Friday, August 16, 2013

I Walk A Lot, I Just Don't Walk Much

I live in Manhattan and walk just about everywhere I go. I walk to work, the grocery store, my son's day care, most errands, out to dinner, plus other regular and infrequent places I go. Since we (unnecessarily and counter-productively) label people by their transport modes, I am a Walker.

Now, my life isn't very exciting, but I do things sometimes. But while I walk a lot, I really don't walk much. Over the past week I have used the Moves app on my phone, which tracks distance covered, time spent traveling, steps taken, and other aspects of personal travel.  It's not perfectly accurate, but fairly close. It does not record my vertical transportation, mostly the stairs that I take. I probably walk up and down about 15-20 flights of stairs daily.  Here is a table describing how much I walked each day over the past week (the Friday is incomplete, but I won't be walking far to get home in a bit). So I average 2.2 miles of walking daily, though this is somewhat inflated by my activities last weekend. Saturday and Sunday featured not only my regular walks to and from my office on the Columbia campus, but walking to the D train to go to Yankee Stadium for a couple of baseball games. Monday, with the most walking, was a regular work day plus I met a friend for dinner in the Flatiron District. To get there I took the D train again, but south. Since it was a nice night I got off at Herald Square and walked down Broadway to about 20th. Then afterward I walked to 14th and 7th to get the 1 train home. These routes added a lot of extra walking and in no way represent the fastest or walking-minimized travel.

So what's the point? There are a couple from my anecdotes. First, it is really hard to walk great distances as part of normal daily activities. Even when people go out of their way to walk more, as I often do, it doesn't necessarily increase the distance traveled or calories burned that much. Because walking is slow, you just don't travel that far. Second, for planning, this means that density and mixing of uses is critical--as we well know--but also that weight related health benefits--e.g. calories burned--may be limited. The kicker is that the denser and more mixed the built environment is the less distance people will cover on foot. In my week described here I never walked enough to burn off a sweetened iced coffee, if I drank those. Here is a video of what 200 calories looks like, which is about the daily average calories I burned last week through my regular walking.

Walkable communities are sorely needed in our cities, but in the best walkable areas people don't walk all that far. We should plan for and encourage walkability because people like it, and we should be skeptical that a walkable built environment will do much for obesity, though there are other health benefits.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Big Week in Taxi and Jitney News

There was lots of stuff the past few weeks about taxis and jitneys. Here are a few links to the action with brief comments below each:

"All-Borough Taxis (Like Yellow, But Green) Hit the Streets" NY Times
(Anyone see one of these out in the wild yet? I will post if I see one in northern Manhattan)

"Ending the Jitney Menace"
(There are a lot of calls for jitney reform as an 8-month old was killed with one recently. Sounds like the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration may get involved. See next link.)

"Bayonne Police Have Issued Jitney Buses 200-plus Tickets in Last 18 Months"
(However, enforcement doesn't seem to be the problem. The driver that crashed and ultimately caused the death of infant was on the phone at the time, it seems. Perhaps this is a problem specific to jitneys, but I suspect the real problem here is with letting people drive.)

"Taxi hailing apps off to slow start in New York, but could still accelerate" The Verge
(This isn't surprising. The apps will allow taxis to find new markets, not serve existing ones, so it will take time to develop. You don't need an app to find a taxi in Midtown, which is where the Yellows are already. People and drivers in areas where Yellows are not pervasive will ultimately benefit.)

These next links are all about ride-sharing and the legal  and economic challenges that must be overcome. There is a lot here. The status quo is untenable but a fully deregulated environment isn't likely to work, either. I think part of the problem facing cities and planners (and entrepreneurs and others) is that few have a firm understanding of the intent of regulations within the taxi/ride-sharing industry. We've been regulating these services so long that the purpose of regulation is not clear. Regulations don't appear in a vacuum. Somebody wants them, designs them and fights for them. Now, many are fighting to keep what we have while others want to tear them down. It seems that this has caught many planners and regulators off guard, and we need new models of how to think about transport supply and regulation. I actually think the California utility model is promising and can maybe be expanded to bus services and conventional transit agencies.

"City Taxi Systems Struggle with Change"

"Taxi drivers sue, claim monopoly" Atlanta Business Chronicle

"Proposal Offered for County to Take Over City's Taxi Regulation" Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

"Seattle's ride-sharing debate reaches it's boiling point"

"Sharing economy drives into trouble with ride-sharing arrests"

"In California, They're Not Taxis, They'e "Transportation Network Companies"" WNYC

"California's New Rules Could Change Rideshare Game" NPR

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Watching the Wheels in the Village Voice

I am profiled in this week's Village Voice. Article here. Here is the crux of the way I  think about things:
"I'm very interested in what cities and communities can do," he explains. "I'm skeptical that we should be sitting around with our urban problems and waiting for Albany or waiting for Washington to step in and make the changes."