Archive for February, 2010

California’s high-speed rail program found itself on crossing the path of my eyes yesterday.   It is such beautiful and logical presentation – one that I think you’ll enjoy.

Certainly California has a larger population and more geographic area to cross, but the goals of it’s planned system are not too far off from Ohio’s 3C Corridor.  And granted, California is building their system from scratch, unlike the 3C Corridor, which for now, will use existing tracks.

The critics of the 3C Corridor say that the speed of the proposed service (maximum 78mph with an average of 39mph based upon stop times at stations) isn’t fast enough to compete with an automobile.  That’s really a matter of opinion.  I’d still rather take a train to Cleveland or Cincinnati than to have to drive because my time on the train can be productive time.

Whatever your opinion of travel time, Ohio needs to start somewhere and fortunately the state has been given $400 million so that we can start.  Certainly the existing tracks are not ideal and yes, we’d all like to be whisked away at 120mph in either direction.  Someday that can happen but it cannot happen without taking the first step.

Some politicians feel that the $400 million should be spent on roads and bridges instead.  I must say that I find it amusing that these politicians seem to be ignorant of the fact that taking traffic off of bridges and roads is far more cost effective in the long run.

In the mean time, enjoy the vision of California’s future rail plan.

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Two films play in Columbus this week, both with a little something in common, or at least in my opinion these films share something in common – design.

Tonight The New Metropolis – a film about America’s first suburbs that blossomed at the end of World War II.  Once the vast and affordable landscape of the American Dream, the first suburbs are now falling victim to the problems that urban centers faced decades ago.  The first suburbs are the new victims of urban sprawl.

The New Metropolis plays tonight (Tuesday 23rd) at the Drexel East in Bexley – 7:30p.  Admission is free and donations will be accepted to the Central Ohio Green Education Fund.

And this weekend at the Wexner Center comes the opportunity to see the Eric Bricker film about the architectural photographer Julius Shulman.  Visual Acoustics is a documentary about this legendary photographer.  While you may not be familiar with the name (I wasn’t) you will most certainly recognize the work of Mr. Shulman.

Visual Acoustics plays on both Friday and Saturday (26th & 27th) at 7p at the Wexner Center.

In both films we’ll see vestiges of utopian design – the built environment that would ideally transform American culture – some more successfully than others.

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There are times when a little daily distraction becomes comforting.  Delightful in a quiet way.  Simple but charming.  Last week one of those popped into my ‘on-line’ world and I’ve found myself looking forward to it, now daily.

Public Transit Magic. Whom ever they are and where ever they’re located, well I’m not quite sure, but last week they showed up in my Twitter feed which led me to their blog as as well as their Facebook page.

The only thing known about them is this:

What is PTmagic? It’s a collective of peoples’ experiences with the public transit system in their cities.
I recently found myself without a car and have been relying on public transportation to get around. I have already become familiar with the good, the bad and ugly of my city’s bus transit system.
I wanted a place where I could share my encounters as well as hear from people in similar circumstances.
Join me in shedding some light on those peculiar, warming, or insightful events that occur inside buses, trains, light-rails, or subways by submitting your stories, photographs, links or videos.

Every day is a new adventure.
Share the magic.

Readers are invited to share their stories, photos and video from their public transit rides.  Have a look and as the editor says, Share the magic!

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With an arriving winter storm coming on the heels of one just a week ago I’m finding it difficult to navigate large stretches of the city’s sidewalks because many residents and businesses have failed to clear their sidewalks.

This is of particular concern because I use public transit to get to and from work almost exclusively.  While I never mind a brisk winter walk, such walks become dangerous when snow-packed sidewalks turn to ice.  Even a light dusting of snow or blowing snow over ice covered sidewalks creates potential danger.  Walking in the street, although much easier, should not be advised.

This year I decided to look into why certain sidewalks remain snow packed and icy winter after winter.

My commute to work on public transit takes me to the Easton area where sidewalk clearing is apparently not addressed whatsoever.  Morse Crossing, Easton Way and Stelzer Road are the streets along which COTA’s service operates.  The majority of pedestrian traffic is along Morse Crossing to and from COTA routes 16 and 95.   (The New Albany Express #40 travels along Stelzer where the land is currently undeveloped).

I contacted Easton management to get some information since the strip malls, hotels and restaurant along Morse Crossing are demarcated by the brick pylons with the Easton “E” carved into them.

Easton management stated that each business along Morse Crossing is responsible for clearing the sidewalks adjacent to their property as stated in the City Code.  I stopped by a couple merchants to see what they knew about this.

At Pier One, which sits on the large corner lot at Morse Crossing and Gramercy Street, I was given contact information to the corporate offices in Ft. Worth.  When I called and explained the situation I was first asked if there had been an injury.  I said that there hadn’t been, but as a transit/pedestrian commuter, I was concerned about the conditions.  I was then asked to describe the sidewalks.

“They are the concrete walkways that parallel the two streets.”  The woman at corporate said she’d look into the situation but did not offer to follow up.

I also contacted the Marriott Hotels as one of their properties sits on a large corner lot at Morse Crossing and Easton Way.  Within a few hours I was contacted by the hotel manager.  The manager responded to my inquiry with these words:

“I appreciate your suggestion but would be remised if I did not note that our parking lot is not an access route to the bus stop behind the hotel.  The sidewalks on the exterior of our landscaping are city sidewalks and should be used for getting to the bus stop.  The walks on our property only lead to the building and to the back parking lot.  The only way to get to the bus stop through our lot is by trampling through our landscaping which is not acceptable.”

He seemed to miss the point all together – that being that pedestrians might be walking through this parking lot precisely because the sidewalks surrounding this Marriott are not shoveled, nor have they for the three winters that I’ve been commuting by public transit.

Today I stopped by Chase Bank, also on the corner of Morse Crossing and Gramercy Street.  I introduced myself to the branch manager and asked if he was making plans to have the sidewalks cleared around his facility.  I explained that as a commuter I was concerned with navigating the now ice-packed sidewalks and that with the increase in bus service and ridership, I was concerned for my fellow pedestrians.

The Chase branch manager told me that he was of the belief that their lease lines did not include the public sidewalks.  “The sidewalks,” he said, “belong to the City.”
“Yes,” I replied.  “Just like the sidewalks in front of my house, for which I have the same responsibility.”  He was gracious and understanding and said he’d contact Easton management to learn more.

It’s not just the sub-urban locations where sidewalks go un-shoveled, but it is the most prevalent location to find an unfriendly pedestrian environment   Along portions of High Street downtown one can find business which fail to properly clear their sidewalks, and this is Columbus’ central business district.

While Columbus City Code states that it is a requirement for property owners to clear the adjacent sidewalks of snow, I am not aware of how or if the City enforces this code.  Is $100 the only penalty for non-compliance?  How is that $100 collected?

If you know the answer, please let us know.

In the mean time, however, I enlisted the help of a local graphic designer to make a little something that we can all use in our neighborhoods and along our streets.  Available in both English and Spanish, this printable door hanger offers neighbors a gentle reminder that it is their responsibility to clear snow from their sidewalks.

Simply click, print, fold or cut, then cut along the noted lines so that it’ll fit over a doorknob and voila’! (It’s a full-sized .pdf of the image to the right).

As with most Columbus challenges, things here work best when we work with each other – and perhaps this door hanger will be a way to get the conversation started where you live and along the streets where you walk.

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Within the past week I’ve had five showings for the house.  Still a mixed bag of buyer preferences and feedback and the competition in the neighborhood is still strong, though there are not nearly as many houses on the market now as there were in the fall of 2009.

I decided to take a look at the competition from a different perspective.  This time I compared the asking price of similar homes to their most recent purchase price.  The Franklin County Auditor’s web site was used to gather this information.

Of the twelve (12) similarly sized/styled houses for sale within an eight block radius, only four (4) homes have the potential for a reasonable profit.

Three (3) are on the market for less than what the buyers paid for them.

And the other five (5) will break even,  given a margin of between $6k and $23k.  While not a scientific fact, I think it’s safe to consider this a ‘break even range’ based upon mortgage interest, moderate upgrades, and general market conditions.

The three (3) that are selling for less than their purchase price were sold last in 2005 – just as the the housing bubble was reaching it’s peak.

Of the four (4) that are poised to make a profit, all but one were purchased prior to or during 2000.  The other was purchased in 2005 at below market rates and completely renovated.  The average profit on these four homes (based upon current asking price) equates to $63k.

Of the five (5) poised to break even, four were purchased in 2006 as the bubble reached it’s apex and have been renovated with new kitchens and baths, thus making their ‘break even point’ marginal, at best.  The one remaining break even house was purchased in 2003 and has had some upgrades to the kitchen and bath.

Again, nothing scientific about these scenarios, but interesting none the less.

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