Another Guido Failure

New Jersey Governor Chris Christine charges NJ taxpayers up to $350 million for nothing by scrapping the largest public transportation project in the country. This is just all kinds of dumb.

http://www.crainsnewyork.com/article/20101027/FREE/101029878#

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Safer Crosswalk Design

Korean designer Jae Min Lim proposed this new crosswalk design to mimic the natural pedestrian walk in the form of an  arc. In general I find pedestrian crossings chaotic- this could be a good solution.

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How Politicians Can Win Over Young Voters

A Facebook friend posted an interesting New York Times article about the changing fluidity of adulthood for young 20 something’s. Normally this blog will be about planning issues; however planning and politics often intersect, and more importantly, it’s my blog and I will write about whatever I feel like. The following quote spurred an idea about how Politicians could use a unique selling point to appeal to young voters.

 But what would it look like to extend some of the special status of adolescents to young people in their 20s? Our uncertainty about this question is reflected in our scattershot approach to markers of adulthood. People can vote at 18, but in some states they don’t age out of foster care until 21. They can join the military at 18, but they can’t drink until 21. They can drive at 16, but they can’t rent a car until 25 without some hefty surcharges. If they are full-time students, the Internal Revenue Service considers them dependents until 24; those without health insurance will soon be able to stay on their parents’ plans even if they’re not in school until age 26, or up to 30 in some states. Parents have no access to their child’s college records if the child is over 18, but parents’ income is taken into account when the child applies for financial aid up to age 24. We seem unable to agree when someone is old enough to take on adult responsibilities. But we’re pretty sure it’s not simply a matter of age.

 

Young voters are a difficult segment to appeal to politically; they do not think in unison the way manner as some voting blocks. Although generally social liberal, bold stances on wedge issue can mean death to politicians in moderate to conservative districts. Politicians generally attempt the same generic, I will increase funding for higher education bs. Young voters are adept at spotting such political pandering, and additionally only about 40-60% of 18-24 year olds are either enrolled in or graduates of college. It is very difficult to find an issue that politicians can champion that doesn’t alienate another voting segment.  I might have identified such an issue.

This article presents a unique selling point that politicians can make. They can lecture about the changing nature of adulthood, and how frustrating and dehumanizing is can be for institutions to not treat young adults like adults. On a personal anecdote, one of my greatest frustrations in high school was the lack of consistent and fair policies. I was given a free pass to roam wherever I please during a school trip to Manhattan, but was unable to get off at a friend’s bus stop without parental permission.  

Perhaps I am reaching here, but I think a politician could make a unique selling point of deriding this trend, and pledging to attempt to rein in this inconsistent treatment. For example, they could point to a specific policy goal such as outlawing differential treatment in insurance rates based on age and other such policies. The main goal is to attempt to provide a definitive, legally consistent definition of adulthood. It might seem micro-political, but a lecture geared towards young voters about the importance of actually treating them like they adults they are can’t hurt and will only help a politician gain votes.

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Columbia River Crossing

The Columbia River Crossing, popularly known as CRC, is a hotbed issue that has consumed the Portland Metro area.  The plan is to build a new bridge that would cross over the Columbia River, connecting Vancouver, WA with Portland, OR.  The current bridge is widely considered outdated; the current Interstate Bridge is actually made up of two side-by-side bridges. The northbound bridge was built in 1917 and the southbound bridge in 1958.

Around $40 million has been poured into a consultant team that has proposed a 12 lane super bridge that has left environmental and planning activists steaming. They cry that the bridge is too big, too expensive, and will increase suburban sprawl. Portland Mayor Sam Adams has weighed in on the proposal, stating that he wants an “iconic” bridge.  The proposed bridge would be a first of its kind model with metal web sidings.

I have a couple thoughts on the issue. My first concern is attempting something that has never been done before, particularly with a multi-billion dollar investment project. I would prefer a safer, tested model to an unknown bridge model that will inevitable incur cost over runs and time delays. If you want to see an example of what happens when large scaled untested infrastructure projects are attempted, check out Boston’s Big Dig Fiasco.  My only comment on the size issue is that I would prefer a project that will meet the region’s needs for a long time. Building a small scale bridge that will become outdated in twenty years will not benefit anyone.

My only other thought on this issue is a concerning trend that has arisen in Planning; overdependence on consultants. The rapidly growing consultant field is often used as a cure-all for planning projects. Call me old fashioned, but I feel a little uneasy paying top dollar for usually out of town firms to run a cities’ long range planning process.  I would prefer to use consultants to consultant on a planning process, but keep local planners as the project manager.

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Free Parking is not free

In my previous post I discussed Eugene’s City Council’s ill-fated decision to eliminate metered parking at a loss of over $200,000 per year. This political decision was made more feasible because the parking revenue went into the giant sucking hole called the general fund. Demonstrating the tangible impacts of this loss are nearly impossible.  However, the city could have enacted a unique measure to increase downtown economic development while decreasing automobile traffic.

 I alluded to the idea of metered money being spent on increasing affordable housing in the downtown in my previous post.  This idea is replicated in many cities throughout the country in the form of parking benefit districts.  Some examples of this are Austin, Texas; Olympia, WA; and  Seattle, WA.

 The Institute for Transportation and Development Policy has released an 86 page report blasting the notion of free parking spurring economic development. It states:

 Free or very low cost on-street parking benefits only a few commuters. Employees and shopkeepers who arrive first   in the morning occupy the most convenient spaces, forcing customers arriving later to waste time and money looking for an available space farther away (page 3).

 This issue of employees taking up most of the parking spaces was briefly addressed in the Register Guard article. “But along with the benefit, business owners in the free parking area will have a responsibility to make sure their employees don’t take advantage of the situation by occupying curbside spaces.” How the business would actually accomplish not letting their employees park in free parking, or even how they would know that this was occurring was not addressed. There really isn’t a feasible solution to this problem.   

 Most of the parking benefit districts in the country use the finances for infrastructure improvements. In Eugene the money would be much better spent on encouraging housing development. An increase in residents would increase economic activity. This would have a tangible economic benefit to the city and would also encourage sustainable walking, biking and transit riding. Something the genius City Council supposedly supports.

 One of the most widely cited and revolutionary planning books in recent memory, The High Cost of Free Parking, critiques the Eugene City Council mindset of free parking being a stimulus to retail activity. It gives the example of Old Pasadena California, which suffered declining infrastructure and economic development for thirty years until the early 90’s when it utilized meter revenue to create a business investment district.  This idea can be replicated in Eugene, with a slight twist.

 My other comment in this whole fiasco is the lack of organized opposition against this measure. It seems Eugene residents are able to oppose ideas when the NIMBY element exists, but fail to be as successful when longterm policy decisions are at play.  Where is the Planning and Development Director on this issue? How about LTD or the Eugene’s politically active bike culture?  These disparate groups should coalesce to fight a suburban sprawl mentality that permeates Eugene policy decisions.

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Another lesson in idiocy from Eugene City Council

The lack of common sense by the Eugene City Council never fails to amaze me. The Register Guard reported that the City Council voted 6-2 on August 11th to remove downtown parking meters from a 12 block area of downtown for a two year trial basis. This would cost the City an estimated $220,000 a year in lost parking revenue. The 12 block parking oasis will extend from Willamette Street to the east, Lincoln Street to the west, Seventh Avenue to the north and 11th Avenue to the south.

Besides the extreme financial loss of  a third of Eugene’s parking revenue, this decision has dire implications for how this city will view environmental and transportation issues. Parking meters provide the only financial incentive the City has to promote busing and biking. Without a 75 cent per hour disincentive, people now have almost zero financial reason to the the bus or bike into downtown. The financial windfall that this will bring is extremely overstated by the pro business city council. Most restaurant business activity comes from people working downtown or post 6 PM when a parking meter isn’t relevant.

If Eugene is to truly have a vibrant downtown, attempting to increase retail activity on the supply side isn’t the solution. An increase in downtown housing is the only longterm solution. There is far too much retail competition from the Valley River Center and Oakway Center to depend on people driving into downtown to meet their shopping needs. Eugene should put the parking meter money it generates, or should I say generated, into a bond account that will go towards incentives to develop downtown housing. They should particularly focus on college student housing. Downtown, with all its amenities, bars and close proximity to the University of Oregon, is an ideal place for college students to live. A vitalized downtown won’t occur with a few more people driving; it takes a large increase in the number of people living in the downtown core.

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Welcome to my blog

Welcome to my blog. This will serve as a space to discuss and critique the latest city planning news and coverage. I will focus on the Willamette Valley, but will also cover relevant planning news from around the globe. Join me on the ride. Via bike or bus of course.

plannerguy

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