Seoul tears down an urban freeway and the city can breathe again
April 5, 2011 9:55 AM   Subscribe


 
As someone who watched their neighborhood slowly wither away under the shadow of a new Interstate overpass, I applaud this. More pics would be nice.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 10:00 AM on April 5, 2011


Hey, I've been there! It can't be overstated how gorgeous and usable the re-daylighted river is.

RobotVoodoPower, this is a high-profile project, and pictures are plentiful.
posted by gurple at 10:02 AM on April 5, 2011


In addition to the wary business owners in the corridor (if the cars were removed, the cars they were sure their business would go with it), there were 3,000 street vendors who made their living selling their wares to the people stuck in traffic.

This sounds a lot like the complaints surrounding "complete streets" or "road diets" where a city takes a four-lane road and changes it to three lanes with the middle lane for turning as well as more space for bike and pedestrian traffic. The traffic is calmer, and has just as much capacity. Business owners tend to not like it because they think it will impact their businesses negatively. However, complete streets actually allow for more people to stop in. I wonder how this works on such a large scale. What *does* happen to all these business owners and street vendors? I'm very inclined to say that this sort of project is an obvious net good and bust out the pom poms (yeehaw!), but I could have stood to see what niche all those street vendors end up filling when their tens of thousands of car customers stuck in traffic disappeared.
posted by aniola at 10:02 AM on April 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


There's a reference to demolition of a freeway on Portland. I'm intrigued. Can anyone link to more info about that?
posted by TheNewWazoo at 10:03 AM on April 5, 2011


Counter-intuitive rule: eliminating routes for cars reduces rather than increases congestion.

With more routes available, drivers falsely assume they can avoid congestion. As possible routes are reduced, fewer potential drivers attempt their journey for fear of getting caught in traffic. Congestion is reduced accordingly.
posted by jefficator at 10:05 AM on April 5, 2011 [3 favorites]


Hartford, Connecticut has an underground river; it flowed near the homes of Katherine Hepburn and Mark Twain in their days. Now, although Twain's home remains, the site of Hepburn's childhood home is a tangle of highway overpasses and the river flows invisibly underground. Although unseen, people still use it recreationally.
posted by kinnakeet at 10:06 AM on April 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


People still use it recreationally. Sorry 'bout the link thing.
posted by kinnakeet at 10:07 AM on April 5, 2011 [3 favorites]


In Portland they got rid of Harbor Drive and replaced it with Tom McCall Waterfront Park.
posted by lantius at 10:09 AM on April 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


It's like they say: adding more lanes/roads to reduce traffic is like loosening your belt to promote weight loss.

Although I'll also say this... I'm not really happy with how things turned out in San Francisco. But that's as a semi-frequent visitor, not as a resident. YMM
posted by weston at 10:11 AM on April 5, 2011 [3 favorites]


Where does the water in the river come from?

Can anyone read this? Is it just pumped from the water table?
http://adsabs.harvard.edu/abs/2004AGUFM.H21B1008C
posted by kuatto at 10:12 AM on April 5, 2011


I think in Seattle we are just going to wait until our one crumbles and falls down.
posted by Artw at 10:13 AM on April 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


Even though this project managed to accommodate car traffic, one of the most beautiful things over the next few decades will be how the death of the car gives new life to cities.
posted by Jehan at 10:13 AM on April 5, 2011 [15 favorites]


the death of the car

Oh, sweeter words have ne'er been spoken.
posted by Threeway Handshake at 10:15 AM on April 5, 2011 [7 favorites]


Both ditching the freeway and complete streets are based on ideas like Jefficator's counter-intuitive rule and weston's belt loop analogy, and Seattle does tons of complete streets, so from an outsider perspective, it seems like they might eventually deal with it before it crumbles.
posted by aniola at 10:17 AM on April 5, 2011


The article mentions, "other successful freeway removals in Portland, San Francisco, New York, and Milwaukee".

When was there ever a freeway removal in New York City? Is it from before my time?
posted by Citrus at 10:17 AM on April 5, 2011



When was there ever a freeway removal in New York City? Is it from before my time?


Part of the West Side Highway collapsed and after many years of dithering was not replaced.
posted by Rarebit Fiend at 10:20 AM on April 5, 2011


Also, as a Seattle resident I enjoy seeing more examples of how this can be successful. This article alludes to it, but the current story in Seattle is one of a failing seismic deathtrap of a waterfront freeway, a multibillion-dollar replacement tunnel, and oodles of city, county, and state intrigue. We even, in our classic northwest cleverness, managed to create a ballot where both the tunnel option and a replacement viaduct lost.

I'm actually a bit surprised that there hasn't been an FPP about it yet.
posted by lantius at 10:21 AM on April 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


Like the monorail, it seems to be a game of finding out how much money we can sink into the thing without getting anything back.
posted by Artw at 10:22 AM on April 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


I saw this great movie about highway removal from Streetfilms a few weeks ago.

Here in Boston there is planning just beginning to remove a crumbling eyesore of an overpass along what once was the city's Emerald Necklace of parks and has contributed considerable blight to the surrounding neighborhood. The overpass is maybe 1/4-mile long - much smaller than the highways in Seoul and in this video - and yet the pro-car types are already out in full-force spreading fear and hysteria about how bad the traffic will be if the overpass is not rebuilt.
posted by Rarebit Fiend at 10:27 AM on April 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


Part of the West Side Highway collapsed and after many years of dithering was not replaced.

I'd hardly call the collapse of the lower West Side Highway a "successful freeway removal". In fact, it has all the hallmarks of failure: It was unexpected, very expensive to remediate, took decades to turn into something workable, and hasn't really done anything positive for the area.

So, I guess the author was stretching the truth a bit with that one.
posted by Citrus at 10:27 AM on April 5, 2011


When was there ever a freeway removal in New York City? Is it from before my time?

The west side elevated highway was removed in 1989. It was supposed to be replaced by a wider road built to interstate standards. However, thanks to shifting viewpoints regarding urban freeways, attempts to construct the "Westway" were repeatedly blocked, the old highway fell into disrepair, and was gradually removed.

Similarly, there were a plethora of elevated rail lines that were removed over the years. The steel from a few of them was melted down and turned into guns. A poignant metaphor for 20th-century america if there ever was one. One of the last ones in Manhattan was saved and turned into a pretty sweet park.

Also, Seattle: How about tearing down the Alaskan Way? Your city has arguably the prettiest viewshed of any large city in North America, and you blocked the entire fucking view with a huge highway. Tear. It. Down.

(Weirdly, I'm less opposed to certain pie-in-the-sky freeway projects in my hometown, DC. Although I'm very glad that the inner beltway never got built, hate Virginia's sneaky attempts toward constructing a western beltway bypass, and am anxiously awaiting the inevitable removal of the Barney Circle Freeway stub, I wouldn't really complain if we turned New York Avenue into a cut-and-cover freeway tunnel to extend I395 to the B-W Parkway. It just makes sense.)

posted by schmod at 10:27 AM on April 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


When was there ever a freeway removal in New York City? Is it from before my time?

It could be a stretch, and they might mean Broadway in midtown, which used to be inhospitable.
posted by Threeway Handshake at 10:27 AM on April 5, 2011


My wife and I and, at the time, our one small child, used to live in a beautiful and vibrant urban neighborhood just a few blocks from my downtown office in a major U.S. city. It was great. I'm a petrolhead, but I really didn't miss commuting at all. Commuting isn't real driving anyway.

But then our child got to school age and we had to choose either to stay in the urban area and send him to horrible public schools (we could not afford private schools), homeschool him (um, no), or move somewhere with decent public schools. Now I have a 15-mile commute. As Los Angeles commutes go, mine is really remarkably quick, easy, and, for the most part, free of congestion. But here's the thing: People don't commute in cars because, well golly, there are roads so why not? They commute in cars because they either can't afford to live close to work or they have legitimate reasons not to and public transportation - even really good public transportation - has some real logistical problems for a lot of people.

Tearing down freeways in LA would not stop me from driving to work. It would just increase the amount of time that my car is on the road and filling the air with CO2. If you want me to stop driving to work, make the LA public schools as good as the ones where I live and I'll move to the city. Seriously, that's literally all it would take.
posted by The World Famous at 10:28 AM on April 5, 2011 [10 favorites]


the death of the car

The car will never die. We just need way less of them, particularly in our more densely populated centers where transit makes every kind of sense.

As for this particular article, I find it interesting that it's framed by Dr. Kee Yeon Hwang's visit to Vancouver where, in case you're not aware, city staff are seriously considering removal of the Georgia and Dunsmuir street viaducts.

The options presented by staff are the following:

1. Maintain the viaducts with no changes.

2. Alter the viaducts so they come down to merge with Pacific and Expo boulevards.

3. Alter the viaducts so they come down at Main Street with a bike connection to Union Street.

4. Keep Dunsmuir Viaduct, and remove the Georgia Viaduct.

5. Remove both viaducts with either a connection between Georgia and Dunsmuir west of GM Place or cul-de-sac of Georgia and Dunsmuir.

6. Remove both viaducts and consider elevating/realigning the SkyTrain guideway.


Interesting stuff. Change is often good.
posted by philip-random at 10:28 AM on April 5, 2011


With more routes available, drivers falsely assume they can avoid congestion. As possible routes are reduced, fewer potential drivers attempt their journey for fear of getting caught in traffic. Congestion is reduced accordingly.

If I'm reading your argument correctly, this reduction in congestion is achieved by convincing people to drive less. Wouldn't this be a net loss for the public if alternative, equally effective means of transportation are not made available?
posted by Dr Dracator at 10:28 AM on April 5, 2011




Oh, and it's worth noting that (unlike the monorail-of-doom) any tunneling in Seattle would indeed involve significant engineering challenges. Seattle was built on lots of reclaimed land, and has an incredibly high water table. I don't mean to trivialize the removal of the Alaskan Way viaduct, unless they think it can be done without building the tunnel.
posted by schmod at 10:30 AM on April 5, 2011


I had an FPP about this kind of thing a couple of years back. This is a quote from one of the links there by the planner orchestrating the removal of the Cheonggyecheon:

"The idea was sown in 1999," Hwang says. "We had experienced a strange thing. We had three tunnels in the city and one needed to be shut down. Bizarrely, we found that that car volumes dropped. I thought this was odd. We discovered it was a case of 'Braess paradox', which says that by taking away space in an urban area you can actually increase the flow of traffic, and, by implication, by adding extra capacity to a road network you can reduce overall performance."
posted by parudox at 10:32 AM on April 5, 2011 [3 favorites]


If I'm reading your argument correctly, this reduction in congestion is achieved by convincing people to drive less.

No, people will travel more, and it will also be less congested when there are many possible routes to different places.
posted by Threeway Handshake at 10:33 AM on April 5, 2011


Now I have a 15-mile commute. As Los Angeles commutes go, mine is really remarkably quick, easy, and, for the most part, free of congestion. But here's the thing: People don't commute in cars because, well golly, there are roads so why not? They commute in cars because they either can't afford to live close to work or they have legitimate reasons not to and public transportation - even really good public transportation - has some real logistical problems for a lot of people....Tearing down freeways in LA would not stop me from driving to work.

Of course we can't tear down the LA freeways and replace them with nothing. A 15 mile commute should be a perfectly amenable commute on public transportation. I think it's ridiculous that in my southern urban area, my 10 mile commute is either 20 minutes by car or 1 hour by bus!
posted by muddgirl at 10:36 AM on April 5, 2011 [8 favorites]


Pushing cars onto a few arterial roads, especially using barriers and other such means like I see a lot of in the South Bay, doesn't make traffic more efficient, it just turns a few streets into empty wastes of space, makes the streets that lead up to the main roads much busier than they were built to handle, and makes the main roads a nightmare. A grid of streets where people can get where they want to go without all being pushed to get onto, and then off of, a few main streets, is much better all around. A freeway is like a game of plinko where you drop 100 pucks onto the board, force them all into the centre line, and then push them all back out again along the way.
posted by Space Coyote at 10:37 AM on April 5, 2011 [3 favorites]


As mentioned above, Milwaukee did take out a section of freeway called the Park East. It allowed people to cut through downtown to the East Side.

So far as I can tell, taking it out hasn't increased traffic, but it did give the county a bunch of land it could sell. Much of it hasn't been sold yet though, partially because of the economic collapse.
posted by drezdn at 10:37 AM on April 5, 2011


Similar; these people here in portland host a ride taking you around to where freeways were planned but never built. It seems like others are tearing their freeways down too.
posted by rainperimeter at 10:40 AM on April 5, 2011


The Cheonggyecheon as it is now is beautiful and certainly an improvement over the urban blight that was there before, but calling it a green space might be something of a stretch. The river had fake rocks and the whole thing felt more planned than park-like to me.
posted by peppermind at 10:45 AM on April 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


I took several trips to Seoul last year, and stayed within walking distance of Cheonggyecheon. The locals are quite proud of it, and multiple people asked me if I had a chance to see their "beautiful stream" yet. When I did take the walk up to see it, I was kind of taken aback; it wasn't what I was expecting at all. The section I saw had no greenery and was all concrete. It took me awhile to appreciate it, but it is a nice place to walk and is really full of people just enjoying themselves. You can kind of descend down, away from the traffic and city noise, and relax by the water. By my last visit, I came to really like walking there. The back-story explains quite a bit why people treasure it so much.
posted by JenMarie at 10:50 AM on April 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm a newb to Seattle, but the Alaskan Way Viaduct is a major eyesore and doesn't make any damn sense. It divides downtown from the waterfront. Almost every time I'm down in the no man's land between Pike Place and the Hillclimb from the waterfront I meet a lost tourist trying to figure out how to navigate the maze of stairs and alleyways that connects the two. And there's no lack of signage down there. There are even ground tracks to guide people to the stairs and elevators.

There was a half-assed proposal floating around to leave part of the raised viaduct and turn it into a park. This is a brilliant idea. You could connect the pocket park at the edge of Pike Place directly to the Pike Street Hill climb and waterfront. You could even leave the lower deck for expanded parking and tie it into the parking structures on either side of the Viaduct.

And the views and sun exposure on the upper deck would be amazing.
posted by loquacious at 10:50 AM on April 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


Ah! Cheonggyecheon! It really is shocking how lovely it is, and how alive it is at night. We were there this summer, and it was roastingly hot and humid and even quite late at night there were families hanging out down by the water, kids splashing around and interesting lighting. There were fish in the stream, and lush green trees and bushes along the sides, so even during the day it was refreshing to walk along there using the stepping stones to cross.
posted by Iteki at 10:53 AM on April 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


In Dallas we are putting an urban park on top of our central business district freeway. What...you think we're just gonna tear down a freeway?
posted by punkfloyd at 10:54 AM on April 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


If you want me to stop driving to work, make the LA public schools as good as the ones where I live and I'll move to the city. Seriously, that's literally all it would take.

I think yours is a common predicament, and it's really too bad, especially given the historical context. Freeway construction in no small part led to white flight, which led to the abominable state of urban schools today. Now middle-class suburbanites tend to hate their freeway commutes but feel like the cities that were abandoned fifty years ago are no longer a feasible option. It's not clear to me that it's possible to reverse this in a way that's painless in the short run. Making it painful to commute long distances by car would have great policy effects in a lot of ways (environmental boon, less people dying on highways, tax base returning to cities, public schools improving and *actually integrating*) but seems politically impossible at any rate, given the amount of sacrifice it would take on the part of current suburban residents.
posted by dixiecupdrinking at 11:09 AM on April 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


Also, Seattle: How about tearing down the Alaskan Way? Your city has arguably the prettiest viewshed of any large city in North America, and you blocked the entire fucking view with a huge highway. Tear. It. Down.

To be fair, the view from the top of the double-decked highway is pretty amazing. I agree it should be torn down, but I will miss that gorgeous drive with downtown on the right, the harbor on the left, and the Space Needle looming in the foreground... not to mention all the fun of taking those 1950s curves a little too fast.
posted by zvs at 11:19 AM on April 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm not saying it's a positive example (it was accompanied by the Big Dig, after all) by any means, but I'm a bit surprised that Boston's Rose Kennedy Greenway, built where I-93 was removed as an elevated highway and put underground, isn't even mentioned here.
posted by maryr at 11:23 AM on April 5, 2011


If you want me to stop driving to work, make the LA public schools as good as the ones where I live and I'll move to the city. Seriously, that's literally all it would take.

Speaking as an alumnus of the Chicago public school system, I should confront you with the difference between credentialing and education. The suburban school systems in most of the country present a nice facade, but have quite a bit of rot within. If you care about education more than about credentialing, you can make a go of it for your kids in the city.
posted by ocschwar at 11:24 AM on April 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


There is a big lesson here for Seattle and the rest of Cascadia as the region faces impending crises of diminishing funding for transportation construction and maintenance, rising fuel prices, diminishing air quality, and climate change: It can be done, and it has been done.

This is an indirect reference to the Seattle tunnel that is currently the source of much funding controversy. The tunnel is to replace the Seattle viaduct that loquacious mentions.

If there are cost overruns — well, when there are overruns, to the tune of billions of dollars, as with Boston's Big Dig — the residents of the city will be on the hook for the bill. This could be devastating, as the city is already overextended.

Kamala Rao, member of the Canadian Institute of Planners, is a transportation planner in Vancouver, B.C., and a Sightline board member.

The Sightline Institute has a pro-tunnel position, based on some of their other reports. Its findings may be solid, and the tunnel may be in the best interests of Washington residents, but for the sake of Seattlites, in the interest of transparency it would be good to know where the non-profit gets its funding (e.g. are highway contractors donating, etc.).

Personally, I think the viaduct should go before another earthquake makes it collapse while people are driving on it. It is also a major eyesore, in certain respects. There could be considerable gains to city livability from tearing it down. As to Sightline's larger view of a tunnel making sense, I'm still unsure. Traffic congestion will be worse during the long years of construction, and presumably overall traffic levels won't change from pre-tunnel usage once the project is finished, unless tolls are excessively high.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:25 AM on April 5, 2011


I'm not saying it's a positive example (it was accompanied by the Big Dig, after all) by any means, but I'm a bit surprised that Boston's Rose Kennedy Greenway, built where I-93 was removed as an elevated highway and put underground, isn't even mentioned here.

The Big Dig is fantastic. I think that in thirty years, people will wonder how anyone could be so shortsighted as to complain about the cost of this project. I think it isn't mentioned here because it wasn't really an elimination of the highway, just a reconfiguration.
posted by dixiecupdrinking at 11:30 AM on April 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


This sounds a lot like the complaints surrounding "complete streets" or "road diets" where a city takes a four-lane road and changes it to three lanes with the middle lane for turning as well as more space for bike and pedestrian traffic. The traffic is calmer, and has just as much capacity.

What now? Charleston Road in Palo Alto would like to have a word with you. That place is Gridlock after 3pm along with most of the other roads coming up to Central.

Pushing cars onto a few arterial roads, especially using barriers and other such means like I see a lot of in the South Bay, doesn't make traffic more efficient, it just turns a few streets into empty wastes of space, makes the streets that lead up to the main roads much busier than they were built to handle, and makes the main roads a nightmare.

What? Are you kidding me?

There are multiple problems with traffic in South Bay.

1) Too much NIMBY bullshit. There are not enough arterial roads in South Bay to handle the traffic. Full stop. 280 and 101 can put through major amounts of traffic there's no question. Look at 280 SB at 5pm between Page Mill and El Monte. Perfectly smooth.

You hit 85 and all of a sudden it's "shit I gotta get to Mountain View" or "here's my only way into Los Gatos/Saratoga" and traffic stops.

The problem is that there's very limited access going south west to northeast linking 101 and 280 and absolutely no decent thoroughfares between both ends of 85 and 17. Between San Mateo and San Jose you have 92 and 85. That's it. 8 lanes of freeways giving access to the bulk of the homes between 280 and 101. You have 2.5 million people being shoved onto arterial roads instead of being put through high capacity freeways where they belong and the arterial roads just can't handle it. For shits and giggles (and because 280 SB was a parking lot) I took Foothill/Homstead back to Santa Clara from Palo Alto after dropping the mother in law back home. While Foothill was fairly decent Homestead just wasn't designed for the amount of traffic that it attracted.

2) Too many expressways that spend too much time with signals. Woodside, Page Mill, Lawrence, San Tomas and probably Sand Hill all need to be brought up to Freeway spec for most of their durations if not between 101 and 280. Central needs be brought right through to 84 and Foothill ditto. Foothill being made a companion freeway from 84 to its 280 junction probably wouldn't go astray either.

You wouldn't need to use cloverleaf junctions or anything silly like that. Use a modern interchange like a roundabout interchange and you have a single underpass under the expressway and a couple of ramps. Roundabout interchanges don't have to worry about collector lanes or traffic spilling back onto the freeway since there's no controlled intersection involved and traffic can flow as soon as there's room on the arterial road not arficially controlled. They use very little land and can be implemented fairly easily with existing arterial roads. Offramps can split into multiple lands with flares, dedicated lanes on the roundabout for a right turn cut through from the offramp or to the onramp.

If we did this I dare say our arterial roads might feel a bit more sane.
posted by Talez at 11:46 AM on April 5, 2011


Speaking as an alumnus of the Chicago public school system, I should confront you with the difference between credentialing and education. The suburban school systems in most of the country present a nice facade, but have quite a bit of rot within. If you care about education more than about credentialing, you can make a go of it for your kids in the city.

I agree with your general premise. But in my specific case, I don't think there's even a hint of a valid argument when comparing the schools in Downtown LA with those where I live.
posted by The World Famous at 11:46 AM on April 5, 2011


Use a modern interchange like a roundabout interchange and you have a single underpass under the expressway and a couple of ramps.

Roundabouts can be very efficient and I've seen them in use all over the world, but it seems Americans have problems figuring them out so they're relegated to smaller intersections in suburbia and not heavy trafficked areas.
posted by birdherder at 12:00 PM on April 5, 2011


That is the opposite of what has been true in my experience - that is to say, all the rotaries I've used have been in heavily trafficked areas (that is to say Boston) and the ones in suburbia blow people's friggin' minds. (My mother now refuses to drive through the neighboring town because the remade the main intersection as a semi-rotary. Which, in her defense, they butchered.)
posted by maryr at 12:03 PM on April 5, 2011


That said, I've also seen people stop and put their car in reverse in the middle of a busy rotary, so you are correct that Americans do it poorly.
posted by maryr at 12:04 PM on April 5, 2011


I walked along the river when I was visiting my brother in Seoul. While it's a neat bit of urban planning, there are some other sides to this that are worth consideration, especially for anyone advocating it elsewhere.

The first is that the mayor, now president, is on the nationalist and authoritarian side. The Cheonggyecheon was sold as restoring Seoul's past and returning to the glory that Seoul had once held. While it gets presented in the West as a progressive project, in terms of the Korean public, it was understood very differently, in almost a reactionary form. Korea is still really conservative in a lot of ways, and the Cheonggyecheon project played into that.

Secondly, and as a corollary, that authoritarian lean made it much easier for Lee to push through the project over objections of locals in a way that would have been harder for a more liberal politician. Lee is also the one who spearheaded getting pensioners to collect all the trash in Seoul — there are very few trash cans there, something I found endlessly odd. Instead, trash is collected by retirees in order to give them some way to be useful to society. They're paid a token amount for the trash they collect, so people leave it in tidy little piles. But Lee believes that trash cans are ugly and promote trashing Korea, so he's worked to eliminate them as much as possible.
posted by klangklangston at 12:04 PM on April 5, 2011 [5 favorites]


Reminds me of this (NSFW warning for some cartoon nudity).
posted by exogenous at 12:18 PM on April 5, 2011


Roundaboutitis -- I swear it's contagious.

My local municipality has, over the past few years, decided that roundabouts are the be-all, end-all solution to every traffic issue ever known to man. Of course the reality is they don't work the way traffic planners say they are going to work.

They often cause as many (if different) difficulties as they reportedly solve. It was reported that although local roundabouts have a higher crash rate than neighbouring intersections, the crashes occur at lower speeds.

They are land-intensive compared to the existing intersections they are replacing. I've seen farm land, residential land and commercial land appropriated so that roundabouts can be constructed. A couple of local businesses have even been forced to close as they were sitting on land the municipality said was need for the roundabout.

They cause all sorts of difficulties for drivers and pedestrians. One of the major issues in my city is school children trying to cross a very busy, multi-lane road without protection provided by an intersection with a crosswalk.

Every pro-roundabout person who writes a letter to the editor in the local paper uses the same argument: roundabouts work well in UK (or in Europe). Of course that's extremely subjective.

I'm a motorist and an automotive enthusiast. Through the wonders of the Internet, I'm in contact with a large number of British and European drivers. I can't count the times I've read about somebody being "cut up at a roundabout" (run that phrase through Google.co.uk and count the hits) and read complaints about people who can't handle roundabouts. Very frequently the people posting these adventures in motoring bemoan the fact that they don't have more (North) American-style intersections, or that there aren't intersections instead of particular, problematic roundabouts.

Now I'm not saying never build a roundabout. I'm just saying that roundabouts aren't always simple, obvious solutions, and sometimes they can even make a problem worse.
posted by sardonyx at 12:32 PM on April 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm a motorist and an automotive enthusiast.

Whenever I see that in the context of an editorial comment about urban planning, I stop reading. (And, honestly, about 2/3 of that comment sounds like a strawman).

Planners have a term for this too: Windshield Perspective. Anything that increases vehicle speeds is good in the eyes of most drivers, no matter what the repercussions are.

I'm still not entirely sure what your complaint about pedestrian-accessibility has to do with roundabouts -- if anything, roundabouts cause motorists to drive slower, and pay more attention to their surroundings. There's absolutely no excuse for any intersection or roundabout to not be fitted with pedestrian crossings. In fact, most urban and suburban European roundabouts have pedestrian-activated traffic signals that guarantee them safe passage across the road. This is safer than a pedestrian crossing at an intersection, as you do not need to worry about turning traffic (the same thing can be done at a normal intersection with a Barnes Dance with turn restrictions, although driver compliance is often low where these are used).

The "car culture" folks in the UK and Europe also tend to be a very small and very loud group, when compared to the population at large. Folks like Jeremy Clarkson lend them far more credibility than they deserve.

Are roundabouts always the answer? Of course not. However, given the extreme negative connotation that they carry in the US, new ones are constructed with an incredible amount of scrutiny. I find it difficult to believe that there are any American municipalities actively replacing all of their intersections with poorly-designed roundabouts.

BTW, do not confuse roundabouts with traffic circles. Traffic circles are much larger, carry more lanes, and have not been actively promoted within the urban planning community since the 1950s. Roundabouts also come in a variety of configurations, depending on the circumstances. (Though I'd largely agree that signalized roundabouts tend to introduce more problems than they solve). Generally speaking, they can also fit into the same footprint as an intersection.

And I say this all as a person who owns and frequently drives a car in an urban area. However, I'm also a frequent cyclist, pedestrian, and bus rider; and know that each mode of conveyance is only a small part of the equation.
posted by schmod at 1:13 PM on April 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


Folks like Jeremy Clarkson lend them far more credibility than they deserve.

I laughed out loud at the notion that Jeremy Clarkson lends credibility to someone by agreeing with them. I mean, I love Jeremy Clarkson in an "I watch the show and think it's entertaining" sort of way, but come on.
posted by The World Famous at 1:19 PM on April 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


Not really relevant for here, we don’t build things in America anymore. We occasionally plan things, then give the private contractor 10 times what they said it was going to cost, then abandon the project because it’s too expensive. Then we blame government, because it’s a undeniable fact that "the Private Sector" is unfailingly efficient.
posted by bongo_x at 1:20 PM on April 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


Part of the reason this worked is that Seoul has high density and a far-reaching rapid transit system, much of it built after the highway: http://www.urbanrail.net/as/seou/seoul.htm

I always wonder how delivery trucks cope with these kinds of changes to roads. Are they just offloaded to side streets, noisy and idling?
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 1:22 PM on April 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'd love to see the highway that was cut through my neighborhood in the sixties torn down but in the current political climate, I can't see it happening. The worst thing is that it's not even elevated on stilts but instead they built a fifteen foot high hump and built the road on top of that so that there's this Berlin wall cutting the area in two with only a few openings.
posted by octothorpe at 1:30 PM on April 5, 2011


Not really relevant for here, we don’t build things in America anymore. We occasionally plan things, then give the private contractor 10 times what they said it was going to cost, then abandon the project because it’s too expensive. Then we blame government, because it’s a undeniable fact that "the Private Sector" is unfailingly efficient.

Nonsense. Building a bunch of crap we didn't need with money we didn't have was a big part of what put us in our current economic trouble. Instead of fixing and maintaining what we already had, we built ridiculous new developments, suburban roads, and infrastructure designed to support the people who would build and move into houses they couldn't afford financed with loans they lied to get.
posted by The World Famous at 1:33 PM on April 5, 2011


this reduction in congestion is achieved by convincing people to drive less.

Said that like it's a bad thing. Here's the deal: the efficiency of autos is around 15%. When you buy 5 gallons of gas, you get 1 gallon of driving, and 4 gallons totally wasted. Now consider the hundreds of billions cost of imports, and the alternatives (BP's attack on the Gulf, Alberta's tar pits).

We simply can't afford (or sustain) the "love affair" created by the (very) powerful car lobby any more.

As an aside: Last week I discovered that Eisenhower "picked" the CEO of GM to be his Sec. of Defense just before the freeway system was built. That's power. Another tidbit: Mayor Alito kept a viaduct like Seattle's and Boston's from being built along San Francisco's shore. It -didn't- have to be replaced after their 6.9 quake.
posted by Twang at 1:41 PM on April 5, 2011 [1 favorite]




Another tool to mitigate freeway horribleness is capping them. You can either turn the whole thing into basically a tunnel, or develop the overpasses. Here's some pictures of I-670 in Columbus where they did the latter.
posted by floam at 2:01 PM on April 5, 2011 [3 favorites]


If I'm reading your argument correctly, this reduction in congestion is achieved by convincing people to drive less.

I think there's a flaw when people think about mobility, transportation, and urban design. Lots of metrics of goodness, especially when it comes to FTA funding, basically look at not much more than passenger-miles, how much they cost, and how quickly you can rack them up. But is it better that I can quickly travel 5 miles to buy a loaf of bread or 15 miles to get to work at a high speed than perhaps more slowly going 1 mile for my groceries or 2 miles to get to work?
posted by floam at 2:08 PM on April 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'm a motorist and an automotive enthusiast.

Whenever I see that in the context of an editorial comment about urban planning, I stop reading. (And, honestly, about 2/3 of that comment sounds like a strawman).


Well I have to say, your comment comes across as sounding pretty haughty and dismissive. So I guess we don't think too much of each other at first glance.

I posted the above remark in preface to my comments about being part of an international community of motorists. I have an interest in the subject, so I talk with people who have similar interests. I don't join car communities to heckle people for owning cars (as I've actually seen happen in a few online communities).

That's not to say that I only drive. I walk, I take transit, I bike, but given where I live and my current transportation needs, right now if I have to go somewhere, it ususally involves getting behind the wheel of a car, whether I want to or not, and trust me there are plenty of times I'd love to have an option in my transit choices.


Planners have a term for this too: Windshield Perspective. Anything that increases vehicle speeds is good in the eyes of most drivers, no matter what the repercussions are.


That may be a legitimate term, but it's also a broad sweeping, over-generalization that has nothing to do with anything. If that's the cause, roundabouts would always be great because cars never have to come to a stop and wait for a light change from red to green.

Anybody with a brain in their heads doesn't necessarily want higher speeds. (Although there are arguments that can be made for increasing speed limits in certain circumstances in certain locations.) They generally want a more efficient way of getting from point A to point B, whether they walk, drive or cycle. They don't want to be faced with jams or delays. They also want a safer trip. (I say generally because sometimes it's just the act of walking, cycling or driving and not the destination that's important.)

I'm still not entirely sure what your complaint about pedestrian-accessibility has to do with roundabouts -- if anything, roundabouts cause motorists to drive slower, and pay more attention to their surroundings. There's absolutely no excuse for any intersection or roundabout to not be fitted with pedestrian crossings. In fact, most urban and suburban European roundabouts have pedestrian-activated traffic signals that guarantee them safe passage across the road. This is safer than a pedestrian crossing at an intersection, as you do not need to worry about turning traffic (the same thing can be done at a normal intersection with a Barnes Dance with turn restrictions, although driver compliance is often low where these are used).


My point was about a specific situation that is a real issue in the town where I live. It's not a hypothetical roundabout with pedestrian-activiated traffic signals. It's about a multi-lane road leading to a major highway with tons of traffic, including lots of transport trucks heading to the highway. There are no pedestrian-activated traffic signals. There is a school with a lot of children who need to cross the road. It's about poor planning, poor community consultation, and a fight between various levels of government.


The "car culture" folks in the UK and Europe also tend to be a very small and very loud group, when compared to the population at large. Folks like Jeremy Clarkson lend them far more credibility than they deserve.


Most of the "car culture" people I know in the UK and Europe say that Top Gear (or is it Fifth Gear -- I don't watch either so I get the titles confused) isn't an automotive program. It's an entertainment program. They don't hold Clarkson up as an automotive guru. The consider him an entertainer in the same vein as a comedian or a late night talkshow host.

Clarkson's column is republished in major Canadian paper. I admit, I'll usually try to skim it, just to see if the topic is of interest, but for the most part, I barely make it past the first couple of paragraphs. He seems more concerned about himself and his own wittiness (or lack thereof) than about the cars he's supposed to be covering.

Are roundabouts always the answer? Of course not. However, given the extreme negative connotation that they carry in the US, new ones are constructed with an incredible amount of scrutiny. I find it difficult to believe that there are any American municipalities actively replacing all of their intersections with poorly-designed roundabouts.


Wow. I think that's giving planners way too much credit. Out of all the roundabouts now in existence or in the planning stages, none of them are (or have been) poorly planned? They may get tons of scrutiny, but that doesn't mean that they will always come out perfectly. It also doesn't mean they are being implemented completely without any thought to political influences or other agendas.

Just as an example, there are two local levels of government that currently have a hand in the decision making process in my area. One level is for a roundabout at a particular intersection. The other is against the idea. Both levels of government have their own sets of experts who disagree on the merits of the roundabout. When there are no clear-cut facts, decisions get made based on power, money and politics.


BTW, do not confuse roundabouts with traffic circles. Traffic circles are much larger, carry more lanes, and have not been actively promoted within the urban planning community since the 1950s. Roundabouts also come in a variety of configurations, depending on the circumstances. (Though I'd largely agree that signalized roundabouts tend to introduce more problems than they solve). Generally speaking, they can also fit into the same footprint as an intersection.


No. So far we've only got roundabouts. I think two lanes is the maximum so far, but I think there has been talk about larger ones.

Like I said, I've seen land appropriated to build roundabouts. It may not be huge swarths of land, but it is extra land. The one local example I tend to drive through quite frequently affected both residential land and farmland. (It's in transition area between the country and the city.) The T-junction that had existed on the roads for at least as long as I've been alive certainly took up a lot less room than the current roundabout does.

There is another famous (in the area) case where a business owner was forced to shut down his business as the municipality need the majority of his property (including the bits on which his building stood) for the new roundabout.


And I say this all as a person who owns and frequently drives a car in an urban area. However, I'm also a frequent cyclist, pedestrian, and bus rider; and know that each mode of conveyance is only a small part of the equation.
posted by schmod at 1:13 PM on April 5 [+] [!]


Well at least we agree on that.
posted by sardonyx at 2:12 PM on April 5, 2011


I always wonder how delivery trucks cope with these kinds of changes to roads. Are they just offloaded to side streets, noisy and idling?

Smaller trucks.
posted by birdherder at 2:29 PM on April 5, 2011


BTW, do not confuse roundabouts with traffic circles.

Except your wikipedia link indicates that roundabouts and traffic circles are the same thing (roundabout being a UK term, traffic circle being an American term). I call them roundabouts because that's what my TomTom's British voice says when I approach one. It also refers to freeways as motorways.
posted by birdherder at 2:42 PM on April 5, 2011


If you want me to stop driving to work, make the LA public schools as good as the ones where I live and I'll move to the city. Seriously, that's literally all it would take.

The problem is that these two things are coupled. The "bad school" is really a euphemism for the problems of poverty and race. The highway has always been a tool allowing some people to escape.
You can't solve the problems of bad schools without facing up to the problems of poverty and race in US society... The Wire illustrates this as well as anything.

The odd thing is that there is a non-trivial intersection between car-lovers and free-market capitalist, but the US highway system and is as much a product of central planning as anything in the Soviet Union. When the history of the decline and fall of the US is written, the willingness to deliberately abandon the urban cores of major US cities so that we could build a lot of rapidly amortizing single-family houses and cars will rank high in the list of costly mistakes.
posted by ennui.bz at 2:44 PM on April 5, 2011 [4 favorites]


"If you want me to stop driving to work, make the LA public schools as good as the ones where I live and I'll move to the city. Seriously, that's literally all it would take."

More importantly, if you want to drive to work, don't expect LA to bend over backwards making your commute a quick one. The city is entitled to implement other priorities.
posted by ocschwar at 3:05 PM on April 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


Roundabout interchanges promote efficient use of the land (not requiring a cloverleaf layout) while providing a near-continuous flow mechanism for the offramp rather than long queues backing up onto the freeway itself while the signals stop the offramp flow. This is a severe and dangerous problem on Californian freeways during rush hour.

Arterial roads can use roundabouts quite effectively so long as you stay within the limits that roundabouts have. In fact, our main roads department usually considers signals a last resort after all other options (including roundabouts) have been exhausted. Coming from Western Australia, growing up with them, you get quite used to them and I can usually hit a roundabout joining two 30mph roads at full speed without difficulty. Even the larger radius one I linked above will have people hitting it at 35mph on a 50mph road and if it's clear and you're confident you can easily hit it at 50mph.

Now in the case of most freeway offramps you're looking at a 7,500-10,000 vph Freeway dumping 1,000-1,500vph onto an offramp. This is well within the limits set by even a single lane roundabout and for a particularly busy offramp/arterial you can always dump it onto a two lane roundabout which is good for about 2500vph.

My point was about a specific situation that is a real issue in the town where I live. It's not a hypothetical roundabout with pedestrian-activiated traffic signals. It's about a multi-lane road leading to a major highway with tons of traffic, including lots of transport trucks heading to the highway. There are no pedestrian-activated traffic signals. There is a school with a lot of children who need to cross the road. It's about poor planning, poor community consultation, and a fight between various levels of government.

It's common sense to provide traffic wardens at any major intersection for school children, signalled or not. Nevertheless, putting pedestrian right of ways at roundabout entrances will also make it easy for pedestrians to cross. It also won't require you to wait 45 seconds for the lights to change. I could make an equally dumb intersection using yield signs or stoplights (GREEN LIGHT I CAN TURN RIGHT! *crash into kid*).
posted by Talez at 3:13 PM on April 5, 2011


Roundabouts are definitely not the same thing as traffic circles. I would love to see roundabouts in wider use in the US, they've built them where I am currently living in Canada and people took to them soon enough.
posted by Space Coyote at 3:50 PM on April 5, 2011


Stopped reading when it implied a river and grass were better than a highway. Some of my fondest memories are of highways and even closed down they could be turned into some sort of post apocalyptic urban park. I love stories set on worlds that are nothing but roads and there's something magical about being under the overpass.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 3:55 PM on April 5, 2011


Don't worry, Lovecraft in Brooklyn. You'll always have Atlanta.
posted by ocschwar at 3:59 PM on April 5, 2011 [4 favorites]


some sort of post apocalyptic urban park

The implication being that there are no drivers.

Different means, same end.
posted by muddgirl at 4:43 PM on April 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'd love to see things like this implemented in Tokyo. If there's a river or canal in Tokyo, chances are there is an elevated highway over it. Even Nihombashi, the traditional starting point for road measurements in Japan, dating back to 1603, is covered by an elevated highway. Kind of takes something away from the scenery.
posted by Ghidorah at 4:52 PM on April 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


In the withering heat of summer, Chongeychon is a real oasis in Seoul. Families picnic under the shady bridges, they splash in the water. Folks just sit and enjoy the day. It's an astonishingly beautiful spot and well utilized.
posted by GilloD at 4:55 PM on April 5, 2011


In the withering heat of summer, Chongeychon is a real oasis in Seoul. Families picnic under the shady bridges, they splash in the water. Folks just sit and enjoy the day. It's an astonishingly beautiful spot and well utilized.

yeah, until the mutant sea monsters show up.
posted by toodleydoodley at 5:12 PM on April 5, 2011


Freeway construction in no small part led to white flight, which led to the abominable state of urban schools today.

They don't build roads unless the other roads are already full.
posted by gjc at 6:42 PM on April 5, 2011


The "bad school" is really a euphemism for the problems of poverty and race.

Maybe for some, but for most people, it just means that the schools are less successful at educating children. Good schools and bad schools are the result of the people in charge of them, not the race or wealth of the students attending.
posted by gjc at 6:44 PM on April 5, 2011


Embarcadero freeway
posted by lathrop at 6:45 PM on April 5, 2011


gjc: You think that's the case in LA?
posted by floam at 6:51 PM on April 5, 2011


They don't build roads unless the other roads are already full.

Sometimes roads are built to spur development, or historically, for "urban renewal".
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 7:11 PM on April 5, 2011


As I was on my way to pick up my SO from work, I took the freeway. I often don't, because it's been under construction lately, and thus jammy, but they finished recently so it's a matter of getting back in the habit.

Either way, it's precisely 3.5 miles from our house to her work downtown. If I take the surface arterial it takes a little over 10 minutes and occasionally, but rarely, as long as 15. Taking the freeway, which is about 6 tenths of a mile away from my house and about 4 tenths of a mile from my SO's work, it takes 5 to 7 minutes to get there.

So just today, with two and a half miles of freeway, my trip time was cut literally in half.

Anyway, I had been reading this thread just prior to leaving, so I was thinking about the neighborhoods I was passing. The entire time I was driving along, I was thinking how the freeway did not in fact destroy the neighborhood. It split it in two, to be sure, as there is only access to cross it every quarter mile or so, but the area to the south is still as vibrant as ever (more so than it was when the freeway was built, actually, but for unrelated reasons) and the area to the north is also perfectly fine.

Now, there is one segment of freeway and one neighborhood that was utterly ruined by a freeway here in Tulsa, but that's pretty much it. In the areas immediately around downtown, the freeway had a much greater impact, but even there, it wasn't a terribly large effect in most of the area. One neighborhood, Greenwood, was in fact gravely injured by the freeway.

The suburban shopping malls did far more to annihilate downtown for 20 years than the freeway did. the freeways are still choking downtown, and we don't have any niftiness like Columbus' cap on High Street, but our downtown is coming back in a big way because some visionaries decided that it would be a great thing if we had bars, restaurants, and other entertainment downtown. And then the city and county decided it would be good to have an iconic arena to help draw people downtown. And some other folks decided it would be great to have more housing downtown.

It's not where we'd really like it to be yet, but the freeway isn't hampering the redevelopment of the area. Even Greenwood is getting in on the action. What the freeways are doing is preventing much of that energy from spilling out into some of the surrounding neighborhoods that lack their own draw. The areas that do have their own draw are doing just fine despite the freeway being in the area and people hop back and forth to do whatever.

Enough rambling. My point is that the freeways are neither the 100% good thing some highway builders would like them to be, but they're also not the unmitigated destroyer of communities that some anti-car hipsters would like them to be, either. They're just there, ready to be used or not used; ready to take the blame when the community is crumbling and get none of the credit when the community is not.
posted by wierdo at 7:22 PM on April 5, 2011


Cheonggyecheon is nice, but its construction involved wholesale demolition of low-income living and working neighborhoods, and Lee Myeong Bak, the Seoul mayor who envisioned it and made it happen, became president in no small part due to the "success" of the Cheonggyecheon (and don't get me started on the myth that he's some kind of great businessman).

And oh, by the way. Lee's next big idea? A canal bisecting the entire country of South Korea.



I'm not kidding.

Fortunately, it will never happen. Lee's administration is incompetent as well as stupid.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 7:41 PM on April 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


The suburban shopping malls did far more to annihilate downtown for 20 years than the freeway did.

To separate those as two different forces seems, to me, too narrow a perspective on the effects of freeways. Suburban sprawl only was made possible by the vast development of car-oriented infrastructure, which has been heavily subsidized by state and federal governments, at the expense of investment in other areas. Granted, I don't know anything about Tulsa. Also granted that American cities seem in general to be making a little bit of a comeback, freeways notwithstanding, which is nice to see, though these renaissances tend to be a bit theme-parky.
posted by dixiecupdrinking at 7:50 PM on April 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


Cheonggyecheon is indeed quite nice. If you had a spare hour on a nice weekend afternoon it could take you from Dongdaemun market over to Gwanghawmun, kind of the central part of Seoul's downtown.

But, it's really not a greenspace. It's a narrow stream with a concrete walkway. The nice thing about it is that you can hear the water flowing and the sound of the traffic right above your head is pretty effectively muted.

But like Joseph Gurl said, there were plenty of people who were incredibly pissed off by the destruction of various markets and stalls. Lots of lower class people were effectively given the boot to make this happen.

Also, this line: "but because they were able to get public support for it" doesn't make any sense in a Korean context. If she means the people wanted it, as mentioned, there were plenty of people who didn't. If she means public funding, well, you can't touch anything in Korea without knowing the right goverment officials. It's how you do business here -- you have to grease various palms, even moreso than in America.
posted by bardic at 9:44 PM on April 5, 2011


dixiecupdrinking wrote: "Suburban sprawl only was made possible by the vast development of car-oriented infrastructure, which has been heavily subsidized by state and federal governments, at the expense of investment in other areas."

In our case, the malls weren't really driven by the freeways. The sprawl began before we had freeways going to places people worked from the places they lived. Tulsa's original freeway was built to bypass town. To get people traveling along Route 66 off the arterials. We already had proto-malls by that point. The main indoor shopping mall in town (we're down to two now) was built way out in the southeast part of town 5 or 6 years before a freeway was built out that way.

What the freeways off into the farthest reaches of the city and on out to the suburbs have done is driven a lot of residential out to the cheap land, which has drawn more shopping out that way.

The streets had to be built regardless. Whether you put a trolley on them, buses, bikes, or people, they have to be there. The vast network of rural interstates is also a necessity. Yeah, too many goods are transported by truck rather than train these days, but some goods make more sense on a truck, so we need 'em. Given that, they have to get into/near cities somehow, so we're going to have freeways.

What we need to do is mitigate their bad effects, because they can't be entirely eliminated. Sometimes that might mean removing a specific section of freeway. Sometimes that might mean landscaping. Sometimes that might mean developing a bridge into more useful space. Sometimes it means the big dig. Sometimes it means an iconic bridge because you've gotta get across the river somehow and you want something to offset the bad side effects with some good ones.

Private vehicles, whatever their power source, are here to stay. Hopefully we can reduce their use, but it's folly to think they'll be eliminated entirely or even reduced in numbers enough to do away with freeways within anybody's lifetime who is currently old enough to read this.
posted by wierdo at 10:10 PM on April 5, 2011


Seoul is still a horrible city that actively hates the people who live in it, but the Cheonggyecheon was a step in the right direction. Many steps remain.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 10:21 PM on April 5, 2011


"Seoul is still a horrible city"

What don't you like about it? The public transportation is amazing compared to any American city.

The sprawl is pretty bad though.
posted by bardic at 11:47 PM on April 5, 2011


Yeah, I fucken love Seoul, Stav. No place I'd rather be right now at least (in the middle of my 9th year here...)
posted by Joseph Gurl at 11:59 PM on April 5, 2011


I only went there once, on a visa run from Japan 10 years ago, but I'll agree the subway system there is fantastic, and seemed to be even better laid out than Tokyo's, and cheaper to boot. Other than that, I wasn't all that thrilled with the city, but that will likely change, as Mrs. Ghidorah has recently become infatuated with Korea, Seoul, and especially Korean food. If I tag along, she'll go without me (as she's already done once). Mayhap the Seoul-fites could clue me into the can't miss spots that make the city great.
posted by Ghidorah at 12:25 AM on April 6, 2011


Just drop a line, Ghidorah.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 12:36 AM on April 6, 2011


I dislike cities in general, I admit, with a few notable exceptions. Perhaps if I were younger, or hungrier (or richer (or less of a country boy (or less misanthropic))) I might not hate it as much as I do.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 1:49 AM on April 6, 2011


Oh don't get me wrong. I'm nine thumbs up for hate.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 4:41 AM on April 6, 2011


ennui.bz: "The "bad school" is really a euphemism for the problems of poverty and race."

Thank for telling me my interest in giving my kids a good education is thinly disguised racism and classism.
posted by Chrysostom at 11:56 AM on April 6, 2011


The "bad school" is really a euphemism for the problems of poverty and race.

I'm not really sure what you mean by that. Are you saying that the schools in my LA suburb are actually not any better than schools in LAUSD? If so, can you please explain the basis for that assertion?

Where I live, there are rich people who donate generously to the public schools in addition to the funding that the schools receive from the state. That's not a euphemism. It literally makes the schools better. And I chose to live in that school district, even though I can barely afford to, precisely because its schools are subsidized by generous rich people. I don't care what race they are. I just like that they pay to improve the schools my kids attend.
posted by The World Famous at 12:08 PM on April 6, 2011


I'm not the one who said the "euphemism" thing. But I think the idea behind it is not that there's anything wrong with wanting to send your kids to a better school.

California has school tax funding problems. There's some law or other that says that California has to put a minimum of 40% of something (taxes?) into schools/education (according to a California History professor at U.C. Davis). This sounds good, but in practice it means that schools are stuck getting a minimal amount of funding and now we lag behind most of the rest of the country. I'm sure that's not the only problem, but he sure did make it sound like it was a significant part of the problem.

Generous rich people are able to compensate for this to some degree by enriching their local schools with generous donations. But their donations aren't set up to address the entire school system. Underfunded schools without all the rich people as resources where the taxes aren't enough are left in the lurch. Then they get labeled as the "bad" schools. They get labeled as such because there aren't rich people living there to contribute. And then we get partial solutions, like Teach For America sending teachers in who teach for a year or two. It's like playing whac-a-mole. What's the big picture solution?

My friend and I were discussing today the idea of "sustainable systems." What we're talking about here (donating to some schools) is not a comprehensive solution. I'm not saying that any one individual family shouldn't do what's best for their kids; of course you should. What I am saying is that we as individual members of a society need to start working together to look at problems as part of an interconnected system rather than continuing to play whac-a-mole.
posted by aniola at 12:38 PM on April 6, 2011


bardic writes "What don't you like about it? The public transportation is amazing compared to any American city.

"The sprawl is pretty bad though."


I'm amazed anywhere can have both sprawl and good public transport. Or is it half sprawl and half good transport with the two only sort of meeting at assorted edges?
posted by Mitheral at 3:48 PM on April 6, 2011


Places with bad sprawl and "good" public transport often are large metropolises with good commuter transport, trains that can quickly get people into and out of a city from the suburbs, with local service being another matter entirely. I have no idea what the situation in Seoul is.
posted by floam at 4:11 PM on April 6, 2011


Regarding schools: the main determinant of whether or not a school is "good" is the students and their parents. Fill a school with motivated parents who read to their kids and insist on good grades and volunteer their time and money, and you'll have a good school, regardless of the teachers' salary or experience or class size (within limits). Fill a school with the students whose parents can't be bothered with any of that, and you'll have a terrible school, even with twice the funding and dedicated, well-paid teachers.

This is why private schools are often well-regarded despite the fact that the teachers are often paid less and have less experience than their public school counterparts: the very fact that you have to pay to get in ensures that the parents are, to some extent, engaged in their child's education and willing to make sacrifices.

And this is why the quality of a given school becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. No motivated parent, who wants a bright future for their child, will send the child to a bad school. So the only kids there are those whose parents don't care enough or can't do enough to get them out (I am of course exaggerating here, and I don't mean to slight the many good parents who no doubt do try to make it work, but that is the reputation).

On the bright side, I've read a few articles about turnarounds here in SF, where groups of parents who have been assigned to "bad" schools have, with the help of social networking, banded together and taken a chance with their kids. The results have been dramatic jumps in test scores and school satisfaction. A cynical view is to chalk it up to gentrification, and to expect that the low-income students will be driven out by rising rents to other bad schools in other places. A less cynical view is to note that it these successes can be achieved with a fairly limited core of motivated parents, but that the benefits are gained by all the students.

And to bring this back to freeways: extensive, subsidized freeways make for easy geographic self-segregation, which is taken advantage of by rational, self-interested people. This does not make them bad people, but neither does it make the government's encouraging it good public policy.
posted by alexei at 7:29 PM on April 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


>Places with bad sprawl and "good" public transport often are large metropolises with good commuter transport, trains that can quickly get people into and out of a city from the suburbs, with local service being another matter entirely. I have no idea what the situation in Seoul is.

There's actually not much sprawl in Seoul--the suburbs (Bundang, Ilsan, etc.) are well served by commuter lines, and inner-city transit is superb, with affordable, efficient, easy-to-use subway lines and a very thorough bus transit system. Transportation here is outstanding. In fact, "sprawl" in the LA sense, is practically impossible, since Seoul is nearly surrounded by steep mountains. That said, the Seoul-Incheon corridor can be viewed as a single mega-metropolis (housing something like 20% of the nation's population!).

Transportation here is definitely better than Tokyo's. I've spent significant time in Tokyo and have lived in Seoul for coming up on nine years, and there's just no comparison.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 7:45 PM on April 6, 2011


The thing with sprawl is, you can have sort of what most people think of as LA sprawl where everything is spread out and low density (although LA itself is actually quite dense I'm repeatedly reminded), or you can have the kind of sprawl you often see outside many world-class big cities, with suburbs stretching out as far as the eye can see in all directions with a slow density gradient.

The urbanists' wet dream would not just have a vibrant, dense urban core, but a magic, tight boundary where at the edge of the city you switch right from the very urban to farmland and forests.
posted by floam at 10:41 PM on April 6, 2011


The urbanists' wet dream would not just have a vibrant, dense urban core, but a magic, tight boundary where at the edge of the city you switch right from the very urban to farmland and forests.

I've lived in a couple of places like that and it really is awesome.
posted by The World Famous at 11:19 AM on April 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


It's good if the magic boundary is strictly enforced and either wide enough or slow to travel thru such that it prevents the sprawl from building on the other side of the boundary. Otherwise it means sprawl is just farther away or it's a cash cow for developers with connections.
posted by Mitheral at 3:24 PM on April 7, 2011


It's good if the magic boundary is strictly enforced and either wide enough or slow to travel thru such that it prevents the sprawl from building on the other side of the boundary. Otherwise it means sprawl is just farther away or it's a cash cow for developers with connections.

Yes, that's important. You can't plan like that on a per-city basis, you need regional or larger planning (or be truly landlocked). Here in Portland, the whole metro area of three counties are under the regional government, called "Metro". We actually have one of these magic boundaries, called an urban growth boundary. The problem is that by the time it was instituted in the 70s, there was already quite a bit of sprawl, and as the population grows there is strong desire by many to let the boundary grow at the same clip, plus the "JOBS JOBS JOBS!" ensuring that there is always developable industrial land nearby. We also have a foil, Clark County (directly across the Columbia river in Washington state) which is outside Metro control and is a car-happy sprawlville with not much more than subdivisions, gas stations, and strip malls.

But it's a lot better than nothing.
posted by floam at 1:56 PM on April 8, 2011


If I was the dictator, I think my solution would be basically creating a gigantic national park taking up the vast majority of vacant land in the US. Land swaps to make it contiguous.
posted by floam at 2:03 PM on April 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


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