Monday, October 3, 2011

Walk 21 Transforming the Automobile City

I am in Vancouver BC this morning attending the Walk 21 Conference and this is the insert in the Globe & Mail newspaper.
The consciousness around walking and car culture are very interesting and it seems that more people in Canada are aware of the urban conditions. I think this is primarily due to the fact that many of the large unviersities are in the urban context.

The program schedule started off with a fantastic array of speakers including the conference organizers and the City's Director of Streets, Neal Carley.

One of the speakers on the docket was Gordon Price, who was an elected leader in Vancouver who talked about Motordom and the Wars Between Pedestrians and Cars between 1920s and 1940s. He offered some wonderful context related to the growth of streetcars and the rise of the automobile.

He cited Vancouver's example of Construction of Streetcar by decade which was a steep incline to death in the 1930s when automobiles took over.
1889 to 1899 16.1 miles,
1900 to 1909 37.2,
1910 to 1919 50.2,
1920 to 1929 10.3

He highlighted the three elements needed in Vancouver and other communities as:
  • Sufficient density – single family homes and higher
  • Good mix of uses
  • Walkable distance (3 blocks to transit maximum)

Gordon Price highlighted the term "Motordom" in the book Fighting Traffic – The dawn of the motor age in the American City. He defined Motordom as an alliance of engineers, etc that “Socially reconstructed the purpose of the street”.
Detroit 1917 Campus Martius picture showing amazing mix of uses

A good example of this was the term "Jaywalker", where a Jay is a hick – a person that doesn’t know the rules of the City. Pedestrians "need" to stay in between the lines. So, in 1920s there was a war on the car because new drivers had problems with safety, but in the 1930s the car had won and we have been accomodating the car for the past eight years. Streets are places for movement of vehicles.

He highlighted that "the car is fabulous, we love it. It’s a freedom machine." Moving forward we have to figure out how we change the guidelines in the Transportation Planning Handbook by the Institute of Transportation Engineers.

He went on to discuss how ITE principles resulted in efficient, free, and rapid car traffic. What could be wrong with that? It’s universal. We have been focused on Auto-Dependent Urban Planning. The car isn’t going away, nor should it. It does things that the car can only do. BUT when you Design for Car, you get three things:
  • Big and Simple,
  • Flat, and
  • Uniform (limited chances for making a great place).

Once you design the roads, then you have to get parking. Motordom drove out all of the other choices.

It was an insightful presentation highly relevant to the audience.


Tom Bertulis said...

Sounds great, wish I could have been there to hear Gordon speak. Interesting to hear about the sharp increase and then precipitous drop in streetcar construction. By the way, you might be forgetting an element. I've heard Gordon speak before and he always mentions those three (density, mix, and proximity/walkable distance) along with one more: transportation options (bikeways/busways/light rail/etc, etc).

pkoonce said...

I am sure he mentioned it, but it wasn't in the bullets that he presented. He was saying so much good stuff it was tough to get it all down. Video taping would have been better!