Stupid Environmental Tricks #2: Bamboo Fabrics

One of the many products that makers claim to be environmental but is fundamentally flawed.

Bamboo textiles (i.e. clothes, towels etc). Sure they are nice and soft. But in terms of environmental performance, they are a form of rayon (which means chemically laden). Bamboo socks may be no worse than any other synthetic socks you buy, but they are also no better. “Bamboozled” on Grist

Using bamboo as a wood substitute is a completely different story
and may be a good choice.


Stupid Environmental Tricks #1: Free Gasoline

I was already planning to document some products that are marketed as eco-friendly that fail miserably when this story crossed my radar.

In order to promote its “EcoBoost” truck, Ford is hosting a contest for which the prize is free fuel, not only to the driver for a year, but to an entire city for a little over 2 hours. Now, 2 hours of fuel isn’t going to suck dry the wells or tip us into permanent smog but it certainly sends the wrong message.

I won’t get into the question of whether the “eco” label should be applied to an oversize truck to begin with; some people legitimately need these types of vehicles for work. But as Steve Mouzon is fond of saying: the most energy efficient machine is the one that’s turned off. Hybrid cars will do the environment no good if we drive them twice as far and efficient gadgets won’t help if we leave them on four times as long. The worst thing we can possibly do for the environment is give away or artificially lower the cost of fuel or energy. If people are going to be wasteful at least let them pay their own way (Libertarian alert).

A better plan might have been to follow SmartCar’s lead and promote a bicycle, but I can see how that might not appeal to their customer base.

Now of course people buy fuel efficient vehicles for different reasons. Some don’t care about the environmental impact at all but rather about saving money on fuel. But in this case given that they are placing the “Eco” label on their truck this is an incredibly silly/(disingenuous/vacuous) promotion, almost as bad as politicians requesting a Gas Tax Holiday in the summer of 2008.

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 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 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.

I Want You … for the New Urbanism

Please come hang out with us. You’ll find the New Urbanism is hardly a static system. Debates abound. What we don’t do is constantly rehash our premises. This allows us to move forward instead constantly revolving in circles questioning our first principles.  Let others seek a deus ex machina in flying cars or argue about “flux;” we’re busy refining our solutions.

While academia can be content to publish theory, we have to commit to a path in order to implement change.  We are racing against suburbia, climate change and obesity. We must implement imperfect systems now while debating more perfect solutions for tomorrow.

We fight for recognition because we need more hands on deck, skilled ones. We face enormous challenges—environmental, economic. It pains us to see young, desperately-needed talent wasted on Corbusian revivals.  The savvy among us often have to educate ourselves in traditional urbanism because the academy has denied us.  Many architects are left to practice kitschy historicist or postmodern architecture because the public doesn’t want modernist design for the vast majority of the urban fabric.  So these architects who were never taught the skills necessary to design high quality traditional, vernacular or classical architecture, are forced to navigate their clients desires making do and playing catch up.  Finally, the classicists and the urban designers are blamed for the poor interpretations of traditional architecture resulting modernist educated architects. Are young architects-in-training given a choice? Are they merely allowed an illusion of choice of a dozen different architectural styles so long as it excludes classicism and vernacular (like the false variety of our multi-colored supermarket shelves with thousands of products all made of same 3 industrial ingredients)? Where is their free market?

As far as the landscape urbanists, as schoolyard as it sounds … they started it. Here’s to the new new urbanism.

This is a slightly expanded version of a response to comments on:

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.

Continue reading

What if express shipping operated like most parking?

Imagine you head to nearest express shipping office Monday morning to send off a package. When you ask the woman at the counter for their prices you are thrilled to hear “All packages ship free.” Well that’s splendid. You have two packages to ship. You tell Ms. Express that you need one package shipped next day and the other shipped ground. To your surprise she responds, “I’m sorry, all packages ship free.” What on earth does she mean? She patiently explains that some get tagged Next Day and others get tagged Ground depending on when they go through the sorter but she doesn’t select how packages get tagged. In fact on really busy days they just go around a carousel until there is an opening in the sorter. But all packages ship free. You explain to Ms. Express that one package is extremely urgent, it absolutely must arrive for your mother’s birthday and the other, a gag gift to a friend in Colorado, isn’t urgent at all. Can she please make sure the former goes out first. She says that’s impossible.

Then it occurs to you, of course, “I don’t care if the package ships free, please let me know what the prices are for next day shipping.” To this she explains that company policy forbids sorting packages by price, and oblivious to your exasperation reiterates, “all packages ship free.”

Parking on JFK Street in Cambridge MA

Cambridge MA

This is essentially how most cities and towns manage their parking supply. The parking spot–or the average under-priced parking meter–on Main Street doesn’t know if you are running late for a job interview or if you are half an hour early to a lunch date. If you are heading to an empty street where there are plenty of free parking spaces, then this is not a big deal, but if this is a busy, popular destination, then you may have to spend considerable time searching for a space and then hoof it some unknown distance to your destination.

Properly priced parking, which guarantees that there will usually be a space open on every block, can solve the problem. If the most desirable parking spaces are priced higher, then on the evening when your wife will have your head if you’re late, again, for a dinner reservation, you can ante up for the premium parking spot steps from the restaurant door. On the day when it would actually be nice to spend some time with your son on the way to little league you can park a little farther away, at lower cost, and walk an extra ten minutes to the ballpark his hand in yours.

Further Reading:
The High Cost of Free Parking by Donald Shoup
For a preview of the book check out this article.
See also

Reprinted: Introduction to “Populating Urbanism”

(The following is an updated version of the introduction to “Populating Urbanism,” published as an essay in Living Urbanism, Issue 1, April 2008; the full text can be found here )

With various degrees of success, architecture creates a framework for community, for environmental responsibility, and for health. However, reaching these goals ultimately requires people—warm bodies—and empowering normal people to live out their daily lives in a reasonable way. A minimum population, or critical mass, is needed to support the businesses and civic uses within a neighborhood or town. Conversely, sufficient businesses and activities are necessary to allow a reasonable proportion of individuals to live without daily reliance on the automobile.

This paper suggests a method for determining an appropriate population numbers and densities for neighborhood/place development. It uses the viability of transportation modes to suggest minimum population and density, and uses amenity/services levels to suggest maximum density. The purpose is to suggest a methodology, but not to determine final numbers; all calculations and numerical assumptions are used primarily for illustrative purposes.

Setting the stage

Two ideas from a fellow CNU member inform this work. The first is that the main body of New Urbanist development has a “bloated T3,” that there is too much in New Urbanist projects of the sub-urban (T3) zone, however well configured it may be. The second is the concept of “Living Urbanism” presented at the fourth Next Generation of New Urbanists congress in 2006 (Preston). To the first point, I am interested in understanding to what degree our T3 is “bloated.” Regarding the second point, defining a “Living Urbanism” is essential to identifying functional standards describing the population needed to enable a high level of functionality and vitality.

The car is an active player in this analysis and some of my colleagues may find this methodology too beholden to drivers. However, I suggest this will push us in the right direction whereas a refusal to acknowledge the car in a methodical way risks leaving us righteous and stagnant. We must understand how to push the New Urbanist model to its breaking point, not that we would desire to abide there but so that we do not let ourselves be pushed over it. Compromises had to be made and will continue to be made in order to bring New Urbanism to a mass audience. However, the nature of those compromises should change and be re-evaluated as we progress. Where we can no longer afford to compromise is in creating beautiful, well-configured places that simply do not have the critical mass to come “alive.”


Continued here.