Planning for GA 2013: plenty of parking!

Just read this post at a Louisville, Ky. urbanism blog (Broken Sidewalks) that’ll I’ll keep in mind when I plan for the 2013 General Assembly of the Unitarian Universalist Association.

There is an extraordinary amount of parking downtown — and so much of it in surface lots — and that means reduced amenities and a streetscape hostile to pedestrians. Or put another way, how far will attendees have to go to get a meal? Will you want to walk from a late-night event to non-adjacent hotel?

Please refer to that map, or a satellite view of downtown Louisville. The convention center is the double-square gray rectangle near the river. That shows two axes — south on 4th Street and west on Jefferson — for non-parking-lots.

Let’s hope one or both offers a cup of coffee on Sunday.

WMATA on Google Transit

Today, D.C.’s transit hounds get what once thought impossible: the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA; “Metro”) is on Google Transit, a service that integrates maps and service schedules. It is available for dozens of other services worldwide.

So now it’s possible to plot driving, walking and transit trips in the area. Other, smaller transit agencies had participated in the system, but not WMATA, which is by far the largest in the area, leading to absurd routings through remote counties on commuter buses. Or, more frequently, no option at all.

It’s far from perfect — one search I made suggested I ride one of those commuter buses for two stops; a five minute walk and wholly impractical — to change to a Metrobus.

But it’s service that I’ll use, and hope Washington’s visitors enjoy.

Where is that Unitarian church? Directions, please.

I was going to reply to Unitarian minister and blogger Stephen Lingwood, who recently wrote “Church Planting and Church Renewal: The Way Forward” on his Reignite blog, with a very pushy and American alternative plan. (And shall still do so.)

But in lining up my arguments, I researched where some British Unitarian churches were physically located and discovered that the addresses and directions given on the national and congregation websites very often failed the newcomer test. In other words, the address was adequate if you already knew the church was there, but wasn’t if you were coming over from another neighborhood or village, or were new to the area. (And people who move, at least in the United States, are more likely to look for a new church than those who have been there all along.)

So I’m prescribing the following three solutions (and one action) that I would like for every church welcome publication like pamphlets or websites.

  • Clear directions for the worship location, including cross streets and landmarks. Bonus points for offering a phone number to call before the service.
  • Satnav coordinates — that’s GPS for us Americans — plainly shown. And where to park.
  • Likewise, the location and code for the nearest public transportation stop — or a plain disclaimer that there’s no (Sunday) service nearby. In which case, bonus points for taxicab advice, even if that’s only a goodfaith offering and not a genuine transportation plan.
  • And to act: take ownership of your congregation’s “business” listing on Google. This is only germane to congregations with buildings, but it will help your visitors when they look for you. Be sure to watch this video: it’s less than 2 minutes long. (And mull on the “sister restaurant” reference therein.)

When you’ve done all those, I’ll move to inexpensive online promotion, and The Big Pushy American Plan.

This is a good example of some of the points above; indeed, a congregation (that shall go nameless) meets in this hall.

Commuting to church: D.C., elsewhere tool

The folk wisdom about getting to church is that people will go as far to a church as they will go to work. That makes commuting data important for church plants, but failing that assume that someone won’t take more than a half-hour to get there.

There’s a new interesting tool that maps how far someone in Washington, D.C. and a few other cities — Boston, Seattle, Dallas, New York and Chicago, among others; and Berlin, London, Auckland and Perth overseas — can get in a certain amount of time on foot and using transit. Important, too, because I have a hard time thinking the suburban “temple in a sea of asphalt” will fare well in a city, or that even near-suburban congregations can depend on this unfortunate staples of American religious life. (That said, it’s been more than a decade since I was a member of church that I had to drive to, so I’m a bit of an outlier.)

Enough for the lead-in; the resource is Mapnificent, or to start directly with Washington, D.C.

Will we recall the oil decline beginning like Georgia, N.C.?

My friend Katharine has commented on her own LiveJournal on the gasoline that cannot be found in metro Atlanta. Other reports I’ve read note great anxiety in western North Carolina with spot shortages in other Southern locations.

The word is that these shortages are due to hurricane-hampered refinery production, but new refineries aren’t going to be very helpful if we’re reaching the point where easy-to-extract oil ends, and all oil becomes painfully expensive. Hubby and I bought our new place for several reasons: one was to be less oil-dependent that we might otherwise be. (Remind me of that as food transportation costs become more noticeable: you can’t really escape oil use in our economy.)

I wonder if the folks back home shouldn’t welcome this recent shortage as a dry run for times to come.

Evacuation!? No, a really useful bus map

A little lunchtime blogging, following a quick review of the news feeds. (DCist)

Seems Metro has issued emergency evacuation maps keyed to each exit for each Metrorail (subway) station. See each station page — like Dupont Circle — to download the PDFs. In each one, you see a map and landmarks for what’s in a quarter-mile walk, plus keys to bus routes with numbers and destinations. A great resource for those who want to learn the Metrobuses and other carriers — presumably to substitute for the rails in an emergency, but why stop there? — and for tourists. (I wonder if there was money for an evacuation tool, but not rider education, thus the branding.)

They remind me of “legless” version of the “spider” maps that Transport for London produces to integrate their rail and bus service. (The legs are schematic representations of the bus routes outside the immediate environs of the rail station.)

I’ve wanted these here for ages, and now we have a first step even if they come under an alarming wrapper.

Later. Uh-oh. Looking at the Dupont Circle map, I see some of the stops are a misleadingly off. Like bus stops A, B and P; perhaps others. The Cineplex Odeon is out of business and it’s “Washington Club” not “Club Washington.”

We need transportation options

I want you to call your representative, or better call your representative’s legislative assistant on energy or transportation, and say you support the newly introduced H.R. 6495, “To authorize programs and activities to support transportation and housing options that will assist American families in reducing transportation costs, and for other purposes.” (OpenCongress, missing full text for now) (THOMAS, for full text.)

The size and diversity of the United States, plus wildly different concepts behind how succeeding generations of housing were built, means there’s no single solution to the emerging fuel and transportation crisis. Urban-style bus systems won’t work in the suburbs (though there are alternatives). Not everyone can telecommute. There’s not enough biomass to convert fuel systems away from petroleum, and so on.

H.R. 6495 proposes a number of fixes, including increasing the limit for transportation fringe benefit; if you get SmarTrip in D.C., you know the limit is $115 a month; this would be raised to $200. There’s also a proposed $400 telework technology tax credit, a bicycle tax credit, consideration given to transportation in Section 8 housing programs, transit-oriented mortgages support, encouragement of pay-as-you-go car insurance, and expanded funds for promoting transit. Lots of options to help people get out of — or avoid the need for — single-occupancy cars.

Again, call your rep or your rep’s legislative assistant and show your support. It’s a far better option than what Ms. Theologian’s rep is considering.

A vision for U.S. passenger rail

With gasoline within sneezing distance of a United States average of $4 a gallon and continuing airline cutbacks and failures, let me return to domestic passenger rail.

I was looking at a list of Metropolitan Statistical Areas — this is what led me to the Micropolitan areas I mentioned last week — because the National Association of Railroad Passengers has a vision plan to bring passenger rail to many, many more Metropolitan Statistical Areas and Consolidated Metropolitan Statistical areas (and state capitols that don’t fit that category) than Amtrak currently serves. (The rest are reasonably close to lines to allow for bus connections.)

A lasting solution means, of course, more than adding new cars or even new lines. The national rail infrastructure has been undersupported for years and freight pressures on the current rail system are likely to be more pressing than the wildest possible increases in passenger service. And there’s no reason one should lose to the other.

Even though I’m a confirmed Eastern Time Zoner, I’ve added Midwest High Speed Rail, Improving Amtrak Incrementally to my Google Reader news feed list. (Some of the most interesting movements in passenger rail are found in the Midwestern states.)

Dan Johnson-Weinberger, its author, advocates rail supporters contact their federal representatives in support of HR 6003, the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act, which would increase “the amount of federal money to match state capital investments.”

I agree. See if your member is on the co-sponsor list (more about that next time) and if not call his or her office, ask of the legislative aide for rail or transportation affairs, and make your opinion known.

We can plan and prepare now, or suffer later.

Helping Lower Walnut: demanding public transportation

The Rev. Angela Mather, minister of the Lower Walnut Universalist Church, has been hearing the grumblings at the grocery store and bank. Gasoline and diesel fuel prices have skyrocketed and other prices are beginning to follow. She knew it was bad when the an egg salad sandwich went up a quarter at Niko’s Cafe. Niko and Sophie wouldn’t raise prices in Wolastoq County unless it was absolutely necessary.

Public transportation is a source of relief, if a less than desired one. There’s a lot of pride in Lower Walnut, and private transportation has been a hallmark of success and independence. But at $4 a gallon, something has to give.

In Wolastoq, the thin public transportation system is run by the Senior Citizens Council, mainly for shopping and medical appointment transport, but has always supported other residents of any age who need to get around. Riders have to call ahead and many don’t even know the service exists. Even so, the system is stretched to the limit. Not that stops people from asking.

The subject came up at the Unitarian Universalist ministers’ cluster meeting. A groan and a question from a minister new to the state. “Where can I find out more?” Angela piped up, “look up your county at There’s a pull down menu for the states.” Someone else pointed out that Maine has a public transportation guide, which is perhaps more than other states can provide.

And one older colleague added: “I think it’s high time we called the state Department of Transportation and the members of our congressional delegation to see where we can push for funds for expanded service. People can’t live — much less work — if their homes are their prisons.”

Angela retorted: “I’ve got my laptop. Let’s Google them.”

Help needed: Passenger rail advocacy

Do you know of a good organization (a c3 or an advocacy c4) — in addition to the National Association of Railroad Passengers — that advocates for increased passenger rail service in the United States? Especially state initiatives. Thoughtful blogs are welcome, too.