Americans Are More Multimodal than Some Might Think

Because most Americans drive to work on any given day, one might think that they don’t use any other mode of transportation, ever.  But a recent review of federal transportation surveys shows otherwise.   In fact, 65 percent of American commuters take at least one non-car trip per week, and 48 percent take three or more.

(cross posted from cnu.org)

Women Flex their Biking Muscles

amy_george

Amy George

by Amy George

Riding a bicycle can be transformative to physical and mental well being, to families, to neighborhoods, and beyond. As cycling becomes more popular, more women and girls are enjoying its effects. However, representation among cyclists still tips male — 76% as measured per-ride in the U.S. Yet recent surveys show women overwhelmingly have a positive view of cycling. What is keeping so many women from taking to the streets on two wheels? Furthermore, why should we care, and what can be done about it?

Since 2010, Richmond as a community has taken several big steps in bicycle advocacy. RideRichmond formed that year, as did Mayor Dwight Jones’ Bike, Trail, and Pedestrian Commission. We have seen the creation of the dedicated, professional action and advocacy groups such as  Sportsbackers’ BikeWalkRVA and the VCU RamBikes program. In this landscape of growing bike-positivity, RideRichmond realized that women’s representation still is an underserved aspect of cycling advocacy. As believers in the bicycle, we could not stand by and watch the benefits of cycling distributed unequally to Richmonders. In order to begin this conversation, RideRichmond is hosting the first Richmond Women’s Cycling Summit on October 23 at the Virginia War memorial. Continue reading

Burbs Beware: Office Jobs Moving Back to D.C.

dc_office_spaceNot only are Millennials migrating to the Washington metropolitan region’s urban core, it seems that businesses are, too, in a reversal of the decades-long trend of businesses moving out of the central city to outlying counties.

Vacancy rates have risen in Washington, D.C., due to the contraction of legal services and government contracting tied to federal government spending. But according to commercial real estate firm JLL, private-sector tenants from Maryland and Washington accounted for 300,000 square feet of new leasing activity in the District. Reports Virginia Business magazine:

Doug Mueller, a senior vice president at JLL, noted that the migration is heavily populated by associations, technology companies and professional services firms. “The quality and location of office space with easy access to mass transit, abundant amenities and housing options also has a visible and tangible impact on attracting and retaining top talent,” he said in a statement.

According to JLL’s Office Insight report for the third quarter, since the start of 2014, a total of 21,200 private-sector office jobs have been added to the metro D.C. economy.

Continue reading

Virginia: The Energy Guzzler Capital of the East Coast

WalletHub

by James A. Bacon

Virginia is the 43rd most energy efficient state in the country, which is another way of saying that it is the 6th most energy inefficient among the 48 states included in a national ranking by the number crunchers at WalletHub. The finding is based on the publication’s energy efficiency rankings in homes and automobiles, two of the largest categories of energy consumption. The methodology has lots of limitations but it does provide an interesting place to start thinking about measuring energy efficiency.

WalletHub calculates home-related energy efficiency by tabulating the total amount of energy consumed per capita by residential homes and adjusting for degree days. (Degree days are a measure of how much temperatures vary from a base of 65° Fahrenheit.) Houses in a state like Virginia, with a relatively mild climate, might require less energy for heating and cooling than, say, a state like Arizona, which is subject to scorching heat, but that doesn’t mean Virginia houses are more energy efficient. Adjusting for degree days gets closer to an apples-to-apples comparison. By this measure, Virginia ranked 35th among the 48 states.

The calculation for automobile energy efficiency measures what is essentially the average miles per gallon of the state’s automotive fleet — annual vehicles miles driven adjusted by the gallons of gasoline consumed. By this measure, Virginia also ranked 35th in the country. Continue reading

Hope for the Burbs

Ellen Dunham-Jones

Ellen Dunham-Jones

by James A. Bacon

While urbanists trumpet the resurrection of America’s core cities, the nation’s inner suburbs are seeing a lot of action, too. In fact, the transformation of the burbs may be more radical. While cities are seeing more of the same — gentrification that restores decaying neighborhoods, in-fill development looking a lot like the existing development — real estate developers are reinventing suburban structures from the inside out. Shopping malls surrounded by seas of asphalt are being converted into town centers. Big box stores are becoming public recreation centers. Fifty-year-old shopping centers built over streams are being torn down and the waterways restored as greenways.

This is a time of tremendous opportunity for “suburban” counties that developed since World War II, said Ellen Dunham-Jones, an architecture professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology, co-author of “Retrofitting Suburbia,” and a leading light of the New Urbanism movement. What she did not say in her enthusiastic, up-beat speech at Virginia Commonwealth University last night is that it is also a time of peril for counties that don’t embrace a strategy of selective urbanization.

Change is not only desirable, it’s necessary, Dunham-Jones contended. The low-density suburbs consume two to three times more energy per capita than central cities, making them vulnerable to upward spikes in energy prices. Local governments are suffering fiscal stress from the burden of maintaining a sprawling infrastructure. Poverty is an increasing problem as poor people, either immigrants or poor people leaking from inner cities, move into older, run-down suburban neighborhoods. At the same time, housing affordability is becoming a middle-class issue as rising transportation costs kill the old “drive ’til you qualify” housing model. Last but not least, Dunham-Jones cited suburbia’s automobile dependency as a public health issue. Infectious diseases (despite the ebola virus hype) are not a major health hazard in the U.S. The real problem is chronic disease stemming from obesity and sedentary lifestyles, which leads to diabetes and heart disease. Continue reading

Is the Creative Class Taking Over Cities?

In a recent Washington Post article, Emily Badger uses a set of maps to prove her claim that an affluent “creative class” is taking over urban cores, and as a result “service and working-class residents are effectively left with the least desirable parts of town, the longest commutes and the fewest amenities. ” But her maps don’t seem to support her point. In the article’s color-coded maps, gray and pink mean “service class” and purple means “creative class.”

If her claim was correct, every neighborhood for miles around downtown would be purple. But in Chicago and Washington and Houston, there seems to be a small purple ring around downtown- but except for that, the city is divided into a purple side (in Washington and DC, West; in Chicago, north) and a gray/pink side. Badger supplies approximately zero evidence that the pink side has worse transit service than the purple side. I’m not saying her claim is wrong- but her maps haven’t proven the case.

(Cross-posted from cnu.org.)

Learning from Kansas City

Kansas City, Missouri (where I am a visiting professor for the current academic year) is a medium-demand city: a city with more successful neighborhoods than Cleveland or Detroit, but one still dominated by its suburbs to a greater extent than more successful cities. One reason the city keeps losing people to its suburbs is the low reputation of the city’s school district. In the city’s affluent southwest side, only 27 percent of K-12 children attend public schools. Moreover, many people who would otherwise live in those neighborhoods have moved to Kansas so they can send their children to the overwhelmingly white public schools of Overland Park, Leawood, and other suburbs. Why are Kansas City’s schools so unpopular?

I recently read Complex Justice, a book by political scientist Joshua Dunn about Kansas City’s schools. While much of Dunn’s work focuses on litigation strategy and judicial decision making, he also makes a few points relevant to the problems of urban school districts.

In particular, Dunn shows that some of the city’s public schools became all-black almost as soon as desegregation took place. For example,Kansas City’s Central High School was almost 90 percent white in 1955, and by 1965 had only 16 white students (out of over 2000). Similarly, Paseo High School was 6 percent African-American in 1959 and 97 percent African-American in 1969. So it appears that Kansas City’s whites were ready to move out as soon as blacks moved in—a fact that suggests that whites decided that a school was “bad” as soon as a critical mass of African-Americans moved in. Continue reading