Begging For Crumbs – And Getting Them

21 thoughts on “Begging For Crumbs – And Getting Them”

  1. I will say the politics of Santa Ana are much friendlier to sprawl repair than most places in the US, and more than I think you realize. Santa Ana has a large immigrant population, many of whom don’t drive, as well as a substantial poorer population that can’t afford to. It also has a moderate amount of older construction which is fairly walkable (as you note) and a large area that’s far from any freeway. It’s not Strong Towns paradise, but it is allowing a number of things to happen, including some of the traffic alterations you photograph and some significant land use intensification in a number of areas. (Although not yet the bike trail connection I mentioned in my other comment. At least it *is* in the city long-term plan now.)

    Given the strong economy surrounding Santa Ana, I think there’s a real possibility it may turn into a big success story for the new urbanist movement (in the broad sense). I think rather large sections could physically and economically be converted into walkable communities, and that it’s politically possible for that to happen. The recent state law encouraging by-right auxiliary housing development could be key, because that could allow land intensification to spread into huge areas of tract suburban housing.

  2. Two thoughts, a propos of little. First, the bulb-out is similar to so many traffic-calming ideas I’ve encountered in Europe, but it has never met a snowplow. Second, Brandon, Florida, though thoroughly plowed under by urban sprawl, still retains what is left of its former town-ness one block off of Highway 60. There, walking in the heat and humidity down a sidewalk under looming oak trees, one encounters one of those heavy cement benches at a bus stop, sitting right in the middle of the sidewalk. It was moved there from its setting a few feet back on the lawn by the mowing crew. At least the utility boxes (has anyone done a study of the subsidy racket that traffic lights really are?) wouldn’t be moveable.

    1. In what sense has the bulbout never met a snowplow? We have lots of bulbouts in my NE city, and we also have a lot of snowplows. They get along okay, as far as I know.

  3. I think it depends on the individual situation. Many curvilinear road layouts cut off one neighbourhood from the next. They’re only connected by some big, hostile arterial road. So unfortunately the only way to connect those for cyclists is via a bike lane on that big, hostile road. Yet another reason to return to building a neat, grid network instead of curvilinear – that way cyclists can find their own safe, quiet route between neighbourhoods, avoiding big roads.

    1. The city of Tulsa sits on a grid network but bicycles are still subject to basically sharing the street with cars. There are quite a few bike trails, mainly near the river, but not many that actually **go** anywhere (map: The merging of trails with the necessary needs of people was seemingly lacking in the planning process. I think most cities try to do “just enough” to satisfy walkers/bicyclists and that is usually reserved to creating the trails, not actually making them useful for fulfilling everyday transportation needs.

      Beautiful church building and I find the (taupe?) home just above it very interesting.

      1. Bike trails are generally thought of as a recreational amenity for suburban day trippers – not as “transportation.” When I was younger and living in suburbia I was routinely pulled over by the police for…. riding my bike. I was never a daredevil so it wasn’t about reckless activity. Cyclists were just assumed to be poor (as I truly was) and undesirable (by their standard… sure.) Bike infrastructure as genuine transportation is seen as attracting the “wrong element” in most suburbs.

        1. There’s a long bike trail along the Santa Ana river and a fairly respectable one along Santiago creek, which flows into the Santa Ana river (well, when there’s water in it, which isn’t often). The two trails *almost* connect – there’s a 1/4 mile gap, which remains only a rough footpath with trees lying across it because the adjacent homeowners have fought like demons to prevent it from being built into a bike trail. They say it would bring in “bad elements”. Their reward? It’s a huge hangout for homeless and junkies, because normal people don’t go through there, and it’s right next to a major mall, public transportation, and bike trails going all over the county.

  4. Do some people not understand the value of multi-modality and having backup transportation methods? What do they do if their car is off the road for a while? Or if the gas stations run dry because their supplies have been disrupted? Where I live, we have a train station and a fairly regular bus service, and we’re only 6-8 miles from the nearest city so cycling is an option, so whenever the car was off the roads (or the truckers blockaded the refineries… my parents could get to work another way. I don’t know how we’d have coped if cars were the only way to get around.

    1. At the risk of pedantry, I’ll start from the assumption that you live in the UK or a large coastal US city and perhaps have never traveled by car from East to West Coast in the US. If that’s not true, please ignore the rest of this. đŸ™‚

      The UK is much more densely populated than the US. For example, the Midwestern US states of Indiana and Illinois combined have about the same land area, but only about 19.4 million people, about 30% of the UK population. In all that space there are only two metro areas over 1 million population, Chicago and Indianapolis…three and a half hours apart by car or bus, less than an hour by air, with less-than-daily rail service.

      Or look at the three states that form the core of the densely populated Northeast Corridor (New York, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey, which contain two of the US’ top 10 metros), whose combined area is a little less than 10% more than the UK’s area. Their combined population is still less than 2/3 that of the UK. Yes, much more rail and urban transit exists there with near-hourly intercity trains…but the built form where most people live is still as so aptly pictured by Johnny on this blog: sprawled out along major roads out of the urban core.

      This is all to illustrate that most Americans simply must go farther to get to anything or anyone than most Britons…family, friends, work, shops. The lack of density means that public transit is sparse outside of a handful of major cities because it would be prohibitively expensive to build and to operate, and intercity rail is almost nonexistent outside the Northeast Corridor. And because of the distances, transportation planners have just assumed for decades that no one will walk or cycle.

      So for more than 80% of us, cars are an absolute necessity in getting almost anywhere because we built it that way. As Johnny points out , we can’t fix the whole thing, but we can apply local low-cost solutions such as side paths and traffic calming where they are feasible.

      1. All valid points. I lived in the U.K. as a student many years ago. The whole of England (minus London) would be swallowed up by a single sprawling U.S. city like Los Angeles or Houston. The British built their core centers well before WWII and were too poor to build much again until at least the 1960s and had trouble sprawling until the North Sea oil years of the 1980s.

        American suburbs will ultimately clump up in some places and thin out in others. A century from now the sprawl will resemble more or less successful villages set in a broad re-ruralized landscape. Sneak preview: Detroit.

  5. I agree with all your points here. If we can figure out a way to make people *hunger* to walk (not just for exercise but for a purpose), then the power brokers will follow suit. Until then, I look at this as yet another way my tax dollars are spent on things I don’t like.

    I walk to work every day, a mere 8-tenths of a mile (I live in a town of 12,000 with few sidewalks). I also go home for lunch 9 months of the year. I am constantly asked, “What about bad weather?” I explain that it is not rain or snow that hinders walking for me, but our 90s-and-higher midday heat that keeps me off the street in the summer (plus our summer schedule at work that gives us only 30 minutes for lunch). I also quote them something I read on at least 15 years ago: “There’s no such thing as too bad of weather to bike” — or, in my case, walk — “only not good enough clothes.” I have found that people are always coming up with excuses for not getting out of their cars: not enough time, freedom and flexibility of driving, have to go too far, scared for safety, the car traffic makes it too dangerous, or walking is so unpleasant because there is no infrastructure to support walking. There is one aspect of my walking that interests them, though — I have lost 25 pounds in 18 months through my moderately paced, weekday walk and eating only a small salad for lunch.

    I very much appreciate your common-sense approach to planning. My youngest has just started college and is majoring in environmental design (planning). I have been sharing your blog with her for awhile. I am sure the professional planners will beat that heresy out of her. :^)

    1. Professional planner here – actually, I think young planners (and plenty of not-so-young) are very much subscribed to Jonny’s way of thinking. In my experience, planners get into this field because they want things to be better, not because they dream of building crappy subdivisions for the rest of their working lives. đŸ™‚

      1. But to make decent money after 30 in many places, planners have to leave their City jobs and work for subdivision developers and land-use lawyers/permit/variance hustlers.

  6. I’m slightly less cynical than you. Older suburbs can be made walkable/bikeable within my lifetime. They’re not gonna be Paris. But imagine that painted bike lane turned into a fully separated lane. The infrastructure has to be continuous – through intersections – and it has to include the main arteries; Otherwise the travel time involved by weaving through residential areas is just too much and people (myself included) revert to driving. So screw the aggro “vehicular cyclists.” If my 8 year old can’t navigate an intersection, it’s not worth the money IMHO.

    Now as for the political will… I’m not holding my breath. A small subset of older suburbs will figure it out in the short term. But for most the reality is… a modest improvement to an intersection – like that bulb-out – takes years to implement in the current system. Why? Well, every year the police, fire, sewer and parks & rec get their slice of my taxes, in that exact order, from most expensive to least. At the end of the process, there may or may not be crumbs left for pedestrian improvements. It’s literally slotted at the end of the budget document, next to the adult literacy program, street tree replacement and other “nice to haves.”

    1. As an active cyclist in scary urban areas, I have no delusions about the green paint. But, it does serve to at least warn people bicyclists are there, and contrary to the more rabid? “bicycle drivers” I would still rather have a lane…even a green paint lane, than share a 11 foot wide traffic lane with cars on a suburban arterial with multiple driveways. Even while recognizing the limitations of such non-infrastructure.

      Excellent post overall, Johnny. As always.

      1. My point here is that we “could” do all sorts of things to make the eight lane arterials much better for pedestrians and cyclists. But realistically… we aren’t going to to. Given that political and cultural reality… let’s pick our battles and work on the stuff that provides the biggest return from scarce resources.

        1. In less-dense suburbs (i.e. places other than California), there is often room in the arterial ROW for an 8-10 foot multi use path that is separated and accommodates non-speedy cyclists and pedestrians. For example, 116th St. in Carmel, IN. Yes, it’s an upscale suburb, but at least someone is providing the example:,+IN/@39.9566378,-86.1488915,3130m/data=!3m1!1e3!4m5!3m4!1s0x8814ad973033fa1d:0x43b9095f5f7b38fc!8m2!3d39.978371!4d-86.1180435?hl=en

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