Category Archives: pattern recognition

1 March 2012: Helsinki Equity/Transport project kicks-off

Today is the opening day of the 2012 Helsinki Equity-Based Transportation peer review program, the first in what we hope will become a growing thread of cooperating  city projects querying the impact of first reviewing and eventually restructuring our city and regional transportation systems around the fundamental core principle of equity. You will find details on the EBT site at https://equitytransport.wordpress.com/ starting at noon today. Continue reading

Message from Kaohsiung


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Op-Ed: Do you know your ecological footprint?

Toward the end of each year, I take a few minutes to run my personal Ecological Footprint scan to see if I can get a handle on how I am doing relative to myself, to others and to the planet. Seems like the least I can do, not less because it does oblige me to think about my life pattern and choices in the greater scheme of things. “Walk the talk”, etc., etc. (PS. On a more global basis, to get a feel for where the high scores hang out, this map of earth lights at night will provide you with some good clues.) Continue reading

Sustainable Transport and the Importance of Pattern Recognition

In order to turn around a very big boat that is moving in the wrong direction – think global warming or any of the other wrong-way trips that we are currently locked into when it comes to transport in cities – it helps to be smart, studious and work very hard. But it is if anything even more important to have a feel for what is really going on. And this is where the fine art of pattern recognition comes in. Pattern recognition: all too often the empty chair when it comes to understanding and decision making in the field of transport policy and practice. No wonder we are doing so poorly. Continue reading

To fix Sustainable Transport: Ensure Full Gender Parity in all Decision and Investment Fora (QED)

Today is International Women’s Day. And not only that, 2011 marks the one hundredth anniversary of this great and necessary idea. So what better occasion for World Streets to announce publicly, loudly and yet once again our firm belief that the most important single thing that our society, our nations and our cities could do to increase the fairness and the effectiveness of our transportation arrangements would be to make it a matter of the law that all decisions determining how taxpayer money is invested in the sector should be decided by councils that respect full gender parity. We invite you to join us in this challenge and make it one of the major themes of sustainable transport policy worldwide in 2011. Continue reading

Editorial: The Seven Simple Truths of Sustainable Mobility (Come argue with me)

Sometimes in life things can be simple. Let’s look at one case.

Doubtless the most severe single problem holding us back in the hard up-hill struggle for “sustainable transport” in cities and countries around the world is that so far everyone seems to have a different definition and a different agenda.  Google offered 947,000 entries under this phrase this morning and all it takes is a quick tour of the Google News rubric to  get a quick education on the enormous range of interpretations of what the phrase means to different people, places and interests. Continue reading

1.4285714285714285714285714285714 e-10

With the world’s population to pass seven billion next year– meaning that my and your fair share of the world’s resources will be on the order of 1.4285714285714285714285714285714e-10 – it is time perhaps to give some consideration as to who “owns” what on this sweltering planet. The very concept of ownership digs very deep into the psyche and the way in which the owned object is used. Let’s take your or my car for example. The odds are that one of us is an owner – and it is well known there is not a single country, a single city on this planet in which the owners of automobiles pay even a small fraction of their total cost to society. What does that mean in this particular case? Continue reading

Sharing: Strategy for a Small Planet

– Keynote address by Eric Britton, Co-Chair of the World Share/Transport Forum, to the first international Share/Transport Conference. Kaohsiung. 16 Sept. 2010

I appreciate this opportunity to share with this distinguished international audience by way of introduction to the presentations and discussions that will now follow a few words on why I think that the concept of more and better sharing of scarce resources of all kinds is an important concept for quality of life for each of us on this small and shrinking planet. And to talk with you as well briefly on why I have come to the conclusion that the transport sector gives us a great place to start both to do a lot more sharing and to learn about why we human beings like, or don’t like, the idea of sharing things. Let’s start with . . . ourselves. Continue reading

What Transportation And Public Health Can Learn From Each Other About Changing Public Behaviors

Which of the following is more likely to get you to drive slower down a street? Or to get the majority of car drivers on that street to slow down?

• A long talk with a friend about the dangers of speeding to yourself and others.
• A newly posted sign announcing a lower speed limit.
• A stop sign placed in the middle of the block.
• A series of speed bumps along the road. Continue reading

How to build more traffic? It's not hard. Read on.

A bit down on the resource column just to your left is an early warning system of sorts which calls up relevant articles from an eclectic collection of independent sources that publish regularly in areas related to our field. One of these is Planetizen, where yesterday we spotted this thoughtful interview we thought you might wish to check out. It’s an old story, but good research helps us to get beyond the purely anecdotal. And now that we know it, the job is to get that message across where it counts.

Freeways Responsible For Emptying Out Cities

– Interview by Tim Halbur, managing editor of Planetizen

A recent study shows that for every significant freeway that gets built in a major city, population declines by about 18%. Nathaniel Baum-Snow, author of the study, talks with Planetizen.

Photo: Nathaniel Baum-SnowNathaniel Baum-Snow is a professor of economics at Brown University. His research has been remarkable consistent and urban-centric since writing his dissertation in 2000 on “The Effects of New Public Projects to Expand Urban Rail Transit.” Baum-Snow’s work came to our attention when he was cited in a recent Boston Globe article quoting his study that concluded that each new federally-funded highway passing through a central city “reduces its population by about 18 percent.” The implication of this type of data-driven evidence of the effect of highway construction on cities is often hard to find, so we went to the source.

BAUM-SNOW: There’s a lot of anecdotal evidence we see out there in metropolitan cities that a lot of jobs exist in the suburbs, and that that wasn’t nearly as true 40 or 50 years from now. But amazingly enough, there’s not a lot of systematic, empirical evidence about the extent of which that employment decentralization has occurred, and their isn’t a lot of empirical evidence about how commutes have changed over time. In the process of writing my first paper about highways and suburbanization, I tried to read everything I could about this and I couldn’t find anybody who’d looked at this in a systematic way across metropolitan areas.

And it turns out that not only has the nature of residential and employment locations have changed dramatically, but the nature of commuting patterns have also changed dramatically. Now, the vast majority of commutes do not involve the central city at all, even commutes made by people who live in metropolitan areas, whereas in 1960, the majority certainly involved central cities either as origins or destinations or both. And that’s a major change. I think the next step is to try to understand all the things that generated that change.

PLANETIZEN: Over the last couple of decades, planners have shifted their attention to thinking about regional planning. It seems to me that your research could indicate that regional planning is unnecessary, because people tend to live and work in their own locality. Is that your take?

BAUM-SNOW: Actually, I think it’s an argument in favor of having more regional land use and transportation planning, and the reason is that if suburb A builds a highway to connect to suburb B, that’s going to effect 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 effect population and employment throughout the metropolitan area. So I think it’s important to engage at the regional level.

I think that zoning and densification are important. But there’s no way to make people or firms locate in a densely packed manner without providing the transportation infrastructure to allow them to do it. So you have to have some sort of policy at the metropolitan area-level. And what you can get is local communities imposing costs on everybody else by doing something like imposing big exclusionary zoning right next to the urban core. And that’s clearly not economically efficient for the region as a whole- they’re obviously trying to protect their housing values. So I think that it’s important for regional government to be proactive and realistic with transportation planning.

Everybody would like to live in a dense neighborhood as long as they have the biggest house on the block. So they have a lot of living space, but their neighbors are all contributing to the sidewalk life. There’s a balance there that is hard to get around, so there is a role for zoning that encourages density and gets the transportation infrastructure set up in a way that is feasible.


Image courtesy of Flickr user jbrownell.

PLANETIZEN: So was the creation of the highway system a good thing overall or a bad thing?

BAUM-SNOW: I do think that there was a welfare benefit from highway construction for a lot of people. People get to live in bigger homes, they have more choice in where they’d like to live. Now most households are dual-worker households, which wasn’t true back in 1950. Highways have allowed two people living in the same house to commute to different areas each day, so I think there’s been a welfare gain from that. So it’s sort of a mixed bag, but I think most people would say that although there have been some costs, the highway system has been a good thing.

A lot of people think that decentralization is about fleeing to the suburbs out of central cities, but if you look at the change in the spatial distribution of the population across large metropolitan areas, you find that it’s really much more of a spatial phenomenon. You see that the population density in the more peripheral regions of central cities actually went up quite a bit over the last 50 years, while the population of the central business districts went down.

PLANETIZEN: And how did you, as an economist, get interested in issues of transportation and land use planning?

BAUM-SNOW: Growing up I’d always been interested in urban transportation. I always loved riding the subway, and one of the first puzzles my parents gave me as a kid was a puzzle map of the United States with all the states and the interstate highways. And I would memorize the subway maps and bus maps, stuff like that. So it was always something I liked.

And as I got older, I would explore different neighborhoods in Boston (where I grew up), and I was fascinated how you could have such heterogeneity in land use patterns and in socio-demographic patterns within such a small space. So in college, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, but I had an interest in public policy and politics, and I took a lot of different classes. Economics struck me as a field that had the best hope in helping me think about all of these things in a satisfying way.

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Nathaniel Baum-Snow is an assistant professor of economics at Brown University. You can access his research papers at his website here.

About the author:
Tim Halbur is managing editor of Planetizen, the leading news and information source for the urban planning, design and development community. Tim is the co-author of Planetizen’s Insiders’ Guide to Careers in Urban Planning and Where Things Are, From Near to Far, a book for children about city planners and what they do. He is also an audio producer and artist, collaborating with artists Amy Balkin and Kim Stringfellow on Invisible 5, a self-guided critical audio tour along Interstate 5 between San Francisco and Los Angeles engaging with issues of environmental racism.