Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Thinking About Cities

Las Vegas, Off the Strip
Though I've lived in many different places over the course of my life, they have been mostly in Europe. Within the US my travels have been limited to the East Coast, and my trip to Las Vegas for Interbike was the first time I'd ventured west of Pennsylvania. Popular culture is saturated with images of Vegas, and I thought I knew pretty well what to expect: casinos, bright lights, neon signs, drunken merrymaking... If in the right kind of mood, I could see the kitsch appeal. But what I did not expect were unfinished construction projects, miles of empty parking lots, and a funny sense of being in the middle of a Broadway production that had its funding cancelled before the set could be completed. Maybe I wasn't supposed to arrive during the daytime (or be awake during daylight at all while there?), but the Vegas I saw looked not unlike the outer boroughs of former Soviet bloc cities, with their faded concrete high-rises and muddy vacant lots. 

Las Vegas Monorail
Equally fascinating was that Las Vegas seemed to be intentionally "anti-pedestrian" in design. I have no background in city planning, so it's hard to explain exactly what I mean. But with the exception of the smallish main strip - which is indeed walkable and feels like Disneyworld on crack - the city is made of these self-contained complexes accessible either by car or Monorail (they really try to push the Monorail, but it was mostly empty every time I used it). 

Las Vegas, Off the Strip
Even in the city center, the roads are multi-lane and highway-like. Sometimes there are sidewalks, but they are lined with tall guard rails and there are no provisions for crossing the street except maybe every mile or so. The hotel I stayed at was technically around the corner from the convention center where Interbike was held, yet it was recommended I take the Monorail to it. Well, one night I had this crazy idea to walk. I could clearly see the hotel right in front of me - how bad could it be? It took about an hour and a half, because there was no way to walk to it in anything resembling a straight line. I had to walk around stadium-sized empty lots surrounded with chainlink fences, and when I tried to take shortcuts through hotels, I was forced to navigate along winding paths designed to maximise my exposure to slot machines. It was surreal. As for riding a bike, I remember someone posting a ridiculous statistic on twitter, claiming that 100% of Las Vegas residents who cycle report being hit by a car at least once. Having now been there, I no longer find it implausible. 

Overcast Las Vegas, Hotel Window
While of course I've known that places like Las Vegas exist, I guess I've done my best to avoid them - choosing to live in areas that are walkable, which for me equates with livable. Being faced with the reality of what a city like this is actually like was jarring. I know that places like Boston comprise only a small fraction of the American urban landscape, while a model similar to Las Vegas is more common. I know it, but I try not to think about it, because the realisation fills me with a dread that I don't know how to overcome. 

As I write this, I am waiting to board a plane to yet another city: Vienna. Design-wise, it is pretty much the polar opposite of the Las Vegas. And the public transportation and cycling infrastructure put even Boston to shame. It is fascinating that such contrasts are possible in the way human beings create living spaces. What motivates the various designs? And what to do when the original motive is no longer relevant, or was a mistake, or turns out to be harmful to the population? Huge questions, I know. But sometimes you have to ask. 

51 comments:

  1. I find it interesting that the U.S. bicycle industry chooses to hold their trade show in Las Vegas. I understand the appeal of cheap airfares and all-you-can-eat meals, but wouldn't it be nice if the foreigners who come to exhibit their wares actually got to see how Americans ride bikes? I believe Interbike should be a celebration of American cycling...

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  2. Be assured, Las Vegas is a hellhole. It's not a real city. It is a uniquely horrible place and was that way even before the real-estate crash. The only saving grace of Las Vegas may not even exist anymore. That was an older downtown section, way off the Strip, where I spent a few hours almost forty years ago. It was a reminder of the little Western desert town that Las Vegas once was. Forty years ago, even the Strip was somewhat better -- smaller, less garish, and with at least a simulacrum of elegance (the Rat Pack, and all that). Now it's a soulless eyesore. I've had to spend more time in Las Vegas over the past couple of years than I've ever wanted to, and as my plane made its final descent, I couldn't look down at the Strip without thinking of the nutjob Islamic jihadists and saying to myself, "No wonder they hate us." Las Vegas: an abomination sucking up too much of the Earth's scarce and precious water.

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  3. Las Vegas is the only place in the world I've ever been that I would actively try to avoid going to again. In fact, I even turned down a full-ride scholarship at UNLV to play cello in their orchestra back in college. Ugh.

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  4. Here in Europe (I'm living in Paris right now), a walkable city--and especially a cyclable city--isn't something to take for granted. Georges Pompidou, prime minister and then president of France in the 1960s and early 1970s, was responsible for building major highways in downtown Paris, along the banks of the Seine, and insisting that the city had to adapt to the automobile, not vice-versa. It's taken a lot of political capital for the current mayor of Paris, Bertrand Delanoƫ, to reverse some of those moves.

    And in Amsterdam, in the 1950s and 60s, there were proposals to fill in many of the canals to create more roads and parking. The Dutch cycle culture of the present took a lot of doing to preserve and extend. Jeff Mapes's book _Pedaling Revolution_ has a good chapter on that story.

    But the little islands that you discovered in Vegas that can only be reached by car, except by the intrepid or the crazy, do seem to be largely an American phenomenon. It's like my 7-story office building at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, opened in 1970, with elevators directly in front of the entry door and staircases hidden away in the corners, on the assumption that they would be used only as fire exits. The building was constructed with windows that couldn't open, because the HVAC system would take care of keeping the building comfortable....

    Now there are stencils on the elevators suggesting that people take the stairs, and we did get windows that open. But it cost a lot of time and money to correct a problem that should never have been allowed to develop in the first place. Many if not most American cities have the same problem on a grander scale.

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  5. Las Vegas does not represent Nevada, let alone the rest of the United States. I would not say (having traveled through a lot of the US) that most cities are more like Las Vegas than like Boston. For better or worse, Las Vegas is unique.

    I lived in Nevada, but northern Nevada, near Reno. It had nothing resembling Las Vegas.

    Dan.

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  6. Las Vegas and especially the Strip need to be considered an anomaly, but your general impression of the city is certainly applicable to the rest of the American west. A relatively short history of permanent settlement (American Indian and Spanish settlement and agriculture existed long before Americans arrived, but neither was anywhere near as widespread or intensive as what has developed during the past 150 years) and the general scarcity of water for agriculture are the two primary factors that have encouraged the development of low-density cities. Combine this tendency with the advent of the automobile and that's why we have 'urban sprawl.'

    One of the reasons I enjoy reading your blog is because your experience with cycling is quite different from my own experiences cycling in Colorado. While recreational cycling is very popular throughout our state, commuting by bike is uncommon outside of Boulder and parts of Denver. Colorado has a wonderful climate for cycling for nearly the entire year and our major cities are located on the relatively flat foothills and plains east of the Rockies, so you don't have to be a super-athletic arctic explorer to ride here - what stops most people I talk to from commuting by bicycle are the distances involved and the dominance of automobiles.

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  7. I can tell you that in between the 1940s and the 1970s "Urban Renewal" was prominent in city planning. The ironically named theory focused on mega blocks, wide roads, and the ability to drive everywhere. Much modern urban planning is working to undo what was done during Urban Renewal.

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  8. Vegas is pretty horrible especially if you are not into gambling. When I used to go out there for trade shows getting around was done by taxis or drunken stumbling down the strip because there is nothing else to do. I wouldn't bike in that city if someone paid me to do it. I would rather sit for a week at my in-laws forced to watch Fox news the whole time than go back there. Just a cesspool of corporate greed, down and out degenerate gamblers, failed real estate ventures and desperation. "All you can eat" means a food contest I have no desire to win at any price, sadly where I live has embraced this aspect of food service too.

    Anyway, have fun in Vienna, I absolutely love that area.

    There are some good biking cities in this country that would be happy to host Interbike, but I fear the organizers lack enough vision to change.

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  9. Las Vegas isn't a city. It's an adult theme park that is supported by a small town. As someone who spent a fair amount of time living on the West Coast, I can say that most of these cities are not Boston, but they are not as bad as Vegas, either. So, yes, you're right that Boston is an outlier in American city design, but so is Vegas.

    Keep in mind that Vegas (and especially The Strip) is dominated by its casinos and it is in the interest of the casino to discourage you from leaving their premises. So, of course, they'll make it hard for you to wander away. Of course, they'll push you to drive or take scheduled transportation -- because both of those modes psychologically commit you to spending a certain amount of time at your destination.

    Most of the rest of the western cities are large and sprawling, largely because they all grew up after mainstream adoption of the automobile but, in my experience, only LA and was the really pedestrian hostile place I've been to besides Vegas. SF, Portland and Seattle may not be as 'walkable' as Boston is, but they have a historical core that is intimate enough to walk around and explore. LA is an archipelago of neighborhoods separated by highways and sprawl.

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  10. The top photos immediately made me think of Berlin when the area where the wall had been was just being redeveloped- weird empty spaces interspersed with very dense development.

    The only time I've been to LV was to fly in and drive to canyon country, but it didn't make me want to stay and visit.

    Interestingly in Salt Lake City, the roads are just as wide, if not wider, (Supposedly Brigham Young declared that the roads downtown should be large enough to do a U turn with a team of Oxen) but I found it a reasonably pleasant place to cycle. Firstly, there are lights at pretty reasonable intervals downtown (maybe every block) which slows things down and makes it feel like less of a highway, and secondly, the roads are SO overbuilt that there's plenty of space for cars to change lanes to pass.

    Have a good trip to Vienna!

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  11. Pretty much what portlandize said about Vegas. I actively avoid going to that place.

    I think a big challenge for the West Coast cities like LA and Vegas is that they were specifically designed for the automobile. They were designed during a time when the public thought "We get to DRIVE there!"

    It seems nearly impossible to change a automobile centric design into a human scaled one. How does one go about shrinking distances to make the city actually livable?

    These days many planners rely on multi-use developments to make more livable communities. Contrast this to the Los Angeles area in the 1950's when they created entire cities (City of Commerce, City of Industry) dedicated to a single use. Wikipedia states that the City of Industry has 215 residents and 2,500 businesses. How do we ever make a city like that multi-use?

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  12. Maybe Portland should try to land Interbike in the future. At least there is bike culture there. I think Vegas is a glaring example of an artificial city that has no depth and no sense of community. Not a place I'd want to live.

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  13. I've gotten a similar vibe from a lot of cities and towns on the westcoast. Big parking lots, fast pace traffic with 4+ lanes, urban sprawl as far as the eye can see, etc. Striking west expansion, birth of the auto industry, and the fact that all these cities are all so new I think feed into this. There are exceptions, but they aren't the rule unfortunately... The Pacific Northwest is doing pretty well, but still has a lot of infrastructural problems.

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  14. I am a cyclist from Las Vegas who has never been hit by a car... most of the observations about the Strip are spot on, though. It wasn't always quite so bad, I remember when the monorail was a doomed project that most citizens hated, and when the city was booming. The recession hit our tourist economy particularly hard, and left a lot of half finished eyesores around.
    It's not all bad though. Where my parents live, there are a ton of great bike paths on useful streets, and it's a 20 mile ride from my front door to some of the prettiest hiking around. And I say that even in comparison to my new home, less than an hour from the Grand Canyon!
    I can't say that Vegas is a bike friendly city. And as a longtime cyclist, it's easy to get frustrated. But I have to admit that it's at least partially the weather. Unlike a lot of big desert cities that have their own climate, Vegas is actually quite small in proportion to its fame, and the harsh desert weather prevails. This results in astonishingly hot summer days and surprisingly cold summer nights, and winter is just cold all around - I had more than one white Christmas as a kid. People haven't wanted to cycle in these kinds of conditions in the past, and cars don't really know how to deal with those of us who cycle.
    Despite this, there has been a huge growth in cycling culture the past few years. Now, every time I visit I see cyclists every time I take a ride or drive, something that was unthinkable when I lived there in high school, just 5 years ago. There are community rides, and open planning meetings. Our voices are being heard.
    I have high hopes for the place. Sure, it's dingy around the edges, and you may not want to look too closely at the Strip during the day. But people want a place that specializes in holding conventions. They want a place to dump their trash, instead of dumping it in their hometowns. And that's a shame, but we're still getting greener every year.
    Anyway, sorry for the long post, but Vegas holds a special place in my heart, and I think it's easy to pick on the city when most of it's pretty ok. It's just the visitors' area that's gross, and whose fault is that? ;)

    Off topic, UNLV's music department is just plain substandard, though. I'm a violinist and I think you made the right decision, portlandize!

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  15. It's interesting to watch cities near my home begin to incorporate bike infrastructure. Long beach Ca. a few miles south of me added tons of bike specific lanes completely independent and divided from traffic by a concrete slab with their own little bicycle signs and lights. They've painted entire lanes to create share roads (These get rather dangerous when wet since an entire 3 foot wide lane is covered by the share road paint). Lanes extend to near cities through various bicycle paths that have become a sort of bicycle highways build along riverbeds extending out 30 miles. One of which hugs the Los Angeles river. It's a shame that as Long beach vies to become the most bike friendly city in the west, Los Angeles has much catching up to do. The path ends just as you reach the extremities of downtown where you are left to navigate railroad tracks, pot holes, glass and gravel lined gutters if not sidewalks where roads narrow enough to become unsafe to ride along with traffic. As a pedestrian It isn't too bad but if you're on a bike, you better hope have a spoke wrench ready when you get home if you didn't get a flat along the way. Suburbs should perhaps include bike infrastructure into their planning that force the more industrialized sections to become bike friendly for their employees or simply someone just trying to get through to the other side on such a common mode of transportation.

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  16. I am one of those people that insists on walking somewhere in areas not set up for walking. I do it even though I hate stumbling along roadsides without sidewalks and hunting for safe crossings under freeway overpasses and across streets with cars going highway-like speeds. It makes me crazy that it can be so difficult and slow to walk somewhere that should be faster to walk to than drive.

    If I have one requirement in choosing a place to live, my first requirement is that I am able to walk and bicycle places for transportation and to run errands.

    And as a side note. Velouria, you really must visit a proper western city. It is nice out here!

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  17. You should read "Learning from Las Vegas: the Forgotten Symbolism of Architectural Form" by Robert Venturi. This book helped define post modernism in architecture and urban planning.

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  18. Ah yes. The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny I've been there a couple of times for my wife's trade shows. A little trip to Hell. Go out of town a few miles and see some of the natural wonders of the American Southwest. Las Vegas becomes just a place to land.

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  19. "Dread". A powerful word, a frightening emotion, and exactly right for this situation. That so much of the North American urban and suburban existence is set up to virtually demand the usage of cars is quite discomforting given that sooner or later the usage of cars is going to be difficult. The number of my workmates who deal with fifty to one hundred mile commutes is alarming; all that time, all the resources, and little option to break free from that lifestyle.

    I had a layover in a suburb of Buffalo, I thought I would take a stroll to a mall about an hour's walk away. Most of the route had no sidewalks! I couldn't believe it.

    I remain hopeful, I tend to feel that humans are fairly resourceful, but when the change comes, the pain it will bring with it...

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  20. Cheap land during the age of the automobile is what made Las Vegas and other similiar cities in the Sunbelt what they are today. And as the cost of energy becomes more expensive, this car-oriented development will hopefully become a thing of the past. It will be interesting to see how these places will adapt to the new reality.

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  21. I can definitely empathize with your experience in Las Vegas. Most of the streets where I ride are in the older part of OKC where past city planners obviously cared about continuity between different areas of town or neighborhoods. Contrast that with the post-war urban sprawl that has taken place on the outer areas of town and walking or biking becomes nearly impossible. These outer neighborhoods mostly lie within one-square-mile grids of busy streets with no continuous smaller streets to bisect the grids. Usually the neighborhoods have walls or gates surrounding them to avoid "spill over" from other neighborhoods which also adds to the frustration of getting from point A, to point B on a bike or foot. I envy your city with respect to infrastructure. I could probably do without the snow though.

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  22. I get the same anxiety when Iook at that place or think about how it is revered by so many. Glad to see that others find it repulsive instead of stimulating. Enjoy Vienna. I've never been, but would like to go...unlike Vegas never been never will (close-minded I know!)
    Peter

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  23. It's a very sad city that, unfortunately, many of us have seen. I've left there in shock also, as the amount of concrete jungle, the horrific lights (can you imagine the daily electric bill?), and the garish display of consumerism makes me not proud to be an American. Very ugly.

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  24. I so agree with Jan. The bike industry should be rewarding communities that support their product with facilities to use them. Not sure if you've been to Frankfurt, Germany or not. I was stationed there in the early eighties. Loved it. Wasn't into biking then, but ran enough to do the Frankfurt Marathon twice. Loved the livability of the city. Walking the city was so easy and mass transit was fantastic. Wish Americans could get over their cars and embrace healthier lifestyles.

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  25. " I try not to think about it, because the realisation fills me with a dread that I don't know how to overcome."

    Me too. The modern American city was designed for the automobile... not the human. It's all well documented in the book 'Human Scale' by Kirkpatrick Sale.

    Long live the bicycle... a well scaled form of transportation!

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  26. (they really try to push the Monorail, but it was mostly empty every time I used it)

    To be fair, there IS a chance the track could bend.

    (Seriously, though, that sounds terrible. I thought I lived in some pretty walker-unfriendly places but it's never taken me more than twenty minutes to cross a street. IMO, Las Vegas and cities like it--which probably means MOST of the spread-out Western cities founded after automobiles--will quickly return to the desert from whence it came once gas hits $6 or so. There's no real way to retrofit it, as the distances involved make cycling impractical even if it were safe. I doubt that monorail travels to places people actually live. It will become a place for the extremely wealthy who can afford gas and the extremely poor who can't afford to leave, and then it will be a ruin. Good riddance!)

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  27. wow. would fit in well with the movie I just saw.

    keep going West my friend. when I left SF I always said I moved back to America. ex-pats aren't only in Europe.

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  28. The real Las Vegas is not where you have been. Go beyond the tourist areas and find many bike paths and desert roads one can ride for miles. It is a man-made place--it's the desert. But don't write off the place because you saw only one part of the elephant.

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  29. Great post! Yeah, Vegas is the epitome. Automobile culture and a city built upon the great American fantasy of something-for-nothing. It’s a bad combo, and the city is ultimately doomed to become some kind of gigantic uninhabited monument to poor judgment and waste, complete with a fake Eiffel Tower and chrome fire hydrants.

    There’s a number of good books that explore the issues of American cities, how we got here and what does or doesn‘t work. A couple I would recommend are: The Death and Life of Great American Cities, by Jane Jacobs: and, also The Geography of Nowhere: The Rise and Decline of America's Man-Made Landscape, by Jim Kunstler. Jacobs could see this coming in the 1950s. Kunstler had his Oh-My-God moment in the early 90s. There are more recent writings (e.g. see The Congress of the New Urbanism) but I think these books capture the essence of what we‘re dealing with, and ultimately will have to change, however that can happen.

    Your example of having to walk more than an hour to move from one building to the next is extreme but symbolic of what we’ve built all over the place. Such environments make you feel unimportant, alienated and disrespected as a human being. Why would anyone take pride, feel honored or feel at home in such an alien and hostile environment? And why should anyone care about the place?

    Seems right now in US there’s more interest in recapturing some of those things that make for good urban life. Some cities are making some progress. Its not really enough though yet, and the economy is poor, and the lack of jobs and tax base and investment capital are a big problem for making any great progress. One way or another I think many (but not all) cities will respond to the changes, and human-scale/livable built environments will eventually trump the automobile cult.

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  30. I've got to say, as someone who has primarily inhabited the non-coastal parts of the United States, firstly, welcome! Secondly, welcome to cycling in most parts of the U.S. I grew up in Dallas, which is more pedestrian and bike-friendly than Las Vegas the same way I'd rather have the flu than ebola. Vastly better, but that doesn't make it good.

    The realities of Las Vegas are the realities for many cities - vast, totally unnavigable concrete jungles with massive sprawl and no accommodations for anything other than cars. And they wonder why some of us can get a tad defensive.

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  31. I only go to LV to get to Zion and the other national parks in the area. I hope you, V, had the chance to visit some of them.

    Why are postwar US cities the way they are? There's gotta be 100 PhD theses and libraries of books written on that topic. Isn't the main culprit the legions of transportation engineers in US city planning departments? Generations of them have been car-centric— maybe that's changing.

    There was a time when Chinese cities were wonderfully bike-centric. Fast growing trees would line the outer lanes of thoroughfares, providing shade to the hundreds of bicyclists passing through. The inner lanes, protected by a tree-lined verge or median, were reserved for buses, trucks, government vehicles, and the occasional tractor. Funny, you'd never call a Chinese person a bicyclist. Just as you'd never call certain Americans 'car drivers.' "Meet Joe- he's a car driver, like you."

    Karlsruhe, in Germany, was also very bike friendly I recall: narrow ramps were built along stairways making it easy to go walk your bikes up and down underpasses, etc.

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  32. Las Vegas is a monstrosity, but it's really an extreme version of much of the US: badly planned, unwalkable, and not very ridable. I live 11 miles from my job, and it takes me 45 minutes on average to drive there. Some nights, it takes an hour and a half. Public transport = buses. They take just as long as driving, or longer, since one must often transfer 2-3 times to get anywhere. Biking? It might be faster, but in no universe can I bike 11 hilly miles with a 7 year-old in tow. So we drive. The grocery store nearest my house shut down a year ago. I must now drive to the store. To live near my job would cost me around a million dollars. Really.

    This is why I always say: it isn't about bikers and car drivers. Most people MUST be both, not by choice, but by bad American city design. If I could, would I live a mile from my job and my son's school, pedal him to school in a Bakfiets and live car-free? In a freakin' heartbeat. But there's just no way.

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  33. Vegas was purposely built for one thing: To separate people from their money. It's very successful at that. I don't know why anyone would want to have a conference or trade show there.

    I think Interbike should go to San Diego which has a great convention center and hotels, weather and a cycling culture. Denver would be another good choice. Hell, bring it back to Anaheim!

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  34. I suspect that one of the main determinants of pedestrian friendliness is if the area was laid out pre or post the introduction of the motor car.

    It seems that once you have enough infrastructure to cope with cars, there's nothing left for pedestrians, or even cyclists.

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  35. Really, the days of planning cities exclusively around cars has to come to an end. Car infrastructure costs so much, is so expensive in maintenance, and creates so many problems with pollution and parking, it cannot continue that way. If govenment planners really thought about where was the best place to put their dollars, it has to come down to bicycle infrastructure: it is so much cheaper and sustainable in so many ways. I think European cities have got it so much more right than America and Australia, we really need to learn from them.

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  36. Re those who've mentioned other parts of Vegas - I did see the suburbs, in a car. And was also taken to Red Rock Canyon, which was beautiful. But that isn't the city of course and I was speaking about the city itself here.

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  37. I was there during August, I think -- you really really don't want to be walking around outside then. It's like over 100 degrees all the time, and that's in the shade. They set up misters to coll things down a little on the strip. I think the idea of getting from place to place by air conditioned transport is in part just a reflection of how very hard it would be for most folks to be getting around in any other way.

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  38. Viva lost wages! I've never been there but, with so many of you so piling on, I feel the need to defend the city. It's iconic and so often held up as "a glaring example of American consumerism." Tut, tut. I do know that you have to spend some time in a place to find the hidden jewels, and for me, they are usually worth more then the obvious attractions. How many of you have walked down Acushnet Avenue in New Bedford, MA., another city with bad reputation? And Brian Ogilve, can you recommend some good restaurants in Springfield?

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  39. "Really, the days of planning cities exclusively around cars has to come to an end. Car infrastructure costs so much, is so expensive in maintenance, and creates so many problems with pollution and parking, it cannot continue that way. "

    Agreed that cities would be better in the long run if they stopped focusing on automobile traffic and instead embraced public transport, bike paths, walking paths and the infrastructure required to build and maintain those. Sadly, it just doesn't seem like that will happen. People still drive, still buy cars and trucks, they still commute long distances to their daily jobs, they still drive to the mega-mart grocery store once a week to stock up. People's attitudes and where they spend money need to change before city planners will.

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  40. "Really, the days of planning cities exclusively around cars has to come to an end."

    Hopefully you are right newcastle, but if the planners have gotten it, the majority of traffic engineers haven't heard. Until they do, we're in trouble. There is a little hope: NYCDOT for example, or Cyclists for Cities: http://nacto.org/citiesforcycling.html It's sponsor org is a group of City transpo officials... not state and county who generally cling to the highway design manual for everything, inside the city or out. Talk about a culture war.

    How much of the success in the Netherlands came about due to changes in transport design? And, part of their success has been to integrate new suburban areas into their multimodal mix by design, making the metro area work for more people on more types of transport.

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  41. Re the uniqueness of Las Vegas: Friends have told me kind of the opposite actually - that places like Albuquerque NM and Atlanta GA are similar in layout. I am not talking about the casinos, but the landscape. What do you think? I have never been.

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  42. I read a very interesting book about what makes a town livable: "Life between buildings", by Jan Gehl.

    Most of it dates back from the 70s and in retrospect it seems mostly common sense, but even today town planners everywhere still make the same mistakes! (large empty spaces, gigantic buildings, car-centric infrastructures, etc)

    Here in France we have to live with Le Corbusier's crap (among others) and it will take some time before it's fixed.

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  43. Up until the late 40's, Los Angeles actually had a pretty decent streetcar system. You can still see tracks leftover from that era. Then a consortium lobbied to privatize the streetcars, then it failed (unh hummm...) The consortium has since been detected to have been funded by the auto and oil companies (unh hummm...). You can still find some great areas in Los Angeles, mostly older, mostly pre-war. Newer stuff is not architected as an area or neighborhood, but as a building.
    The absolutely worst area for cycling in Los Angeles is Beverly Hills - an area that could definitely afford the dollars to improve, and whose support staff would love to see it.

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  44. haha, in dallas, you can't even feel smug for cycling. you are branded as losers by the locals as they sneer at you in their suv's.

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  45. Albuquerque isn't nearly as big, and you can get around through the neighborhoods pretty easily. The middle of town itself is fairly flat, but it bumps up against the Sandia mountain range, meaning if you go in any direction out of downtown (excepting north), you are going uphill. 'Berque though, has made a strong effort to add bicycle infrastructure to their preexisting roads. As a for instance, on roads designated as bicycle boulevards, the speed limit for cars is 18 mph. My ABQ family asked me why this was, and were astonished when I replied that in a flat area, that's about the speed I cruise at on my bike.

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  46. Los Angeles' bike-friendly places occur at the waterfront, from The Santa Monica pier to Malibu to the north, and south to Manhattan Beach and beyond. All on a paved, winding boardwalk. The water is colder than east coasters would like (not anything as warm as the bay at Truro in August), but it is a negotiable temperature from May - October, especially in a wool suit. All in all, an immensely enjoyable place to visit.
    At some point, you will have to make time for a trip to Los Angeles.



    You

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  47. After enduring the Phillies meltdown last week I needed a boost of confidence in our fair city [Philadelphia.] Your blog reminded me of how blessed we are to live in such a walkable, bike-able place. Thanks!

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  48. "Friends have told me kind of the opposite actually - that places like Albuquerque NM and Atlanta GA are similar in layout. "

    I visited Atlanata, GA for a few days in Feb 2010 I took the MARTA mass transit system into the city (midtown Atlanta) and took a trolly to Georgia Tech Hotel where I was staying. What I saw during the train ride can be described as vast, widespread, and bleak. But I was able to walk pretty much everywhere within the city to restaurants, corner markets (a good 15 minute walk), book stores etc... I don't recall seeing any cyclists; but not sure if it was because of the time of the year. I did visit the famous aquarium, but definitely had to drive to get there--I couldn't imagine ever cycling to get there from what I recall of the road infrastructure.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/imagineimages1lfe/sets/72157627756435507/

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  49. "Here in France we have to live with Le Corbusier's crap (among others) and it will take some time before it's fixed."

    I feel for you, and while you must cope with the disastrous legacy of "Corbu" and his "radiant" cities in France, we here in the US suffer from the Robert Moses vision of turning our cities into automobile utopias. We have a long way to go. Unfortunately in the US we still honor Robert Moses despite his contribution to the chopping up and destruction of our cities.

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  50. I live and bike in Albuquerque. Vegas and Alb have nothing in common. The Rio Grande runs through the city and one can ride 'the ditch" a paved bike path running parallel to the river for 30+ miles one direction. The city has constructed miles and miles of paved and graded bike paths that intersect with "the ditch" and crisscross the city, from the Sandia Mountains on the east to the desert on the west. All this with little interference from vehicular traffic. We bike year around with 345 days of sunshine. It's not the East Coast, it's the Western Desert, but a great biking area.

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