Saturday, August 28, 2010

Normal General Stores?

This article suggests developing Suburban General Stores in residential areas so residents would be able to walk to a store within their subdivision and buy basic items. Supposedly, this would save money that would have been spent on driving to stores, and it also might increase social interaction among residents (one idea is to put a front porch on the store to serve as a gathering place).

This sounds nice in theory but raises issues such as the additional traffic and noise from delivery trucks, the impact of the store on the people who live close to it, and how zoning laws would accommodate it.  There are convenience stores sprinkled around town that are within walking distance of some residential areas, so it isn't a completely new idea for this town. And unless lots of people are making frequent trips to stores for one or two items, it doesn't seem like a necessity locally.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Normal's (Relatively) Minor Traffic Jams

After reading this article about a 62-mile traffic jam in China, I will be less upset about waiting in "long" lines of traffic at local intersections. Well, slightly less upset. And that will only last for a few days. After I've forgotten about the traffic jam in China, I'll go back to being really upset.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Normal: Future Bicycle City?

Columbia, South Carolina, has been chosen for the location of a "Bicycle City" -- a development that is car-free (cars must be parked on the perimeter). There is also the requirement that all buildings are LEED-certified. Of course, they've got a good climate for biking. Even so, I wonder if there would be much interest for such a place in or near Normal. Would people be willing to have less convenient access to their cars in exchange for the benefits of not having vehicles in the neighborhood (no traffic noise, no car stereos booming, children could safely ride in the streets, etc.)? The article about Bicycle City does not address issues such as garbage pickup and delivery trucks. Obviously, emergency vehicles would be allowed in.

In an era when we want everything personalized to meet our own wants and needs, it's not surprising that someone would come up with the idea of a specialized subdivision. There will probably be more of these in the future (and maybe they can retrofit some older neighborhoods to meet consumer demand).

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Normal Farmers Market Joins the Crowd

There's an article quoting a USDA announcement that farmers markets have increased 214% since 2000, and have increased 16% since just last year! There are now 6,132 farmers markets across the country and Illinois has 286 of them, ranking third after California (580) and New York (461), and just ahead of Michigan (271). Missouri, Minnesota, Idaho, and Michigan have had the greatest percentage increase in farmers markets in the past year, so there's obviously a growing (hah!) interest in buying (hopefully locally grown) produce outside of stores.

I haven't been to the Uptown Trailside Farmers Market yet this year (due to the brutal heat in the late afternoon) but I have been buying produce at the new farmers market on College Ave. on Saturday mornings. I think more and more people have discovered that event and I'm hoping that it continues next summer because it's very convenient, both in location and time of day (starts at 7:30 a.m.).

Monday, August 9, 2010

Normal Pedicabs?

Someone has suggested the use of pedicabs as an alternative form of transportation (similar to rickshaws). They could share bicycle lanes, reduce the number of automobiles on the streets, and give the "drivers" lots of exercise! I kind of like the idea, although they would only be a warm weather vehicle. Wonder how many people would be motivated to drive these things?

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Normal Traffic Future: Different Views

There is a nice panel discussion of the issues surrounding efforts to increase pedestrian and bicyclist accessibility in cities. Do city planners have to choose which side to take: pedestrian/bicyclist or automobile? Or is there a different way to look at it? It appears that many cities in the U.S. are pondering this issue. Normal is also taking steps (hah!) to increase pedestrian/bicyclist accessibility and is facing criticism and opposition as a result. Give up driving lanes or parking space on the streets so "a few" people can ride their bikes? Many seem to be saying "No!" to this. (What I find humorous but puzzling is the local animosity toward bicyclists that wear spandex -- what I call "spandicles." Are they hated for their clothing or their aggressive biking?)

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Normal Future Transportation Needs

I came across an article about city planning and how difficult it is to know what the future needs of a city will be, especially in terms of transportation. The author starts the article with the example of city planners in Europe in the late 1800s thinking that horse manure was going to be the biggest problem for cities in the future. Obviously, they were wrong.

I thought it was particularly appropriate to think about the issue of future transportation on the day of the ceremonial groundbreaking for the new Normal Transportation Center. The Transportation Center plan is based on the assumption that people in the future will still give priority to efficiently traveling from one place to another, thus having a hub for trains, buses, and taxis makes sense. The article, on the other hand, suggests that perhaps that kind of view is ignoring the important role of information in our transportation needs/uses. Perhaps our future transportation won't merely be physical movement from point a to point b, but will require the transportation itself to provide our means of work and/or leisure. The article mentions holding meetings on trains and having a mobile day care as examples.

Maybe we've already started moving (sorry for the pun) in that direction: people are texting and talking on cell phones as they drive -- conducting business, handling social issues, etc. We are already combining information with transportation.

I am absolutely no good at predicting the future (even what's going to happen in the next 30 minutes!), so I have no ideas beyond what that article suggests. Good thing I'm not a city planner.

There is a saying that might apply to this issue: it's the journey [that's important], not the destination.