Archive for the ‘Book Reviews’ Category

Book recommendation

I’ve just recently finished a book that I highly recommend that you read. It’s called “Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America One Step at a Time” by Jeff Speck.

It discusses parking, pedestrian safety, one-way Main Streets, biking, and more.

Much of it I think goes against traditional thinking and practices but he has research to back up his ideas.

Many of the issues discussed are applicable to us in Cortland as we look at ways to make downtown more vibrant and create a more welcoming corridor down Clinton Avenue.

Some of what I’ve learned so far:

  • One-way Main Streets are disastrous for downtowns
  • 4 way stops are better than traffic lights
  • The safest street is the one that is perceived as the most dangerous
  • Narrower, not wider, streets are safer streets
  • What makes sidewalks safe is not their width but whether it is protected by a line of parked cars
  • Separated bike lanes which would have cars parallel parked between the bicycle lane and the roadway are safer than bicycle lanes up against car doors

Lots of interesting material.



Saving our cities from the automobile

Following up on yesterday’s post I wanted to share a quote from a book I started reading yesterday.

The book is called “Straphanger: Saving Our Cities and Ourselves from the Automobile” by Taras Grescoe.

There are so many great quotes from the first chapter alone but this one went along with yesterday’s post.

“This book is, in part, the story of a bad idea: the notion that our metropolises should be shaped by the needs of cars, rather than people. A slow-motion exodus from cities began when old, coherent neighborhoods were divided and degraded by on-ramps and overpasses, and highways were cut into the living tissue of the metropolis. By diminishing public space, the automobile has made once great cities terrible places to live.”

Sound familiar?


One hour a day

I bet you didn’t know that most people, the world over, spend just about the same amount of time each day getting to where they need to go. It’s about one hour.

When walking was the only way to get around, an average walking speed of 5 kilometers an hour meant that you covered an area of approximately 7 square miles. This is exactly the mean area of Greek villages to this day. The old center of a city like Venice  still has a diameter of 5 kilometers.

But when mobility options increased, cities kept growing but still the center of the city is roughly 30 minutes away for most people.

Even prisoners get an hour “out in the yard.”

In America today, half the population commutes about twenty minutes each way. “Studies have shown that satisfaction with one’s commute begins to drop off at around thirty minutes each way.”

All of this and much more can be found in Tom Vanderbilt’s 2008 book
 “Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (And What It Says About Us)”

It’s complex and fascinating.


“Oil on the Brain”

So you know I’ve been posting some quotes this week from “Oil on the Brain: Adventures from the Pump to the Pipeline” by Lisa Margonelli. Last night I finished the book and the second half of the book is just as interesting as the first.

Margonelli takes us from the gas station through the refinery and drilling processes to an understanding of the NYMEX oil market. Then she’s off on a worldwide tour of countries that are oil producers – Venezuela, Chad, Iran, and Nigeria. She caps it off with a look at China. How will the burgeoning economy and the adoption of the Western lifestyle by the Chinese  impact the oil market?

I highly recommend this book. It is supremely readable, not dry at all and since our country is the world’s number one oil consumer, we need to understand the market and the system and the worldwide impact.

Some more tidbits from the book:

“In the years since 1988, the U.S. military presence in the Gulf has grown from nothing, to $50 billion a year for the 1990s, to a full-scale occupation costing more than $132 billion a year in 2005. By one estimate, the hidden costs of defense and import spending are the equivalent of an extra $5 for every gallon of imported gasoline, a cost that doesn’t show up at American gas pumps.”

“The U.S. strategy for oil has been to count on the distances between producers and consumers to keep the trouble and the burdens of oil production from being our business. But that system has brought about its own demise. Oil has made the world a smaller place, and now globalization magnifies events at the wellheads.”

“In 2000, there were 16 million cars in China; by 2004 there were 27 million. By 2010, maybe 56 million, doubling at 2020 to 120 million, all crowding onto the roads.”


“Green Metropolis”

New York City as a model of sustainability? That’s the premise of author David Owen’s 2009 book “Green Metropolis: Why Living Smaller, Living Closer, and Driving Less are the Keys to Sustainability.”

Owen, a staff writer at The New Yorker, shares statistics that show that New York City resident’s per capita greenhouse gas emissions are much lower than the average American. Their density and horrible traffic encourages a car-free lifestyle. People living in huge apartment buildings use less energy since heat from one can heat adjoining apartments.

He refutes many environmentalist’s idea that a rural lifestyle built upon open space, eating local, and having solar panels is the only path to sustainability.

I read this last fall  as I was just starting this  job dealing with transportation issues in Cortland County. This is a provocative book that will make you look at sustainability in a different light. You may not be totally convinced of all of his arguments but it’s hard to refute the main premise that driving less is the major key to sustainability. We may not have to live in a city the size of New York City. Personally I think small cities are the way to go. Cities like Cortland that have a compact downtown, a college within the city limits, and the ability of many city residents to walk downtown have many elements already in place and great potential for being a model of sustainability.

You can borrow a copy of the book through the Finger Lakes Library System.

What do you think?

Jan Dempsey