Friday, September 30, 2011

Historical Perspective

Some new tools are online that let you see how an area used to look.

The USGS has made available 125 years of Historical Topographic Maps

So much wilderness east of town in the 1950's

Another site is
This site lets you overlay historical photographs over Google Street view.

Here's the
Park Place Hotel.

Found some other sites that show how cities have traded density for parking lots. So I took their photographs and made animated gif's out of them (sorry, at least the animated gifs aren't from an old geocities site).

The Atlantic on how parking lots ruined Cleveland's warehouse district: Cleveland's Disappearing Warehouse District, Then and Now

Thoughts on the Urban Environment has a similar example from St. Paul: The last 47 years have not been kind to 7 Corners

These images remind me of an online tool from MIT Media Lab called Place Pulse.

What they do is present two similar images from cities and present the question "Which place looks safer, more unique, or more middle class?" You're asked to click on your choice as quickly as possible. This gets repeated hundreds of thousands of times with people from all over the world and the results are grouped into what humanity as a whole regards as safe, unique, or middle class.

You can view the results without going through the process.

What is clear is the human brain perceives urban density as safer than parking lots.

Missing Links

For the end of September; some things I find pertinent but don't have time to write about.

-TCArtichoke: TC's Right Brain Brewery Automates with New Serving Options [satire]

This is a response to personnel changes at RBB that were not handled very well on Right Brain Brewery's Facebook page so they just deleted a bunch of comments.

-Kind of related and also on Facebook, Brewery Terra Firma says they'll be open in the first quarter of 2012

-Crain's Detroit: Cherry Republic’s ‘ambassador’ has ambitions that involve more than just fruit
“Does the city stay 100 years ago, and all the buildings look like they did 100 years ago, or is there room for some newness in a city?” Sutherland said. “We believe there is room for an iconic building for cherries for Traverse City that is inspiring, that says good things are happening downtown.”

Well, thanks, but no, thanks, says one local city official: Jim Carruthers, a member of the Traverse City Commission and an outspoken critic of the project.

-Crain's Detroit: The pitfalls of being the Cherry Capital — why northern Michigan should diversify its diet

-Slate: Lunch With Michael Moore: He hugs Republicans almost every day
Moore comes to the city to work, most recently on a memoir, and "to get some privacy". He is a public figure in Traverse City, his home on Lake Michigan, not just for his Oscar and Palme d'Or wins but for starting a film festival in 2005 that has given its economy a much-needed boost. He relishes the irony of the Republican-dominated local business association naming him businessman of the year, an unexpected accolade for the man behind leftwing film, television and print polemics including Capitalism: A Love Story (2009), a post-crash indictment of big business.

-Sad stats: 30.5% of Michiganders are obese; 1.2% more than last year. In 1999 not a single state was over 15%. See TheAtlantic: The 10 Fattest States in America

-AtlanticCities: Debunking the Cul-de-Sac
the safest cities had an element in common: They were all incorporated before 1930. Something about the way they were designed made them safer. The key wasn’t necessarily that large numbers of bikers produced safer cities, but that the design elements of cities that encouraged people to bike in places like Davis were the same ones that were yielding fewer traffic fatalities.

These cities were built the old way: along those monotonous grids.

-For a an economic and geological explanation of peak oil see The Oil Drum: A Brief Economic Explanation of Peak Oil

-Green Car Congress: Study shows that urban cyclists have higher levels of black carbon in lungs than pedestrians

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Well Done Jackson, WY

Traverse City had the "Your Bay, Your Say" sessions in 2005 and we're still waiting for implementation of a bayfront park.

The Teton Boulder Park was conceived in 2009 and opened before the end of 2010.

[Via Adventure Journal: Teton Boulder Project Comes to Life in the Heart of Jackson Hole]

Love it. A great idea and a great looking park and it went from idea to implementation quickly because the City and Businesses all got behind it.

Another reminder of how slow things are here in Traverse City is the Hotel Indigo. News of a hotel in the warehouse district came in 2008, today's update at MWaT: The Hotel Indigo Tunnel Returns indicates the hotel may not happen at all.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Community Conflicts

Today's Ticker: TCFF & Paella: Summer 2012 Woes hit on something I was thinking about this past weekend.

No, not "these pirates are not historically accurate representations of pirating in the Great Lakes" nor was it "I have to pay for a Pirate breakfast and coffee is $1.75 extra?!" but rather "how many festivals are there?"

This past weekend we had the Michigan Schooner Festival, the Epicurean Classic, the NMC Mike McIntosh Memorial Truck & Car Show, and Acme Fall Fest. I'm sure I am missing some things.

The most people I saw at the Schooner Festival were the throngs outside of the paid area to watch the ships under sail Friday night. The Epicurean Classic was using tents on Garland St. - less dignified surroundings than in previous years and I heard turnout was less too.

In August The Commons has a Wine and Art Festival one weekend and a Microbrew and Music festival the next. Wuerfel Park had a beer festival this year too.

So many festivals, so little time. Could any of these be combined or scheduled more efficiently?

For example, if the Classic Boats on the Boardwalk and the Schooner Festival were the same weekend wouldn't their combined draw be more than each on its own?

Who could be a liaison between all of these festivals?

Mayor Bzdok wants a Neighborhood Ombudsman.

I've been against the City adding a neighborhood advocate because:

1.) isn't this why we elect City Commissioners?

2.) we need to think of ourselves as a single City rather than a series of tribes or neighborhoods.

3.) neighborhoods tend to advocate for their own interests rather than the City's best interest.

Examples include Slabtown neighborhood wanting their own beach even though there is a nearby existing beach and research shows beach grooming degrades fish habitat directly offshore and up to 150 ft along the shore.

Central neighborhood wants to keep Seventh and Eighth streets one way even though it can be easily demonstrated that two-way streets are better for the neighborhood and city.

Old Town Neighborhood Association wants a bypass built next to Boardman Lake even though a comprehensive 10 year traffic study from the University of Toronto clearly shows more roads always lead to more traffic.

Three neighborhoods wanting what they think is best for them but when taking the big view could actually lower the quality of life in the City.

I am not sure someone advocating for the neighborhoods would help.

Something that might help is this question a friend posed: why don't we elect City Commissioners by district like at the County? I like it, each neighborhood could elect their own commissioner and then each neighborhood would have their own official advocate.

Then could the Neighborhood Ombudsman idea be expanded into a Community Ombudsman? Someone who could coordinate events and resolve conflicts with all of these festivals and non-profits and also serve as a single point of contact for citizens' concerns and complaints.

Just a thought I had this weekend.

Venice Calling

The Traverse City Commission will consider the Bayfront Plan tonight and what to do about the Spirit Of Traverse City.

I will be telling them I support moving forward with redeveloping Clinch Park without the train even though I have a child who cried when told this might be the last year for the train. (She stopped crying when told there could be a splash park instead and she said that sounded more fun and wouldn't be smelly).

Nostalgia can wound a city.

Venice, Italy was once the center of an ocean-going empire and a key city-state during the Renaissance. But today it has become obsessed with nostalgia and the residents who remain do not let it change. In response the city is literally fading away. It is drowning under a rising ocean and losing population because no one there actually does anything. Or as The Guardian said in 2006: Population decline set to turn Venice into Italy's Disneyland

For comparison, in 1929 New York City tore down the historic Waldorf Astoria hotel to build the Empire State building. A new Waldorf Astoria was built and the Empire State Building became the city's iconic structure.

Let's be less like Venice and more like New York. I want Traverse City to be more than an amusement park in city form that people come to visit. I want it to be a city full of people who do things.

The new Bayfront Park will likely bring more stature to TC than the Spirit of Traverse City has. It is a design that encourages people to do things. This doesn't mean the train cannot be kept and moved elsewhere, but a train at Clinch Park is incompatible with the vision that was developed.

On a final note, please don't take this to mean that in every case we should move out with the old in with the new. Like everything else, a city needs to find a balance between what it keeps and what it replaces with something better. Like how I choose to live in a 19th Century house full of 21st Century technology.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Safety And Liability

Safety isn't a political issue. I have family in the reddest part of the reddest state.. They live in a county the size of Connecticut without any traffic stop lights. They do have signs and laws that traffic has to yield to pedestrians, and this is on US Hwy 191. Still, when I was there this summer they were installing new pedestrian crossing lights.

See PinedaleOnline: Pedestrian ‘Hybrid’ beacons to be installed in Pinedale

I'm all for Traverse City requiring traffic to yield to pedestrians.

Wonder if this will mean that the Spirit Of Traverse City will have to yield to pedestrians too?

Today The Ticker reported on the little train's unsettled fate: Will TC Blow the Whistle on the Train (Again)?

My kids love riding the train. But if they were on it and it derailed again I'd be tempted to sue the City for negligence. Because it has happened before. See the Record-Eagle: No injuries after mini train derails

This summer a teenager was tragically electrocuted and drowned in the marina. The City is going to get sued for negligence. See IPR: Lawsuit Expected Next Week in TC Marina Drowning

Because back in June there was this posting at Take Caution which warned other paddlers that there were electrical problems in the Traverse City marina.

I see parallels between these events. Known dangerous circumstances on City property. Luckily no one has been injured on The Spirit yet but if the derailment cause was never determined then it could happen again. It isn't hard to envision the next derailment injuring a small child.

Though perhaps the nostalgia is worth it? I don't know the answer.

Just as I don't have the answers to the technical questions that need answered today and years from now too:

-Who fixes the train when it breaks down?
-Are spare parts available?
-Will technicians be available to maintain it?
-Will fuel be too expensive some day?
-Who will push the train up the final stretch when it gets bogged down?

And I have to think the City's insurance to cover the train will probably go way up after the marina lawsuit. The City may be forced to give it up due to liability worries. That's one way to settle a debate.

Bending The Culture Curve

There's been a lot of news since the last post about complete streets and safety at this site.

Traverse City leaders are making traffic safety a priority and released a Bicycle Safety Rules PDF.

Also See IPR: Bike-Car Crashes Concern City Leaders In T.C.

There was a study released on the most dangerous cities for pedestrians in the U.S.
See NYT: On Wide Florida Roads, Running for Dear Life

And the University of Michigan did a study that concluded Michigan traffic accidents have a higher external cost to society than crime.
See DetNews: Traffic crashes cost Michigan $9.1B, more than crime

These reports gave me the impetus to mention something that I neglected in The Mandate Of Complete Streets.

That is Culture. What makes walking part of a culture and why are some areas safer? Is there a culture of safety?

When I think of a walking culture I think of the U.K. Specifically, The Ramblers. Walking is so important to the fabric of English society that the Ramblers ensure that at least once per year every foot path in the U.K. is traveled in order to maintain the public's right-of-way.

Can we have that? How do we make walking safely part of our culture when for the last 50 years the United States has been expanding roadways and making roads safer for vehicles but dangerous by design (Transportation for America PDF report) for everything else? How does the culture buy into the idea that more than vehicles move?

While Complete Streets are a new thing in the U.S., the similar concept of Living Streets has been in England since 1929.

So we could wait 80 years and let the ideas of Complete Streets filter through the culture, or we could use data to drive our decisions.

At my job I analyze data sourced from across Michigan and establish baselines of how many Internet problems per number of devices is normal and then look for areas with abnormal trouble rates and search for ways to lower that baseline rate.

When I read the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute study: Societal costs of traffic crashes and crime in Michigan: 2011 update, I realized similar data was available in the study's data source: 2009 Transportation Data Center
Data Set Codebook

We had accidents per county and the census can give us population. Perhaps I could apply them?

I found some Michigan web sites with traffic crash data:
-Michigan Traffic Crash Facts
-Michigan State Police Traffic Crash Statistics
-Michigan State Police Traffic Crash Reporting Information

They had the reports I was looking for as PDF's:

-2010 Michigan Traffic Crash Facts for County/Communities


I used the 2010 Census to get population numbers.

I exported the crash data from the PDF's to a spreadsheet.

I then calculated median accident rates per number of people in the community and also plotted these on a graph to look for trends.

I did not expect to see any trends or correlations as there seemed to be so many different variables that can have an effect on traffic accidents. But that is not what I found.


The calculated median accident rate for Michigan in 2010 is 32.2 accidents per 1000 people. And it all fit on a trend line (which surprised me):

Next I uploaded the tables to OpenHeatMap to see if there was any pattern to which counties were above this 32.2 accident rate and which were safer. Green is a lower accident rate and red is a higher accident rate by population.

Link to larger version: Michigan County Accident Rate (You can hover over each county to see its Accident Rate score)

It appears to me that rural counties have a higher rate of accidents when weighted for population.

I then applied the same methods to Bicycle Accidents and Pedestrian Accidents.

The calculated median bicycle accident rate for Michigan in 2010 is 0.13 accidents per 1000 people.

Full size Map: 2010 Michigan Bicycle Accident Rate

The calculated median pedestrian accident rate for Michigan in 2010 is 0.15 accidents per 1000 people.

Full size Map: 2010 Michigan Pedestrian Accident Rate

The Bicycle and Pedestrian Accident rates do not show as strong a correlation as total accidents but there is still a pattern.

When looking at the county maps it appears to me that the counties with a strong biking culture have the highest rate of bicycle accidents. These would be counties hosting large Universities where many students use bikes out of necessity and Grand Traverse County where people choose to ride.

It is harder to make sense of the Pedestrian Accidents map. It could be suburban walkers who don't have access to sidewalks are in greater danger.

To explore this possibility I made a map of the Walk Scores Of Michigan's 65 Most Populous Cities with data from WalkScore:

What you see is that city cores have higher walk scores and the suburbs get progressively worse (clearly evident in Wayne County). But is this related to safety?

At there is a Data Query Tool that lets you build specific maps and tables for defined areas. I used it to look at Traverse City and Grand Traverse County.

2010 Crashes in Grand Traverse County involving pedestrians:

You can see that though many pedestrian accidents were reported within Traverse City proper these usually did not result in injury. But the pedestrian accidents in Grawn, Kingsley, and Williamsburg while fewer in number resulted in serious injury and fatalities.

2010 Crashes in Grand Traverse County involving bicycles:

What I see on this map is more bike accidents downtown, but worse injuries outside of downtown.

What do we do?

Based on these maps and tables I believe that implementing design concepts such as Complete Streets can make roads safer for people, whether they are walking, riding a bike, or driving a car. And I believe that if we make the roads safer for all forms of transportation then more people start using those other forms of transportation. The economy, freed from the burden of unnecessary accidents, grows.

By bending the accident trend lines we can change the arc of our culture.

There are still many questions though and I hope that the research here can serve as a baseline for the future. Two big questions I look forward to having answered are:

-do communities that implement Complete Street designs see their Accident Rate decline?
-do communities with better WalkScores have lower accident rates?

For anyone who wants to do their own research I have uploaded my spreadsheet to Google Docs from there is it easily exportable.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

How Sleeping Bear Dunes Was Liked

Sure, we all like the national lakeshore but the most beautiful place in America? As Carl Sagan said, "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence".

The evidence is that Good Morning America saw 22,000 votes for Sleeping Bear due to the mobilization of social media in northern Michigan.

See Crain's Detroit: The sleeping giant behind Sleeping Bear: How scenery and social media created ‘The Most Beautiful Place in America'
This time of year, the Sleeping Bear website typically gets about 1,500 to 2,000 hits a day. On Aug. 17, when the “Most Beautiful Place” selection was made, the site got nearly 15,000 hits.