Left to right, Federal Transit Administrator James S. Simpson,
Deputy Interior Secretary Lynn Scarlett, Ohio Senator Mike DeWine and Ohio Representative Ralph Regula attended the press conference at the Cuyahoga
Valley National Park. (Photo by Julie Grant)
The federal government is awarding nearly 100 million dollars in grant money over the next few years to reduce traffic in national parks. The GLRC’s Julie Grant reports:
The federal government is awarding nearly 100 million dollars in grant money over the
next few years to reduce traffic in national parks around the country. The GLRC’s Julie
The money is for alternative transportation projects,
including trains, shuttle buses, and bicycle trails. Federal Transit Administrator James
Simpson says each year there are nearly 700 million visits to America’s national parks
and public lands:
“And by and large those visitors have only one way of getting in and around these
national treasures: by car.”
The shuttle buses and trains are expected to reduce car pollution as well as traffic
congestion. Simpson says they are trying to help more people visit the public lands while
preserving the natural habitat and wildlife.
Religious groups are suing local governments across the country for denying permits to build religious buildings. Part of the reason is that many churches are building bigger buildings that take up acres of land. And many of the disputes are between rural neighborhoods, and so-called mega-churches, with buildings over 50 thousand square feet. A federal law limits the power of local governments to say “no” to buildings designed for religious use. The GLRC’s Linda Stephan reports:
Religious groups are suing local governments across the country for denying permits to
build religious buildings. Part of the reason is that many churches are building bigger
buildings that take up acres of land. And many of the disputes are between rural
neighborhoods, and so-called mega-churches, with buildings over 50 thousand square feet.
A federal law limits the power of local governments to say “no” to buildings designed for
religious use. The GLRC’s Linda Stephan reports:
Bay Pointe Community Church prides itself on a contemporary worship style.
(Sound of singing, “Show your power, oh Lord our God, oh Lord our God”)
Members believe it’s their job to reach out to the world, and to the local community.
(Sound of singing, “to Asia and Austrailia, to South America and to the United States.
And to Michigan and Traverse City”)
But some people in the community think the church would be a bad neighbor. Right now,
the church in northern Michigan meets in a high school auditorium. But members have big plans for a
building of their own. It’ll be 58-thousand square-feet. That’s plenty of room for
Sunday school classes, a gym/auditorium, and even space enough to rent out to a
charter school on weekdays.
A year ago local township officials shot down those plans. They said the building’s
“too big,” that it would clash with the area, and that it would cause too much traffic.
Then the church sued, claiming religious discrimination.
The church has some unhappy neighbors in the rural area where it plans to build.
At a public hearing, resident Brian Vos told local officials NOT to back down,
regardless of the lawsuit.
“This isn’t about a church, this is about future development. Heck, Wal-Mart
could come in on East Long Lake. And if they had church on Sunday, you’d have to approve it.”
But, rather than spend hundreds of thousands of dollars defending itself in federal
court, the township settled out-of-court. It agreed to let the church build its building,
and even to let it expand to more than 100 thousand square feet within a few years.
Many residents are NOT happy with the deal and they’ve threatened to recall
the entire township board.
There are similar cases across the country. A recent federal law limits the ability of
zoning boards to say “no” to churches and other religious groups who want to build,
or to expand. Jared Leland represents the Washington-based Becket Fund for Religious Liberty.
The group is bankrolling lawsuits on behalf of churches across the nation. Leland says
the law was created because zoning boards have used bogus arguments to deny permits
to religious groups they don’t like:
“For instance, a Buddhist meditation center was being restricted from existing in a
particular district because they would generate too much ‘noise.’ They
were silent meditation Buddhists. There would absolutely be no noise coming from such.”
Leland says because of the law, today, a municipality needs a
“compelling government interest” to deny a religious building project.
That’s a serious issue that has to do with health, safety, or security.
He says municipalities are usually worried about how a building will look,
or about parking. And he says that’s not enough:
“For instance, if they say, well, something this large is gonna generate too
much traffic, it’s gonna cause parking concerns in the residential district,
those are not compelling government interests.”
But some say putting a mega-church in an area where the community
wants to preserve farmland or keep sprawl away from greenspace should be enough.
“The question is: What is valuable to Americans?”
Marci Hamilton is an expert on church-state law at Cardozo Law School in New York City.
She argues that residential neighborhoods should have some say about what’s being built
next door, through their local government.
Hamilton says the law that Congress passed, RLUIPA, the Religious Land Use and
Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000, is an unprecedented Congressional power grab
from local governments. She says people expect local officials to protect their
neighborhoods from problems like traffic, and noise.
Hamilton says since just the threat of a federal court case is often
enough to force a settlement, there’s an incentive for churches to sue
local governments. Even where the case has no merit under RLUIPA:
“What we’re seeing is almost anything appearing on the mega-church campuses.
We have one in Texas that has a McDonald’s on campus. We have a mega-church in
Pennsylvania that has an automobile repair. I think it’s hard to argue that
those largely commercial activities appropriately fall under RLUIPA.”
Hamilton says she believes the Supreme Court will eventually rule
that the law violates state’s rights. But the High Court has yet to hear a
land use case under this law.
Sometimes tackling environmental problems is not as simple as rounding up volunteers and getting to work. Obstacles get in the way. In one big city, bird lovers face heavy traffic while getting injured birds to the vet. So, they’re bringing the vet a little closer to them. The GLRC’s Shawn Allee has the story:
Sometimes tackling environmental problems is not as simple as rounding up volunteers
and getting to work. Obstacles get in the way. In one big city, bird lovers face heavy
traffic while getting injured birds to the vet, so they’re bringing the vet a little closer to
them. The GLRC’s Shawn Allee has the story:
It’s early morning and Annette Prince is scouring bushes beneath high rise office towers. She’s dodged downtown traffic for several hours now, hunting for birds; specifically,
ones that have flown into windows. Prince pulls her latest find out of a paper sack.
“This is a woodcock.”
“What do you see with the head trauma there?”
“He’s bleeding from his mouth. This bird impacted a building when we were
watching it a few minutes ago. He flew right into the glass and he died
There are survivors, though. Prince stowed some in her green mini van.
Paper sacks hold another woodcock and a tiny, grey-feathered bird called a junco.
“Both were found after they hit a building this morning. They’re resting in the bags
and they’re going to rehab where they’ll receive an evaluation by a wildlife
rehabilitator to decide what kind of treatment they need and what they’re potential
is to be released.”
Injuries such as skull fractures need quick treatment, but when Prince and others find injured birds, their options are limited. The nearest wildlife rehab center is twenty-five miles away from downtown Chicago. In heavy traffic, the drive takes a while.
“People have indicated a great desire to step up and help whenever they can. Up
until now, we’ve had to tell them there wasn’t any place they could take the birds
they found, short of having to drive for more than an hour. And many city residents
can’t. They either don’t have cars or that’s too far a distance.”
But if you can’t get birds to the vets at the rehab center maybe you can bring the vets
closer to the birds. A new bird hospital’s opening near downtown, where people can
reach it by bus or a short cab ride.
Dawn Keller runs a rehab center in a Chicago suburb, and soon she’ll oversee the new
downtown hospital. She says when she’s finished the city will have its own miniature avian ER for immediate
“We’ll be moving in things such as scales, so we can weigh the birds when they come
in, so we can properly dose the medicine. We’ll be bringing in cages, refrigerator,
food supplies, all of the things that we’ll need to properly care for the birds.”
Keller says, birds with the most serious injuries will recover out in her suburban rehab
center. The bird urgent care center isn’t just good for birds, it’s good for volunteers. Keller says area bird watchers bring in about nine hundred birds a year, and sometimes
the volunteers are overwhelmed especially during peak migration times.
“Our peak day, I think was about 127 in one day. We put in a lot of hours on those
days; those are pretty much sleepless nights.”
Keller says, the sleepless nights and long drives through traffic out to the rehab center
add up to volunteer fatigue.
She hopes the convenience of a closer hospital will keep more volunteers on board. Wildlife rehab experts say the Chicago hospital’s part of a trend; professionals are getting
help closer to the problem and making it easier on volunteers. Elaine Thrune directs the National Wildlife Rehabilitators Association. She says most wildlife care centers are small and heavily rely on volunteers.
“Even at a center you have some staff, but the actual hands-on care of feeding the
birds or assisting the veterinarian is done by volunteers.”
Thrune says rehab centers face a location conundrum. Volunteers rescue wildlife in cities or suburbs, but rehab centers and professional staff
are often in far away, rural areas. That’s because injured animals recover best when they’re away from noise and people,
but Thrune says rehab centers are experimenting. They’re opening intake centers in popular spots, like shopping malls.
“It’s a convenient place for people to bring things and to drop them off. And it’s a
good place for a veterinarian or a trained rehabilitator to examine them
immediately and then do what’s necessary.”
Thrune says the drop-off centers are like hospital triages; staff patch up the easy cases
quickly. Then, animals with more serious injuries recover out in the country. The
Chicago bird watchers and wildlife rehabbers are betting on this strategy. They say they’ll need to if they’re to keep the current stable of helpers, and they hope
with the convenience of the nearby downtown center more people will scour near
downtown Chicago for injured birds.
Some big city mayors and urban legislators say insurance rates are unfair to people who live in cities. The GLRC’s Lester Graham reports, state legislatures are reluctant to change insurance rate structures in fear of angering suburban voters:
Some big city mayors and urban legislators say insurance rates are unfair
to people who live in cities. The GLRC’s Lester Graham reports, state
legislatures are reluctant to change insurance rate structures in fear of
angering suburban voters:
Insurance rates are higher in cities than they are in suburbs. Often
they’re much higher. Peter Kuhnmuench is an insurance industry
spokesman with the Insurance Institute of Michigan. He says there are
more risks and more insurance claims in the cities that drive up the costs.
“We see a higher incidence of fire and burglary and theft in the urban
areas typically than you do in the suburban areas.”
And although suburban residents typically drive their cars farther to
work, drivers in the city have more collisions and theft claims.
Legislators in cities want the insurance costs tp be spread out across a wider
population, but suburban legislators don’t want their residents to have to
subsidize urban insurance rates. Those in the city say the irony is:
through tax dollars, their residents are forced to subsidize more lanes of traffic for
the suburbanites who commute to work in the city.
During the warmer months, this free bike garage near Chicago’s Millennium Park is filled to the brim, but on this winter day, it has room to spare. (Photo by Shawn Allee)
There are some people so determined to fight pollution and traffic congestion that they bike instead. There are even some brave souls who bike year-round, come good weather or bad. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Shawn Allee meets one woman who wants to join them:
There are some people so determined to fight pollution and traffic
congestion that they bike instead. There are even some brave souls who
bike year-round, come good weather or bad. The Great Lakes Radio
Consortium’s Shawn Allee meets one woman who wants to join them:
For a lot of people, transportation’s more than just a way of getting from
point A to point B. They take it personally. They want to cut air
pollution, use less energy, or they want to save money on commuting.
For those kinds of reasons Julie Lenfest doesn’t own a car. For years, she
relied on buses, but she hated them. They ran late. They didn’t go
everywhere. She was fed up, so she tried biking.
“I hate to beat down on the buses, but I got really frustrated with the
buses and it made me want a car, and then having a bike made me not want a car
anymore … it took that whole frustration away.”
For a while, each ride was a kind of … personal triumph.
That was fine while she lived in California, but Julie’s routine hit a snag
after she moved to Chicago. She was used to mild, Californian winters,
not blustery, frigid Midwestern winters. Sometimes the cold here gets so
bad it brings tears to your eyes. No wonder Julie chickened out last
winter. She stayed off her bike and hopped the bus instead.
“I don’t know, just, ah, talked myself out of it, but we’ll see. Now, I need
Julie started thinking about winter biking weeks before there was any
snow. She needed advice. So, she came to a seminar on how to prep
herself and her bike for winter. She’s come to the right place.
“I’m Alex Wilson. This is my shop, West Town Bikes … (continue)”
If anyone’s capable of teaching Julie and the other folks here, Alex is.
He’s more than just a winter biker and expert repairman. He’s a bike
“I just can’t find any inherent bad in bikes. Plus, bikes are fun, you know.
What better reason to be interested in bikes than, bikes are a lot of fun?”
Alex starts the class with how to keep warm. The trick’s not to get too
warm, otherwise you get drenched in sweat. Layering’s good, but
there’re no hard and fast rules about which long underwear goes with
what rain gear. Alex says trial-and-error works best.
Then there’s safety. Alex suggests putting reflective tape on your bike as
well as your jacket.
“Motorists are not looking for cyclists in the winter, so you need to be
The next lesson’s about street salt. Salt corrodes your bike and can make
it hard to peddle.
“After after you’ve gotten to your destination, do this:”
(Sound of a bang)
“Bounce your bike hard and knock off all the stuff that’s built up on your
Alex says all this mechanical advice is important but misses the point.
“The biggest thing that holds people back from biking in the winter is not
any gear or special equipment. It’s having the will to do it or having the
courage to do it.”
And there’re plenty of things to be scared of. Everything from being seen
in geeky winter outfits to more serious stuff, such as frostbite, but Julie’s
encouraged and she peddles out of the seminar, with her resolve intact.
(Sound of bike wheel)
A month later, I meet Julie to see whether her determination was a match
for the weather. Today, she’s biked to an outdoor ice rink. Snow’s
heaped along the sidewalks and we can see our breath. While she laces
her skates, she tells me the good news first. Turns out, she hasn’t been
“There are other people winter biking, I thought I’d be the only person.”
These strangers offered useful tips on clothes and safe routes.
There have been problems, though. Early on, Julie was looking for
adventure, but she changed her tune after the season’s first major storm.
“There was snow and it was slippery and they hadn’t put salt down yet.
So I decided I would walk on the sidewalk because I didn’t trust my
brakes and I didn’t trust other people’s brakes.”
That day sapped the fun out of winter biking, but she realized something
else. She’s kind of over the thrill. She’ll keep biking, but more and more,
it’s just the way she gets around. She doesn’t have to prove anything to
“They just don’t understand how you can live without having a car, and
I’m just tired of explaining it to them over and over. So, I just say I can be
there at this time and I don’t tell them how I’m getting there; it’s my
So, she doesn’t talk about it so much anymore. It’s good to cut down on traffic or
save energy, but winter biking’s not so easy. If she chooses to keep it at, it’ll
be because she enjoys it, not because someone’s convinced her she has to. That’s
to say, it’s personal, and, to her, important.
Kyle's dog, Lucy, playing on a tennis court. (Photo by Patrick Sweeney)
For most people – meeting a stranger on the street isn’t something that conjures up the warm fuzzies, but if the stranger happens to be a cute dog that’s a little different. Great Lakes Radio Consortium commentator and new dog owner Kyle Norris wonders why this is:
For most people – meeting a stranger on the street isn’t something that
conjures up the warm fuzzies, but if the stranger happens to be a cute dog
that’s a little different. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s commentator
and new dog owner Kyle Norris wonders why this is:
At age 30, I’m new to dog culture. Growing up my dad was pretty much
allergic to everything with fur. My childhood pets were goldfish, Lizzy the
lizard, and a tiny turtle we found in a neighbor’s pond. Lucy’s the first real
pet I’ve ever owned.
Lucy is 100-percent mutt. When I first saw her last year, my heart melted
into a puddle. She was this trembling little fur-ball with deep-brown,
gumdrop eyes. In the past year, she’s grown into a sweet, skinny, medium-
The thing that struck me the most as a new dog-owner was the way
strangers responded to her.
This summer I was walking Lucy through a campground with my girlfriend. We passed a
man in a lawn-chair, clutching a cold one. He looked up, “That’s a good-
looking dog you got there, lady.”
Compliments like that are small potatoes for Lucy. Another time, my
girlfriend and I were walking the pup downtown. We passed a fancy
restaurant with sidewalk tables. Suddenly this glamorous-looking woman
cried out-loud. “Well hell-o gorgeous!” It caught me off-guard. I thought
she was talking to me. For that frozen moment of time, I felt slick, and then I
watched her bend down and nuzzle Lucy’s face.
People pour their love on Lucy like butter. “Love” might not be the right
word. Maybe it’s adoration or a combination of warm gooey feelings.
Whatever it is, these people open a floodgate inside themselves, and they
do it in a way that they’d never do with human strangers.
Maybe it’s easier to open-up to creatures. The dog on the street wants very
little from us, and that is refreshing.
Sometimes the dog-walker can use this point to their advantage. On
weekends, my sister used to borrow Lucy with the hope of meeting guys.
They would walk into the heart of downtown, where things were buzzing
with foot traffic. They’d loop the main drag and then hit the smaller side
It didn’t take long until my sister became frustrated. Potential boyfriends
didn’t even notice the pup. Instead, sorority girls, couples, and families
threw themselves at Lucy—not exactly the crowd she was going for.
My sister has this theory about why people open-up to animals and not each
other. She says, “Animals are free love tied to the end of a string.”
At first, I felt funny when people gave Lucy their “love-fests.” I was on
the receiving end of their attention but I wasn’t really the recipient. Now I
appreciate their interactions for what they are—good intentions released
into the world.
I know the ability to open our hearts in us. I experience it through Lucy
every day. I just wonder why we can’t be this open and generous with one-
another. Or maybe we could. If we were cuter, fuzzier, and didn’t talk so
Host Tag: Kyle Norris is a freelance writer, who lives with her puppy in Ann Arbor,
The town of Elburn, IL is working to preserve their small town feel in the face of sprawling development headed their way. (Photo by Shawn Allee)
Bulldozers prepare the site of the new train station in Elburn, IL. (Photo by Shawn Allee)
Planners are hoping the new train station and denser development will save Elburn's rural character. (Photo by Shawn Allee)
Rural towns on the edge of big cities often see encroaching suburban development as a threat to their way of life. One small town is feeling those pressures too. And it’s taking a page from its past to fight them. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Shawn Allee has this report:
Rural towns on the edge of big cities often see encroaching
suburban development as a threat to their way of life. One small town
is feeling those pressures too. And it’s taking a page from its past
to fight them. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Shawn Allee
has this report:
Eric Gustaffson is a young guy who works at his family’s drug store. He says he plans to stick around because he likes his small town – Elburn, Illinois – just as it is. It’s still got a working grain elevator and animal feed stores. It also has a real town center, a strip of shops that people can walk to.
But like a lot of his neighbors, Eric’s bothered by some of the sprawling subdivisions that are popping up nearby. He doesn’t want to see that that kind of development come to Elburn. He says it would become a place where neighbors live too far apart and everyone has to drive to get anywhere. He does have hope, though.
“I really think that the plan that Elburn has set in place will work a lot better and will control how things grow a little bit more instead of just things from popping up in random places.”
So, what’s the plan? Well, it turns out Elburn’s looking to its past for help. Residents used to catch passenger trains here for day trips to Chicago. The passenger service died out decades ago, but now Elburn’s bringing in a new train station. It will be part of the region’s Metra commuter rail system.
By next year, commuters will be able to avoid the congested roads that lead to Chicago, but the town also wants the station to be the center of a new neighborhood, a cluster of new shops, smaller homes, and even apartments.
The idea’s to get people to walk to stores and the train instead of driving to them, all of which is very different from what’s happening in nearby subdivisions. Those are pretty much isolated tracts of big houses and little else.
There is some danger in Elburn’s plan, though. The proposed development could double the population, and the train station will attract extra car traffic to its parking lot. During our drive to the construction site, I ask the mayor, Jim Willey, whether this plan might kill the town while trying to save it.
“I get the impression sometimes people wish that we had some secret sauce we could spray on the town and keep it just the way it is. It’s sad, but you can’t do that and change happens, and we have to deal with it.”
(Sound of heavy machinery)
At the site, construction machines pack down a couple of acres of dirt. It took a decade, a lot of political will, and a hundred and forty million dollars to start the project. But Jim says that was the easy part.
It will be harder to resist the temptation to stray from the plan, and build only big, single family homes here. He says a compact mix of stores and housing will be good for the region, not just Elburn. If there’s enough housing here, maybe there’ll be less pressure to build houses on the nearby farms.
“You can’t go anywhere in the world and find finer farmland than where we’re at right now. So the least that we can do is, when we’re going to convert this to housing, is let’s think about what we’re doing, let’s try to make some intelligent decisions.”
There are towns that look like Elburn’s vision of the future. Last century, commuter towns with compact development sprung up along the country’s commuter rail lines. But they all got their start in the days before interstate highways and long car commutes. So, is it possible to mimic those towns now, in the post-automobile age?
Well, I put that question to Dave Schulz. He’s with the Infrastructure Technology Institute, a federally-funded transportation research group. He says it’s hard to keep projects like Elburn’s on track; homes are clustered close to shops, what planners call high-density. He cites Glenview, another Illinois town with a commuter rail station.
“Basically, a number of members of the Glenview board who were voted out of office for approving a townhome development that was judged, apparently, by voters to be too high density near the train station. I think we have a situation where people in the suburbs fear density.”
Schulz says it’s hard to change that attitude. But to fend off the sprawl of suburban development, towns like Elburn need to stay the course. Otherwise…
“If all you’re gonna do is build a bunch of stations in the middle of the cornfields with giant parking lots to allow people to drive to the station from wherever they choose to live, I think a fairly strong argument can be made that you’re not fighting sprawl, but you’re in fact facilitating sprawl.”
Dave Schulz says places like Elburn could be onto something. Maybe its plan for compact development will attract people looking for something different from typical suburban homes. If Elburn can keep its small-town feel, maybe newcomers won’t mind giving up their spacious yards and extra cars.
Backyards and nature collide, even in Alaska. (Photo courtesy of US Department of Justice)
Over the last couple of decades, a lot of small cities have grown rapidly. They’ve pushed their city limits closer to wilderness areas. That’s caused some city dwellers to connect to nature in unexpected ways. And just like in the lower 48 states, the same things happening in an area often thought of as the country’s last frontier. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Aileo Weinmann is visiting Alaska this summer and brings us this audio essay:
Over the last couple of decades, a lot of small cities have grown rapidly.
They’ve pushed their city limits closer and closer to what used to be
natural areas. They’ve spread out to bump up against wildlife habitat.
That’s caused some city dwellers to connect to nature in unexpected ways.
The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Aileo Weinmann says, just like in the lower 48, that’s happening
in Alaska too.
(Sound of insects and birds)
I can see why Bill Sherwonit calls his backyard one of his favorite urban wild places.
(Sound of creek)
Birds sing. Insects buzz around. They’re backed by a gurgling creek. In the foothills bordering
Alaska’s biggest city, the sounds mingle with fresh scents of grass and wildflowers. It awakens the
senses to the wildness of nature. This place feels closer to the nearby mountains than Alaska’s
urban center, Anchorage.
We sit in a grassy spot still damp with dew. Sherwonit is a freelance nature
writer who writes a monthly column for the local newspaper.
He’s dressed in a weathered, blue Iditarod sweatshirt. His strong posture
and gentle face make him seem younger than his salt-and-pepper whiskers
would indicate. Sherwonit beams as he explains why he thinks wildness is
essential to being human.
“It’s who we are. One of the great things about getting out, you know, wherever it is, the
so-called open spaces or natural spaces in Anchorage. You get out and you exercise your body and
you start to feel yourself in your body. You sweat a little bit. You know, you smack mosquitoes,
you feel your muscles. Our bodies our wild things.”
This wildlife refuge doesn’t get a lot of traffic because the paths to get
here are disappearing due to a housing boom on the bluffs above the
The simple park sign says nothing of the refuge. But we walk down a short
grassy path. Its edges are bordered by alder-willow thickets and yellow and
indigo wildflowers. Soon, we’re standing on a spit of land overlooking sedge marsh and mud
Houses pack the wooded bluff tops. But where we’re standing, we can see a
narrow strip of forest that still forms an important wildlife corridor for
birds, moose, and even an occasional bear. It’s a gorgeous panoramic view of
the Refuge, the surrounding mountain ranges looming in the distance.
“Most of what we can see from here is very natural and much of it is
wild, and some of it is indeed wilderness. I don’t know if you’re feeling it
too, but there’s a change in the energy here; it just seems much calmer.”
A path leads us to the sedge marsh and mud flats below, where Sherwonit says
it’s safe to walk during low tide. That is, as long as you watch out for
low points where the mud is softer. It’s a good idea to check a tide table
before heading out.
(Sound of water)
This morning we don’t venture too far out onto the mud flats because the
tide is rising. It’s already high enough to begin lapping at our boots. Sherwonit says watching the
wild places close to home, and seeing their seasonal changes is the best way
for people to experience wilderness.
“You actually begin to develop a relationship with a place. I like to think
of the birds and the bears and the moose and even the trees and the
wildflowers and these other – like here, the sedges and other coastal plants;
really they’re our wild neighbors.”
The visit with Bill Sherwonit inspired me. I’ve returned to the Refuge many
times on my own. At low tide, I can wander farther onto the rippled silt
and mud. I’ve seen fresh moose tracks, and I’ve heard up close the
loud, prehistoric bugle of sandhill cranes near the sedge marsh. I try to
go at different times of day, find something new each time. But, even
though I’m close to the city and the encroaching suburbs, I never see
another human along this sliver of Alaska’s coast. So for now, it’s still
wild, even with the city nearby.
A new study calls for more investment in public transit to reduce commutes and congestion. (Photo by James Lin)
More and more cities are experiencing serious traffic congestion. A new report looked at travel data from 2003 and found that, without massive investment, our daily commutes are likely to increase. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Shawn Allee has more:
More and more cities are experiencing serious traffic congestion.
A new report looked at travel data from 2003 and found that, without
massive investment, our daily commutes are likely to increase. The
Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Shawn Allee has more:
The new study from the Texas Transportation Institute suggests the nation
would have to build five thousand miles of new roads every year just to keep
pace with the growth in car traffic.
Alternatively, they say massive investment in public transit could keep the
problem from getting worse. But co-author Tim Lomax says we’re not paying enough through
gasoline or other taxes to make those big investments.
He says one reason is that we often don’t calculate the cost of what he
calls the “congestion tax.”
“It should be pretty clear that we are paying for congestion right now.
We’re sitting in our cars. We’re not spending time with our businesses or
our families. We’re wasting gas because the operation of our vehicles is
The Texas researchers say those costs add up, to the tune of about three
point five billion hours worth of traffic delays each year. The study also recommends that traffic engineers raise tolls in some cities and work to curb suburban sprawl in less developed areas.
"Meter cruising" is when people drive repeatedly around the block to find an open curbside parking meter. A new book says that not only is meter cruising a waste of gas, but a symptom of a larger urban planning problem. (Photo by Shawn Allee)
Finding a free parking space on the street is sometimes a big hassle. But cheap parking is beginning to be viewed as an environmental problem. A growing number of city planners say free parking isn’t really free. It just shifts the cost to taxpayers and society at large. In the first of a two-part series, the Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Shawn Allee has a report on this new view of the ongoing search for a parking space:
Finding a free parking space on the street is sometimes a big hassle. But, cheap parking is beginning to be viewed as an environmental problem. A growing number of city planners say free parking isn’t really free. It just shifts the cost to taxpayers and society at large. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Shawn Allee has a report on this new view of the ongoing search for a parking space.
If you’ve ever played the board game Monopoly, you’ve probably crossed your fingers as you approached the spot called “free parking.” If your token lands there, it doesn’t cost you anything.
But a researcher says there’s really no such thing as “free parking,” at least not in the real world. UCLA Professor Donald Shoup has spent 20 years dispelling the myth that free parking is good for everyone.
In his latest book, titled The High Cost of Free Parking, Shoup tries to show that empty cars are taking the public and the environment for a costly ride.
“Bad parking policies are connected to a lot of other problems we have in society, but people haven’t been able to trace them to parking, and I think I’ve tried to do that.”
Take one of the biggest traffic issues facing large cities: meter cruising. That’s when drivers circle a block again and again, waiting for a curb-side meter.
“The average time it took to find a parking space was about three minutes. That doesn’t seem like too much for an individual to spending hunting for a free parking space, but it adds up if everybody else does it.”
Shoup says meter cruising wastes millions of gallons of gas every year. It also creates a lot of traffic congestion and pollution. Meter cruising’s common to downtowns, but even neighborhood shopping areas face the cruising problem.
Here’s an example. Devon Avenue is a bustling commercial strip on Chicago’s far North Side. There are lots of Indo-Pakistani restaurants, Muslim book stores and Jewish bakeries there. On a typical Saturday, the area’s so popular that only a handful of parking meters stay open for more than a few minutes. And it’s no wonder. Parking at the meter only costs 25 cents per hour.
The situation’s made worse by neighborhood parking permits. That’s a policy that keeps nearby residential streets off-limits to shoppers and restaurant-goers. Walking down the sidewalk, Grace is toting several shopping bags that heave with fresh fruit and Indian condiments.
“I went on the side streets and found a place about six blocks away without a need for a permit and took it and walked in. It’s one of the first really beautiful days of spring, so it wasn’t a hardship.”
If it hadn’t been such a nice day, Grace might have been circling the nearby blocks, wasting gas, trying to find a space at a parking meter.
Local shop owners say too many customers don’t like the parking situation. So the store owners complain to the local alderman, Bernard Stone. Seated in his office, Alderman Stone says no politician can afford to ignore demand for cheap parking. So he’s come up with a solution.
Stone: “If you look over your head, you’ll see a drawing of a new garage that’s gonna be built at Devon and Rockwell.”
Allee: “When’s that gonna be up?”
Stone: “Well, it should be started very shortly, I’ve been working at it for ten years.”
Developers for that project promised to create 200 low-rate parking spaces. It’s a deal they’ve struck in exchange for free city-owned land where they want to build. But the expert on parking, Donald Shoup says as politically appealing as that type of solution is, it doesn’t work. It really doesn’t keep cruising in check.
Well, he takes a page from both the free-marketeers and grassroots activists. First, he says raise the price for metered parking. A lot. He says how much takes a little calculating.
“We could call this the Goldilocks principle of curb parking prices. The price is too high if too many spaces are vacant and too low if no spaces are vacant. If about fifteen percent are vacant, the price is just right.”
Traffic engineers say keeping fifteen percent of spots open stops meter cruising. To save money, people leave their parking spots sooner and everyone can find new spots faster. Next, make higher parking prices politically attractive to shop owners by letting the neighborhoods keep the meter money. Critics say that’s a hard sell because many times, people worry the money will go to city hall instead.
But Shoup says it works. He points to some California towns, where the money goes to repair streets and even hire security guards. Professor Shoup’s supporters say he might be too optimistic about the prospects for change in our impulse to hunt for the closest, most perfect parking space.
Shoup says he wants to be remembered as the first who showed, unless you’re just playing games, there’s no such thing as free parking.