Monday, September 1, 2008

How Serious is the Anti-Auto Shift?

Quite serious for some apparently. According to this recent report from Milwaukee, A school there decided to solve their parking issue by giving away free Trek bikes, helmets, and locks to anyone who pledges to abandon their cars:
  • The plan was hatched when they realized the campus was at parking capacity. Rather than pave over green space, they found ways to offer incentives with alternative forms of transportation.
  • 60% of freshmen picked up bikes (their most ambitious goal was a 40% conversion).
  • The school raised about $50,000 from alumni, trustees and donors to pay for the bikes - far less than the cost of building a new parking structure.
"If we're going to do this, we'll have to look at some cultural changes too," Joyce said. "Maybe we'll have a more relaxed dress code."

Saturday, July 19, 2008

The Time Cost of a Lawn

Inspired by a Washington Post story posted today titled Deere John: It's Been A Good Ride - Lawn Behemoths Are Going Out to Pasture, the impact of the presence of the lawn on our time, money, and the environment is seen as another key factor in the shift to the new society of the 21st century.

What is the lawn for? The front lawn, primarily, is a space to walk through. It does not house people, equipment, or serve a purpose for transport, services, or aesthetics in most cases - although that is subjective and untrue for many people based on a cultural bias created in the 1950s "Beaver Cleaver" ideal of suburban utopia and continually sold to us by massive industries of lawn care and cheap real estate development. In light of this, the side lawns of a home (if they exist) carry these same traits to an extreme and don't even serve the front lawn purpose of walk through space.

The back lawn is the suburban consumer's answer to recreational space that is usually served by public park land in an urban setting. In a time of excess, the suburbanite can own their own little park on their property and not need to bother with other people and their needs infringing on their private fiefdom. Attractive to those who highly value privacy. However, in a time of changing social values, the lack of other human activity and shared space that we all seek in other ways (restaurants, promenades, and other social spaces) make this less attractive and expensive to own and care for.

This all brings us back to one of the biggest factors affecting the "shift": Time. Time to mow, trim, fertilize, and manicure. Time wasted driving great distances through the sprawl largely caused by wasteful uses of space. Time is the resource that will be our obsession to acquire, preserve, and effectively use in the internet age and we are already seeing the younger generation choosing time as their priority over possessions, prestige and other opportunities. And this doesn't even take into consideration what environmental concerns are doing to people's motivations.

For those who argue lawns are an important contributor to the removal of greenhouse gases and the cooling effect of greenery on our ambient air, a massive movement to create rooftop gardens and other green spaces in urban areas more than compensates for the loss of lawns in our urban areas. This movement could gain some steam in New Brunswick cities as it is currently not a trend in our province.

Lawns create distance and are largely responsible for sprawl. On every property that contains a front and back lawn, several other families or other uses could be housed. On a suburban street that might house 20 homes (20 families), the distance from one end of the street to the other created by individual lawns requires greater distance for other services such as plumbing, electrical, roads, and sidewalks to traverse. This same distance in a neighbourhood without lawns could house many more families and cost the community far less.

According to the Bookings Institution, the average annual cost to service a new family of four (police, fire, highway, schools, sewer) is $88.27 in more urban Shelby County, KY, but a whopping $1,222.39 in sprawling Pendleton County, KY.

Some interesting perspectives on the lawn:

Thursday, July 3, 2008

With the Decline of the Automobile Comes the Decline of the Suburb?

The Globe and Mail was the most recent North American media source to publish evidence of decline of suburbs as rising fuel costs mount.

In Today's suburbs, tomorrow's slums? the Globe reports that "Some warn the cost of gasoline will make the most sprawling U.S. suburbs so unattractive that housing values there will collapse, forcing many people to abandon their homes for urban areas better served by public transit and leaving only squatters, criminals and those who can't afford to leave the outskirts."

While New Brunswick is not regarded as a suburban mecca, we are one of the most rural provinces in the nation and many travel great distances to work on a daily basis. To date our community leaders do not yet see the coming demand for more dense development, better public transit, and services to support a tighter community. Automobile infrastructure is still heavily invested in, gas price reductions an obsession, and sprawl continues uncontrolled.

While the decline of our suburbs is likely over the next few years, it is more likely that home heating will create greater pressure for life changes in New Brunswick. However, unproductive, wasteful commutes will provide frustrations for the incoming working generation that don't want to pay this daily dues and high gas prices may just be the icing on the cake that sends them to the city and away from the suburbs that raised them.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Canadian Economists Forecast Dramatic Decline of the Automobile As Early As 2012

As reported in the Globe and Mail today, a report by CIBC World Markets predicts:
  • 10 million fewer cars on the road in the United States and 700,000 fewer in Canada by 2012.
  • Canadians can expect to pay about $1.85 to $2.00 per litre of gas at the pumps by 2010.
  • By 2012, average miles driven in the United States will decrease by 15 per cent.
  • SUVs will drop from 60% of U.S. market share in 2006, to less than 30% by 2012.
Overall vehicle sales will drop from 14 million to 11 million by 2012 – the lowest level since the early 1980s. “Over the next four years, we are likely to witness the greatest mass exodus of vehicles off [North] America's highways in history,” Jeffrey Rubin, the lead author, wrote in Thursday's report.

With this in mind, what is New Brunswick doing to prepare for a world in which the automobile is no longer the primary mode of transportation (predicted to be by 2020 based on the shifts of the last century)? It may still make sense to expand some highways primarily to serve as trade corridors, but an argument based on the expansion of our infrastructure to service commuters can no longer be consider good public policy.

Neither is continued unregulated, poorly rationalized expansion of suburban sprawl. Market forces may be all that is required to put an end to a pervasive culture, unique to North America, in which people live in a different place than where they work, but re-planning and rebuilding the transportation infrastructure in New Brunswick to service and support this new phenomenon that is occurring needs to happen today so we are not unprepared for these significant changes.

We may find ourselves in 2020 with a fantastic road network that gets used less than today and with a population that is much more urban but is under served in its need to access public transit, quality taxi services, walking/biking infrastructure, and commuter services to nearby maritime cities and beyond. If we can't improve our ability to share people, markets, and other resources with the communities close to us, our competitiveness and productivity will dwindle and our value proposition as a regional economy in which to grow will be meaningless.

Commuter bike trails/lanes, commuter rail between the three southern New Brunswick cities of Moncton, Saint John, and Fredericton, and heavy investment in bus service all make sense in 2008 and should be seriously considered.

The amount of money spent by drivers in this small province of New Brunswick on necessary automobile travel is in the billions of dollars annually when the public expense of road, highway and parking facility construction and repair is considered as well as the money each of us invests in individual ownership of our vehicles. As listed on Wikipedia, The costs of running a car can be broken down as follows (in no particular order):
Could it make financial sense for New Brunswickers to put aside our automobiles and invest the money saved into public transit that would serve a large portion of our citizens and realize countless other benefits for our society, culture, and economy?

Time to plan and invest now.
  • Ford unveils dramatic makeover plans [Globe and Mail, 24 July 2008]
  • Drivers begin parking their cars [Globe and Mail, 23 July 2008]: "Drivers really did park it, in the face of soaring prices," said Douglas Porter, deputy chief economist at BMO Nesbitt Burns. "I think we reached a bit of a breaking point over the spring, where people do actually respond."

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Shift Happens - Stats to Reinforce the Shift and Identify the Opportunities

It is amazing how things change and are constantly changing. The video below does a good job of highlighting some facts and figures that range from interesting, to stunning, to even a little scary. This video is worth 6 minutes of time to quickly review the high level facts that identify the major shift that will affect us all.

This does not have to be frightening, it can be exciting as we prepare ourselves for the shift and identify new opportunities.