CNU blogs

Health Advocates Make a Case for Casino Revenues

Next City - Wed, 2015-09-02 16:42

(Photo by Jeff Kubina)

As American cities continue to flirt with legalizing casinos, one Chicago nonprofit is raising its hand for potential gaming revenues in the Windy City.

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A new report from the Health & Disabilities Advocates makes the case that since depression, alcohol and other health risks can be linked to gambling, income from casinos, if any were to ever open in Chicago, should help fund the city’s struggling mental health system.

According to Crain’s Chicago Business:

Illinois’ spending on mental health declined $187 million from 2009-12, and another $82 million in cuts now is on the table, the report said. State lawmakers have yet to pass a budget for a fiscal year that began two months ago.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel has said that if Chicago did allow casinos, revenue would likely be funneled toward the city’s police and firefighter pension funds. But mental healthcare advocates argue that they have a dire need too.

“Public services in Illinois statewide are underfunded for the most part, but they are particularly underfunded when it comes to things like mental health,” Ralph Martire, executive director of the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability, told Crain’s.

Undoubtedly, there’d be a long line for a cut of funds should the city ever get gambling, which, experts say, is a long shot at best.

Categories: CNU blogs, New Urbanism

Urban Farmer Wants to Grow a Washington, D.C. With Zero Food Deserts

Next City - Wed, 2015-09-02 15:18

Christopher Bradshaw

Next City isn’t just a news website — we are a nonprofit organization with a mission to inspire social, economic and environmental change in cities. Part of how we do that is by connecting our readers to the interesting people who are part of our Next City Network.

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Name: Christopher Bradshaw

Current Occupation: Founder and Executive Director, Dreaming Out Loud

Hometown: Morristown, Tennessee

Current City: Washington, D.C.

Twitter Tag: @doldc

I get to work by: Subway/Car

What was your first job? My first job was washing dishes at Pizza Hut at 14 or 15 years old.

What is your favorite city and why? I think that Toronto is my new favorite city. It’s a big city that feels welcoming, stays really clean and is really diverse.

Did you always want to be a social entrepreneur? Looking back at the arc of my life thus far, it seems that I was destined to be a social entrepreneur and a social change maker. I just didn’t know how I would get here. When I was in third grade (that’s nine years old), I helped to organize a boycott of recess among my classmates due to a teacher-imposed ban on tag. So you can say it’s always been in my blood!

What do you like most about your current job? I love working outside, being creative and growing food. I’m always astonished by the miracle of growing food, seeing a small seed that grows to a plant that provides nourishment (and tastes good). All of these aspects of my job are applied in my community, which makes it even more fulfilling.

What is the coolest project you worked on? The coolest project that I’ve worked on is at our urban garden space in Washington, D.C. It has a beautiful backdrop, a brilliant work of public art that covers an entire historic church. We are working to make it into a model of a highly productive, community-centered hub of agriculture.

Christopher Bradshaw is founder and executive director of Dreaming Out Loud, which was created as a response to the educational and economic disparities in underserved urban communities. Dreaming Out Loud’s mission is to use food as a tool to feed the dreams of all people, and build more resilient communities.

What are the hard parts about your job? There are two levels of challenge in my work: social and financial. Working within communities without equal access to healthy food, or often food at all, folks depend on our farmers’ markets for food access and affordability. Any challenge that affects our ability to be present, or provide incentive programs that help folks to afford produce means that someone may literally go hungry. That’s a lot of pressure! Financially, it has also been difficult to penetrate the funding community to access the funds to grow and scale our work, but that’s changing.

What is the biggest challenge facing cities today? I think that creating sustainable, rewarding, family-supporting wages for low-income, low-to-moderate-skilled individuals is the most critical challenge facing cities. Technology isn’t the solution for every social ailment or cleavage that the current economic system creates. You can’t under-resource, under-educate, over-police, over-incarcerate people for generations and then say that tech is going to save the day for the members of society we’ve left behind.

What’s your BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal)? My BHAG is to eliminate food deserts in Washington, D.C. and create 100 sustainable jobs with family-supporting wages through a just local food system.

What’s the best professional advice you have received? To never be afraid to fail, evolve and let go, and allow others to be creative within what you’ve initiated.

Who do you most admire? I most admire my mother. She’s accomplished so many things despite having to fight through racism, sexism and being born without the privilege of social position. She’s a true hero. Presently, and historically (and randomly), I also admire bell hooks, Martin Luther King Jr., Will Allen, Charlie Rose, LeBron James and Fannie Lou Hamer for various reasons.

What do you look for when hiring someone? Three things: commitment, inquisitiveness and integrity. I want to know that you are committed to the vision of a better world, that you question systems and ways to do things better, and that you are honest in intention and action, in all phases of life.

What career advice would you give an emerging urban leader? Practice what you preach. Ask questions. Build partnerships. You don’t know what you don’t know. These three statements will allow people to forgive you when you make mistakes, and allow you to learn what you need to, and build capacity to transform lives and communities in partnership.

Christopher Bradshaw was named a 2015 American Express Emerging Innovator.

Categories: CNU blogs, New Urbanism

Here's a map of... something in DC. Can you guess what?

Greater Greater Washington - Wed, 2015-09-02 14:45
by Scott Kaiser

Last month, we posted about a map of Georgetown that was unclear about what, exactly, it was mapping. We eventually got to the bottom of it, but the experience gave us the idea to create a mystery map of our own. Can you guess what this one is showing?

All maps made with data from the District government's open data portal with additions by the author using satellite imagery.

The maps in this post show the locations and sizes of a certain something in the District. Here are two clues for what it is:

  1. A national environmental non-profit recently named Washington, DC the number one city in the US based on how many of these it has.
  2. First Lady Michelle Obama is a huge supporter of these and started something similar at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

A zoom into Ward 3 for a closer look.

A zoom into Ward 6 for a closer look.

We'll hide the comments for now, but we'll unhide them and also update this post to share the answer on Friday!


Categories: CNU blogs

The MARC's Brunswick Line only goes one way in the AM and the other in the PM. It could do both.

Greater Greater Washington - Wed, 2015-09-02 13:30
by Miriam Schoenbaum

Service on the MARC Brunswick Line only runs one way at a time: toward DC in the morning and away from DC in the afternoon and evening, on weekdays only. Some MARC riders think there is a simple way to make service between DC and Brunswick run both ways in the early and mid-afternoon.

Photo by Phil Hollenback on Flickr.

Currently, the Brunswick-bound train that leaves Union Station at 1:30 pm (P871) runs only on Fridays. And when the train returns from Brunswick to Union Station in mid-afternoon (as P884), it does so without picking up passengers. Running P871 every day and having P884 pick up passengers would provide meaningful two-way Brunswick Line service.

CSX constrains MARC's ability to add service

Since 2007, the Maryland Transit Administration (MTA) has had the goal of all-day, two-way, and weekend Brunswick Line service. However, CSX, the freight railroad company that owns the tracks the Brunswick Line runs on, has said that MARC may not add trains on the Brunswick Line until Maryland begins to build a third track, which the state has not yet done.

At last week's MARC Riders Advisory Council meeting, riders (disclosure: I was one of them) talked to MTA officials about a way to get two-way service without adding trains to the schedule. The early-afternoon train to Brunswick (P871) and mid-afternoon return train to DC (P884) already exist; they just don't run every day. MARC need only restore daily service to one and passenger service to the other, and voilà: the first step toward full two-way service.

The Friday-only early-afternoon train could run every day

The early-afternoon train (P871) currently leaves Union Station on Fridays at 1:30 pm and arrives in Brunswick by 3:04. Before the MARC service cuts in 2009, this train ran every weekday. If you needed to come home early, that was the train you took. The number of riders on the train each day was low, but the proportion of MARC riders who used the train on occasion was high.

Almost seven years after the service cuts, the early-afternoon train is still running only on Fridays. Riders at the advisory council meeting wanted to know why. MTA has restored other service that was cut in 2009, like service on Columbus Day and Veterans Day. Also, because MTA kept the Friday service, the train already has a train slot, trainset (engine and passenger cars), and crew.

There could be passenger service toward DC in the afternoon

There was also talk at the advisory council meeting of service towards DC in the afternoons. The trainset and crew for the early-afternoon train to Brunswick return to DC as train P884, but P884 doesn't pick up passengers.

In the mid-1990s, there was a mid-afternoon train towards DC that picked up passengers. That train left Brunswick at 4:30 pm, with a scheduled arrival at Union Station at 5:30 pm, and flag stops along the way. Could MTA could restore this service as well?

One potential problem might be a delay in the return to Union Station. MARC uses the same trainset and crew for an evening train to Martinsburg, so a delay in P884's return would lead to a further delay for an outbound train. However, MTA could solve that problem by stopping the train only at Point of Rocks, Germantown, Rockville, and Silver Spring. This would add only a few minutes to the trip.

Discuss the Brunswick Line further at a meeting

There will be a public meeting about MARC Brunswick Line service and other transportation topics in the I-270 corridor, sponsored by state delegates from Montgomery and Frederick Counties, on Wednesday, September 9, at 7 pm, at the Upcounty Regional Services Center in Germantown. People from the Maryland Department of Transportation, including MTA, will be there.


Categories: CNU blogs

Using Technology to Create Better Traffic Counts

Planetizen blogs - Wed, 2015-09-02 13:00
Tired of standing on a street corner to count traffic? Technology is automating traffic counts and providing more detailed and accurate data to support planning.
Categories: CNU blogs

There may be hurdles to redeveloping the White Flint Mall, but not to tearing it down

Greater Greater Washington - Wed, 2015-09-02 12:00
by Jeff Poretsky

While a lawsuit threatens to derail the redevelopment of White Flint Mall, the deconstruction of the 1970's-era shopping center on Rockville Pike continues apace.

The mostly demolished mall. All photos from the author.

My normal commute to work has me bicycling around the west and north sides of the White Flint Mall property regularly. When I came back from vacation last week, I was amazed to see how far the deconstruction of the parking structure has come.

Developer Lerner Enterprises wants to turn the mall into a new urban neighborhood with shops, housing, and a new street grid. It's one part of Montgomery County's plans to make the larger White Flint area into a new downtown.


But department store Lord & Taylor, which still has a store at the mall, says that violates a promise Lerner made in 1975 to keep the mall a mall, and filed a lawsuit against the developer last year. Last month, a Maryland judge ruled in favor of Lord & Taylor and said Lerner has to pay them $31 million in "lost profits," which the Lerners say could imperil their plans to redevelop the site.


The mall closed in January and demolition started in July. The parking garages around the mall have been torn down and much of the mall's interior has been ripped out, but the structure's exterior remains.

Of course Lord & Taylor's building remains intact. So they will soon have a bunch of money (pending appeals, of course) and a stand-alone store in a temporary wasteland.


Categories: CNU blogs

Chicago Activists Draw Line From Fair Housing Rules to Public Transportation

Next City - Wed, 2015-09-02 11:00

(AP Photo/M. Spencer Green, File)

Per the Supreme Court’s June ruling, cities receiving HUD funds must now check long-entrenched practices of structural discrimination, like clustering affordable housing in just one or two zip codes. In the wealthy suburbs north of Chicago, a group of activists sees the federal overhaul as a chance to address one of exclusionary zoning’s equally problematic but less visible counterparts: transportation inequality.

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To demonstrate their point, Brendan Saunders of Open Communities and Kyle Smith of the Center for Neighborhood Technology cite Sunset Village, a manufactured housing community in Glenview. Originally built on unincorporated land, the affordable neighborhood has struggled with water contamination and a lack of basic infrastructure like fire hydrants over the years. Today, bus service remains infrequent. The 422 is the sole route on nearby Waukegan Road, and it runs only during peak hours. On weekends, it doesn’t run at all.

Comparing Sunset Village to a transit-oriented development called The Glen, Smith digs into the issue of economic opportunity.

“These two locations are just a mile apart, but from The Glen, a worker could get to 209,000 jobs within a 30-minute transit ride,” he says. “From Sunset Village, the number is less than half that.”

A 2012 report from the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research found Chicago to be the nation’s most racially segregated city, with historic reasons ranging from redlining and restrictive covenants to the construction of massive housing projects for black residents cut off from white neighborhoods. That same report did find increasing integration in the Chicago metro in recent years, and in July, The Atlantic lauded the region as a national model for Section 8. Thanks to a new fund-pooling mechanism, the city now shares voucher finances with outlying suburbs, meaning that affordable housing can be more equitably distributed throughout the entire metro.

Still, a report released by Smith and Saunders’ organizations argues that, even as the north suburbs implement more affordable housing, it’s not always near transit. This is particularly troubling as transit-oriented development gains prominence and popularity.

“In the northern suburbs, mixed-income housing and TOD have not often occurred together,” the report states, arguing that the trend cuts both ways. “In some places, station areas added market-rate condominiums, which put market pressure on existing rental housing and may have pushed some families to leave those areas. In other towns, affordable housing production occurred outside of station areas.”

Studying developments around CTA and Metra stations in Chicago’s northern suburbs, the researchers see a pattern of declining affordability.

“Around CTA stations, owner-occupied units increased by 11 percent while renter-occupied units declined by 14 percent, and around Metra stations, owner-occupied units increased by 7 percent while renter-occupied units declined by 14 percent,” the report states.

“Affordable housing is often delivered in the place that it’s easiest to do — not the places with the highest amount of opportunity,” Smith says.

Going forward, Smith and Saunders want to encourage the region to consider transit when thinking about HUD’s new mandates. Since 1968, the federal agency has ruled that grantees must “affirmatively further fair housing.” Under the law’s previous incarnation, a landlord couldn’t deny units based on a potential tenant’s race or religion. Now, however, HUD wants cities and counties to consider structural racism and segregation as potential barriers to the implementation of fair housing.

“TOD is by no means spelled out” in those new rules, Saunders says. “But we saw this as a prime opportunity to think about transit in the context of ‘affirmatively furthering fair housing.’”

Because TOD and affordable housing efforts are often “siloed from one another,” according to the report, Smith and Saunders propose a set of policies to help municipalities align the two. Suggestions include inclusionary zoning, density bonuses, lowering parking mandates and a host of funding mechanisms, from land trusts to low-income housing tax credits.

“We wanted to create a step-by-step guidebook showing how to tackle segregation within a community — showing all the different rules and regulations that go into the planning process,” Saunders says.

“When housing is added, it’s critical that it’s central and not ‘out of sight, out of mind,” he adds.

Categories: CNU blogs, New Urbanism

The 7000s will change the Metro fleet. Here's how.

Greater Greater Washington - Wed, 2015-09-02 10:30
by Matt Johnson

In April, Metro put the first 7000 series train into service. 748 of the new cars will arrive over the next four years, and they'll change the shape of the Metro fleet.

Photo by the author.

What will the 7000s be used for?

The genesis of the 7000 series railcar order was twofold: The primary reason was to expand the fleet by 128 railcars, the amount needed to operate the Silver Line phase I and II. The other reason, in the wake of the Fort Totten crash, was to replace the 1000 series.

In addition to these two purposes, Metro's contract with Kawasaki included options for replacing the 4000 series and to allow for 100% 8-car train operation.

In July, Metro ordered the 220 cars that were left on the contract. These were intended to ensure that every train in the system has eight cars. However, the Metro Board balked at spending millions to enlarge rail yards and upgrade power substations.

The jurisdictions which fund WMATA had already allocated the money to buy more cars. However, without yard space and power upgrades, Metro wouldn't be able to operate more 8-car trains or have the space to park them.

As a result, the Board agreed to the "Goldman Compromise." Under that plan, Metro would use the additional 220 cars to send the unreliable 5000 series cars into early retirement. The remainder of the new cars would go to allowing all Red Line trains to run to Shady Grove during rush hours, instead of having half turn around at Grosvenor.

Note that because some 1000 and 5000 cars are out of service due to incidents and reassignments, some of the cars that are replacements are also enlarging the fleet. For example, originally there were 300 of the 1000 series cars. Today, there are only 274 in service. But the 7000 program includes 300 new cars to replace the 1000 series, so for practical purposes, 26 of the cars will be fleet expansion cars.

What will the fleet look like in 2019?

By 2019, Metro should have received all 748 of the new Kawasaki 7000 series cars.

When the 7000 order is complete, the new cars will make up over half the fleet. By then, there will only be three railcar series: The 2/3000s (364 cars), the 6000 series (184 cars), and the 7000 series (748 cars).

That means that by 2019, the new cars will outnumber the old cars by 748 to 548, making up 58% of the fleet.

However, in terms of trains, the new cars will only make up about half the trains, since they can only operate in 8-car sets. The 748 7000 series cars could make up 93 trains, though taking into account a 20% spare ratio, in regular service, there would really only be enough cars to make up 74 trains.

The 548 older cars will probably be mostly operated as 6-car trains, which would (after the spare ratio) make up 73 trains.

And because of the number of trains required to run normal service, they'll need all of those trains. Running some of the older cars in 8-car sets would reduce the number of trains available. For that reason, in 2019 it's likely that all 8-car trains will be 7000s and all 6-car trains will be 2/3k and 6k cars.


Categories: CNU blogs

Breakfast links: One step forward

Greater Greater Washington - Wed, 2015-09-02 09:10
by Angela Martinez

Photo by j Gregory Barton on Flickr.Her plan for the homeless: Mayor Bowser is pushing for year-round emergency shelter for homeless families. She also wants to build efficiencies, with shared kitchens and bathrooms, instead of apartments that had been planned for homeless housing. (Post)

Teach a kid to bike: Every DC second grader will learn how to ride a bike this year as part of the district-wide PE curriculum. The program hopes to improve equity in urban cycling by giving all children the skills and confidence to take advantage of resources like bike infrastructure. (CityLab)

Fixing the finances: WMATA has taken steps to fix major gaps in its financial record keeping and management in hopes that the FTA will ease restrictions on the transit agency's ability to borrow federal funds. Right now WMATA is basically "living paycheck to paycheck." (Post)

Bike share pick: College Park will likely pick the firm Zagster to run its bike share system. The city backed out of a slow-moving deal with Capital Bikeshare in order to keep a time-sensitive state grant meant to fund the program. (Diamondback)

Sue me, SSTC: Metro officially took over the Silver Spring Transit Center on Tuesday. Last week, WMATA and Montgomery County sued the companies that designed, built and inspected the long-delayed transit center for $166 million. (Post)

School's out forever: Since 1986, lobbying efforts have ensured that Virginia students start school after Labor Day in order to support the tourism industry. School leaders have fought the law unsuccessfully, but some districts can get a waiver. (WAMU)

Mapping our history: Alexander Graham Bell lived at 15th and Rhode Island NW. Check out this map of the neighborhood that he drew by hand. (Ghosts of DC)

The Lance Armstrong Effect: The biggest spikes in cyclist injuries and death have occurred in those older than 35. Why? Experts speculate that the "Lance Armstrong Effect" resulted in more inexperienced riders picking up racing as a sport. (NPR)

Have a tip for the links? Submit it here.


Categories: CNU blogs

Uber? Taxi? Lyft? Finding the Cheapest Ride

Next City - Wed, 2015-09-02 09:02

(Photo by Alexander Torrenegra)

It’s a Saturday night, you and your friends are ready to go out, and you need a ride. Which service is the best option in your city? More importantly, among Uber, Lyft, Sidecar or a traditional taxicab, which is the cheapest? Using a recent GOBankingRates analysis of ride pricing in the U.S., CNBC reports that “Uber is the best option in 16 out of 20 major cities.”

According to CNBC:

Uber and Lyft use identical fare formulas in New York, so they tie as the cheapest option for a 20-minute, 10-mile ride. In New York, that would cost you $32.50, about 56 percent more than the same trip in the second most expensive city, Seattle. That’s more than twice the cost of the cheapest cities — Jacksonville, Florida, and Dallas.

“I think it’s important to be aware of how the local pricing works in your city, because that has a significant impact on how much you’re going to pay,” GOBankingRates’ Casey Bond told CNBC. “People who tend to use ride shares use them a lot, and are often familiar with how they work and the nuances for their city.”

CNBC used the GoBankingRates report and stacked Uber, Lyft and Sidecar against traditional taxis too. Here’s a look at what they determined was the best deal in six cities. Find more cities and service pricing breakdown details here.

San Francisco: Sidecar
San Diego: Uber
Phoenix: Lyft
Dallas/Fort Worth: Uber
Chicago: Sidecar
Boston: Uber

Categories: CNU blogs, New Urbanism

Developers Build Walkable Neighborhoods With Focus on Community Wealth

Next City - Wed, 2015-09-02 08:30

(Photo by Baminnick)

“People always say, ‘well Monte you have vision,’” says Monte Anderson, a 57-year-old small-scale developer in the Greater Dallas region. “There is no vision. I have one thing: I have desperation. Out of desperation, just to have a coffee shop in my neighborhood, or a good place to get a hamburger, or a place to go to work, or a decent house, that’s how I create things. Out of desperation.”

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Anderson, born in Wichita Falls, about two hours northwest of Dallas, has been doing real estate development since the 1980s. “I started out as a community activist, trying to clean up my communities,” he says. “Some would call it the wrong side of the railroad. I’ve watched white flight, black flight, brown flight my whole life.”

He buys up small lots in southern Dallas County, sometimes empty, sometimes just neglected, and focuses on live-work-style development. He finds entrepreneurs in the community who want a building in which they can live, rent apartments and operate their businesses. He likes to call it “farming.”

By co-signing a loan, he helped photographer Manny Rodriguez purchase part of a small lot on Fort Worth Avenue, not far west of Downtown Dallas. The neighborhood is about three-quarters Latino. Median household income, $45,170. Twenty-three percent of residents live below the federal poverty line.

“Monte had done real estate deals for so many years and I had not, it all seemed very complicated to me,” Rodriguez told me via email. “Lots of hiccups along the way,” he says, but Anderson was patient and helpful. Rodriguez fixed up the old farmhouse as a living space, and he built a photography studio next to it for his business.

“Gave him 10 years to pay me back,” Anderson says. “After he paid me back early he said ‘okay how much of the building do you own?’ I said none. He asked again how much. I said none. He said ‘no way.’ I said here’s the document we signed and it says when you do this and this, I’m out. It’s yours.”

It wasn’t the first time Anderson had such a discussion, and it won’t be the last. He’s one of a growing group of small-scale developers around the county that is organizing around their central goals of revitalizing communities, one small lot at a time. They typically don’t rely on local tax subsidies or other incentives, and beneficiaries are usually local entrepreneurs and neighborhood residents. They favor walkable, mixed-use, mixed-income, racially diverse communities.

Through the Congress for the New Urbanism, several of them got together and this year began gathering common resources and organizing a small-scale developer program, including small-scale developer boot camps. The first boot camp was in Duncanville, Texas, one of the communities where Anderson works. There are two more scheduled for later this month in Maine and New Hampshire, and one in Atlanta, Georgia, in October.

“We’re doing a couple of these this year to work out what the content will be, how to serve those who show up,” says Jim Kumon, a Twin Cities-area developer who is currently serving as an informal point person for the boot camps. (They’re in the process of setting up a new group that will serve as the long-term home for the boot camps and other work to support small-scale developers.)

“There is no lack of places in the country where there is opportunity to renew more walkable communities, places that have the bones for this kind of economic success,” says Kumon. “People have lived in these places a long time, but they haven’t had the benefit of building the wealth for living there a long time.”

Small-scale development, according to Albuquerque-based developer R. John Anderson, is a tremendous opportunity for people of color and low-income communities to claim a long-denied share of wealth and opportunity. Inclusiveness is especially critical in an era when cities and close-in suburbs are seeing a trending demand for walkable neighborhoods.

“The way to make those changes more graceful than if we were to see disruptive gentrification would be to do it on a smaller scale, with more participation of people in those neighborhoods already,” R. John Anderson says. “It makes sense to scale things properly for the communities you’re operating in. It’s a question of advancing skill sets and business models and networks among small operators.”

Both he and Monte Anderson lead the boot camps. (They’re not related but, Monte says, “We are like long lost brothers.” Check out this podcast with the two of them at CNU earlier this year.)

“This is just how we used to build wealth in America,” says Kumon. “We cut a lot of that short when we started encouraging people to move away into situations where they couldn’t live next door to the business they own. That was a mechanism for transferring wealth. We want to start that up again.”

Categories: CNU blogs, New Urbanism

In Nairobi, Health Apps Need an Internet Connection

Next City - Wed, 2015-09-02 07:00

A shop selling mobile phone products in the Kibera slum in Nairobi, Kenya (AP Photo/Khalil Senosi)

“Somebody beat me,” Liz says, explaining her blackened left eye. She declines to say much more, but it’s easy to guess that the incident didn’t involve a rapid response by paramedics. Liz is a vendor whose tiny stall is perched on a hill in Kibera, a community of nearly one million people in Nairobi, Kenya. One of the largest slums on Earth, the area is too densely packed to permit ambulances — if there were any available – to enter. “If you call the government … it’s difficult for them to report,” Kibera phone vendor Gerald Graiga says.

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Worldwide, mobile phone apps are providing health information, linking people to providers and promoting healthy behavior. So when people like Liz have medical emergencies, technology could possibly reduce the gap in response.

In a recent New England Journal of Medicine article, University of Pennsylvania researchers David Asch and Roy Rosin say mobile apps aren’t just trendy. They describe a nascent transformation: healthcare that benefits from apps that allow increased communication and gathering of data on patient behavior.

The authors outline multiple methods of rapid data-gathering that are already established practices of the corporate sphere, most of which offer the means to quickly observe users’ health behavior and road-test apps under development using first-draft approximations. In a press release, Asch refers to this as “a culture of experimentation, in which front-line clinicians and employees can turn insights into initial data, with snippets of time and small budgets.”

Using health apps to cover the gap in emergency services in Kibera sounds appealing and feasible. A sprawl of tin shanties on narrow, winding, unmarked lanes, the Kibera community is lacking sufficient quantities of almost any amenity one could name. It is not lacking in vibrancy; locals are welcoming, and the hyper-intense violence that characterizes a place like Khayelitsha, near Cape Town, South Africa, is less visible here. Nonetheless, the area is known for its lack of safety. According to the Kibera Law Centre, “Violence is rampant … women are routinely beaten, raped, or sold into prostitution; men and women are denied police protection [and] medical care … .”

Among the parts of society that work best are cell phones — as common here in Kibera as most of the planet. They’re already in use against the communal violence in the area. In 2007, Kenyans pioneered mobile technology that rapidly gathered information about post-election violence as it unfolded. A text message system was even briefly used to help map a serious outbreak of post-election violence in 2007 and 2008.

In Blueprint for Revolution, political organizer Srđa Popović describes a youth-led effort to develop a Kibera map with GPS technology. The project initially involved a quick draft of a map with data points noting risks of violence and other factors relevant to quality of life. Printed on paper and passed out to community members, the map garnered community participation resulting in “five hundred data points and then hundreds and hundreds more.” Eventually, the United Nations funded “map-related alerts via text messages sent directly to their cell phones” on violence outbreaks in the neighborhood. Despite resorting to paper and pencil, the youth-led rough draft map was an approximation of how the final map and text system. In a way, it was not all that different from the methods Asch and Rosin explain.

Those methods surpass what other researchers say most health apps currently do. Another recent study includes a sweeping review of health-related apps for mobile phones. Lora Burke, the lead author of that American Heart Association-funded paper, notes that the findings confirm that healthcare generally lags behind private industry.

“There’s a lack of evidence supporting the apps, particularly in terms of sustainability,” Burke says. Her paper notes an exceptional rate of “declining engagement and attrition (often as high as 40%–50%)” as “characteristic of digital health interventions.”

Burke emphasizes that the evidence base is too weak to comment on Africa. But on the street in Kibera, another reason for poor app engagement seems clear: global inequities in Internet access. While phones are common almost everywhere on Earth, the ability to access the Internet is by no means as ubiquitous.

In Kibera, I interviewed about a dozen people. Most showed me simple phone models, ranging from flip phones to models incapable of downloading. (Even these weren’t ubiquitous. Two prospective interviewees slouched away, alleging their phones were charging at a distant location, and another briefly showed a clearly broken phone before refusing to answer any more questions.)

Very few said they’d downloaded an app, and most said their browsing was limited to a Facebook app pre-installed on local down-market smartphones. Nobody seemed familiar with Ushahidi or the map app, and even informal businessman Gerald Graiga, whose work involved refurbishing a wide range of phones, admitted the apps were unfamiliar.

If there is a way to use a phone to access emergency care in Kibera, it is a rather old-fashioned one. “Just phone a friend,” suggested Graiga, an answer most people echoed.

Some didn’t even offer that idea. When I asked Liz, who sells phone minutes, if she’d been able to access any help for the assault that left her bruised, she dropped her head onto the counter and let out a nervous laugh that, after a second, sounded like crying. It was the only answer she gave.

Categories: CNU blogs, New Urbanism

Contradictory conclusions and disappearing data

City Observatory - Wed, 2015-09-02 02:30
Part 2: A curious discrepancy between two major congestion reports using the same data

Yesterday, we explained why one of the most common takes on the Texas Transportation Institute’s “Urban Mobility Report” is actually totally unjustified: Though many media outlets repeat the UMR’s claim that traffic delays are worse today than it has been since 1982, TTI completely changed the way it measured congestion in 2009, making comparisons before and after that date impossible. Moreover, its pre-2009 data are based on estimates that have shown to be biased in favor of showing more congestion than actually existed.

Since then, TTI has walked away from its pre-2009 approach, when it couldn’t measure speeds directly and so used traffic volume data to estimate them instead. Since 2009, TTI has used data from Inrix, a company that uses data from vehicles connected to electronic networks to measure travel speeds in real time. In theory, at least, the switch to Inrix data should be more reliable.

But there’s a problem—a very big problem.

There’s a profound and unexplained discrepancy between the travel trends in TTI’s latest report and those reported by Inrix. For the period 2010 to 2014, Inrix says that traffic congestion is down by 29 percent—while TTI says it’s up by 4.7 percent.

The TTI report neither acknowledges nor explains the discrepancy between its tabulation of the Inrix data and and that reported by Inrix.

For years, Inrix has regularly published monthly metro- and national-level data on its National Traffic Scorecard. We’ve been following these data for years, as they provide an unique perspective on shifting travel patterns. The Inrix website reported these data monthly from January 2010 through July 2014. Like the Texas Transportation Institute, Inrix reported both a “travel time index”—ratio of travel times in peak to off-peak hours, and the additional amount of time in hours trips took due to traffic congestion.

Inrix’s National Traffic Scorecard data show that traffic congestion peaked in 2010, declined through 2011 and 2012, and has risen slightly in 2013 and 2014. In a May 2012 press release entitled:  “Traffic Congestion Plummets Worldwide: INRIX Traffic Scorecard Reports 30 Percent Drop in Traffic Across the U.S.” Inrix said its Annual Traffic Scorecard revealed “a startling 30 percent drop in traffic congestion in 2011.”  According to data on the Inrix website, average congestion levels, as measured by the travel time index from August 2013 to July 2014 (the latest 12-month period for which Inrix disclosed this data on its website) were 29 percent lower than recorded in calendar year 2010 (the earliest 12 months in its data reported on the website). A direct reading of the Inrix data suggests that time lost to traffic congestion in 2014 was lower, by nearly a third, than in 2010.

Moreover, it’s interesting to note that INRIX reported widespread declines in traffic congestion in almost all major metropolitan areas between 2010 and 2012. A majority of large metropolitan areas saw traffic decline by more than a third; only one metropolitan area—Austin—recorded an increase in congestion.

(Monthly Inrix data compiled from the Inrix National Traffic Scorecard; see postscript for further details)

In contrast, the Texas Transportation Institute’s 2015 Urban Mobility Report claims that the average peak hour trip took 21 percent longer than a non-peak trip in 2010, and 22 percent longer in 2014—an increase of 4.7 percent over four years. Their annual figures suggest that congestion was flat through 2010 and 2011, and increased in 2014.

To be clear, we don’t doubt that TTI’s numbers are in fact based on the underlying Inrix data. But the fact that they come to such different conclusions from Inrix’s publicly available numbers suggests that something else is going on—some notable set of assumptions, for example. Unfortunately, TTI’s report does not itself explain how it reached these figures, even though this is not the first time we (or others) have pointed out this discrepancy.

On top of this, there’s another issue: in addition to finding different trends, Inrix and TTI suggest very different current levels of congestion, with Inrix’s estimate being much lower than TTI’s. Inrix says that in 2014, congestion caused the average trip taken in the peak hour to be 7.9% longer than the same trip taken at another time. TTI says that in 2014, congestion caused the average peak-hour trip to be 22% longer than off-peak. As a result, TTI claims the average traveler experiences 42 hours of delay per year, while  Inrix estimates that number at just 13.7 hours.

The fact that two different summaries of the same underlying data produce such remarkably different results demands an explanation. There is probably some clear, explicable reason why the two studies produce different results. Again, it’s likely that the two studies used different assumptions. But the fact that different assumptions can produce such wildly different—and in this case, conflicting—results tells us that the conclusions presented here are highly sensitive to the assumptions used. And in neither case are the assumptions or the calculations sufficiently transparent that any independent third party can verify these claims.

And that’s important because the researchers at the Texas Transportation Institute, despite their residence in an academic institution (Texas A&M University), have repeatedly declined to submit their work for peer review. Given the wide variation in the results, the absence of clarity in the methodology and assumptions, and the lack of peer review, no one should put any weight on the claims of the Texas Transportation Institute that it can accurately measure or faithfully report the level or trend of traffic congestion in the nation.

A Post-Script: Disappearing Data

Unfortunately, the Inrix website no longer displays monthly data showing the Inrix calculation of the travel time index and hours of time lost for the US and metropolitan markets. It appears that the link to this data was removed from the Inrix website on August 27, 2015.

At City Observatory, we’ve bookmarked and regularly visited the Inrix National Traffic Scorecard page. For several years, the page has featured a Tableau data presentation which allows users to view current and historic traffic congestion data for entire nations and for selected metropolitan areas. The Tableau page is interactive and shows line charts indicating the travel time index for a selected geography for several months and years. Inrix stopped updating the monthly market-level travel time index data with July 2014.  (These data are the source of the monthly national Inrix congestion numbers reported in the first chart in this commentary).

On August 26th the Scorecard page included data from 2010 through 2014, including an interactive chart that looked like this:

Following the release of the Texas Transportation Institute’s report, the link to the Tableau data was removed from this page and replaced with a page of text with links to the Texas Transportation Institute’s urban mobility scorecard page.

Inrix screenshot as of September 2, 2015.

Relying on our cache of the original website, and links identified by the Wayback Machine, we identified the address of the Tableau files containing the National Transportation Scorecard. They are located here.

Categories: CNU blogs, New Urbanism

Tipsheet: Building Stronger Organizations Through Shared Leadership

Alliance for Walking&Biking - Wed, 2015-09-02 01:00
[blogimage][/blogimage] Research shows that the most effective and successful organizations and businesses are those that capitalize on diverse perspectives and strengths within their ranks. From key volunteers to paid staff to the board of directors, the biking and walking movement is full of leaders — how can we tap into that wealth of talent and initiative to create leadership structures and pipelines that build a stronger, more inclusive movement?
Categories: CNU blogs, New Urbanism

Chicago Sues Red Light Camera Firm

Next City - Tue, 2015-09-01 14:44

Red light camera in Chicago (AP Photo/Stacy Thacker, File)

Critics of Chicago’s red light cameras got some good news this week. According to the Chicago Tribune, which has done a series of investigations into the traffic ticketing effort, Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration is suing the city’s former red light camera operator, Redflex Traffic Systems, for more than $300 million.

Related Stories

The Tribune reports:

The lawsuit details an alleged conspiracy in which Redflex executives teamed up with [former top city transportation executive John] Bills to orchestrate cash payments to him through a consultant acting as a bagman, as well as providing Bills with vacation trips, computers, golf outings and other perks. In exchange, according to the lawsuit, Bills coached Redflex on how to beat its competitors, orchestrated key votes at City Hall, manipulated field tests to favor the company, covered up problems with Redflex’s performance and cost taxpayers millions by encouraging city officials to buy Redflex cameras instead of leasing them.

In March, I wrote about another Tribune investigation that showed the Emanuel administration had been ignoring data and national safety recommendations regarding the controversial cameras.

According to the Tribune, this week, the Mayor’s office didn’t respond to their questions about whether ticketed drivers could expect reimbursement if the city wins any money in the case.

Categories: CNU blogs, New Urbanism

Think you know Metro? It's whichWMATA week 66

Greater Greater Washington - Tue, 2015-09-01 14:40
by Matt Johnson

It's time for the sixty-sixth installment of our weekly "whichWMATA" series! Below are photos of 5 stations in the Washington Metro system. Can you identify each from its picture?

Image 1

Image 2

Image 3

Image 4

Image 5

Please have your answers in by noon on Thursday. We'll hide the comments so the early birds don't spoil the fun for the rest of you.

The answers will appear on Thursday. Good luck!

Information about contest rules, submission guidelines, and a leaderboard is available at">


Categories: CNU blogs

Van Ness residents say their neighborhood isn't safe for walking

Greater Greater Washington - Tue, 2015-09-01 13:32
by Marlene Berlin

"My biggest concern at Van Ness is pedestrian safety. I feel my safety is constantly at risk," Benae Mosby said at a recent meeting of the Van Ness Main Streets board. As the communications and community relations manager at WAMU, whose headquarters are at Connecticut Avenue and Windom Place NW, Mosby walks this troubled intersection daily.

Connecticut Avenue at the Van Ness Metro station. All photos by the author.

It is an especially challenging time for Mosby and others on this stretch of Connecticut. On the east side, a one-block segment of the sidewalk is closed to accommodate the construction at Park Van Ness. On the west side, the entrance to the Metro has been closed since late June.

ANC 3F commissioners pushed DDOT to provide some relief to pedestrians, but to no avail. DDOT said it would add no second crosswalk on Connecticut at the south side on Windom (a few years after one of its own studies recommended one), and after adding a few more seconds to the crossing times at Veazey Terrace and Windom, DDOT said it would add no more.

With all this pressure on the intersections and pleas for changes falling on deaf ears at DDOT, a predictable outcome set in over the summer. The intersections became especially taxed in the morning rush hour, and pedestrians piled up and had a hard time getting through in a single cycle. Morning commuters, especially those traveling by bus to the Van Ness Metro stop, started taking more risks to avoid missing a walk cycle and potentially their train. Several could be seen crossing mid-block from the bus stop on the west side of Connecticut at Veazey Terrace to get to the Metro entrance on the east side.

As the problem grew, ANC 3F Commissioner Mary Beth Ray urged police action to deal with these hazardous crossings.

Police tried to make things safer

On Thursday, August 13th, MPD put up a yellow tape barricade to block mid-block access to the Van Ness Metro station. Officers were also handing out brochures and talking to pedestrians.

But by the next morning, the tape had been torn away. The next week, MPD tried another tack: Placing the tape where bus passengers are most tempted to cross.

These are short-term measures that do not address the real problem: The infrastructure is unfriendly to pedestrians, and right now it looks like DDOT would rather pedestrians bear the safety risk than accommodate pedestrian needs.

Metro escalator work has cut off what was a safer option

These hazards are what made the "secret" Metro passage under Connecticut Avenue, now lost to the escalator rehab project, so appealing.

"Metro has closed our 'secret' shortcut!" lamented Dorn McGrath, a long-time Forrest Hills resident who misses the safer underground route. "Pedestrians in the know wanting to cross Connecticut Avenue at Veazey Place could bypass the wait for a walk signal and the heavy traffic and cross in safety by using the Van Ness/UDC Metro tunnel. One could reach or depart from the Starbucks without having to rush across six lanes.

"Alas, the Metro entrance next to Starbucks is now closed and a pedestrian has no choice but to cross either through the heavy traffic or a block earlier."

To achieve Vision Zero, a lot has to change

Going back to Mosby's issue, even when the Metro entrance and Park Van Ness sidewalk reopens, the traffic and short crossing times will remain hazards to pedestrians at Windom and Veazey.

This will also continue to be the case at other Connecticut Avenue crossings, such as the one to the north on Albemarle Street. There, resident and seniors advocate Barbara Cline has seen car crashes, drivers running red lights,blocking intersections, speeding through an apartment building driveway from Connecticut to Albemarle.

Even with a new 25-year plan from DDOT that makes pedestrians the number one policy priority, the changes needed to make this a reality seem light years away. Photo enforcement can help, but the reality is that we live in a car culture, and pedestrians still need to push for changes to make room for us on the street.

Cross-posted at Forest Hills Connection.


Categories: CNU blogs

10 Keys to Making A Great City Plan

Planetizen blogs - Tue, 2015-09-01 13:00
Too many city plans represent business-as-usual, sit on a shelf collecting dust, or miss the chance to reflect a truly game-changing moment in the direction of a city. Want your new city plan process to result in a great plan? Consider these 10 keys.
Categories: CNU blogs

California Cities Smell the Consequences of Saving Water

Next City - Tue, 2015-09-01 13:00

Large storm drain system flowing into Aliso Creek in Orange County, California (Photo by Shannon1)

Many Californians are doing their part to conserve water amid the state’s four-year drought. Some have even taken to publicly shaming their neighbors about wasting H2O. Unfortunately, their efforts could contribute to another mess: sewer spills.

Related Stories

According to the Los Angeles Times, quicker showers mean less water moving through — and flushing out — sewer systems. And of course, when it comes to pipes, buildup’s never good and, in fact, can be corrosive. Damaged pipes then increase the chances of spillage. Even without a record-setting drought, the Twin Cities are grappling with similar challenges thanks to water conservation. Crews in the Midwest cities are injecting a resin into pipes for reinforcement and protection in cases of corrosion.

“Every citizen thinks he or she is saving mankind, and I’m sympathetic,” George Tchobanoglous, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at UC Davis, told the Times, “but it just so happens that our basic infrastructure was not designed with that in mind.”

Without fast action and proper management, California’s cities will stink of sewage. Many are already experiencing problems. The Times reports that San Francisco residents are already picking up foul scents. In Sacramento — where they are already working on upgrading old water meters with the hope of pinpointing leaks — there’s “increased debris and more grease in pipelines.”

Thanks to its wastewater system designed to rely on gravity to keep things moving, Los Angeles has been luckier.

Lester Snow, a former head of the Department of Water Resources who now directs the California Water Foundation, told the Times that these issues shouldn’t make Californians lean back on the tap. “My view is that any such consequences can be managed if and when they arise, but this should not be an excuse to not implement efficiency measures.”

Categories: CNU blogs, New Urbanism

10 Keys to Making A Great City Plan

Brent Toderian - Tue, 2015-09-01 13:00
Too many city plans represent business-as-usual, sit on a shelf collecting dust, or miss the chance to reflect a truly game-changing moment in the direction of a city. Want your new city plan process to result in a great plan? Consider these 10 keys.
Categories: CNU blogs, New Urbanism
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