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National links: Don't shame the transit riders

Uber took down some ads that shamed transit riders, Texas researchers are looking at how race, gender, and development intersect, and a new book explains that cities weren't always bastions for Democrats. Check out what's happening around the world in transportation, land use, and other related areas!


Photo by Anthony Easton on Flickr.

Uber's advertising effect: Uber and Lyft often have run ads that belittle transit riders. Transit planner Jarrett Walker recently decided he'd had enough, calling Uber out for an anti-transit stance that he says promotes congestion and social stratification. Soon thereafter, an Uber executive saw to it that the ad came down. If ads like this keep running, Walker says, it signals a tacit agreement that we should starve cities of the transportation options they need and deserve. (Human Transit)

Race, gender, and the built environment: The University of Texas at Austin will launch a first-of-its-kind program to study the intersection of race, gender, city planning, and development. In this interview, Professors Anna Brand and Andrea Roberts discuss why they are keen to expand the definition of planning and preservation and how Austin is a great place to be thinking about these issues. (Metropolis Magazine)

How cities went blue: During the time of the US' founding, pretty much everyone in politics disliked cities, as they were seen as places of corruption and vice. But now, as cities are becoming more and more popular, cities have become a stronghold for Democrats. Read about the history of anti-urbanism and the move toward our current landscape in a review of Steven Conn's Americans Against the City. (Los Angeles Review of Books)

White House vs. parking: Last week's White House paper about why we need more housing and how cities can make it happen was the talk of the urbanism world. A major part was its push for less required parking, as parking drives up housing costs and stresses the transportation network. While the White House's toolkit has no teeth to enact reform, it is refreshing to see ideas like these from the top. (Wired)

Look Mom, no signals: The first Dutch-style unsignalized intersection in the United States just went in near the campus of Texas A&M University. The hope is that moving cyclists in front of car traffic at the intersections and painting the lanes green with solar luminescent paint will make vulnerable road users will be more visible, meaning drivers will be less likely to hit them. (Texas Transportation Institute)

Connecting Boston's 2 halves: Boston's commuter rail network is split in two: a north and a south half. Advocates have long been working to connect the two so the entire system functions more efficiently, but haven't had any luck. Now, there's a greater sense of urgency, as a plan to expand a key station would effectively kill hopes of a north-south rail link. Activists hope that building the connection will take precedent. (Boston Magazine)

A new ride hailing service in town

Since Uber and Lyft left Austin, new companies have filled the void. One of them is RideAustin, which is now one of the leading ride hailing providers in the city. Co-founder Andy Tryba sat down to talk about why they started the company, while Jerry, a driver for RideAustin, discussed the new city fingerprinting requirement. Check out what they had to say on Episode 7 of my show, Transit Trends:

Links


National links: More biking in Atlanta

Atlanta's investing a ton of money in bike infrastructure, the negative effects of racist housing policies haven't gone anywhere, and sprawl is costing commuters big time. Check out what's happening around the country in transportation, land use, and other related areas!


Photo by Green Lane Project on Flickr.

Bike lanes for Atl: The Atlanta Regional Commission has approved $1 billion dollars for bike infrastructure in the region over a 25 year period. It sounds like a lot, but considering that it's part of an $85 billion plan... is it? (Bicycling)

Redlining the future: Historic housing policies that barred minorities from living in certain neighborhoods. One consequence that's still playing out is that very rich and very poor neighborhoods are increasing in number, and the children in the poor ones tend to make less money in the future and have more mental health problems. These cartoons explain the matter more in-depth. (Vox)

Sprawl Tax: Every year we hear about how much it costs Americans to be stuck in traffic, but what if we framed it as "how much policies that create congestion cause us?" Introducing the Sprawl Tax. In the 50 largest metro areas, sprawling land use costs commuters an average of $107 billion per year. (City Observatory)

Light rail in Austin: Transit advocates in Austin have been pushing for light rail for over 30 years. With the city focusing on mobility and a bond measure possibly going on this fall's ballot, they are hoping that the rail segment will be added to the mix. (Austin American Statesman)

On the edge: A common theme among transit planners is balancing service for an urban core versus the regional edge. It's important not to forget that transit functions as a network, meaning that if gets weaker in one place, it gets weaker everywhere. When we recognize that core improvements can help the edge and vice versa, our conversations are more productive. (Human Transit)

Quote of the Week

"These great shortcuts used to spread by word of mouth, but now they just spread like wildfire" - Traffic Engineer Paul Silberman on more and more cut through traffic directed off of main streets and into neighborhoods by the app Waze. (Washington Post)

Housing


High-rise mobile homes could revolutionize apartment living

Mass-produced mobile homes are one of rural America's most important forms of housing. One company wants to try the same concept with urban apartments. It's a batty idea that may not work, but if it does, it could help to solve America's urban affordability crisis.

The idea works like this: Rather than custom-designing every individual building, what if apartment buildings were mere frames, and apartments were mobile boxes that simply slipped into docks, the way cars park in a parking garage?

When people who live in mobile apartments move from one city to another, they could take their entire apartment with them. Slide out of your frame in Denver and slide into one in San Francisco, and keep on living without the disruption of emptying your home to a shell.

Perhaps most importantly, the company pushing this idea says they'd be drastically cheaper than a studio apartment.

The company, Kasita, is building a prototype in Austin next year, where they say they'll rent units for around $600 a month. That's half the cost of a downtown Austin studio.

Trade-offs abound

Obviously, there are trade-offs to this idea. At 200 square feet, these would be small apartments. Suitable for a single person, crowded for a couple, and hard to work with for a family.

Kasita's version comes comes with high-tech bells and whistles like customizable wall panels, including speakers, shelves, a bike rack, even a fish tank and fireplace. But surely, if this concept takes off, competing companies would begin to offer more bare-bones versions.


Bells and whistles. Rendering from Kasita.

Kasita's claim of $600 per month remains theoretical, and who knows how much it would actually cost to move one.

And aesthetically, a lot of people will think they're ugly. Like shipping container apartments, mobile apartments will necessarily have an industrial look. A city full of these might quickly begin to feel oppressive.

The Japanese example

This is actually not a new idea. Japan has been home to some experiments in capsule architecture, most notably the 1972 Nakagin Capsule Tower. But Nakagin proved impractical and unpopular, and has slipped into disrepair. Fair from proving the concept works, it actually shows how failure is more likely than success.

These are real trade-offs, impossible to ignore. But given America's growing affordability crisis, maybe they're trade-offs that are worth experimenting with, sometimes, in some places, for some people.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

Transit


DMU trains are the DC region's missing transit mode

In the DC region we have Metro and commuter rail trains, with light rail, streetcars, and BRT all in the works. And of course, regular buses. But one common mode we don't have is DMU trains, which bridge the gap between light rail and commuter rail.


DMU train in San Diego. Photo by mrpeachum on flickr.

DMU stands for Diesel Multiple Unit. DMU trains are intended to operate on routes that look like commuter rail, but at almost light rail frequency. They go over long distances, with infrequent stations, usually on or adjacent to freight tracks. But instead of coming only at rush hour, trains come all day long, as often as every 15-20 minutes.

That's a great service model for suburban corridors that need something better than rush-hour MARC or VRE service, but are too far away for light rail and don't have the density to justify the costs of Metrorail.

DMUs, and their electric cousin EMUs, are used in Philadelphia, New Jersey, Portland, San Diego, Dallas, and Austin. They're proposed in even more cities.

One big advantage of DMUs over traditional commuter trains is that DMUs can operate on-street, like light rail. That makes integrating them with downtown areas much easier, because it frees DMUs to go anywhere, rather than only to a city's main rail hub.


Austin DMU on-street. Photo by paulkimo90 on flickr.

All MARC and VRE trains to DC must go to Union Station, because all the long distance tracks through DC go to Union Station. Not only does that constrain route planning, it's also a limit on capacity, because there are only so many platforms at Union Station. But a DMU could go anywhere.

There are not currently any plans for DMU lines in the DC region, but there could be. DMU would be a great solution for Maryland's proposed Charles County corridor or Fairfax's Route 28. Officials are looking at light rail for those corridors, but they're far out in the suburbs and wouldn't have very frequent stops, so DMU might be more appropriate.

In the long term it might also make sense to convert some of MARC and VRE's existing lines to DMU, or to supplement them with more DMU trains. That would give them more operational flexibility, and could increase service. But MARC and VRE are established as traditional commuter rail, and may be uncomfortable with anything else.

MARC and VRE also have to use tracks owned by freight companies. DMUs can be used in mixed company with freight, although that requires federal approval. But if the freight lines are already using their tracks to capacity, which is common in the DC area, then there's no room for more trains no matter what they look like.

DMU isn't Metro, and it isn't light rail. DMU trains can't do all the things those modes can do. It's not an appropriate mode where frequent stops are necessary. But for long corridors with infrequent stops and moderate capacity needs, it's ideal. We should keep in mind as we continue to advocate for new transit lines.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

Retail


Two stores pursue divergent futures for grocery shopping

Will grocery shopping in the future look the same as it does today? Two stores are pursuing very different visions of changing shopping, from a large multinational helping people buy with smartphones to a small store abolishing wasteful packaging.

International retail giant Tesco pioneered a system in Korea where they paste large, full-size posters of store shelves on the walls of subway stations. While waiting for a train, people can buy items using their smartphones.

This is a logical extension of online shopping we have today, such as Peapod, which works pretty well in DC. However, while we work to reduce wasteful disposable bag usage, services like Peapod generally deliver their items in very large numbers of plastic bags.

A new store in Austin, on the other hand, is going entirely packaging-free. People bring their own packaging, or can buy some at the store. While most stores sell produce without packaging and some offer bulk grains and nuts in bins, in.gredients will also sell items like beer and cleaning solvents in the same way.

Via Jonathan O'Connell and Consumerist.

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