From NYC, November 2012

Dallas is much more than a driving city. They have DART Light Rail and TRE commuter service between Dallas and Fort Worth with shuttle service to DFW. The Orange Line is being extended to DFW and should be done by 2014.

A. Pierce Haviland Jr.

From Los Angeles, CA, September 2012

Regarding your article “Dallas and the Orange Line: Good Start, but Keep Going“: I agree that, generally, there are benefits to direct rail access to an airport. However, Seattle-Tacoma Airport’s Link station is a very long walk (with no moving sidewalks) from the passenger terminal and takes longer to get to downtown Seattle than the express bus service which it supplanted.Regarding: “Then there are the cities that make it nearly impossible to get downtown from the airport without renting a car or hailing a cab. New Orleans and Los Angeles come to mind.” While it is true that LAX lacks good rail access, the operating agency, Los Angeles World Airports, provides express bus service to several areas, including Union Station. The LAWA Flyaway bus to Union Station costs only $7 one way and–in my experience–often takes less than 45 minutes, even during the extensive periods when there is substantial traffic congestion. So it is not accurate to say that a rental car or taxi is necessary in L.A.

Stanley Green, P.E.

From Syracuse, NY, August 2009

[Re: “Save the Eagles Building”I am from Syracuse, NY and we had a somewhat similar building in our downtown that was converted to a parking garage. They didn?t want to demolish a great old building that is surrounded by other 19th century buildings, but needed more parking spaces. The façade of the building has remained.I had no idea it had been converted until I saw car lights in the windows, winding around through the floors in the evening. (I was living out of town while construction was done) The architects won an award for their creativity, and the block still looks intact, even though the interior is gone. Just thought you’d like to see another possibility for your building instead of demolition.

Marcia Ames

From Altoona, July 2009

As one of the many officials responsible for Downtown Altoona, I sincerely regret that the City had to demolish the Woolworth Building on 11th Avenue, as well as so many of your memories there. I think we agree that there was a time–during the urban development days spanning the 1960s up until the construction of 17th Street in the 1980s–when Altoona did demolish too many of its viable buildings. So did every other city in Pennsylvania, especially Pittsburgh.That being said, I assure you that those days are long gone–for both budgetary reasons (we can’t afford to tear down buildings that aren’t public safety hazards) and urban design reasons (we recognize that our identity lies in what’s left of our built environment).

Despite a multitude of code citations, financial aid programs, facade programs, streetscaping projects, parking projects, and various publicly funded festivals to draw people downtown, the owner of the McCrory’s Building refused to repair it until it became a clear and present danger to every pedestrian left on 11th Avenue, including myself. The building had no roof, and had become nothing but four leaning walls. I’m forced to ask, what would you have had us do?

We are currently engaging in multiple projects to encourage more diversified and dense housing choices near downtown, Altoona Hospital, the school complex, and Penn State Altoona. This is a relatively new direction for the City that I think we’d both agree is a good idea. The growth of Penn State Altoona into downtown (600 students there next fall, in addition to the 4,000 in Wehnwood) has spurred investment in a dozen downtown buildings both as classrooms (Penn Furniture) and housing/retail (Viponds).

That being said, you may overestimate the strength of Blair County’s lukewarm economy to power immediate downtown revitalization. You see, the private sector has a role too. There is only so much that any town can do to save a privately owned building that the owner refuses to repair. Downtowns aren’t solely the responsibility of governments. After the municipality streetscapes, offers financial incentives, funds Friday night jazz fests, fires every code violation that it can muster, and runs through the rest of the well-trod litany of revitalization efforts, the private sector has to invest too or you’re inevitably left with, well, Woolworth’s.

Merely wishing for new three story buildings downtown with retail on the first floor and condos above isn’t enough. You see, we already require that all new buildings downtown be multistory right in theAltoona Planning Code. But requiring something in a municipal code doesn’t mean that anybody in the private sector will build it with or without a public partnership.

Aside from your suggestion that we diversify our housing stock in strategic locations–an idea that most of City Hall, City Council, and our economic development agency has already bought in to–I don’t see a whole lot of new ideas in your writing other than just letting Woolworth’s fall down in a windstorm. And I don’t need to tell you that we desperately need new, positive ideas in Altoona.

So with that, the next time you get off that train downtown, I’m on the fourth floor of City Hall, and I’d love to brainstorm with any native of Altoona who has as much passion for Downtown as you do. Please stop on by.


Lee C. Slusser, AICP
Deputy Director/Planning Administrator City of Altoona
1301 12th Street
Altoona, Pennsylvania 16601
(814) 949-2470

From Pittsburgh

As someone who is also from Altoona and similarly live and have lived in many larger cities, I enjoyed your piece on downtown Altoona. Though I don’t know if I remember the Woolworth’s store when it was open, I definitely remember the Gable’s building and some of the small stores that populated the area and wish something could be done to revive it.   Unfortunately, I don’t see the solutions that you mention as having much prospect for success in the area.  For instance, you write,

“As more of the baby-boomer generation ages and younger generations wait longer to have children, demand for apartment and condo housing will increase. Demand for car-free communities is also on the rise and expected to accelerate. Currently Altoona doesn’t have much to offer anyone who doesn’t want a single-family suburban house. Downtown Altoona can grow into a lively central core that provides for a healthier, maintenance-free lifestyle.”

I think the kind of young, educated “new colonists” that make up those people who are jettisoning suburban life for city living just don’t exist in places like Altoona.  If you are of that mindset, age range and sensibility, you probably already did what people like you and I did long ago; moved somewhere else.Anyhow, enjoy the site, found it through the post-gazette website and look forward to reading your stuff in the future.

Nicholas B.

From Homestead, PA

The article about losing Altoona was profound. Thank you for sharing. It’s good to know that I’m not the only one who sees the destruction of our communities and laments the short-sightedness that continues this ill-advised strategy. We’d love to have you come to Homestead for a visit.

Dan Holland
Chief Executive Officer
Young Preservationists Association of Pittsburgh

From Tokyo

I also grew up in Altoona and H-burg and love (and miss!) Texas Hot dogs. I live in Tokyo now, and just did a search for a recipe.Anyway, I really liked seeing your comments about the restaurant. I’ve actually never been to the downtown location–I always went to the one out near Eldorado. (Is it, or was it, really called Eldorado? That neighborhood?)

Wish me luck in my attempts to recreate the recipe…

Eric S.

From the Metropolitan Water District (SoCal)

Nice quiz! It helps to assess how eco-friendly we are and how much are we contributing back to the environment. I think there should also be a similar quiz called ‘how blue are you?’. It should be based on water conservation and what people can do to save water at their homes. Spreading awareness on water conservation is crucial as fresh water shortage is a growing concern everywhere. Here are sometips on water conservation.I earnestly hope someone develops a similar quiz or any other interactive application to promote this cause.

[MWD rep]

From Indiana

Eric, I checked out the podcast [“Carfree in LA,” on our Podcasts page], very interesting. Who would have known that a person could live perfectly comfortably in LA without a car? 🙂 I remember quite a few years ago, I had considered moving there, and looked at the Hollywood neighborhood since that looked like the most feasible area for walking to things.I always feel very lucky to live in my town, because it is so pleasant and wonderful for walking. And although I wish sometimes there were MORE people that walked, I do see people walking to work fairly regularly.


From Eleanor O.

I recently went to a seminar on the German Passive Haus. They are recommending something like 350 square feet. per person is all that is needed. We just rescued a house for 2 people that was 750 square feet. It is very small, but less cleaning which the home owner likes. She would have liked a little more room, by having the back porch closed in for a laundry room and spot for the cat box. Check out how we did it on a tiny budget at Maison Vert.

Eleanor O.

From Jeff

I just read this

And I had to write. It was literally the most ridiculous thing I’ve read on the entire internet, aside from hate-monger racist stuff or stuff written by little kids.

Are you insane?

The tenderloin is an awful, broken down shithole packed with crazy people and violent jerks.


From Ohio

In response to your posting on the Georgia 300, you know what a fixation I have on heavyweight cars…. Very few, if any, were built after the mid-30’s…one of the last sets of them for a major train were for the 1932 Empire Builder, I think. The George M. Pullman was Pullman’s first lightweight aluminum car (it somewhat resembled earlier cars; was less tubular) and was displayed at Chicago’s Century of Progress Exposition in 1933-34.

Jay Melrose

From Indiana

I just read your latest article “Hidden Risk,” and you are right!You wrote: “What worries me is the potential for massive road-building projects that will serve to exacerbate sprawl and encourage the burning of fossil fuels. As it stands, about four times as much will be invested in roads as transit.”

I sure hope there won’t be a bunch of new roads built, because as you say, it will only make a bad situation worse. But what to do? I have written my local and federal representatives, but the ones that reply are the ones on board already….the other ones will not be swayed. What other recourse do we have? Besides our dollar, of course – since I don’t drive or own a car, I’m trying to use my dollar as a tool there!

Michelle G.

From Minneapolis
In response to our linking to a Wall Street Journal article titled, “Escape Your Car.

I find that cars are psychologically “invisible” in this country. People think that cars are free (as opposed to public transit), safe (as opposed to walking around downtown or flying in a plane), convenient (even if they have to cruise around for 15 minutes to find a parking space), and dependable (even if they don’t start in subzero weather).When I moved from Portland (10 years car-free) back to my hometown of Minneapolis, I found that due to the inadequacy of the transit system and the fact that every relative I have in the whole world has chosen to live in the suburbs miles from a bus line, I needed a car.

My mother gave me her old car for the nominal price of $1. I used it only when the bus lines failed me, which was about 50% of the time.

Although the costs of necessities like food, clothing, and housing are about the same in Portland and Minneapolis and although my income stayed about the same, I found myself feeling less affluent. Buying concert tickets, books, CDs, and other things that make life interesting suddenly felt like luxuries.

I couldn’t understand why this was until I figured my income taxes eight months later and found that I was spending an average of $225 a month on a “free” car,  including insurance, gas, and maintenance. I shuddered to think of having to pay an additional $200-300 a month to buy or lease a new one.

After the 18-year-old “free” car began looking as if I had reassembled it from spare parts, my mother gave me my late stepfather’s car. He put only 37,000 miles on it before Alzheimer’s disease forced him to give up driving, so I expect it to last a long time, but still, I’d be better off financially without it.

I don’t know about other countries, but in the U.S., at least, suburbanites are the people most likely to complain about how high taxes are ruining them, despite the fact that we are among the least- taxed people in the industrialized world. Perhaps the taxes wouldn’t seem so burdensome if each suburban household weren’t operating and maintaining two or three vehicles.

Karen S.

From Brooklyn:

For your blog on Tuesday Aug 12th: If you haven’t already, check out Kevin Walsh’s new book, “Forgotten New York”, and website for more on remains of Penn station.Jeff

From Fairfield, Ohio:

By accident I recently came across your “Shoes Socks and Santa Claus” trip down memory lane, my name is Mike Becker and I to was born and raised In Altoona, I Googled Gables and came across your story, well written. I am 55 yrs young and now live in Fairfield Ohio (Cincinnati) moved from Altoona 1984 but visit yearly as my family still lives there. Ah the memories, my mom with myself and 2 sisters in tow walked 11th and 12th avenue often, Gables, Bon Ton, The New Idea, Traubs Toy’s, Shulmans, Shirleys Shoes, Bermans, and yes Dr. Stitzel in a bank building, don’t remember which building across from the Post Office, up the elevator ran by an elderly black lady, down the long marble hall to the door with the smoked glass I can still remember the smell! I love the history from “my time”, being a child in the 50’s and 60’s living in complete safety in Altoona far removed from the rest of the world that I had no idea even existed. Seems as though you love those same memories. Won’t take up any more of your time, thanks for sharing your memories with us fellow “Altoids” as I’ve heard it said, write back!!!!!!

Mike Becker (Altoona Pa 1952-1984)

From Tempe, Arizona:

I came across your article on the Tenderloin and simply wanted to thank you for such a rich piece of an article. This is my third visit to San Francisco (visited twice about 10 years ago) but was not aware of the district until this visit. After walking up and down the streets, I noticed the sudden transition in the scenery and encounters. Very distinct characteristics caught my eyes which urged me to venture out a little farther. Upon returning to the hotel, I surfed the web and found your article. The article helped me better understand what I saw this afternoon–the ambiance, the encounters, the noise and laughters, the hugging and despair…all the complexities that was bursting.Once again, thank you!

Haruna Miyagawa Fukui

From Chicago:

I read your recent ecologist post and while I agree with your argument intellectually, I have to say I was disappointed. I guess the simplest reason is that I do not think it is constructive to educate consumers about their wasteful habits by having them go into foreclosure, which is what many of the clients who contact me are faced with due to the mess in the mortgage markets. I am sure that some of them deserve the rude awakening they are receiving because of their greed. But so far, most who contact me are in trouble because of health problems, a divorce, or the fact they bought a home through a broker or lender who never bothered to explain what an adjustable rate mortgage really was. As much as I want to say “shame on you for not knowing,” that hardly seems constructive or fair, as the broker gets off the hook.I have read a lot of online discourse from people about what the mortgage market meltdown means based on their unique perspectives, but I am not sure many of those people deal with the actual consumer who is facing a personal financial crisis over this whole thing. It’s harder to make these kinds of intellectual arguments when you sitting across the table looking at someone in that situation.

In any case, I have enjoyed your posts and updates and appreciate what you are doing. I simply felt compelled to share my reaction to your latest one because it touched me where I work.


Brian C. White

From New York City:

Just responding to your query re: Park Avenue. Not an historian but I work in the area. I think the photo of St. Barts and the photo of the crush of cars are taken from virtually the same spot but with the former facing north and the latter facing south. In the latter, you can see the Helmsley ( r.i.p.!) building at the end of Park Avenue North and you can also notice the Waldorf Astoria on the left(east) side of the street which I think is the nearer building that is sporting flags and an awning. The Waldorf is only one or two blocks south of St. Barts. If I’m right, the respective photographers would have be in roughly the same spot but facing different directions.Incidentally, the “today” photo is of Park South facing north. It’s not really comparable to Park North which has always been nicer. Nevertheless, it is a pretty rough landscape! I used to ride my bike really fast through those tunnels when I was younger, trying to keep pace with the crazy cabbies… but no more!

One more addendum: besides the greenery running down its center Park Avenue North still adheres somewhat to its park roots, in that it has no pedestrian “walk/don’t walk” lights, just traffic stop lights. Which actually makes it a little difficult as a pedestrian sometimes, but still makes for less clutter!

This was my first reading of your site today. Keep up the good work!

Monty Engel

From San Jose, California:

Thank you for taking the time to contact the Mayor’s Office. Plastic water bottles (and all non-biodegradable plastic in general), is a concern of our office and of the City of San José.While the City of San José may purchase bottled water for some events, it is not the policy of the City to purchase bottled water for consumption within City Hall. Because we are a municipal building, staff purchases water individually, mostly in the form of communal water coolers.

We are always looking for ways to reduce our impact on the environment. I will pass this idea along to the Environmental Services Department and will work with them to see what we can do.

Thank you for the great suggestion.

Ben Yurman-Glaser

From Detroit:

Thank your for the ten commandments for commuters. This is one of the best I’ve read. We all influence each other. One friend urged another to try the bus to work once a month. Now he rides everyday. I was urged to try to walk to work every day and now I do it and enjoy it. By example and by gentle urging to our friends, we spread the word. We must do it ourselves first though.Justine Smith (walk 1.3 miles each way to work every day)

From New Jersey:

Great commandments, especially # 1 & 3.I have several more commandments.

An addendum to your # 1, pollute means no emptying your ashtrays while driving, this also means not throwing your McDonalds debris, garbage, and your other papers, etc. on the highways and byways while driving.

# 4 A red STOP sign means STOP to let pedestrians cross, this sign does not mean slow down and disregard the pedestrian who has the right of way.

#5 Please do not give pedestrians the “finger” when you are making a right turn on red, rather than waiting for pedestrian to cross, or when you are running the red lights. (a regular occurance in this area)

I will stop for now.

Virginia Overholser

From California:

I found your article regarding the downtown area of K. C. a very interesting one, since I was born and raised in Kansas City, 1933. I was born in a little house on Penn St., and we also lived at 2724 Summit St, (now the 65st Expressway).What attracted me to your article was the title, Kansas City Blues. Did you know? In the 1940’s the American Association had a triple AAA baseball team called the, “Kansas City Blues”. Another grand old part of Kansas City that causes we baseball fans the blues.

Thank you for your interesting article on Kansas City,

Roy E Hall, now a California resident

From San Francisco:

I came across your post about garages in SF as I was trying to find information on the cost of doing exactly what you decry.Some of your points are well taken: I personally think it an architectural and aesthetic affront to build a bunker-like structure in front of SF’s most charming attributes while simultaneously alienating passers-by with a blank wall or worse.

I am certain you have noticed where some homeowners recess these short drives and garage doors well-under existing bay windows. Such effort is substantially more attractive and discreet, particularly if care is used with planter boxes and attractive paving materials.

But I am writing to point out that you are not entirely correct in several assumptions. A single garage can and often does accomodate two or more cars, thereby thoroughly justifying the loss of one street-side space since the net gain for the neighborhood is greater. Also, conflating SUV ownership with poor architectural decisions detracts from your underlying point, which should be heard.

Homeowners sometimes may not show particularly good taste, true. But take heart: If some horror can be built, it can also be torn down, altered, restored and improved. To get the people SF needs to buy expensive homes and make the tasteful choices we might all admire, it is more practical to encourage solutions instead of imagining highly-intrusive regulation.

To that end, it would be well worth your time to investigate the cost differences between what you might deem a “well-done” under-home garage and the cost of one of those ugly bunkers that it seems we both dislike. I am currently faced with a dreadful retaining wall (circa 1968) that will actually be improved by a garage and entry door as it will break up the otherwise blank facade, humanizing it and giving pedestrians a relevant form with which they can identify.

My guess is that you might find a very minor difference in overall cost for two hypothetical outcomes. Now that would be instructive, constructive, and useful. Obviously, I am curious what the answer is, myself.

In short, you get more flies with honey. Suggesting better solutions to a common problem will assuredly get better and more lasting results than reflexively regulating people to death. At least, that’s what I think.

Very truly yours,

Kirk W. Kelsen

From Mississagua, Canada:

I came across your article regarding the lack of prefab townhouses. You may want to look at the Grow houses built in Montreal and other cities. Here’s a link:
One of my own goals is to do a small infill project for my family using this approach. We’re moving to the Vancouver area where housing is quite pricey.

Peter Crisp

From NYC:

I loved your editorial, “The Technology That Sustains Us.” You really hit the nail on the head. After the shock of 9/11 being a mile away and my husband was about 10 blocks away that day will always be with us.When I could not use the office phone or cell phone to try to contact him I was in a panic. When the subways were closed I wondered where we would sleep? Fortunately, my husband walked to my office and later that afternoon they opened up the trains again, but it was a feeling of helplessness. Not to mention the shock of what happened.

Downtown the smell of burning bodies filled the air for months. No one ever mentions that. I remember going into a supermarket about a month later and two elderly ladies walked in saw me put my hand over my face until I could breath through my mouth. I told them the smell was so horrible. They told me it brought them back to the Holocaust. It was the same smell they experienced decades ago.

Those daily experiences made me realize how insignificant the age of technology really is when it comes to a human disaster.

Diane Leon-Ferdico

From Somewhere in America:

[Re: “The Romance and Reality of Tiny Houses”] You need to check out I first read about the company in Creating the Not So Big House: Insights and Ideas for the New American Home by Sarah Susanka–an advocate of smaller if not small houses. I believe one of the Cottage Community homes she highlighted was 600SF. What impresses me is that they work due to the grouping in a viable “pocket” neighborhood (a concept similar to one I explored in Anthropolis: A Tale of Two Cities, Mercer University Press, 1992). This avoids the concern you expressed of a small house looking out of place in suburbia. The only downside: they are priced for what the Seattle market will bear. It’s good to see that people with money are willing to downsize, however, because the environmental benefits remain. I’ve seen articles regarding cottage developments by other builders in other parts of the country, including one I actually visited in Portland, OR.From the website:

We’re an innovative residential development company based in Seattle, Washington that builds “pocket neighborhoods” of detached cottages and houses. We offer a fresh choice for people seeking a high-quality, “not-so-big” home and a renewed sense of community.Since 1996, The Cottage Company has completed a number of award-winning projects in the Puget Sound area and has become recognized as a national leader in smart growth.

Our homes are well crafted with simple, beautiful details that engender vitality and aliveness. They are carefully designed to work well together, balancing the need for privacy in the context of a community. And we pay close attention to ensure that our pocket neighborhoods fit comfortably into existing neighborhoods.

Dan Fischer

From Pittsburgh:

I enjoyed your column “Sense and Subsidy.” It had a lot of good information regarding our society’s subsidization of the highway system. I especially liked the comparison with rail. I just wanted you to know that this libertarian is against all subsidies, especially the ones that make suburban (sparse) development possible. However, I don’t consider government-run mass transit to be a subsidy. Having a city without mass transit is like having an office building without elevators, the landlord providing only the elevator shafts.Without government-subsidized roads, gasoline, utilities (the Tennessee Valley Authority, the Rural Electrification Act of 1936, and government-mandated uniform gas and electric rates regardless of development type) and the post office, only a small portion of the population could afford to live in the suburbs. With most people living in more effficient, densely developed areas, mass transit would take its place among the few other things that people need to do collectively, such as local police and fire departments, local roads, bridges, and infrastructure, water and sewerage systems, and local parks. We don’t view those things as subsidies.

Nick Kyriazi

From Somewhere in America

Thanks for writing the piece on big homes; it really struck a chord with me. Luckily I got out of my big home in time, before the madness started in!Shawn H.

From Indiana

Hello. I wrote to you at the end of last fall regarding moving to Pittsburgh. We were living in Portland, OR at the time, but had to move back to Indiana due to the high cost of living and high unemployment. My fiancé Niall and I made a short stop in Pittsburgh on our way back from an east coast trip. We only got to stay for a couple of hours, but were amazed at how beautiful the city is. We had lunch and made a quick drive through the University of Pittsburgh area and then down by the river on the way out. It reminded us so much of Portland. I am still baffled by the downturn in job market and housing in Pittsburgh considering its beauty and ideal location near to large cities.Rachel Baum

From Nashville

I was born and raised in a small community on the Ohio River about 15 miles from downtown Pittsburgh. When I was a child, in the 60’s, my grandparents would occasionally take my brother and I, on the bus, to downtown. It was a wonderful experience and a fond memory. Later, I attended a small technical school in downtown and commuted daily by bus. I loved being in the city daily. My jobs over the years have taken me away from the Pittsburgh area. I still miss it.I stumbled upon your web site a few years ago and have enjoyed it ever since. I am now one of the faceless drones, living in a cookie cutter suburban house, outside of Nashville, clogging the highway in my commute to an office park even further from the city, wondering how I can get myself out this life. Your web site offers some hope for us all.

Thanks from a fan,

Bill Beech

From irvine, CA:

Great article Mr. Risemberg: “Life, Death, and Dollars.”I’m an attorney and CPA here in Irvine, CA and I’m involved with both “small business? and ?big business.”

The bottom line is that Capitalism only serves a very small segment of industrialized societies (usually the rich and powerful) and leaves the significant majority at the mercy of the few and powerful. Whether it be health care, pensions (a national disgrace), tax policy, or misguided transportation policy, until American society wakes up and realizes that “unbridled capitalism” is not all it?s cracked up to be and never was, we are all losers! Adam Smith–what a simplistic joke!

Best regards and keep up the good work,

Ron Scott

From Pittsburgh:

Eric, In response to your [blog entry], “Yet no one has suggested extending the EXISTING LIGHT RAIL SYSTEM to Oakland.”  … I did, but there won’t be anything done effectively with rail until we restructure transit in PA.  That is why I am working with Senator Jane Orie and Rep. Tom Stephenson on a new proposal,  I can use help promoting it.You need to understand the reason for the creation of the Port Authority in the first place.  After nearly ten years of legislation and bi-annual updates, starting in the early 1950’s, the Port Authority was created in 1963 with specific statutory power to use eminent domain to confiscate the Pittsburgh Railways company which was still turning a profit operating the largest street rail transit operation remaining in the world at that time.  Pittsburgh Railways, which is still located in Hazelwood, fought PAT and lost and now makes bronze plaques or something such as that.

Included in the last two rounds of legislation was the ability for PAT to build a “proprietary technology” which in fact was Skybus.  Westinghouse could not compete with GE in the electric rail market so with a no bid contract for its system, they had it made.  Unfortunately, at the time there was no way to switch Skybus, so it could only go in a loop as it did at the long since dismantled demonstration track around South Park (there is still a segment that was moved to along Chartiers Creek where it stands together with some collector’s other stuff) or back and forth as it does now between the landside and airside terminals at the airport.  A switching mechanism was eventually created — a 40 foot long segment of pavement which goes one way on the topside and goes another way on the underside; there’s an axle down the middle which enables it to be flipped upside down.

Ed Tennyson, PA Deputy Secretary of Transportation in the 1970’s, refused to release the state money for the initial South Hills route, forcing PAT against its wishes to take the state and federal money and build the Skybus project his way.  We now call it the T.  PAT management, local PennDOT officials, and, most importantly, the Allegheny Conference have resented him ever since.  They secretly despise rail transit with a passion and they did everything they could to assure the T would be an orphan system, building it so it could not to be expanded for the rest of the County.  They only rebuilt the Overbrook line after gold plating it to nearly a half billion dollars, which is four to five times more than it should have cost, thereby using up the available transit money and making sure there won’t be much more done.  The main reason they redid the closed Overbrook line was to make the trip into town faster for the affluent riders from Upper St Clair; it was only at the last minute that the primary routing on it was switched to Library.

The proposed extension of the T for a few blocks to the North Side, at a cost of another half billion for the Runnel (the Chunnel goes under the channel), is another way of cutting off its expansion.  The planners were incredulous when residents told them at planning meetings that they wanted it to serve them too.  The Runnel extension project eliminates the ability to connect with the East Busway route to Oakland and points east and makes sure it does not actually go to the North Side where people live.  The Conference has made sure the T will be cut off from the general populace.

But PAT is fond of pointing out that it is not against rail, as it uses a clever ruse to acquire federal funding.  The federal government lumps all the various forms of rail transit, monorails, etc. under a catch all heading of “fixed guideways.”  In the 1960’s, Al Biehler, our current Secretary of Transportation, came up with his own variation, a third world technology called the busway, which of course is nothing other than a bus only highway.  In a quirk that defies reason, it too is classified and funded by the federal government as a fixed guideway.  This helped PAT get federal funding for the so-called “Airport Busway,” as a key member of Congress was against funding transit capital projects but, as a matter of policy, fully supported financing for rail lines connecting airports to their downtowns.  As a fixed quideway “to the airport,” the project slid under his radar.

The Allegheny Conference and PAT grabbed Biehler’s busway strategy as complimentary with their Skybus technology.  “NO STEEL WHEELS!” became their unofficial motto and their official policy.  It also helped that the chairman of the PAT was executive vice president of Gulf Oil and that Gulf had the diesel fuel contract with PAT.  Even with the death of Skybus, the inertia of error has kept PAT and the Conference off the steel track.

Biehler is also the person who as Allegheny County Planner in the 1960’s pushed to put the T underground in the Downtown instead of on the streets where it could have been expanded and where Mayor Pete Flaherty wanted it.  During one of the Spine Line planning meetings in the mid-1990’s, I proposed to a rail loop up the Second Avenue rail right-of-way to Panther Hollow and back down a rail conversion of the East Busway, which could have tied into the existing light rail.  The PAT planners were not happy when a number of the residents of Oakland started saying that that was what they wanted instead of the multi-billion dollar “Spineline” subway.

But PAT was refused to consider converting the East Busway back to rail when Edgewood pushed for it instead of the illogical East Busway Extension.  Their reason was that the T was at capacity and couldn’t be expanded.  White man talk with forked tongue when increasing capacity with the Overbrook reconstruction or for the proposed Runnel.

Interestingly, mayoral candidate Bob O’Connor is calling for street cars to Oakland from Downtown.  He has gotten some flack for it, but at $2 million per mile for the Racine, WI system compared to the $26 million national cost figure for light rail, it really isn’t such a bad idea.  It may be ten times the coverage for the dollar, but PAT doesn’t want it.

Nothing will change until we restructure PAT (and SEPTA in Philly, too).

Dave Tessitor

From Somewhere in America:

Hi Richard, like you I always get a kick out of those who < A HREF=”rr56.html”>equate railroads with socialism. I mean, our highway system is considered the biggest public works project the world has ever seen. Does anyone even stop to think about these things for 30 seconds? Well, we have a lot of work to do!Daniel Kocis

From Baltimore:

While here in Baltimore on temporary assignment I’ve been rediscovering the energy that living in an urban environment brings and it has been a fabulous experience. I tripped over your website while researching Baltimore’s history with respect to music and musicians. Here at AARP we have a strong interest in what should define a “livable community” and obviously your group does too.  Adequate mobility and affordable housing are two areas that we are attempting affect as elements of our overall Social Impact Agenda.  I’ll take some extra time to peruse your website and learn more about what being a “new colonist” is all about. It’s going to take more than a village to renew the vitality and promise that our cities are capable of providing.Bob Gallo

Frome Seattle:

Greetings. I just read Eric Miller’s article for January. I enjoyed it and it was interesting learning about growth trends in other cities. I have a few comments as a Seattleite.I am also worried about the move of office buildings to far away lands (sprawl). It seems a lot of new office developments are 4-5 story complexes. My friend worked as a temp over the summer, so he got to do lots of different jobs at different companies. However, they were all on the Eastside (the part of the city to the east of Lake Washington, where it is much less dense and much more suburban) and most required quite a long drive (20-30 miles, which I consider long, especially with the congestion often found on our freeways).

More worrying to me, though, is that many software companies located in Seattle are far away in suburban business complexes. This is my planned profession (I’m still a college student), and I don’t look forward to potentially working far away from easy mass transit. Microsoft has offices in Redmond that are spread out over a big area (so big, in fact, that it is actually listed on MapQuest)–not that I want to work at Microsoft, though. Google just opened a new office here, and while they have many less employees in the area than Microsoft, they still moved into an office park.

Some software companies are located near the city center, which will probably be a factor by the time I am looking for work. I believe Real is in an office building, and Amazon has a really nice building overlooking Seattle. However, possibly the most notable is OmniGroup.

They are a small Mac development company located near University of Washington, right off the Burke-Gilman trail. They are not an ordinary company (they don’t pay much, but they have lots of value added features, like free meals and massages), so this may be expected. The Burke-Gilman is a fairly long trail that runs from Freemont, along Lake Union, right next to the University of Washington, and up to the very top of Lake Washington. It is great for biking and walking. While they are only a small shop, I think they set a good example, transportation-wise, for other companies in town.

We are starting a light rail network here in Seattle. The first link was originally going to run from downtown to 1.7 miles short of the airport (at least for two years (before 2011)). I didn’t follow it much at the time, so I don’t remember what the exact reasons were, but this seemed really stupid to me. They were going to have a shuttle ferry people from the station to the airport… very inefficient. I was very happy when SoundTransit announced ( that the airport extension would open much sooner than expected.

Now the airport link is planned for December 2009, less than a year later than the rest of the track. The shuttles will only be operational for a few months now, instead of a few years. Between this and the monorail (and the possible trolley car), the future for public/mass transit in Seattle looks very promising. Plus, these new projects will free up some busses to serve other routes.

Thanks for the articles, I just wish they would come out more often than once every month :).


From Pittsburgh, December 2004:

Eric, that article is perfect. I’ve recently been getting angry at the fact that there’s not even been mention by the city of any attempt to connect southside/oakland/shadyside/strip to the light rail system. What is wrong with them? I would never have to get in my car again–other than to visit relatives in Ohio…everything I would need would be right on that line…they would also cut DUI’s down drastically between the different party areas of Pittsburgh. I know that it would be a smash hit for this to happen.How can we at least bring this to the city’s attention? Is there anything we can do to get the ball rolling?

Aaron Clark

From Somewhere in America:

I just read your article “A Word from Richard Risemberg for September, 2001: The Real Revolutionaries,” and wanted to thank you for a real kick-in-the-pants article. I sold my truck about 2 1/2 months ago. It was a Chevy S10, so not a gas hog or anything. But the whole travesty happening in Iraq and other places around the world, the reality of climate change with us right now, the animal and plant species that will likely be decimated because of climate change, the ever-increasing soullessness and alienation of modern day life, the epidemic of diabetes and obesity due to lack of exercise, my own sedentary (and thus flabby) lifestyle that was never planned or wished for but has nevertheless happened anyway—————-all these reasons and more gave me no alternative but to sell my truck, and to swear that I will never own an automobile again in my life. I got around fine on a bicycle for many years, riding 20 miles round trip for 6 days a week in all kinds of weather. I’ve never had a time on a bike when I would rather have been driving a car, not once.Since selling my truck, I’ve hardly noticed it’s gone. I’m getting more exercise, getting back in shape again, enjoying being outside on my bike and enjoying almost every aspect of it. All except the traffic, of course, but even there I would rather be on a bicycle than in a car. I am amazed and disgusted by my fellow liberal-environmentalist types who would never give up their car, and seemingly make no connection between their driving and so many of the ills of the world. People who are willing to “walk their talk” are indeed rare, and being a “liberal” means little if one isn’t willing to back it up in some real way.

I was feeling out of sorts today because we had our first real rain, and I’m not ready yet–have to put the fenders on the bike, and figure out if I have all the rain gear I need. Plus, nobody applauds when you give up your car–instead, they think you’re crazy. For this reason I’ve kept it to myself that I’ve sold my truck. Society in general thinks that you’re a loser if you don’t have a car. At any rate, reading your article has given me a big boost. I know who the losers are, and they aren’t the people who’ve given up their cars.

Thanks for being a voice of sanity.

Eric Duncan

From South Carolina

I thoroughly enjoyed reading the article about Christmas in Philly. I grew up in Philadelphia and have fond memories of the many different light shows. I live in the south now, and wanted to bring my children back to Philly to share this wonderful time of the year with them. Your article was heartwarming and nostalgic for me. Thank you very much for the nostalgic look back in your article.Yolanda R. Wooten

From Pittsburgh (14 July 2004):

A neighbor just forwarded me your article on Federal North–from June I think. I just wanted to say thanks for voicing this–it’s so very true. I moved here two years ago from Brooklyn, NY, and have also lived in other parts of NYC, along with LA, Seattle and Chicago, and in my naive city-girl way, I looked at the blight and thought of how quickly similar areas like this had been rehabilitated in these other cities and assumed the same would be happening here.After all, it is a major street and there is so much residential renovation going on–how could it not develop? Well, I’ve met the enemy and it is the URA. It’s truly unbelievable to me, but I’m starting to catch the cynicism and apathy of everyone else, and contemplating a move to a more vibrant part of the city, as I don’t see anything changing–they are so fixated on the Garden Theatre first.Thanks for writing the piece. If only we could get someone to move to action.

Jennifer Flanagan

From Pittsburgh (11 June 2004):

I read your letter of 8 June [see below–Ed.] in the New Colonist and was happy to see it. I am also a Libertarian but I live in a row-house neighborhood on the North Side of Pittsburgh and have never owned a car. I grew up in the suburbs but, when I lived on campus in college (Duke), I realized that that was how I wanted to live – to be able to walk every place I needed to go.Reading it in your letter was the only place I have read what I have always said. We don’t need ‘smart-growth initiatives’ and anti-sprawl legislation. We don’t need more government intervention. People have the right to live wherever they can afford. However, let’s cut all government subsidies to everything and we’ll see how people live. When people must pay the true cost of suburban living, suburbs will be few and far between.

And there is already an organization that is pushing for all freeways to be toll-roads. It is the Libertarian Party.

Nick Kyriazi

From Houston (8 June 2004):

[RE: “Pounding the Pavement”] I noticed that your website tended toward the left-wing. I am not left-wing. I am a Libertarian. I voted for George Bush. I live in the suburbs. I proudly live in Houston, land of no zoning. I am vehemently against almost all land-use regulations. I was educated at Texas A&M where I got my Master’s in Economics to be a highly rational free-market capitalist, as I am today.Having said that, I did an admittedly cursory search on the internet for anti-freeway advocacy groups and found none, but I did find your article. I find it ironic that most Republicans hate welfare and other forms of government subsidy, but when it comes to subsidizing their driving habits it’s their God given right to drive 60 miles to work on a pothole-free, traffic-free, at-80mph-that’s-already-12-lanes-wide-and-probably-ought-to-add-a-couple-more freeway.

When Houston decided to spend $300 million on a train that would go through the most densely populated areas of the city they screamed bloody murder at the “government waste,” but they exclaim “’bout damn time” when the government plans to drop at least $1.8 billion to expand a 25 mile stretch of freeway out past the suburbs. One of the common complaints about the train is that it will never make enough money to pay for itself. Of course, this completely ignores the fact that no one pays a dime to drive on the freeways and the fact that billions of dollars in the Houston area alone are spent on collision insurance, repairs, medical expenses, EMS services, police services, road repair, etc…, all related to the freeways.

The whole problem in the battle between freeways and mass transit is the very definition of freeways, they’re “FREE!!” How is any system where you have to pay ever going to compete with a system where you don’t have to pay?

In the last year I have increasingly become aware that the greatest casualty of freeways is ourselves. We are literally killing ourselves with the convenience of freeways. Our ever increasing waistlines increase in a vicious cycle ballooning out of control. Your article is absolutely correct. At least 50% of our obesity problems are caused by freeways and excess road usage.

However, I disagree with the masses of anti-suburbia enviros who preach against urban sprawl in one important idea. We do not need additional regulations on building, we simply need to start charging people for driving on the roads, instead of giving it to them for free. If we charged the profit-maximizing price for road use, the added costs will provide a massive incentive for people to abandon the auto-dependent tradition we’ve established for ourselves. What a wonderfully Republican idea, to decrease government spending by building fewer roads and make people pay for their own way instead of giving them welfare, with the side effects of cutting obesity and decreasing pollution. You’d think I was Ronald Reagan.

If you are interested, I plan to start an organization to push to change all freeways to toll.

My two cents,

Brian Shelley

8 June 2004:

I don’t think [Reagan] was the last of the old Republicans. I think he was the first of the new Republicans. Old Republicans did not believe in growing government as Reagan did. Old Republicans did not believe in sky rocketing national debt.As we have seen from the last three Republican presidents, New Republicans say they believe in small government while growing it. They say they believe in balanced budgets while indebting the country to benefit their buddies (the arms dealers or oil companies). They say they care for the education while cutting it. They say they care about life while selling arms around the world whether to nations or to gun show attendees. They say they care about the environment while raping it.

Reagan was a New Republican all right. The national debt he created was more than all previous presidents combined and he killed thousands by purposely ignoring AIDS. Ronald Reagan admired! Oh boy…what were you on?

Let’s hope Americans smarten up and in November regain the country for the people. America has a lot of potential if Washington stops being controlled by the bigoted, greedy New Republicans.

America deserves better, especially now! The US has had a negative balance of trade for decades, it now has runaway federal government debt, it faces really tough competition from oversees and the prospective of losing its “number one economy” spot in the next 20 years if China continues to grow at the present rate. To top it all, the US is grossly overdependent on foreign oil and it will have significant environmental issues to contend with. What American needs is tough, fair-minded, smart, forward looking leadership and that is not in the cards of the incumbent nor would it had been in the card of Reagan, even if he were alive, was 20 years younger, and was ready to run.

Americans need to have viable parties, but will moderate Republicans be able to regain their party?

Gray Harriman

From Standford (28 April 2004):

In your essay dated April 21st, you described Mountain View as “a suburb so dull you can’t even describe it as forgettable.” I understand that New Colonist is a magazine all about city living and you were trying to set up a contrast, but as someone who has lived and worked in and around Mountain View for years, I have to take issue with your characterization.First, you describe the ride from a restaurant by BART in San Francisco to your friend’s home in Mountain View via SUV and highway. Why not take transit? Take BART to the new intermodal station in Millbrae, transfer to Caltrain, and get off at the station in the heart of downtown Mountain View. [Editor’s Note: Caltrain was not running on weekends at that season.]

While much of Mountain View may be relatively bland and forgettable, the downtown area is definitely worthy of your attention. This area is the oldest part of town and developed as one of the stops along Leland Stanford’s San Francisco to San Jose railway. Today the downtown is compact and walkable, with an abundance of restaurants, bookstores, and corner grocery stores, and unique and interesting shops. The sidewalks are wide, and seating and many restaurants and cafes spill out onto the street. Parking is mostly located off the main downtown street. Nearby apartments, condo, and parks make this a truly walkable area.

The transit hub at one end of the downtown includes Caltrain, which runs north to San Francisco and south to San Jose, light rail which runs through residential and employment centers to the north and east, and buses which run throughout Mountain View and all of Santa Clara County.

The San Francisco Bay Area is a large region, and it has both examples of good urban living, as well as insipid sprawling suburbs as bad as any elsewhere in the United States. Given specimens such as Santa Clara, Sunnyvale, Fremont, Tracy, and Pleasanton, I feel you have unfairly vilified Mountain View.

Scott Roy Atwood

From Australia (19 March 2004):

I like your editorials but can I say something for suburbia. I live in a smallish Australian city. I used to live in a much smaller country town till we had to move for my youngest child’s special needs. In both places I lived in a fairly traditional quarter acre block area of gardens and separate houses.In both places there was a real neighbourhood sense. I know many of the people in my street and their children. I talk to many as I work in my garden which is my hobby. I like the space I have to plant shrubs and bulbs and grow my vegetables.

I know that there are many who will disagree with me.

As to transport the main problem is I suggest not the suburban nature but people’s laziness. I grew up in a suburban area where people who worked in the city centre would walk more than a mile to catch the train and they were healthy for doing so. Now people don’t seem to do that nearly as much and we have obese diabetic people as a result.

In any case I do enjoy reading your site and thank you for it.

James Hawkins

From Pittsburgh (5 November 2003):

I believe minority cultures are on the rise in Pittsburgh. Beyond that, I believe true diversity is becoming a strength of Pittsburgh. My wife and I will hang out on those hot summer nights you speak of on Forbes Ave. in Squirrel Hill,…and I’m always amazed at the true mix of all cultures, race and religion (Asian, Indian, African-American, white breads like myself, etc.). Yes, San Francisco has the Mission, but that’s mostly a neighborhood with a high concentration of one culture.Another thing I’ve noticed since I returned last year…Pittsburgh has fantastic ethnic restaurants. Just not as many as a city like San Francisco. For example, I just went to the Spice Island Tea House on Atwood in Oakland. Looks like a hole from the outside, but was authentic and very good (spicy!). And the restaurants are much cheaper than any large city…e.g., People’s Indian in Garfield.

Also, about the lack of tourists. This means Pittsburgh isn’t as much as a “scene” as San Francisco. This is good and bad depending on how you view it.

Joel C. Reed

From [not given] (1 August 2003):

Interesting article, though it seems to me the plans to build light rail on Omaha fall short. Much of downtown and midtown was built around the streetcar, but the proposals avoid those areas completely, in favor of big “attractions” such as the zoo, stadium, convention center, etc.The city’s chamber of commerce is actually proposing some good new urbanist development ideas, with one exception: no plans whatsoever to change the transit system! They’re hoping to foster walkable communities in midtown, but not working to change the domination of the automobile.

I fear that, unless the city learns to connect some dots, the projects will fall shorts. Then Wendell Cox and the usual gang of detractors will call it a failure of light rail and of new urbanism.

Jim Dyer

From New York City (7 April 2003)

Ha-ha-ha. What a funny article that was on Pittsburgh. Forget trying to get Asians or Hispanics or immigrants to move to Pittsburgh. Why would you do them such a disservice? I just moved from Pittsburgh, having lived there for three too long years. My husband, who grew up there thought it would be great to move “back to Pittsburgh” because he thought it was a booming city, on the cusp of renovation, rejuvenation. We moved there from Los Angeles, where I am a native.Pittsburgh is NOT on the cusp of anything. They are a deluded bunch that can’t grow until the old people die out, even the natives say that, but I’m not even sure that will change anything. The social climate there is so racist, so white, male dominated. The Asians are clearly discriminated against, and as for your speculation that if you just make great food, you can thrive there. Well, not if great Asian food to you does not include General Tso’s chicken and egg foo young.

Oh I could rant for days about what a lame city Pittsburgh is, but I won’t. Suffice it to say that I RAN to New York City after living too long in Pittsburgh. I cannot stand that I was one of a handful of working professional Asian women that spoke English as my first language and I don’t appreciate ignorant comments like, “Wow, you speak English really good.”

One night, my husband and I were driving home from a late night and a carload of kids drove by taunting us and yelling things like, “Hey, you want some eggrolls? Why don’t you guys go back to where you came from?”

Well, gladly, the last time I experienced racism like that in Los Angeles was when I was ten years old–twenty years ago. I’d like not to ever go back in time. Thanks.

Belinda Yee

From Pittsburgh: (April, 2003)

I returned to Pittsburgh in ’96. I moved here from Miami. I have lived in NY, DC, Atlanta, and Paris. I left Pittsburgh in ’78. I have seen a great rise in Hispanics here just since my return here in ’96. It, of course, is nothing like Miami. I still miss walking the streets with salsa pouring out of the clubs, but I am convinced that Pittsburgh’s future will be bright.Pittsburgh’s largest import seems to be Hindus, and they seem to be well heeled and professional. I see that most of the city’s landscaping and gardening is being done by Mexicans.

I still get frustrated here, but I am also blown away by what this city is capable of. It has so much potential and I have my sites set on leaving my mark here and helping the city achieve it’s highest potential.

Jack Urbani

From [unknown] (11 March 2003)

I enjoyed the article [“The Real Revolutionaires”] and I can say that I am becoming a true revolutionary. I am close to getting rid of my car as I only drive once a month! It doesn’t make sense to support the auto/oil industry. I am getting sick of the mess this country has gotten into because of its over-dependence of the auto.What’s more patriotic than driving around a gas guzzling SUV with an American flag sticker? Riding a bike or taking other actions to conserve oil and thereby reducing our dependence on Middle East Oil and Bush and Company.

Here’s to higher gas prices!

Rob Schaller

From Auckland, New Zealand (9 March 2003)

Richard–a great editorial regarding the dubious need for war against Iraq. In New Zealand we are all watching with horror as George W. Bush draws the world closer and closer to a war with unimaginable and long term consequences. I think most of us agree that Saddam Hussein is a tyrant but that is no justification for the US administration to break the most basic principle of international law: the sovereignty of nations. By undertaking an attack against Iraq Bush is setting a precedent for other nations / powers to use the pretext of a “pre-emptive strike” to further their own aims. Dangerous times made more dangerous by a President wearing blinkers.Matt Riley

From Los Angeles (December 7, 2002):

Two new and unexpected events occurred to me this morning.At a very crowded breakfast joint, in my 97% Latino neighborhood, a white American woman offered me to share the table with her since, as she put it, ” there is no point in using a big table by myself .”

The consequence of that highly unusual and simple action was that we had a very pleasant conversation about things and concerns that we share, and I took with me the very comforting and quite rare feeling of not being completely a nut and alone.

Then I came home and for the first time I checked your website and actually went as far as reading one of your articles, “Machine Tools,” which I enjoyed very much. Sharing with you the thoughts of a French writer about a time that really existed, and that was not the plagiarising work of a Hollywood writer.

To both of you, Thank you.

Thank you for doing what you think is right and for reminding to me that I don’t need the world’s approval to be myself.

Rinaldo Villani

From Tucson (October, 2002):

I read your story on a small place called Ben Avon. What a nice piece of history. It brought back a lot of memories for me. From 1969 until 1978 I grew up in Ben Avon. Before that I live up in Bellevue, past Avalon.I now live in Tucson and have not been back to Ben Avon since my family left, but I must get back to see it! Trees and greenery and the hills….I miss it. Thanks for the memories!Sincerely,

Phil Bryson

Leave a Reply