Here’s a guy to keep an eye on:
Charles Marohn is a Professional Engineer licensed in the State of Minnesota and a member of the American Institute of Certified Planners. He is president of Strong Towns, a non-partisan, non-profit organization that advocates for changes in development patterns and a complete understanding of the full costs of methods of growth.
I referenced his TED talk a few posts ago in an Annals of Motordom – but here it is again, because it’s definitely worth a look if you missed it:
New Urban Network recently featured a post from him: A 45 mph World – ostensibly critiquing the design of an interchange but really making three points on why the vehicle-dependent transportation system we have built is just too wasteful to afford. Within the piece is an observation – and a clever new term – that’s worth highlighting:
Americans do not understand the difference between a road and a street.
Roads move people between places while streets provide a framework for capturing value within a place.
The value of a road is in the speed and efficiency that it provides for movement between places. Anything that is done that reduces the speed and efficiency of a road devalues that road. If we want to maximize the value of a road, we eliminate anything that reduces the speed and efficiency of travel.
The value of a street comes from its ability to support land use patterns that create capturable value. The street with the highest value is the one that creates the greatest amount of tax revenue with the least amount of public expense over multiple life cycles. If we want to maximize the value of a street, we design it in such a way that it supports an adjacent development pattern that is financially resilient, architecturally timeless and socially enduring.
These simple concepts are totally lost on us, especially those in the engineering profession. If you want to start to see the world with Strong Towns eyes and truly understand why our development approach is bankrupting us, just watch your speedometer. Anytime you are traveling between 30 and 50 miles per hour, you are basically in an area that is too slow to be efficient yet too fast to provide a framework for capturing a good rate of return.
In the United States, we’ve built a 45 mile per hour world for ourselves. It is truly the worst of all possible approaches. Our neighborhoods are filled with STROADS (a street/road hybrid) that spread investment out horizontally, making it extremely difficult to capture the amount of value necessary for the public to sustain the transportation systems that serve them. Between our neighborhoods, towns and cities we have built STROADS that are encumbered with intersections, vehicles turning across traffic, merging cars and people taking routine local trips. These are not fast, safe and efficient corridors.
At best, the diverging diamond interchange is putting lipstick on a pig. At worst, it is a continuation of our fantasy that somehow we can sustain prosperity without building places of value. The Death Star pedestrian trench is despotic and demeaning. In the big picture, it is also an utterly meaningless waste of money. We need to build places of value.
We need to start building Strong Towns.