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To me the major obstacle seems to be getting a low-density, low congestion, sprawling municipality to fund a grid system of relatively frequent transit service that is not needed now, but will be someday in order to repair the sprawl. There's a time period of at least several years, probably a couple of decades when they will be spending a lot of money on mostly empty buses. Maybe with that kind of capacity, the low-demand routes should be free? Could that help sell the tax increase that would probably be necessary to fund it?


Maybe it is time to try the Market Urbanism solution: drop minimum parking regulations, and drop Euclidian zoning restrictions.

With these solutions, they can be branded as deregulation, which is a very politically popular idea among those in the conservative valley right now. And they definitely can have a redevelopment effect that brings more density and more demand for transit...which means developers are more likely to be transit friendly in areas where there is access to transit.

And if you could find a way to tax land value rather than property value, even better.

Tom West

My local area isn't that sprawly - the housineg is generally detached, but close together (like 2-3m between houses), so there's no way of increasing residentital density through in-fill. However, the commerical nodes are few and far between (literally), which leads to car dependence (and huge parking lots).
So, how do we get more commerical/employment nodes? They don't have to be huge, but they would have to replace existign housing.


One problem, in the Portland context at least--many of our most notorious "sprawlevards", and we have quite a few--are also state highways and under the jurisdiction of the Oregon Department of Transportation, and not the city or county. And ODOT generally insists that its highways, even ones which run at surface-grade through well developed urban fabric, and which aren't limited-access in the least, be optimized for through traffic and through traffic only. (One of my biggest concerns about Powell BRT is precisely this--Powell Boulevard is US26, and an ODOT facilitiy--something which will likely constrain the design).

When you have a highway agency to deal with, the organizational tendency for it will be to try and REMOVE access, not add to it. Were one of the aforementioned Fresno streets maintained by CalTrans; my suspicion is that CalTrans would want to do the exact opposite of what you suggest: Eliminate left turns at any place other than the major intersections; eliminate pedestrian crossings altogether (unless grade-separated), and discourage busses from stopping at places where there isn't already a signal.

A "good" thing about many sprawl cities is that there are locally-maintained boulevards which can be repaired in this fashion without interference from the highway authority. Which is also, of course, the bad thing as well.


Jarrett, I second your cautionary note there on an overly prescribed path to applying "sprawl repair". I think though getting the examples out there does require careful thought into new guidelines and standards. To get an interagency level of coordination going you have to inevitably bat around standards and best practices for single facility types.

This March in Savannah, the ITE (in collaboration with CNU) released a recommended practices manual to look carefully at thoroughfare repair: Designing Walkable Urban Thoroughfares: A Context Sensitive Approach (it can be downloaded here: http://www.ite.org/emodules/scriptcontent/Orders/ProductDetail.cfm?pc=RP-036A-E).

A step in the right direction and a lot of good thought went into it, even if some of the outcomes and 'case studies' seem a bit beyond reach of your typical municipality's ability to implement them wholesale.

They did leave a lot of language in the document that subordinated one size fits all approaches to 'design' in order to lead the practicioner to start first with the context and network. The street sections and graphics, however, seemed to tell another story. There's always this interesting paradox in products that are the result of New Urbanists collaborating with engineers. You know they are going to talk a lot about "context" and yet nonetheless they end up with prescription pills.

It was somewhat ironic that this manual was released in Savannah, that, with its meager sidewalks and simple amenities, starts with simple premises that add up to remarkable wholistic advantages. It seems DWUT has started from the opposite vantage point. The most most interesting design for me tends to begin with simple premises.


Sprawl repair reminds me of the ill-fated attempts of remodelling European cities to fit car transport in the 1960s and 70s. Today we consider this policy a failure. Not that public transport is generally better than individual transport, but that any transport solution has to fit the urban environment and not the other way around. Even if that means to leave American suburbs as car-dependent as they are and offer just a minimum of PT there.

If you want to create or re-create dense urban developments then do it in inner-cities or areas close to that. Suburbs 30 km off the metropolitan centre are more likely to be abandoned once energy and therefore car transport becomes unaffordable than turned into a PT-oriented areas.


@John. For the record, Fresno's buses are already very crowded! Productivity on most lines is over 40 boardings/hour, which is very impressive for a city that size with so little transit infrastructure.


@Tobias. No government is going to pursue a policy that presumes that the landscape that a majority of people perceive as home, and in which they've invested their money, is going to be worthless anytime soon. My point in this post is that there has to be an approach to sprawl that works with the needs and values of the people who live there, and that doesn't give the impression that we're trying to make the whole country look like Berkeley. See also Urbanophile on "Starbucks Urbanism":



I think some of the retrofit approaches meshes with my philosophy: do a few things, but do them well.

Moreover, so much talk about "walkability" seems replete with all sorts of development plans and streetscaping. In reality, I'd say about 90% of walkability is having sufficient sidewalks and streets one can cross!



Using the figures from http://www.infrastructurist.com/2010/02/22/the-sidewalks-of-today-and-tomorrow-is-concrete-our-only-option/ and some UK data http://www.sefton.gov.uk/default.aspx?page=3208 for pedestrian crossing cost, an 800m stretch requiring two crossings would cost ~128,000, while creating two 4'6" sidewalks would cost @288,000. So adding the sidewalks too pretty much trebles the cost of the project.

PS: I'm not sure I believe that the best layout for a transit accessible city is a line. I think you can access more destinations in given time with a grid (and transfers between horizontal and vertical straight-line transit-lines), than with a single straight-line transit line. However, transit has a bigger disadvantage over point-to-point transit (e.g. walking) in a grid, because of the wait-time-cost of the transfer.


Interesting that you chose that intersection. Bus 28, which is the busiest bus line in Fresno passes through there. (50 passengers per hour, per bus)

It is also the proposed street for a BRT system.

20mb PDF:

But the mayor said we can't afford $8 million. And then she turned around and approved $55 million to "improve" the area where the 3 freeways meet (wider ramps). And as far as I could tell, she did not apply for TIGER grants for BRT.

To truly repair sprawl you first need people in power who get it.

And looking at the housing and retail projects under construction or planned, they don't get it. They follow the guidelines from the 1984 plan.

There is one man who does get it. There is an Indian gentleman who has been building lofts and townhouses downtown, and they've been very successful.

And it's not just locally where change is needed. The feds are funding a huge freeway extension project into prime farmland. Why did they say yes to this massive waste?



The satellite image is of a streetcar suburb, close to downtown. When the whole city is a suburb, what do you do?

Alon Levy

The sidewalks are important. Equally important but underrated is making sure the signalized crossings are spaced close together, on the order of 200 meters or less, with a signal optimization that makes life easy for pedestrians and not just drivers. If the street is wide, some parts of the world, such as Israel, get tempted to time the signals with 3-4 parts per cycle, prioritizing conflict-free auto travel and green waves to the point that the pedestrian lights on the two sides of the median are not synchronized. This should not be done, and if it is, it should be replaced with the simpler two-cycle crossings common in Manhattan.


Moreover, so much talk about "walkability" seems replete with all sorts of development plans and streetscaping. In reality, I'd say about 90% of walkability is having sufficient sidewalks and streets one can cross!

And if nothing else, also improving pedestrian access from sidewalks along streets, across parking lots, to the front doors of buildings. Quite a few big boxes are difficult for pedestrians to access from the street--some having fending or shrubbery surrounding the premises with the only breaks in this barrier being driveways.


Jarrett, I applaud your push on this issue. On the 80/20 pareto principle:
- vast areas of sprawl represent the big opportunity for reform in our cities
- the quantum of car parking in retro-fit development is under public control. Allowing bonus plot ratio commercial development floorspace on exisitng frontage parking lots would encourage developers to replace asphalt in their "front yards" with dense floor areas and jobs easily served by the frontage arterial transit system. Research has shown that a lack of parking at the workplace is correlated with high transit use.
- the location of schools and government offices etc are under public control. Siting of new schools etc along arterials will encourage transit use and encourage the community to soften the arterial street environment with speed limits and safe crossings etc.


@JJJ, a whole city by definition cannot be a suburb.

The city can have a land use of predominantly single-family residences, but that doesn't mean its a suburb. Architecture alone doesn't make a suburb.

Break the word "suburb" down. It's a sub-urban area.

The sub- prefix means subordinate or later-stage. This is what a suburb is.

Suburbs have existed since the earliest days of human organization.

All cities originate from a nucleus and move outward. The earliest civilizations all had suburbs, with the outward growth determined by the limitations of nature (hills or bodies of water) and transportation.

Historically, cities were compact because of circumstance, not choice. Most of human civilization was defined by a compact city because its boundaries were limited by walking and draft animal distances.

The next stage came during the railroad era. One general feature of pre-railroad cities was that human settlements tended to cluster around bodies of water.

Landlocked cities were rare, and generally economically passive. Railroads enabled cities to grow without surface water for trade.

The automobile allowed almost any surface to be developed and made even more space accessible.

In each of these instances, though, the suburbs were lower-value land uses a nearby urban area transforms into a higher-value land use.


@CroMagnon Fully agreed that sidewalks are a major step toward making areas walkable. I've gone hiking around many of these car centric retail areas, because thats what you do, hike through the bushes, the inadequate uneven grass strip on the side of the road etc.

The other thing that I think is Jarett really keyed in upon on improving walkability at least initially is mid block lights. The problem I see as a pedestrian in a automobile oriented area at stop lights is that drivers are less likely to look out for you when making right or left turns, than they are in an urban area. They just don't think about pedestrians.

R. W. Rynerson

Englewood, Colorado converted what was once the Denver region's largest mall into a mixed-use development. It has enough good points that it draws a substantial amount of shopping out of adjacent Denver, which has nothing like it. Rents in the development are higher than for similar amounts of space in other older areas outside of Downtown Denver.

It can be viewed by typing "Englewood Station, CO" on Google Earth. Note that it still has lots of surface parking, but with a street grid that will permit denser development incrementally, as the market warrants. Also note the sprawl development west of US85, which requires driving to the nearest transit stop. We offer something for everyone in Colorado!


Wad, Fresno is indeed a giant suburb. The urban portion of the city, downtown, was mostly demolished or abandoned, leaving only the suburban area.

Los Angeles indland empire, for example, is made up of various suburban cities. They don't have downtowns, and they don't consider downtown LA relevant.


This is a fascinating post, but the question that came up for me is whether after the modifications the street still has the benefit of being fast that you mentioned. It may be narrower due to sidewalk additions, possible bike lanes, increased traffic due to density. Or would the effect not be significant?

John Bailo

It's funny that you talk about making a mall "like a town center" because I was just in Southcenter mall in Tukwila, WA, having lunch in the food court and people watching and I thought -- this is the Village Square! Yes, despite all the haranguing from "urbists" you couldn't design a better loved and better used place than this mall. People congregate where their is shopping and nice food stuffs -- and low costs! The mall is clean, and in an environment where it rains all the time -- dry. And they walk. I have to laugh when you all talk about "walkable cities". People do tons of walking in this mall ... and many malls all over suburbia.

The thing is...walking has its scale. I don't think that every square foot has to be walkable -- some of it can be driveable or bikeable -- optimized for vehicles. And these vehicles can take us to the walkable places -- be it a mall, or a country trail with parking lot at the trailhead.

Nicholas Barnard

@Alexis the net effect would be there, however I think that's fine. Given that all people pay for roads everyone should have fair use of it.

(An aside, but the worst thing that happened for car centric proponents is the decoupling of use fees via gas taxes and for roads being paid for from
general funds. An argument that bike riders should pay a tax to use the roads made more sense 30 years ago when roads were paid for much more via use taxes than it does today.)


A common development model one finds in Hong Kong is apartment buildings essentially on top of shopping malls (on top of subway stops and the like). The residential areas are segregated from the shopping, but you literally can take the elevator down to the mall concourse.

Jarrett at HumanTransit.org

@Alexis.  Arterial speeds are sometime reduced due to sprawl repair, but not by dramatic amounts.  For example, new signals can usually be timed to adjacent signals to maintain a reasonable flow of traffic.  On the other hand, sprawl repair does introduce visual features that signal motorists to take greater care, which will tend to reduce speeding.  Classic sprawl arterials practically encourage speeding.


The Inland Empire decidedly does have downtowns, or "town centers", in each of the incorporated cities therein. Some of them, like Redlands, Riverside, or Ontario, are actually quite nice. Auto sprawl filled in between these small town downtown, but the original points were already established thanks to the railroad.

Matt Korner

I strongly disagree with the thinking that transit shouldn't be targeting BMW drivers.

The best transit and T.O.D. projects appeal to people with a wide range of educations and incomes, and this diversity is especially necessary to a place like Fresno, which suffers from being a monoculture.

Matt Korner

Yes, the Inland Empire has much of its pre-war planning still intact. JJJ must have never been to the region.

Before the domination of the freeways and the rise of air travel, the 200-year-old San Bernardino was the historic core of the region, and the city held parity with Los Angeles and San Diego. The Pacific Electric Red Cars had two nexuses in the city centers of Los Angeles and San Bernardino, respectively. Additionally, a regional rail system, the Kite-Shaped Track of the Santa Fe Railroad (predecessor to Metrolink), positioned its center point in San Bernardino.

The city is currently in the process of re-establishing itself as southern California's third urban core with a slew of impressive new transit projects (B.R.T., light rail, commuter rail, aerial gondolas, etc.) that the city is building North, South, East, and West. These are being designed to converge at the optional station location for California High-Speed Rail in the city center. A huge transit village is also planned there, and the design is, in my opinion, the best in the entire C.H.S.R. system.

More important is the way San Bernardino is incorporating 56 T.O.D.'s within its borders while linking surrounding cities featuring their own T.O.D.'s and downtowns. So, the Inland Empire will soon be a model of transit-oriented planning.


Has there been any research done into this sort of "sprawl repair" for cities that aren't exactly growing the way Fresno is? I'm thinking of Cleveland and Detroit -- two cities that have become much less dense and less populated, and may fit the description of uncongested and sprawly, with large arterials. It seems the Rust Belt cities have lots of transit problems too (have you ever seen how much of downtown Cleveland is surface parking lots?), and fixing those may help improve a bad situation.

Jarrett at HumanTransit.org

Rick. The tool is useful anywhere, though depopulating cities will
need to think about what parts they most want to "save."

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