On March 5th, I had the pleasure of attending a speech by Norman Garrick, Professor of Civil Engineering at the University of Connecticut. Dr. Garrick specializes in Urban Streets and Highway Design, Urban Planning, and Sustainable Transportation Systems. He has taught at UConn for 20 years, and consulted extensively
on facility, design, urban planning and transportation systems. His speech entitled, Smart Transportation
It’s All About Building the Communities We Desire. It was given in Bloomington, Indiana’s city hall and sponsored by the civic organization, Bloomington Transportation Options for People (BTOP), which I am a member of.
Here are some of my notes on the speech:
Dr. Garrick set the tone by referencing a March 1st article in the USA Today entitled, Cities afraid of death by congestion, by Larry Copeland. https://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/2007-02-28-freeway-inside_x.htm
The first paragraph is an oxymoronic indeed, quote, “A plan to widen part of Interstate 10 in metropolitan Phoenix from 14 lanes to 24 is the USA's latest giant superhighway proposal designed to ease the kind of gridlock that some planners say could stunt economic growth.”
Why is this oxymoronic? It is because time and again cities increase road dimensions in response to growth and to ease congestion only to make it inviting for...more growth, more cars and more car dependency! Then, people are in a traffic jam again banging on their steering wheels, keeping the cycle going. It is a paradigm our culture seems trapped in.
Dr. Garrick stated that Phoenix and Atlanta have the most freeway miles in the nation, but also are the most congested. Makes you wonder why one would want to move to the so-called “sunbelt.” I can tell you, not me. It does once again prove one of my personal maxim, “Humans love it when they find paradise, which they promptly move to and ruin.”
Sunbelt cities are not the only trouble areas. Every major metropolitan area in America has issues with their roads and the many cars that use them. Few even have any decent alternative to the car and the daily commute. Garrick pointed out that the nearest metro to Bloomington, Indianapolis has 91% of commuters using a car and Bloomington a mini-metro we could say, has 76%. Garrick declared the present system of building of roads in response to growth, “...a sixty year failed experiment.”
When looking at the big picture, Dr. Garrick likes to reference the late American historian of technology and science, Lewis Mumford. Garrick asks in his presentation, “What is transportation for?” He quotes Mumford, “A good transportation system minimizes unnecessary transportation.”
Garrick’s translation to that is, “A good transportation system provides more access with less mobility.” Smart transportation planning is what the he wants us to think about. Good planning for him includes:
1. Use broadly defined goals embracing economic, social and environmental outcomes
2. Plan for desired outcomes, not continuation of past trends
3. Develop solutions maximizing access, not mobility
4. Always give priority treatment to the cheaper, cleaner, more efficient mode of travel
5. Support a diversity of modes to meet different needs and context
Dr. Garrick went onto look at four examples in America of cities that actually have broken out of the old paradigm in transportation planning. Portland, OR, Arlington, VA, Cambridge, MA and Davis, CA. are the cities he reported on.
The professor challenged my way of thinking about streets. He said a street should be considered a sense of place, not just a conduit. The street network serves as the bones of the city. They are the framework on which everything else depends. A framework and place is a concept that I try to wrap my head around. I would say then that the street is at any given point a part of the environment around it as it is part of the overall framework of the greater whole.
This declaration of Dr. Garrick’s on streets also stood out to me, “Today there is nobody professionally charged with determining what the street network should look like. We have abandoned this important task to the happenstance of where the highways are routed and the whim of individual developers.” This reminded me a bit of the story of Seattle’s original street layout by bitter civic rivals Doc Maynard and Arthur Denny. One man wanted streets laid out in a grid pattern, the other wanted them follow the water line of nearby Elliot Bay. If you have ever been around Seattle’s Pioneer Square, you have dealt with this clash of angles first hand and wondered as I did, “What the heck is this all about?!” Then there is the story of lifting the streets in Seattle up; I think it was 12’ so it looked like a waffle. That is another story for another time, a funny and interesting one. Dr. Garrick showed in his presentation an aerial shot of a humongous housing development that looked to be in the shape of a crop circle. Could aliens have designed it to undermine Earth’s civilization? Hmmm...
Garrick believes that there should be different streets for different reasons. They should serve the city. Streets in an urban area were once upon a time often laid out for specific reasons, only stretching within a shopping area for instance and then stopping, not going on and on and on.
He also talked about traffic speed on streets. Traffic accident speed and fatalities rise together. He noted that in Davis, California they have I think he said a 20 or 25 mile an hour area that everyone adhered to and was especially safe of cyclists. He thought that was a good model. Oh yes it is. However, it is naïve if you think the rest of America in its never ending need to get somewhere faster and faster will adhere reasonably to speed limits out of civic awareness. Bloomington certainly is not. Bloomington drivers can be very illiterate for a college town when reading speed limit signs and especially that funny, red, octagonal sign emblazoned with the letters, STOP.
Garrick ended his talk with the refrain, “The starting place for smart transportation planning is always the same, understanding the implication of the question… What is transportation for?”
It was a thought provoking question and a thought provoking speech. For more insight into Dr. Garrick’s presentation I have a link for you to download the speech (PDF) as he gave it last fall in Carmel, Indiana, almost identical to the one he gave to us here in Bloomington.
It’s All About Building the Communities We Desire: Download