Friday Roundup: The First Edition

Welcome to the first of (probably) many weekly news roundups, covering the most interesting urban and transit related things I’ve read this week. The most interesting thing of any sort I’ve read this week was probably Neverwhere, but that is only tangentially related to the subject of this blog. 

Airport Connectors” from Pedestrian Observations

I agree with parts and disagree with parts, but it’s all well-written and well argued.

But before going on, I would like to clarify a distinction between bad and overrated. Airport connectors, as I have argued many times, are overrated: city elites tend to like them disproportionately to their transit usage, as do many urban boosters, who think a comfortable airport connector is a necessary feature of a great global city. The result of this thinking (and also the main evidence we have that this thinking exists) is that airport connectors are built at much higher costs per rider than other transit projects: the JFK and Newark AirTrains cost more than $100,000 per weekday rider, much more than other recent rail projects in New York; even the far over-budget East Side Access, at current estimates, is about $60,000.

However, overrated does not mean bad. There exist airport connector projects with reasonable cost per rider. They’re still overrated, which means they’ll be built concurrently with even more cost-effective non-airport projects, but they’re good enough by themselves.

Jerusalem’s light railway: commuting with a rifle through the conflicted city” from The Guardian Cities

Fascinating read on what light rail means in a divided, conflicted city. 

According to Danny Seidemann, an Israeli lawyer who focuses on political issues concerning Jerusalem, the impact of the railway has been huge for Palestinians in the city. The planners were disinclined to route the railway through Shuafat and Beit Hanina, he says, for fear of deterring Israeli passengers and fuelling fears of terror attacks. “But were it only to go through ‘Israeli’ areas, they would be open to the charge that it was a racist railway. So it was routed this way with great reluctance.”

Massimo Vignelli, Visionary Designer Who Untangled the Subway, Dies at 83” – from The New York Times

Also check out The Standards Manual for a fascinating primary source look at graphic design for transit systems from the late Mr. Vignelli.

Mr. Vignelli described himself as an “information architect,” one who structures information to make it more understandable. But when the Metropolitan Transportation Authority released his new subway map in 1972, many riders found it the opposite of understandable. Rather than representing the subway lines as the spaghetti tangle they are, it showed them as uniform stripes of various colors running straight up and down or across at 45-degree angles — not unlike an engineer’s schematic diagram of the movement of electricity.

Pretty ugly: Russia’s suburbs lack charm or beauty. All the more reason to celebrate them” – from The Calvert Journal

A first-person account of Russian suburbs – the buildings look different than I’m used to seeing in American suburbs, but the spirit is the same.

Every Russian has memories of the suburbs, and mine are quite straightforward. I lived in a suburb in south-east St Petersburg from the ages of five till ten. I remember looking out of the kitchen window — on the 12th floor of a beige brick high-rise — and staring at а square patch of grass, crossed by a diagonal path, with two other absolutely identical high rises on the right and on the left. Sometimes a barrel on wheels arrived to sell milk or kvas (a drink made from fermented bread) and tiny people in tiny jackets, like beads on a string, formed a queue. There was a hill we used for sledging in the winter and, as I later found out, it was made of rubbish from a time when this distant part of the city only had wastelands and dumps. Behind the patch of grass there were rows of tin garages, and behind the garages was the dusty sky criss-crossed by wires. A couple of years ago they built a big highway that stretched over the garages, connecting the edgeland of my childhood with some other edgeland.

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