Friday, August 13th, 2010


British street style is without a doubt the most influential in the world. London is like a mysterious laboratory where new cultural movements are perpetually invented. You find people copying Londoners in every country, but you will never see a Londoner following the aesthetic of another capital city. – Yvan Rodic aka Facehunter

First a brief update on my Metra story. Commenter Alex B. raises a good point that the right of way is not being sold off or built on for something else. That’s true as regards the actual property lines. My concern is with the elevated embankment on which the rail line runs. This embankment was constructed and previously ran with three active tracks. After this project, there will only be two and to restore the third track will require extending the retaining walls. A few months ago I was given a major nine figure price tag to do that, meaning it would likely never happen, though it’s worth noting that in Metra’s response to my post, they give a lower figure today. I wanted to clear that up.

Speaking of Metra’s response, they copied me on one they wrote for someone else and I told them I’d post it here. I’m not going to do a line by a line analysis or anything because I don’t want to make this blog into “Aaron vs. Metra” and I don’t think it would be productive. But I will link to the complete, unedited document so you have a chance to read their position. I do want to respond to one item in it, which is where I got the idea that the grade raising on the bridge was the city’s idea. I attended a public meeting on the project and when I asked a Metra representative why they had to raise the grade, he said, “Because we couldn’t get permits from the city if we didn’t.” Apparently this was in error. I still continue to believe that highway funds should be used on projects that improve truck clearances. And while it’s not my primary concern with the project, as someone who lives in the area I’m confident the neighbors would strongly oppose anything that brings more and bigger trucks into their neighborhood, especially on residential streets.

Thanks to everyone who helped with this.

Top Stories

1. The Guardian: Cyclists vs. Drivers? They are often the same people

2. Human Transit: The Case for Frequency Mapping

3. Urban Cincy: The Urban Differences of Cincinnati and Chicago

The Real Megabus

You probably saw this craziness already, but China is looking at giant buses that can pass over top of cars:

It’s probably nothing, but it’s good to explore ideas.

Food Trucks

Food trucks are all the rage, but in a brief piece on his blog, Payton Chung takes a contrarian view:

I’m know it’s so very trendy, but I really don’t understand the fascination with littering Chicago with food trucks. I’ve found them quite annoying in NY and LA:

  • they don’t pay rent for the valuable public space they take up
  • they unfairly compete with fixed-premise restaurants, particularly since Chicago suffers from many miles of empty storefronts
  • they only go to trendy areas which already have lots of shops and foot traffic, thereby merely overcrowding existing transient hotspots and potentially preventing new areas from emerging
  • they leave clouds of diesel fumes and noise in their wake, since they run generators even when idling
  • they generate mountains of trash in said areas’ already-overflowing trashcans, since there’s no capacity for onboard dishwashing and few sidewalk recycling bins
  • they’d be yet more unwieldy vehicles careening through the streets, killing people in crashes.

I certainly don’t dispute the overall goals to have broadly available, inexpensive food and easing the way for entrepreneurs to open foodservice businesses. However, these goals frankly have nothing to do with adding more smelly trucks to already choked streets.

World and National Roundup

The Philadelphia Inquirer has a special section on high speed rail

A group of public radio stations has created a web new project called Changing Gears: Remaking the Manufacturing Belt. I haven’t dug into it yet, but thought I would pass the link along.

WORLD Magazing, Christian themed publication, has a special issue on cities. It looks interesting. It’s subscriber only, but looks like it’s only $5 to get a one month pass.

NYT: Outsourcing to India draws Western lawyers – In my recent post about Chicago and professional services, I noted that law was just starting to get hit the way technology did with offshoring. Here’s an interesting story on those lines. You don’t think it can happen to you? I can happen to you.

Global Urbanist: A city doesn’t need a center, but it does need realistic planning

WSJ: Parisians Find Playground Under the Streets

Richard Florida: Roadmap to a high speed recovery

NYT: The Coming Class War Over Pensions

Wendell Cox: US leads the world in per capita greenhouse gas reductions – according to a Dutch government study.

Richard Reep: A localist solution

Urban Out: Midwest urban forms present varying challenges and opportunities

NYT: Wringing art out of rubble in Detroit

Jason Tinkey: I Won’t Share You – a look at Chicago’s bike share program.

Time Detroit Blog: Detroit’s Model Train – Can a new light rail project help solve Detroit’s mass transit woes?

Cincinnati Enquirer: City’s pensions a disaster scenario

Chicago Magazine: Raising Chicago: An Illustrated History – raising the street grade in the city.

Replacing a Rail Bridge

I mentioned that rail bridges can sometimes be replaced by simply hoisting a new one into place over the weekend or something. Here’s a video of just that being done on a passenger bridge in Oyster Bay on the Long Island Railroad. (If the video doesn’t display, click here).

This was a small project at only $3.4 million, paid for by an FTA grant. It’s interesting that this project involves raising the vertical clearance as well. I wonder what the incremental cost of this is? And how much FTA money around the country has actually ended up going to make life better for road users. In an era of ultra-tight capital funding, America can’t afford to be spending precious transit dollars on trucking. The US DOT ought to take a look here. I’m not saying we shouldn’t raise bridge grades, but highway funds ought to make a contribution proportionate to the benefits.

Post Script

Free Basket (or as I like to call it, the Jungle Gym) by Los Carpinteros at the Indianapolis Museum of Art’s new Art and Nature Park.

Topics: Transportation, Urban Culture
Cities: New York

13 Responses to “Urbanoscope”

  1. Quimbob says:

    FWIW, the Cincinnati Enquirer story you linked to is not a very good example of reporting. The meeting was broadcast on local cable TV but, unfortunately, the city hasn’t seen fit to post it online – so the scattershot reporting & rumormongering about town leave the facts pretty muddied.
    The NYT article on pensions pretty much sums it up, tho.

  2. the urban politician says:

    Payton Chung’s arguments against food vendors in Chicago is one of the most poorly thought up, hastily assembled set of misarguments I’ve ever seen.

    You’ve got to be kidding me.

  3. Alon Levy says:

    The Metra response makes me think less of them than your original post. The main argument for higher bridges seems to be that they need ballasted track to reduce noise. While it’s true that ballast reduces noise, a) ballast-free track can be quiet if maintained to high standards, and b) this has nothing to do with clearance below.

  4. Payton Chung says:

    TUP, would you care to make constructive counterarguments instead of just whining and insulting? No, I’m not kidding. I really do see food trucks as an unfortunate fad and do not look forward to their proliferation; people have somehow blinded themselves to the downsides amidst the fervor. (I’ve posted more at my blog.)

  5. the urban politician says:

    Okay Payton, here goes:

    1.they don’t pay rent for the valuable public space they take up
    ^ Is the tiny public space a truck occupies REALLY that valuable? Come on, you act as if we’re talking about a 2 acre sized monstrosity

    2.they unfairly compete with fixed-premise restaurants, particularly since Chicago suffers from many miles of empty storefronts

    ^ Get rid of the word “unfairly”. Competition is good, and in many situations the street foods can compete in a different niche than the fixed premise restaurants. They can serve as cheap food on the go, while the restaurants can focus more on sit-down dining. Pedestrians need MORE options, not fewer. Your comment about “miles of empty storefronts” perplexes me, because the vendors are probably going to set up shop in more vibrant areas, like you are just about to say in your argument below.

    3. they only go to trendy areas which already have lots of shops and foot traffic, thereby merely overcrowding existing transient hotspots and potentially preventing new areas from emerging

    ^ What do you have against making a bustling part of town even better? This is your weakest argument of them all. So I shouldn’t have my store on Clark St because it is too successful and thus my store will cause more overcrowding? Businesses go where the foot traffic is, and after all, we are talking about food trucks here.

    4. they leave clouds of diesel fumes and noise in their wake, since they run generators even when idling
    they generate mountains of trash in said areas’ already-overflowing trashcans, since there’s no capacity for onboard dishwashing and few sidewalk recycling bins
    they’d be yet more unwieldy vehicles careening through the streets, killing people in crashes.

    ^ Buses and cars leave clouds of diesel fumes. Regarding the rest of your comment, that can easily be prevented with the proper city requirements that trucks take care of their own trash or receive a citation. And for their customers? Hey, they know where the trash can is. Whether they got their food to go from a restaurant or from a food truck, it’s their responsibility to throw it away.

    I’ve now lived in 2 cities in which food vendors exist in abundance and to me the benefits to the pedestrian/urban experience far, far, far away some of the negatives. Sorry if you’re offended, but yes I think your arguments were hastily assembled and poorly thought out.

  6. Payton Chung says:

    Food trucks’ pollution problems have been extensively covered in the media, and I’ll leave the lit review to my own blog post. I invite you over there to see more of where I’m coming from (I assure you that I have more street food experience than you) since I’m not retyping everything here.

    Oh, and it’s terribly presumptuous for you to proclaim that just because we who actually live in the city have to breathe toxic air and trudge through litter, and therefore should not care about creating even more. Simply saying “cops will deal with it” is not realistic. Meanwhile, that curbside public space is indeed valuable, which the various fights over Park(ing) Day and parking meters so clearly demonstrates.

  7. cdc guy says:

    Food trucks are hardly a “fad”, unfortunate or otherwise. They were already a long-established institution when I was a student in Philadelphia decades ago.

    They didn’t cause a “parking problem” because they established themselves in pedestrian districts well-served by good public transit.

  8. the urban politician says:

    Payton, you are making the same kind of nonsensical arguments against food carts that NIMBY’s make against development.

    1) I have lived for years in cities that have had food trucks and I find your description of “breathing toxic air and trudging through litter” so ridiculously laughable that I cannot find myself even bothering to respond to that. All I can say is that my experiences have been 100% the opposite of yours.

    2) I’m sorry, but I am in favor of doing all that we can to improve the pedestrian experience in cities. I am not too concerned over whether a parking spot or two in a given block is taken away if I know that it will service those who get about by foot. That has always been my thinking, and it always will be. Not only do I like food carts, I also would like Chicago to expand the experience to allow streetside stalls that sell apparel and jewelry. I have always found that these are the kinds of experiences that give city living part of its character, and I would never want to take it away just because of some of the silly and frankly paranoid fears that you have expressed.

    We’ll just have to agree to disagree. Bring the food carts on, I’ve been asking for them for years.

  9. Payton Chung says:

    I happen to live at a busy street corner. Right outside is a farmers market that’s just thronged every week, alongside pushcarts selling elotes, ice cream, slushies, and fried dough every day. There are bars and a concert venue around the corner. I love all of this. I want more of it. I want a permanent outdoor/indoor market next door, instead of this weird orchard that’s now being proposed. What I don’t want is a loud truck parked in the crosswalk outside my bedroom window from 11PM-3AM, with a crowd of drunk people loitering and tossing foam plates onto my front door. (I’ve seen this in Williamsburg, in Venice, in Austin…) I’d rather have them inside the diner 100′ away or the tacquerias down the block, or welcoming the Tamale Guy inside the bars.

    Would such a truck be the end of the world? No. Would it be worse than any of the aforementioned vendors who already congregate right outside? Yes, and Mayor Bloomberg appears to agree that it is substantively different. Do I take umbrage at your insinuation that my quality of life should suffer just so that tourists like you can feed a passing whimsy? Yes. Your attitude of “my way or else shut up, you’re a ridiculous NIMBY who deserves to be fed to a volcano” seems rather impolitic for someone who calls himself a Politician.

    My problem, again, is not with vendors using carts or booths or whatever, which, again, I have plenty of right outside. It’s with trucks. And if this weren’t a yuppie fad, there wouldn’t be a Food Trucks Now! blog at Time Out Chicago, would there?

  10. Alon Levy says:

    Williamsburg isn’t exactly a tourist mecca. Neither is Morningside Heights, which has ice cream trucks in the summer. The places the tourists go to in New York do not have those trucks because there’s too much other traffic.

  11. cdc guy says:

    Payton, it seems you are conflating the unreasonableness of trucks idling during normal sleeping hours into a case against all food trucks, all the time.

    Restricting hours of operation in certain types of locations seems a whole lot more reasonable approach. (Although one could fairly argue that if you deliberately move to the middle of the action in a city that never sleeps, you might lose some sleep yourself.)

    Again…history is not on your side. Food trucks are NOT a “yuppie fad”. They are a well-established part of the urban fabric in many big cities. MAYBE food trucks parked outside clubs all night is a fad, and maybe it’s just the unreasonableness of having that in a mixed-use area that you should focus on.

  12. the urban politician says:


    I enjoy food trucks as a city resident, not as a tourist.

    Your arguments sound more and more like a catharsis of personal frustration than a legitimate argument why a city shouldn’t allow vendors to prepare and sell food on a sidewalk. These issues (time, trash, etc) can all be regulated just like any other industry in the city. You’re using a heck of a lot of hyperbole to make your point.

    I remain unconvinced, and since we aren’t going to change eachother’s minds lets just move on..

  13. Payton Chung says:

    Just to be clear, the original statement that I stand behind is “I really don’t understand the fascination with… food trucks. I’ve found them quite annoying…” Not exactly hyperbole, not expressing much. “The most poorly thought up, hastily assembled set of misarguments… got to be kidding” — now that’s hyperbole. I posted a number of constructive suggestions as well, which of course have been ignored in favor of stoking a flamewar.

    Alon, Midtown is now littered with food trucks and Mid-Wilshire is famous for them at lunchtime; cdc, trucks have even existed in Chicago for years but lately there’s been a lot of buzz about them, and legislation’s now before council to allow more and bigger trucks. That’s the fascination that I’m puzzled by.

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