Friday, September 10th, 2010

Urbanoscope

The parking meter deal. Every time people swipe their credit card, they’ll think, ‘Daley!’ – Chicago Ald. Scott Waguespack, responding to a question about what Mayor Daley will be remembered for.

I will be speaking at an upcoming Chicago Council on Global Affairs event on Thursday, September 23. The topic? What else – privatization. The program is called “No Free Money: Is Privatization of Infrastructure in the Public Interest?” The program is free, so for those who are in Chicago, I’d encourage you to attend. Also speaking are Michael Pagano, dean of the College of Urban Planning and Public Affairs at UIC, economist Charlie Wheelan at the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Affairs, and Zach Egan, an investment fund manager.

Kevin LeMaster, publisher of the wonderful Building Cincinnati, has decided to call it quits after the venture was not financially sustainable. Believe me, I can sympathize with that. I do know this, Kevin gave Building Cincinnati his all. Win, lose, or draw, the city is luck to have an entrepreneurial spirit like him. Best of luck to Kevin in his next endeavors.

Top Stories

1. Nuvo: Carmel, Indiana’s Jim Brainard Is a Mayor for the New Millennium – A fantastic interview by David Hoppe

2. NYT: As Stadiums Vanish, Their Debt Lives On

3. Washington City Paper: How 32 year old Google veteran David Alpert and his band of bloggers are shaping 21st century DC – A great profile of the very cool Washington, DC blog Greater Greater Washington. It’s sort of like a Streetsblog with a wider focus than livable streets.

4. The American Conservative: The Real Costs – A look at the exploding costs of rail transit systems: “Rail transit’s great enemy isn’t public support or political will but its enormous price tag….America’s rail infrastructure won’t be resurrected overnight. But history shows that we can build rail economically and on time. After all, we have been constructing systems of all sizes and complexities in this country for well over a hundred years. Recalling those past experiences today will give us the tools we need to build the trains of tomorrow.”

5. Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco: The Effect of Immigrants on U.S. Employment and Productivity – “Statistical analysis of state-level data shows that immigrants expand the economy’s productive capacity by stimulating investment and promoting specialization. This produces efficiency gains and boosts income per worker.”

More Indy Parking Meters

I was honored to be on Amos Brown’s radio show for the first time yesterday talking about Indy’s parking meter deal. I don’t have embedded audio, but you can listen to the segment here. I must say, the role of activist is an new and uncomfortable one for me, but I feel compelled to step up.

A couple of additional points on the Indy meters:

  • You might think that an almost 90% potential profit margin for the vendor is ludicrously unbelievable. Think again. This isn’t like the Toll Road. The Toll Road had never earned a nickel for Indiana in 50 years. By contrast, the parking meters are very profitable. The city already makes millions in profits every year off them. In fact, even with the existing inefficient system, the city itself is already generating a 77% profit margin. With higher rates, longer hours, penalties galore, and promised efficiencies, it is easy to see how that goes way up. Again, let’s review – Toll Road: a money loser turned into $3.9 billion. The parking meters: a lucrative business of which as much as 3/4 of the value is being given away for $35 million. In effect, ACS is loaning the city $35 million and is getting repaid with potentially a billion in interest. That’s like you or me borrowing $35,000 and paying back a million in interest. Even credit card companies aren’t that greedy. This is like taking out a 50 year payday loan from the worst check cashing store in town.

    As for the $400 million revenue share, that money already belongs to the city. Instead of giving away $724M to $1.2B, why not just raise rates yourself and keep it all for the public? Unlike with Chicago where rates went up to something like $8/hr and people were literally carrying around ziplocks full of quarters, these rates are only going up to $1 to $1.50/hr total. That will hardly provoke a riot. Everyone knows rates need to be raised – an action I fully support.

  • Amos Brown asked me about MBE participation in the deal and I did not know the answer. But I looked it up. The Chicago contract requires 25% MBE participation, Indy requires 15%. Indy is higher for WBE at 8% vs. 5% in Chicago, and also has a 3% veteran owned business requirement Chicago does not. That’s 30% vs. 26% for total DBE target.

Since this deal was won by ACS, I should be sure to note that I used to work for an ACS competitor, though I never was in the public service practice and don’t ever remember competing against them. I don’t know who the others bidders all were, but to the best of my knowledge, my former employer was not one of them. I don’t have a financial interest in the deal, and if anything opposing it is a pure cost to me since I’ve doubtless made several new enemies in return for nothing.

I normally maintain a policy of not getting involved in current political disputes or criticizing elected officials. But when there is something with the potential for significant, long term, irrevocable harm, I have to speak out. I don’t hate Mayor Ballard. In fact, I think he’s done many good things ranging from the water deal that I think was a great one (and very creative too – Michael Huber did a fantastic job on that one), to endorsing IndyConnect, to his bike infrastructure initiative, SustainIndy, and re-establishing mayoral control over the police department. I appreciate his looking at creative ways to close an infrastructure deficit that he had no role in creating. But this is not the right way to do it. If I didn’t believe this deal was a serious, long term danger to downtown and the city, I never would have spoken up, no matter how bad the financials were. I beg the city to reconsider and not do this deal. Fifty years is an awful long time to have your hands tied.

Pedestrian Safety

In another progressive move, New York City has released a landmark Pedestrian Safety Study and Action Plan, a comprehensive look at accidents and how to reduce them.

One of the things that so impresses me about what New York is doing in the transportation space is that its isn’t just about looking pretty or saving the environment or supporting alternative transportation. Rather, NYC DOT is fixated first and foremost on safety. If you get to hear Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan speak, you’ll hear her talk about how the changes they’ve implemented have made the streets of New York safer.

Typical state DOTs think about safety in terms of adding lanes and expanding intersections and such. But the NYC DOT is looking at it more comprehensively. According to this article, for example, streets with bike lanes are 40% less deadly for pedestrians than those without. Maybe this isn’t apples to apples, but the numbers are sure interesting. The city is also installing 1500 countdown pedestrian signals and, yes, improving intersections. This includes removing curb parking to improve visibility. Try that in Indianapolis after the meter lease is approved!

This study is worth checking out.

Mapping Racial Boundaries in Chicago

A site called Radical Cartography has an interesting map of race in Chicago, which is America’s most segregated city.

World and National Roundup

Richard Florida: The Power of Density

Lewis Lapham: Is the Myth of City Life More Significant Than the Real City Itself?

The Economist: Stop the Suburbs, I Want to Get Off

Foreign Policy: Miami Swoon – An interview with Saskia Sassen on global cities as a follow-up to the magazines special issue on cities.

Foreign Policy: Don’t try this at home – The failed attempts to recreate Silicon Valley.

WSJ: The Inconvenient Truth About Traffic Math

So often people complain about the government, but they don’t have any policy alternatives to present themselves. But here’s an exception. Economist Constantin Gurdgiev has laid out the start of a very detailed policy manifesto for Ireland. It doesn’t cover all policy areas yet, but it goes through quite a bit. Whatever you might think of it, here’s a guy who thought hard about the problem and put a stake in the ground for specific, tangible solutions.

Jim Russell: Not so Rust Belt Chic Baltimore – Among other things, Jim documents how Rust Belt Chic – a term I believe he coined – is now a rapidly spreading meme.

NYT: Detroit’s Midtown thrives by building on past

Chicago Sun-Times: Mayor Daley is not seeking another term – The headline says it all. I’m not saying much about this right now since I don’t have much to add and no doubt you’ve already heard about it.

A Chicago cop named John Andrews published a long essay on his personal blog called A City at War With Itself: Chicago – On the Fast Track to Anarchy that made a big splash as you can imagine. This has landed Lt. Andrews in hot water, and he is now under investigation by Internal Affairs for the matter.

Chicago Tribune: Community Supported Agriculture dropoffs almost plowed under by city rules

Human Transit: Chicago: A Draft Frequent Network Transit Map

Broken Sidewalk: New York construction fence shows world walk symbols – A very cool art project at a NYC construction site.

NYT: Above ground, 2nd Avenue subway attracts critics

Remember a post I did about the great grass roots Indy organization People for Urban Progress? Their first production shade made from recycled RCA Dome roof fabric is about to be installed

And remember Nikki Sutton, who I mentioned in a previous post about Portland? She just got a wonderful profile in Nuvo. Nikki is the real deal.

More Amazing Really Old Color Photos

The web site My Urbanist posts a delightful selection of mostly color photographs from very long ago. Here’s one sample of Melbourne, Australia in 1917:

More Cool City Videos

Here’s a cool time-lapse video of what I believe is Tokyo. (If the video doesn’t display, click here):

And of course, what would Urbanoscope be without a tilt-shift video, this time of traffic in Boston. (If the video doesn’t display, click here):

Post Script

The Gotthard Base Tunnel in Sedrun, Switzerland from the Subterranean Builder’s Guide on BLDGBLOG.

10 Comments
Topics: Transportation
Cities: Indianapolis, New York

10 Responses to “Urbanoscope”

  1. Joe says:

    Guess who used to work for ACS after being mayor of Indy….. Goldsmith.

    Small world.

  2. Well Paid Scientist says:

    I’ve heard the claim that Chicago is the most segregated city for years, but never any numbers to back it up. It’s clearly a segregated place, and people like appellations like biggest, and most.

    The article you linked to mentions two reports but the link to one does not work, and the other one is not linked to specifically. One of the comments has some numbers which generally contradict the claim.

    We must be careful with facts that just sound right. Cause did hear that domestic violence goes up 40% on Superbowl Sunday too? (That wasn’t true in case you didn’t hear, folks)

  3. mantaray says:

    What a disappointment that I won’t be able to see you speak – you should know that there’s another excellent program in town on the 22nd through 24th – the Architecture for Change Summit at UIC. When you wrap up your talk you should consider checking out the goings-on over at UIC.

  4. west town ed says:

    While color photography goes back much further than I expected (what would we do without Wikipedia?) and while some of the photos in the referenced site are clearly hand-colored, I suspect that the beautiful and very realistic Melbourne photos are products of PhotoShop rather than the cumbersome three-camera process available at the time, circa 1917.

  5. I’m sorry but that Hoppe piece on Carmel Mayor Brainard was simply a fluff piece which ignored all the secrecy and insider dealing that has characterized the Brainard administration, not to mention his reckless, out of control spending. The next generation of Carmelites are going to pay a high price for Brainard’s fiscal irresponsbility. The Palladium is already a huge white elephant sucking out tax dollars and it hasn’t even opened yet.

  6. Larry Williams says:

    “In fact, I think he’s done many good things ranging from the water deal that I think was a great one (and very creative too – Michael Huber did a fantastic job on that one), …..”

    I can’t begin to imagine how anyone could think that the water deal was “a great one” or very creative.” There is nothing creative about stealing money! Borrowing hundreds of millions of dollars by adding a 30-year hidden tax to a everyone’s water user fee by transferring a public entity to another public entity and pretending that somehow the ratepayers would benefit with lower rates is the most ludicrously criminal endeavor ever perpetrated on the citizens of Indianapolis. Using water user fees for street infrastructure is bad government at its worse, particularly when it is already known that a few billion dollars (what’s a few billion among friends) of debt must be paid for those funds – and that all that new sewer infrastructure will have to be maintained. There is no free lunch. The ratepayers will unknowingly still be paying for streets, long since deteriorated, decades later, and still have no permanent method for properly financing maintenance and improvements.

    In the end, all that was done was to increase the obligation of the ratepayers by a half a billion dollars. The city never owed any money to anyone. The ratepayers owed it and now they are guaranteed to owe a whole lot more.

  7. Thank you, Aaron, for the well-wishes!

  8. Thank you all for the comments.

    I do not want to get into the water company deal at this time, but obviously opinions can differ.

    Regarding Carmel, I personally would not have built the Palladium. Also, financial screw ups on not just the Palladium, but Keystone Ave and the Monon Center deserve criticism. But you have to look at the bottom line. Residential property taxes are lower than 15 years ago. Both tax rates and tax bills are among the lowest of any comparable city in Indiana, and the city’s infrastructure and other public services are top notch.

  9. Eric Fischer says:

    Thanks for posting the Radical Cartography map of Chicago. I was shocked at how sharp a lot of the boundaries were and wanted to see if the same thing happened in other cities, so I plotted maps of several others in approximately the same style. They are at http://www.flickr.com/photos/walkingsf/sets/72157624812674967/detail/ if anyone else is interested.

  10. Eric, very interesting set. Thanks for posting. You’re amazing on this stuff.

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