Tag Archives: Salt Lake City

A Study on Regional Governments

I’m finally finished with the regional governments project that I’ve been working on for something like six weeks and that has kept me from writing in that time.  In the future I may want to use more accurate measures and publish this, so I’m going to practice by presenting this as scientific research.  So here goes.


I wanted to study the possibility of creating regional governments in the United States for three reasons.  First, because I agree with The Charter of the New Urbanism when it states that “The metropolitan region is a fundamental economic unit of the contemporary world. Governmental cooperation, public policy, physical planning, and economic strategies must reflect this new reality.” Also, I feel that the lines that divide government designations in America are arbitrary at best and, in many cases, don’t reflect reality on the ground.

It is interesting to compare government designations in Europe and America.  If you look at a map of Europe, you will notice that none of the boundaries are straight lines.  This is because the boundaries do a much better job of reflecting things like topography and real cultural divides.

The US, on the other hand, was drawn up for ease of division by immigrants who considered it to be essentially uninhabited.  Many counties, particularly in the Midwest, are just boxes laid out along the survey lines created by Jefferson, regardless of the topography on the ground.  There is only one state in the US that doesn’t have a straight line for a boundary, and that is Hawaii.  I don’t believe that this is advantageous.  Take my hometown of Pittsburgh, for example.  Pittsburgh is within the state of Pennsylvania, which it shares with Philadelphia.  This is about all the two cities share.  Their economies, populations, ethnic groups, and cultures are very divergent.  When the two cities are thrown into competition, often for State funds, Pittsburgh, with its lower population and generally higher standard of living, often does not get as much as Philadelphia.  According to Pittsburgh Quarterly, “It is often lamented that the Pennsylvania legislature tilts to the east, favoring Philadelphia over Pittsburgh.”  It would be advantageous to Pittsburgh to not be as closely linked to Philadelphia, which it in reality has little relation to.  At the same time, there are areas in Ohio, West Virginia and Maryland that are closer to Pittsburgh than to any major city in their respective states, and would do well to be involved with the politics of that city.  At a lower level, there are people who live just outside of Alleghany County, where Pittsburgh is, so that they don’t have to pay the higher taxes in that county, yet they still use Alleghany County roads and services without paying their fair share.  I believe that, along with state borders, county borders should be amended to reflect the reality on the ground of how central city services are used.

This brings me to my third point: I don’t think, in many parts of the country, that county governments serve a needful purpose in the way that they did in the past.  When the country was made up of many small, independent towns, counties worked to unite them in common purpose.  Now, in our metropolitan world, counties are often used as tax havens or otherwise don’t serve their original purpose.  Rhode Island, Connecticut and Massachusetts have done away with their county governments, streamlining political processes and ironically creating “small government” in some of the most liberal states in the Union.

But how does one define a region?  For an answer, I turned to Christopher Alexander, as I often do, who, in A Pattern Language, encourages us to, “Wherever possible, work toward the evolution of independent regions in the world; each with a population between 2 and 10 million; each with its own natural and geographic boundaries; each with its own economy; each one autonomous and self-governing; each with a seat in a world government, without the intervening power of larger states or countries.”  With that in mind, I began my research.


I relied heavily on Wikipedia and Google for this research, which is why it isn’t publishable in its current state.  To begin, I set benchmarks for regions.  I wanted to make three maps to visualize regions of different sizes, so I decided that, so as to be in line with Alexander’s requirements, I would have one map with a minimum population of 2 million per region, another map with a minimum of 5 million per region, and a third with a minimum of 8 million.  Then I got a list of cities in the US with a population of over 100,000.

I went through every county in the country and measured the distance from the county seat to the nearest city of over 100,000, marking them on a map with a different color to designate different cities.  I used Google Maps’ walking distance feature because I felt that it would do a better job of reflecting topography than simple as-the-crow-flies measurement, while at the same time being more accurate than the car distances since cars are expected to travel on highways over large distances, which may be faster but not as direct.  Also, I wanted to measure it as if some sort of catastrophe happened and people were unable to use cars, thus being forced to walk.

After finding out which counties were closest to what cities, I counted up the population of the counties that were marked for a given city based on the most recent data on Wikipedia.  Some of this information was as recent as 2009 estimates, while some was as old as the 2000 census.  Hopefully when the new census comes out I can redo this project with better results.  If the population of the area was below the population benchmark that I had set, then the city was removed from the list and the counties were remeasured and marked for the next closest city.  I then mapped them out on large national maps.


This work generated three maps with corresponding lists of cities and the populations of the regions based on these cities.

This first map is based on regions with a minimum population of 2 million, with the following cities anchoring the regions and their given regional populations, from highest to lowest population of the central city:

  1. New York City, NY (10,861,700)
  2. Los Angeles, CA (11.624,092)
  3. Chicago, IL (7,312,584)
  4. Houston, TX (5,807,864)
  5. Phoenix, AZ (6,662,822)
  6. Philadelphia, PA (7,398,857)
  7. San Antonio, TX (3,836,400)
  8. San Diego, CA (3,322,432)
  9. Dallas, TX (3,742,720)
  10. San Jose, CA (3,329,396)
  11. Detroit, MI (2,384,057)
  12. San Francisco, CA (4,318,813)
  13. Jacksonville, FL (3,040,268)
  14. Indianapolis, IN (3,652,091)
  15. Austin, TX (2,079,499)
  16. Columbus, OH (3,736,506)
  17. Fort Worth, TX (3,586,057)
  18. Charlotte, NC (3,878,660)
  19. Memphis, TN (2,502,573)
  20. Boston, MA (6,831,829)
  21. Baltimore, MD (4,243,534)
  22. El Paso, TX (2,874,140)
  23. Seattle, WA (7,070,662) (This includes both Alaska and Hawaii, as will be explained below)
  24. Denver, CO (5,896,137)
  25. Nashville, TN (2,909,035)
  26. Milwaukee, WI (3,184,691)
  27. Washington, DC (3,031,043)
  28. Louisville, KY (2,949,715)
  29. Portland, OR (4,607,152)
  30. Oklahoma City, OK (2,542,568)
  31. Atlanta, GA (6,151,488)
  32. Kansas City, MO (3,814,650)
  33. Fresno, CA (3,032,183)
  34. Sacramento, CA (5,691,903)
  35. Omaha, NE (2,506,874)
  36. Miami, FL (2,785,746)
  37. Cleveland, OH (2,249,989)
  38. Raleigh, NC (2,252,861)
  39. Tulsa, OK (2,843,868)
  40. Minneapolis, MN (4,490,267)
  41. St. Louis, MO (5,069,109)
  42. Tampa, FL (5,049,680)
  43. Santa Ana (Orange County), CA (3,121,251)
  44. New Orleans, LA (2,534,949)
  45. Cincinnati, OH (3,472,024)
  46. Pittsburgh, PA (4,470,907)
  47. Riverside, CA (2,088,322)
  48. Toledo, OH (2,019,458)
  49. St. Paul, MN (2,573,057)
  50. Buffalo, NY (2,782,734)
  51. Greensboro, NC (2,678,241)
  52. Madison, WI (2,070,908)
  53. Orlando, FL (3,625,795)
  54. Birmingham, AL (2,896,134)
  55. Baton Rouge, LA (2,841,516)
  56. Arlington, VA (2,615,764)
  57. Akron, OH (2,307,186)
  58. Montgomery, AL (3,057,149)
  59. Richmond, VA (3,725,124)
  60. Shreveport, LA (2,146,547)
  61. Des Moines, IA (2,092,903)
  62. Augusta, GA (3,286,871)
  63. Grand Rapids, MI (2,311,561)
  64. Little Rock, AR (2,377,037)
  65. Knoxville, TN (3,215,185)
  66. Fort Lauderdale, FL (3,511,282)
  67. Salt Lake City, UT (4,773,812)
  68. San Bernardino, CA (3,454,754)
  69. Fayetteville, NC (2,047,029)
  70. Aurora, IL (3,986,086)
  71. Springfield, MA (3,183,813)
  72. Paterson, NJ (2,285,085)
  73. Syracuse, NY (2,641,398)
  74. Bridgeport, CT (3,876,777)
  75. Warren, MI (2,393,541)
  76. Elizabeth, NJ (4,235,727)
  77. Lansing, MI (2,543,980)
  78. Manchester, NH (3,289,238)
  79. Allentown, PA (2,559,796)

This second map shows regions with a minimum population of 5 million.  They are listed below in the same manner that they were previously.

  1. New York City, NY (15,100,008)
  2. Los Angeles, CA (15,562,860)
  3. Chicago, IL (12,213,121)
  4. Houston, TX (6,568,198)
  5. Phoenix, AZ (8,490,543)
  6. Philadelphia, PA (10,845,050)
  7. San Antonio, TX (5,398,906)
  8. Dallas, TX (5,916,711)
  9. San Jose, CA (9,241,701)
  10. Detroit, MI (8,757,618)
  11. Indianapolis, IN (7,153,419)
  12. Columbus, OH (7,066,082)
  13. Fort Worth, TX (6,422,682)
  14. Charlotte, NC (9,064,119)
  15. Memphis, TN (5,335,220)
  16. Boston, MA (9,275,561)
  17. Seattle, WA (8,755,217)
  18. Denver, CO (10,039,895)
  19. Nashville, TN (5,631,919)
  20. Milwaukee, WI (6,167,922)
  21. Washington, DC (11,269,595)
  22. Portland, OR (5,263,530)
  23. Atlanta, GA (11,943,974)
  24. Kansas City (9,015,985)
  25. Sacramento, CA (6,370,171)
  26. Miami, FL (6,297,028)
  27. Cleveland, OH (6,605,216)
  28. Raleigh, NC (6,911,460)
  29. Minneapolis, MN (8,704,527)
  30. St. Louis, MO (5,438,438)
  31. Tampa, FL (11,235,143)
  32. New Orleans, LA (6,317,469)
  33. Pittsburgh, PA (5,274,967)
  34. Riverside, CA (9,002,191)
  35. Springfield, MA (5,943,610)
  36. Paterson, NJ (6,595,744)

This final map is for regions with a minimum population of 8 million, based on the following cities.

  1. New York City, NY (24,002,264)
  2. Los Angeles, CA (15,562,860)
  3. Chicago, IL (17,521,680)
  4. Houston, TX (14,995,203)
  5. Phoenix, AZ (8,493,518)
  6. Philadelphia, PA (11,376,896)
  7. Dallas, TX (12,594,912)
  8. San Jose, CA (15,669,851)
  9. Detroit, MI (10,047,016)
  10. Indianapolis, IN (14,442,659)
  11. Charlotte, NC (14,787,271)
  12. Memphis, TN (9,796,539)
  13. Boston, MA (12,318,503)
  14. Seattle, WA (13,493,324)
  15. Denver, CO (10,100,944)
  16. Washington, DC (13,875,208)
  17. Atlanta, GA (15,249,097)
  18. Kansas City, MO (10,585,310)
  19. Cleveland, OH (14,161,269)
  20. Minneapolis, MN (9,192,555)
  21. Tampa, FL (17,532,171)
  22. Riverside, CA (9,044,828)


There are a number of inferences that can be made from these findings.  The first that I would like to discuss is that, despite using county data, there are still a lot of straight line boundaries.  This is going to be the case as long as counties have boundaries as arbitrary as states.  A more thorough and accurate analysis would include a municipality-by-municipality, rather than county-by-county, analysis, but that would take more time than I am willing to put into this project at this juncture.  The arbitrary straight lines on the map can lead to some unusual results.  For instance, Grand Junction, CO, the county seat of Mesa County, is closer to Salt Lake City and to Denver on the first map, while most of the rest of the counties on the border follow the state line, leaving Mesa County jutting awkwardly into Denver’s region.

Another odd effect is what happens when water transportation is a factor.  Google’s walking directions take regular ferry service into account, so areas such as San Francisco Bay, Puget Sound, Lake Michigan and Massachusetts Bay have many more connections than areas such as Chesapeake Bay.  While in all reality the residents of Northampton County, VA may be more willing to ride a boat to Virginia Beach than to walk to Philadelphia, this isn’t taken into consideration here.  Rivers with infrequent bridges, or at least bridges lacking in pedestrian walkways, also pose a problem.  There are many counties in Arkansas, for instance, that are much closer to Memphis, TN than to Little Rock; however, the lack of bridges and regular ferry service across the Mississippi River made it so that the Google analysis gave many more areas to Little Rock.  Also, Google’s directions from Honolulu to the Mainland included “Kayak across the Pacific Ocean,” and no matter where you wanted the final destination to be, it went through Seattle, thus making Hawaii, as far as this discussion goes, a part of Seattle.

Another issue is the methodology used in selecting which cities would anchor areas.  After having attempted this analysis before with a top-down approach and being unsuccessful, I tried a bottom-up approach, starting with the smallest cities on my list and moving up.  This creates some situations that are somewhat awkward; for instance, Newark, NJ is much more of a population center than either Elizabeth of Paterson, NJ, yet it didn’t make the cut.  Tampa, FL, is another example; it is more likely that Jacksonville and Miami would split the state, rather than Tampa eliminating both of them.  I may in the future consider another top-down approach to see how the results differ.

There is also the fact that this search was limited to cities in the US.  If we were to do a more complete analysis, we would include neighboring countries and, time permitting, the whole world.  There are certainly cities in Alaska, for instance, that are much closer to Vancouver and even Victoria than they are to Seattle.  However, for the purposes of this study, it made sense to limit the scope to the United States.

The last problem with the model is the fact that I set minimum benchmarks.  This worked very well for the first map, which only has two regions exceeding Alexander’s limit of 10 million people, and those not by much.  However, when we get to a minimum of 8 million, nearly all of the regions exceed the limit.  It may be better to next time set a maximum number and split regions in two as they exceed that limit.

These weaknesses being established, there are a few recommendations that I would like to make after doing this research.  First of all, all counties should have one county seat.  There are a number of existing counties that have two seats, and even a few counties that have no seat.  Counties with more than one seat should settle on one and move on, while counties with no seat should either establish one or be dissolved.  Second, if counties are to exist, then all cities should lie within one.  I feel that there is a little bit of leeway in here for state capitals, such as Carson City, NV, which are just following the example of our nation’s capital, but most of the 39 independent cities in Virginia, for example, shouldn’t be independent.  Many of these cities are even the seats of the counties that they are not a part of!  Unless a city has the same boundaries as its county, like Miami and Boston, they should not function independently.  Counties should also be contiguous.  There are a few counties in Louisiana and Kentucky where changing river course or other events have cut certain parts of a county off from the rest of it.  These areas should become part of another, adjacent county.

Also, I will again refer to Christopher Alexander’s A Pattern Language: “Decentralize city governments in a way that gives local control to communities of 5,000 to 10,000 persons. As nearly as possible, use natural geographic and historical boundaries to mark these communities. Give each community the power to initiate, decide, and execute the affairs that concern it closely: land use, housing, maintenance, streets, parks, police, schooling, welfare, neighborhood services.”  While there is a lot in there, Alexander does seem to set 5,000 persons as a baseline for a functional community.  With that being understood, I propose that any counties under 5,000 in population be dissolved.  If this were done, the country would have 292 fewer administrative units to deal with.  The interesting thing is that most of these counties that would go away are not in the sparsely-populated regions of the Rocky Mountains, as I had supposed; they are in the Plains States, where counties were created arbitrarily after Jefferson’s survey and without any sort of requirements for a population to support them.  These counties have no reason to be there, and their citizens would be better off being a part of a real, larger community.

With these suggestions being made, there are still many things that we can learn from these maps.  I personally prefer the first map and think that it could be a good basis for establishing regional governments and possibly eliminating county governments, particularly in the East and in California, where the population is the most dense.  To properly follow the borders of these regions, state borders would also have to be amended.  In this process, States which don’t have significant population centers would be eliminated, including Alaska, Delaware, Hawaii, Idaho, Kansas, Maine, Mississippi, Montana, North Dakota, New Mexico, Nevada, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Vermont, West Virginia and Wyoming.

The second map, with the much fewer and larger regions, might not be as good for establishing regional governments, but may be more useful for realigning state boundaries to better reflect reality.  If this were the plan, then county governments would probably still be needed, but only if they conform to the requirements stated above.  The last map, with the fewest and very largest areas, might not function either as regions or states, but may be one example of how the country might be equitably divided if it were to break up into small countries.  It is interesting to compare this map to others of how the US could potentially break up, as seen here.

Finally, it should be remembered that mere numbers are not what links people to a city or a region.  Few people would ever say that San Jose is the heart of the Bay Area, despite it being considerably bigger than San Francisco.  The only way you would really be able to truly find a dividing line between New York and Boston would be to go door to door through Connecticut and ask people if they are Yankees or Redsox fans.  The only true way to establish a regional identity is through years of tradition and cultural association with an area.  In the words of Lewis Mumford from his epic The City in History, “Contrary to the convictions of census statisticians, it is art, culture, and political purpose, not numbers, that define a city.”

Why not rail?

Diana DeRubertis of Planetizen brings us this story on some of the triumphs and follies of light rail and bus rapid transit (BRT).  BRT is cheaper and easier to implement than light rail, but it lacks the “tech-sexiness” of light rail.  Also, many municipalities, whether implementing light rail or BRT, have a habit of putting in one or two lines instead of doing a comprehensive system.  Salt Lake is a perfect example, although TRAX is becoming much more comprehensive.  DeRubertis calls these minimal efforts “light rail lite,” and argues that experts in the field say that even BRT needs separated “quickways” to become as efficient as other systems throughout the world.  There is also the problem of dropping rail stops in unwalkable areas.  The vast majority of Salt Lake’s TRAX stations are in sprawling suburban areas, although many of those areas have developed TOD zones around the stations in an effort to make them more dense.  However, municipalities that are afraid of density, such as Sandy, UT, have fought exactly the type of development that makes TOD work.  It’s hard to convince suburban municipalities that they need to change their development pattern to take advantage of the tools of the 21st century.  BRT, because it can use existing infrastructure, costs less per vehicle, and can leave dedicated “quickways” to reach outlying areas, is generally better suited for sprawl or sprawl-conversion, but people have questions about it.  People often still see a bus, which they think of as noisy, dirty, and slow, whereas rail is fast, clean and tech-sexy.  The author cites the example of Toronto, which actually diverted funds from freeway projects to fund rail, and has had overwhelming success with it.  So even though BRT may be the easier route, it may be better for some municipalities to make the leap right to light rail.  Either way, transit systems need to be comprehensive.

Commuter rail: Once a gamble, TRAX ingrained in Wasatch Front’s future

This article by María Villaseñor is a great history of Salt Lake City‘s TRAX light rail along with some projections of its future.  Conservative groups protested its development up until opening day, when so many people wanted to get on the trains that hundreds had to be turned away.  TRAX has expanded from a single North-South line to a University of Utah line and an extension to an intermodal hub which links to FrontRunner, the commuter rail line that currently runs north of Salt Lake and will soon begin a new line to the South.  TRAX ridership has more than doubled since it first started.  The Utah Transit Authority (UTA) has plans to make rail the backbone of a public transit system that will have stops within one mile of 90% of the urban population of the entire Wasatch Front.  People are discovering that commute times are comparable during rush hour, and that you can actually relax and get other things done on transit instead of getting road rage in the gridlock on the freeway.  People assumed that Salt Lake residents would never give up their cars, but that simply wasn’t true, and isn’t for any other city.  Funding was a huge issue for TRAX, because Utahns are very averse to taxes, so UTA had to go to the Feds to get most of their funding.  They found that light rail is much more cost-effective than busing, to the tune of $1.25 per person on light vail versus $3-4 per person on bus.  Since TRAX has gone in, people have realized that it’s worth the investment, and voted for funding mechanisms for TRAX in both 2000 and 2007.  There are new lines proposed for west Salt Lake, West Valley City, Midvale, West Jordan, South Jordan, and possibly Draper.  Both TRAX and FrontRunner have set up transit-oriented development opportunities at their existing and future stops.  However, increased TRAX service should not be used as an excuse for decreased bus service.  Buses run infrequently on the Wasatch Front outside of Salt Lake City, and they need to have service improvements along with the rail systems.  That being said, before TRAX only 25% of people in the Salt Lake area had used transit in the last year.  That number is now 75%.  TRAX has done immense good in Salt Lake City and changed a lot of minds about transit in general, and I hope that this trend will continue.

Are banks a roadblock to walkable development?

Derek P. Jensen brings us this article on the only thing holding up transit-oriented and New Urbanist development in Salt Lake City: banks.  One of the biggest issues with banks is that their lending practices stress an abundance of parking, while one of the main purposes of these types of development is to reduce parking and encourage other modes of transportation.  Salt Lake City is having a hard time getting financing for the gateway district, which is expected to host a new TRAX light rail line and become a vibrant, walkable, 24-hour community, despite a number of local success stories in TOD.  Council Chairman Carlton Christensen explained that, even in the transit haven of Portland, early investors “had to have their hands held,” and the Council has the responsibility to educate investors.  Local builders agree; even after a tour of Portland and a conversion to the value of mixed-use development, they say they still have trouble finding financing.  Michael Morris of Zions Bank says that banks would be willing to be flexible if long-term investors were comfortable with less parking, but he doesn’t see that happening. “I don’t know if public transportation or fuel efficiency or the green movement is going to change that in the near term,” he says.  Apparently he’s never been to San Francisco, Portland or Washington, DC, or heard of Vauban, Germany or other communities making a lot of money off of green transportation and TOD.  Some people think that Salt Lake City is still a car culture city, but TRAX is already changing that, and as it expands, so will TOD.  Bruce Bingham, whose company is nearing completion of an office tower near the Gallivan Plaza TRAX station, deliberately scaled back the parking at his project because he knows that TRAX will  bring in workers without bringing in cars. “So far, it’s proven out that the TRAX stop is going to compensate for a lack of excess parking,” he says.  “The same conditions would exist for any transit-oriented development near a TRAX stop.”  He also says that developers shouldn’t worry about a lack of parking downtown. “The myth that there is a lack of parking in Salt Lake is just that: a myth.”  I hope that the continued success of TOD in Salt Lake City and elsewhere will soon convince lenders that these projects are worth their money.

UTA proposes high-density development in Sandy

Rebecca Palmer and Laura Hancock bring us this story on the rumblings of transit-oriented development in Sandy, UT, the southern anchor of the Salt Lake Valley and in some ways a growing compliment to Salt Lake City.  The current terminus of Salt Lake’s TRAX light rail is in Sandy, and they want to develop the area in a high-density, mixed-use fashion.  The development is facing some opposition, mostly because high density projects in Utah have historically been terrible, so high density is immediately associated with slums, and from local leaders who are afraid of the traffic increases in the area and don’t understand the fact that the whole purpose of transit-oriented development is to make people less dependent upon cars.  Currently, the station is home to about 1,200 parking spots, but the developers plan on taking 500 of those away and turning the land into buildings, which shouldn’t be a problem considering that the transit line is being extended and a lot of the people who used to drive to the station will be able to walk or drive to one that is even closer to their homes.  All I can say is that I hope that Sandy and UTA don’t kowtow to some of the conservative idiots that live in Sandy and work for and read the Deseret News, which published this story.  This could be one of the best things to ever happen to south Salt Lake County.

Next chapters in the Great Transit Debate

David Brewster brings us this article on the future of Seattle‘s Link light rail.  It cites a recent story from the Seattle Times complaining about the lack of parking at Link stations with the exception of Tukwila.  He says that, because planners wanted to make a livable, walkable community, they can expect fewer commuters on Link.  There is a possibility that commuters would park on the street of communities by train stations, and to prevent this many communities have set up parking pass systems.  “Areas around stations will be upzoned, driving up property taxes and increasing traffic. Feeder buses will flock to once sleepy commercial districts. Small shops will be driven out,” he says.

First of all, light rail isn’t built for commuters.  That’s what commuter rail is for.  Light rail should stop every half mile to mile, and should be surrounded by dense, mixed-use development, not parking lots.  Parking lots are fine for commuter rail, which stops every 2 miles or more, goes considerably faster, and is often grade separated, whereas light rail often isn’t.  Light rail is made for locals who may be traveling across town for work or entertainment, who may want to live car-lite or car-less.  So to say that commuters won’t ride it is missing the point.

As far as commuters parking on local streets, I don’t really see that as a big problem.  Most communities have adequate (if not excessive) off-street parking requirements, so locals should be able to park off-street okay.  On-street parking encourages people to walk past local stores where they may make purchases on their way home.  It also slows down traffic and buffers pedestrians from the road, making walking safer.  And if you’re worried about an inordinate influx of cars, you can always encourage fewer cars and get a significant revenue stream at the same time by making it pay parking.  So I don’t see the worry about on-street parking, as well as the permit programs (which are a big controversy in Provo right now).

Yes, areas will be “upzoned.”  They should be, to make the area around the stop more vibrant.  And yes, under a traditional system, this would drive up property taxes, but not under more reasonable tax systems such as Pittsburgh’s, which taxes based on the value of the land as opposed to the value of the building.  And as I’ve often quoted from John Norquist, there’s good and bad traffic, so to say that traffic would increase isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  Feeder buses should center on rail stops so that the rail is available to more people.  And who wants “sleepy commercial districts”?  Sleepy commercial districts are failing commercial districts.  More traffic means more people passing and stopping in shops, which means higher sales.  Local businesses will thrive, not be driven out.

I’ve commented a lot on Seattle’s transit system, which I have never seen, so I will leave that as a caveat, that everything I’m saying is theoretical and I may be off-base with some of my claims.  But based on my experiences in Salt Lake with TRAX and on everything I’ve ever read about transit, I think that Mr. Brewster may be out of line with some of his comments.

Residents offer ideas for North Temple transformation

Aaron Falk brings us this story on what residents imagine the North Temple corridor to look like in Salt Lake City.  They will be extending their TRAX light rail system from downtown to the airport along this road, and they have asked citizens to help them determine what it will look like.  Ideas included a tree-lined street with boutique shops and apartments; an entertainment district; and an ambitious plan to tunnel the surrounding freeways and put in large roundabouts.  This will be a real gateway to the city in the future, and its good to see the citizens getting involved.

Craig Mecham’s Sugarhouse Loop: a great idea

This article by Brent Pace gives us his opinion on the new Sugarhouse Loop development in Sugarhouse, one of the greatest historic neighborhoods in Salt Lake City, UT.  Sugarhouse has had a hole in the ground at its very center for a long time now which will one day host this new development, but some residents are opposed to it.  The development would include two highrise towers built on pedestals, which would mean that they would have a few stories flush with the sidewalk, much like what exists in Sugarhouse, and then the rest of the buildings woud be set further back, creating a human-scaled streetwall with a lot more above.  As I’ve stated many times before, I agree with Christopher Alexander that buildings should rarely be above four stories, and I think this especially true in Sugarhouse, where few of the buildings are more than three stories.  New development should respect existing architecture in scale as well as materials.  This development respects the materials, but not the scale.  That’s my biggest problem with it.  Other than that, I think it’s a great development.  The commercial uses could restore the small retailers that used to dominate Sugarhouse.  Salt Lake’s future plans to extend a trolley line from the existing TRAX station at 2100 South to downtown Sugarhouse would allow people to live there and travel all across the Salt Lake Valley without owning a car.  This would help cut down car emissions, the greatest source of pollution in the Salt Lake Valley, which theoretically would be a great selling point in Salt Lake’s greenest neighborhood.  Personally, I love Sugarhouse (I got my engagement pictures taken there).  But when I was there last 4th of July and the buses weren’t running, I had to walk 15 blocks on my gimp knee to the TRAX station to get home.  If it were easier to get there, or if I could live, work and shop there (especially at local shops), I think it would be an even better place.  And I think the development will be much better than the curent hole in the ground.

Now Arriving: Transit-Oriented Development

Sarah Goodyear of Streetsblog brings us this story on how the recent economic crisis may finally be bringing TOD to the forefront of the political and development discussions.  She links to articles on a variety of blogs as well as the New York Times that are discussing the mix of transit and housing.  She mentions a variety of cities that have top-notch transit programs, from Salt Lake to Orlando.  She even cites an article that discusses people in the Phoenix who live by light rail stations and don’t even own cars.  What a way to live.

John Norquist and others at Live Green SLC

For once, I get to do some first-hand reporting.

Yesterday Live Green SLC took place at Library Square in Salt Lake City.  I traveled to the event via UTA bus and TRAX light rail, which was delightful.  When I arrived I was greeted by what you often see at these sort of things: hippies selling hemp clothing and vegan food and Ford salesmen trying to convince you that an SUV that gets 22 miles to the gallon saves the environment.  I was initially disappointed, because I fear that both of these groups hurt the environmental movement more than they help.  But when the various events in the auditorium began, it was a pleasant turnaround.

John Norquist, president of CNU, was the first speaker.  He began by explaining what CNU was.  He said that it was formed as a reaction against the work of CIAM, the congress of Modern architects organized by Le Corbusier.  He commented on the works of Le Corbusier, Walter Gropius, and Oscar Neimeyer, all of whom had a large influence on modern suburban development.  He pointed out that it was interesting that New Urbanists are accused of being socialist when all three of these men were socialists or communists.  He compared city streets to a wetland, all saturated with cars, and how building freeways is a lot like channelizing a stream – it doesn’t solve the congestion, and can lead to more problems.  He used Detroit as an example of a city that has fulfilled modernist goals – built enough freeways to avail congestion – that in the process has lost 2/3 of its population and almost all of its vitality, not to mention jobs and industry in its latest hit.  “Congestion is like cholesterol: there’s good and bad,” he said.  He showed various examples of cities that have torn down freeways and turned them into vibrant, pedestrian-friendly areas (the most impressive of which was Seoul, South Korea).  He finished with a critique of the old LEED system, which would award a well-insulated building with solar panels even if all of its workers had to drive 50 miles to get to it, and applauded the new LEED-ND system, set to debut around the end of the year.  Afterwards I was able to talk to him about how to attract families back to cities and to improve city schools.  Despite his background as a Democrat, Norquist is in support of school vouchers as a way to get around endemically poor inner-city schools.  I found the discussion to be quite enlightening.

After a short break, Doug Fine, journalist and writer of Farewell My Suburu, talked about his journey towards being free of fossil fuels.  He was quite entertaining and did have some good points, but in some ways he was one of those hippies that I think is holding back the environmental movement (he mentioned multiple times that he meditates and does yoga in his barn every day with his goats).

The night finished up with a movie, Fuel, that I thought was extremely interesting.  It documented some of the actions of the military petroleum complex and explained some of the chemistry behind biodiesel and ethanol.  At the end of the movie it listed ten things that you can do right now to fight global warming and the importance of foreign oil, which I think everyone should check out and implement to the best of their ability.  Here’s the trailer: