Tag Archives: city

on streetcar vs. bicycle

The Atlanta Streetcar is ALMOST HERE. That is to say of course, it is here, it’s been here, the boarding platforms are complete and the tracks are all down, we know, because we bike and, well >> warning-streetcar-tracks

Our friend K I’m sure is not the first one whose bicycle has run afoul of the new streetcar tracks, but she can tell you from experience that it ain’t pretty she’s lucky the most un-pretty it got for her was a big blood blister leading to a very nasty bruise on her thigh.

So naturally there’s been some discussion, inevitable disgruntlements, complaints and dire predictions of lawsuits and doomsday to come thanks to “poor planning.”

I looked into a few other city’s streetcar vs. bike experiences to get some perspective and came up with a number of lawsuits primarily in Seattle where the plaintiffs seemed primarily to be arguing “poor design” or lack of design for bicyclists. In these cases there was no separate bicycle lane or, in a recent issue, the bicycle lane was blocked by pedestrians getting on the streetcar resulting in a decision by the cyclist to enter the roadway where she wiped out on the tracks. One Seattle author asked, what do cyclists seek to gain with these lawsuits? and her point is valid.

My concern is that while bikes are a crucial piece of the transit puzzle, so too is public transportation, and I’m not sure how much good can come of one form of alternative transportation getting mad at another in a city that’s struggling (but really trying) to get out automobile gridlock. There will always be transportation choices, there need to be, so for our transit to work all modes have to coexist.

Coexisting usually means following the rules and here’s the way to do it in Atlanta. DO NOT RIDE ON THE SAME SIDE AS THE STREETCAR! In Atlanta, since streetcar traffic goes east on Edgewood and west on Auburn, bicycle traffic does the opposite and to reinforce the plan, bicycle lanes, sharrows, and signage only exist on the recommended riding areas so that cyclists are not at all encouraged to ride alongside the rails. In fact I think the handy signs above were recently installed.

Granted, we cyclists, hovering in a lovely free zone between vehicular and pedestrian traffic, are hard to discourage. But this is serious, tracks are hazards, but they are known hazards and you don’t wanna tangle with em, K can tell you.

Yours truly, following the rules on Auburn Ave.

lessons on Urban Sprawl

This book really got my gut, maybe that was the point. I can’t stand fear tactics (although this stuff does actually keep me up at night) but I also can’t stand the attitude that we have had rampant consumption so far and the world hasn’t ended so let’s keep going! I tried to shorten my paper for your enjoyment but I’m afraid it’s still long, so skip to the end if you must:

A REPORT ON: Sprawl: a compact quashing of the anti-sprawl debate (damn affluent hippies)

I nearly threw Robert Bruegmann’s Sprawl: a Compact History on the tracks of the subway about fifty times. My fellow passengers probably thought I was a bit nuts making scoffing “ha!” sounds and scrawling in the margins every thirty seconds, but I plugged on, thinking maybe I better hear out this “rational account.” For I agreed with a quote on the back cover, that we do indeed need a realistic look at our growth patterns and ideas on “better ways to manage sprawl” rather than the infinite ‘solutions’ to sprawl. Population growth and thus urban growth is inevitable, and because we are who we are and because we can what we can sprawl may be inevitable too. However, I do not agree with an infinite number of Bruegmann’s counter arguments to the anti-sprawl debate which strike me as infinitely unreasonable even though they are oft-heard arguments in America today.

To begin at the beginning though, Bruegmann does offer a fine brief history of the growth patterns of American cities. Briefing his readers on the expansion of the urban environment from a sharp delineation of rural and urban (think of the walled city) to the earliest moves out of the city, a softening of that boundary as an “exurban” area is created and how this was made possible through developments in transportation and communication. Transportation developments in particular brought a new way of living to the city, commuting and escape from the density of the urban core were possible at first for those who could afford the transportation and development occurred along transportation corridors (look at NYC’s commuter lines and streetcar suburbs elsewhere). This would change with the automobile, which rather quickly became widely available to all classes, and so has been considered “the great equalizer.” A large part of Bruegmann’s opposition to anti-sprawl is that he sees anti-sprawlers as a bunch of affluent elitists, trying to keep down the lower and middle classes and force their own ideas of civilization onto them to ultimately to serve their own ends (he says anti-sprawlers promote public transportation just to free up the roads for their own use… um, no? I don’t want to drive my car, i want public transportation to work for ME).

When in doubt, Bruegmann can always pull out a card to destabilize his opponents, but this is merely the mark of a good debater, and that tactic works both ways.

After a few short chapters his “brief history” has broken down. Chapter four disputes traditional ideas about suburban sprawl in the 1950s and chapter five covers the 1970s onward in which he points out that earlier subdivisions are already being gentrified, and old buildings are being replaced with newer, bigger ones. Then he suggests that this should please anti-sprawlers—though why they would be pleased with a ranch house holding 4 people replaced with a McMansion holding 4 people is a bit confusing but there is no time for questions for by this point he is so worked up that he uses that brilliant point to suggest that anti-sprawlers are just scared of change! Ouch.

In the course of Part II after reducing the amount of sprawl post-WWII to peanuts, “suburban development of the postwar decades actually occupied very little of the total land mass of America,” he manages to sneer at the concept of ‘sustainability,’ imply that an endless supply of land and resources exist for us to use, and vindicate the automobile from its role as a polluter and perpetuator of sprawl among other things. It was these points which almost landed his words, ironically, on the tracks of a public transit line in the sprawling metropolis of Atlanta, Georgia.

Bruegmann has lost me and I am analyzing his writing for tactics now, unable to put much faith in his figures. For instance, he uses statistics as appalling as his opponents’ are (he says), to galvanize their arguments and in doing so he also galvanizes his own by successfully demonstrating the ability to use any statistic to your own advantage:

…automobile manufacturers have been so successful in boosting fuel efficiency [they have?] and reducing emissions, and public transportation in the United States today carries such light loads, that even with only 1.5 occupants per vehicle in cars, most new automobiles generate little or no more pollution per person per passenger vehicle mile than the average bus.

Despite my many quarrels with this statement (Priuses vs “average” buses or fuel efficient CNG buses?), what I ultimately find most interesting is that Bruegmann obviously views this as a reason to just go ahead and drive your own car, rather than a reason to get more people on the buses so as to tilt the equation the other way. Proof that, in the end, despite all the reasoning we can do, most of us who are strongly situated one way or another will be able to support our own separate arguments from the same data and sound equally convincing. As he so rightly says later on: “the ‘solution’ to any given problem depends on the vantage point of the person doing the proposing.”

For all the quotations on the back cover about Sprawl being a “sound and reasoned history of this pattern of living,” Bruegmann has let his light shine and comes across time and again as an idiot who is as much against change as his opponents. While anti-sprawlers may be afraid of change to the built and natural environment (for many reasons and rightly so), Bruegmann speaks for himself and a multitude of patriotic Americans, in that they are even more afraid of any change to their lifestyle, particularly if that change might perceptively “cramp” their lifestyle.

Here is the take-home from my soapbox:
For my part, I don’t care if you dream of a house made of ticky tacky and 1.5 hour commutes alone in your car but why would it ever be a bad idea to conserve? God made this world right? We should treat it with the respect and care it deserves, use what we need but only what we need and preserve its beauty. But even so, whether you believe God has provided an infinite supply of fresh water, clean air, and amber waves of grain or if it is at least just going to last to the end of your life, why would it be a bad idea to go ahead conserve those resources anyway? Just because there IS a whole tray of cupcakes in the fridge does that mean you should eat them all before the kids come home? Just wondering.

demolition time again

Times they are a’changin’. Well, really nothing about TIME is a’changin’, Atlanta’s doing what she’s always done, we’ve had a bit of reprieve thanks to the down economy and perhaps that’s why the swath of demolitions is suddenly so noticeable, but the streetscapes in midtown are certainly changing, again. A few months ago I took a nice stroll around midtown Atlanta, from Rhodes Hall down Spring, and down the ‘teenth streets all the way to Crescent. I discovered a couple historic residences i didn’t know exited, including the Castle on 15th, and I later learned it’s renown in annals of Atlanta preservation. I found Front Page News midtown houses in a chopped up old house and neighboring restaurants the same, a half intact residential block nestled among skyscrapers—rockin! I found a creepy old residence, converted to restaurant, hair salon, and a jumble of other possible retail activity before being abandoned behind it’s old magnolia and encroaching tropical plants. This house is coming down today. They’ve already torn out the mid-section and I imagine i can hear the beeping of bulldozers in reverse even from here at Rhodes Hall. Sad, but who was going to fight for this mangled old midtown building, once home to Atlanta lives long-forgotten? And that magnolia, it would’ve had to go, although I think there is some Southern biblical thing about not cutting down the magnolia grandiflora.


Sadder maybe is what demolition means for the evolution of an area. Lunch the other day found us on Crescent Ave NE, which used to look like the screenshot below. Front Page News is still holding it’s own but that adorable green house was already half gone, making room for something new that will maximize land-use profitability on the corner. However, with land being cleared for another new construction one block back, you have to wonder what this spells out for the rest of that enclave of low-story and mostly residential structures tucked so poetically among the highrises. Diversity is disappearing, you can bet whatever goes up next will not be bright green and cloaked come spring in purple wisteria. Diversity is beautiful.

Istanbul progress

PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan has a plan. Istanbul is going to be the financial capital of the world. It could a blip in the translation, but my version says “THE financial capital,” forget New York, London, Hong Kong, think: Istanbul. But this capitalism won’t come cheap for Turks. Their capital city is taking a hit of uber-modernization as it (unrelated to the PM’s worldly aspirations) grows it’s way to being a megalopolis and the current PM and money hungry developers are no help. In fact, it seems that the historic preservation regulations that have been in place for decades are no help either!

Haribo Towers I

This was brought to my attention this morning by a story on npr which i subsequently looked up and learned about a very interesting documentary featuring Istanbul called Ecumenopolis (I’ll save that discussion for another day).

Meanwhile, I am in the middle of reading a book for class titled Preserving the World’s Great Cities in which Anthony Tung says of Istanbul that already “the skyline that was once made up of domes and minarets of mosques is now dominated by looming and massive modern hotels.”

Similar to the reconfiguring of cities that went on in Paris in the mid-1800s, and the general flattening of blocks and blocks of existing buildings for the sake of a few 1960s high rises and a multitude of parking spaces, Istanbul is reconfiguring herself to fit the deep pockets of her middle and upperclass guides. Maximization of commercial space/income-producing properties is a priority. Developers are seizing greenspace and the PM is scheming to direct traffic into the last of the metropolis’ forests while locals are suspicious he plans to convert an architectural gem of a public train station into a shopping mall. Meanwhile new developments and gated communities spring up for the wealthy and the poor are crammed into high rise projects to maximize land value and revenue.

One particularly creative twist on the part of developers involves a city park mentioned in the npr story. There has been a park here since the 1940s when an Ottoman army barracks was abandoned and demolished. After years of coveting this prime real estate, someone finally got the brilliant idea to use Turkey’s law of preserving historic buildings to develop it and so, says the director of the Ecumenopolis film, “in order to protect this already-demolished building, they’re rebuilding it… They’re saying their preserving” something that is already gone, making a reconstruction which will, actually, serve as a shopping mall. Oy vey.

What will happen when these capitalist hogs wake up though and find there are too many malls in the historic shells of once-useful buildings, too many to meet the small demand of the few who can eek their way into a city by car or bus on the overpacked roads where not a green thing is in sight. what then?

inside Haydarpasa Station: I can see why developers want it but how about retaining your beautiful historic resources as they were built to be used?

Foreclosure may put Monkeys in Straits

It’s not everyday that a skyscraper goes on the chopping block, or rather, the steps of the courthouse auction block, or is it? The news came yesterday over the morning radio that the 55-story Bank of America Plaza was going into foreclosure and would be auctioned off. The fact of this does not really concern me, if you look on Wikipedia, the current owners paid a hefty $436 million—$348 per square foot—for the building, well, it seems like a lot but I know nothing about buying skyscrapers.

What wikipedia will NOT tell you (anymore) about this building is that in the odd exposed-structure pyramidal top, monkeys dwell. It’s true, says J, a native of the Atlanta metro area who ought to know. Originally the pyramidal top was intended to be covered in glass, but, somehow, the weight of the glass was not taken into account in the construction and had to be left off. What was left was a pyramidal jungle gym perfect for monkeys and you can even hear them calling on late nights downtown. Listen for them next time you’re headed to the Fox.

So, foreclosure, what will this mean for the monkeys?

Adventures in Parking #2

You may not all know about #1 but that was when i locked my keys in my car downtown. At that time I accidentally forgot to pay for parking and it went unnoticed, but last night the illicitness was intentional. I thought I could get away with it and left my car in a gated lot, only to find, at 9:35 when i got to the desolate part of the block i’d parked on that my car was locked inside! i was so stressed with school I calmly decided not to worry about it til morning, immediately preparing myself to pay whatever it took. Thank goodness for neighbor classmates—I called J and she gave me a lift home.

There was nothing else for it, I woke up before 5am, early even by my studying standards (but Viv was still up first) and headed out the door for the 5:24 bus. Do they even run that early i wondered, but soon enough boarded a half-full bus which is pretty good for Marta! sure enough, 5:51 found me at Five Points and walking north toward my car, the streets were still shady. Moments after I arrived (gate still locked which i was glad of, hoping to catch the attendant), a Rapid Taxi van pulled up and a not-very-talkative fellow hoped out to unlock the gates, 6am on the dot.

I am totally in support of the disjointed 3rd party parking lot operator system! I drove out of there scot-free but you can bet i won’t be parking THERE again.

This put me on Peachtree headed north at 6:05am, an ungodly hour to be in downtown Atlanta, but lo and behold a Starbucks was open on the corner of 6th (or so, i’m not really sure how far up i am), so i’ve enjoyed watching the light come up and Atlantans come out in the early morning. I have to note that even the Starbucks on Peachtree has a local crowd, people know each other here, this one guy next to me chats with a kid and his dad, a girl with her out-of-town guests in for a conference says hello to other neighbors who ask about her dog, and an older fellow studying his Bible has an early morning meeting, while joggers come in for coffee before heading home to change for work. It’s been a rather enjoyable morning and i think, even if i’d had to shell out the dough, it would’ve been a good morning anyway. Now is it almost time for me to saunter on up Peachtree to Rhodes Hall where i will park my car totally legally and free for the rest of the day.

it is also pretty cool that i can take a photo with my computer for this post (:

Buckhead and the CBD

a CBD (Central Business District) is, while usually a city’s downtown, not always. It is often defined in bigger cities by an upsurge of skyscrapers plotted on the horizon like some economical bar graph. Many cities, with the advent of the car and suburbs have developed a 2nd CBD which may work in sync with or simply leave behind the old downtown. In Atlanta for instance the business district walked itself up Peachtree St to Buckhead in the mid-20th century, and in the 21st century has walked farther north and spread itself in office park pockets along the perimeter to accomodate their employees and have cheaper rent. As a CBD moves, it has ahead of it the “zone of assimilation” and leaves behind it a “zone of discard.” As it evolves, we see the center tighten and the frame go through a variety of changes as it learns to support or is excluded by the core. Residential neighborhoods like what was once Buckhead evolve to accommodate the incoming business and eventually bow to destruction. The following is a class blog post on the subject.

Buckhead hasn’t always been the mass of office buildings, condos, and shopping centers it is today. It was once a home for the wealthy who planted their estates on the picturesque hills just up the road from Atlanta’s center, followed by middle class neighborhoods like Garden Hills that emerged as Atlanta grew outward in the early 20th century. Buckhead wasn’t even annexed by Atlanta until 1952, but it didn’t take long for this jumble of major intersections to lure business from downtown and become Atlanta’s 2nd CBD. The construction of Lenox Square mall in 1959 and Lenox Towers in 1966 led the way and Buckhead has been constantly evolving ever since. This constant construction and evolution has created pockets of zones of both assimilation and discard as the skyscrapers and widened roadways leave shops behind only to re-envelope bits of the frame later. Funnily, despite all the destruction and construction Buckhead has never completely obliterated it’s past, making for some dramatic juxtapositions in the landscape.

Even in the core of the CBD, bits of architectural history remain, this fancy home sits next door to the original towers of Buckhead (Lenox Towers). The front lawn has long since been paved and The Mansion (condos), along with other glass office buildings, now towers over it.

Just a few blocks from the core, one finds a confusing mix of architecture. Quaint cottages remain, standing alone amidst condos and modern shopping centers where they were once part of whole neighborhoods. Oddly, some neighborhood streets have remained intact, but zoning has made them solidly commercial.

It’s not just homes from the first half of the century, but even mid-20th century single-story shopping centers that sprang up to feed the growth are now dwarfed by parking decks and loomed over by the ever-present construction crane, evidence of Buckhead’s constant evolution.

Finally, my favorite juxtaposition is of the streets and neighborhoods that remain residential, walled off from the highway and still in the shadows of skyscrapers. Middle class and wealthy neighborhoods alike were not spared the jarring the imposition of these towers on their vista.