Thursday, February 19, 2009

The problem with the Upper Canal

I was writing a response in a thread over on OkMet about extending the Bricktown Canal to the Myriad Gardens (a GREAT idea in my opinion) and I was harmoniously letting my feelings flow onto the keypad of my laptop when suddenly I realized just what the problem with the Upper Canal is. Without much further ado I'll just post what I said over there.

Here the water just compliments the pedestrian path and makes it interesting, provides nice views. Instead the Bricktown Canal has the freeway mentality: the path on the side is kind of like a feeder road while the canal is the main draw. It should be the other way fact I wouldn't be opposed to not doing the water taxis anymore, especially if they should ever stop being profitable. But I am still totally in support of expanding the canal through the downtown area. That probably explains why a lot of the canal-front property has never been finished, despite all the potential.

"Money Machine"

This should be pretty common sense. But believe it or not, streetcars are being hailed a "money machine" for building cities. Urban development follows the transportation investments, and in almost every instance of a city getting serious on putting in light rail (LRT), streetcars, commuter rail--whatever as long as it's not the cheapo scam known as bus rapid transit (BRT)--a major explosion in urban development has followed these transit lines. Whether the city is as big and hopelessly sprawled as Phoenix, AZ..or as small and quaint as Charlottesville, VA, this is is a trend that has proven true. Rail transit is the way to go, and the investment will be more than worth it in the end. There is no reason for OKC and Tulsa to not be BUILDING (not planning or intending to plan) a better transit system right now. We've been talking about this for years now. In OKC we've been trying to get light rail in downtown for over a decade now when it was originally included in MAPS 1 (and I bet we all wish we had gone ahead with light rail back then).

What you have here is a system being put in Charlottesville, VA, population 45,049. The orange is streetcar, which connects UVA to downtown Charlottesville all the way across town. Not even kidding here. So if a picturesque Appalachian college town can do light rail or streetcar, WHY CAN'T WE?? There are well over a million people in the Greater OKC Area. If we got serious about a full-fledged system and broke ground in a week on one, there would be at least 1.5 million in the Greater OKC Area by the time the starter lines were all finished. How many highway projects will we have spent billions of dollars on by then?

Not convinced? Then read this. Last month at a transit symposium in Dallas (and trust me, Dallas transit symposiums go the same way as ones in OKC go, where consultants start off by boldly telling them their city stinks) a writer for the Dallas Observer, Jim Schutze, wrote the following:

"Streetcars did come up. The former mayor of Charlottesville, Va., home of UVA, spoke and talked about how they are the smallest city in the country with a planned streetcar, apparently from the The University of Virginia campus to a downtown area. He said the streetcar won’t be on the ground for another seven years, but, because developers believe the city means business about it, the values and actual redevelopment along the planned route have gone through the roof, a point he illustrated with some amazing photos. Strictly from a development and tax base perspective, a well-placed streetcar line looks pretty much like a money machine."
IN a city with the famed DART system and the Trinity Railway, arguably a transit brightspot in the middle of the Sun Belt, they still realize they have a long ways to go. They have brought in some people who have done incredible things with transit. I think it's incredible for a city of 45,000 people to be doing streetcars. I think it's even more incredible that for this city of 45,000 it is still so true that density will follow the transit investments. There is no need to wait for an area to achieve a certain level of density before even reluctantly deciding to go forward with rail. You just pick an area that you want to see built up and you be proactive by shaping growth yourself AND not letting growth shape your transit network (that would be reactive planning).

The Cold.

I have never known such cold, nipping wind, and incessant what we saw all of January and the first half of February here in Calgary.'s Canada, I knew that. But it wasn't supposed to get like this, I was told. Everyone around here says this is the worst winter in quite a while. To illustrate..I give you a photo of a grandma out on the Waterfront for some reason, wearing a babushka and pushing a cart. And like typical Calgary, construction moves forward at a fast pace on all of the projects around the city and people go out and brave the elements day to day. It's not bad--it's just a different lifestyle for sure than Oklahoma. One where you have a new appreciation for summer, triple digit heat, and all things Global warming.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Faux New Deal..what does it mean for us?

What we need is a stimulus. $780,000,000,000 sounds like a lot of dough, but fortunately we're only talking in American dollars. I'll break it down, dollar-by-dollar..

  • Tax cuts ($275 billion)
This will include a $2,500 tax credit for higher education. Wow. I seriously doubt that this will actually provide very much significant relief for students paying their way through college. My parents paid over $20,000 for my first two years at OU, not including the house I shared with a few friends my soph year. How does a $2,500 tax credit begin to help my parents whose investments have tanked in the last year? Are these people serious? Also includes a $7,500 tax credit for first-time home buyers. This is basically the same as a government-issued ARM. We went after all of the banks who issued ARMs, but now we're going to do the exact same thing for the good of the economy. We're going to tell the newlywed 20-something couple that should really be renting for now to go ahead and buy that new cookie-cutter home out in the burbs even though they can't afford it in this economy, because we're going to give you a one-time tax credit on $7,500 that will expire after this year. Talk about promulgating the cause.

  • Education investments ($141.6 billion)
$120 billion in blank checks to school districts to essentially do whatever they want with as long as it can fall under the following categories: preventing cutbacks to key services, using existing federal formulas, meeting key performance measures, and my personal favorite--providing high-priority needs such as safety or critical needs, which may include education. The rest of the 141.6 goes into increasing the Pell grant by $500 (as if a majority of the population will ever see a penny of that) and "modernizing education" whatever that means. I wish someone would explain "modernizing education." I didn't realize it was education that was clearly still in the stone age. In that case, someone, please bring us out of the stone age!

  • Health care investments ($112.1 billion)
Obama has actually been so open (a rare thing for him) to allude that this will be needed in order to prepare America for government health care. I really think it might be time for America to have socialized health care, because the current system has left plenty uncovered and we know how tragic it can be when that happens in the most dire situations. Thinking prudently, we as a nation spend way more of our GDP on health care than any other western nation. Thinking principally, today we live in a world where society must be able to provide the following basic needs for its people: food, shelter, and now..medical care. Because of the exponential rise in medical costs due to unnecessary litigation, you won't get medical care unless you can afford the risk you represent to the current system. That needs to change.

  • Welfare programs ($102 billion)
This is mostly to cover the expected increase in welfare programs. The largest portion is to go towards an increase in unemployment benefits, the rest will go into Food Stamps and additional Medicaid insurance.

  • Infrastructure investments ($90 billion)
This is the small portion that is supposed to stimulate the economy and is creating all of the jobs Obama says that we'll need, or else. This is also what James Inhofe, not exactly my favorite Senator, was alluding to when he said the stimulus is 93% spending and 7% stimulation (which is the bizarre kind of statement only our beloved Senator Inhofe could make) which sounds like something a Sex-Ed-teacher-turned-Economic-Advisor would say. But I think he's spot-on in a way: So much money is being spent, but so little of it is actually intended to "stimulate" the economy. The federal breakdown is $31 billion for bringing infrastructure up to energy standards, $30 billion for highway construction, $19 billion for public works, and $10 billion for rail. To which I say.. you have to be kidding me, right? I would think that Obama of all politicians would understand the negative impact on urban planning and the entire nation for that matter that highways have inflicted, and in order to get out of this economic slump, we are to build more?

Oklahoma is only going to get $465 million of this $90 billion..that would be a big in-your-face for voting against Obama by the widest margin. We, the 28th most-populous state, are recieving 1/180th of this money. Is nobody up in arms about that? What can we even do with $465 million? That would build us like, one freeway. And you can forget any rail coming out of this. Tulsa and OKC are going to fight till the death for the money to put it to good use, and then they'll rise up and realize the Turnpike Authority gobbled it up. Phil Tomlinson, the director of the Turnpike Authority, has already told us where we can expect every penny of it to go: widening the Creek Turnpike and the Kilpatrick Turnpike. Phwew, because that will help with those nasty traffic jams that plague the Kilpatrick Turnpike.

  • Energy investments ($58 billion)
Most of this is to go toward funding an electric smart grid. I don't even know what that is, and neither do 99.4% of the population, so I'll just skip this. If Obama told me without this we would be living in the dark for 20 years, I would believe him and send frantic emails to my family's congressman.

  • Telecommunications investments ($3.85 billion)
Wireless broadband deployment grants, broadband data collection, and DTV-to-analog converter boxes. 1, I thought Al Gore already invented the Internet; and 2, I thought we already funded the DTV conversion? There isn't the possibility some of this is redundant spending? No way!

What a rip-off.

Demographics of "great cities"

I thought I would point out a few cities that would dispel the theory that great cities have great statistics backing them up. In fact, in several instances, great cities have pretty average statistics backing them up. The following information is from I've compared back-to-back Portland, Charlotte, Austin, Omaha, OKC, and Tulsa. They're all pretty similar, in fact no city has a clear advantage over any other, except in population, where Portland is clearly a lot bigger than Omaha and the rest just fill in the spaces. I was especially surprised by how high crime is in Portland and Charlotte.

Portland, OR

Metro population.. 2,159,720
City population.. 575,930
Population change 1990-2000.. 21%
Population change 2000-2007.. 24%
Daytime population change.. +121,743/23.0%
2000 crime index (avg is 320.9).. 636
2007 crime index (avg is 320.9).. 497.3
Poverty.. 15.1%
2007 unemployment.. 4.7%
Per capita income.. $22,643
Median house/condo value.. $257,300

Charlotte, NC

Metro population.. 1,897,034
City population.. 671,588
Population change 1990-2000.. 73.2% (540,828 - 395,823)
Population change 2000-2007.. 20.9%
Daytime population change.. +114,655/21.2%
2000 crime index (avg is 320.9).. 677.1
2007 crime index (avg is 320.9).. 648
Poverty.. 12.4%
2007 unemployment.. 4.1%
Per capita income.. $29,825
Median house/condo value.. $255,032

Austin, TX

Metro population.. 1,598,161
City population.. 743,073
Population change 1990-2000.. 39.1%
Population change 2000-2007.. 10.5%
Daytime population change.. +127,328/19.4%
2000 crime index (avg is 320.9).. 441.7
2007 crime index (avg is 320.9).. 467.1
Poverty.. 17.5%
2007 unemployment.. 3.5%
Per capita income.. $29,825
Median house/condo value.. $195,200

Omaha, NE

Metro population.. 829,890
City population.. 432,921
Population change 1990-2000.. 16.1%
Population change 2000-2007.. 11%
Daytime population change.. +76,558/19.6%
2000 crime index (avg is 320.9).. 524.3
2007 crime index (avg is 320.9).. 428.5
Poverty.. 14.7%
2007 unemployment.. 3.1%
Per capita income.. $21,756
Median house/condo value.. $126,600

Oklahoma City, OK

Metro population.. 1,262,027
City population.. 537,734
Population change 1990-2000.. 15.3%
Population change 2000-2007.. 8.1%
Daytime population change.. +94,645/18.7%
2000 crime index (avg is 320.9).. 677.4
2007 crime index (avg is 320.9).. 565.8
Poverty.. 16.2%
2007 unemployment.. 4.4%
Per capita income.. $19,098
Median house/condo value.. $122,700

Tulsa, OK

Metro population.. 955,643
City population.. 384,037
Population change 1990-2000.. 7%
Population change 2000-2007.. -2.7%
Daytime population change.. +74,836/19.0%
2000 crime index (avg is 320.9).. 600.6
2007 crime index (avg is 320.9).. 683.0
Poverty.. 14.1%
2007 unemployment.. 4.2%
Per capita income.. $21,534
Median house/condo value.. $110,200

2 posts you should check out

For those of you that don't frequently read imageNative America (Blair Humphreys' blog) and OKC Central (Steve Lackmeyer's blog) if anyone doesn't read those blogs..these are two posts that you should read. 1, about the aerial evolution of Bricktown from a Google Earth perspectus, and 2, a COTPA self-examination pop quiz. Put yourself in COTPA's would you like it if you were the joke of the town?