Student blog of the Stanford University Urban Studies Department

Tag Archives: Transportation

Sara Maurer: Social Justice on Two Wheels

This is the third paper in a series “The Automobile, The City, and the New Urban Mobilities”, from the Automobile and The City course taught by Frederic Stout at Stanford University. Written by Sara Maurer ’16, and titled “Social Justice on Two Wheels: Why Bike-Share in the US Must Be Made Accessible to Low Income and Disadvantaged Communities”, this paper discusses the current mobility gap that exists in American society today, and how changes in current bike-sharing practices have the capability to close this gap in the future.

This is not an attack on cars in America. For sure, there is no shortage of criticisms of cars: that they are dangerous, polluting, oil-sucking, traffic-congesting incubators of social isolation. But this is not an attack on cars in America. While there is truth to those claims, it would be untrue (and unreasonable) to claim that cars, in all their popularity, offer no advantage to the people who use them. Cars are popular in large part because of the link between mobility and opportunity: the more easily you are able to get around, the greater your chances are to find a job, build social connections, and generally live life on your terms, and in a country set up for car travel, cars tend to allow the greatest access to opportunity. So this, instead, is an examination of an alternative mode of transportation, a mode that has the potential to mitigate the social and economic inequality that exists in large part because of unequal access to mobility. That mode is bicycles. The recent rise in U.S. cities of bike-share programs –systems of bike stations that allow people to check out, ride and re-dock bikes for short rides– is an opportunity to address the advantage gap that currently exists between those who have the greatest access to effective transportation and those who do not. But the mere introduction of bike-share programs will not bridge the gap, because the way in which bike-share programs are implemented and integrated into urban places has as much potential for widening socioeconomic gaps as it does for decreasing them. U.S. bike-share programs right now are not set up to be accessible for low-income groups: they are set up for the educated, the well-off, and the tech-savvy. If they continue like this, bike-share will be another mode of transit where, just like with cars, those with access to that means of transportation are at an advantage and those without, at a disadvantage.

That is why here I hope to discuss the advantage gap that exists in terms of mobility: why mobility is so important for equal opportunity, what the potential of bike-share programs is, what barriers to entry exist for low-income people currently, and what improvements people are discussing. But most of all I hope to drive home that because of the importance of mobility for socioeconomic opportunity, we must make bike-share systems accessible to more people than middle-aged yuppies and green living enthusiasts. Bike-share must be accessible to as many people as possible so that, far from worsening inequality, it can fulfill its potential to help low-income communities overcome the mobility gap that currently exists. 


To read the full paper visit: http://issuu.com/urbanter/docs/mauerpaper.docx


Hon. Rodney Slater Talk at the Stanford “Transportation 2025 and Beyond” Event

On March 13, 2014 Honorable Rodney Slater, former US Secretary of Transportation during the Clinton Administration (in office 1997 – 2001), addressed the policies and innovations behind the present transformation of America’s transportation systems, and the leadership that will be required to finish the job. Secretary Slater offered historical perspective from his executive roles at the Federal Highway Administration and Department of Transportation (DOT), during which, among other significant developments, key public-private partnerships and cohesive visions of Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) emerged. Now an advisor to current national transportation leaders, major corporations, state governments and international organizations, Secretary Slater shared his perspective on key developments over recent years and the opportunities and challenges ahead as new innovations continue to transform America’s transportation landscape towards 2025 and beyond.
“Transportation 2025 and Beyond” was co-hosted by the Center for Automotive Research at Stanford and the Stanford Center for Internet and Society. The event was recorded by Labiba Boyd, and the audio was edited by Ma’ayan Dembo, both representing KZSU Stanford 90.1 FM.

Rally at Highway 1 to Stop the Widening Saturday March 29, 11:00 -12:00pm

Point person: Cynthia Kaufman— kaufman.cynthia13@riseup.net  650.557.9797
On March 29 at 11:00 at the corner of Highway 1 and Rockaway Beach Avenue, Pacificans for Highway 1 Alternatives (PH1A) will be rallying to inform the citizens of Pacifica about the Caltrans plan to double the width of Highway 1 between Reina del Mar and Fassler. 
The group has been engaging the public in front of shops and going door to door. They have found overwhelming opposition to the project.
The volunteers are asking for signatures on a petition that reads:
“To the Pacifica City Council: The Caltrans plan to widen Highway 1 is not good for Pacifica. It will cause more problems than it will solve. I support pursuing a combination of alternatives that can improve traffic congestion on Highway 1 and that will be less damaging to Pacifica.”
PH1A opposes the plan for a number of reasons:  The present plan from Caltrans is vague and does not address the needs for safe pedestrian crossing at these crucial sites; it does not have good bicycle lanes. The plan calls for huge retaining walls and does not rule out the possibility of sound walls blocking coastal views. In short, it will destroy some of Pacifica’s unique beauty and our quality of life.
Moreover, the plan seems destined not to reduce traffic in the long range but to increase it, since 4 lanes would go to 6 lanes and then back to 4 – permanent bottlenecks. The increased traffic during years of construction will generate more traffic congestion, as well as air and noise pollution. Most likely, it will never lead to shortened traffic after that multi-year process.
PH1A has been organizing for over a year to get the Pacifica City Council to hold public hearings on the proposed widening of Highway 1. So far the city has not acted, and the plan is moving forward, with Caltrans taking the lead. PH1A also wants City Council to hire a traffic consultant to investigate what alternatives would be best for Pacifica. The group has already suggested synchronization of the lights, more resources for carpooling by the schools, better public transportation, and other alternatives that are better for pedestrians and bicycles, more likely to reduce traffic, less massive, and less invasive to the lives of Pacificans.
If you’d like to volunteer or for more information, please contact PH1A email ph1a@gmail.com or visit http://ph1a-pacifica.weebly.com

Easing the Automotive Burden

Anna’s most recent post on gentrification in San Francisco made me think about access to public transit and the mobility disparity between the wealthiest Americans and the poorest Americans.  As soon as the American dream was marketed to include a home in the suburbs and a car in the garage, public transit lost its appeal. For the last half of the twentieth century, buses, subways, and bicycles were associated with those who couldn’t afford their own car.  Local, state, and federal governments turned their attention away from public transit infrastructure and spent it on highways, arterials, and the ever-expanding housing market.  This shift in priorities also meant that a significant portion of federal attention was devoted to a hot topic in today’s papers: gas.

Gas is averaging $3.84 per gallon nationwide and is expected to peak at $3.96 at some point during the year. Yes, this will hurt wealthy multi-car households, but as Anna explained, it is mostly young, successful professionals who are reclaiming public transit and opting for gas-free methods of transportation. As center-city residents get priced out, they are also pushed out to the suburbs, and are forced to pay exorbitant gas prices to fill cars that they can’t afford in the first place. As with so many other national battles—healthcare, and education to name a few—this is going to be a battle fought for the middle and lower classes.  Wealthy Americans can afford to live and work close to public transportation. They can pay a little more in the short term to avoid crazy gas prices in the long term.


This proposal for San Francisco’s Transbay Terminal is the type of infrastructure that thinks about transportation at the regional level and could take the burden off residents curretly restricted to car commutes. 

And, yes, this is a long-term problem because, while gas prices will continue to fluctuate from year to year, oil is not going to become any more common. We have already consumed more than half of the world’s retrievable oil resources, and developing nations like China and India put more cars on the road everyday.  In short, mass transit and developments that support mass transit (Calthorpe Associates says you need 8-10 housing units per acre to support transit) need to become a focus of regional and national governments again.  


Post-Olympic Torino

Turin’s relationship with, and some might say reliance on, the automobile company Fiat is fascinating. On our Bing trip to Turin this past weekend, we visited the Fiat factory and had the Director of Communications give us a presentation about the role of the company in Turin’s history and future. Fiat was founded in 1899, becoming the largest automobile company in Italy by 1910, a title it would never lose. The company employed huge numbers of Italians and brought about the expansion of the city to provide housing for the workers.


An interesting component of Fiat’s power, however, was its ability to affect the physical planning of the city in a way that today would be unacceptable to most urban planners. The city is large—the third largest in Italy, many easily forget—and planned very rationally, with a grid pattern and wide streets. Fiat’s opposition to the development of a sophisticated public transportation system, however, made it impossible for Turin to install a metro system or tram system until decades too late. Fiat wanted its workers to buy cars, naturally, and its economic dominance of the city translated to political dominance. A metro was finally begun for the 2008 Olympic Games, but due to limited funds, is largely still under construction.

Due to sustainability being the new buzzword, though, Fiat has switched its attention to environmentally friendly vehicles, including futuristic prototypes that if nothing else, inspire thought about the future of automobiles. While low emission cars are still on the whole more polluting than low emission buses, it’s a start that should be recognized, especially in a country where the environmental movement seems to be limited in its effect. Fiat models are inherently more environmentally friendly than most American cars simply because of the infeasibility of driving huge, gas-guzzling cars in Europe. The Fiat 500, for example, is a hugely popular car because of its classic Fiat look and beautiful design, not because of any associations with masculinity or power.


Transportation is clearly a huge topic in Turin, but on the other side of the spectrum is the city’s central position in the Slow Food Movement (which Taylor also discusses). Begun by Carlo Petrini in 1986, the movement encourages traditional and regional cuisine, offering an alternative to the influx of the fast food culture. A symbol of this movement is the flagship Eataly grocery store, which specializes in gourmet artisanal food. I’ve been able to visit the one in New York City as well, and while seriously tempting, both are oases of high quality food outside the price range of even wealthy residents.  Eataly’s success has led to the opening of restaurants worldwide, with one planned even for Japan, and is putting Turin back on the map.


Turin, as one of our guides remarked, is the most important city you’ve never heard of. With its huge importance in transportation and food, two topics currently of huge interest to urban planners, its innovations serve as an example to many other cities in Italy that haven’t fared so well through the economic downturn.


City of Smarts

Yesterday I was lucky enough to be invited to the Institute for the Future’s Technology Horizons 2011 Fall Conference for a workshop on the bottom-up innovations of the smart city. I will be writing my honors thesis on the smart city, so this was an incredible way to leaders from nonprofit organizations, corporations, activists, and government officials come together around the issue of the future of the smart city and its implications for the future.


From inside one of the hackathons; source

The evening presentation was led by Jay Nash, the Director of Innovation for the City of San Francisco, and Peter Hirschberg, co-founder and chairman of the Gray Area Foundation for the Arts. Their talk was on the Summer of Smart, a city-wide project designed around three hackathons and months of development and prototyping, culminating in a 9-member mayoral debate setting new precedents for the way that citizens interact with their government.

Each of the hackathons was centered on a particular topic: community development and public art; energy, sustainability, and transportation; and nutrition and public health. While clearly social problems, three areas also have in common a relationship with the environment. While not explicitly related to green behaviors, environmental sustainability is perpetuated through clean streets, waste tracking, and food source monitoring. The winners of the last two categories presented at the conference and shared their innovative ways of addressing chronic problems in the city through mobile phone applications. The SMART Muni app solved problems that the City thought would take 5 years to tackle by combining a GPS feed of Muni buses with an interface that allows MTA managers to fix problems when they occur. The Garden Guardians app gives Bayview-Hunters Point residents real-time information about the availability of healthy food, even incorporating a game function that incentivizes youth leaders and adult mentors to gather data about their local food supply.   Read more of this post

Whose Streets?

This week in Sustainable Transportation Planning (URBANST 165) we learned that U.S. roads were first paved because of intense pressure, not from the automobile industry, but from bicycle interest groups.  At the turn of the 20th century, pedestrians determined the speed and flow of traffic, cyclists dominated the roads, and it was the motorists, of all people, who were seen as the interlopers. This hierarchy, of course, has been completely reversed, and it is now hard to imagine a time when commuters truly shared the road.

Bicycles are still allowed on the roads, but our urban streets and transportation amenities are tailored to the car.  It is against the law to ride your bike on the sidewalk, and yet, you must bring your bike up onto the sidewalk to find a designated parking rack. Doesn’t this seem a bit strange? The sidewalk is for pedestrians, the street is for cars, and it is unclear where cyclists are meant to feel at home.  It seems to me that if cyclists are meant to ride on the road, they should be able to park on the road just like a car.  In fact, turning a couple parking spots on every street into mini bike lots (2-3 racks per space= 4-6 bikes per space) would be a great way to encourage biking, discourage driving and provide a visual reminder to drivers of the cyclist presence on the roads.

SPUR, the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association, has been working on a project called Reclaim Market Street, which facilitates temporary public experiments that look at how the San Francisco thoroughfare and its surrounding public spaces are used by the public. This weekend (Saturday 8th, 12-5PM) they will be organizing a Sidewalk Intervention, the next weekend (Saturday 15th, 1-9 PM) a Plaza Intervention, and the following weekend (Saturday 22nd, 1-5PM) a Street Intervention, which will include a collaborative bike ride down Market in search of the best bike lane options. The input and observations at the these events will eventually lead to the 2015 Remaking of Market Street. Who knows, maybe the public will demand a return to the bicycle and pedestrian-dominated Market Street of 1910.



Urban Studies Colloquium: A Celebration of Senior Honors Theses

First of all, I would like to congratulate every senior who presented at yesterday’s Urban Studies Colloquium. As a sophomore in the program on Urban Studies, I was both impressed and inspired by the incredible range, depth, and dedication that went into every thesis and presentation. It was incredibly exciting to see the level of research and analysis that can be achieved as an undergraduate.  I have had the opportunity to take classes this year with many of the seniors who presented, and it was fascinating to see what they had been working on behind-the-scenes throughout the year.

The colloquium was a six-hour event resulting in my taking many pages of notes and dozens of pictures. I would like to provide a brief description of their work and provide some comments about each of the presenting seniors. Sorry for the long post, but this over-achieving senior class had an unprecedented number of thesis-writers. Again, Urban Studies seniors, congratulations!


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Mexico City Can Share Bikes Too


My summer job—working toward the Bay Area’s pilot bike share program—is fast approaching and I have been thinking a great deal about cycling in San Francisco and the surrounding peninsula.  Apart from here on campus, I am not really a fan of biking into Palo Alto, and I think that people who bike up Market Street and Van Ness Avenue in SF are crazy. There are no bike lanes in downtown Palo Alto and I often find myself having to walk my bike because there are so many one-way roads with no alternative for cyclists. There are bike lanes in downtown San Francisco, but there are also hundreds of oblivious tourists and confusing traffic signals, not to mention the hills. A number of people I told about my summer job, were enthusiastic for my sake, but less than sold on the idea of biking in San Francisco.  I guess I was beginning to cave to their pessimism because I felt relieved when my internship supervisor said they might give me a different task. BUT…then I saw an article on Good.is called “Bike Sharing Thrives, Even in Mexico City’s Chaotic Streets,” and all hope was restored!

If biking and bike sharing is possible in Mexico City, then San Francisco should be no problem. Mexico City launched its program in February of 2010, and the numbers are remarkably similar to the Bay Area Pilot Program that will launch next year. Mexico City started with 1,200 bikes and the Bay Area will have 1,000 in circulation as of 2012. Mexico City’s ECOBICI Program has been extremely successful and generated widespread interest in biking among the residents. Not only is ECOBICI recording a good number of trips, but also use of private bicycles has increased 50 percent since the system was launched. Mexico City closes major streets for bike-only traffic on Sunday mornings and plans to build 100 miles of bike paths by next year. The positive resident response and the supplementary government initiatives are a good reminder that a little faith in great idea goes a long way. Bike Sharing truly is a great idea, if not for the direct effects of the program itself, but for the indirect effects of community building and awareness of alternative modes of transportation. I was switched to a new task for the summer, but I ended up asking my supervisor if I can still be included in all the meetings regarding bike sharing. She said “of course,” and now I cannot wait to see what creative responses we can come up with in the Bay Area.    



Modes of transportation


I had the pleasure of hearing Kyle Lee-Crossett perform this poem, “Modes of Transportation,” at the Stanford Spoken Word Collective’s spring show on May 20. Lee-Crossett is a sophomore majoring in English with a focus on urbanism and technology.

About this piece, he told Urbanter: “‘Modes of Transportation’ is a poem about creating meaning in the ways we choose to move through space. Before I cut it down to its final form, the poem also spent more time looking at urban studies-style questions like, ‘What are the differences between how maps and books describe places and people’s experiences of them?'”

With permission, the poem is published below. More of Lee-Crossett’s urban-landscape poetry, including a piece “about what it means to be at home in a city,” is here, on the collective’s blog.

Modes of Transportation

By Kyle Lee-Crossett

We hadn’t looked at the map in a long time,
but we weren’t lost. Emily and I were going to visit a museum perched
at the tip of the coast
at the end of a straight line street that began in the heart of the city.
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