transit

Mid-Day Piedmont train in route to Charlotte from Raleigh, as seen from the balcony of CityView Apartments in Greensboro. Photo by Kristen Jeffers, the author.

It Really Started With A Train Part 1– My North Carolina Amtrak Fantasy Map

Mid-Day Piedmont train in route to Charlotte from Raleigh, as seen from the balcony of CityView Apartments in Greensboro. Photo by Kristen Jeffers, the author.

I’m finally getting around to doing a fantasy transit map.

My inspiration? My trip home from D.C. to Greensboro via the train.

It takes approximately 8 hours to do it in the daylight and 5.5 hours to do it in the middle of the night. And those are the only choices, just the two trains a day.

However, years ago, there were at least 5 trains a day, if not more. I think we could get back to that point and do so quite cheaply. Also, I think there’s no real excuse why we can’t have trains going to every major city, at at least 60 miles, if not 90 miles an hour.

This idea actually was planted in me years before I decided to do planning work, but not long after my first ever train trip just before I started kindergarten.

North Carolinian fourth and eighth graders study their home state in social studies classes.  Being the social studies and history nerd I still am and was very much so then, I read my textbook from cover to cover.

My fourth grade social studies textbook. This was the only image I could find.

My fourth grade social studies textbook. This was the only image I could find.

There was a section in it that talked about life in North Carolina in 2032. Part of that life was being able to have lunch on the coast and dinner in the mountains (And I’m sure breakfast in one of the three regions and other meals on other coasts, but still, you can wake up one place, lunch in another and dinner in yet another).

As it stands right now, thanks to the routing of the Carolinian and the Piedmont, you can have an early breakfast in NoDA in Charlotte, a high noon lunch at Natty Greene’s in Greensboro and a dinner at one of Ashley Christensen’s fabulous James Beard Award-winning joints in Raleigh. You could do all of this in reverse. (probably need a different breakfast spot though…)

However, what if you could have dinner at the Chef and the Farmer in Kinston instead of that dinner in Raleigh and still get back to Greensboro before midnight?

That’s the fantasy I’m creating with my North Carolina Passenger Rail Map.

Before I reveal the map, a few rules that I worked with:

1.This assumes that we can start putting commuter rail stops and tracks down the interstates and state highway medians immediately.

2. This is not by any means parallel or inspired by the existing maps for the High Speed Rail corridor or any strategic plans. Please do dig up the strategic plans, especially for the Durham-Orange Corridor, the Wake County Corridor. The regional transit authority sites are good places to start for this and I may be back here to add those links in.

3. In the interest of still keeping some realistic planning in place, I’m using those highway medians with the assumption that the lanes lost in the process would be absorbed by people taking the train more often, especially in the Charlotte Raleigh corridor. Also, the costs would be lower, as basically this can be rolled into the existing plan to add second rail from Charlotte to Raleigh and also highway resurfacing and widening.

4.I decided to overlay a Google Map, because all the work is done for me. The map is blurry, yes, but it’s really just there for perspective and once I started drawing the lines and circles over top, I didn’t want to re-center it. I will revisit this later as well.

So, all aboard (couldn’t resist)! In my fantasy world, you can get to just about any city in the state in less than 5 hours, many within 2-3 hours.

My trunk line is the existing Piedmont routing. I’m assuming that almost everyone, save the folks on Asheville to Wilmington line, will come through Greensboro, Raleigh or Charlotte at some point.

(Here are the raw distance calculations, using Google Maps and following existing interstate, U.S. or state highway routes where possible).

I imagine these stations will be massive park and rides, utilizing space right next to highway interchanges for cars and regional buses to areas that still can’t be served by rail efficiently. These buses will still sync up directly with arrivals and departures and will leave the cities they originate in promptly. Also, there will be transit to major commercial areas in the cities represented.

Or, I could go even more fantastical and make all these stations downtown stations, much like all the existing ones are. A lot of these places will need new track anyway, why not go downtown to downtown and save money on parking and buses.

Now, what you’ve been waiting for, the map!

North Carolina Fantasy Amtrak Map

Existing Amtrak service is represented by blue lines. Fantasy service is represented, with slight approximations, by the green lines. In the Google Drive, distance is calculated using state highways, of which many do have a passenger or freight railroad paralleling or hugging anyway.

Also, if you’ve not seen the infrastructure maps, especially the railroad maps, the Washington Post recently published, you should. It will also point out that a lot of my fantasy map, could become very real and very viable–if only we reinstated some of the old railroads or allowed more passenger traffic on the ones we have.

Finally, there’s some great information on the N.C. By Rail website, including this awesome video of the progress and modifications to the primary state-owned and operated route that the Piedmont travels.

I expect you to critique the mess out of this. Can’t wait to hear your thoughts!

I’m Kristen. I started blogging here to make sense of the built environment around me. You can find me on FacebookTwitter and Instagram. You can find out more about me at my portfolio website, www.kristenejeffers.com. Or get an email from me weekly on Tuesday’s with links, other posts and job/fellowship opportunities.

 

How I Get Around the DC Metro Without A Car (And You Can Too!)

I mentioned in a prior post that I do a fair amount of walking and I no longer have my car now that I’m in DC. I wanted to break that down and help folks getting started here without a car to understand how car-free life works. This is very D.C. specific, but I used the same logic in a more modified form in Kansas City and in Raleigh in undergrad.

There are nine steps. Think of them as a Mazlow’s Hierarchy of Needs for transportation.

Step 1–Go on a map and get adjusted to where you actually live, not where you think you live in your head.

Especially if your only experience in DC is the area between the Capitol Building and the Lincoln Memorial, which by the way is 2.6 miles long and takes 56 minutes to walk in its entirety. I learned the hard way back in 2009 how large of a walk this is. We went to the Lincoln Memorial at night on our first day of our visit. I continued to have pain throughout the remainder of my trip that was only fixed when I started wearing hosiery. Thankfully this was during November and they also helped keep me warm.  These days, I’m still adjusting my schedule and my backpack weight so I don’t end up with back aches from carrying my whole life around to too many places across the city daily.

This is also a plea to learn your neighborhood name (or names in my case, as I technically overlap and depending on who I’m talking to, this can be a cause for consternation and write me off as being a trustworthy individual). Please also learn how to say neighborhoods like Glover Park and that it’s Malcolm X Park and National Airport and Anacostia is just the area around the Frederick Douglass House. Try not to truncate neighborhood names other than NoMa./rant

Use Google Maps and overlay the Metro on the actual map. You will thank me, when you realize that Shady Grove is not that close at all. In fact, I’ll give you a bone, here’s the D.C. Metro map to proper scale.

D.C. Metro Map at the Actual Scale of the System by Peter Dvorak. Click on the image to see all of his pictures and to purchase his work as a print.

D.C. Metro Map at the Actual Scale of the System by Peter Dvorak. Click on the image to see all of his pictures and to purchase his work as a print.

Step 2–Understand that while this city moves at a faster pace, you travel at a slightly slower pace over less land, especially if you live inside the District or close in.

Actually, even if you live pretty far out, don’t expect ease of travel during rush hours on weekdays. Also, if you are commuting and you find that you would be better served living close to your office, in one of the suburban areas, go live there and be closer to not just your work, but a handful of quality happy hour places and suburban big box stores and trails and 20-60 minute trains into downtown and back out. Or if you’re like me and like being in the middle of everything, as I’ve managed to do as a stroke of luck, by all means, stay where you are future (or present) neighbor. Or, you may find family is close by, but work may change. Or work may just change. Or you start dating someone.

As good chefs know, keeping a well-stocked pantry with your staples helps maintain some consistency in cooking. The same goes for your commute. With so many choices, you could travel so many ways. However, time and money are still finite and you want to maximize them both as you choose how to get around the region.

Step 3 –See how far you can walk to get to your destination.

Every day for me is a walking architecture tour. You may find that for yourself as well, so definitely start exploring on the sidewalks.

Every day for me is a walking architecture tour. You may find that for yourself as well, so definitely start exploring on the sidewalks.

You may find that even if you walk slow, you’ll get to your destination cheaper, faster and with some physical activity built in. From my position on Georgia Avenue, I walk to Petworth station, to the Shaw/Howard station, to U Street and to the Columbia Heights station. If I wanted to get more exercise in, Adams Morgan and Chinatown and Dupont and Metro Center become part of my walkshed.

If the only things I needed to do were in walking distance every day, I would stop here and I’d have a perfect budget and I’d be living in a perfect village. But we can’t all live in Clarendon. And because we all don’t just live in Clarendon and sometimes we want to go to a Smithsonian museum or a Nats game, we have to use more than our two feet. Also, what If I can’t walk?

Step 4–See how far you can bike, both with your personal bike and Capital Bikeshare.

I am still proud of myself for making this journey, even if I had to space over two days and use the hotel storage where I was attending the event.

I am still proud of myself for making this journey with Lina, even if I had to space over two days and use the hotel storage where I was attending the event. At this moment I’m just across the Potomac from the monument core on the Mt. Vernon Trail.

 

First of all, if you haven’t ridden a bike in years, and you already know your balance isn’t the greatest, I would reach out to my friends at the Washington Area Bicyclist Association(WABA) and see when their next learn-to -ide class is. Then, I would go on Craigslist or to one of the local thrift stores and see where you can get a nice used bike. Folks at WABA can help you with that as well. I would not buy a bike from Walmart or Target. They may be cheap, but they are so heavy, you might as well be riding a Capital Bikeshare (CaBi). Once you pay your $85 a year for a CaBi membership, you get 30 minutes free per bike and there are stations all over. I suggest you get a fob, even if you don’t plan on using it much.

I will admit though that uphill rides can be a bit rough and anything north of U Street and Florida Avenue starts the uphill climb, at least in the Northwest quadrant. Also, CaBi stations get sparse the further north you go. And if you’re in one the main dense suburbs, you may have slightly better comfort and markings to go where you need to go or you may have nothing at all. Also, learn how to lock your own bike down, so all of it is there when you get back. If you want comfort maps at your fingertips here are ones for:

  • D.C.–http://ddot.dc.gov/sites/default/files/dc/sites/ddot/publication/attachments/dc_bike_map_2012_full_version.pdf
  • Arlington–http://www.bikearlington.com/pages/maps-rides/ …
  • Montgomery County–http://mcatlas.org/bikestress/#

(If your part of the metro has one, let me know. I crowdsourced this list via Twitter after exclaiming that I knew about Arlington’s map, but where were the other major regional maps).

Step 5–Mix in Metrobus and Circulator and your county bus system (ART, DASH, RideOn, The Bus)

Don’t look down on the bus. Especially when the bus helps your wallet and actually saves you time. I live off of Georgia Ave. I like doing a few things and visiting people who live in Silver Spring. I also like being downtown quickly. The 70s buses help me do that quick and easy. I just know it’s 20 minutes in either direction and I’m thankful I don’t have to walk. One day there will be no delays and I’ll get a good seat, but I can’t beat the $1.75 in each direction. The 79’s especially great for taking an express route to where I need to go. The Washington Post has a great primer on how to use the bus for the first time. Also, ask if your destination has a free or direct or both shuttle. This is what makes Potomac Mills Mall even possible, as well as the National Harbor, although both now have public transit routes. I doubt they will ever be in the Metrorail system and VRE, the Virginia side commuter rail, just scratches the surface of the Potomac Mills area and not at a high frequency.

Step 6– Now take Metrorail. Or VRE or MARC, depending on which state your suburb is in.

Two #newtrains, passing in the wind...

Two #newtrains, passing in the wind…

Speaking of Metrorail. As of this writing, you may have not heard the best things about Metrorail, the thing you probably think about when you hear the word Metro used in reference to the train or any transit around D.C. However, it’s hands down the best way to cross the rivers, especially with your own bike. Also, I’m using it to go to Capitol Hill (Eastern Market to be exact) and down to the Waterfront/Nats Park areas. It’s also become most convenient to cross town this way, instead of try and do it on bus (being underground is warmer). My storage unit is adjacent to West Hyattsville. Thankfully, because I have a life that’s more than just using the train to go places in the metro (but all about grabbing Amtrak at Union Station to go up and down the eastern seaboard and the yellow line for further flights out at National Airport), I don’t have to worry too much about this thing called SafeTrack.

However, if you live in any suburb, it’s either express bus to one of the major suburban junctions or it’s the stop in your suburb that you live close to. Unless you add the Virginia Railway Express (VRE) or the MARC train, depending on which state you live in or are communing to and from. Honestly, doing this to Baltimore or BWI Airport will save you some sanity and money. Please again look at the Metro map above, the one with the real distances , and decide if it’s really worth the extra money to ride down F/G street versus walk or bus those four blocks inside the District.

Also, I keep my SmarTrip Card around my neck and I load it with a cash amount as needed. If I was doing more riding both the bus and the rail system, I’d invest in a pass. If you know you’re primarily using one or the other or both as transportation, and doing it at least 3 times a week, then I’d go with one of the passes at the WMATA site. Also, the speciality ones do make great jewelry or bragging rights. You do need a different set of tickets for VRE and MARC, but you can go here and get tickets for everything transit and train related in the region.

Step 7–Uber and Lyft, too.

I’m trying to reduce my dependence on these two, by dressing properly for the weather and being less afraid of walking home alone before 9 p.m. However, for late nights, tight timelines when I think I’m walking or biking or busing the right direction, but I’m really just lost, and carting stuff home from the grocery (although I’m looking into one of those carts for my Giant/Target trips), Lyft and Uber have been my lifeline. Oh and when you have really good friends who live way out past Metro stops. This also applies when Metro is shut down and your bus drops frequency or stops running.

I’ve not done it yet, but I’ve heard you can buy trips in bulk as well.

Step 8–Car to Go, ZipCar or Enterprise Car Share.

I’ve only done one of these and that was so I could drive around a city that didn’t have as much transit on the opposite end of my trip. I have ridden in all but a Car to Go with people who are members of these services. Again, this is what you do when you need to go somewhere that’s not as car-free friendly like Rehoboth Beach, you need to haul a ton of things from a storage unit or boxes from IKEA (although I know someone who has carted a vacuum cleaner on Metro from Target) or there are really no other good options to get where you need to go.

Step 9– Reconsider Car-Ownership.

img_6514

I only miss her at night, and when I’m tired and don’t want to put in the work all these other modes require. But then I think about the hurting I put on her on the streets and parking downtown…and the fact that I was already down to driving her only every other day or every two days even in Kansas City. I think she’s in a happier place with her new owner.

You can only get your friends to drive you so much. You may want to become an Uber or Lyft driver yourself or have a business that requires you to haul things or a job that requires you to spot funds for site visits. You might get on a Home Depot/Apartment Therapy kick and it becomes a self-care activity. Your kids may just cause you more trouble on the bus and Metro than its worth, if they even come close enough to your house.

Also, if you don’t live in the District proper or you’re somewhere that’s still not well served by transit or you have a social or work life largely outside of the District, and you can park easily, as many folks not in what’s considered the Old City do, then by all means, do get a vehicle of your own (or figure out how to get your vehicle here).

Yes, this statement may throw out everything I just mentioned. However, I’m an advocate at the end of the day for a multi-modal future, not necessarily a car-free future. Also, some of you like driving in the demolition derby known as driving in the core of the District of Columbia (and to be honest, certain parts of close-in suburbs that will remain nameless). And some of you should volunteer yourselves as tributes, I mean Uber, Lyft, Postmates, Instacart, Door Dash or a litany of other delivery service drivers so those of us who wreck our vehicles every other year, who get anxiety behind the wheel (or sometimes traveling period), don’t have to drive.

The extra money  you make using an app could potentially pay off any expenses that come with having the vehicle. Do know again, that your vehicle can become more trouble than it’s worth. Maintenance, parking and fines are all higher here. That’s what ultimately tipped me to sell my car and not bring it to the District.

Finally, we are at the top of the pyramid! Your commuting and traveling equation may look different, but if you’re looking to go car-free for the first time or in a long time and you also want to save money and be efficient on how you get around, consider my method or create a sustainable one of your own!

Other Resources

  • GoDCGo (The official transportation demand management site of the D.C. Government)–http://www.godcgo.com
  • RometoRio (Great resource that predicts how much a particular mode or combination of modes costs)–https://www.rome2rio.com/
  • Transit app (You will want this or Moovit or something to supplement Google and Apple Maps sometimes paltry route tracking and directional skills and mode combining on your phone)–https://transitapp.com

I’m Kristen. Six years ago, I started blogging here to make sense of the built environment around me. You can find me on FacebookTwitter and Instagram. You can find out more about me at my main website, www.kristenejeffers.com

On the Second Presidential Debate of 2016 and Knowing Your Truth About Where You Live

I wanted to discuss a comment about cities that came up in the debate/ town hall last night. Note, this is not a post endorsing one or the other, although I’ll say that I’m with her. But the issue brought up is one that trips up a lot of people when it comes to talking about metropolitan policy and how black folks have been allowed to move about and take part in the environments that have been built and paved and provided for us.

First of all, the debate’s mention of urban policy and where black folks tend to live assumes a concentric city model, which looks like those diagrams of the earth where you cut it open and you have a ball in the center and rings around until you get to the crust, which is where we actually live.

This is the Burgess Concentric City Model. He applied it to Chicago first. However, maybe it should have been a rainbow instead…

The actual model goes into even more detail about human pathways, but I’m going to simplify it to three rings: the core, the suburban rings and the crust which is rural farm and natural areas. The core in this globe is the inner city. You have a business district, a city hall, maybe a county hall, the largest school, possibly the high school, a college or university and then you have either old money wealthy whites (or others of color who were able to maintain wealth since the city was first built). You also have the regional sports stadiums and other institutions marketed and intended for the entire region to use. If you have a major public transit system, all the routes lead to this area. When people come to visit your town, this is what they think of and this is where the things geared to them are located. Also, the name of this  inner core city, is often the name the entire region uses to define itself, when defining itself to people from the outside.

However, after World War II, when we had the second wave of suburban development, the department stores started to leave, along with others that catered directly to white folks, who were moving into the suburban areas. A few years later, black folks were allowed to  move out and onward, so essentially, all the people left in the “inner city” were the poor people of color, LGBTQA+ people and others deemed less American and undesirable.

This is where the bulk of the logic of that particular candidate comes from. Also, that candidate has participated in the development of cities for many years and from what I’ve been able to observe, subscribes to a inner core, then suburban rings that just have houses and a few services, and are restricted to certain types of people, then rural crust where all the farms and the things that sustain us (or the corporations that make all of our food, textiles and the like) are. This is probably the idea they have when they want to make the country great again. Basically make us all perfect round balls of metro areas. (Among other things…)

However, this was never quite the case anywhere. Why?

  1. Some cities are built along a riverfront. This automatically rules out having a round ring of neighborhoods in many cities. This is what you see in Chicago, Detroit and St. Louis. The irony is that the model I just mentioned in its original form was applied to Chicago. Maybe it should have been a rainbow instead of a full circle.
  2. Some cities grew in pairs or clusters. So there are multiple metro cores and farmland that became suburban rings and then all grew together to become one mega region. New York is really this, but with water separating the various cores and rings. Also, I grew up in the Piedmont Triad region of North Carolina. Not to be confused with the Research Triangle Region of North Carolina where I went to undergrad. Both started as triangles and are now adjacent amorphous blobs. Trying to make this a circle will only make your head hurt and you sound stupid.
  3. Economics and family structures have always determined where people choose to live. People need to be close to the things that help them survive, like jobs and food. Wealthier  people get to have more of what they like nearby. Some wealthy people wanted farmland, others wanted cultural institutions. Those others, who are at the mercy of working a job, go wherever the job is. And then those who have chosen to raise children often build and move where they feel their family will get the most of the values they want to institute into their children.
  4. Black families and sometimes Latinx and Asian families, basically anyone who was not considered white when it comes to schooling, real estate and access to public spaces and services, has always had to reckon with where slavery, then Jim (and Juan) Crow, then redlining, then urban renewal and now, mass incarceration and the aftermath of being incarcerated,  affordability or upward mobility allow them to go. For myself, my upward mobility and personal preferences dictate that I want to be near the cultural centers and also in areas where retail is clustered, which is becoming the inner cities again. But I’m a business owner just starting out, so I am on a budget. I’m also car-free, partly because of economics. Other friends, of all races and nationalities, are having children and want them to have their own safe yards, that they can manage and not have to worry about police or even neighbors shooting at their children. Because so many inner core areas closed schools or don’t provide similar public options, smaller towns in the metro regions, that are often written off as suburbs, are a more attractive option. Oh, and Target. It all really boils down to who’s good enough for Target. And who Walmart hasn’t left yet.

So what’s really going on and what should I make of this?

What I invite folks to do in the light of this particular comment and the work here, is to research the history of how your specific metro area was built, governed and developed since its inception. Each metro area, while it shares a few common elements, applies those elements differently. We need to know how our metros are made, because it’s going to take a ground-up effort to make things better. Also, you’ll sleep better knowing that living in the suburbs or inner city or on a farm or even in a shack (tiny house!) may not be a bad or shameful thing.

How Do You Start that Research?

  1. Wikipedia. Seriously, the entries on your metro area will help you find basic information and also help you find primary sources and places to go to learn why your city has its shape and how people have made it have that shape over the years.
  2. Historians and librarians in your metro area, as well as urban planners and others working in community design and governance— Basically anyone working to make sure everyone who lives in an area is accounted for and is part of the story of your city. They will help you make sure what you read is right and give you even more books to read and places to go to find information. They will also be able to point you to other people like…
  3. Long-time community residents, suggested by the professionals above. This is where you get the real stories and the more nuanced stories of why people do what they do. Or, even better, you can talk to your older family members. Record those chats, as they are history. I love what the new podcast Historically Black is doing around black oral histories. StoryCorps, and even shows like This American Life and Stuff Your Mom Never Told You are also doing a great job of uncovering local and social histories as well. (I’m going to shamelessly plug my podcast with Katrina Johnston-Zimmerman here, Third Wave Urbanism as well, where we also talk about how metro areas are really made and average people).

Above all, let those of us who are professionals stress about where people actually live. No matter where you live and what your story is, you have value. Developers and builders and city leaders, remember that the next time you decide what needs to be built or torn down in your city.

Also, please make a wise decision about voting on November 8, 2016  and during other times when elections are called in your city. Especially when other elections are called in your metro area. These folks have the direct keys to your success as a city.

I’m Kristen! Six years ago, I started blogging here to make sense of the built environment around me. You can find me on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. You can find out more about me at my main website, www.kristenejeffers.com

What We Need Is More, Not Less, Transit In Our Major Cities

IMG_6399

The keys to my commute. Yes, that includes my headphones and my library card.

There’s a reason I walk around with my DC SmartTrip card hanging around my neck. And I post time-lapse Instagrams and such of the KC Streetcar working well. Why I wish I could park my car for good and why I relish walking in even 90 degree heat, if it means I’m able to propel myself to my destination. Or in the old days, walking just an 1/8 of a mile to a bus stop near my parents homes, that would take me straight downtown and open up the rest of Greensboro.

And it’s definitely why the root of this blog is my musings on wanting a train in Greensboro. Why I spent a year working in an official capacity for bike and pedestrian infrastructure improvements. Why I still will write these kinds of posts pushing for transportation options and most certainly equity. My parents used public transportation. They had cars too, but they also supported me taking Amtrak (including of course my first memorable trip from Greensboro to DC with my mom) and they supported my solo trips, which sometimes included cars and which sometimes did not.

This is what personally makes me disappointed with this call recently, even after all this maintenance is done, for DC’s WMATA (the umbrella that the rail and bus sit under) to shut down Metrorail even earlier at night and to not open it early. I’ve noticed that even in supportive forums online, people have noted that the system wasn’t meant to be a subway, a modern city enterprise.

Really? So the Nation’s Capital isn’t a modern global metro region. Yeah, the one with the three working airports, one with so many international air carriers, it makes my head spin. There are many people who have had at least one late night out and about where they lost track of your imbibing, and I’m sure they are VERY thankful that all they had to do is stumble and giggle onto a train, in lieu of stumbling and giggling into jail or worse. (I do want to remind folks that drinking responsibly is the best way to combat this, but still…)

And what about those fine bartenders, waiters, hosts and such. Maybe that was you 20 years ago, but you moved up in the world. Really, moved up, huh? Should we not be happy to be employed at anything, especially considering the kind of world we’ve been living in, for dare say my lifetime of 30 years. Or even better, the people who’ve always worked the overnight shift, the ones who make sure you can get your fresh kale smoothie you reluctantly drink because now you need to fix your health.

Sometimes when I go to see my friend Screech and the game runs late, hopping on the Green Line is my best bet. Well…it was.

I’ll stop stereotyping when you do. I’ll stop criticism when we do the right thing and start recognizing that our cities, not just DC, but all of them, can’t call themselves cities or even members of a metro region, where commuting is vital and necessary to prop up all these extra houses and Walmarts, empty or not, if we don’t have comprehensive transportation.

And comprehensive transportation includes either 24-hour trains, or 24-hour buses or 24-hour bikeshares. Or all three at once! And no car-sharing is not the same. Rates on even the cheapest option can easily surge. Having worked with a GPS sharing economy app, I often have to rely on GPS to get me to even the most familiar places for the first time, due to the pressure of getting a route and order right. But not a transit operator, who’s been drilled on the proper way of going and even better, has the benefit of a fixed route. Hardwired in the ground or painted on the side.

Don’t you like knowing exactly where you’re going when you travel?

Also, these things don’t go unnoticed by higher powers. In Boston, which already has seen service drops and even fare increases as it faces up to  maintenance issues, the Federal Transit Administration took them to task back in March for these actions, and failing to finish a report that would have highlighted impacts to poor communities and communities of color (which while not always the same, tend to be the same thanks to all the redlining we’ve done over the years and continue to do).

Does Metro, in the FTA’s backyard, in a city famous for its diversity coupled with its regal nature as our seat of government, think they’ll escape these kinds of criticism? Do they think that private cars, either as taxis, app-based services and possibly drunk drivers is a real solution? Unfortunately, thanks to the lack of grid in some areas and the flat-out lack of sidewalk in others, plus, speed levels that are much too high for a core city, biking and walking don’t always make sense.

We need all parts to work together.

I care so much now because as a handful of you know, I’ll be making the move from KC back to the DC Metro area in a few weeks. With my budget and with where I may be working, Metrorail may be a lifeline. I, like many, are choosing where to live due to proximity of transit service. Yes, you friend up there might drive downtown, but having sat in car traffic downtown, I can tell you that’s not always the solution either.

Plus, when I was in Toronto last year, I seamlessly switched between the night bus and the day train. Even if the solution is night buses, on express routes, at least that’s dedicated routes. And I know that many buses in the DC Metro are already running close to all night. But at what frequency? I could be ok with higher frequencies and official bus bridges if I knew that I would still get to my destination promptly.

No matter what, the core of my writing on communities has always hinged on strong transportation options. Let’s get back to doing that. And if you live in DC or the Metro region already, read this and submit your name to the petition at the end.

I’m Kristen. I’ve written here about cities and places and how we can make them better for almost 6 years. You can learn more about me here. And you can follow me herehere and here.

My Placemaking Wishes for 2016

My Placemaking Wishes for 2016

It’s that time again, where I rub my lamp and hope that several things in the world of placemaking come true. I’ve made a set of wishes in 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015 and I’m honored to share another set of dreams for 2016.

And without further ado, this year’s four wishes.

Truly Safe Streets

It’s my list, I can keep wishing the same things. Especially if those things have yet to come to pass. We need to reconcile the need to reduce traffic incidents, with the greater need for law enforcement to treat citizens like citizens and not enemies of war. Some people are sharing the road with fellow passengers. Others yet are working with their police departments and reducing violent crimes among themselves. Let us continue to wish that our most common public space is the safest. My friend Naomi Doerner makes a great case for combining #visionzero and #campaignzero.

Steady Rents and Mortgages

Every city that has at least a major employer; homes that resemble craftsman bungalows, art deco apartments or colonial row houses;has a college or two or three; and has reasonable diversity in population is seeing some form of gentrification, proportional to  the average median household income. Every city has people who can’t make ends meet and in some places, it’s worse than others, because salaries are holding steady for a lot of industries, especially at the minimum wage and entry levels. But, if the housing market could as a whole lower their costs by maybe 10% on services, rents and the like (as well as themselves start to rely less on bank loans and a bit more on cash), maybe we could fix this. This will be a continuing wish, because I know what I just proposed isn’t practical. What however is practical, is empowering people to create craft and trade guilds and turn neighborhood association funds into a means to fund labor and supplies for these maintenance and building crews. My friend John Anderson has a great argument for continuing to mentor and cultivate tradesmen, especially in underserved communities who need lots of housework done, but may not have what it takes to hire outside workers.

Understanding of How Housing Policy and some Transportation Policy Has Created A Number of Social Ills.

Again, this combines elements of the two wishes above. People need to know the history of their neighborhoods, their states and their country. If you don’t like not having public transit, find out where the stops are and why your system exists. Same with your neighborhood and why you may have seen a restrictive covenant in the deed, even though technically those are illegal. At the very least understand why your Realtor still may have suggested a certain group of neighborhoods and why certain neighborhoods command high values (It’s not just because of proximity to Trader Joe’s). I want to use this space and other forums to help people understand why so many of our urban and suburban racial battles have roots back even further than the greater civil rights movements of the 1950s and 1960s. Maybe you weren’t aware of the origins of Oregon, but this post touches on that and how in least one state, capturing the American Dream was completely banned well into the 20th Century. (I’m also aware of the irony of this link in the light of the other link from wish 1.) 

A Commitment By Powerful Interests to Creating Comprehensive Public Transit in More than a Few Cities.

And finally, separating out this wish into its own space, because transportation is easier to change than where houses sit and where people live. Maybe your parents want a huge suburban house and they are willing to pay all the costs to have that house. Namely paying for their own transit service, their sidewalks and bike lanes on their stroads. Even better if we can convince the powers-to-be to increase service frequencies and add weekend and evening services back to commuter routes. I wouldn’t drive into Kansas at all, if I knew I could use the JO commuter service to go to the Target in Mission or Downtown Overland Park at times I have the extra time to do so. I’ve seen the benefits of added MARC service in being able to go more places between DC and Baltimore. This doesn’t excuse new suburbs from popping up and contributing to sprawl. This makes it necessary for municipalities that want to be connected to a greater metro area to be part of said area. I don’t have any specific links for this one, other than read any post that you see from your hometown newspapers, national mainstream magazines and maybe even write an op/ed of your own or a long Facebook post that’s sharable, to tell the world we need better transit.

So here we are, new year, new wishes. Be sure to keep with me via email and on social media to see my progress with the wishes, as well as my commentary on how the world is doing with them. 

Why Road Gentrification Is Good Gentrification

Why Road Gentrification is Good Gentrifcation

I’m a firm believer that transportation is one place where equity can and should be had. At the end of the day, a street is a street, we all have to use them and their presence should not be the signal of gentrification you worry about. It should be the one you champion to get you to where you need to go. Hence why I’m here advocating for what some call complete streets, others call road diets and yet others call road gentrification.

Why All Three Names Matter

Why three names for this kind of road construction and maintenance? Well, because each name covers three key benefits of such changes.

First, you are completing what should already be standard on all roads, the ability for any mode of transportation to thrive.

Second, when you go on a food diet, if you want to be successful, it becomes a lifestyle change. It also is tailored to what you actually eat and how your body is actually made. Hence a good road diet, like form-based codes in architecture, works best when it takes into account what’s already there, and how others use the road.

Food diets also insist on being the most lean and green version of one’s self. Same with road diets, they insist that roads be the most efficient, but not just for one use, but for all users.

My last food analogy: it introduces more than one food (transport) group to the roads, more like the old four group pattern where all groups were somewhat equal.

And finally, gentrification at its purest, takes something that needs a touch of class and makes it better for everyone. Unfortunately, making it better for everyone doesn’t always come out of gentrification of housing and commercial buildings. Instead of making it so everyone can be part of a neighborhood, residential and commercial gentrification often privileges one group, namely the wealthy, of any cultural background.

But road gentrification is different. In adding more than one mode to the road, it allows everyone to use the roads, at whatever place they are in life.

What Institutions Can, Are and Should Be Doing

As we see with much of housing and commercial gentrification, it is government policy which really seals the deal in terms of how housing and commercial markets are allowed to work. Governments at all levels regularly get flack for not implementing community and economic development programs in the right way.

However, there’s really no wrong way to do a complete street/road diet/road improvement. Unless you decide to continue to privilege one mode at the expense of others.

You don’t have to do that. In the image leading this post, I was participating in a demonstration led by students at the University of Oklahoma ‘s Urban Design Studio at the 2015 American Planning Association’s Quad State Conference in Kansas City. They brought us model pieces giving us multiple options to create a complete street from a scale model of a portion of 11th Street in Tulsa, also known as part of the historic Route 66.

Our group came up with what is pictured above. This was after I (and others) insisted that we have both bike lanes, trolley/car lanes, sidewalks and at least one lane where cars can pass the trolleys safely without endangering the cyclists and walkers other than to turn into the businesses with parking lots.

Another group came up with something completely different. Both were solid complete streets. Both even had low-density, suburban retail. And when someone suggested that my sidewalk was too narrow, I reminded them that some shop fronts could still roll up their windows and make the outside come in.

Yet, their concerns about how the buildings would work were valid. So are those of these folks in DC, who are concerned about a new road diet plan, even though they can be annoying. What it tells us is that we still need to work on making sure people understand, that when it comes to having all modes of transit on a street, that means everyone has a right to the street, a right that can’t be questioned. A right that allows people to advance their lives in other ways.

Imagine the college student from the housing project who has to walk to school. They continue to walk and may even bike to school, then to their next job and then maybe with a baby carriage attached. America Walks has a great fact sheet on how complete streets help low-income and other underprivileged families.

So many other organizations around the country, such as Changing Gears in Greensboro and The 816 Bike Collective and RevolveKC in Kansas City exist just to get poor, homeless, black, Latino, refugee and any other underserved or under-resourced population to bicycling.

Then there are the Major Taylor Clubs, the Black Women Bike clubs, traditional cycling clubs with membership fees and jerseys, that do long distance rides and sometimes compete in races, which also tend to attract African-Americans and other people of color with means.

Finally, many schools are adding bike education to their main curriculums. My office is in school districts across the KC metro doing just that and soon DC will teach every second grader in the traditional  public school system bike safety, with actual bikes and making sure every kid who comes through the program can ride.

With these programs children biking won’t be a thing of the past. They will then grow to commute and maybe even race by bike. More adults will be able to take advantage of having a mode of transport that they control and pay little, if nothing at all besides sweat equity to use.

Also, completing streets is something that municipalities can adopt and put money to at the same time. By training the staff who make improvements to the roads and sidewalks, by absorbing more of the costs to make road and sidewalk improvements and by being creative as to what makes each street in a city complete, then they can turn around their reputations for creating bad gentrification and unsafe streets.

So there you have it. A gentrification method, that when done right, makes a community whole and connected, no matter the economic class, counters the obesity epidemic and creates more equal opportunity for jobs, education and cultural engagement.

Chat with me about this live on Periscope Thursday evening (October 29 at 5:30 Central). Also, be sure to get on my email list to never miss a post! 

On Mobility and American Expats in America

On Mobility and American Expats in America

I believe that a city lives or dies by how much people can move in and out. About four years ago, I reflected on the idea of being an American Expat in America. That idea is that despite the fact I was no longer an active member of my hometown or any town, I could still move somewhere else, become just as active, make a difference with my diversity of opinion and actions and promote my hometown and the awesome things it has and of course, do this in another one of the 49 states of America or a different city or even just down the street. Aaron Renn of the Urbanophile inspired this idea and I think it’s still very valid today. I even wrote home about it, for the Triad City Beat a couple of months back.

And as I sit back and reflect on five years of being an urban planning and development blogger, I want to talk about the keys to being a great American Expat. Then, at the end of this post, a moment on what it feels like to finally be a true American Expat, much like I predicted I could be back in 2011.

So what does it take to be a good American Expat in America?

Openness

Your new home, even if it’s right down the street, is going to be different from your old home. As you change even more of your surroundings, that fact will become boldfaced, underlined and even be struck through because something you thought would work for you, may not work for you after all. But that’s ok. I’m learning that it’s key to keep going to different meetings, gatherings, restaurants, grocery stores, libraries, Targets and such until you find the ones that allow you to create a routine. You also need to be ok with not going to certain things if they no longer work.

Another key adjustment is that the food and climate and even the time zone may be entirely different. You have an accent (or not). Your car may need a front plate and a back plate. You may find yourself walking more or less, driving more or less, riding transit more or less. You may have the company of people, lots of new vibrant people. You might be at home with a library book from your very robust new public library.

Either way, you need to be open to different experiences and also have a coping mechanism for when things get weird, hurtful, sad or some other form of negative. And then gratitude, but we’ll get to that later.

Finding Local Things You Can Support

 

Yes, I’m a Royals fan now. Who doesn’t like a winner? Ok, at the time of this writing they aren’t, but they have been and could still be! I think burnt ends from Joe’s Kansas City, along with their regular ribs are delectable. Yet, according to my mom, the line procedure there is not that much different from the NC State Fair’s lines for places to sit and consume fair food, next to the actual vendors.

You see what I did there, I managed to find something local I could pull behind, but I was able to tie it into something from back home. Then, I can go back to whining about the lack of Calabash seafood, namely Calabash seafood fried in House-Autry seafood breader. Or Biscuitville. Or I could drive 30 minutes to the Krispy Kreme on Shawnee Mission Parkway, and instead of eating the half-baked original glazed that’s apparently the modus operandi of the non-North Carolinian KK’s and eat that new seasonal salted caramel doughnut instead.

Seriously, folks need to go crazy over salted caramel and not pumpkin spice. And that sentence alone reminds us that while we are different, there are things that are the same and new things we can eat, see, root for and enjoy.

Savings and Travel Hack Savvy

You need to be a member of every travel club possible. You need to be a member of every shopping coupon site possible. You need to meal plan for the nights you don’t go out to eat. Mend your clothes. Do something on the side. Unless you are already one of those people who has a second full residence in your new town of origin or a division of your company in more than one place or you are location-independent, then all these things are vital.

Actually, they are always vital, in that’s how many people become successful expats and travelers and business people. I read somewhere that millionaires have an average of seven pockets of income.

Sometimes one of those pockets is penny-saving stuff like couponing apps and travel rewards. Seriously, the Marriott Rewards is how many a family vacation happened in my youth and also what helped me stay connected via wi-fi during my recent move. I’m racking up Southwest points and I’m using my knowledge of their routes and how trains work (and my friends and boyfriend who are geniuses at this), to learn how, when and where to travel to save the most money.

Also, not just how I travel, but also being at peace with what’s in your suitcase and what makes it to the moving truck. You cannot bring everything with you. You should not bring everything with you. You’ll bring things back, get new things, better things.

Gratitude

And finally, for the tips section, I say be thankful. There are so many research studies that state the benefits of having the ability to move wherever you need to for economic, health, spiritual and educational reasons. But if you’ve ever done it, you know that now your brain and mind is stretched because you’ve experienced life in another metro. So many people want to be you, but never get the chance. Some folks don’t even get vacations.

Historically, the Great Migration of African-Americans, along with the migrations of many other ethnic and cultural groups to and from this country, has created freedom, enhanced creativity, cultivated wealth and strengthened our ability to be diverse. No, the process isn’t perfect. But I do find that people who are thankful for the opportunity to move around, for new kinds of neighbors, for new experiences, make this country stronger and wiser.

And now, a more personal reflection.

——

IMG_2992

So that moment happened. When I, who’d been in bed alone, but with my new stuffed toy Southwest Airlines plane beside me for the third night in a row, had that nightmare. The nightmare where you wake up and you miss your flight, even though you’d made sure you Passbooked (or I guess it’s just simply Wallet now on the iPhone) your boarding pass and you went to bed early and all your stuff was packed the night before.

You get to the airport and you find that it’s an incomprehensible maze, made even worse by the fact that you are not carrying your nice purple carry-on, rolling suitcase, but a black purse you picked up because you forgot your tiny black backpack, and your real backpack and they are all heavy. And of course, since this is a dream, you try to move forward and you end up partially waking yourself up, especially when you realize that you’re really floating through your dream and not actually walking. But then you feel weighted down.

You wake up after this dream and you’re really sad. Your fridge is still making that noise that sounds like a jack hammer that you told maintenance to fix and they even showed up to fix, but isn’t really fixed.

You get on Zillow, just like you were the night before, scouting out houses in all different metros, including the one to which you just moved. You remember that conversation with that colleague where you were both reminiscing about various things you did when you lived in or visited that other city and how your current city just doesn’t fit the bill today.

But then it’s later that Sunday afternoon and you are sitting in a branch library, against a wall of windows, over a part of town that mimics parts of California or Florida (take your pick of inspired Spanish mission architecture, mixed up with buildings of all kinds of modern vintage and even a canal with a Venice-style boat cruise that passes through at least a couple of times).

You realize that in that spot, you’re honestly ten minutes from everything you have come to do in your new town, in all directions. You’re walkable to things to which are actually fun to walk. You can hop on the bus and be up the hill with your bike, which will pedal you to your workplace in no time. Or, if it’s a day you don’t really need to come into the office, you can just fire up your laptop and knock out your InDesign flyers and social media postings there, at a home not too far from that wall of windows and that branch library.

You realize that even though it’s not the city you dreamed you’d be living in for the past ten-twelve years, it’s still a different place, with different lessons and a different perspective. It helps you to see even more of the world than what you saw before. And who knows, you might be in another city, maybe that dream city, in a few more years. But for now, you are happy here. You are an American Expat in America and you are ok.

Join me at my Facebook page, on Twitter, on Instagram and on Periscope Wednesday, October 21 at 7 p.m. Central Time (That’s 8 p.m. Eastern, 5 p.m. Pacific) for a live conversation around mobility and being an American Expat in America.

From an Ambassador to Kansas City (Excerpt from Triad City Beat Fresh Eyes Column)

From an Ambassador to Kansas City

 

Roughly six weeks ago, after loading almost all of my worldly possessions into a moving truck, relatives helped me pack the rest into two cars and we departed our southwest Greensboro home at about 5 a.m., navigating the freeways past my father’s gravesite at the Ebenezer Baptist Church, on a hill created due to the cutting in of new highway.

Within an hour, I’d left the Triad. In roughly 48 more, I’d have wound my way in the caravan through six states and the entire length of Missouri, where I would disembark Interstate 70 into my new home: Kansas City…

How could I leave a city that supplied me endless Biscuitville, cupcakes worth standing in line for at Maxie B’s and food served at establishments owned by families of folks I considered friends, colleagues and classmates? Where not just one, but two fellow young black professionals are sitting on its city council? That, along with Winston-Salem, does festivals like no other (seriously, if you’re coming into town for the National Folk Festival, you will learn).

It’s simple. One must see that the grass they sometimes think is brown is really always green.

Head over to read the rest on the Triad City Beat website.

Thanks again guys for another chance to help you guys “sell” papers. If you are in the Triad area, or close enough to drive, pick up a print copy. They are free. If you have a business, they could use your advertising as well.

How to Make a Men’s NCAA Basketball Bracket, if You Are a Tobacco Road Urbanist

Sports build community. From pride-of-their-suburb Little League teams, to pulse-of-their-city World Series pendant holders to that proud handful of farmhouses who raised that NASCAR driver, sports makes a community.

I grew up in a pre-Carolina Panthers, original Charlotte Hornets, retiring Richard Petty, saying hello to Stormy, but never to a Major League Baseball team of it’s own, Greensboro, NC (also known as Tournament Town).

There were these two mystery Coke (and yes, they were actually Coca-Cola) cans in the hall closet next to my bedroom door. One of them looked normal enough, it was bright red and had white lettering. It did have a wolf-head, and the words National Champions 1983 on them. Clearly, that wasn’t so normal. The other one was bright blue and nobody’s soda came in a bright blue can. The ram’s head and the 1982 national championship it honored wasn’t that weird.

I tried being a NASCAR fan for five seconds. No lasting interest in watching cars go around a track. Baseball’s just so much better in person, plus, our beloved Grasshoppers are really the benchwarmers for the Miami Marlins. Too many degrees of separation.

The Charlotte professional men’s basketball team should have never stopped being the Hornets. Major League Soccer shouldn’t give up on us. Having your football team see the inside of a Super Bowl isn’t too shabby though and hockey’s decent. However, I much rather be at the PNC Arena when the normal HVAC system is operating and I can yell out Wolf and be met with a resounding Pack.

And when your arch rivals are only a few miles away, but still get major airplay on ESPN, this is how you choose your favorite sport. I’m a proud alumna of N.C. State University. That is how I chose my team.

And so bracket time is like my Super Bowl. In the weeks leading up to the Big Dance, I’m dancing around my TV at home, watching all the conference tournaments. I’m paying more attention to games when I’m out at networking socials at bars. I’m wearing red, lots of red. And I’m more than ready to make more than one bracket and explain to you why I did.

However this year, bracket building is too simplistic. After all, it’s about predicting the winners right? Under that logic your bracket should just read KENTUCKY and nothing else. My alma matter is in this year (and in in a decent space) and that version of my bracket reads NC STATE in all caps.

So I decided to put my urbanist hat on and be creative for my third and most serious bracket. Introducing the 2015 Kristen Jeffers- The Black Urbanist NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament Bracket:

Click here to get the whole thing, in a legible size.

Things you need to remember about this bracket:

  • Transit and connectivity win over-all
  • North Carolina cities/towns are the next winners, because I’m going to rep my home state
  • N.C State will win its division, because it’s my own school and I love Raleigh
  • I counted suburban schools as part of their major metro area (Villanova, Maryland, etc.)
  • The First Four get no real stake in this bracket
  • Wisconsin is actually good, and could win. Madison is also good, but not as connected as a region

I’m looking forward to hearing your thoughts and seeing your picks. Also, please take some time and watch the ladies basketball tournament. No picks on that side. I just like watching them play.

Check this post out on Medium!

#VideoFriday: Our Friends in Nature Tell Us to Take the Bus

Screen Shot 2014-04-25 at 7.05.57 AM

Welcome to #VideoFriday. Here at The Black Urbanist and across our other platforms, we will either highlight a great video on placemaking or début one of our own videos, much like we do now on #AudioThursdays. I want to start this series by showing the video below, a very cute and light way to highlight not only working as a community and a team, but the idea of traveling in a group, say on the bus, train or walking together Have a great weekend everyone!

Email Subscribe In Post Button