US Oil Imports Falling

It was reported just today that oil imports are falling in the United States. I might add, it’s about damn time. After years of cold war nonsense, illogical Government manipulation from subsidies for exploration to dictatorial control about where we are or are not allowed to buy oil from the resource has been poorly utilized and poorly brought to market.

Today when I read the USA Today article on falling oil imports. The article brings up a single point as to why our imports are dropping, which is “Experts largely credit new drilling techniques that have unearthed vast troves of previously inaccessible oil embedded in shale deposits in states such as North Dakota and Texas“. This again, brings up my frustration with so called experts. Especially experts that are likely some oil company employee spouting off how everything is fine and dandy. Well, here’s a few major reasons why imports have decreased and why we’re able to use more oil locally.

The first one, just to cover the bases, is the huge sacrifice the country is putting into shale derived oil. Even though we’re ruining massive volumes of drinkable water to mine this oil, it’s increased the amount of oil we’re producing in country by a fair bit. But that brings up the other huge reason why we’re able to use this new oil and decrease our imports. Let’s talk about all of these reasons, that combined, are making as much or more of a difference than the new shale oil we’re getting.

Driving is down by a large enough percentage that fuel usage has decreased across the nation. This isn’t a mere blip on the radar anymore either. As “US Driving Continues to Decrease“, dramatically “Study: Fewer Young People Getting Driver’s License” and some posit why “Fewer Teenagers Have Driver‚Äôs Licenses ‚Ķ Because of Gas Prices and the Internet?” but have no evidence. We know though that driving has decreased and continues to decrease. This started happening before the Great Recession and continues today.

Meanwhile more and more continue to move into urban cores, closer in suburbs and places that don’t require 100% auto-dependence. Some places of course, are still a disgrace to intelligence or intelligent lifestyle options like Houston, Texas or Phoenix, Arizona. However even those places have seen dramatic market demand for more livable, walkable, bicycle and transit friendly lifestyles. Albeit they’re orders of magnitude more difficult to attain in those cities. However others have seen a skyrocketing increase in demand; San Francisco, New York, Chicago, Portland, Seattle, Los Angeles even and many many others.

So why has our oil imports decreased? Sure, we’re producing a little more oil in country, albeit at great cost (shale oil is NOT cheap), but we’re also starting to live in a much more intelligent way than we have the last 50 plus years.

Here’s to hoping the United States continues to improve in this way.

Division Street is Looking Great! Let’s Destroy Division Street!

There’s new construction on Division & 32nd that has the road torn up and down to one lane. The construction gaurd is polite, offers me immediate passage across the street to the bus stop. I’m one of the many lucky souls in Portland that lives within a hundred feet of a bus, light rail, passenger rail or streetcar stop. Today I’m boarding the trusty #4 Route Bus into downtown Portland.

As the construction gaurd flips his sign from stop to slow, the traffic from the western direction, which is where my bus is arriving, starts to trickle through. I stand at the bus stop prepared to board. I check my smart phone to insure that I’ve purchased a day pass. I verify that I have and count the seconds. One car, two car, three car and four. The bus then pulls through and stops gingerly in front of me.

I step aboard to prevent any lingering wait that the cagers surely draw frustration from. The driver is already smiling and greets me with a “it’s really running the gauntlet today”. He refers to Division Street as a whole. From 39th to 10th or so it has been under construction from many months, if not more than a year now.

Division Street Grows Into Something Worthwhile

Four years ago Division Street was nothing but a small two lane arterial that switched into 4 lanes at random places. It is a residential street with front yards and children playing nearby. Now it is under immense pressure to become consistent, to grow in a smarter way than just acting as a naive arterial only for cars.

Division has grown sidewalks for the length of the street from 8th all the way to 82nd. Before there were gaps, dangerous gaps. Division has gone from inconsistency of two or four lanes to a solid two lanes from 82nd to 8th. At 8th is where something new is sprouting in the Portland & Milwaukee Light Rail Line. Between 12th and 30th there are fixes to and dramatic additinos of bioswales and other road amenities. These amenities are known to increase pedestrian and motorist safety. Between 60th and 82nd the lanes have gone from an unwieldy and dangerous four lanes to two, consistent with the rest of the street. Along the sides now are buffered bike lanes and other amenities for bus pull outs, timed traffic lights and other small items that help the flow of all traffic, not just cars.

Slowly Division itself becomes something, with bioswales and a consistent two lanes for its length. Service on the road is getting an increase in just a few more weeks. The #4 Trimet Bus is increasing back to what is referred to as frequent service. This means 15 minute frequency or better throughout the day. Beyond frequent service there is also going to be an increase for rush hour.

Slowly the auto dependency of Division is becoming less violent and fading into a small nuissence that provides a meager enabler for the street. Already today, actively there are three transportation means that already rule over the automobile when looked at as a whole; public transit, biking and walking. Not only have these modes become the dominent form of transport for customers to the growing businesses along Division. These modes, now dramatically safer with the taming of traffic violence, are once again becoming of dominant use to those teaching, attending and maintaing the schools in the area. That’s thousands and thousands of trips that no longer rely on the automobile, decreasing the auto-dependency of those that now have this new freedom.

A True Place

Some screamed when all of this started. Capitalism was at play in a huge way taming the automobile here. Some hate that, some love it. The city gave liberty to developers and stopped forcing them by regulation and law to build parking. If they saw a reason not to or demand didn’t dictate they simply didn’t have to build apartments with parking. Some of the residents saw this as a massive problem. With multiple apartments open that are without parking, there is still no shortage of parking. With the largest of the apartments without parking ready to open in the coming month or two, there still is a growing sense that this will become an enabler to the area versus a detractor.

Along this corridor the city has seen a dramatic increase in businesses opening up. This is in addition to new homes, apartments and other domiciles for people to live in the city. Almost 5x as many businesses, many local, now exist compared to just two years ago. Most of these businesses are now doing a brisk trade too. When auto-dependency ruled the street the businesses popped up but then immediately suffered. These businesses, many catering to the automobile, had not only been hurt by the auto-dependency but also hurt the existing businesses that were there before. The street was a ghost town as the 60s and 70s rolled in.

Let’s Destroy It All

Years ago the shortsighted advocates of auto-dependency wanted to pave all of Division, forcefully relocate the residents, destroy the homes all the way out to Clinton Street and possibly as far as Lincoln street in some cases on the other side. What they wanted to do, to be sure anybody could drive as fast as possible from downtown Portland to I-205 and the suburbs was build a new Interstate. They wanted to destroy all of this under the false guise that it would somehow make the neighborhoods better if they have more auto-dependent access. We know now, and thankfully didn’t make this mistake, that Interstates and increased auto-dependency do not increase livability or the quality or value of one’s neighborhood. If anything it pushes people further away and creates a massive thing that most people don’t actually want to live anywhere near.

As I ride through and down Division today to run my errands, enjoy an espresso and head into downtown for a few meetings I’m extremely happy that Division and most of the respective southeast neighborhood wasn’t destroyed to make way for an Interstate. The thousands of people that live here and enjoy an extremely high standard of living would have been left with a dwindling and disused neighborhood. A neighborhood that would have had little hope for repair. Now the neighborhood is anything but that. The number one reason why is because the city and the people of the city didn’t allow an Interstate to be cut through the area!

Until later, happy riding.

I’m Moving, New Home Base: Portland, Secondary San Francisco, Seattle, and Vancouver BC

So I’ve done it, I’ve just switched my home base back to Portland from Seattle. However, I’ll be in Seattle, San Francisco, and Vancouver BC about as often as I was before (ok, slightly less in Seattle). So for those out there thinking, “But Seattle is so great, why leave for Portland?!?!” here’s the lowdown. I enjoyed my time in Seattle but it IS NOT Portland nor is the livability and options the same. Such as…

  • Walkability in Portland is on par with Vancouver BC, both which are vastly superior in walkable locations than San Francisco or Seattle. The distance between any two things in Seattle is easily 2x the distance as key destinations in Portland or Vancouver.
  • I can get to Best Buy, IKEA, Target, and over a dozen other major stores by light rail in Portland. This cannot be done in Seattle. Buying bulk stuff and using light rail to get it home is super easy, doing this on a bus is not.
  • There are literally thousands of food carts, in pods, in Portland. Seattle can’t get its food cart scene off the ground to save the life of the city. I decided again not to keep waiting around.
  • Portland is 10-15 years ahead of Seattle with light rail/high capacity transit construction. Seattle will be paying 2-50x as much as Portland to have a system that will be half the size of Portland’s possibly by 2020 or more realistically 2040 or 2050. It however, is unlikely that Seattle will be able to find the money to do this.
  • Seattle relies so heavily on buses, the city is actually MORE vulnerable to cold extremes than Portland. Portland shuts down during cold, so just imagine that twice as early and twice as long! Not that snow days bother me, and I don’t mind snow days. I just find it somewhat frustrating in Seattle because¬†everything¬†is 2x farther apart, meaning I often do need to get around during the snow.
  • Seattle uses concrete, that becomes uneven, almost everywhere making the roads dangerous for cyclists and extremely rough while riding in the bus or a car. The roadways are actually less maintained than Portland’s (yes, Seattle actually has MORE dirt roads than Portland).
  • Seattle is politically bound by a warring city council and a mayor with too much power and too little¬†impetuous¬†to move forward on things. Again, I’m tired of waiting for Seattle to get things moving forward. In addition, Seattle is held captive to the warring (and often draconian or backwards thinking regions around the city) that don’t want light rail, don’t want livability zoning or livable street designs, want to just pave everything, yadda yadda yadda. Portland has this problem, but it has been put in check years ago. The battle continues, but Seattle’s battle is about 10-15 years away from becoming a “winning battle”. Simply, Seattle could still fall into a “Houston” or “Dallas” complex.
  • There are at least 3x as many breakfast choices, and a much more active (I’d almost say larger) foodie culture in Portland than in Seattle.
  • There are more coffee options, better coffee options, and more availability of coffee shops in Portland than in Seattle. That doesn’t just come from me, I have confirmed this with some of the top brewers in Seattle. They know Portland kicks some serious coffee ass!
  • I actually have to get into a car in Seattle sometimes and sometimes I even have to drive somewhere. This is absolutely unacceptable when there are better logistics capabilities in Vancouver BC, San Francisco, and of course Portland.
  • The tech scene in Portland is actually, albeit smaller, more cohesive, communicative, socially active in person and on Twitter, blogs, and other places.
  • No city I know of has the density of creatives and the messaging, art, advertising accumen, or capabilities as creatives in Portland. People care about what they create in this city and it shows.
  • Portland is basically the mecca of open source software. Linus Torvalds lives in Portland, err, well, Lake Oswego, which still is about the same, and works in the metropolitan area. In addition to that many of the Agile Manifesto signatures come from individuals that live in Portland or nearby in the surrounding state.
  • Portland doesn’t have an airport south of its downtown wrecking neighborhood connections, instead Portland has an airport and a race track¬†separating¬†it form Vancouver Washington – which to me, is just fine.
  • Seattle has more roadways planned than Portland, Seattle’s port is about to be overtaken by Tacoma’s, and Seattle also has a host of other issues that will make it fall even further into a less livable place if they aren’t rectified.
  • The distance between transit options on the west side of the Portland Metro area are often closer than the transit options in the heart of Seattle. I find this horrifying and absurd. Farther out the transit options almost¬†disappear¬†compared to Portland’s options. If anyone knows about Portland’s “west side transit options”, they kind of suck, or to put it more kindly, they’re about average in the nation. It definitely is not similar to the “Portlandia” area.
  • The number of 10-18 minute routes in Seattle are scarce, even more now with the budget cuts. Just as I had suspected though, Seattle has to cut more service than Portland by percentage of budget and riders. Partly because Seattle has to spend about 2x what Portland does to provide transit. I’ll take Portland’s cuts over Seattle’s any day. This is even magnified by the operational efficiency of having light rail over buses.
  • Portland will have light rail to Milwaukee, an east side Streetcar, increased bus service, and other additions to pedestrian and street facilities by the time Seattle finishes ONLY the First Hill Streetcar, the University District Light Rail still won’t be finished by then. Again, I’m not waiting around any longer for Seattle to catch up. I’d be a billion years old by the time they get to the same level as Portland, San Francisco, or Vancouver BC.
  • Voodoo Donuts. Nuff Said’
  • Seattle has the¬†Burke Gilman Trail¬†at 23 miles, Portland has the¬†Springwater Corridor Loop¬†at 40 miles.
  • Seattle has about 30 miles of signed bike routes, and 20 miles of bike lanes, Portland has 202 miles of painted line bike lanes, 46 miles of bike boulevards, 76 miles of paths that are off street and car-free, and several bike boulevards. Yeah, have I mentioned I like to bike? Portland clearly owns bike friendliness by an order of magnitude.
  • Seattle has 2/3 the bike corrals that Portland does, and as above, about one sixth the amount of bike miles, for a city that consumes as much or more physical space as Portland in the metropolitan area. I’m frustrated by this ratio, and the increased risk and danger of cycling in Seattle.

…and the last technical reason of this list…

  • There is about 50 kazillion more transit related things to write about in Portland then there is in Seattle. So maybe, I’ll be able to breath some life back into this blog!

So Emerald City Seattle, I will admit it has been fun, but it’s you not me and I’m back to my Stumptown City Portland. But don’t worry Seattle, I’ll be visiting regularly. ūüėČ

NOTE: Don’t take offense to this, if you do, you should probably involve yourself to fix the city of Seattle. There’s plenty of opportunities to do so. I mean no insult to anyone working toward bettering the city either. I just had to vent/enumerate my issues. As I said, I have absolutely enjoyed my time in Seattle, but there are things I have grown accustomed to, maybe even spoiled by in Portland, that I want back. So I hope no offense is taken, cheers!

San Francisco Shorty

A few months ago I ran down to San Francisco. On the quick adventure (I promise beers to all those I didn’t call! This was literally a crazy fast trip) down to the city I did manage to grab a number of pictures and ride a few modes of transit. I also made a few observations about San Francisco’s state of multi-modalism and livability.

First the Negative Dirty Bits

There are a few things that I observed, that were in evidence the last couple of trips I made too. San Francisco is a fairly dirty city. After walking around for a day, one often finds themselves with a film of dirt & dust. A shower becomes a requirement instead of a nice to have. This is prevalent in almost any major city, but for some reason San Francisco gives the perception that one wouldn’t feel this way, but it does indeed happen.

Automobile reliance is still out of control in this city, and too much preference is given in laying out the city infrastructure. This is done in spite of livability and existing neighborhoods. I’m sure however, that this will continue to decrease since it is not maintainable at current levels of dependence.

Now For the Awesome News

Even though San Francisco has a lot of automobile dependent people, the numbers that are not dependent or completely independent (i.e. car free) have definitely increased. In addition to that the options are steadily increasing in the city.

I finally got to see the distinctive dedicated bike lanes on Market Street, running parallel to auto and streetcar/trolley traffic. This type of multimodal setup is a prime option for city streets. In San Francisco, this change has shown with physical, visual, and statistical evidence that reduction of car trips by setting up roads for multi-model use does indeed improve the livability of an area. I’m sure there are a few curmudgeons here and there disagreeing, but for those that live in the neighborhoods and downtown of San Francisco, I’m betting they’re enjoying this change at this very moment!

Tree lined streets also seem to be popping up along Valencia and others. This is a major improvement for any city. Trees make a world of difference, pure concrete makes streets less appealing to pedestrians. Pure concrete encourages drivers to speed up and become less attentive, increasing fatalities – again, all in evidence by more than one measure.

Another thing besides the bike lanes and tree lined streets San Francisco is doing something else that’s a great idea! They have taken some street parking along the street and turned it into outside seating. This, like the trees, adds an appeal for people to get out of cars (or not arrive in cars in the first place) and be among their fellow citizenry. I got to experience people actually speaking to each other, getting to know their neighbors. Things one will never see in the fast food joints of the American suburbs. Suburbanites may think they hate their neighbors, but when people get together they realize there is a lot more in common than in separation.

Reviewing Seattle‚Äôs Neighborhoods, Ballard Area

Scroll to the end of this entry for a key to the measurements I use in comparing neighborhoods.

I’ve been out to Ballard a number of times. ¬†I also know a few people that live out that way. ¬†The neighborhood is suburban in nature, but it is of the town center layout model. ¬†The neighborhood leads outwards from a town center area close to the Salmon Bay.

My general ride to explore the area from Belltown consists of jumping aboard the #18. ¬†This bus provides a quick & easy single seat ride from downtown Seattle, through Belltown, by Queen Anne Hill, and directly into downtown Ballard. ¬†It’s a quick and easy ride without much ballyhoo from miscreants or wierdos. ¬†Especially during rush hour when they’re are extra express buses run along this route and the working class are always cordial and somewhat jovial, with smiles abounding as ladies are first onto the bus and drivers greet the riders.

Google Images with the search Ballard, Seattle, WA.

Bing Images with the search Ballard, Seattle, WA.

Architectural Mix:  Cape Cod, Coastal, Colonial, Contemporary, Modernistic, European, Feng Shui, California, Row Houses, and other architectural styles.  Generally follows the great mix of houses that Seattle has.

The Unique Bits:  Ballard truly has some very unique bits.  This adds a great deal of character to the neighborhood & town area in general.  The town center area has artwork, and large art pieces on display.  Over the waterway their are unique bridges that add an element of escape from the bustle of downtown Seattle.  The Salmon Bay has hundreds of boats in the area.  The list of unique characteristics is pretty long, my advice, but this neighborhood on the list of places to check out in Seattle.  It is absolutely one of the best areas in the city!

Arterial Mapping: ¬†Ballard has more than a few primary arterials coming into and out of the area. ¬†If you’re looking for an Interstate (which you shouldn’t be) then this is not the area of town for you.

On the map below I highlighted some of the major arterials in, out, and around the area.

Primary Arterials (Click of full size map image)

Primary Arterials (Click of full size map image)

Sleep Quality: ¬†I’ve not actually stayed in Ballard overnight, but just from spending multiple days there hanging out I can imagine the sleep quality one gets is very good. ¬†Even though downtown, which stays up late, is a quiet downtown, with a calm and safe demeanor (i.e. lower crime than most areas). ¬†A little further from the downtown core I imagine gets even more quiet and calm for a solid night of sleep.

Night Life:  The night life in the area is really good.  There is art, music (rock, punk, blues, and other) in the area on the weekends, multiple festivals every year and a host of restaraunts, bars, coffee shops, and other establishments that stay open 10pm, and several that are open well into the night and into the morning not closing until 1 or 2 am.  These establishments range from the fun little dive bar, the local bar with sloopers that are 34 ounces, to the trendier and more upscale establishments throwing in the adventurous drink mixes, well lit romantic establishments, and more.

Transit Options: ¬†The transit options in Ballard are some of the best in the area. ¬†There is east west and north south options heading toward other major areas like Fremont, Wallingford, University District, Belltown, and of course Downtown. ¬†Most of the routes are frequent, and run pretty late into the night (midnight or later) and start running plenty early at 4 and 5 am. ¬†There are also plans for Rapid Ride (BRT), the D Line, to begin service in later 2012, which will provide 5-10 minute access to downtown and around the area during peak times and 10-15 minute during non-peak times. ¬†For more information about Rapid Ride check out the Rapid Ride Blog. ¬†To put it simply, Ballard doesn’t just have good transit options for Seattle, but good transit options compared to most American cities! ¬†Check out the map below for an idea of the routes + a layout of the downtown with many of the local establishments listed.

Ballard Transit Options (Click for full size map image)

Ballard Transit Options (Click for full size map image)

Walk Score: ¬†Ballards walk score ranges between 100 (yup, it’s one of the best in the world – a walker’s paradise as walkscore states) to ~70ish which is still very walkable (Click the links for the walkscore map & additional information). ¬†Overall the Ballard area is easily one of the best areas to explore in Seattle, especially when the fairs and festivals are taking place!

Measurement Key:

  • Walk Score: from at least 2 residential locations in the neighborhood: Via
  • Transit Options: What buses traverse the area and what other town centers/areas are easily navigable via transit.
  • Night Life: What time does the neighborhood generally ‚Äúshut down‚ÄĚ, or at least appear to.
  • Sleep Quality: This is simply a combination of noise, crime, feeling safe, and other measures and feeling rolled into one. Ranking will be Good or Bad.
  • Arterial Mapping: This will be a map of the primary transit & road arterials in and out of the neighborhood.
  • The Unique Bits: This is a list of things that make a particular neighborhood unique. Think of it like a list that makes this neighborhood not like the ticky tacky, cookie cutter, suburban sprawl neighborhoods.
  • Architecture Mix: See this chart for examples: