Energy & Resources
March 18, 2013

"If cities were stocks, you’d want to short Phoenix"

From Grist:
The least sustainable city: Phoenix as a harbinger for our hot future
Phoenix’s multiple vulnerabilities, which are plenty daunting taken one by one, have the capacity to magnify one another, like compounding illnesses. In this regard, it’s a quintessentially modern city, a pyramid of complexities requiring large energy inputs to keep the whole apparatus humming.
The urban disasters of our time — New Orleans hit by Katrina, New York City swamped by Sandy — may arise from single storms, but the damage they do is the result of a chain reaction of failures — grids going down, levees failing, backup systems not backing up. As you might expect, academics have come up with a name for such breakdowns: infrastructure failure interdependencies.
You wouldn’t want to use it in a poem, but it does catch an emerging theme of our time. …

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Heat is a tricky adversary. It stresses everything, including electrical equipment. Transformers, when they get too hot, can fail. Likewise, thermoelectric generating stations, whether fired by coal, gas, or neutrons, become less efficient [PDF] as the mercury soars. And the great hydroelectric dams of the Colorado River, including Glen Canyon, which serves greater Phoenix, won’t be able to supply the “peaking power” they do now if the reservoirs behind them are fatally shrunken by drought, as multiple studies forecast they will be. Much of this can be mitigated with upgraded equipment, smart grid technologies, and redundant systems. But then along comes the haboob.
A haboob is a dust/sand/windstorm, usually caused by the collapse of a thunderstorm cell. The plunging air hits the ground and roils outward, picking up debris across the open desert. As the Arabic name suggests, such storms are native to arid regions, but — although Phoenix is no stranger to storm-driven dust — the term haboob has only lately entered the local lexicon. It seems to have been imported to describe a new class of storms, spectacular in their vehemence …

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One day, some of them may look back and think of the real estate crash of 2007-2008 and the recession that followed with fond nostalgia. The city’s economy was in the tank, growth had stalled, and for a while business-as-usual had nothing usual about it. But there was a rare kind of potential. That recession might have been the last best chance for Phoenix and other go-go Sunbelt cities to reassess their lamentably unsustainable habits and re-organize themselves, politically and economically, to get ready for life on the front burner of climate change.
Full article here.

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Turns out that TransLink provides weekly updates on the Pattullo Bridge traffic counts – with some attractive charts if you’re into that kind of thing:

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And if you are, there’s plenty more where that come from – here.

Upshot: There’s lots of variation in the counts, but overall, traffic seems to be up 5 to 7 percent post Port Mann Bridge opening.

That’s probably a small but perceptible change to drivers, given that the use of bridge is maxxed out at rush hours.  But not high enough to suggest the leakage will have a negative impact on the expected numbers for Port Mann – unless there’s been a drop-off of traffic crossing the Fraser.

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From Co.Exist:
The Luchtsingel is a footbridge in Rotterdam (in the Netherlands) with two unusual attributes. One, it is all wood–17,000 individual planks. And two, it is funded by individual donations, not the city’s coffers. Each piece has someone’s name on it.

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The bridge is temporary, while Rotterdam gets together the necessary finances to build something permanent. But it’s likely the Luchtsingel will be around for a while. According to the city’s current schedule, the new bridge won’t be funded  for another 30 years.

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The Urban Land Institute, while not necessarily spearheading new trends, can often be definitive in describing them.  They do it again with Shifting Suburbs:
Successful strategies for creatively using and adapting infrastructure to support more dense development in America’s suburbs are highlighted in Shifting Suburbs: Reinventing Infrastructure for Compact Development, a new ULI report.

(Download Shifting Suburbs here.)

The report focuses on the growing trend for suburbs to be redesigned and redeveloped to be more people oriented than automobile dependent, offering more options for walking, cycling, or using public transit to get from one place to another.

The steady movement toward more compact suburban growth is being driven in part by generation Y, an 80 million–member demographic group that is entering the markets for housing and jobs. These young professionals tend to favor the convenience and choices provided by urban-style environments but often live outside city centers for employment or financial reasons. Fitting their lifestyle preferences into a suburban setting has, in many markets, triggered a movement to rethink traditional infrastructure design, the report says. …

Shifting Suburbs examines in extensive detail eight suburban infrastructure projects: …  The report evaluates the significant challenges faced by these places in trying to establish themselves as more compact suburban locations, including overcoming community resistance, obtaining the necessary funding, negotiating cross-jurisdictional planning issues, and establishing the required skill sets among the public and private organizations delivering redevelopment projects.

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The City has come out with proposals for the Point Grey Road/Cornwall Corridor – notably the concept for a separated route along the constricted connection between Kits and Jericho:

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Details here.   HUB report hereSurvey here.

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Also accompanying the plans for Cornwall-Point Grey is a proposal to reconfigure the intersection at the south end of the Burrard Bridge:

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Details here – second page.
Essentially it would square up the intersection, making it much more like a typical part of the classic Vancouver grid, adding some green space while retaining the number of lanes and capacity.
I confess some embarrassment.  I sat on a Council that voted some considerable bucks to the rebuilding of this intersection in its current form, even though it was suggested at the time [‘m thinking of you, Chris DeMarco (and others – see below under Frank Ducote’s comments)] that we had an opportunity to do pretty much then what the engineers have come up with now.
But that, you see, was considered way too radical because it departed too much from the expectations of motordom design, i.e. maximizing flows for the car to make it as fast and seamless as possible.  The ultimate expression is the cloverleaf – the design used for the ends of the Granville Bridge.  Yes, those circular on-off ramps that we are now removing (see the post on the Obsborn proposal below) because the land is too valuable and a squared-up grid can quite easily handle the demand.
The same with Viaducts: should we remove them?  The answer can be found in a question: if they didn’t exist, would we build them now?  If not, then it’s clear they’re not solving a problem that it’s necessary to address.  We can live without them.
In the case of Cornwall/Burrard, we will serve more uses, more safely, by drawing our design from the pre-motordom era.

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Public open houses scheduled as part of the first phase of consultation for this project:

Thursday January 31,   2013 7:00 PM – 9:00 PM* Queen Mary   Elementary School Gym 2000 Trimble Street

 

Saturday    February 2, 2013 10:00 AM – 2:00 PM* Kitsilano Community   Centre

Snowy’s Lounge2690 Larch Street

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*These meetings will be drop-in open house format. City staff will be available during the times listed to discuss the project, answer questions and gather input.

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Robert Caro’s “The Power Broker” – the biography of the 20th-century builder of New York, Robert Moses – had a big impact when I first read it in the 1970s.  (A must-read for any aspiring urbanist or anyone fascinated by New York City – or cities, period).  So I’m always alert to references, particularly if they have contemporary relevance.
This post in The Walking Bostonian has both.
First, an illustrated analysis of how Moses’s highway projects may have been the first powerful proof of “induced demand” – where the construction of new road capacity generates its own demand, well beyond anticipated growth.  From Caro:

The new parkways solved the problem for about three weeks. “It wasn’t more than three weeks after they opened that I decided to go out to Jones Beach on a Sunday,” Paul Windels recalls. “I got on the Interborough and by God it was as jammed as the Southern State ever was.” Moses announced that he had the solution: build forty-five miles of new parkways […]

Some city planners noticed that the traffic pattern on Long Island had fallen into a set pattern: every time a new parkway was built, it quickly became jammed with traffic, but the load on the old parkways was not significantly relieved. If this had been the pattern for the first hundred miles of parkways, they wondered, might it not be the pattern for the next forty-five as well? [p. 515]

Then, an important distinction between a road viaduct and an elevated transit line:

The El had brought people through Third Avenue on their way to and from its stations. The parkway did not. Moreover, although the El had been a huge, gloomy structure, it was, as Cathy Wylde puts it, “one that people from the neighborhood relate to; they traveled on it, they were familiar with it.” […]

“The highway was something different,” Miss Wylde says. “It was noise, dirt, accidents, not lighted, a garbage dump, drag races along it in the night, wild kids, something totally negative. It was a tremendous psychological barrier. In a way you could say the people feared the highway.” […]

Once the avenue had been a place for people; Robert Moses had made it into a place for cars. And as the avenue’s roadway became more crowded, its sidewalks began to empty. [p. 523]

Full post here.

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Worth the click: The Next Generation DOT (Departments of Transportation).

Charles Marohn’s latest in Better! Cities & Towns on the dilemma and prospects for the people charged with building and maintaining our highways:

… misunderstandings we have about growth and development correlate highway spending with increased prosperity. In reality, this is an illusion brought about by quick and easy development leveraged off these massive investments.  The lack of productivity in this approach means that, over the long term, the costs far outweigh the gains. It is the Ponzi scheme of the Suburban Experiment. We’re in the unwinding phase.

Nobody should understand that more clearly than our nation’s DOTs. They are simultaneously over committed and under funded. While they obsess about the latter, it is the former that they will ultimately be forced to reconcile.

Many in these agencies — especially the second tier of leaders that are a little more removed from our highway building heydays and a little further from retirement than the first tier — understand this clearly, but they lack an acceptable alternative approach. They are trapped by the inertia of their organization.

He offers nine principles and understandings that a Next Generation DOT should embody – here.

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Two items came in within hours of each other.

From Brent Toderian: Top 10 world’s best public spaces

 

6. Peace Bridge in Calgary, Canada, by Santiago Calatrava: The single-span helical footbridge gently arcs across the water, sheltering users with a glass roof along its 126 meter length. Adjacent to Prince’s Island Park in the downtown district, the structure will provide pedestrians and cyclists with connecting routes between the urban center and Memorial Drive.

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From Scot Bathgate: Why Does This Canadian Bridge Keep Trying to Kill People?

Ever since it opened in September, this inanimate giant of cold steel has been waging bloody war against the puny humans who use it for their daily commute.

As much as I thought the Port Mann Bridge was excessive, I have some sympathy for its managers.  A bridge is a big, complicated piece of machinery – and screw-ups are always part of start-ups.  It’s true for a bridge as much as a rapid-transit line (remember snow and SkyTrain?)   But in an age of social media and instant branding, there’s also no patience.   

 

 

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