Population isn’t the ecological problem


World Population Cartogram
© Copyright Benjamin D. Hennig (Worldmapper Project)

I continue to hear concerns from some in the environmental community that world population will overtake us and cause ecological collapse. On the other side I hear concerns that environmentalists will force population control upon us. The pity of this back and forth is that population isn’t really the problem. Cartograms of world population and world consumption suggest that total consumption has little relationship to population particularly in the areas with the youngest, fastest growing populations like Africa and South America.


(cc) Jerrad Pierce 2007

What the cartograms make clear is that one “solution” to the ecological problem is poverty.  Of course that’s not a solution that most would find desirable. So the real challenge moving forward is not how we control population, but how we can bring billions out of poverty sustainably. The good news is that some of this is self-correcting. Wealthier, more educated families tend to have fewer children. As millions in the third world “urbanize,” Stewart Brand, author of the Whole Earth Catalog, touts the idea that “cities diffuse the population bomb,” i.e. that city dwellers have slower birth rates.  Cities also happen to be where people in the developed world have the lowest energy footprint.  (Note: The United Nations definition of “urban” also includes suburbs.)

China may be one of the most challenging places because they are a huge population with a quickly growing middle class. They are unfortunately copying some of North America’s worst habits such as sprawling suburban residential areas and mass car dependency.  This the real challenge.

City of Munster, GER  Press Office

Street Space required to move 60 people by mode (City of Munster, GER Press Office)

Alongside skyrocketing population China, India, and other developing countries have been intentionally or by neglect giving more of their street space to the least efficient form of urban transportation, the single passenger automobile. This has happened in cities with a strong history of urban cycling like Beijing and Shanghai. This serves both to endanger those continuing to use the more efficient forms of transportation (walking, cycling, and public transit) and encourage anyone with the means to get a private car as soon as they are able. Fortunately this seems to be turning around in Beijing perhaps as China turns to more modern examples of U.S. planning such as the Bloomberg administration’s transportation policy in New York City.

Of course there is more to consumption and sustainable living than transportation. In the area of food there is also clearly room for improvement before we start worrying about population growth as a fundamental problem. Nonetheless transportation is a great example demonstrating that how we live is as important as how many of us live on the planet.


How much do Americans really bike?

Last night in downtown Orlando (which is not in top 50 bike cities and not really a college area) I saw about a dozen bicyclists after the July 4th fireworks during my five block walk down a side street. But then anecdotes about how many cyclists one person observed on a particular day are statistically irrelevant.

Here are some actual statistics: Nationally 0.55% of adults bike to work (ACS 2009). That’s the primary information given to us by the U.S. Census American Community Survey. Of course it can be further broken down geographically and demographically. That’s a statistic but does it show the whole picture? It doesn’t count students (grade school or college), it doesn’t count non-work trips (85% of trips are non-work according to NHTS) and there are other grey areas like commuters who bike to work a few days a week or those who bike to or from a transit station. It also doesn’t take into account occasional users; for example, while only about 2% of adults walk to work (ACS), 41% took 4 or more walk trips in a survey week (NHTS 2009 Profile). There are even concerns that lower income citizens and apartment dwellers are systematically under-reported.

Nationally about 1% of all trips are made by bike (all trips, not just commute trips).  That compares to 1.9% of trips made by transit and about 10% by walking (NHTS 2009). Now that National Household Transportation Survey (NHTS) statistic has some problems of it’s own.  It still does not include trip chaining (riding a bike to or from transit), though that data is available elsewhere in the NHTS dataset.  It condenses “recreational” with “social” biking (this is partially addressed in the extended survey). There’s a substantive difference in riding down a recreational trail for exercise and going out to dinner, especially in the needs of those bicyclists, but it would seem that the NHTS conflates these two which is particularly problematic given these account for 60% of bicycle trips (and before you assume that all those trips are exercise rides, note that 25% of trips by car are dubbed “Social/Recreational”).

The next logical step would be to break out to break out urban/rural, central cities, regions, etc. In certain cities and neighborhoods the bicycle percentages are much higher and in other cities and many suburban/rural areas bicycles as transportation are virtually nonexistent. The good news is that bicycling is higher in center cities where space is at a premium. This is good because a parked or moving bicycle takes up less space than a car. It’s also challenging because the political competition for space in center cities is incredibly high.

To give a taste of what we might find if we went further into the statistics, Portland has the highest bicycle commute percentage in the U.S. with 5.8%; impressive by cycle commute standards but low enough to draw grimaces from skeptics.  If we assume that Portlanders bike share of non-work trips is similar to the national statistics, then we can reasonably expect that number to nearly double to an even more respectable sounding 10% or more.  Keep in mind that there are also people walking, biking and taking public transportation, so it’s not as if bikes are the only trade-off to driving. Frankly I don’t think getting people in Manhattan to switch from walking or taking transit to biking is necessarily a big win. In fact people who bike to work may walk to lunch; or people who drive to work may bike to lunch.  It’s important to look at both the percent of people who cycle and percent of trips by bike.  The percentage of people who bike for some trips shows a willingness, ability and interest in biking when the conditions are right. The percentage of trips actually taken by bike gives a fuller pictures of how people travel our streets on a daily basis.

As an added transport statistical tip, if anyone tries to compare bicycle or walk statistics with driving statistics on a per mile basis, tell them to go take a hike! The 10.4% share of trips which are taken on foot plunges to a 0.7% share when considered on a per mile basis. Why? Because no one takes a 10 mile walk trip to go out to dinner unless they’re incredibly athletic or desperate! Similarly, bikes go from 1.0% to 0.2% when considered in miles. It makes all the sense in the world that average walk or bike trip is shorter than the average car trip. Most people who have access to all three modes will choose the car for the longest trips.

There’s plenty more to be statistically analyzed, especially at the geographic level. Alas my time for delving into transportation statistics has expired for the day so I can’t get into specific numbers.  Hopefully I have at least instilled in you a healthy skepticism for bicycle and transportation statistics,  so that you can ask the right questions about the data presented to you.




Further Reading:


Why More Free Content Means You Can’t Miss CNU 21

We’re going back to the future. The Congress for the New Urbanism started as a hard-working, interactive meeting of the minds where the few hundred attendees were actively engaged in moving forward the mission of urbanism. As the years wore on and the Congress grew in numbers, education became more central to CNU’s mission and the annual Congress started to look more like a classroom than a parliament. Fast forward to CNU 20. 

Overflow at Open Innovation

Open Innovation Room

Image courtesy Jennifer Krouse (steepletownstudios.com)

The dynamism is back. Rapid-fire “Open Innovation” presentations in the “basement” play to a packed full room and when time permits overflow into debate and discussion. Panels are conversations rather than just a series of related presentations. New designs are critiqued in the hallways. The Open Source room is constantly abuzz with conversation. The Art Room has hands-on demonstrations. Member-led initiatives to solve problems and spread new solutions to larger audiences are popping up left and right.

CNU is offering more free content.  In conjunction with this increase in interactive content, CNU is posting more of the “presentation” style content on web for free. Several of the plenaries were broadcast live on the web and we expect to see the slides with audio from most of the breakouts going up on the web soon. In addition we’ve had great video content going up from First + Main and others. This is a momentous development. In this new age holding intellectual content close to the vest is not necessarily the best way to maximize revenue for the organization so they can continue their important work and is certainly no the most efficient way spread our message. We, as urbanists, want as many people as possible to understand our mission and so they might be partners in future projects and change the built environment for the better.

And it’s good timing. The world of information is rapidly changing. Planners and Architects are getting their continuing education credits from free webinars. TED.com is a leader in intellectual content offering high quality, well-produced content “Free to the World”.  People don’t need to buy cross-country plane tickets to hear educational content. What they do need to cross the country for is dynamic, compressed, interactive work-shopping of the ideas that will carry their practice and our movement forward in the following year.

In order for the Congress as an event to stay relevant the model must evolve, and it is doing so. Attendees need to be present for the tumultuous exchanges that are difficult to capture on podcast and to contribute to those debates. New participants need to learn by engaging and getting their intellects in gear. They need to make non-digital eye contact with the people who have the potential to be their colleagues, friends, and workmates for the next decades. Even if we see much more of our engagement moving to the digital sphere, shaking hands with your re-tweeter or listserve sparring partner enhances the digital experience, defusing tension, and helping participants to understand the personalities and perspectives they are engaging with when they return to the web.

My next post will get into a little more detail on the new types of content at CNU and how they’re succeeding. In the meantime, hats off to CNU for recognizing the changing world and being nimble enough to meet it.

Open Innovation at #CNU20

Rapid-fire, open topic presentations with faces new and old from an open call for proposals:

In Room 1J during all Friday and Saturday breakouts.

Friday, May 11th, 2012:

10:30am | From Balanced Roads to Transit Oriented Development
– Incorporating Feeling and Habit into Bicycling Advocacy

– Old World’s Multimodal Design = New World’s Complete Streets

– Not your Grandfather’s DOT: How FDOT is taking Multi-Modal Planning to the Next Level
– Tracks to TOD in Somerville: One Community’s Approach to TOD Planning
– Fare-Free Transit
– Urban Mobility Generation: A traveler transportation hierarchy2pm | Resilience and Adaptation 

– Acting Local for long term impact and progress | Transition, Resiliency and Descent Planning
– Climate Adaptation Strategies
– Getting Real about Sustainability; Building Resiliency with Living Infrastructure
– Bahia Muyuyo Project

3:45pm Growing “In” in the 21st Century: Incremental growth patterns

– Stations as Places
– The charrette process: Architectural preferences
– Generative Pattern Languages and Incremental Infrastructure for real places
– Woonerf: A New Neighborhood of Shared, Living Streets
– Radical Radial – Re-Urbanization of Main Streets! An European approach
– Grids, Plats & Codes – a proposal for Cities as Master Developers in the 21st century
– The Next Urbanism – New Urbanism Responding to the 21st Century

Saturday, May 12th, 2012:

10:45am Tactical Urbanism, Economics and Community
– Tactical Urbanism Workshop
– The Importance of Local Infrastructure Financing
– Economic Incentives to Reduce Sprawl
– Killing the Civic Inferiority Complex
– Randall Anway – Deep Placemaking

2pm Across the Transect: From Historic Preservation to Composting

– Preservation and Urbanism
– The Trashy Transect: Composting in Miami through Miami 21
– Geeks and Grounders: High and Low Tech Transect Analysis
– Coding in the Galapagos Islands: Balancing Nature and People
3:45pm Sprawl Repair and Infill: From Incremental to Wetrofit to Agriculture

– Growing Outside of the Box
– Single Family Residences in for-rent Developments and Small Home Design
– Incremental Sprawl Repair
– Steve Mouzon’s Newest Idea
– Wetrofit Service

For questions or feedback about the Open Innovation Track, please email innovation@cnu.org.

CNU Board Elections

I am running for the national board of the Congress for the New Urbanism!

Find out more here.

If you’re a member, vote here (for Eliza Harris).

A previous post on this blog pretty well sums up my viewpoint.

I would write more but I think the above links contain my thoughts and I’m pretty busy right now trying to do my part for CNU 20, running CNU Orlando, trying to contribute to a Sprawl Retrofit event and of course my wonderful job!

Free Raquel Nelson: Mom of Hit & Run Victim

Raquel Nelson Petition hits 101,000 Signatures

Raquel Nelson Petition hit 101,000 Signatures on July 25

On the day of sentencing the petition for Raquel Nelson that I started a week ago is at 136,965 signatures and counting. This case was first brought to my attention on twitter via the author of the Free Range Kids blog. I’m floored (in a good way) by the magnitude of the response. I’m saddened that it takes so egregious a miscarriage of justice to bring attention to the risks people like Ms. Nelson must take every day just to function in suburbs ruled by fast cars.

According to the Atlanta Journal Constitution (July 26, 2011) Nelson was convicted of “homicide by vehicle in the second degree, crossing roadway elsewhere than at crosswalk and reckless conduct.” Ms. Nelson was crossing the street from a bus stop to her apartment building with her 3 children in tow when her son, A.J. Nelson, ran ahead and into the path of an oncoming car. A.J. died from his injuries and Raquel and one of her daughters were also injured.

UPDATE/CORRECTION: I am hearing now that the charge may have been “failure to yield” rather than “crossing roadway elsewhere than at a crosswalk” which changes things a bit. More analysis to follow.

The problem, aside from the pure callousness, with the charges against Raquel is that there is no law against “crossing the roadway elsewhere than at crosswalk.” Raquel Nelson most likely was not even crossing illegally (informally “jaywalking”) when the crash occurred.

Based on Peds.org excerpts of Georgia law:
§ 40-6-92. Crossing roadway elsewhere than at crosswalk:
(a) Every pedestrian crossing a roadway at any point other than within a marked crosswalk or within an unmarked crosswalk at an intersection shall yield the right of way to all vehicles upon the roadway unless he has already, and under safe conditions, entered the roadway.
(b) Any pedestrian crossing a roadway at a point where a pedestrian tunnel or overhead pedestrian crossing has been provided shall yield the right of way to all vehicles upon the roadway if he uses the roadway instead of such tunnel or crossing.
(c) Between adjacent intersections at which traffic-control signals are in operation, pedestrians shall not cross at any place except in a marked crosswalk.
(d) No pedestrian shall cross a roadway intersection diagonally unless authorized by official traffic-control devices. When authorized to cross diagonally, pedestrians shall cross only in accordance with the official traffic-control devices pertaining to such crossing movements.

Looking at the presumed location of crash on Google Maps, Raquel’s crossing location fits those legal requirements; the adjacent crosswalks were not signalized so she was totally justified in crossing at that location. (This location is based on the oblique photo shown in the Transportation for America blog post)

The question of whether she was “jaywalking” was first addressed by Forbes Blog though relevant details were actually brought up in a comment by “reggie”.

Of course the overarching problem here is that, legal or not, this–like too many places in America–was not a safe place for Raquel and her children and very few places in the United States are because most of the American streetscape is designed for drivers, not for pedestrians (or cyclists or transit users). This is described in detail in the @T4America Dangerous by Design Report.

Update: According to liveblogging on Marrietta Patch the State is not seeking jail time. They are asking for community service and probation. That makes this no less a miscarriage of justice. She should never have been charged. She should never have been harassed by the State by dragging her through this trial. And she should never have been blamed in a court of law for a legal or moral responsibility in her son’s death.

Update 2: Marrietta Patch reporting that Ms. Nelson was sentenced to probation and community service. No jail time. Nelson’s lawyer says they will seek a new trial.

Update 3: This is NOT THE FIRST TIME that this has happened. Keri Caffrey, from commuteorlando.com where this is cross-posted, found out this key information. Cobb County previously prosecuted another grieving mother who was walking with her child in an eerily similar situation.

For more updates keep an eye on Transportation for America’s blog.

O’Toole Doesn’t Know Texas

“Texas, where counties aren’t even allowed to zone, much less impose minimum-parking requirements”

O’Toole is getting his facts wrong again on Texas parking. I previously did extensive research on parking requirements in Texas cities in response to a flawed O’Toole analysis of parking. See the summary below the cut. This time he admits that Texas cities may have zoning and parking minimums but still claims that the counties surely don’t. Putting aside the fact that dense development would be most likely to develop in cities not the counties anyway (I haven’t done the research but I would take the bet that cities are denser than counties despite zoning minimums) and that there appears to be a mechanism by which Texas cities have zoning or similar powers via “municipalities’ extra territorial jurisdictions,”  he’s still just missing the mark on the facts.

While it is true that Texas counties don’t have zoning power, they DO have subdivision regulations. Much of what we think is zoning is actually subdivision regulations which is why form-based codes often merge the two. And low and behold a look at Montgomery County Texas subdivision standards shows a set of pretty conventional off-street parking standards.  Check it out for yourself at MONTGOMERY COUNTY SUBDIVISION GUIDELINES AND RECOMMENDATIONS Appendix I. Also see Llano County: “Adequate off-street parking space must be provided in business or commercial areas.”

I do not pretend to understand the intricacies of how subdivision and permitting in Texas works but to all appearances they’ve got enough to tip to scale in favor of free parking and dumb growth.

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