‘Gimme Shelter’ with Daniel Gehman: Cars
- Jun 22, 2009
“Here is my car, I feel safest of all;
I can lock all my doors, it’s the only way to live,
Perhaps you have the good fortune to remember this ‘top ten’ song from 1980 sung by Gary Numan. I suppose this piece could be the un-official theme number of the City of Angels, where I do most of my work.
Over the last two weeks, I have experienced both ends of the spectrum of love/hate for the projectile ICE (Internal combustion engine, for those of you new to the discussion) personal transport system. First, I had the sublime pleasure of visiting our nation’s capital to check out a property belonging to one of my clients, to conjecture how to re-position the said asset to be more timely and appeal to a select demographic. In Arlington, Va., a “suburb” of Washington, D.C., renters actually pay a premium to inhabit a building that is mere steps from a subway (metro) station, rather than, say, a ten-minute walk.
Bopping around D.C. for a couple of days, I could certainly understand why this is true. For those of you who didn’t already know, the D.C. metro system is really cool. You can jam from a suburb to the National Mall in less than half an hour. With the current and future proliferation of government jobs, this is no small benefit; working in the core may be hot, but living there . . . maybe not so much . . . just yet.
Jump cut to L.A.—car coveting country. I heard another one of my clients give a talk on the nature of residential construction in L.A., especially with our new found enthusiasm for “transit-oriented development”, whatever that may be. This fellow, whom I profoundly respect and admire, comfortably stated the obvious about life on the left coast–south. Even if you are clever enough to find a domicile that allows you to walk or take transit to work, the moment you wish to engage in the 12-month-per-year outside activity culture, you’re probably going to have to get in your car to do it. Forget the river or the mountains, you’re probably going to need to car to jam out to visit Mom in Chatsworth or Duarte, or even Costco.
The nuisance of all of this is, while we may in fact make great strides toward reducing the number of daily trips generated (and, hence, fulfilling the furtive future of such pedagogical legislation as Cali’s SB 375, the vehicle miles traveled juggernaut), it is going to be a dang long time before we are a region where most folks can comfortably live without their (for now) gas-gulping, emissions-belching personal velocity drone.
So, as my friend and client somewhat surreptitiously suggested, for the short time at least, let’s get over it. Ease into the future. Build the monument one brick at a time.
Great, so I have to continue to shoehorn 1.8 parking spaces per dwelling into the infill projects I’m designing unless they sit squarely atop a subway station. Well, maybe so. Or, maybe we’re ready for an interim step. Granted, the number of developments that can be built atop transit are relatively few. For the rest of us, what solutions might there be that will slowly help us to transition from everyone needing a car for everything everyday, to more of an occasional use concept, or even from there to a shared-car program? I might note that while in Arlington, walking from the property I was analyzing, to the metro station, there were two “Zip Car” outlets on the way. This was an eleven-minute walk, mind you.
What about district parking? Maybe I can keep one car at my residence, but the second family car (God willing, the hybrid Ford Escape or similar ride) in a public/private facility a block or so away from my address. The same structure might also house public parking for the services/restaurants/entertainments within the holy quarter-mile walking distance.
It’s just a thought. I’m down with the zeal to get folks out of their cars, but, for heaven’s sake, let’s listen to what they need today and help ease them into a transition, even as we fund and construct the transportation systems of tomorrow.
“Here in my car, I know I’ve started to think;
About leaving tonight, although nothing seems right,
Mmmmm . . . we’ve still got a long way to go; but thanks, Gary, for the thought.
(Daniel Gehman is principal at Thomas Cox Architects. He can be reached at DanielG@tca-arch.com)