From tactical applications on community engagement and a new car-free development in North Carolina to racial inequities in the streets of Portland and Los Angeles, L’erin Jensen and Josh Cohen cover the week’s news and learn just how much it costs to build a single parking spot.
Cohen: Josh Cohen
Jensen: L’erin Jensen
Jensen: Coming up on The Movement podcast, Josh and I are going solo again to talk about the news stories of the week including a car-free residential development in Charlotte, community engagement in Durham, and racial inequity in Portland and LA.
Cohen: Let’s go.
F: The freedom of movement to access jobs, education, and social activities is a fundamental human right, but that freedom is not distributed equitably, undermining our ability to create vibrant and sustainable communities for all. Welcome to The Movement where we talk with the leaders who are reshaping their communities with brave decisions, inspired advocacy, and a stubborn unwillingness to accept the status quo all in an effort to inspire the next generation of leaders. Here are your hosts Josh Cohen and L’erin Jensen.
Cohen: So let’s get started with a check-in. So I want to hear—you did a webinar yesterday. Tell me all about this webinar you did and how it went.
Jensen: Yeah, so—oh, God. I hope I get the name of the webinar correct, at least, but—
Cohen: Well, come on. Right?
Jensen: But—[LAUGHS]—the “UNC Clean Tech Corner, Transforming Urban Livability and Sustainability,” something to that effect. [LAUGHS]
Cohen: All right; good.
Jensen: So this was my first panel webinar. That was really exciting. I think it went really well for the most part. I don’t know. I think I did okay. I felt really nervous, and I feel like there were times that that came out, but overall it went pretty well. I maybe held my own with these people who know a little bit more about this stuff than I did? But there were some good conversations going on, talked a lot about what’s happening with greenways and bike paths, and then all across the country just how to—you know, the thing that we talk about here on The Movement, how to make communities more livable for everyone and equitable.
Jensen: I brought my perspective. As I do, I always inject the, “How does this work for the most marginalized communities?” So, I think, that’s the perspective that I brought.
Cohen: The other folks that were on there—there’s somebody from East Coast Greenways. Right?
Jensen: Correct, and Nate Baker, and someone from the Congress For New Urbanism.
Cohen: Okay, cool.
Jensen: So Nate Baker moderated it.
Cohen: So Nate Baker is on the planning commission, I believe, for Durham County and a former county commission candidate and is a planner, I think, by trade. And then the other folks, I don’t know them by name, but kind of certainly kind of a rounded-out, it sounds like, the perspectives from a lot of different kind of things. Anything you learned that you were surprised by or that kind of caught your interest?
Jensen: One of the big takeaways, I think, was just the importance of multimodality. You know, transforming these spaces and making our communities more livable isn’t just about building more greenery, planting more trees. Its, again, you know, multimodality, making sure people can walk to the bus stop and then get on the bus.
Cohen: So reinforcing some of the things that we knew, but also it’s always nice to get the perspectives directly from the folks who are doing that. You know, it sounds like New Urbanism folks are building the places to live in the communities and greenways are connecting all those things as well, so that makes a lot of sense. Well, good. Well, I mean, I think that actually fits in pretty nicely. You know, I guess, what’s on my mind this week—you know, I just had a phone call a few minutes ago with Sean Egan who is the Director of Transportation for the City of Durham. And we were just chatting about all of the things that are going on, about similar issues obviously going on. And one of the things they’re trying to do on their community-engagement side is really try to think about when they go out into the community traditionally the way they’ve done it is they’ve kind of done it by project.
And, you know, so, like, you might have the Fayetteville Street project, you might have the Holloway Street project, and so forth. And so the person working on the Fayetteville Street project has not necessarily kind of read in to all the details on the Holloway Street project. Right? But the reality is to the general public it’s all just the City of Durham. Right? And so, you know, kind of really having that perspective of, “We’re the City of Durham.” And that means that when they have all these folks that go out, they’re kind of looking at this a little bit more—or they’re trying to now—a little bit more holistically so that all of their staff are kind of briefed in on all of the different projects they’re working on so that, you know, even though they may be at a particular project getting community feedback or community engagement on that, you know, it’s entirely reasonable that somebody there in that part of town might also use the bus in a different part of town as well—right—because they go to a job.
Cohen: Or they go to church or whatever. So I just thought that was a really neat kind of way to see—you know, I know we talk a lot about community engagement here on the podcast every week, and I just thought that was a really nice way to kind of see how they’re taking these particular ways of tactically applying community engagement and applying in a way that really makes it as impactful as possible and really kind of putting it from the user perspective, which is the user’s perspective is, “You’re the City of Durham; you should know this.” And I 100% agree with that.
Jensen: Absolutely. This makes me wonder. Perhaps it’s just the nature of what we’re doing here on The Movement. Maybe it’s not, but is community engagement really—this idea of community engagement, is it gaining ground in planning spaces, in the planning world, in the mobility world? Is this, like, something new that people are doing, or is it just because we talk to people who are doing it?
Cohen: Yeah, I mean, it’s probably a little bit of both, but I—you know, you’re bringing up a good point. I think community engagement has been done forever. Right? So I think this has been a tried-and-true part of planning. I think what’s different now is kind of the way that these communities are thinking about doing it. Right? And I think it’s a combination of things. Right? It’s the difference between it being top-down and it being bottom-up, so I think that’s part of it; you know, driven by the community versus kind of the city kind of just saying, you know, “Hey, we’re going to have a session here at City Hall, and come take a look at how this is going to impact you.” You know, I think, cities are now saying, “All right. Well, you have to get out into the community more and go where the people are and take our stuff there.” You know, so I think there is a movement kind of afoot to do that and just kind of say that you can’t just tick the boxes. Right? You can’t just say, “Yes, we did community engagement.
Check,” because we had an open house at City Hall. Right? That’s not sufficient anymore, I think, in most places.
I think what we’re learning is that, no, you really have to, like, truly, truly do this. And, honestly, I think that’s an ongoing process, and I think these cities are getting better and better. And I’m sure it depends in different cities, but, you know, I think it’s been a theme at least on the podcast because I think the people that we’re talking about are really—and the people that we’re talking to each week are really the ones that are leading that charge towards a new way of doing community engagement. So, yeah; I think it’s a fair question.
Jensen: Well, good. That’s interesting. I mean, it’s necessarily. One of the things that I brought up yesterday on the panel was why it’s so important to go out into the communities and meet people where they’re at, is because—to your point about, like, just saying, “Oh, we had an open meeting people could come to,” and then the most marginalized people not being there, that’s intentional. That is a systemic problem. So now it’s incumbent upon the people who are leading these projects to go out and rectify that. So, yeah, I’m glad the tide seems to be turning.
Cohen: Yeah, I think so. I think so. And, you know, and that’s part of what we’re trying to shine the light on a little bit with the work we’re doing here, is try to show some of those examples of people doing that and highlight that so that, you know, more people can start to embrace that.
So also on my mind—we had a neighbor last week take some trees down in their yard, and then earlier this week we had some more neighbors pull down some trees. And this one was—you know, we’re just south of Downtown Durham, so we’re kind of in the thick of the community, and this was a vacant lot that they clear-cut, I think, to put on a house. So that’s good, but, man, I’ve been hearing tree—I feel a little bit for the trees in our neighborhood. They’re getting—there’s a lot less of them than there used to be, but if we’re going to have more housing I think that’s good, but—
Jensen: Yeah, for sure.
Cohen: It’s definitely been a loud couple weeks on our block, for sure.
Jensen: Are they replanting the trees, like replanting new trees at their own houses?
Cohen: I don’t know. I mean, we’ll see. I mean, I think, literally there’s going to be a house built, you know, some time in the next several months, so maybe after they get that house maybe they’ll put in some new trees. But it’s just been pretty wild to see, like, this—you know, I walked down there the other day. I was like, “Wow. That lot is totally devoid of trees now.” So I want to maybe transition a little bit to some news articles.
So, I think, one that actually kind of fits in to keep in the North Carolina theme here—everybody who is not in North Carolina is probably going to be sick of us talking about North Carolina, but that’s okay.
Cohen: This happens. Right? You know where you’re from. So last week—no, earlier this week, I guess, Charlotte City Council approved a car-free residential development. And so this is pretty wild. And I think they’re doing it, I think, for a good reason, which is that by not having to build parking it will dramatically reduce the overall construction spot by about $250 per month in rent, which is, like—that’s material. Right?
Cohen: And so half of the units are going to be priced for 80% of the area median income, which is about $66,800 for a family of four. And so, I think, that’s a fabulous kind of project, so I’m really impressed that this project got through. But just one more quick thing from the article. Shannon Binns, who is the founder and executive director of Sustain Charlotte—you may recall I had Shannon on the podcast I did about Charlotte. I guess it was probably January of this year. It feels like many, many, many moons ago.
Cohen: But, anyway, he’s quoted in this Charlotte Observer article. Quote, “Right now we don’t give people who don’t own a car many options. Whether you own a car or don’t own a car, you’re forced to pay for a parking spot.” So I think that’s a—it’s pretty cool that Charlotte has kind of given the green light to that new development. What jumped out to you about that article, L’erin?
Jensen: So let me tell you, Josh. TransLoc has really—it’s transformed the way that I think, because I think that had I read this article or heard about this just a few years ago I may have been like, “Well, that’s stupid. People have cars; they need to park somewhere.”
Jensen: And so when I first saw this article, not this exact one but the story, I saw it on Facebook. I have a lot of friends in Charlotte, and so a friend posted it, and one of my other good friends commented on it and said, “I don’t know why they would encourage people not to have transportation.” So I responded, did my whole little spiel. But I think this is exciting. It’s a great idea. The more forms of transportation we can get people to take, the better. I do have some questions regarding it.
I think that this would be most beneficial to low-income people who don’t have cars already because, as Shannon said, whether you own a car or not you still have to pay for parking. So that 54 units of low-income housing at, like, $66,680 a year for a family of four, whatever the exact number it was—I’m sure I’m misquoting it—that’s still way above the poverty line.
Jensen: I feel like that might be, like, more than twice, almost three times as high as the poverty line.
Cohen: Well, that’s a family of four though. I mean, that’s—I mean, you have four mouths to feed, that’s going to eat a lot of that, but.
Jensen: Well, you’re right. You’re right. But the poverty line is like $25,000 or $24,000 for a family of four.
Jensen: I could be quoting some old numbers. And don’t get me wrong; that is, like, abject poverty; you’re, like, absolutely destitute. But I hope that the people who rent these places are not just people who want to get rid of their cars but people who, like, are transit dependent.
Jensen: So those are my thoughts. But overall I think it’s a wonderful idea. I love it. I was excited when I read it, so.
Cohen: Yeah, it’s going to be interesting to see kind of what comes of this, because I do think you’re right. I mean, I think part of it kind of depends on who chooses to live there. You know, because I think—look; the other interesting wrinkle about this story is that the city councilor who oversees or represents this neighborhood voted against this and, I think, primarily because he was worried that the people would park their cars in the neighborhood and not on site. And, you know, I think that’s a reasonable worry if people live there and then just try to, like, keep their car lifestyle but just they don’t have parking on site. Right?
Cohen: I think what the goal of this development is, is I think they’re trying to say, “Hey, look. How can we do this so that it is attractive to people that don’t have cars or don’t want to have cars, either way,” and might there be somebody that has a car and really doesn’t want to use it and parks it in the neighborhood? Yeah, maybe, but I don’t think it’s going to be all of the units. I think that’s just not a realistic kind of concern. But I did think that was kind of an interesting angle, is that the local councilor was one of the people that was against this.
Jensen: I don’t think I caught that part, but the other thing that was interesting to me was that the article says it cost, like, $30,000 for the developers to build each parking spot. Why the heck does it cost so much money to build a parking spot?
Cohen: Well, it’s all the costs. Right? So it’s the grading; it’s the paving; it’s the storm water retention. And that’s just a plain-Jane parking spot, like surface parking lot, is like $30,000. If you’re talking about like a parking garage—
Cohen: —that’s upwards of $60,000 per spot, and if you’re talking about an underground lot, that’s about $100,000 per parking spot just to build. And then you have maintenance costs on top of that. So you start to see—you know, when you go to Downtown Durham or you go to a college campus and you see all of these parking lots that are 500 spots each, those parking garages and so forth, I mean, that’s a lot of money. So just keep that in mind. That’s one of those things that when I got into this industry and I started understanding how much parking lots cost, it blew my mind.
Jensen: That is insane. And that is in contrast to one of the other stories we’ll talk about in Portland and the cost of—
Cohen: Yeah, let’s talk about that. So this is by Marcus Mundy. This is in CityLab. The title is, “To Lift Up Communities of Color, Fix Public Transit.” So the headline here is that there is a tax on the ballot in Portland called Get Moving 2020. And the goal of it is really to fund a range of transportation improvements, sidewalks, crosswalks, streetlights, safe routes to school, expanding the bus network, light rail, free transit passes to use, but particularly on addressing some of the racial bias and inequities in transportation planning over, you know, forever. So that, I think, is kind of the foundational underline here.
And so then the wrinkle to this story is that the tax is 0.75%—it’s a payroll tax—0.75% on businesses that have more than 25 employees. And so anyone who is very familiar with the Portland area knows that a major employer in Portland is Nike. And Nike is now coming out against this measure, which I think is really, really interesting, because it seems like—you know, and Nike has certainly featured racism in some of its recent ads. Colin Kaepernick obviously is kind of one of their spokespeople that’s talking about this, you know, racism in general for Nike; but then Nike has an opportunity to address the legacy of racism in our streets and in our communities and in our access to public transit, and they’re taking the opposite side. So I just thought that was kind of mindboggling, I guess.
Jensen: It is mindboggling but also totally unsurprising to me. Big corporations just don’t want to pay more taxes even—that’s like a drop in the bucket. Right? 0.75% payroll tax? They’ve contributed—what—$25,000 to an opposition campaign so that this doesn’t pass. But, you know, I expect business to do what’s best for their bottom line, so to me this is expected of Nike. And that goes to, like, even featuring Colin Kaepernick in ads. You know, social justice is good for business right now. People want companies that quote-unquote “care” about social justice issues. So if they make an ad campaign saying, you know, “We stand with Colin Kaepernick,” that gets a whole bunch of people to buy their products. Meanwhile they go and don’t want to improve their actual communities. So, yeah.
Cohen: A true cynical approach there. I mean, you know, wow.
Cohen: But, I mean, look; I don’t blame you either. I mean, I think there’s a lot there that I think you hit on. I mean, the one thing I’ll kind of not push back on but provide a little different perspective on is that I think more and more, I think, there are more corporations that are saying, “Look; our bottom line is not just measured in dollars.” Right? And so I could see Nike saying—you know, Nike didn’t take this approach, but I could see them taking this approach or a similar company, and maybe other companies in the Portland area have, to say, “Look; this is important to our community. This is important to the people that work at Nike. This is important to the people that we play soccer with, that we buy groceries with and from, and so forth, and because of that we need to do this because we are a part of this community.” Right?
I could see them—they could have made that choice. Right? And, yes, there is an expense hit from that payroll tax, but there’s obviously also a positive kind of community citizen. And that is worth something. Right? And, you know, there’s more and more companies now that are kind of taking this triple bottom line approach with, you know, sustainability and employing their employees and so forth. And so I guess I am somewhat disappointed that Nike is not just looking at this through the lens of more than just, “Hey, what’s going to hit our bottom line?” So, you know, neither of us have the real answer here. I just think that’s a fascinating story, because I was not maybe necessarily expecting Nike to take that approach. But it sounds like you were, so—[LAUGHTER]
Jensen: Yeah. I just have no faith in these companies, none at all.
Jensen: But, you know, they got to do what they got to do to stay in business. They have to do what they have to do to make more than they made the quarter before. It’s not enough to profit; they have to have increased profit each quarter, otherwise, you know, their stockholders, their investors, whoever—I’m not an economic expert, but, you know—they part ways. So it is what it is.
Cohen: Yeah. Well, I look forward to the day when there is a little bit more, you know, we look at more than just that actual number but we look at all these other aspects in how we’re making the decisions on whether those people buy or sell that stock, I guess.
Jensen: Me too.
Cohen: But that’s probably beyond each of our pay grades, so.
Cohen: All right. Let’s move on to the last one. This is an LA Times article. This is from about a week or so ago, October 16th, and the title is, “Deputies Killed Dijon Kizzee After a Bike Stop. We Found 15 Similar Law Enforcement Shootings, Many Fatal.” And so this is an investigative report from the LA Times just talking about all the different stops, 16 cases since 2005, where a stop for bike violations in LA County resulted in a police shooting. And most of those were in communities that were made up of largely Black and Latino residents. And, you know, tragically eleven of those instances the bicyclists were killed.
And so, I mean, this is just, you know, really just horrifying on so many levels, but I think that the part that really just hit me the most was there is a quote in here from an advocate, a local advocate. And one of the things that he’s talking about—let me find his name here. One of the things he’s talking about is, you know, “I’m out there trying to get people to ride bikes as a way to get around and a way to have access, and now I’m just concerned that by doing that it is going to get more people killed.” And I think that’s just so horrifying. I’m sorry. It was Lena Williams. So she teaches bike safety classes for People For Mobility Justice. And so she’s been pulled over herself, and, you know, she said after Kizzee was killed, “Williams is reconsidering what it means to encourage people to ride bikes,” and the quote, “‘It feels like at this time telling people to get on bikes is a death sentence,’” end quote. I mean, that’s just—wow.
So, you know, again, I just think this kind of goes back to how and what are we enforcing when we have these types of stops, and why is it going so tragically? And, you know, the article does not get into the solutions as much other than, you know, potentially some folks in New York State. I believe, the attorney general has advocated that they basically not do stops anymore because of the potential for this. So I just think there’s a long way to go here, and I’m—it was just so horrific to see some of this data and see some of these stories that this kind of brings out.
Jensen: This story was really difficult for me to read. Frankly, any time you hear another story of police brutality or the murder of some young, Black or Latinx person at the hands of police officers, it’s really just traumatic as a person of color in this country.
Jensen: Like, I had to take a moment after I finished reading this article. I wanted to stop as soon as I started, but I said, “Let me get through this.” So this is another one of those things where it’s like, “Oh, my gosh. This is awful but also not surprising.” I think, one of the more interesting things to me about the article was that several of these people were stopped for riding their bicycles on sidewalks. And this goes back to something we’ve talked about in episodes before. And I think something I mentioned on the first episode where you interviewed me is just as I was riding the scooters downtown on the sidewalks because I was like, “There’s no way I’m going to ride a scooter on the street, on a busy street with cars going 45 miles per hour plus,” people don’t want to ride their bikes on the street either. Like, they’re riding on the sidewalk because they don’t want to be killed.
Jensen: And then they’re killed anyways. And to your point about the attorney general in New York, her office released a statement saying, “Laws with a history of alleged disparate and discriminatory enforcement such as bicycle operation on the sidewalk, jaywalking, loitering, and fair evasion should be repealed or removed from police enforcement.” It’s sad. So, I guess, in some ways this almost goes back to my friend’s point about, “Why would you encourage people not to have transportation?” Maybe it doesn’t—it’s not exactly her point, but it fits into that as well.
Like, “Okay, well, if I’m riding my bike and I’m stopped”—some of these people were on sidewalks. Another guy was just stopped because it was late and the police wanted to know where he was coming from. Yeah, I don’t know. It was just a really, really sad, sad story. And I don’t know that I have an answer to how we fix any of these things except for to, like, eradicate racism and poverty.
Cohen: There’s no, like, silver bullet here. Right? There’s no silver bullet to say, “Ah, driving while Black is dangerous, so we need to encourage people to take public transit,” or whatever. And it’s like, “Well, that’s not safe either.” Right? And, you know, it’s like until we address the foundational issues of systemic racism and structural racism, I feel like the safety of Black and Brown people are kind of unsafe in any choice you make, and that’s the thing that’s just insane. Right?
So I think that’s why—again, some of the guests that have been on the podcast have talked about this. That’s why we have to address that first before we start addressing some of the other aspects on, like, “How do we get more people biking?” or whatever. It’s like, “Well, just if we get more people biking, that doesn’t solve the underlying problem.”
Cohen: So unfortunately, I think, that’s a hard message to hear, I think, for a lot of people who are advocating for safer options like bike lanes and so forth; but I think it’s the reality until we solve that underlying issue.
Jensen: Well, let’s pivot to something a little bit happier. What do we have coming up?
Cohen: Yeah, so coming up this Friday—and anybody can register for this. We’ll put the link in the notes—I’m going to be speaking at Creative Morning RDU. And the theme of the month is transit. And so I’m going to be taking you on a little bit of a ride. I’m doing to be giving folks—you know, maybe folks on the podcast maybe have a pretty good handle on transit.
I think most of the people in the audience that I’m going to be speaking to don’t have as good of a handle on public transit, so I’m going to be giving a little bit of an introduction there and connecting that to my experience growing up and learning values from my parents and how I got into the industry and where I think it needs to go next. So it’ll be on Friday morning, October 30th at 8:45 a.m. Eastern. Creative Morning RDU, we’ll include that. So that’s something to check out for your Friday enjoyment.
Jensen: I will be there. I will be listening. I’m excited.
Cohen: Yeah, I think it’s going to be fun. I think it’s going to be fun. Well, good. Well, I think that’s what we got for this week. And thank you, L’erin, for sharing this week, and we’ll look forward to checking in next week.
Jensen: Sounds good. Thanks, Josh.
Cohen: Thank you.
F: Thanks for listening. If you like what you hear, head to Apple Podcasts and subscribe, rate, and review this podcast. You can find out more at TransLoc.com. Be sure to join us next week for another episode of The Movement.
Read more about the inequities built into our streets in our blog When Roads are Racist.