Freight and Livability, reflections

Last week I participated in roundtable specifically requested by the Federal Highway Administration on freight and livability. “Livable communities” of one of the themes that has been intended to unify Federal programs into–whether intended or not–a cohesive set of ideas about urban policy. Not unlike many terms that describe the city, livability can mean a lot of things to a lot of people, but when asked to give a definition, I argued essentially that livability means “a nice place to live.” In the big scheme of things, that is not really asking all that much of urban planning. After all, planners should be in the business of developing nice places.

The question they asked: are freight and livability mutually exclusive. Everybody else pretty much said “no”; I said “yes, pretty much.” The other folks on the panel are air quality people; it seems pretty clear that we have to, and we will, begin to clean up freight fuels to the point where, at least, we won’t making people sick. However, there is a significant nuisance aspect to freight shipping, and that’s where I rather held out. We would need a radical reshaping of the forms and structure of the freight industry to get rid of that nuisance factor, and nothing about the existing trajectory of the industry suggests this is going to happen. Current factors emphasize economies of scale rather than diversity of scope or small-scale distribution.

MTA Tap Card Implementation Problems

This story on the KPMG audit of LA MTA’s TAP card implantation is so not good news. It’s a mite old, but it’s worth talking about as it is a major issue for transit operations. The story from the audit: the program cost much more than the MTA wanted, other agencies have resisted its usage, and there is no close end in sight.

It’s interesting to me that no passenger complaints made their way into the article. My TAP card works just fine–mine is an annual pass. Andy, however, tries to load day passes onto his when getting on the bus, and in general that process is confusing, time-consuming and more than once hasn’t worked–leaving him having paid $5 on one bus with no record that allows him to use the pass on other systems because the process didn’t “take” on the bus. That’s a problem.

The reason why the MTA needs this to work is that payment vehicle matters immensely in transit operations. First off, it is meant to to allow passengers to dispense with scrambling for change, etc. In addition, TAP cards are intended to lower boarding times in order to keep buses running on a schedule. That can’t happen with difficulties loading the passes during boarding.

Best city moments

If getting a PhD in urban planning and living in a the center of one of the world’s largest aren’t hints, I love cities. There are certain moments in cities that I find absolutely exquisite.

1. Just before a subway arrives. You can hear it coming, and suddenly the stale air of the platform lifts away with a whoosh of fresh air.

2. Twilight during rush hour. The winter sun is going down, and there are throngs of people on the street, waiting for buses, on Broadway and Hill. The light in Los Angeles takes on a magical quality, like candlelight, and the heat lifts. On Friday and Saturday night, there are clubbers mixed in with commuters, girls with their fancy on and their young men, most with bad taste in cologne.

3. When a whole family stops for an ice cream at a street vendor. They gather, there is an animated debate; they form a cluster on the sidewalk, and usually Dad pays. Little voices are excited.

4. The street washer at 4 a.m. The sounds are usually below me, and I hear them when I have insomnia. There is the occasional bus down 9th street, but the street washer only comes once a week. If I am awake and feeling all the peace and isolation and anxiety that insomnia entails, it is a reminder that there is another human soul out there, awake and thinking, and that the day is coming.

5. Saturday morning, when lofties throng through the street with their week’s arrangements from the flower district. Calla lilies, sprays of miltonia, roses and designer jeans, and probably later, pancakes.

6. When girls going to night clubs encounter my dogs, Max and Tyler, during their evening constitutional, while my courtly spouse receives stares and glares from dates and hookup wannabes. “Oh they are soooooooo cuuuuuuuuuuuuute.” There is bending over, there is giggling, the dogs are made much of, and my nonplussed spouse thinks nothing of the fact that he just received more attention from females half his age than anybody without millions has any right to expect.

On the lighter side

Well, today Dr. S (I love writing about myself in the third person) has to go be an expert on freight and livable communities, so here’s some Ann Margaret to look at. In addition to having two first names AND being from exotic Canada, she knew what to do with a feather boa. Much better than the smog, climate change, taxes, or politics that I usually talk about, isn’t it?