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Opinion: Closed Streets Do Not Reduce Crime

February 27, 2019 Crime, Featured, Transportation, Walkability Comments Off on Opinion: Closed Streets Do Not Reduce Crime

The recent non-scientific Sunday Poll was about closed streets and crime, prompted by a news story about new research at Saint Louis University:

St. Louis’ often-interrupted street grid is the outgrowth of the 1970s-era “defensible space” strategy to address rising crime championed by Oscar Newman, a prominent urban planner who was a Washington University architecture professor in the mid-1960s, according to the paper. That idea stems from the notion that an area is safer when residents feel a sense of ownership and control, which Newman described as allowing neighbors to focus their attention on “removing criminal activity from their communities.”

St. Louis became the birthplace of such ideas, according to the paper. And they haven’t had the desired effect. (Post-Dispatch)

Below is one such example where “Schoemehl pots”, just sections of sewer pipe, were used to limit vehicular traffic.

Schoemehl pots used in their traditional role of messing up the street grid, 2012 photo.

Their paper’s conclusion:

Oscar Newman’s defensible space theory is a product of St. Louis’s mid-century history. It is perhaps unsurprising, therefore, that St. Louis also offers a large-scale implementation of defensible space in the street barriers that constrict swaths of the city’s geography. The barriers scattered across the city’s landscape are a testament not only to former Mayor Vincent Schoemehl, the elected official most closely associated with the barriers, but to Newman himself. We have developed the most comprehensive known list of closures in the city, and find that the density of closures is not associated with less crime in neighborhoods. Our finding is an important one for St. Louis, given that addressing crime is the argument being made explicitly in the legislation that authorizes more recent installations of barriers. For other municipalities that may be considering defensible space or other techniques to “design out” crime, our findings suggest that street closures are at best ineffective and at worst associated with higher rates of violent crime in neighborhoods. They may also have secondary effects on first responders’ ability to reach the neighborhoods they serve. (Research paper)

I completely agree with the conclusions of the researchers, but I also think they should be looking at earlier changes to the urban street grid. As I’ve said before, when Harold Bartholomew (1889-1989) first arrived in St. Louis in the nineteen teens he quickly began assaulting our fine network of public streets. Writing decades later in the 1947 plan:

Since 1916 St. Louis has expended over $40,000,000 in opening, widening, connecting, and extending the system of major streets. Much has been accomplished in converting a horse and buggy street system to automobile needs. As the total volume of traffic increases, however, certain new needs arise. An example is the desirability of grade separations at extremely heavy intersections, such as at Grand and Market and at Kingshighway and Lindell. Likewise there is a need for complete separation of grade where traffic volume is sufficiently heavy to justify the cost involved. The Federal Government, which has helped finance our splendid system of national highways, has recently revised its policies and Congress has appropriated substantial funds to aid the cities in the construction of express highways and for facilitation of traffic flows from certain selected state highways through metropolitan areas to the central business districts of large cities. (1947 Plan)

In just three decades St. Louis spent today’s equivalent of nearly a half a billion dollars on dramatic changes to the street grid.  Half a billion!

Franklin Ave looking East from 9th, 1928. Collection of the Landmarks Association of St Louis

The reference to the “horse and buggy street system” illustrates he didn’t think it was suitable for the automobile. Bartholomew, a civil engineer by training, was no doubt influenced by the City Beautiful movement.

City Beautiful movement, American urban-planning movement led by architects, landscape architects, and reformers that flourished between the 1890s and the 1920s. The idea of organized comprehensive urban planning arose in the United States from the City Beautiful movement, which claimed that design could not be separated from social issues and should encourage civic pride and engagement. (Britannica)

This was soon followed by the modernists and their vision for roads to connect everything. The Futurama exhibit at the 1939 World’s Fair was hugely popular, helped shape legislation that let to destructive urban renewal projects, interstate highways slicing through cities, etc.  See original 23-minute 1939 Futurama promo video.

Oscar Newman was born in 1935, so he was barely around during the 1939 fair. With the Great Depression & WWII the ideas from Futurama were on hold until he was a teen. Newman likely went along with most others, not foreseeing any problems with additional alterations to the street grid.

By the time republished his 1972 book urban renewal & highway projects had further disrupted the street grid beyond recognition. These changes are cumulative, not isolated. Our street grid was designed for the horse and buggy times — but that’s what made it go great. Street grids can take little changes and still function. St. Louis had decades of massive overwhelming changes to the street grid.

It has proven to be excessive. Abandonment, crime, etc are the results. I don’t know that it’s repairable.

Former Biddle Street, looking East toward 9th Street

The results from Sunday’s non-scientific poll:

Q: Agree or disagree: City streets closed to through traffic reduce crime.

  • Strongly agree: 1 [3.13%]
  • Agree: 2 [6.25%]
  • Somewhat agree: 6 [18.75%]
  • Neither agree or disagree: 2 [6.25%]
  • Somewhat disagree: 2 [6.25%]
  • Disagree: 9 [28.13%]
  • Strongly disagree: 9 [28.13%]
  • Unsure/No Answer: 1 [3.13%]

More than half correct don’t think closed streets reduce crime.

— Steve Patterson



My Ridesharing Experience As A Driver

February 22, 2019 Featured, Transportation Comments Off on My Ridesharing Experience As A Driver

My first time mentioning ride sharing companies Lyft & Uber on this blog was in a May 2014 poll. This was largely due to the fact I’d never used either. In January 2018 that changed when it was just too cold for me to take my wheelchair/transit to a doctor’s appointment. That cold January day I tried Lyft for the very first time. After a good experience both directions I decided I’d sign up as a driver.

My husband has our car most of the time while he’s at work, but there are times I have the car — at least access to it.  After my first trip as a driver I also signed up to drive for the better-known Uber.  I then got my husband to sign up for both, he could do it on the way home if he finished with a client early.

Though I’m technically still a driver for both, I haven’t done so since March 2018. Couple of reasons why. First, we bought a newer car that was larger and more high tech than I’d been used to. When driving it initially I needed to get used to it without any distractions. Second, my vision was getting so bad that I often couldn’t see to drive when the car was available due to glare from the sun.

In August & October 2018 I had cataracts surgery on my eyes, in November I got new prescription glasses for distance.  See My Vision Is Better Than It Was On Sunday!

Earlier this week I completed and filed our 2018 taxes, so I’ve recently downloaded and reviewed our summary reports. I gave a grand total of 8 rides in about a 10 week period, 3 via Lyft and 5 via Uber. Most drivers, including my husband, will have both Lyft & Uber on simultaneously until they get a ride, immediately shutting down the other. I could never bring myself to do that. The mental stress of just one app open was enough for me.

Still, it was a great experience. I met some nice people, both locals and tourists. I got to experience the ride sharing industry from within, albeit limited. One was my eight was perfect. I was driving to ALDI to go grocery shopping. I picked up a guy at Firestone and took him to his house, which was on the way to the ALDI I wanted to visit.  In 2018 my husband had a total of 177 trips; 58 with Lyft & 119 with Uber.

Back to taxes, both apps track the miles driven while on trips. This is used for tax purposes to account for vehicle expenses (fuel, wear & tear, insurance, maintenance, depreciation, etc). Though we both came out ahead, it wasn’t as much as I’d hoped it would be. We’re going to contribute to the high turnover among Lyft/Uber drivers.

My conclusion on my first time using ride sharing is the same as it is today — this is expensive way to get around. My guess is that it’s on par with a taxicab, but that’s just a guess. Both are far pricier than transit.

In the last few years there have been a ton of articles about how ride sharing reduces car trips…or increases them. How it cannibalizes transit systems…or compliments them. I recently even saw an article about college kids taking Lyft/Uber instead of walking across campus. Compared to a taxicab I do prefer ride sharing — no pressure from the driver to pay with cash instead of plastic.

I’ll keep watching the ride sharing industry and how it is potentially disrupting  others, I like that I’ve got experience as a rider & driver.

— Steve Patterson


No Surprise, Readers’ Top Transportation Choice is a Private Car

February 13, 2019 Featured, Transportation Comments Off on No Surprise, Readers’ Top Transportation Choice is a Private Car
In February 2009 a couple of friends noticed me on Google’s Street View, this would’ve been prior to 2/1/2008.

When I decided on the topic of the recent non-scientific poll, I’d planned to write more along with the results. However, the cold I had last weekend in Chicago continues.

Q: My primary mode of transportation is… (pick up to 3):

  1. Private vehicle, paid off (no loan/lease): 12 [25%]
  2. Private vehicle, outstanding loan: 11 [22.92%]
  3. Pedestrian, able-bodied: 9 [18.75%]
  4. Bicycling, my own bike: 5 [10.42%]
  5. Public transportation, bus/rail (use weekly/monthly pass): 4 [8.33%]
  6. TIE: 2 [4.17%]
    1. Car sharing: Lyft, Uber, etc
    2. Public transportation, bus/rail (pay cash)
  7. TIE: 1 [2.08%]
    1. Pedestrian, uses a mobility device (cane, walker, scooter, wheelchair, etc)
    2. Motor scooter
  8. Car sharing: Taxicab
  9. TIE — zero responses
    1. Bicycling, a bike share bike
    2. E-Scooter, owned
    3. E-Scooter, sharing like Bird Scooters
    4. Motorcycle
    5. Private vehicle, borrowed
    6. Private vehicle, leased

My three choices were pedestrian (with mobility device), public transit (cash), and a private car with a loan balance. I only drive once or maybe twice a week, usually for weekend shopping trips. Most days when I leave home I’m a pedestrian in my power wheelchair, but I combine with transit when I need to go further.

Me exiting the Downtown Trolley on the day it debuted in July 2010. The bright graphics are no longer used.
Photo by Jim Merkel, Suburban Journals

I like that the top poll answer was cars that were paid off, that would’ve been one of my answers a year ago. OK, time for bed.

— Steve Patterson


Sunday Poll: What Is Your Primary Mode of Transportation?

February 10, 2019 Featured, Sunday Poll, Transportation Comments Off on Sunday Poll: What Is Your Primary Mode of Transportation?
Please vote below

Back from another trip to the annual Chicago Auto Show. To get there I took the bus to the Amtrak station, my husband met me there — leaving our car in long-term, parking. In Chicago we used the bus to reach the auto show.  Lots of miles covered in non-auto modes to see autos.

This got me thinking about getting around in St. Louis. How do readers of this blog get around? For many the top choice will be private automobile, no doubt. Is it paid off, leased, or still have a loan?

What’ll be interesting to me is to see how other modes fare. Hopefully this poll will get lots of responses, so please encourage others to weigh in.

Today’s poll includes a detailed list of options to select from. Respondents can pick up to 3 answers.

This poll will close at 8pm tonight.

— Steve Patterson


Understanding Vehicle Size Classifications

February 4, 2019 Featured, Transportation Comments Off on Understanding Vehicle Size Classifications

Later this week we’re taking the train to Chicago, our annual trip to the media preview of the Chicago Auto Show. So I have vehicles on my mind right now.

One aspect I find interesting is the various size classifications of passenger cars, trucks, and SUVs.

The size class for cars is based on interior passenger and cargo volumes as described below. The size class for trucks is defined by the gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR), which is the weight of the vehicle and its carrying capacity. Fuel economy regulations do not apply to heavy-duty vehicles, so they are not tested.  (FuelEconomy.gov)

Below is how cars & trucks are classified:

Source: fuelecnomy.gov

The 2015 Hyundai Sonata we bought last year competes in the mid-size class with vehicles such as the Toyota Camry, Honda Accord, and Nissan Altima. Chevy & Ford are getting out of the midsize sedan market, each to cease production of the Malibu & Fusion, respectively.

Our car, however, it’s not a mid-size — it’s a large (full) size!

Our Sonata, left, has 106 cubic feet inside plus a 16 cubic foot trunk for a total of 122. The Camry & Accord have 118 & 119, respectively. 120 or more defines a large car.

Prior to this car I’d owned subcompacts, compacts, and one mid-size (87 Volvo). I’d never even driven a full-size (large) car until January 2013 when Enterprise upgraded the rental I needed to attend an uncle’s funeral in Amarillo, TX. It seemed huge, as did our car last year. I’m used to it now, the extra interior room makes it easier for me to get in/out of the car.

The Honda Accord grew from a subcompact to compact to mid-size to large, before returning to midsize for the 9th generation starting in 2013.

Trucks are different. Back in the 70s pickups were either regular or a tiny compact (think Mazda-based Ford Courier). Today’s mid-sized pickups are bigger than the full-size pickups of my childhood.

Many SUVs on the road today are car-based crossovers, like the Honda CR-V. It is based on the compact Honda Civic platform. True SUVs have body-on-frame construction, not unibody like passenger cars. Even still, you get SUVs based off different sizes of truck chassis.

Used to be every car maker trying to compete would have at least one passenger car per size classification.  Now, that’s optional — but they must have an SUV/CUV in every possible size & price point.

— Steve Patterson