Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Good Service

I don't need any more reasons to love transit. I really like it. I even made this and put it in my spokes. I've written about it before, I'm sure I'll write about it again.

But today, transit gave me another reason to love her.

I have mentioned it before, but for some background; Tasha and my mom ride FrontRunner to and from the Layton Station to drop Morgan off and pick him up. Usually my mom rides down in the morning, and Tasha rides up in the evening. On those evening switches the northbound and southbound
trains get to the Layton Station at the same time.

The southbound train had been at the station for about a minute when the northbound train arrived. So Tasha jumped out, grabbed Morgan, and hopped on the train back to Salt Lake. As my mom was walking back to her car she passed the cab and the engineer's window was open. She said "Thanks, we had a baby to hand off." The engineer yelled out the window "I know, that's why I waited."

What a great driver. Thanks transit, I love you.

Monday, October 27, 2008

This is getting silly

Keith Bartholomew calls himself a generalist. I like to think I am one too. I don't think there are many problems that exist in a vacuum. There are numerous external factors influencing every decision, every problem, every situation. I'm actually taking a class in just that subject right now. Here is a picture of a problem:

It is close to a closed system of food and wars and pigs and other stuff, but as you can see, there are a lot of little red arrows [connections and influences].

It is a neat little system and a neat little picture from a neat little program called Stella. But that is not the point of this post.

Around the time I heard Keith refer to himself as a generalist, I heard Steven [Goldsmith, you may have heard of him] talk about the specialization, or siloing, of our society. Basically, the ideas are at the opposite end of the spectrum from eachother. The generalist sees context and relationships, the siloist sees a single track.

It is a dichotomy which can be seen everywhere. Family practitioners make a fraction of what specialists make. People go to school to be traffic engineers and focus on a road as a closed system, the don't learn about urban design, or the way roads function as a part of the greater area. It even feels like artists forsake every other medium besides their own.

In bygone days it was not unusual to see musicians work on side projects and branch out from their main band - we have Crosby, Stills and Nash [and Young], and the Traveling Willburys because of it. You have Eric Clapton wailing on "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" [then writing "Layla" to steal George Harrison's wife]. Now musicians [to some degree, and in some genres] focus on their band to the exclusion of making good music.

So that is the introduction. The point of this post is to say that this specialization is getting out of hand.

I went into the restroom on the cafeteria level of the Union the other day. I had not visited that particular restroom this semester, so I was surprised to see it completly remodled. The thing that struck me was the apparent lack of sinks. It took me a few minutes to realize that the holes in the wall with a small half bowl protrusion were sinks. I was not quite sure how to go about washing my hands. Forunately, a small sign told me to put my hands in the hole. So I did. Soap and water came out at the same time, and the second I was done, and automatic dryer turned on. All I had to do was rub my hands, the water soap and air all came from the same hole. I put dirty hands in and pulled clean, dry hands out.

My first thought was "awesome." I even called my little brother [that makes me sound like hill-billy]. But then I thought that the siloing of duties had extended to the sink. I couldn't splash water on my face, I couldn't fill up a water bottle, I couldn't brush my teeth. I couldn't put anything in there unless I was ok with getting soap on it. I couldn't put my comb in there so I could reshape my pompadour [I don't have a pompadour, but woe to the unfourtunate rock-a-billy kids].

This sink was now to be used for the sole purpose of washing hands. Who knew you used a sink for so many other tasks.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Words Make Worlds

A phrase often heard in this class.

The other day my boss yelled from his office "You know what my pet peeve of the week is?" I wasn't sure, so I asked him to enlighten me.

"Alternative transportation" came the answer. He had been reading a best practices, or the goals and objectives section of a general plan, or other such document. At first I wasn't quite sure what he meant by that so I asked him to elaborate. He stood up and walked across the office and said "This is not an alternative! Every other way of getting around is an alternative to this."

Yet "alternative transportation" is a staple of the planning lexicon.

So words make worlds. We have come to a point where designing a city so people can walk comfortable is an alternative way of planning and takes a more progressive government to adopt.

I like to consider myself on the more progressive side of things, but I had never thought of that. Putting the word "alternate" above some of the oldest methods of transportation relegates them to a lower tier of importance.

It will be interesting to see the vocabulary changes over my career.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Fall Break Day 3

I went into work today so I could take Friday off, so today's fall break activities were, again, not too break like.

This morning we had a meeting with some clients. We were talking about Transit Oriented Development and making a city livable in general when one person at the table said, "Murray [the city] has decided that it's important to have jobs, not just retail, with the new hospital." Those may not be the exact words, but the idea is the same. Murray has this new idea to have a big job center, not just lots and lots of strip retail or a big retail center.

My first thought was "That's right, Murray is awesome." [I live in Murray.] My next thought was "what a silly thing that Murray is being seen as wise by getting a job center located there."

The idea of a livable city is often mistaken for a city with lots of shopping and good transit/pedestrian infrastructure to get you from retail to retail. From what I have seen [and what I have seen is extremely limited] the focus is on drawing retail to boost the tax base and grow the city budget. This is a wise move, a big budget means more can done to improve the livability of the city. However, we spend a third of our lives at work, that is a bigger portion of time than we dedicate to any other single activity.

Retail is great. Having ones daily needs within walking distance, or at least a short drive, is wonderful. But living close to our jobs is one step above. We spend most of our time there, we spend a good portion of time getting to and from there, we spend money getting to and from. Living close to work frees up more time for other activities, reduces what is often the longest auto trip of the day, and ultimately saves money.

Lots of jobs means lots of people want to live in your municipality, which boosts retail, which boosts the tax base, which grows the budget, which makes your municipality a better place to live.

Of course, it is never that simple. Rarely is there a clear beginning or an end point, but creating a job center is pretty close to a beginning point.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Fall Break Day 2

I don't usually have classes on Tuesday, so the fall break aspect of today was minimal.

I've been sitting in front of my computer for about 20 minutes now, trying to decide what to write. On the shelf above my desk is a double opening picture frame I got for Christmas last year. My in-laws, knowing that I like bikes, took some pictures at a couple of train stations in Europe. The two current pictures are from the Netherlands. From far away it is hard to tell that the pictures are of racks and racks of bikes because the frames and wheels and bars and reflectors look like some sort of outdoor installation. But they are indeed bikes, hundreds of them.

I keep the pictures not only because they are aesthetically pleasing, but because they were taken on a regular work day. I have seen pictures akin to these from the states, but only at special occasions. The start/finish area at 24 Hours of Moab had huge racks of bikes the 4 years I did it, and I'm sure the racks have expanded. San Francisco critical mass draws crowds of thousands, but those are special events.

The amazing thing is that few if any of those bike owners are thinking about their carbon footprints. The bicycle is part of everyday life. Here it is a lifestyle, not part of life. A bike can be a defining characteristic here.

I work above a bank. The bank manager brought up a new teller the other day, after introductions he asked, "are you the one who rides the bike?" It will be an interesting day when someones asks, "are you the one who drives the car?"

I don't think I'll see that day, but it will happen as transit options grow and development patterns change. It won't be a moral issue like it can be today [I've said it before, I mostly ride transit and my bike because I like them. I do think we should drive less, but I am not morally opposed to cars], but single occupancy vehicles will become inconvenient and attitudes will change.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Fall Break

Ah, it's Monday evening and I didn't just get out of class. The joys of fall break.

Tasha has, sadly, gone back to work after maternity leave. Fortunately, my mom lives in Kaysville and can watch Morgan. We ride the train to the Layton station to drop him off in the mornings, then Jayne brings him down after work, or some combination of up and down.

Today, with no classes, I decided not to go into work so I could spend the day with the boy and do some homework up in Kaysville. When I got off the train my mom suggested we head up to visit my brother who just moved to Logan with his wife, who got a job with the city.

Anyway, we drove through Sardine Canyon and down into Cache Valley. The leaves were mostly brown, but there was still some color, and the weekend snow lingered near on the evergreens near the ridges. Farther down into the valley the trees lining the Logan River were just donning their autumnal wardrobe. The weather was brisk, but it was a beautiful day.

The best part of the trip was the ride home. Morgan slept till I-15, when the road noise and vibrations woke him up. I took about 40 pictures of the kid as he got he bearings, then tried to fall asleep, then looked around again.

Watching the boy process the world, and figure out his hands, and start to recognize people and places has been an experience.

One of my first semesters at the U I took a class from Fred Montague. Near the end of class he gave us a magnet with a picture of Lowell Bennion and a quote about simplicity. The magnet has been on my fridge since then and is something I have tried to live by.

Today reminded me of the quote. The leaves, family, the river, my little boy. It was a simple day, and it just felt good.

“Learn to like what doesn’t cost too much.
Learn to like reading, conversation, music.
Learn to like plain food, plain service, plain cooking.
Learn to like fields, trees, brooks, hiking, rowing, climbing hills.
Learn to like people, even though some of them may be different…different from you.
Learn to like to work and enjoy the satisfaction of doing your job as well as it can be done.
Learn to like the songs of birds, the companionship of dogs.
Learn to like gardening, puttering around the house, and fixing things.
Learn to like the sunrise and sunset, the beating of rain on the roof and windows, and the gentle fall of snow on a winter day.
Learn to keep your wants simple, and refuse to be controlled by the likes and dislikes of others.”

–Lowell B. Bennion

Thursday, October 9, 2008

The Next Step

This semester has rushed by. I just left my last class before fall break, roughly the halfway point of the semester. For the past few years that would have been music to my ears. I have taken classes each of the past 8 semesters, including summers. Finals week has almost been a relief because it meant I was close to a few weeks of rest.

Now, I love school. Finding Planning was the best thing that could have happened. I have legitimately enjoyed most of my classes in those 8 semesters. The majority of the papers I have written have been on topics I like. The above paragraph is meant to say that breaks are nice.

However, this semester is different. This is my last semester. Finals week this time means I am done, it means I need to find a full time job. It is an interesting place. Suddenly, the day I have looked forward to is here.

I am sure I will be able to find a job, I am not nervous about my qualifications, I know I can be a planner. It is the range of possibilities that I find overwhelming. Public or private? Local or regional? Stay here or move?

I would hate to sound like I am complaining about too many options. With the current economic, um, situation, there are plenty of soon to be grads who face a much bleaker picture. So I will reuse another word. Excited.

Monday, October 6, 2008

A man ain't nothin but a man

This weekend we queued up the classic country in our itunes library as we went about chores, and dinner, and time with siblings. I've mentioned it before, but I am a fan of music in general. There is something about classic country, though. Marty Robbins, Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Hank Williams, EmmyLou Harris, nothing quite like it. But I digress.

So our weekend soundtrack was trains and old dogs and mammas and jail. Old Golden Throat himself, Johnny Cash came across the speakers and told us the story of John Henry. The song was written years ago about a man who lived back before years ago. A key to successful folk songs is their ability to stay relevant, and one line stuck out as particularly relevant.

John Henry's foreman announced the end of Henry in the form of a steam hammer. To which he replied "Did the Lord say that machines oughtta take the place of livin? And what's the substitute for bread and beans? I ain't seen it. Do engines get rewarded for their steam?"

Pretty self explanatory.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

The Best Use for Our Land?

The past few weeks at work have focused on land use analysis for a planned station area. We looked at pedestrian coverage [I wrote about that a few posts ago], landscaping, building footprints, floor to area ratios, structure age, employee intensity, and other transit oriented numbers.

The most striking number we came up with was 44. That is the percentage of the 1/8 mile radius around the station dedicated to parking. 44%. The rest of the break down is 17% to buildings, 19% to roads, and 20% to landscaping. Parking uses more than twice as much land as actual structures.

It is an interesting paradigm. There are plenty of reasons for this pattern. Planners and developers design parking lots for the day before Christmas, really. The rest of the year most parking lots are woefully under utilized, leaving expansive of unattractive pavement [not just aesthetically, but functionally unattractive].

It could be argued that development patterns necessitate such copious amounts of parking, but that argument is fairly weak. In most urban areas the Christmas factor dictates far more parking than actually needed. If parking is truly needed [and it often is, not every development can be located near high quality transit], the amount can be reduced, and the shape it takes can be altered as well. Structured parking is much more expensive than surface parking, but the floor to area ratios gained by structures will help recoup expenses in a timely manner.

An even more effective solution is on street parking. Outside city centers on street parking is treated with a disdain usually reserved for leprosy. I'm not sure why, as it provides parking at little to no cost. On street parking also acts as a traffic calming device, which only helps the pedestrian experience.

With urban areas edging into agricultural and other sensitive lands it seems to follow logic that cities would look at the redevelopment and infill potential of our parking lots. Especially as transit services more and more of the urban fabric.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008


It is no secret that I am a transit fan. I honestly believe that the key to a successful urban area is reliable, functioning transit. Without it, mobility is hampered and congestion is increased. With it, mobility gets a boost and congestion is lessened. [Congestion will never be eliminated in an urban area, at least not in city centers. There are too many people moving from place to place and not enough infrastructure. Which is the way it should be, the land is being used for better things than freeways. But I digress].

It is interesting, then, to see the difficulty transit has as it tries to grow to better service the metropolitan area. The infrastructure must be top notch in order to encourage ridership. At the same time, without ridership it is difficult to justify infrastructure improvements. A catch 22.

I was in high school when TRAX was proposed and under construction. I was not aware that the planning profession even existed, but I still liked transit. I remember the fervent opposition to the line. Of course, TRAX ridership exceeded expectations. FrontRunner has done the same, so much so that UTA recently bought refurbished rail cars from New Jersey to keep up with demand. The Max line is running above expectations as well. FrontRunner is being extended to Provo and TRAX has four new spurs either under construction or soon to be started. UTA has decide to take advantage of the benefits of bus rapid transit and are building BRT lines on 5600 West in Salt Lake County and a Provo/Orem loop, among others

So our UTA is on the up and up, but there is still more room for improvement, improvements which, in my opinion, make or break transit. The vast majority of bus stops are nothing more than a post in the ground, the south end of the valley is poorly serviced at best, neglected at worst, and east/west connections take an obvious back seat to north/south routes. Perhaps the worst offence is the timing. TRAX trains are constantly late, or early [which is worse. Nothing ruins my day faster than pulling up to a station on time only to see my train pulling away from the platform]. It is not too uncommon to wait an extra 10 minutes for a train. On top of late trains, the Gallivan Center transfers make little to no sense.

Oddly enough, buses seem to keep to their schedules better. Granted buses have a little more leeway because they run in traffic. A bus late by 2-4 minutes is acceptable, if frustrating. But a train should never be late. Especially not 10 minutes late. Just hold it back another 5 minutes and get them all back on schedule.

Anyway, I guess that is my transit rant. I love you dearly, Transit, please fix yourself.