Saturday, June 21, 2008

Learning from Lerner 6/29/2008

Learning from Lerner
The former mayor of Curitiba, Brazil is carrying his message of sustainability to the world’s burgeoning cities. Lesson one: get rid of your car.

By David Sokol
Posted May 29, 2008
Next year marks the 35th anniversary of a simple but transformative idea in urban planning and transportation: Curitiba, Brazil launched a surface bus system that behaves like a subway. Better than, in some ways. Double-articulated vehicles carry large volumes of commuters, passengers prepay their fare in glazed boarding tubes, designated lanes keep traffic flowing smoothly, and one bus trails the next by one minutes’ distance. Curitiba’s transit system was established with little municipal investment and at a fraction of the cost of subterranean excavation, and today it carries some 2 million people per day.

Jaime Lerner was serving his first term as mayor of Curitiba when the city’s bus system began service, and the innovation catapulted the then-37-year-old architect and urban planner not only to two more terms as mayor and another two as governor of Parana State, but also to the forefront of contemporary urban planning and of the nascent sustainability movement. (Indeed, besides public transportation, Lerner implemented a recycling program in Curitiba that still enjoys an impressive participation rate.) Lerner has deftly juggled his design and political careers, and since 2003 he has run an eponymous architecture firm from Curitiba. I caught up with Lerner on a typical whirlwind day—between charming a group of Filipino researchers and making a presentation to a delegation from the United Nations—to clarify points he made at Tropical Green, a February 2006 conference sponsored by Metropolis, and to take his pulse on recent phenomena like boomtown China.

In many respects, the world has caught up to your common-sense approach to sustainability. What events inspired you to embrace those values so early on?
It was logic. We realized that sustainability is a whole discussion. Most people think that sustainability is just green buildings. That’s very important, but it’s not enough. Or that sustainability is new materials, new sources of energy, or recycling, but that’s enough, either. When you see that cities are responsible for 75 percent of all carbon emissions, then it’s in cities where we can find a more effective answer. It’s at the very conception of cities where we have to do this work.

What is a more ideal plan for battling climate change at an urban scale?
One step is to use your car less. Cities will have to provide an alternative public transit. The second is separating garbage, because you can save a lot of energy, even your own. The third is to live closer to work, or to work closer to home. And this is the key issue, because our cities have more and more separation.

Those steps don’t seem too difficult. What about the famous Curitiba bus system: That, too, sounds painless to realize. Has it been adopted widely?
At the moment there are 82 cities around the world. Some of them did it differently, but more or less, it’s Curitiba. I don’t try to prove which system is the best; I know it’s okay to have buses or subways or light rail, as long as the system is a good system. The key issue is to never compete in the same space. They have to be complementary.

Without ranking them, then, what cities have embraced this bus concept particularly well?
They’re not all done, but they include Seoul, Bogotá, Mexico City, the Los Angeles orange line, and many Chinese cities. Even cities that have complete subways, like London and Paris, are also thinking of having a good surface system.

We cannot be dependent on the car. I’ve repeated this saying many times, but I feel it is very appropriate: The car is like our mother in-law. We have a good relationship with her, but we cannot let her conduct our lives. In other words, if the only woman in your life is your mother in-law, then you have a problem.

You mentioned the conception of cities, and now is a time when those births are taking place around the globe. What is your perspective of the new cities coming up throughout the Middle East, India, Korea, and China?
Why are European cities better than most American cities? Because they have mixed uses and mixed incomes. These cities are more human, more diverse. Most of the new cities in Asia and the Middle East are building ghettos for very rich people and ghettos for very poor people. This is not a good coexistence; it’s really terrible, in fact. Some people living in cities are so crazy about their safety and protection that they can barely leave the house without thinking criminals are after them. They are the real prisoners.

You have speaking engagements in the U.S. frequently—such as the Sarasota Design Conference, which is coming up on June 6.
When I go to a city, I try to give testimony about what we did in Curitiba, to show that it’s possible.

Do you tailor your message to the peculiarities of American audiences?
No, everyone understands. Even in Oklahoma City there are people who understand the message. People are starting to understand cities’ quality of life, about why we have to have a mix of uses and good public transport. Of course the message has different meanings in different cities, but the basic idea is that we don’t need to do what we’ve been doing. There has to be a change.

At Tropical Green, you mentioned that you are performing “fast acupuncture” on cities all over the world.
In many cities there are a few focal points that can effect a really great change, points that are not part of the whole planning process, but that can give a new energy to the city. It’s like acupuncture. Planning takes time, but sometimes you have to offer ideas that accomplish it immediately.

Can you give some examples of this?
Where do you live?

In New York.
One great acupuncture in New York is that some places have been transformed by cultural decisions, like Chelsea, Soho, or Williamsburg. They are not related to a global plan, but they will help the whole process of city planning and energize it.

In Paris, I.M. Pei’s Louvre pyramids are a wonderful example of acupuncture. With one gesture he provided the solution to a 300-year-old problem about entering and organizing the museum. So that’s what I like to do recently: go to some place, work with people for a week, propose one or two ideas, and if they like, they can make it happen.

Would you say it’s important for there to be architects and urban planners in elected positions in order to foster experimentation within cities?
Not necessarily. The most important element is having good decision-making and a good equation of co-responsibility. And any mayor, architect or not, has to be open to new ideas. I work with governments and private initiatives—as long as they are interested in improving the quality of their city, then I’m there.

Would you say that Curitiba has problems today that you could not have foreseen 35 years ago?
Every city has new problems every moment, and every mayor has a new challenge. The good thing about Curitiba is that the people are used to innovation and demand it from every mayor.

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Original Story Can Be Found At:

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

BRT and BART Redux

In response to the previous post about BRT and BART, Rob Wrenn sends me the following:

The fact that 25,000 people a day have used buses on the corridorshould be evidence enough that BART can't serve everyone's needs, but if more evidence on why BART doesn't fully serve the BRT corridor is needed, consider this info on BART station spacing:

From Wikipedia, BART, distance between stations:
BART: 104 miles, 43 stations (1 under construction).
Do the math: 1 station every 2.4 miles.

By contrast, the Paris Metro, with, according to Wikipedia, the mostc losely spaced metro stations in the world:382 stops, 298 stations (some stations serve more than one line), 133 miles.So almost 3 stops per mile in Paris compared to one stop every 2.4 miles for BART

For specific distances between BART stations along the proposed BRT route, I looked at a map and measured:

Downtown Berkeley to Ashby: about 1.2 miles, 18 1/2 blocks
Ashby to MacArthur, 1.75 miles, 28 1/2 blocks
MacArthur to 19th St, 1.5 miles, 26 1/2 blocks
19th to 12th Street, .35 miles, 7 blocks
12th to Lake Merritt, .65 miles
Lake Merritt to Fruitvale: about 2.75 miles
Fruitvale to Coliseum: 2.1 miles
Coliseum to San Leandro: 2.9 miles
San Leandro to Bayfair: 2.45

I live about the same distance from Ashby BART and Downtown Berkeley BART (somewhat closer to Ashby). I walk at a fairly brisk pace and it takes me about 15 minutes walk to get to Ashby BART (I think it would take my wife 5 minutes longer at her normal pace). It works out to be 9 blocks or 8 tenths of a mile, and you have to wait for traffic signals to cross some streets such as Ashby. Many people just won't walk that far or take that much time to get to a public transit stop.

I live only two blocks from Telegraph and the proposed BRT corridor. People who won't walk nine blocks like I do, might walk two, three, four blocks to Telegraph to get a bus to downtown Oakland (or Pill Hill or downtown Berkeley) if the service is reliable and reasonably rapid.

The distance between Ashby and MacArthur or MacArthur and 19th is even greater than that between downtown Berkeley and Ashby, so BART effectively serves even fewer people living on either side of Telegraph south of Ashby station along the BRT route (especially if they live east of Telegraph and thus farther from BART) .

And for people south of Oakland, the station spacing is much greater still. Lots of people living within 4 or 5 blocks of East 14th or International Blvd would have to walk 30, 40 minutes or more to get to a BART station.

There's a reason why the buses on the proposed corridor already carry a lot of people. BART, despite claims of BRT opponents, is clearly inconvenient for many people along E. 14th and International Blvd. BART does a good job of serving people whose trip origin and destination are both within a few blocks of a BART, but given the wide spacing of BART stations, there are clearly lots of people whose trip origin and/or destination are too far from a BART station for BART to be useful.