for generations to come the public policies and subsidies that have supported the car up until now. Sitting in the present, automobiles are so embedded in society that it’s hard to envision any future without them. But no technology – no matter how essential it seems in its own era – is ever permanent. Consider, just to borrow some examples from transportation history, the sailboat, the steamship, the canal system, the carriage, and the streetcar.
All of those technologies rose, became ubiquitous, and were eventually replaced. And that process followed a pattern that can tell us much about the future of the automobile – that is, if we’re willing to think about it not in the language of today’s “war on cars,” but in the broad arc of time.
“There’s not going to be a cataclysmic moment,” Cohen says of what’s coming for the car. “Like any other technology that outlives its usefulness, it just sort of disappears into the background and we slowly forget about it.” The landline telephone is undergoing that process right now. Your grandmother probably still has one. But did you even bother to call the phone company the last time you moved into a new home? “It’s not as if we all wake up one morning and decide we’re going to get rid of our landlines,” Cohen says, “but they just kind of decay away.
“I think cars will kind of disappear in much the same way.”
They may still exist at the periphery (there are still canal boats out there). But, for the most part, in all likelihood we’ll move on. History is full of these “socio-technical transitions,” as academics like Cohen call them. The history of the steamship has particularly influenced this line of thinking. Society spent a good hundred years transitioning from the sailing ship to the steamship. “It wasn’t as if steamships instantly demonstrated their superiority,” Cohen says. There were problems with the technology. Kinks had to be worked out. Sometimes they blew up.
We often think of the car as having arrived with a flourish from Henry Ford around the turn of the last century. But the history of the automobile actually dates back more than a hundred years earlier to steam-powered vehicles and the first internal combustion engine. Early prototypes of the car used to blow up, too. People were afraid of them. You had to acquire a special skill set just to operate them. And then there were all the networks we needed to develop – roads, gas stations, repair shops – to make cars feasible.
“We tend to focus on the car itself as the central element,” Cohen says, “and we fail to recognize that it’s not just the car.” Like any ubiquitous technology, the car is embedded in a whole social system. In this case, that system includes fuel supply lines, mechanisms for educating and licensing new drivers, companies to insure them, laws to govern how cars are used on common roads and police officers to enforce them. In the academic language of socio-technical transitions theory, all of that stuff is the regime around the car.
“People who are part of that regime get up in the morning, put their shoes on and reproduce that system on a daily basis,” Cohen says. “So that system also has a profound ability to beat back any challenges to it.”
But we can already start to see cracks in the regime. New automobile registrations have plateaued in the U.S, even as the population has continued to grow. Rising gas prices have made some housing patterns predicated on the car unsustainable. Twentysomethings are now less likely to own cars and say they’re less enamored of them. The 1973 classic car flick American Graffiti, Cohen points out, would never be made today.
Within any social system, there also exist what Cohen calls “insurgent niches” challenging the regime. Niches are fragile, they’re underfunded, they’re stigmatized. The car was once an insurgent niche in the age of streetcars. Now in the age of the automobile, we might think of those niches as car-sharing companies or bike advocacy groups.
Some niches eventually grow to replace the prevailing regime, as cars themselves once did. But that process is equally dependent on so much more than technological invention. Look at how the cell phone has evolved to replace the landline. Our need for cell phones didn’t arise in a vacuum. Work practices changed. Commuting times got longer, creating the need for communication inside cars. Batteries got smaller. Cell phone towers proliferated.
These are the unnoticed events that happen in the slow course of technological transition. We didn’t even recognize that the car was a fundamentally new thing until around World War I, Cohen says. Until then, many people viewed the car as just a carriage without a horse.
“The replacement of the car is probably out there,” Cohen adds. “We just don’t fully recognize it yet.”
In fact, he predicts, it will probably come from China, which would make for an ironic comeuppance by history. The car was largely developed in America to fit the American landscape, with our wide-open spaces and brand-new communities. And then the car was awkwardly grafted onto other places, like dense, old European cities and developing countries. If the car’s replacement comes out of China, it will be designed to fit the particular needs and conditions of China, and then it will spread from there. The result probably won’t work as well in the U.S., Cohen says, in the same way that the car never worked as well in Florence as it did in Detroit.
We’re not terribly well positioned right now to think about what this future will look like. Part of the challenge is that, culturally, we’re much more accustomed to celebrating new gadgets than thinking about how old technology decays.
“And people don’t have the perspective that extends beyond their own lives,” Cohen says. “They were born into a society and culture where cars were everywhere, and they can’t envision – with good reason – living their lives without a car.”
He worries that in the U.S., we’ve lost our “cultural capacity to envision alternative futures,” to envision the Futurama of the next century. More often, when we do picture the future, it looks either like a reproduced version of the present or like some apocalyptic landscape. But this exercise requires a lot more imagination: What will be the next carriage without a horse? The next car without an engine?
By Sally Sears
A plan to link two major nature preserves in Virginia-Highland and Morningside is gaining momentum in the neighborhood.
The South Fork Conservancy and Park Pride are leading discussions about a trail along the south fork of Peachtree Creek connecting Morningside Nature Preserve and Herbert Taylor-Daniel Johnson Nature Preserve.
The first public meeting scheduled for Tuesday, April 10 at 6 p.m. at Haygood Methodist Church could demonstrate some of the benefits and challenges of creating more greenspace with easy access to walkers, joggers and perhaps bikers.
Creek cleanups and trail building are expected later in the spring.
Here’s what one avid creek paddler found on a cleanup downstream from Cheshire Bridge Road.
From Richard Grove, Georgia Kayaker:
There are good river days and there are great river days. Today was a great one. Today after 9.5 hours, 25 more tires were removed along with 3 shopping carts, some carpet, a picnic table umbrella, 3 golf balls, mirror, fishing reel, vehicle tail light lens, sleeping bag, trash can lid, PVC pipe, wire, metal stud, shoes, shirts, roof shingles, safety fence, silt fence, fire extinguisher, lots of aluminum cans, plastic bags & bottles, a disposable razor. Still looking for a toothbrush. The pile is huge. Next work day will be from Cheshire Bridge Road.
I have never removed a Herbie trash container or a shopping cart from the river. I thought the Herbie was a bear to get out but nothing compared to the shopping carts which took more than an hour to dig each one out.
One day next week I will cut up the tree in the river across from the trash pile area which will make the river look much better from that view point.
I see and hear people walking the trail when I am in the river working but the only chance I get to talk to anyone is when I’m either starting or finishing and at my truck.. When I was cleaning in the area of the trash pile several people came to the riverbank to say, hello. Sunday I met a couple who walk the trail several times a week.
A year from now there will probably be less trash in the river but more on the trail. Fact-of-life, Americans are pigs. Where they go so come their trash. Sally Sears is the Executive Director of the South Fork Conservancy, a nonprofit that seeks to restore, conserve and protect the Riparian systems of the South Fork of Peachtree Creek Watershed. Follow South Fork on Facebook. Learn more on their website.
by Nenad Tadic for Virginia Highland/Druid Hills Patch
I wrote an article in August on a recent development to bring MARTA rail service directly to Emory’s Druid Hills campus. Unfortunately, I haven’t kept up with the initiative since then so I don’t know the current status of it.
But it’s a shame that when MARTA was constructed, it bypassed plans to service the Druid Hills/ Clifton Corridor area with a rail line. These are some of the biggest commercial centers in all of Metro Atlanta, which include Emory University, Emory University Hospital, Emory Point (coming soon) and the CDC, to name a few. These prominent institutions are located just 4-5 miles from Downtown Atlanta, yet because of the absence of a rapid transit line near them, travel times from the CDC to the Five Points station, per se, can take upwards of an hour.
Convenience. Convenience. Convenience.
That’s the first buzz word that comes to mind for me when I think of what a MARTA station off Clifton Road would bring to our entire community. Getting around town would be no hassle at all.
It’d be safer. It’d make exploring Atlanta neighborhoods more of a possibility. It would diminish the prevalence of the “Emory Bubble,” coined because a freshman at Emory is so limited because of unreliable and oftentimes confusing public transit options that he or she makes his own little bubble on campus.
Emory sponsors Cliff Shuttles which operate on a fixed schedule to/from Emory and various nearby business sites. Emory also has special shuttles that run to shopping districts like Lenox Mall or Atlantic Station. These usually operate on weekends, but not every weekend.
These shuttles are great! I use them often. But they are just too limited and run too infrequently to satisfy the student who has an internship Downtown and commutes everyday, or the cafeteria worker whose home in Southwest Atlanta can’t realistically be reached without a car, especially late at night or early in the morning.
As the 9th largest metropolitan area in the country, Atlanta’s public transportation is a nightmare compared to #10 Boston, #18 St. Louis, or even #23 Portland, Ore.
Of all the cities I have visited during my college visits (these include New York, Philadelphia, Houston, St. Louis, Minneapolis, and of course Atlanta), getting from Hartsfield Jackson to Emory was the hardest airport-school commute.
I myself am from Chicago and can attest to the fact that you can get anywhere in the city with public transit. Anywhere. Especially the University of Chicago and Northwestern University – Emory’s peer institutions. In fact, the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) runs the “Purple Line,” named after neighborhing Northwestern which the line runs near.
That’s not to say better public transportation would necessarily make Emory a better school. Not at all. Sure it may make it seem more of an attractive option to prospective students, but that doesn’t get at the bottom line.
The bottom line is this: Atlanta is famous for its urban sprawl and consequently, its traffic. Its infrastructure is severely lacking for a city of its size.
Those opposed to transit lines cite that they bring crimes to otherwise safe and wealthy white neighborhoods. Policymakers need to address their concerns.
It is time for Atlanta to develop a plan that suggests it really is the forward-thinking city it once prided itself on. Better public transit is only going to improve the quality of life in our neighborhoods. And in important districts like the Clifton Corridor, a transit line is crucial.
By Eden Landow for Virginia-Highland/Druid Hills Patch
Neighborhood groups involved in planning for a MARTA expansion through the Clifton Corridor say residents are worried they might not be adequately compensated for their property or that the right-of-way would extend virtually to their doorsteps and harm their quality of life.
The public got another chance Wednesday night to comment on a proposed $1 billion project to expand MARTA rail through the Clifton corridor and link Lindbergh Center with Emory, the CDC, Decatur and Avondale.
The latest configuration proposes heavy rail, including some underground tracks, from Lindbergh Center to the intersection of Clairmont and North Decatur roads and then light rail or bus rapid to the Avondale MARTA station. Three possibilities were detailed among the presentations up for comment.
Jason Morgan, regional planner for MARTA and project manager for the Clifton Corridor Transit Initiative, said Wednesday night’s Station Area Planning and Alignment Workshop, held at Torah Day School of Atlanta, concludes the public meetings that will be held during the Alternative Analysis phase of the project development process.
“It’s important that people’s concerns are documented at this stage so they can be flagged for inclusion in the environmental process and then we can be ready to mitigate them,” Morgan said.
Three previous formal public-input meetings were held, including this one, two last year and one in May. In addition, several community meetings have been held, including one called by the Lindbergh LaVista Corridor Coalition on July 12 that was attended by more than 200 people.
Neighborhood groups involved in the Clifton Corridor transit development process, so far, have included Morningside/Lenox Park Neighbhorhood Association, Lindridge/Martin Manor Neighborhood Association and Woodland Hills Neighborhood Association.
Planners had explored at-grade options including light rail and bus rapid transit and to utilize the CSX right-of-way, but neighborhood concerns, development density and refusal by CSX to share their space, open up the possibility for subterranean tracks.
Rather than blasting, Morgan said, builders would use a tunnel-boring machine.
“We want to avoid the ‘cut-and-cover’ method, which involves a lot of disruption, which is what we’re trying to avoid,” he said.
LLCC and Lenox Park/Morningside have hired consultant Perkins+Will’s Urban Design practice and their senior transportation planner, Heather Alhadeff, to assist them in getting their concerns heard.
“I am here to coordinate, advise and manage the dialogue between MARTA and their partner, CCTMA, and the neighborhoods,” said Aldaheff, “to communicate things in a meaningful, understandable and productive way, in both directions.”
MARTA and CCTMA boards are expected to vote in November on the proposal, which would send the process to the environmental stage, during which historic and ecological studies would be made, as well as impact studies on what effect would be felt by property owners. Once the environmental stage is cleared, the process moves on to preliminary engineering and then the final design stage.
All four stages of the development process must include public input as well as local and federal approval, Morgan said.
On Thursday, the Atlanta Regional Roundtable’s executive committee meets to adopt a list of transit priorities in the Atlanta region, which will be reviewed and approved by the full roundtable before going to voters as part of the statewide referendum in July or November called the Transportation Investment Act.
“We are trying to position the project so that it will qualify for any federal funds that might be available,” Morgan said, “regardless of what happens with TIA.”
This part of MARTA’s planning process began in 2009. Construction is likely to take upwards of 10 years, unless TIA passes, in which case, Morgan said, the process would speed up by a year or even two.
On one side of the room were posters and flipcharts for community comments on MARTA proposals for heavy rail from Lindbergh Center, through the Emory campus to the intersection of North Decatur and Clairmont roads, then bus rapid transit (BRT) or light rail (LRT) along Scott Boulevard and then to the Avondale MARTA station. Linking to the Decatur MARTA station, for the moment, appeared to be off the table.
Also off the table seemed to be utilizing the right-of-way held by CSX railroad, though one of the planners at the meeting speculated that, once funding is identified and the project moves closer to being a reality, that the company might be willing to discuss the possibility.
On the other side of the room were placards describing how the stations might be designed for optimal entrance and access and amenities.
“We’re trying to find the right balance between having stations placed far enough apart that the trains can move faster, yet making sure we have enough stations so that people can get where they need to go,” Morgan said.
Ridership estimates were included on the posters, indicating that in 2030 about 27,000 “boardings,” or the number of people getting on the train at any given station along the way, each would be expected for heavy rail, about 17,000 for light rail and about 11,000 for bus rapid transit.
“None of the expansion projects could be done the way things are structured now,” said MARTA spokesman Lyle Harris. “Federal funds require that operating funds be available. The current ’50-50′ funding structure probably needs to be revisited.”
Also attending the meeting was DeKalb Commissioner Jeff Rader, who said he did not feel he had a direct role in this portion of the process but that these types of improvements could substantially reduce automobile traffic in his district and the impact of the traffic.
Later, he said, the DeKalb Commission would likely weigh in on land use and development proposals along the corridor.
“I haven’t heard anyone here say that we don’t need transit,” Rader said. “It’s just a matter of how we can get there.”
MARTA also is in the alternatives analysis phase of an expansion plan for an I-20 East Corridor to serve south DeKalb.
Atlanta Business Chronicle – by Dave Williams, Staff Writer
A subcommittee of local elected officials is delaying its decision on which transportation improvements should be funded by a proposed regional sales tax right up to a state-imposed deadline.
The Atlanta Regional Transportation Roundtable’s executive committee had been expected to vote Thursday on a list of highway and transit projects to be built with $6.14 billion that would be available regionally if voters in the 10-county metro area approve the tax next year.
But the five-member panel is still trying to whittle down a $6.56 billion list of projects unveiled late Wednesday by the Atlanta Regional Commission staff. That’s as far as ARC staff members could get in cutting a project list that started with nearly $23 billion in requests from Atlanta-area cities, counties and transportation agencies.
The list the executive committee is working from includes partial funding for the Atlanta Beltline project and extensions of MARTA rail service along the Clifton Corridor, north to Holcomb Bridge Road in Fulton County and east to Wesley Chapel Road in DeKalb County.
It also incorporates a planned light rail line connecting MARTA’s Arts Center station with the Cumberland Mall area of Cobb County.
But it doesn’t include funds for a commuter rail line linking downtown Atlanta with Griffin, Ga., an omission that drew protests from political and business leaders from the south side of metro Atlanta and from commuter rail advocates.
Of about $3.5 billion in transit projects on the list as proposed, less than 3 percent would go to the area south of Interstate 20, said Gordon Kenna, CEO of Georgians for Passenger Rail.
“We are about to do the biggest thing we’ve ever done as a region, and you are completely ignoring half of the region,” Kay Pippin, president of the Henry County Chamber of Commerce, told the executive committee. “You’re going to have to open the door and let us come in.”
The executive committee will meet on Monday – its deadline under legislation passed by the General Assembly last year – to finalize the project list it will recommend to the full roundtable. The 21-member roundtable then will have until Oct. 15 to submit the projects voters will asked to approve next year.
Through all the chatter over what should be included on the Atlanta region’s transportation projects list, a loud vacuum can’t be ignored.
The vacuum? The State of Georgia.
Just what role, if any, will the State of Georgia play in contributing to metro Atlanta’s transit systems? And what role will the State of Georgia play in controlling the future of our region’s transit governance?
Consider this. The one-penny regional transportation sales that will go before voters next year will be raised (and invested) in the 10-county Atlanta region. If passed, this is money that metro Atlantans will contribute and invest in their own region’s future.
But exactly how much will the State of Georgia contribute to building and maintaining the Atlanta region’s transit systems — from MARTA, the Xpress buses, Cobb County Transit, Gwinnett transit, Clayton County’s buses to commuter rail between Atlanta and Griffin?
Unfortunately, the answer so far appears to be more of the status quo — virtually nothing.
The State of Georgia does not appear willing to step up to the plate to sustain and expand metro Atlanta’s transit infrastructure — despite the fact that the Atlanta region is the engine that drives the state’s economy.
For those who ask why should the state contribute to metro Atlanta transit systems, the answer is simple. Metro Atlanta contributes billions of dollars to the state’s coffers through the 4-cent sales tax and the 7.5-cent motor fuel tax.
The state has a vested interest in helping metro Atlanta thrive, and that means having a healthy regional transit system.
Unfortunately, the agonizing process of developing a $6.1 billion list of transit and road projects has made it painfully obvious that there’s just not enough money to pay for metro Atlanta’s near-term transportation needs.
One key way to bridge the gap between metro Atlanta’s needs and ability to pay for them is for the State of Georgia to become a full partner in supporting the region’s transit systems.
But at the meeting of the executive committee of the Atlanta Regional Transportation Roundtable on Aug. 4 when it was prioritizing the possible transit projects, financial participation on the part of the state seemed doubtful at best.
Todd Long, director of planning for the Georgia Department of Transportation (who has been orchestrating much of the formulation of the project lists across the state), told Roundtable members not to expect any support from the state.
Here was the context. Members of the Roundtable had not included $180 million to provide funding to maintain the Xpress buses over the next 10 years as part of its top priorities.
Now remember, the Xpress buses are under the control of the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority — a state entity that is completely governed by members appointed by the governor.
“As state planning director, you need to include the Xpress buses,” Long told the Roundtable members. “The state is not going to pick up the cost of Xpress. They will shut down Xpress. They don’t have the money in their budget to keep going.”
An interesting aside, Long — a DOT guy — was standing up for a GRTA expense, but was totally silent on whether money should be included to finance a commuter train between Atlanta and Griffin, as well as its sister project — a Multimodal Passenger Terminal in downtown Atlanta — a DOT project.
In fact, the overwhelming number of public comments at the end of the meeting was in support of the commuter rail project. And the Roundtable already had decided to include the commuter rail line as part of its second tier of transit projects.
Now consider a well-known fact. The largest transit agency in the state — MARTA — receives no regular operating support from the State of Georgia. In fact, MARTA is the largest transit agency in the country (the ninth largest) to receive no operating support from its state government.
As a result, MARTA (the backbone for all the region’s transit systems) has been operating on a starvation budget. It has had to cut back its rail and bus services, and it has had to approve a fare increase that will go into effect later this year.
To add insult to injury, the any money raised with regional transportation sales tax can not go towards supporting existing MARTA operations. Without a doubt, the most cost-effective use of transit dollars would go towards MARTA operations — to increase the frequency of its trains as well as its buses.
Now how egregious is this situation?
According to the most recent statistics (see Table 1-9) on the American Public Transportation Association website, the State of New York invests more than $3 billion a year in its transit systems — an average of $155 per person annually.
Massachusetts invests $1.2 billion in transit, or $181 per capita. California: $2.3 billion or $63 per person. Pennsylvania: $1.1 billion or $91 per capita. New Jersey: $1 billion or $120 per capita. Maryland: $844 million or $149 per capita.
By comparison, Georgia invests $6 million a year in transit — 63 cents per person. Only three other states invest less per capita than Georgia — Idaho (20 cents); Montana (43 cents); and Wyoming (54 cents). Not one of those three states could be considered urban, transit-oriented places.
And then we hear from Long that the state will not even contribute to the state-run Xpress bus system. With that kind of stance, what are the chances that the state will support commuter rail or MARTA or any other transit agency in the state?
As an aside to our dear state leaders, let this serve as a warning. Regional transit governance is the next big issue on the horizon. If the state wants to take control of our regional transit systems (be it through GRTA or another state authority), it must be prepared to pay a proportional amount of funding to whatever power it will have.
Meanwhile, the vacuum must be filled.
The State of Georgia needs to become a full partner in metro Atlanta’s plans to develop and maintain a first-class regional transit system.
Posted by Tracy Gould Sheinin for Virginia Highland/Druid Hills Patch
MARTA and Atlanta BeltLine, Inc. (ABI) invite the public to share input on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) during public hearings. The EIS will determine the alignment of transit and trails in the Atlanta BeltLine Corridor and the technology for transit – either Modern Streetcar or Light Rail. During the hearings, attendees will have the opportunity to talk with project representatives about the environmental study and review plans and graphics.
The public hearings and the official comment period ending on September 17, 2011, will be the final opportunity for the public to provide vital input on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement. During the hearings, the public will be invited to submit written comments about the project. A court reporter will be on hand to record verbal comments.
The Public Hearings will take place on: August 16, 2011, 1:00pm – 3:00pm & 6:00pm – 8:00pm at All Saints’ Episcopal Church, 634 West Peachtree St. NW (Take MARTA to the North Avenue Station, parking also available). August 18, 2011, 1:00pm – 3:00pm & 6:00pm – 8:00pm at Hager CTM Building, 19 Joseph E. Lowery Blvd. NW (Take MARTA to the Ashby Rail Station, parking also available).
If you are unable to attend the hearings, you can provide comments by calling 404-524-2070, faxing to 404-848-5132, emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or visiting the project websites here and here.
England’s A3 tunnel will cost $402 million per mile, making it the most expensive project of its kind in the United Kingdom. Photo by Tom O’Donoghue
We recently wrote about Glasgow’s controversial and expensive road expansion—an elevated six-lane highway to complete Glasgow’s ring of motorways that will cost more than $200 million per mile. But despite the hefty price tag, the road is only the second most expensive project in the United Kingdom. This month the U.K. will witness a 1.2-mile tunnel project, the A3, in Surrey, a county in southeast England. The estimated cost of the project: $402 million per mile.
Once completed, the expensive yet short tunnel road will become the longest of its kind in the U.K. Although most people reading the prices of these projects may still be in sticker shock, Geoff French, the vice president of the Institution of Civil Engineers, does not find it surprising at all. “There’s a huge cost penalty when you put a road up in the sky or down in the ground,” he says.
According to Transport Scotland, the cost for a new three-lane highway on average is $47 million per mile. Based on these calculations, the 1.2-mile tunnel in Surrey will be 10 times the average cost of a new highway. Part of the reason for the high cost, at least in the case of Glasgow’s M74 extension, is that the construction project requires the compulsory purchasing of property. With the addition of the cost of planning consultation and public inquiries, the cost goes up—and that’s for an elevated road. “An underground road costs even more—roughly twice that of an elevated one,” BBC reports. Going Underground
The higher cost makes sense. In addition to difficulties of actual construction, underground projects must deal with geology. The presence of rock, for example, is recorded as an ideal opportunity for underground space development, according to Australasian Tunnelling Society. Digging through soil is even better. However, running into granite during the construction process can become time-consuming and more expensive because it’s more difficult to blast and dig through.
Besides geological obstructions, a tunnel construction project must consider the excavated soil and rock: what to do with it, where to get rid of it and how to take it there. Another factor to consider is support for the dug up tunnel. The machine responsible for digging the tunnel is considerably smaller than the tunnel itself. Once the machine goes deeper in the path, the dug up tunnel must be supported with precast circular segments, to avoid the collapse of the earth. All of these details considerably add to the price of a tunnel project.
“But sometimes there is no alternative to going underground,” reports the BBC. “[The A3 tunnel] allows the road to expand to four lanes by digging up to 195ft (60m) under Hindhead Commons.” And according to Rob Fairbanks, director of the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, “Building a dual carriageway on the surface would have caused great damage,” perhaps because the surface has significant landscape value.
Sir Peter Hall, a Barlett professor of planning at the University College London, explains that spending on such projects will be a rare occurrence in the future. “Indeed, road projects like the M74 extension and A3 tunnel may never be repeated,” the BBC reports. “Nowadays, most city councils subscribe to the view that urban motorways fracture communities rather than aid economic development.”
Demolition work on Seattle’s Alaskan Way Viaduct started in February 2011, relieving the city from maintenance costs. Photo by Cliff.
Knocking Down Freeways
In the U.S., cities are tearing down freeways to avoid maintenance and replacement. Just this past March, NPR ran a story on freeway removal that highlights a contradictory trend to Europe’s expensive new roads. The freeways built in the ’50s and ’60s are deteriorating to a condition where they are no longer safe to use, so cities are choosing to dismantle them instead of repair them. “Milwaukee removed a freeway spur for $30 million,” according to NPR. “Officials estimated it would have cost between $50 million and $80 million to fix that roadway.”
Money is a big motivator for such a decision and it is by no means a localized issue. Seattle’s Alaskan Way Viaduct, with the wear-and-tear of the years and the damage of a 2001 earthquake, was demolished in February 2011, making way for an underground tunnel in the region. But money is not the only motivator. Portland’s four-lane freeway, Harbor Drive, was shut down in the ’70s in a beautification effort of the west bank of the Wilamette River. The space is now occupied by a greenway and the current success of Portland’s downtown is credited mostly to the demolition of Harbor Drive.
San Francisco went through a similar transformation with its Embarcadero Freeway. Although the freeway’s actual demolition didn’t come to fruition until damage from a 1989 earthquake, the road was believed to be “the city’s worst planning mistake” and “denounced as an eyesore” that blocked the waterfront early in its lifetime, according to a New York Times article from 1990.
Today, a handful of U.S. cities are joining the movement. New Haven, for example, has been debating whether to convert a one-mile expressway corridor into a network of city streets. The Board of Alderman decided in December 2010 that it would accept a federal grant and pursue the demolition.
But perhaps the trend hasn’t gone national quite yet. Similar to Glasgow’s M74 or Surrey A3, Boston completed a $20-billion, 3.35-mile tunnel project that re-routes the city’s main highway. In early June, we reported on a new study by Smart Growth America that said, between 2004 and 2008, states spent $37.9 billion annually on repair and expansion projects for their roads and highways.
By the same token, “Anyone who follows infrastructure maintenance can tell you that this country has not been doing it’s job when it comes to maintaining roads,” as blogger James Sinclair wrote for Stop and Move, saying we face a potential future of “crumbling” highways and “structurally unsound” overpasses. It looks like we have a long way to go.
Outside of the U.S., cities have gained international recognition for tearing down unnecessary concrete. One recent high-profile example is Seoul, where city planners helped to restore the Cheonggyecheon river by removing three miles of elevated highway, which help cut air pollution and reduce air temperatures.
According to Patrick Condon, Vancouver owes its livability to its lack of freeways. Photo by Evan Leeson.
Livable Cities Don’t Have Freeways
Early this year, Vancouver was named the world’s most liveable city for the fifth consecutive time. Conducted by the Economist Intelligence Unit, Vancouver received high scores in terms of stability, health care, culture, environment, education and infrastructure—or the lack thereof. According to Patrick Condon, a visiting professor of livable environments at the University of British Columbia, the main reason behind Vancouver’s prestigious title is the city’s “determination in the 1970s and ‘80s to resist the lure of freeways as an easy answer to traffic problems.”
Instead of building freeways, Vancouver’s local councils gathered to draft a long-term plan for the city’s growth. “Central to the plan was investment in public transport, cycling and pedestrian measures—not freeways,” explains the Age. “The theory was that congestion, and the desire to avoid it, would drive commuters to alternatives: moving closer to their work and using the trains and bus system.” No freeways, no way to run off to the suburbs.
Interestingly enough, a study by Brown University found that a city’s population can decrease 18 percent because of the building of a major highway. In an interview with Planetizen, Nathaniel Baum-Snow, the economist behind the study, explains the reasoning:
“If suburb A builds a highway to connect to suburb B, that’s going to affect the distribution of commutes not only between those suburbs but also the commutes in the region as a whole. So there are going to be these externalities where someone in suburb C has a faster way to get to work, so they’re going to start using it and filling up this new highway. And a business downtown might say, hey, there’s this new infrastructure, let’s go locate out there and I can have a lot more space to work with. So anytime one part of a region changes something, it’s going to affect population and employment throughout the metropolitan area. So I think it’s important to engage at the regional level.”
Which automobile-dependent landscapes in the U.S. are the most forsaken? Where would the pedestrian-oriented European strategies seem most out of place and yet potentially have the greatest impact on increasing affordability, health and livability while reducing greenhouse gases and re-using existing infrastructure? Commercial strip corridors.
Top of the list of unloved, underperforming and ubiquitous places, they were engineered for the single purpose of swiftly moving cars. But overzoned for commercial uses, they are now clogged with cars on both local and through trips. They provide access to cheaper land and “drive till you qualify” affordable housing – but then eat up the savings as transportation costs have risen to 20 to 40 percent of household budgets. They are aging with little prospect of funding for maintenance. And their high vacancy rates just add to the dispiritedness of a failed public realm.
Can they be retrofitted into attractive, transit boulevards lined with trees, sidewalks and affordable housing and anchored by mixed-use centers with a public life to be proud of? June Williamson and I are tracking over 35 North American corridors that are being redesigned not to make driving miserable, but to recognize the multiple social, environmental, economic and transportation purposes that great streets serve. Their integration was highlighted in the grassroots-led temporary re-striping of Ross Avenue as “Ross Ramblas” in Dallas this week at Build a Better Boulevard. Participants employed several techniques of Tactical Urbanism, including pop-up shops, chairbombing and dumpster pools.
Every U.S. city once had street cars. Will Americans ever again support public investment in mass transit?
More typical is the ongoing 10-year revitalization of a five-mile stretch of Columbia Pike in Arlington County, Va. It exemplifies the intelligent use of tight form-based codes to grow from one-story strip buildings in parking lots to mid-rise mixed-use buildings fronting tree-lined sidewalks at nodes on major intersections. The site-specific code quickly tapers heights where the new development faces the existing neighborhoods and new bike lanes on the less busy streets. This strategy retains the existing affordable housing in between the nodes while the tax revenue from the new density goes toward supporting a streetcar.
Cambie Corridor in Vancouver is employing similar techniques but has upped the ante with some stunning modern mixed-use buildings and a highly efficient district energy system that balances out daytime commercial energy demands with the residential night-time peak loads.
Aiding these efforts is the new street design manual for walkable urban thoroughfares. It is the first officially recommended practice that does not refer to sidewalks as “vehicle recovery zones”! El Paso recently adopted the manual to connect its implementation of Bus Rapid Transit with redevelopment of outdated properties along five major corridors. Imagine if all 50 DOTs followed suit and revised their Level of Service Standards accordingly! We might see more transformations of urban highways to boulevards and Complete Streets.
Funding remains an obstacle and demand for Sustainable Communities Partnership federal planning grants far outstrips supply. Can private real estate developers fund streetcars as they did early in the 20th century? Can the public again support public sector investments in infrastructure, as it did mid-century? How else can we provide an alternative to our broken system of “drive till you qualify” affordable housing, accommodate changing demographics and markets and make our least sustainable landscapes into places worth caring more about?