Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Conservatives versus Libertarians on Streetcars

KPMG projected net operating costs of the Cincinnati Streetcar, after fares and advertising revenues, to range from $1.88 million to $2.44 million--about $1 million less than a "trolley on rubber tires."  

During the recent saga of the Cincinnati Streetcar, commentators often pointed to Portland as evidence that streetcars encourage economic development.  In response, some anti-rail commentators pointed to a report by the libertarian Cato Institute critical of the Portland Streetcar.

William Lind of The American Conservative co-authored a study refuting much of Cato's report.  You can find a link to Lind's report HERE.  Lind establishes that, on a per passenger basis, streetcars are more economical to operate than buses.  In Cincinnati, Mayor Cranley's proposed "trolley on rubber tires" would have cost at least $4.4 million annually to run, while a City-funded KPMG audit established that the streetcar's annual operating expenses would be at least $1 million less and, after fares and advertising revenue, range as low as $1.88-2.44 million.  Streetcars have an operating cost advantage because they attract and carry more passengers than buses.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Why the Cincinnati Streetcar Matters

KPMG is auditing city staff's close-out estimate for killing the Cincinnati Streetcar.  Streetcar supporters are criticizing KPMG's scope of work for including an estimate of operational expenses over 30 years, without an estimate of the City's return on investment during the same time period.  

Not often have I strayed beyond Central Florida local politics in these blog posts, but the national ramifications of the attack on the Cincinnati Streetcar by a new Mayor and council majority, while it's under construction, do concern me.  Douglas John Bowen wrote in Railwayage.com:
“This is not just a Cincinnati issue.  The anti-rail troubadours are going to use the same tactics in other cities to derail light rail” and, presumably, streetcar launches, when and where they can.  ....
For as we pro-rail folks know now, if we didn't before: Planning isn’t enough.  Voter approval (in multiple referendums, yet) isn’t enough.  Passenger rail projects remain under attack even as construction is ongoing and funds are committed. The public willing to pay for streetcars and light rail is finding its normal public funding just isn't enough....  U.S. passenger rail progress, in short, remains held to high standards other land modes somehow simply skirt. It’s not fair, maybe. But it is the reality of the day."  
 Over 1,000 volunteers are gathering signatures to force a vote on a city charter amendment to save the streetcar.  Meanwhile, Mayor Cranley announced he would support completion of the Streetcar if its supporters can line-up commitments for $80 million in private money to pay for operations over 25 or 30 years--a virtually impossible task to accomplish in less than a week.  UPDATE 12/1713 -- Cranley rejected an offer by the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority ("SORTA") to assume responsibility for operating costs, which would take the streetcar off the City budget.  It is believed that SORTA is attempting to salvage its relationship with the Federal Transit Administration, harmed by Cranley and Council members attempting to kill the streetcar.

Simulated photo from the City of Cincinnati
UPDATE 12/18/13: The cost of completing the streetcar is just $3.5 million more than the mid-point of the range of the cost to cancel, according to the newly released KMPG audit.  The cost to complete the project is $68.9 million.  The cost of cancellation, not including litigation costs, is between $50.3 million and $80.1 million, the midpoint of which is $65.4 million.

UPDATE 12/19/13: Cincinnati City Council voted 6-3 to resume construction of the streetcar, with council members David Mann and Kevin Flynn providing the decisive votes that would override a mayoral veto.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Electric Vehicles Are Coming

A Shell Oil Company report predicts the virtual extinction of internal combustion engine motor vehicles by the year 2070.  The slide towards alternative fueled vehicles, especially electric vehicles known as EVs, is in its infancy, but has begun.  EVs could reach a critical mass by 2030.  Within a generation, the poor and truck drivers will drive a majority of the gasoline-powered engines remaining on our roads.  Yes, one day even you will drive an EV or other alternative-fueled vehicle.  

My new car, the Nissan LEAF, is the first mass market EV.  It is a technological marvel, offering immediate torque when pressing the "gas" pedal, initially surpassing that of a sports car.

The LEAF regenerates electricity in the battery when coasting and braking.  The LEAF drives and feels like a conventional, very quiet automobile, but without spark plugs, muffler, transmission, tailpipe, or a gasoline engine. It's simpler design could avoid many costly repairs--at least until the battery needs replacing in about a decade.  Consumer Reports recommends the LEAF, predicts excellent reliability based on three years of data, and notes very high owner satisfaction.

The LEAF is a joy to drive with a low center of gravity, created by its battery placement in the floor.  A former race car driver was exuberant with the LEAF's first iteration three years ago:

A Nissan commercial lampooned gas-powered cars, implicitly it's own cars, and explicitly, the Chevy Volt (electric range 38 miles with gas back-up motor):

At the higher end of the cost spectrum, Consumer Reports gave the Tesla Model S (MSRP of $70,000 before a $7,500.00 tax credit) its highest performance rating ever--a 99 out of 100.  In 2014, Tesla expects to release the Model X, an electric SUV with three rows of seats and futuristic doors that open upward. 

Other vehicles will soon compete with Tesla. In the next couple of years, Infiniti will sell the gorgeous LE, built on the LEAF platform. We will also see introduction of the funky-looking BMWi3 (not my taste). A Cadillac EV, expected to arrive in 2014, will carry a jaw-dropping $74,000 MSRP.  Tesla, meanwhile, is making plans for a$35,000 EV to compete with the LEAF in a few years. 

For now, a $7,500 Federal income tax credit--which can reduce even the alternative minimum tax--is encouraging EV sales.  Critics, some of whom rarely criticize tax breaks, contend that the EV market cannot sustain itself without such "government subsidies."  That is true in the short-run while production ramps-up to achieve economies of scale to bring prices down to those of conventional automobiles.  

Critics--especially at Forbes magazine--contend that "America’s energy and automotive futures should be left to the free market."  This assertion ignores the far larger, albeit indirect subsidies that prop-up gasoline-powered motorcars.  The United States spent $145 billion at the height of the Iraq War in 2008.  Would we have invaded and occupied Iraq for years if the Middle East was not supplying us with the majority of the oil we consume?  One observer from the James Baker Institute estimated, "At $20 billion a year in military expenditure to protect the flow of oil, the US taxpayer is spending roughly an extra hidden $4 to $5 a barrel for the crude oil beyond its market price."

In addition, the Internal Revenue Code allows oil companies to immediately deduct the cost of preparing oil fields, instead of capitalizing costs over time like many other capital investments. 

Congress has not raised gasoline taxes from 1993 levels and, each year, raids general revenues to pay for the nation's federally-funded highways.

In contrast to the tens of billions spent subsidizing the oil industry, $7,500 in tax credits for 200,000 Nissan Leafs (the number of production vehicles that will trigger the phase-out of subsidies), will amount to a mere $150 million. 

Not a bad investment to start seriously cutting air pollution.

Not a bad investment after watching oil spurt uncontrollably from the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico, fouling once-pristine beaches from Florida to Louisiana, with incalculable economic repercussions. 

Critics contend further that EVs merely offload their emissions onto the power grid. That is true. However, Florida's coal power generators are operating at day and night and releasing emissions whether or not people are plugging-in their vehicles.  Other Floridians are charging their EVs from a grid powered partly by nuclear energy, which emits no greenhouse gases.  

The LEAF gets the equivalent of 129 miles per gallon in city driving. The Toyota Prius "only" gets 50.  My old 2002 Lexus ES 300 only got 17.  The environmental benefits of an EV are blatantly obvious. 

Speaking of the popular Prius, Toyota is making a deliberately slow evolution to electric vehicles, offering only 11 miles of range on a Prius plug-in. Toyota is wringing as much profit it can out of its investment in gas-electric hybrid technology.  I don't blame Toyota, which is selling as many Priuses each month as Nissan is selling LEAFs in a year. 

However, Toyota risks getting left behind if it does not increase the range on the Prius plug-in and offer it for sale nationwide. Currently, Toyota sells it in only 14 states--and Florida isn't one of them.  

In my judgment, the LEAF is more fun to drive than the Prius, which has an annoying bar across the rear window and, oddly, no instrument panel through the steering wheel.

Toyota expects to introduce hydrogen fuel cell vehicle late next year as a 2015 model with range on par with gasoline-powered vehicles and requiring only three minutes to fill-up.  However, virtually no hydrogen fuel cell infrastructure exists yet in the United States.  Images of the 1937 Hindenburg explosion could make consumers wary.  An expected price of around $50,000 will assuredly keep Toyota's vehicle (like Tesla's Model S) out of range for most people.  Despite no harmful emissions (only water vapor), hydrogen fuel could be as expensive as gasoline. 

The most significant factor holding back widespread adoption of electric cars is their range. For the 2013 model, Nissan increased the range of the LEAF from 75 to, in my experience, 84 miles on an 80% charge in ECO mode. The Tesla Model S has a whopping 265 miles of range, but needs a very large--and expensive--battery. 

As battery technology improves, range will increase, and more people will view electric vehicles as a viable option.  At present, the LEAF is suitable for normal-range commuting, such as my 10 mile round-trip commute to work.  Nissan says most people drive 29 miles a day and the LEAF's range exceeds that by two and one-half times. My family will still need our gas-combustion minivan for long trips and I will need it when I must attend a court hearing in Jacksonville, Tampa, or Miami.  Charging stations are becoming more prevalent, but it is not practical to plan on 20-30 minute charging sessions every 75-80 miles.   Once mass market EVs reliably hit 150 miles of range (two and one half hours of highway driving), they will become quite popular.

While many wait for the technology to improve, I will drive around Winter Park enjoying the equivalent of 129 miles to the gallon--without a tail pipe. 

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

David Mann, please save the Cincinnati Streetcar

Why can't Cincinnati figure out why their kids move away?   I was one of many in my graduating class at Walnut Hills High School who left Cincinnati more than two decades ago.  Many young people followed after me.  Sadly, just as the City began investing in a streetcar system--proven to attract young people and families in other cities--a new Mayor-elect, "Tea Party Democrat" John Cranley, is attempting to kill the project.  If he succeeds, he will mire Cincinnati in mediocrity, lawsuits, and continued population decline. 

I take great interest in, and remain fond of Cincinnati, where I grew-up and where my parents still live.  I cheer for the Reds and Bengals like I did as a kid.  I have fond memories of Mount Adams, the historic Camp Washington Chili parlor, eating Zip burgers at Mount Lookout Square, and visiting my Dad's downtown office, high in what was then called the Central Trust Tower.  Many of these memories, not coincidentally, are of the City's neat urban environments. 

The decision facing the Cincinnati City Council in early December is far different from the decision that faced Florida Governor Rick Scott when he killed high-speed rail when newly elected.  In Florida, not one rail was laid.  The State had not yet put the project out for bid. 

In Cincinnati, by contrast, contractors are already laying rails.  Duke Energy has relocated underground utilities, and is seeking reimbursement of $15 million from the City, but, according to the City Solicitor, has a poor case for recovery from the City if the streetcar is completed.  (If the streetcar is killed, then Duke is entitled to the $15 million without any defense.) The United States Department of Transportation has agreed to invest over $44 million in the Cincinnati Streetcar. Over $100 million is already spent or committed in contracts signed with those who designed and are building the system.  If the City Council kills the streetcar, lawsuits for the contractors' lost profits will place the city in a legal quagmire for years.  Construction litigation is some of the most expensive.  The City will face huge judgments for breach of contract on an unprecedented scale.

The United States Department of Transportation has already vowed to sue the City for the monies it granted to build the streetcar, if not returned.  DOT will not look kindly on the City's other funding requests, including for additional capacity on the city's congested interstate highways and to re-build the aging Brent Spence Bridge. Cranley reportedly cancelled a meeting with federal officials.  No doubt, he's already feeling cold winds from Washington.

Other cities are clamoring for Federal dollars to build streetcar systems, which are proven, due to their perceived permanence, to generate investment in real estate and business far in excess of the public investment in the system.  That's what happened in Portland where a dilapidated industrial zone became the incredible Pearl District.  Any Cincinnati City Councilman who votes against the Streetcar, and who has not visited Portland to see how these systems work in real life, has committed a disservice to his or her constituents.   UPDATE 12/4/13: It was revealed during a contentious City Council meeting that Council members voting to "pause" construction had never ridden a modern streetcar.  Councilman Wendell Young extended an invitation from the Mayor of Portland to the City Council to visit. 

In contrast to the graph at the top of this blog post, since 1992, Portland's population has increased more than 25%, from 1.6 million to 2.25 million.  Downtown Portland, as a result of investment in light rail and a streetcar system, is thriving, attracting young people and young families.  When I visited the Pearl District over the summer with the Rollins College Master of Planning students, I saw more than two dozen young Moms jogging in a line with their baby strollers.  Has anyone seen that occur in Cincinnati's downtown core?

The Cincinnati Streetcar has already attracted millions in new real estate investment, rejuvenating Over-the-Rhine, which, when I was a kid, was one of the nation's worst examples of urban decay.  

When the new City Council is sworn-in this December, four members will favor continuing streetcar construction, and three, including Cranley, will oppose it.  Whether Cincinnati's downtown core rises to the next level, or whether the City follows Cranley on a self-defeating drive towards mediocrity and fiscally crushing litigation, will likely rest with David Mann, one of the most respected names in Cincinnati politics.  Mann and Councilman Charles Winburn, who pledged to "keep an open mind," are considered the remaining swing votes now that P.G. Satterfeld announced that he would vote to continue the project and Kevin Flynn announced his opposition.

UPDATE 12/4/13: Mann told WKRC-TV he could vote to finish the streetcar pending an independent audit of top streetcar official, John Deatrich's cost estimate for cancellation: "Absolutely. If the cost of completion and the cost of termination are close to each other I'm in."   

David Mann was a constant presence on the City Council, serving as Mayor when I was a teenager and, later, as a United States Congressman.  I've always looked up to him as a thoughtful statesman.

After a long hiatus from public life, Cincinnati voters returned David Mann to the City Council based on promises to exercise fiscal prudence, including scrutiny of the streetcar project, which he thought the City should have cancelled when Ohio Governor Kasich eliminated State funding for it.  David Mann will be 78 years old when his term expires.  He can afford to act beyond politics, conduct an unbiased fiscal analysis, consider the impending cost of litigation (which he grasps as a prominent attorney), and do what's best for the City of Cincinnati.  As a candidate, he spoke in favor of a "detailed look at the contracts that have been executed so that a real and accurate price tag for stopping the project can be calculated.  ... This review must be as thorough and transparent as possible so that the entire community can be informed of all the pertinent information.  A decision can then be made as to whether continuing the project makes sense for our community."  I would look for Councilman-elect Mann, and a majority of the new Council, to initially vote in favor of suspending--but not permanently ending--work on the streetcar while this analysis takes place. UPDATE 11/21/13: The U.S. Department of Transportation would consider a suspension a default and would require payback of several million within 30 days and forfeiture of the remaining grant, according to testimony at a Cincinnati Budget Committee hearing.   Federal funds are ineligible for winding down the project.  A suspension without default would require a negotiated deal with DOT.

UPDATE 11/28/13:  The City Council could direct that, temporarily, no further rail installation occur beyond where streets were already demolished and further direct the restoration of streets where rails were laid, keeping existing rails intact.  This would pause rail expansion temporarily with the intention of not triggering a default under the City's grant contract while the contract close-out estimate is reviewed.

Mr. Mann must ultimately decide whether to cancel the Cincinnati Streetcar, approved by voters, not once, but twice, with more votes than Mayor-elect Cranley ever received in his election with dismal, 28% turnout. (Unfortunately, the third time wasn't the charm.  Elections do matter.)   Cranley announced he will appoint Mann vice-mayor, a well-deserved role, but which some perceive as an effort by Cranley to sway Mann to vote against  the streetcar.  However, Mann suggested he won't feel beholden to Cranley: "When we disagree, we'll disagree with respect and go forward." 

UPDATE 11/21/13: The cost of canceling the project is about $125 million, only about $8 million less than the direct cost of completing it.  Moreover, cancellation means forgoing tens of millions of increased tax revenues along the route over the coming decades.   A 2007 economic impact study found, in the worst case scenario among cities that built streetcars, a positive economic impact of $2.70 for every $1.00 spent.  If the project is killed, close-out costs will amount to $33.6-$47.2 million.  (That figure, however, assumes amiable settlements with the contractors and suppliers, who would demand their lost profits.  Litigation lasting years, sapping City personnel and resources, would be inevitable.)  The $32.8 million the City will have spent by November 30, 2013 will have been wasted.  The Federal Government announced that it would re-allocate $40 million it granted to Cincinnati to streetcar projects in other cities, rebutting Cranley's assertion that he could get the funds reallocated to highway projects.  (Governor Kasich would have discretion to reallocate only about $5 million of the funds.)

The bottom line is that Cranley wants the City to throw away more than $100 million, not counting increased tax revenues, and blast a hole in the City's operating (as opposed the capital) budget or saddle Cincinnati's kids with debt for nothing in return.  Cranley's position is not fiscally conservative.  It is economically irrational.  It is anti-business. Mr. Mann attended the hearing  at which the project close-out cost estimates were presented.  I have not seen any credible criticism of the estimates in the media by anyone with experience building transit projects of this magnitude.  Even the formerly anti-streetcar Cincinnati Enquire changed its position and now supports completion. 

Due to widespread and intense backlash, Cranley now says he wants a "trolley bus" on rubber tires.  It would cost just as much to operate as a real streetcar as well as cost at least $10 million to implement.  We have a rubber tire trolley on International Drive in Orlando, and frankly, it's lame.  Because a city can cancel or re-route it easily, "bus trolleys" have no demonstrated capacity to attract redevelopment or new business.  Cincinnati deserves better.

I hope that, after the final vote to kill or complete the Cincinnati Streetcar is taken, I will still look up to David Mann as the true statesman I know him to be.  A legacy of a revitalized Over-the-Rhine, spurred by the streetcar, must be more desirable to a political leader of his stature than a legacy of wasting tens of millions, with nothing to show for it.  Polls show that more than 80% of young people want to live in vibrant, urban--not suburban--environments.  Stop driving away your children and grandchildren, Cincinnati.  Please save the streetcar, Mr. Mann. 

UPDATE 12/19/13: Cincinnati City Council voted 6-3 to resume construction of the streetcar, with council members David Mann and Kevin Flynn providing the decisive votes that would override a mayoral veto.  

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Ft. Lauderdale Adopts Complete Streets and Implementing Manual

It's so easy for a local government to approve of a resolution supporting a Complete Streets policy, that is, streets designed for the comfort of all users, whether motorists, pedestrians, bicyclists, or transit users.  It's a more complicated, and impressive undertaking to create a manual to guide implementation of such a policy.  That's what Ft. Lauderdale did. You can link to the Cit'y's new Complete Streets manual at this LINK.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Orlando Negotiating with Bike Share Company

The City of Orlando is negotiating with CycleHop to install a bike share system at thirty locations in the City, according to The Bugalower.  CityHop says it is looking for a corporate sponsor (one must assume they're reaching out to SunTrust Bank, having proposed the name "SunCycles").  CityHop expects to have the system operational when SunRail begins service in spring 2014.  You can find a list of preliminary locations at THIS LINK.

Streetfilms posted this video about the debut of CitiBike, New York City's bike share system:

Monday, October 7, 2013

It's No Myth: Roundabouts Have Higher Capacity

Mythbusters found that a roundabout has a capacity about 20% higher than an intersection controlled by four-way stop signs.  Roundabout professionals who viewed the episode commented that the roundabout, as laid-out, could have absorbed even more traffic. One professional contended that, with proper geometry, the roundabout could have absorbed as many as 2,200 vehicles in an hour.  Another roundabout expert opined that the roundabout would have further outshone the conventional intersection had pedestrians taken part in the test.  

Ignored Signs on Bike Trails

Cross-Seminole Trail -- Bicyclists neither stop, nor walk their bikes across this residential street with light motorist traffic.

After a year of riding the Cross-Seminole Trail, I have never seen any of dozens of bicyclists obey this stop sign at Shale Court, except for a handful of instances when a motorist stopped before turning onto S.R. 426.  Shale Court has light traffic and I have never seen anyone walk a bike across it.  The purpose of doing so, as the sign mandates, eludes me.  These signs are unnecessary and should be replaced by a simple yield sign, if anything.  

UPDATE 10/16/13 -MetroPlan Orlando has established a Trail Traffic Control Working Group to address the proliferation of stop signs on a Central Florida's trail network.  Outstanding effort by Keri Caffrey in bringing this issue to MetroPlan''s attention.  More information at Commute Orlando at this LINK

Monday, September 23, 2013

Bike Parking Ideas

Given the amount of rain Central Florida experiences, I'd like to see more covered and protected bike parking.  We have good examples in Winter Park:

Covered bike parking at Alfond Sports Complex, Rollins College.

Covered bike parking at Lakemont YMCA in Winter Park. 

The new Fresh Market on Mills, adjacent to the Orlando Urban Trail in the City of Orlando, placed bike parking in the open, instead of under the adjacent covered area:

DeBartolo Development could have provided covered bike parking at the unused building corner.

Streetfilms.org posted a video on bike parking in Pittsburgh, with a number of good ideas:

Friday, September 20, 2013

Visible Mile Markers Needed on Cady Way Trail

Cady Way Trail - Embedded location markers are virtually invisible from a distance, difficult to read upside down, and difficult to understand. 
Orange County removed the old mile markers on the side of Cady Way Trail and replaced them with small location markers imbedded in the asphalt.  The new markers are difficult to see and impossible to read upside-down (if bicycling in the opposite direction).  If you can glimpse one, while bicycling at 12 miles per hour or more, you'll find them difficult to comprehend.  This morning, I caught a split-second of marker CWT-30.  As far as location goes, what does that mean?  The trail isn't anywhere near 30 miles long. 

If I ever come across someone experiencing a medical emergency on the trail, I'll rely on the GPS in my cell phone to inform the dispatcher of my location.  I can't see myself running off to find the nearest embedded marker.  Where is it?  Am I running away from the closer one? 

Seriously, Orange County, bring back visible mile markers on both sides of the trail, place them every quarter mile, and coordinate with the City of Orlando for consistent signage between Aloma and Lake Druid Park. 

Monday, September 16, 2013

Another Study Linking Childrens' Physical Fitness to Memory

Here's a summary from the Los Angeles Times of a study conducted by researchers at the University of Illinois, published on September 11:
[T]hey recruited 48 kids who were 9 or 10 years old and asked them to learn the names of 10 fictional regions on a made-up map.

Half of the children in the study ranked in the top 30% of fitness (as measured by a treadmill test) for kids their age and gender; the other half ranked in the bottom 30%. Other than that, the kids in both groups were basically the same in terms of socioeconomic status, ADHD symptoms and scores on an intelligence test. In both groups, about half were boys and half were girls.

The children spent one day using iPads to learn the geography of the fictitious maps. In some cases, the learning was reinforced by short quizzes; in others, there was only memorization. Their recall was tested the following day.

Overall, the kids who were physically fit got an average score of 54.2% and the kids who were not fit got an average score of 44.2%. The difference was more pronounced when children were asked to remember the map they had learned without the benefit of quizzes – the fit kids scored 43% on average, while the unfit kids scored 25.8% on average.

Those results suggested to the researchers that “higher levels of fitness have their greatest impact in the most challenging situations.” They also speculated that most of the benefits of being physically fit come into play when a child is committing new information to memory, and not as much when that information is recalled later.
You can find the full study at this LINK, where the researchers conclude:
This conclusion is consistent with both the animal and human studies, which suggest that fitness and exercise has a significant influence on hippocampal structure and function. Hippocampus is responsible, in part, for encoding information into memory, and in particular for relations among different aspects of the environment (e.g., such as a face, with a name, with a profession). Indeed, the encoding and representation of region names with locations in the present study is clearly the kind of information that has been shown to be well served by a highly functioning hippocampus.  

Friday, September 13, 2013

Orlando's New Urban 7-Eleven

Orlando's new 7-Eleven at Colonial Drive and Fern Creek
The City of Orlando required that 7-Eleven build its new gas station/convenience store at Colonial Drive and Fern Creek in accordance with "traditional city" zoning criteria.  Doors open to the sidewalks.  The building sits on the corner, creating architectural definition.  And, yes, most motorists are smart enough to figure out where to find the gas pumps.  This layout should be standard for corner gas station/convenience stores. 

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Younger This Year

I’m younger this year than last.  Not chronologically, but in terms of my physical fitness and overall health.  When we lived outside of Windermere, I spent 7.5 hours a week commuting to and from work.  I exercised only on weekends, if at all.  I was unmotivated.  My weight hovered close to 180.  My cholesterol gradually got out of control—up to almost 300.  My physician told me I had minor atherosclerosis--hardening of my main artery—a sign of plaque build-up.  The words “heart disease” scared the heck out of me. 

I resolved to change my lifestyle, but the time constraints between work, commuting, and taking care of four kids overwhelmed me.     

A year ago, we moved to Winter Park, about ten minutes from my office, freeing up six hours weekly.  Since then, I’ve spent the extra time exercising, now alternating between running, bicycling, and weight training.  This summer, I biked my first half-century since I was a teenager--a fifty-three mile ride.  A few weeks ago, I ran my first 5K race, at UCF, finishing in 38 minutes--not spectacular but faster than many college-aged runners.  Not bad for 47.  Between exercise and shifting to a vegetarian diet, I’ve shed about 20 pounds and much of my middle-age belly.  My cholesterol has dropped to around 130. 

Consistent weight training—at least twice weekly—has made me stronger.  I’m benching up to 135 pounds, which I did in college.   I’m doing military pull-ups—strengthening my core--for the first time in decades.

Winter Park is far more conducive to a healthy lifestyle than exurbia, where we lived on a loop residential street, cut-off from other neighborhoods by one of those ubiquitous suburban four lane highways.  One former neighbor would bike our subdivision in endless loops.  I could only imagine his  boredom after a few loops.  In Winter Park, the roads are two lanes between my house and the Cady Way Trail.  I’ll spend a typical weekday morning biking 6.5 miles, a good portion on Cady Way and lakeside on the Lake Baldwin Trail.  To mix it up, I’ll run about 1.5 miles on Winter Park’s street grid—gorgeous routes under an oak tree canopy.  On weekends, when I have more time, I’ll bike to downtown Orlando (all on two-lane roads and trails), and return via the Orlando Urban Trail and Winter Park’s beautiful streets.  Recently, I've added an extra mile to my weekend run.   Physical fitness builds on itself. 

How did I really turn it around? 

I’ll credit a friend from Jacksonville, an attorney, who recommended a book called Younger Next Year. The authors are Chris Crowley, a man in his 70’s, and his doctor, Harry Lodge.  It’s the most motivational book I’ve ever read.  Crowley lives the life of a physically fit senior—skiing, rowing, cycling, and weight training--and urges on the reader in entertaining fashion.  In alternating chapters, Lodge explains the scary biology of aging and how to reverse it, which surprisingly takes less effort than you’d think.  We send our body signals everyday—either grow or decay.  For most of us, exercising six days a week, combined with “not eating crap,” can delay 70% of the decay and disease associated with aging until close to the end of our lives, according to Lodge.  The authors put out an edition for women.  (Crowley followed-up with a diet and exercise book, co-authored with nutritionist Jen Sacheck, Thinner This Year, but I'd first start with one of the original books).  Highly, highly recommended.  Five stars.  Among the best ten bucks you’ll ever spend.  

Monday, August 12, 2013

Transit Integrated Development

When wide, high-speed thoroughfares divide transit stations from nearby development, the term "Transit Adjacent Development" or "Transit Vicinity Development" may describe the setting more accurately than "Transit Oriented Development."  Central Florida's commuter rail system, SunRail, opening in spring 2014, may have sparked construction of senior housing across U.S. 17-92 in the City of Maitland.  But I would not call it Transit Oriented Development.

"Uptown Maitland" senior housing--not TOD. 

Portland, Oregon showcases true Transit Oriented Development by integrating transit into the urban context.  In fact, Orlando developer Craig Ustler calls Portland, "Transit Integrated Development," an apt term.  Portland makes transit accessible, easy to use, easy to know where one's heading, and easy to transfer between transit modes.

Portland's regional government decided two decades ago to invest in a first-rate transit system.  Portland's Tri-Met light rail system connects the airport to the downtown urban core and beyond.  Stops are easy and convenient to major destinations.   

Red Tri-Met line -- Library to the airport.
Light rail stop at the Pioneer Courthouse. 

The trains are clean, feel safe, and carry a cross-section of people, from those wearing suits and ties, to Moms with children, to Portland State University students.  After riding Tri-Met, I kept revisiting in my mind the Orange County Commission's error in the late 1990's to give Central Florida's light rail system to Charlotte, North Carolina. 

In Portland, it's easy to know where one's heading.  Tri-Met provides maps, not only for the rail lines, but for buses, too.

Maps for bus routes--Portland, OR
I proposed this to a Lynx official a few years ago--and received a litany of excuses: too expensive, routes change, we'll develop a smartphone app, etc.  Maps provide the most basic information that a prospective transit rider requires.  Lynx runs at least two lines outside my office.  If I surveyed the people in my office, I suspect no one would know where either line goes.

Transfers between transit modes in Portland are easy, too.  For $5.00, one can use the light-rail, streetcars, and buses all day with one card.

This is the type of interchangeability that Lynx and SunRail need.