Tagstory

Save the depot

The last thing we did in Detroit was visit the Michigan Central Station, once the world’s tallest train station (according to contributors of Wikipedia). It’s an interesting area, with big lawns and boulevards leading up to it. There are many homeless people hanging around under the broad trees. One of them came over to ask that I don’t take her photo.

Travelers

Photo of me and the “tourist assistant” by Francesco Villa.

A guy riding his bike came over to talk to us. I asked him if he knew how to get into the train station. He did and showed us where the fence could be easily lifted (someone even tied a rope to the fence) and you could slip under. I gave him a dollar for his help (actually, he asked when I said goodbye).

Thankfully the cool station is on the National Register of Historic Places* making demolition much harder. The problem is getting the right idea and developer married to renovate the station and put it back into productive use.

Amtrak served the station until 1988. I find it odd that Amtrak, or any passenger train, came here in the first place – the station feels far from downtown Detroit. Walking is possible, along Michigan Avenue, but there’s no street activity along the way. I presume that when it was constructed in 1913, the Corktown neighborhood was a bit more hoppin’.

We walked from the train station to the Greyhound station at 1001 Howard Street, a 1.2 mile walk. We stopped for lunch at Great Wall Chinese Food. It was cheap and tasty. Another customer there told us he drives 40 minutes for this restaurant. He also said he worked the light show at the VitaminWater stage at the Movement Festival (formerly Detroit Electronic Music Festival) we spent the previous two days dancing at.

Someone has placed letters at the top of the building saying, SAVE THE DEPOT.

Detroit has so much space. What should we do with all of that room?

*The National Register website doesn’t have permalinks (stupid). So search here for reference number “75000969” or name, “Penn Central Station”. I don’t know why the NHRP calls it Penn Central Station.

Weighting people’s experiences in route choice

An iPhone app is not a substitute for a paper map*, good signage on your bikeway network, or someone just telling you, “Turn right on Church, right on Chambers, left on Reade” to get to the bike shop where you left your water bottle.

At the bike shop I asked about how to get to the Williamsburg bridge so I could go “home” to Brooklyn. After looking at the map, he said, “Oh, take Grand.” -He then told me how to get to Grand.

The Williamsburg bridge. I took this one even though the Manhattan bridge was probably closer to my “home” because I hadn’t yet ridden on it!

I did. It worked. It was excellent. I even passed by the Doughnut Plant (which I had forgotten about visiting).

Doughnut Plant makes really tasty donuts. I wouldn’t get them too often, though, because each one costs $3.

Not only did I receive a “tried and true” route suggestion, I got it faster than any automated route devising device would have generated one.

Each month I’m asked by people how to get somewhere in Chicago. We have so many resources these days but we often still rely on the spoken interaction to get us to our destination.

*I’ve read or heard people suggest that “someone should make” an app that puts the bike map on their smartphone. I don’t think this app would be very useful or easy to use. But a paper map is both – and almost always free.

I value photography

I’ve made photography a very important feature of this blog. The photos help me tell the story. I spend an equal time taking and processing photos for the blog as I do writing it. I take over 200 photos each week. When I travel, I take 1,000 photos. Of 5,814 published photos, almost 64% have been added to the map, bringing more context to the subject and allowing it to be discovered geographically.

I think photography (and photos) is an important aspect of quality urban planning. When talking to the public and trying to get across your ideas, photos and other graphics make a vision come to life. They demonstrate what is and what could be. The right photo will invoke, without prompting, passion and enthusiasm – support you might need. The wrong photo may do the opposite, or have no effect at all. Take as many photos as needed so you ensure they will intimate the feelings you need for your project, or story.

What’s the story here? It could be several things. Simply, that it snowed recently. Or complexly, that while growth in this area has been phenomenal and immediately recognizable (most of the visible buildings starting at the blue-topped one and going south did not exist 10 years ago), our 100 year-old electric interurban train still runs.

I take photos for two reasons: to share on my blog, and to share them publicly, worldwide so that anyone who needs a photo can find it. A variety of my photos have been used to narrate events and ideas in organizational publications (with and without attribution), websites, and even a book!

I want my readers to take photography seriously. I don’t want you to be discouraged by that term, either. Don’t think you need a good camera or know how to take good pictures. Begin today and take one photo per day for a year. In one year, you will be an extremely proficient photographer (or “picture taker”). You’ll be able to tell your story, without a caption, in little time.

Read more about my photographic arsenal:

This photo tells us about the practice of designing malls, and designing malls for dense cities (like Chicago, where it’s located). The escalators are designed to get you in fast, but getting out requires a bit more walking.

Heard of the Great American Streetcar Conspiracy?

General Motors and Standard Oil bought up the country’s streetcar systems, replaced the routes with buses, and thus began America’s automobile love affair and distaste for mass transit.

Streetcars are being now being rebuilt all across America, including in Portland, Oregon.

Heard that before?

Before you perpetuate it further, read this essay for some perspective on the story. Apparently, it’s a problem only liberals suffer from.

Even today it resonates with liberals – The Atlantic casually mentions it as the reason America abandoned mass transit, The Nation wrote a whole article about it a few years ago, Fast Food Nation discusses it, and in the last week I’ve seen two references to the theory in the planning blogosphere.

Now, this essay still isn’t the “end all, be all” chronology of transportation evolution history in the United States.

The new(ish) streetcar in Portland, Oregon.

Do you know of a book or article where the writer summarily presents concrete evidence? The essay does cite four academic sources, so it’s the best explanation of the so-called conspiracy I’ve ever read.

I’m bringing this up thanks to Edward Russell, who posted it, and my sister, who mentioned it to me after a friend told her about the story.

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