Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Once Around the Block: Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Huntington, West Virginia's 4th Avenue, Old Main Corridor

Here are some  interesting urbanism and local government related articles from the past week or so:

From The Guardian, some of the urban design mistakes that have great intentions, but end up creating more isolated, unhealthy and inactive communities.

As Metro moves closer to its new bus network here in Houston, see how the agency is preparing for the dramatic change in service. This change will happen overnight, essentially at the flip of a switch. Related to the new bus network, Kurt Luhrsen, Metro’s vice president for service planning and transit reimagining said “We encourage people to live and work along these corridors where we have frequent service. So, over time it gives certain areas a bigger locational advantage.”

Houston hasn't received much rain in the last few weeks, allowing Public Works to continue to better patch potholes. In the case of other cities, like Hamtramck, Michigan, residents take matters into their own hands.

Harris County continues to grow without much form of planning, resulting in frustrations from residents. "As County Judge Ed Emmett frequently notes, the unincorporated parts of Harris County are now sufficiently populous to count as the fifth largest city in Texas." More roads are being constructed, but the county still suffers from traffic congestion. "Total lane miles in the county increased 40 percent over four years."

Politico magazine featured two transportation related articles in the past week, with one of them exploring the craziness of transportation planning acronyms. The other article, exploring what highways have done to many cities, examines the unintended consequences of the interstate highway system. The second article features a mention of Charles Marohn, highlighting Strong Towns' stance that "we simply cannot afford the highway system we have built. It already costs too much to maintain, and yet we keep building more of it."

"Change the streetscape and it changes the mindscape." - Charles Holley

In my former college town of Huntington, West Virginia, the Old Main Corridor Project is moving to its final phases. Recognizing the importance of town-and-gown relationships, Huntington has been working to improve the connectivity of its downtown with Marshall University's campus. "A change in the streetscape really is a change in the mindscape," said Charles Holley, executive director of the city of Huntington Department of Development and Planning. A survey showed that once Marshall University students left campus, they felt as though they were in a gritty area because it was dark and uninviting," Holley said. "They believed the downtown area lacked the sense of safety that they felt on campus."

Huntington is seeing great growth in its downtown, and its wonderful to see the work that has gone in to making the Old Main Corridor, or 4th Avenue, a more complete, connective street. I can't wait to visit Huntington again sometime in the near future to see these changes. As a graduate student at Marshall University, my friend, and current Huntington planning commissioner, Will Holland and myself made note of the great potential that Huntington possesses in many of its corridors, especially 4th Avenue, but also 16th Street (Hal Greer Boulevard), and also 20th Street (Marshall Memorial Boulevard).

Now for a host of Michigan and Detroit related articles:

Paul Egan at the The Detroit Free Press asked, "Are Michigan roads in lousy shape because they’re not well built to begin with, or because repairs are done in such a way that they are likely to fail?" Michigan suffers from a host of challenges on its roads as Egan mentions, "including the state’s highest-in-the nation truck weight limits — double what other states allow; its swampy soil, and its frequently harsh freeze-and-thaw cycles." This makes producing quality roads a challenge. Another quote from the article, from Michigan state senator Patrick Colbeck, “Building roads that last longer would mean that we will eventually need less money to maintain our roads, not more.”

Here's a look at some of the last pay phones around the Detroit area, and some statistics about the remaining pay phone across the country.

The University of Michigan made a creepy, fake city in which to test driverless cars.

Plans are progressing for a 26-mile bike path around the City of Detroit. Trail plans included a number of miles of an abandoned railroad line, as well as existing infrastructure, such as the Dequindre Cut.

Finally, a look back at the Mt. Clemens Race Track, a former "thunderous short-track stock car speedway." The track began as a harness racing track before giving way to stock cars on its half mile and quarter mile tracks. The story accounts the hardships of being a short-track owner. Short tracks are becoming less common, as noted in this Car and Driver article. For me, making regular summer visits to Whittemore Speedway in northern Michigan were a highlight. It's too bad we've lost so many of these tracks, especially when the entertainment has always been highly accessible, especially for families.