You Got to Be Kidding Me!

I Got Places to Go…

Posted in Mass Transit, Urban Planning by Stacy McMahon on March 2, 2007

My former (now that he’s graduated and passed to me the mantle of longest-running Master of Urban and Regional Planning candidate) classmate Alan Fogg has an op-ed in today’s Post. The piece is based on his major paper and calls for Tysons Corner to have its own ZIP code, making it really “Tysons Corner”, instead of Vienna or McLean depending which side of Route 7 you’re on.

The Shopping Bag Building really isn’t part of Vienna, whose identity is centered a few miles southwest on Maple Avenue, near Church Street, the town hall and the future town green.

Likewise, Tysons Corner Center really isn’t part of McLean, whose identity is centered a few miles northeast along Chain Bridge Road and Old Dominion Drive.

In a sensible world, the Shopping Bag Building and Tysons Corner Center would both be in Tysons Corner, which the Census Bureau already designates as a place. It’s a 4.9-square-mile area where 18,540 people live and about 110,000 people work. It’s the headquarters of two Fortune 500 companies — Capital One Financial Corp. and Gannett Co. — and home to two super-regional malls that attract thousands of shoppers daily.

From its long-ago beginning as a remote rural crossroads, Tysons has grown into a modern metropolis complete with four freeway interchanges, more than a dozen skyscrapers, state of the art shopping malls, the dot com era’s hottest nightclub, and as Alan mentions, two Fortune 500 corporate headquarters. It inspired Joel Garreau’s seminal best-seller Edge City, which chronicled the transformation of the suburbs from bedroom community to economic powerhouse. And in the next decade it will become the first link in the next-generation intra-suburban Metrorail lines. So three cheers for Tysons Corner …and hey, it’s not too late to rename Route 7 “Alan Fogg Boulevard”!

Car Sharing Running Strong in San Francisco

Posted in Economics, Four Wheels, Mass Transit, Urban Planning by Stacy McMahon on January 29, 2007

Awhile back, I posted on the surprising news that car sharing was gaining traction in the market. It seems that it’s continuing to prove the concept that for some urban denizens it makes sense to occasionally rent a car instead of owning one–providing it’s convenient enough.

Several Zipcar sites are within easy walking distance of her home and work, Hunt said, and getting a car hasn’t been a problem.

“I can’t always get exactly the car I want — I like Priuses, and they’re popular,” she said. “But I can always get a car when I want.”

[…]

Johnson and her husband, who live in a small Mission District apartment, drive to the grocery store, to pick up friends at the airport and to go hiking. They spend between $30 and $75 a month — less than insurance used to cost when she owned a car.

Owning a car becomes vastly more economical the more it gets used, so it’s not surprising that time-share ownership makes sense for people who don’t drive everyday. Traditional car rentals aren’t expensive either, but they’re geared toward travelers and generally located well out of the way of local residents (think of the Avis “we’ll pick you up!” commercials) That will probably change, and quickly, if car sharing companies keep doing well.

Car Sharing Actually Works?

Posted in Four Wheels, Mass Transit by Stacy McMahon on March 29, 2005

You probably remember when ZipCar and FlexCar came out a few years ago. It seemed like an interesting idea, but you wondered how it could actually work. Even if someone made a genuine effort to use only the shared car for necessary trips, it would be hard to actually give up their personal car–what about emergencies? If you need to go to the ER, and there’s no FlexCar available, you’re in a bad situation. You might take that chance yourself, but if you have a family are you going to put them at risk?

I figured most people would end up hanging onto their own cars, and realize eventually that the car sharing is of no benefit when they’re already paying for a vehicle that they aren’t going to get rid of.

Turns out that’s not the case. And the car sharing companies are booming in a very unexpected area: the Los Angeles-like sprawl of the Washington, DC suburbs. The article is vague about the circumstances of the individuals who have taken the no-car plunge, and there seem to be some modest government subsidies involved (especially in securing parking spaces for the shared cars) but apparantly smaller companies that can’t afford to own a fleet of cars are taking advantage of the car sharing companies’ economies of scale. Which is more encouraging in a way, since it ought to allow businesses to function better in the inner suburbs, instead of running for the momentarily uncrowded edge.

From the "What Else Are You Going to Do?" File

Posted in Mass Transit, Urban Planning by Stacy McMahon on February 13, 2005

The Post reports that DC area commuters spend an average of 30 minutes commuting each way (about 10% above the national average -that’s a noticeable difference added up over the entire year) but still see Metro as inconvenient. “Metro is widely admired but largely bypassed” essentially because of a vague feeling that it’s even worse than sitting in traffic. They’re not totally wrong. I did an experimental comparison of the cost and time involved in commuting by bus and subway versus by car in the inner and outer suburbs a couple years ago, and found that the public transit was substantially slower for almost any trip (traffic and parking congestion made it more competitive in the inner suburbs)

I think the nonobvious implication here is the importance of public education in planning. Those who use transit know that while it often does take longer than driving, there are tradeoffs. Most importantly, you’re not behind the wheel and therefore you can read, work (including making any necessary phone calls, as irritating as it might be to your seatmate) or just bask in the downtime. I know many Metro riders who simply enjoy the people-watching opportunities. They’d hate to be sitting in traffic with nothing to do but listen to the same five CDs they’ve been meaning to change out for the past week. But you’d never think of those aspects until you try transit, and if you don’t live near a Metro station, you probably don’t know anyone who could tell you how to make the most of it. This is where education -facilitation, if you prefer- could make a big difference in how we commute, and thus ultimately in how we build in the next 20 years.

You Have to Start Somewhere

Posted in History, Mass Transit, Urban Planning by Stacy McMahon on February 10, 2005

John Kelly’s column in today’s Post includes a blurb about the Metro’s humble beginnings. I’m 29, and for me the system has always been part of the urban landscape. As a kid, one of my favorite parts of the summer was always the day my mom would take some friends and I downtown on the subway. We’d be fascinated by the lights in the tunnel passing by–at maybe 50mph, but it felt like 100. Hard to believe it started out like this:

“A colleague of mine, Mike Greenberg, gave me a little something his father-in-law, Bruno Zanin, had squirreled away. It’s a 20-page booklet that appeared as an advertising supplement in the Washington Star on March 21, 1976. On the cover are the words, “This is Your Metro Owner’s Manual.”

It was an endearing bit of PR designed to familiarize Washingtonians with the subway system whose Phase I — five stations between Rhode Island Avenue and Farragut North — was just about to open. “

Five stations, all downtown. And look at it today. Clarendon, Ballston, King Street, Chinatown, U Street, Metro Center, and a dozen more places both downtown and suburban that were dying and have managed to pull new life at least partly out of that regional connection on their doorstep. Funny, then, that Kelly’s headline is “Metro’s Promise — We’re All Still Waiting”. Maybe the funky orange jackets and caps (if not the funky orange upholstry) is long gone, but that just means Metro’s made the transition from that glamorous new toy that you vaguely fear was a mistake, to the trusty old tool that reminds you of a hundred past adventures. Sure it’s a little shabby these days, but can you even imagine what life would have been like without it?