Urban Renewal: Getting Cars Out of the City Center

Despite some lip service against the evils of Robert Moses type highway building, public policy has focused on facilitating as many automobiles into the central business districts as technically possible. Great sums of money and planning effort are still spent on trying to allieviate traffic congestion, only to find that once one bottleneck is "fixed" many other arise. We see this in the timing of traffic lights, the widening of roads at the expense of sidewalks, pedestrian barricades, the number of traffic police used to facilitate traffic at bottlenecks, etc. And yet where has it all ended - more and more automobile traffic constantly congesting the scarce public space of our urban centers.

Building on the last post on 21st Century Urban Renewal, the new study "Necessity or Choice? Why People Drive in Manhattan" released by NYC's Transportation Alternatives and Interloafer's fairly detailed list of policy fixes (which I agree with 100%), I would like to start a conversation about auto-dependency by debunking many of the traditional assumptions about automobile traffic in the urban environment. It's time to revisit the thinking and assumptions that got us here.

The conventional wisdom about automobile traffic in the urban environment has been:

A) Large numbers of automobiles entering a city's Central Business District (CBD) are necessary and essential to the flow of commerce.

B) The automobile is the only way that many people can enter the city to do business.

C) Necessary delivery trucks/vans, commercial vehicles (like taxis, livery cabs) and Mass Transit Buses are the main source of traffic congestion, which is the main deterrent of more people entering the city.

D) Any attempts to limit the number of automobiles on the road are economically harmful, politically unpopular and only causes more traffic congestion.

E) Therefore we must deal with all the negative effects of automobiles as a necessary cost of doing business

Based on data from the Transportation Alternatives report on New York City, which used publicly available government information, it's time to completely throw out these assumptions for New York City and many other large urban centers:

A) Automobiles contribute very little to the overall economic activity of the Manhattan CBD. About 30% of automobiles entering the CBD drive through it without stopping or doing any business. Automobiles contribute less than 14% of all trips to the CBD. Those 14% of trips are no more valuable than trips made by foot, bike or mass transit.

B) Ninety percent of people who drive to the CBD have a mass transit option. People drive instead of taking mass transit to the CBD for convenience, not as a necessity. In many cases the time difference is less than 10 minutes.

C) Passenger cars, many of which are occupied by only a single person, make up 60% of the automobiles entering the CBD. Personal cars (low value traffic) are the real source of the congestion that inhibits higher value traffic like commercial deliveries, buses and short distance taxis from making their trips efficiently.

D) Rather than causing economic harm, reducing the number of passenger cars in the Manhattan CBD would appear to increase the efficiency of higher value automobile traffic. This is no doubt why during the recent transit strike that the Bloomberg administration chose to restrict entry to the Manhattan CBD to only cars with 4 people or more.

Politically, this should not be a big deal. Most people in NYC do not own cars and most of those that do would never think of using it to commute into the CBD during the peak commuting hours due to lack of available parking. The disconnect politically lies not with the voters, but with their representatives and public employees that have special parking permits which encourages them to drive at 2-3x the rate of most classes of workers.

Traffic planners now readily accept the assumption that if you relieve bottlenecks, build more and wider roads, more automobiles will show up. In fact, that's usually the main reason to build more roads or widen existing ones - to accomodate more traffic. If that logic is true, why wouldn't closing roads and narrowing roads will result in fewer cars over time?

E) Given how low value passenger automobile traffic turns out to be, it is surprising that we continue to tolerate the negative impacts they cause - pedestrian and cyclist deaths, traffic congestion, air pollution, noise/honking disruptions and just the sheer waste of scarce public space.

Based on this analysis, governmental action to limit the number of low value automobile traffic on the streets of dense urban areas can only serve the public interest, regardless of energy prices. Peak oil is only the latest reason to provide carrots and sticks to encourage more use of mass transit and less dependence on automobiles in dense urban environments.

I don't think there really is much of a disconnect in NYC.  NYC is not like most places.  It has an excellent public transportation system.

The disconnect is with people who don't live in the city.

I worked for the NYSDOT in NYC several years ago.  Some in the community were calling for expanding "the world's longest parking lot" (AKA the Long Island Expressway).  We dutifully drew up rough plans for making the LIE a double-decker highway, thus doubling the capacity, but we all knew it wouldn't happen.  Not only would it be insanely expensive, but it wouldn't do any good.  It would just encourage people who were carpooling, taking the bus, or taking the LIRR to drive in their own vehicles.  Call it a corollary of Parkinson's Law: traffic increases to fill the capacity of any highway you build.  

At the same time, a perfectly good ramp was being torn down and replaced upstate, in the Albany area.  Why?  There was a 10-minute wait during morning rush hour.  New Yorkers considered it hilarious that 10 minutes was considered a long wait, and ridiculous that ramp is almost-new condition was being torn down.  

I think state capitals may suffer from overbuilding of roadways to please state legislators. Your observation is analogous to Connecticut. If you drive around Hartford, you see vast four- and five-lane roadways that are usually blissfully deserted of traffic, complete with unused HOV lanes.  Meanwhile, down in Fairfield County, which is the state's economic engine, you have I-95 clogged with three lanes.  (I'm not advocating widening I-95, by the way. They should improve the parallel train service.) The capital-area roadway widening/ramp widening is just a symptom of the overall problem.
There are exceptions to every rule.

If you've ever been to Austin, with a core city of 750K and metro area well over 1 million (plus exurban sprawl, but we won't count that), you'll see one state capital that, mass transit quality or no, is underserved by freeways.

Austin at 5 p.m. Friday is worse than anything we normally have here in Dallas, and approaches the Southland or NYC in congestion levels at times.

The east reliever freeway will help, but it won't be done for several years.

By then it might be too late.  

I'm not sure what the answer in the west is.  Many of those cities were built for the car.

But in the northeast, the best answer may be to simply do nothing.  The cities there were built before WWII, and were designed for limited car use.  They may be ideally designed for the post-carbon age.  The downtowns will renew themselves as gas prices rise.

I think there will need to be some new infrastructure - like more rail connecting medium sized towns to each other and the bigger cities. Most towns in the finger lakes/southern tier of New York state lack good rail connections to major cities like Syracuse, Albany, Buffalo, etc.

Even where there is good rail connections, the service stinks...

There is no way that kind of thing is going to be done until people realize the car is dead.
Probably the first thing to spur the revitalization of trains will be the death of the trucking industry and the re-emergence of freight rail as a viable option.

I think the key for the Northeast will be revitalizing the old city centers and linking them to each other with good rail. Connecticut is a good example of a state with good serviceable rail system that it can fall back on. New Jersey is quickly catching up with some of their light rail projects. The NYC, Boston and Philly metro areas are very well connected to their suburbs.

Buses can be a short term fix until rail can be restored.

I could envision a future where nuclear trains run the length of the country, and people use bicycles (or horses) to get from the train station to their final destination.  

The only thing that gives me pause about trains is that the infrastructure is so vulnerable.  As it is, metal theft is an increasing problem.  It's often treated as a joke.  Three miles of train track dug up and stolen in Germany.  Police in Canada ordered to guard recycling bins because so many cans are stolen.  Aluminum goal posts stolen and sold for scrap.  

The crack epidemic was raging when I worked in NYC. Someone peeled the aluminum trim off a car while I was sleeping in it. He could get $2 a pound for it. People would occasionally fall through the street, because some crackhead had stolen a cast iron manhole cover. Grand Central was shut down one Friday afternoon, leaving 300,000 people stranded, because someone stole 100 feet of copper signalling cable.  

Just another reason why I think it's going to be hard to maintain our infrastructure in the post-carbon age.

If you think of it oil/gasoline pipes are way more vulnerable, and probably will be more preferred targets.

Rail can be protected by placing fences on both sides of the rail line, but I guess the problem has not risen yet to an extent that it would be worthed the effort.

BTW I know for example that in Bulgaria sabotaging rail lines is a heavy felony. Think that could help a bit if implemented everywhere.

I'm not really worried about attacks.  People can do a hell of a lot of damage, not intentionally, but just because they're trying to steal scrap metal.  

I suspect most people don't even know where the oil and gas pipelines are.  (If they ever find out, perhaps oil "bunkering" will catch on here, too...)  But everyone knows where the train tracks are.

I also did not mean attacks, but stealing from the oil/diesel/gasoline that flows through the pipeline. It is not so difficult once you get access to the pipeline, and the chances you will get awaw with it are big. As we know fuel is likely to become very precious with time...

We had several such cases in Bulgaria even though there in not that much pipeline network. Not to mention about the electricity being stolen by people, mostly from the poor minorities - the amount is in the range of tens of millions kwth yearly. You would think it is dangareous and you would be right, but the thiefs get better and also better-equipped with time.

It is amazing what people do when energy is scarce or they can not afford it.

Yup.  If it comes to that, I'm not really expecting there to be any oil or gas in the pipelines.  It will be like it was after Hurricane Katrina.  A few hours or days of panic buying that sucks the system dry.  Then oil and gas distributed in tanker trucks, surrounded by a platoon of armed guards.
This from 6th CONCAWE pipeline seminar 2002,

Theft or attempted theft from pipelines has been a
consistent feature of operations, particulary in
Eastern Europe, over a number of years and a major
cause of incidents. A recent case in Italy unfortunately
led to the death of the perpetrator. One
presentation described the measures being taken in
Hungary to address this problem. Between 1992
and 1999, the Hungarian system was attacked more
than 100 times. Although not all of these attempts
were successful, the value of fuel lost was substantial.
Even more expensive was the cost of clearing
up the spilt oil. To counter this threat, a sophisticated
leak detection system has been installed. This
not only detects leaks, but also pin-points the position
of the leak which facilitates rapid intervention.
As a result, the number of attempted thefts has now
decreased dramatically.

Pipelines are marked at every road crossing and just about every major landowner change.  

Day bin robin dat gas wid hot taps down sa Na'orlens town na on 100 yera.

There's too many pipeline qualified welders and too much wild swamps to keep an eye on every foot of pipeline.  Those guys get out there and make hot taps (welding on the pipeline while under pressure) to run a 1 inch line over to the house.  Fortunately, that's gotten harder to get away with since the advent of leak detection.  DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME!

Down in Colombia they just used explosives.  If they didn't have that, they would unbolt the flanges.  Not very discrete and makes a BIG mess.

You can also run a parallel wire under a Hi V electrical transmission line and induct power off of it without ever touching it, but also illegal.

How much does a section of rail weigh?  This doesn't sound like a job that will be taken on by crackheads in a Toyota pickup.
I doubt it was crackheads in the Weimar, Germany case.  They apparently spent several days at it.  Finally the mayor of one of the towns the tracks went through called to ask if they were removing the tracks.  That was when they realized 3 miles had been dug up and stolen.  They said it was likely sold for scrap; the price of scrap steel has more than tripled over the past couple of years.  

It's really amazing what you can get away with if you're wearing a coverall or a hardhat.  People just ignore you, assuming you're on some kind of official business.

Someone stole the soda vending machine from my office.  He just dressed in a coverall and brought a handtruck.  Not only did we not stop him.  We helped him load it in his truck.  

I'm a security guard. We walk a line between security and helpfullness, and the line changes at every post. My current post has no security. One of my last posts had very, very, high security. Depends.
The USGS  Provides neat maps of the Whole Country.  Most people can get them in hiking and camping shops near them or even order them from the USGS.   All Features are labeled,  Gas and Oil Pipelines too.

Take out 3 or 4 high power electrical towers and poof most places have to re-route.   I have only written in Fiction, I am wondering If I should even try to publish that story.    "Sucidial mailman car bombs city"  But the Mailman save the day.

Almost all of our inplace day to day living is in a map somewhere and is up for public veiwing.

If they really wanted to hurt us, we could not stop them.  

I wish you would post more often. You come in and out of here when you like, and that of course is part of the deal, but you are the real deal and we have more to learn from you that you from us.
People have been stealing iron rain grates here in Scotland...
And just think the the guy that I was givng my crush soda cans to told me.  We take Siding, car rims,  old computer parts.  

There is a guy who drives a beat up Toyota pick-up and is always here on tuesday and wednesay to pick of anything metal, to sell.  Keeps himself in spare parts for his Toyota.

I pull apart old computer parts for the items inside.

But I am like you, once we go to far down a road, we are never going to get back up it.   Just hiking a round trip make sure you can travel all the way back the way you came.   OOpps  Oil is gone joe,, what do we do now??

Alright. This is where things get confused. So I will try to step in as the All-American moderator. Leanan is city. Dan, you are from Colorado or somewhere equally great. I like both of you but try to move towards the "middle." I've been both places and am "from" places way to the "extreme" of either. Trust me. You guys are not working on the same definition of crack addict, for better or for worse.

For all I care, WTSHTF, you can eat me, I just want to make sure the two of you get along. As long as you keep me laughing  before that.

It that with toast or just mustard?  I won't go into the various topical changes that last comment could draw.

The largest place I lived was Long Beach in Califormia.  The smallest, The USGS did not include a spot on the map for it, though it had been a house at some time before cars,  Ozark mountains.  The wild reclaims thing very fast.

As to Crack dealers, or other drugs. They sell it openly on my street.  Until mid-May or At the latest late-May I live in Huntsville Alabama,  Relocating to Colorado.  I doubt they are bold everywhere.  But the cop traffic goes down when the complaints reduce or stop.

Just for the record...I am not "city."  I worked there briefly, that's all.  

I learned to drive in a town so small there weren't even any traffic lights.

I knew that. I just think you have a "city" attitude. As much as you try to hide it. That's a good thing.
I honestly don't understand where you're coming from.  Dan and I were not even disagreeing, so far as I could tell.
Another reason to do nothing:

The cost of road maintenance is soaring

Due to high fuel prices, of course.

I think Austin is a bit of an exception itself -- unlike the rest of Texas, Austin has a living and breathing environmental movement. In your comparison to Dallas, it's note-worthy that parts of Dallas-proper are very walkable and now they've even got a decent light rail trend going there.

Even considering that, Austin saw considerable growth as a tech center in the 90s -- all the high tech areas saw considerable traffic congestion. Or maybe the disastrously designed double-decker part of I-35 turned Austinites off to freeways. :)

No shit on double-decking I-35.

I'm a suburban Dallas newspaper editor, and have to go down there at least once a year for state high school sports championships. It takes me as long, literally, to drive the last 30 miles as the first 175, at times.

Of course, the whole way from Dallas to Austin, you have "left-lane lopers," etc. bollixing traffic up in non-urban areas.

"If that logic is true, why wouldn't closing roads and narrowing roads will result in fewer cars over time?"

It is true and results in less cars on the roads.  In many areas in Europe, the base infrastructure is hundreds of years old and some areas simply will not even handle 2 lanes of traffic.  A lot of times, one car is a squeeze.  Many city centers, especially those within the old city walls that have narrow streets anyway, but once did allowed automobile traffic, are now found completely closed to traffic.  Strangely enough, modern closures to traffic were initially resisted by the store and business owners in the area, but many have found their businesses revitalized when cars are denied access.  The areas where cars are newly prohibited spring immediate life as many people gladly abandon their cars, leaving them parked in garages or on the street, outside the old walls to spend a nice afternoon away from the noise, pollution and dangers of crossing the narrow streets with little cars zooming all around.  Sidewalk cafes  quickly take up the vacant space and become an enjoyable place to spend the afternoon.

Some of the other busy but smaller capacity highways between closely tied cities have begun to plan on reducing the capacity of the highways to force the motorists up to the toll highways that bypass the local cities completely.  Traffic lights are taken down and replaced with round-abouts and the roads are constricted in the areas entering the rounda-bouts.  A two lane street will become a 1-way street and, just before the round-about entry, one lane will be eliminated.  The added benefit is that the vacant lane is then available for parallel parking, something sorely needed in most European commercial areas.  A 4 lane/2 way street will be reduced to 2 lanes, with parallel parking on each side.  At first its a little difficult to get used to the changes, but once one discovers the new routes and parking areas and the new spaces that have opened up, you realize that it was a change for the better.

The other alternative is the "conjestion charge" which I will let our GB friends tell you more about.  I think that, if I'm not mistaken, the daily charge for entering London centre during business hours is about 8 £, or about
$15.00.  From what I can tell, it does seem to keep the traffic down to minimum levels there.  Lots of people walking now.  Unfortunately, the weather is absolute crap most of the time.

Strangely enough, modern closures to traffic were initially resisted by the store and business owners in the area, but many have found their businesses revitalized when cars are denied access.

We've had the opposite experience here.  About 30 years ago, there was a big push to "revitalize Main Streets" by closing them to traffic.  Instead, there would be pedestrian malls, that would encourage people to stop and shop.  

The effect was the opposite of what the merchants and city officials hoped.  Instead of revitalizing downtown areas, it killed them.  People just avoided downtown altogether, instead driving out of town to the malls.  

Now many of the pedestrian malls are being torn up, and the roads being put back.  

Where exactly?
It was a fashion throughout the U.S.  Not in huge metropolises like NYC, but in a lot of smaller, older cities.  They were suffering decline anyway, as people moved out to the suburbs in search of bigger houses, better schools, lower crime, etc.  Plus the suburban mega-malls were pulling customers away.  They thought they could turn downtowns into outdoor malls, but it didn't work in most areas.  People didn't want the hassle of downtown parking.  And the lower costs of real estate in the suburbs meant the suburban stores could be much larger than anything in downtown.  
I repeat, where exactly?
Burlington, Vermont and Lebanon, New Hampshire are two examples that I am familiar with. Leanan is correct on this point.
Here in Boulder, our 25+ year old pedestrian mall is quite successful. I think the keys are:

  • Some of it is culture. Think: college town.

  • The city does not offer the usual subsidies to sprawl: city services are not offered outside the city (how novel) and the city (and recently, county) doesn't go out of its way to subsidize sprawl with road construction.

  • The pedestrian mall was built on the existing main thoroughfare. You can't build a new downtown "for pedestrians" -- it has to be more organic than that.

Boulder, Colorado
A couple of examples:  Rye, NY.  Middletown, Ohio.  
I've seen both towns that implemented these ideas half-hearted and not at all both face decline in the face of big-box stores in the suburbs. Many of those stores end up costing the community more in government services than they generate in revenue.

Have you been to the Ithaca Commons? Through a combination of preventing bigbox sprawl and preserving the downtown area with a pedestrian friendly mall mixed with a dense residential area nearby have helped it avoid the decline of many similar small towns. For instance, when one of the anchor stores - Woolworth's - closed down, they used it as an opportunity to construct a first rate library in it's place. The Commons have never been more popular.

But then again, Ithaca seems to be an oasis of progressive ideas...

Never been to the Ithaca Commons.  

Some pedestrian malls have been successful.  I think the one in Honolulu has worked out okay.  At least it looked like it was thriving the last time I saw it.  

Victor Gruen, the guy who came up with the Main St.-to-pedestrian mall idea, thought the key was to realize what the real problem with downtowns were.  Most of them were designed before Americans became car crazy.  They simply could not handle the post-war explosion of cars.  He felt there was no point in just closing Main St. without dealing with the traffic issue.  

Gruen's design did not just close the street.  It involved ring roads and parking lots that would encourage traffic, but keep it out of downtown.  Not conincidentally, Gruen was from Vienna.  His plan was directly modelled on Vienna's Ringstrasse.

I lived in Vienna for half a year. They have wonderful pedestrian walking areas in the center of town and the Ringstrasse is both functional and beautiful. But the real secret to Vienna's great transportation system are the network of streetcars that crisscross the entire inner city and suburbs.

I lived out in Strebersdorf, which is the last stop on on the streetcar. Instead of endless sprawl beyond that, I could walk to active farmland within a mile of the tram station.
I think Memphis is trying to save its failed pedestrian mall with a train, or some such thing.

Public transportation (or anything that keeps cars out of the downtown but gets people in) does help.  I suspect that's one reason Honolulu's mall worked out okay.  They've got an excellent public bus system.  (Helped by the extremely high population density there.  When you live on an island, sprawl really isn't an option.)

I think your earlier comment about the Political Possibility of reducing highways not being really feasible until more people accept the 'end of car culture' is also going to be the rub with Downtown malls, and I imagine there will be a lot of 'We tried that, and it doesn't work' going on with city councils for years to come.  Portland, Maine (my home) has just a ridiculous amount of its limited peninsula devoted to parking garages, and more are under construction.  I can only imagine the amount of energy these are eating up, to continue committing us to an urban model that assumes the continuous availability of the same levels of energy-use.

I'm glad to hear people offering examples of restructured downtown areas that have already prospered, and what combinations of coordinated features, timing, ingenuity and luck.. helped make them succeed.

Chicago's State Street was closed to anything but busses in the 1970s and had the sidewalks widened to increase pedestrian use, but about 7 years ago they reopened it to cars and the resulting street appears to be more "alive" than the canyon it replaced.

Vancouver, BC is an interesting example of an explicit strategy to limit vehicles and encourage ped and bike as well as mass transit (busses and ferries).

Strangely enough, I think widening the streets is not good for pedestrian attractions.  Its like the crowded bars.  People go to experience elbow to elbow contact.  Human contact of any kind.  When the streets are too wide, it discourages the closeness that people really want to have with one another.
Poughkeepsie, New York, where I grew up. I spoke to store owners there about what happened to their traffic. It disappeared because the little stores lost their upscale clientele and the working class people went to the malls because it was cheaper. Later, the stores were taken over by downscale stores and government departments.
Well, its for sure that you just can't close the streets and expect it to happen.  I suppose, since there are no old castles, nice architecture to admire, museums, canals with people ferrys or city wall remnants, the States will have to do something different.  Game it up a bit.  Create an attraction.  Like San Antonio did with their "River Walk".  From what I understand its a great place and they have made a lot of tourist bucks off it.  You just have to make it a cool place to go, probably the more expensive the better.  Me, I'm happy just sitting watching the people at Victoria Station on Friday afternoon.  In Malaga there's a great castle above the city, a nice passenger ship port, tropical garden and palm trees that run for 2 miles along the alameda, fountains, shops, cafes, bodegas, Roman theater, with a Picasso Meuseum in the middle.  Beach not too far.
I think it depends on whether people are already willing to walk.  

When I was in school, we were reading things like Streets for People, by Bernard Rudofsky, and hearing about Peter and Alison Smithson's Streets in the Sky.  But, as you noted, many of the US projects they inspired were flops.

But, once inside, Americans will walk all day in suburban malls.  They'll walk up and down a vacation boardwalk, or in the trendy Rouse projects Inner Harbor and Faneuil Hall Marketplace.  Go figure.

Some people actually drive to suburban malls just to walk for exercise.  

And that's the key, I think.  It's convenient.  There's plenty of parking, and it's free.  It's perceived as being safer than downtown.  You're protected from the weather.  Once you're in the mall, you don't have to worry about rain, snow, sleet, mugging, 100F temps, etc.  

Plus the selection is huge.  Malls are out in the suburbs because land is cheap (and taxes are often lower, including sales taxes).  So the stores are a lot larger.  

Some downtown revitalization projects have been a success.  It seems to help if there's a tourist attraction involved.  (A beautiful waterfront, for example.)

Well, there's no telling how fast those malls would have sapped people away from the downtowns if they hadn't tried to pedestrianize the downtowns. They may have depopulated even faster. The pedestrianizing may have helped retain some energy.  OTOH, I think it kind of makes a place too sterile, in the same way that too much traffic and not enough pedestrians makes a place sterile, which is the much more common problem.  The best solution may be a mix: very limited traffic among a pedestrian-heavy shopping district.  You gain with the interplay between modes.
I dunno - opening up the road again seems to be helping in many areas.

I think the problem was the idea was so poorly implemented.  It was like they thought they could trick people into shopping.  You're driving along Main St., and suddenly, bam!  It ends, and you're facing a pedestrian mall.  Oh, well.  Might as well stop and shop, since I can't drive through.  

Even the guy who invented the pedestrian mall idea  hated the way most cities did it.  It was never his intention that it be used that way.

Places are too sterile when there's simply no one. Unfortunately, a lot of pedestrian areas exclude cars but fail to attract pedestrians.

But when you're in a place that's designed for people, and it's filled with just right the right number of people, it tends to be a great place. When you think of all the money and resources spent on strip malls, and just imagine the same resources spent on livable neighborhoods, it's kind of heart breaking.

Maybe if a baseball field replaced the parking lots, we could make stripmalls kind of nice.. hrm...

An absolutely predictable outcome.

Most or many US cities and downtowns were created around cars and are anything but a nice place to walk. Everything - the buildings, the parks, even the cafes are much bigger. As a result the distances are longer and it takes a lot of time to get from point A to point B on your feet. In addition what lacks is the long history of culture of a walkable city - as an European the style looks too uniform and boring to me.

The bigger problem though is that you can easily close the streets downtown but if you do not provide enough parking places nearby, people will not have a way to get there. And it dramatically rises your bill for visiting downtown if you need to leave your car in a more distant place and have to walk to your destination. If the municipalities took the burden of building enough free parking near the walkable areas the results would be completely different IMO.

A lot of small towns were started pre-auto, but have evolved to satisfy the auto culture.  Now, many city centers "roll up the sidewalks at night," meaning hardly anyone actually lives there.  Harrisburg PA comes to mind.

Some Catholic U professor wrote a book identifying "Myths of Modern Architecture," one of which was the Myth of Zoning. Here's a zoning list for one small city (parentheticals mine):
Agricultural (until needed for intense development)
Low Density Residential
Medium Density Residential
High Density Residential
Residential-Office (Mostly dwellings)
Office Commercial (Dwellings by exception)
Neighborhood Commercial (No dwellings)
General Commercial (No dwellings)
Downtown Residential
Downtown Residential and Limited Commercial
Downtown Office Commercial
Downtown Commercial/Residential
Limited Employment (Light Industrial - No dwellings)
General Employment (Heavy Industrial - No dwellings)
Planned Industrial (Park-like Industrial - No dwellings)
(Nice, substituting Employment for Industrial.)

This historic downtown was not designed around the automobile, and even with all the mixed uses is the most popular and expensive area.  Nevertheless zoning ordinances for the rest of the city separates the homes from everything else.  The goal is controlling the risk of fire or industrial accidents, but the physical separation means that people have to travel between the zones.  It becomes that much harder to find an apartment a few blocks from work, or a job a few blocks from where you've always lived.  Given the condition of roadways between zones, you almost have to own a car to travel.  The one guy I know who lives downtown drives to teach at a suburban school.

Zoning exists in Europe too, but the space-saving architecture and adequate mass transit makes the car a luxury, not a necessity. You can very well take the bus to work and use the car for trips out of town etc.

Here it is the other way around and will not be flipped easily; I can say that the "bad design" overtakes the "good design" because of the cheap resources (energy, land, pavement, low-rise building materials). The bad design is the energy intensive suburbia which overtakes the urban pattern because of the much lower cost of development and living. Until energy becomes at least close to be as expensive as housing, this will not change.

Obviously much more of Europe was developed before the automobile.  Barcelona, for example, is a very walkable city inside its 19th century and medieval limits.  Outside of those, it looks like many American cities.  

Unfortunately we in the US bulldozed much of our 19th century towns and cities in the name of progress.  AFAIK, Spain wasn't stupid enough to raze the good parts of Barcelona.

I think a partial answer also lies in the commerical interests that were influencing government policy. The native oil, auto and steel industries were much more politically potent here than in Europe. However coal interests were well protected in Europe for a very long time.

Plus we just had a lot more open spaces....

It is both economy and culture - many of the European cities are rich on cultural monuments, historical buildings and places making even the thought of restructuring the downtowns absurd to the local people. Actually with the exception of USA/Canada and partially Australia all around the world a dense walkable city is what the people preffer and like to live in, it is the North America largely viewed as "deviation" not the other way around.

On the economic side, in the first half of the century and after WWII when European citis were rebuilt, the continent (with the exception of Russia) did not have its own oil and had to import almost all of it, which made additional imprint into the high-tax anti-car policy of all European governments. The North Sea oil appeared much later - in the 80-s and thanks God if I may add.

On the other side USA had plenty of oil and I guess for them it seemed a good idea to build suburbia the way it is now. Which goes to show again that having a plenty of natural resources is not always a blessing.

Then there´s Venice, with no roads at all.
Go back to Little Rock Arkansas about 1979 to present.  I Don't know what it Looks like now,  But they closed a major East-West Road and Turned a Whole of block of Builings in to a two Story mall with small business's tucked in tiny offices in odd places.  

The whole Mall Died over time, then when Arkansas' second largest Employer needed room MOST off all those nice office building and Rock work went to cover over the Paper Pushers of Gov't.    

Gone were the confectionary shops and the soda fountain and the bagel place and bank just did not have the feel as the book store's it took over.

Unless a great deal of understanding go into it, we die in the center and spreadout ward,  

Stockholm has also implemented a congestion charge for driving in the center. The system charges drivers according to the time of day and the vehicle type, with lower charges for more efficient vehicles.  A press release from IBM says:
# Traffic at cordon points reduced by 100,000 vehicle passages per day or 25%
# Train and transit passengers increased by 40,000 per day
# Congestion during peak hours dramatically reduced
# No major re-routed traffic problem
# Time tables for inner city bus lines have to be redesigned due to the increased average speed
# Parking fines reduced by 29%
# The automatic charging system in operation from day one
# About 350,000 vehicle passages identified per day
# The system has been fully operational during the charging hours of 6:30 AM to 6:30 PM Monday to Friday.
I think London has a similar system.
Yes the London Congestion Charge is now £8 pound for each day. Automatic number plate recognition cameras on all roads leading into the designated zone enforce the charge. Taxis and vehicles using alternative fuels, electricity, liquefied petroleum gas, biodiesel and hybrids are exempt. You must pay in advance or on the day and the charge goes up to £10 if you pay after 10pm on the day.

Penalties for non-payment are £50 if you pay within 14 days £100 if you pay within 28 days and £150 after that. Three or more outstanding charges and your vehicle may be clamped or towed away and if you do not pay the unclamping fee (£65) or the storage fee (£25/day) your vehicle will be auctioned and all dues subtracted from the money raised.

It is has resulted in a 15% drop in traffic in the zone and a 25% increase in average speed of public buses there. There has been a 30% reduction in congestion and a 5% reduction in accidents. Subjectively  the air seems cleaner to me. there has been a corresponding increase in the use of public transport. London, like New York has a excellent underground local railway system.

All the arguments against traffic restrictions in New York were applied to London. There were even death threats to Ken  Livingstone the Mayor of London that had the political courage to introduce the scheme. It now has widespread support and is very unlikely to ever be removed

And yes, the weather is absolute crap most of the time but this is England. Shakespeare called it a green and pleasant land but he did not say why it is green.

Dont worry, it will soon be brown and unpleasant:

''..Drought forces Thames Water to impose hosepipe ban
LONDON (Reuters) - The country's largest water company, Thames Water, said it was imposing a hosepipe ban across London and the southeast because of severe drought.

The company said its 8 million customers would face the restriction, the first such hosepipe and sprinkler ban in the region for 15 years, from next month.

"The situation is serious," said Jeremy Pelczer, Chief Executive of Thames Water.''

Only we Brits could get something this wrong.

"If that logic is true, why wouldn't closing roads and narrowing roads will result in fewer cars over time?"

There was a study commissioned by London Transport back in '98 that found just that.  New Scientist magazine had an article on the study in January 98.  Closures of portions of road network in a number of cities around the world showed reductions of 20% on average in the car trips that used to use the road.  That is, 80% of the traffic that formerly used that road moved to other roads, 20% of those car trips just disappeared.  In reality, the trips either weren't taken anymore, were switched to another mode, or were moved to some form of ride-sharing on another route.

This goes along with the "induced demand" that various studies have found in transportation networks.  While transportation models have historically assumed that the transportation demand curve is linear, the newer studies indicate that it is really a curve, just like other demand curves. Increasing road capacity, at least in areas with high demand, is likely to encourage people to drive more and encourage car-based development.  The reverse is also true.

One way to prepare your community now for less automobile dependency in the future is to start arguing against local road widenings.  Lower levels of service avoid inducing demand.

Somehow that thinking only applied to increasing auto usage vs. decreasing it. And induced demand doesn't seem to make it into the minds of mass transit planners
I remember hearing a talk in grad school from some researchers from another department looking at automated vehicle / highway systems.  They described a future where cars would communicate with each other, brake together, accelerate together, etc.  The goal was to have "platoons" of cars rolling down the interstate at 90 mph with only three feet of space between bumpers, multiplying road capacity by six (or so they claimed; actual Atlanta traffic is already close to this without the automation):^/  Being the environmental engineering department, we tore into them:  What do you do with six times as many cars pouring into the city center when they get off the automated highway?  What kind of air pollution increase will you get from the additional cars traveling faster and getting lower mpg due to the speed (note that Atlanta already had air pollution problems due to vehicles)?  Assuming you could get the software to work perfectly, what about the safety risk posed by mechanical failures at this speed and spacing?

Anyway, the funny thing was the researchers' reaction.  They really seemed surprised that anyone would question the self-evident wisdom of their plan, or that anyone would think that more cars on the highway was a bad thing.

There's a misconception that road performance is related to the number of lanes, how fast you can travel etc. Infact road performace is determined by how fast you can get off the road. That's where all the congestion appears, where you're trying to get off the road and onto another one, the interfaces between roads. If cars can travel 2 seconds apart on a road but it takes 10 seconds to get off the road onto another one, you get congestion.
So the question is how many exits are there, how many car parks, or rather, how many entrances to car parks are there.
I live in Jersey City and walk in Manhattan a great deal, all over. I very, very often am making better time than the people I see in cars. Walking in Manhattan is great fun, but the sidewalks too are crowded. Reclaiming some, nay, a lot of the streets for pedestrian (and bicycle) use would be a tremendous improvement.

Many if not most people in Manhattan are walkers to one extent or another. But usually people from elsewhere are not. I see this whenever I leave the NY area. Two blocks -- we're driving? And when surbanite friends come in: ten blocks! -- we're walking?

Some also seem to be afraid of the subways. So it does seem to me that there is a gap between the people who live in or around Manhattan, or work there, or whatever, and those who are there for other reasons.

All the great things about Manhattan become greater if more streets are made available for walking, and freed up for above ground alternatives to the subway. I never take the subway unless I'm going at least 30 blocks, and often not even then unless I'm in a hurry or it's raining. The subways are not as much fun as they were 30 or 40 years ago when there was tons of life underground. But I still love them being there when I need them.

Of course it there were a system of public bathrooms on top of freed up streets, then Manhattan would be heaven itself -- at least for someone who lives outside of it where it's still affordable, but yet has a cheap and easy train ride in.

One last thing: the parkway (walk, bike, etc.) around the edge of Manhattan, well developed along the West Side, is a magnificent and needs to be completed. Green in the middle (Central Park), green around the edges, and now, if a large number of streets could be freed for walking -- oh, my!

Will Manhattan survive the end (tailing off) of oil? That's one of those things I think about to combat bouts of irrational exuberance, which is what induced this post.

I am reminded of my years in Manhattan. We lived on York and 77th in those days. Had to be near a park for the toddlers. If you want to contemplate a no-car day, visualize the late afternoon of any Rosh Hashanah. In 1990, at 4:30 in the afternoon I actually lay down in the middle lane of First Ave at 79th. Rush-A-Homa had depleted the city streets. I had the Avenue to myself.

Back to topic... never missed car ownership in those days. Walked everywhere. NYC really ought to look into the London experiment. Surface restrictions to bicycles and busses would make Manhattan just about perfect. Easier to get about too.    

Seattle, tried it, they put the streets for cars back too.  We live in the city - yet we take the car to malls to shop, and buy food (Costco is a 40 minute drive or 3 1/2 hour one way bus trip) why?
  1.  The homeless and bums on the streets.
  2.  You got to go pee, forget it, all the stores and offices have signs, "No Public Restrooms."
  3.  The down town area is really only for those that work there.
  4.  The water front is for the people that come and visit.
  5.  Down town is 15 minutes once you get a bus; its the getting back that counts; you feel unsafe at the downtown bus stops.
  6.  Its an 8 mile, 15 minute drive to one mal, northward; 18 mile 25 minute drive to another to the North; Southward, a 35 minute drive to a mall; we have the university district Barnes and Nobel, its a 20 minute drive; and you know what, every one of these places has free parking and no worries about homeless/pan handlers nor all the rest that the city down town has.
  7.  Last but not least the metro system stinks, you have to transfer buses many times in order to get anyway, and it takes 1/2 day to get there; on weekends forget it the schedules kill you ...
  8.  Not in prefect health to walk 2 or 3 blocks at a time, then do not try the city streets.

Oh well that is just IMHO


Interesting observations. You're comparing driving to the malls to taking the bus downtown.  What happens if you drive downtown?

I'm not sure I understand Point 3.  That aside, I think a lot of the problems you mention would be reduced by further density. For example, the downtown bus stops probably feel unsafe in large part because there's nobody else around, and everyone else is in a car. When there's lots of other people waiting for the bus, buses come more frequently, so the wait is reduced, and you don't feel so bad waiting anyway because you're not standing there by yourself.

Point 2 is related to Point 1. There should be a local effort to encourage businesses to offer restrooms for paying customers - as is the case here in NYC, where signs often read "Restrooms for Paying Customers Only." While not perfectly egalitarian, they're at least available if you make a purchase at a place, which is often a trifle if you really have to go that badly.

I think you touched on something that bugs me: city planners pretending that you can mix low-density single-use zoning with pedestrian friendliness. Most of the problems you mention (bathrooms and homelessness aside) can be attributed to poor urban planning and specifically, the lack of human-scale development. You can kick the cars out of automobile-scale city, but that doesn't make it pedestrian-friendly.

In Denver-metro, they're building light rail and transit out to the 'burbs. Most cities plan to make their transit centers over-glorified park'n'rides. It's the same system as before, but the long freeway commute is replaced by a long transit commute. I doubt that many people will really drive to the transit center only to park and ride without a freeway congestion motive.

There's simply no substitute for high-density, close-in, mixed-use city design. All (sub)urban areas need to be at least 1,500 residents per sq km, and must have mixed-use zoning.


What do you think of the Hudson-Bergen light rail system?  Surely you have used it or simply rode it for pleasure.  I think it is fantastic and has certainly been the catalyst for an urban economic boom along the waterfront, none of which could have been possible without it.  The newest leg north to Bergenline Avenue and Tonnelle Avenue just opened up, and the early indicators tell of enthusiastic public support.  This is certainly good news!  As the specter of peak oil looms large, we are going to need to invest in rail transit as if our future depends on it.  In fact, that it does!

I entirely agree with you. I don't use the light rail much, because it doesn't go where I want to go -- mostly NY -- I ride the PATH. But it has been a huge boon to several different communities and we need much more of this kind of thing.

Great post Peakguy.  I see you managed to find some traffic too.

I do not think anybody has the answers.

A big part of the problem is that Americans love, love, LOVE their cars--the freedom, the privacy, the potential power and speed, the symbol of identity, and--believe it or not--a feeling of safety and control.

For example, my son lives in Minneapolis and used to own a pretty good car. Being kind of strange, like his Dad, he sold the car and has been using public transportation for a few years--for moral reasons more than any other. Oddly enough, the woman he is going to marry also uses public transportation (buses primarily), and now they are debating whether to get a car after marriage. She wants one, and in my experience women usually get their way. However, they will probably drive very little, because both live close enough to their jobs so that if they had to, they could walk. These young people are regarded as strange by their friends, and even stranger for having no credit card debt. My son hates malls just as much as Sailorman hates them.

Many people love shopping malls because of the free parking, the private security, the clean restrooms, the temples to materialism. Wal-Mart is heaven-on-earth to lower income people, and some women are not joking when they say they hope that when they die and go to heaven it will be Wal-Mart.

Perhaps where wealth accumulates and prestige is largely based on display of wealth (or pretended wealth) malls will continue to be the temples of the masses. Downtowns are perceived for shopping to be expensive, have to pay for inconvenient parking, limited selection of stores, unpleasant environment with possibly dangerous panhandlers, prosties, and drunks, not to mention crazy dirty smelly homeless people and the occasional stray bullet from nearby slums.

Public schools suck in most neighborhoods of most cities; the rich send their kids to private schools, the poor kids play hookey and terrorize the tourists, and the middle-class moves to the burbs for better schools and especially to get away from minority groups and crime.

It is impossible for most cities to build their way out of congestion--been tried many times in many places with many variations in the U.S., and to the best of my knowledge it has never worked. A long time ago, in a galaxy far away I was going to be a city planner and solve all these problems. O.K., we're all starry-eyed idealists at nineteen, or we have no heart. I learned much about urban ecology, sociology, social problems and reasons for the decay of our cities. Nothing I learned gave me a shred of hope for city planning as a way to improve the problems of the city.

Some puzzles remain: St. Paul is a better city than Minneapolis--far less crime, less congestion, more honest government, much easier to park, much less road rage and rudeness than in Minneapolis. Garrison Keillor makes fun of this difference on his "Prarie Home Companion" show on National Public Radio, but it is true. The reasons for this marked difference are in accidents of history, so far as I can tell. For example, St. Paul has far more racial tolerance and better schools than does Minneapolis, but my only guess as to why is its history as a French/German/Irish mostly Catholic city, whereas original ethnicities are quite different in Minneapolis. St. Paul is loaded with private colleges and Minneapolis has most of the University of Minnesota and not much in the way of private colleges. Perhaps the large number of young and liberal and tolerant students in St. Paul make a big difference--hard to say. Because of lower rents, many thousands of UM students live in St. Paul and get to school on the excellent bus service to the big U.

Someone once commented that MPLS is the most geographically eastern Western City while STP is the most geographically western Eastern City. MPLS embraced/chased growth in the mid-20th Century, while St. Paul seemed to slumber (again, like a lot of E v. W urban comparisons). Now, 50-60 years later, we're (or, more of us are) reconnecting with the charm/human scale of older urban centers and tiring of the big/monotonous Western urban arrangement. MPLS may eventually seek to retrofit to a more St. Paul approach, making Keillor happy I'm sure.
Don's post made me laugh because it's so glaringly inaccurate (I lived in the Twin Cities for the first 25 years of my life). There is a difference in that Minneapolis is indeed more cosmopolitan and "built up" to St. Paul's sleepy, leafy, academic feel. But by and large both cities are designed in a very similar fashion. Other differences (race relations, academics) are superfical at best. Minneapolis actually leads St. Paul in making the kinds of changes people here want to see.

Minneapolis' downtown is more walkable than St. Paul's, with a better skyway system and an actual reason for pedestrians to walk on the street, with more businesses for them to go to along with good nightlife. Nicollet mall is 12 block street that cuts through the center of downtown Minneapolis, with a wide sidewalk and road open to busses, bikes, and taxis only. Downtown St. Paul has little nightlife and no real pedestrian life either. Minneapolis shared in some of the US's city-core renewal during the 90's, today (gross estimate, haven't looked up solid numbers lately) there are 20k people living downtown who largely work downtown as well. In recent years grocery stores and general merchendise stores (like Target, whose corporate headquarters are also in downtown Minneapolis) have gone into downtown as well to serve the people living there. Also, Minneapolis has the only light rail line in town, which opened about two years ago, connecting the airport to downtown (about a 10 mile run). It has certainly encouraged some medium density growth along the route away from downtown, the kind people here like for good reason.

As far as the suburbs, there is little difference between the cities on either side. The Twin cities suffer from sprawl as much as any US city with the obvious exception of cities like LA and Phoenix. Just about all the suburbs built up from the mid 70's on suffer from everything bad about modern suburban design: low density housing, commercial districts completely concentrated in one location requiring cars, zero thought given to pedestrian needs, etc.

Have you compared homicide rates lately?
School achievement rates?
Rates of city councilmen serving time in jail for corruption?

I could go on, but what is the point? Minneapolis people are so out of it that they get lost whenever they come to St. Paul, and thus they are afraid to come here, just like Jesse, The Body and Mighty Minneapolis Brain Governor.

Must say, Jesse was always good for laughs in his remarks about St. Paul. I do, however, concede the success of the light rail that helps people get out of Minneapolis and to Bloomington.

Yes, please go on, as homicide rates and indictment rates on councilmen do not tell me anything about quality of life. School achievement rates are tightly tied to socioeconomic background, you'd have a tough time to say the least proving causation on achievement rates based on school policies. The locals hardly differentiate between either city, so I have to ask, have you even been to St. Paul?
Hi everyone.  Dan Miner from Peak Oil NYC here.  
Reducing auto congestion in midtown is an
excellent move for NYC, and would be a key
part of any peak-aware urban policy.  
Don't know if it's been discussed in all the posts,
but Peak Oil NYC is organizing a three day
conference on preparing New York City for fuel
depletion, on April 27 - 29, at two midtown
locations. TOD readers in the NYC area are invited
to volunteer for the conference, and to help
promote it.  

We also have a substantial report on this topic,
which addresses short term transportation policy
and a number of other areas.  Please visit
www.peakoilnyc.org for more about the conference,
and to download the report.

If anyone would like to physically meet other
New Yorkers who are aware of PO, we have regular
meetings, so feel free to drop by.  

Yeah, I'm putting together a full post about the event, which looks great Dan. I'm glad to see the schedule has been posted. I encourage anyone with a personal or professional interest to register for at least a day or two and maybe even volunteer.
I'm late to this thread, but just realized that even if I don't have time to read it yet I need to post a link to Bill McKibben's story on Curitiba, often called the "environmental capital" of Brazil.  Curitiba has won many international awards for urban planning, its approach to public transport being central to its accomplishments.

The first time I went there, I had never heard of Curitiba. I had no idea that its bus system was the best on Earth or that a municipal shepherd and his flock of 30 sheep trimmed the grass in its vast parks. It was just a midsize Brazilian city where an airline schedule forced me to spend the night midway through a long South American reporting trip. I reached my hotel, took a nap, and then went out in the early evening for a walk--warily, because I had just come from crime-soaked Rio.

But the street in front of the hotel was cobbled, closed to cars, and strung with lights. It opened onto another such street, which in turn opened into a broad and leafy plaza, with more shop-lined streets stretching off in all directions. Though the night was frosty-Brazil stretches well south of the tropics, and Curitiba is in the mountains-people strolled and shopped, butcher to baker to bookstore. There were almost no cars, but at one of the squares, a steady line of buses rolled off, full, every few seconds. I walked for an hour, and then another. I felt my shoulders, hunched from the tension of Rio (and probably New York as well) straightening. Though I flew out the next day as scheduled, I never forgot the city.


Maybe an effort to convince myself that a decay in public life was not inevitable was why I went back to Curitiba to spend some real time, to see if its charms extended beyond the lovely downtown. For a month, my wife and baby and I lived in a small apartment near the city center. Morning after morning I interviewed cops, merchants, urban foresters, civil engineers, novelists, planners; in the afternoons, we pushed the stroller across the town, learning the city's rhythms and habits. And we decided, with great delight, that Curitiba is among the world's great cities.

Not for its physical location; there are no beaches, no broad bridge-spanned rivers. Not in terms of culture or glamour; it's a fairly provincial place. But measured for "livability," I have never been any place like it. In a recent survey, 60 percent of New Yorkers wanted to leave their rich and cosmopolitan city; 99 percent of Curitibans told pollsters that they were happy with their town; and 70 percent of the residents of São Paulo said they thought life would be better in Curitiba.

This city has slums: some of the same shantytown favelas that dominate most Third World cities have sprouted on the edge of town as the population has rocketed. But even they are different, hopeful in palpable ways. They are clean, for instance-under a city program, a slumdweller who collects a sack of garbage gets a sack of food from the city in return. And Curitiba is the classic example of decent lives helping produce a decent environment. Because of its fine transit system, and because its inhabitants are attracted toward the city center instead of repelled out to a sprawl of suburbs, Curitibans use 25 percent less fuel per capita than other Brazilians, even though they are actually more likely to own cars.

I have lived a lot of places, But by far the best road ways for turning around and going back the way I have come, I find here in Huntsville Alabama.   Where in most places it is Legal to do an U-Turn at an intersection.  Along what is known as Memorial Parkway ( 231-431 state hwy part of the way, The MAIN north-south Road)  Whereever there an overpass, underneath are U-turns built into the system.  Even where they are rebuilding and soon will put in overpasses to lessen the daily traffic, they put in U-turns.

Germans brought us the rocket to Huntsville and And the good designed roads.  Just could not predict that as soon as the biggest Memorial parkway rebuild is done Oil prices will make those folks think twice about living north or south of the county line


I found an article on the pay site of The Economist about the London Congestion Charge

Despite the doubts, and despite complaints from shop owners, London's congestion charge--introduced in February 2003--has managed to ease the gridlock in the city centre. Traffic is down by 18%, jams by 30%.

In London, this is done through a GBP 8,- charge.

However, if you look at the data, it is not so clear

The main observation is that indeed the average over a day is reduced significantly (by 18%), but the peak load during morning rush hour has only been reduced by app 5%. And that is a bit of a problem, because the policy of charging people should at least have significant impact on the issue that is most important: Reduce traffic when the available capacity is maxed out.

So IMHO, just charging people won't do. You have to have a combination of things, like additional mass transit, no more free parking, bus lanes, bicycle lanes, etc.

NYC....living there in late 70's early 80's.....used to walk from wall street up to my place in Chelsea on the west side...window shop, bar hop, chicks........NYC after snow storm was great.....walking 5th or Madison with no traffic.....I think the electric or hybrid vehicle is going to be the answer.......the owner of the solar company I do sales for just put up a solar car-port at his place.....plug in your electric or hybrid (with extra batteries) and drive around town up to 200 miles......just to note: solar sales very strong here in front of rebate/grant reduction by state of NJ......we went to Trenton, state capital to hand deliver and time stamp our customer applications yesterday and met many other solar competitors in or outside the BPU office......everyone had between 10 and 20 solar installation jobs/grant applications  to submit......yes, there was a sense of urgency because the grants were dropping from $49,500 to $43,500 for a 10 kw but also people are saying things like "I've been thinking about it.......let's do it."
Plus, the new 30% tax credit for business owners  makes it a homerun......it's a great time to be a PV panel manufacturer