January 24, 2022
This week on the Strong Towns Podcast, host Chuck Marohn welcomes back a special return guest: Jarrett Walker, head of Jarrett Walker + Associates, a transit-planning firm based in Portland, Oregon. Walker has been a consultant in public transit network, design, and policy for many decades now, and has worked all across North America and other countries worldwide. He’s also the author of the book Human Transit: How Clearer Thinking about Public Transit Can Enrich Our Communities and Our Lives, as well as the blog Human Transit.
Recently while doing his end-of-the-year desk cleaning, Chuck came across an article that Walker wrote in 2018 for the Journal of Public Transportation titled “To Predict with Confidence, Plan for Freedom.” Upon rereading it (for the fourth time), Chuck knew he wanted to talk to Walker about this piece.
So, join in for this conversation about the limitations of prediction, starting with a story seven or eight years ago, when Walker was developing a proposed redesign for the bus network in Houston…
Additional Show Notes
January 18, 2022
Can driverless cars really be the “safe, sustainable, and inclusive ‘mobility solutions’ that tech companies and automakers are promising us”? In his newest book, Autonorama: The Illusory Promise of High-Tech Driving, technology historian Peter Norton argues that we should treat these utopian promises about driverless vehicles with a great deal more caution and skepticism.
Autonorama exposes how, from its inception in the Depression era, the automobile was a subject of controversy; believe it or not, not everyone initially wanted cars around. Over time, however, a shift occurred that caused us to see automobiles as the solution, and a not a problem, for our transportation needs in cities.
Today on the Strong Towns Podcast, host Chuck Marohn is interviewing Peter Norton about Autonorama. They discuss the history behind our shift in perception toward cars—up to our current societal fixation on driverless cars, the wrong answer for a problem we can solve with resources we already have, and without doing further harm to ourselves and the environment.
Additional Show Notes
January 10, 2022
Americans drove less during the early months of pandemic, yet traffic fatalities increased. There was a sense among many safety experts that this was an anomaly, that fatality rates would revert to trend once people started driving again. That didn’t happen.
Instead, as overall driving levels have returned to normal, crashes and fatality rates have remained shockingly high. These results are not explainable by any theory of traffic safety being used by modern transportation professionals.
As a result, there has been a search for explanations, one that has embraced some of our newest and most divisive cultural narratives while simultaneously managing to rehash some old and worn-out memes. All this while missing the obvious factor that is, in some ways, too painful for industry insiders to acknowledge.
So, what is going on?
January 3, 2022
This week on the Strong Towns Podcast, we’re kicking off the new year by featuring a special guest: Tim Soerens, author and co-founder of the Parish Collective. Last year, Chuck read Tim’s books The New Parish: How Neighborhood Churches Are Transforming Mission, Discipleship and Community and Everywhere You Look: Discovering the Church Right Where You Are—and even recommended them to his priest!
If you’re not Christian or not religious, don’t worry: Tim’s not here to preach, but rather to talk about community, and the position of churches within a community. His organization, the Parish Collective, is a network of place-based churches and small community groups who are all wrestling with the question of how to reconnect churches with their neighborhoods. Furthermore, they’re encouraging people to consider what part locally connected churches can play in the strengthening and holistic renewal of a place over time.
Strong Towns is, of course, a secular organization. Still, we love hearing about how faith communities and other groups are adopting a Strong Towns approach to tackling the problems in their neighborhoods. In that spirit we hope that you, too, will enjoy this first Strong Towns Podcast episode of 2022.
December 6, 2021
There have been dozens of people hit on State Street in Springfield, Massachusetts, in recent years, including Gayle Ball who was recently killed crossing State Street in front of the Central Library.
Council members are demanding action and they called a special meeting to discuss what can be done. The city’s engineer was there as well, and what ensued was a conversation in two different languages.
One is the urgent language of the elected official, reflecting the sadness, fear, and anxiety of residents who have long dealt with this dangerous street. The other is the language of the professional, reflecting the process, standards, and accepted practices of the profession.
In this episode, Chuck Marohn plays interpreter, explaining to the city’s engineer—in his language—what he’s being asked to do while explaining to everyone else—in their language—what exactly the engineer is saying.
November 29, 2021
All of a sudden, the new book from Strong Towns president Chuck Marohn, Confessions of a Recovering Engineer, has been out for nearly two months. It’s already received dozens of five-star reviews, and Chuck is out talking about the book around the country, both through events and in the media. Thousands of new people are encountering the Strong Towns message of how to fix the broken—i.e., dangerous, ineffective, wasteful—North American transportation system.
We recently invited the book’s earliest and most passionate supporters—including people who preordered Confessions, Strong Towns members, and members of the book launch team—to a Q&A with Chuck. We spent an hour drilling down into the specifics of how to make transportation better and reform the engineering professions. The questions we received from these brilliant and engaged advocates were so good that we wanted to share the Q&A as an episode of the Strong Towns Podcast.
In this episode, Chuck answers questions about transportation technology fads, about how to convert stroads into a more productive form, and whether an engineer can use his or her discretion if it deviates from the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices. Chuck also gives an update on the Strong Towns lawsuit. And he explains why, if you have to convince neighbors not to stand in the way of a road diet (or other traffic calming measures), it may be too late.
November 18, 2021
Hey Strong Towns Podcast listeners, it's been a while. Chuck's been out on the road, but the subject of this episode was too important not to talk about now. We're revisiting a library in Springfield that many of you are familiar with, as the dangerous stroad in front of it, State Street, has been a subject many times in Strong Towns articles (and in Chuck's latest book, Confessions of a Recovering Engineer).
Well, State Street is back in the news, and not because it's gotten any safer. We're sorry to report that it's become the site of another tragedy—one that could have been completely avoided.
We need to stop allowing this to happen. You might feel powerless listening to stories like this, but there is something you can do right now to help spread information about the dangers of stroads, and support the activists who are working to make our places safer: You can become a Strong Towns member. Your support is what empowers this movement, so click here to join in and make a difference today.
September 6, 2021
On December 3, 2014, a 7-year-old girl named Destiny Gonzalez was killed while crossing State Street in Springfield, Massachusetts.
What gets lost in the shocking statistics about the number of pedestrians who die each year in traffic crashes—4,884 in the U.S. in 2014, more than 6,700 in 2020—is that they aren’t “statistics” at all, or even “pedestrians” really, but people with names, who had hopes and dreams, and family and friends forever changed by the loss of their loved one. That was certainly the case with Destiny, who was killed while leaving the Central Library with her mother and cousin. She also left behind a father, siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and friends.
Something else that gets lost in these discussions is how our streets got so unsafe to begin with. Our streets, roads, and stroads are designed according to values so embedded that traffic engineers themselves might not be constantly aware of them. That’s a problem because you can’t fix something you don’t even know exists. It’s also the topic this week on the Strong Towns Podcast.
In this episode, Chuck Marohn reads an excerpt from the first chapter of Confessions of a Recovering Engineer. Chuck describes why the high costs of the North American transportation system—costs in life and injury, as well as time and prosperity—are the byproduct of the values at the heart of traffic engineering. He also explains why the values of engineers, including traffic speed and traffic volume, aren’t the values most people would prioritize.
Confessions of a Recovering Engineer is available everywhere on Wednesday, though if you preorder now you can get immediate access to Chapter One (along with these other great bonuses).
August 30, 2021
Have you visited the Strong Towns Action Lab? That's where we keep our best, most actionable content. We've written a lot over the years, and we wanted to have a place we could direct people to when they want to quickly access our top content—including videos, podcasts, and e-books. Think of it as a database of resources that we've cultivated just for you!
Beyond that, the Action Lab is also where we've begun collecting questions from our readers and listeners, and today we wanted to take a look at some of those here on the Strong Towns Podcast.
So, Chuck Marohn will be responding to your questions on things like how to begin slowing cars down on residential streets, how to implement Strong Towns principles when you work for a large-scale development firm, how to implement incrementalism in your place, how to measure success in import replacement, and more!
If you've got a burning query that you want us to answer next time, head on over to the Community Section of the Acton Lab, and post it there. Our goal is to address as many questions as we can, and especially the ones that we think are going to help a lot of people out. So, stay tuned for future Q&A sessions!
Additional Show Notes
August 23, 2021
Which comes first: a great transit system or a great city that can support it? What role does high-speed rail play in an overall, effective transportation system? And is an incremental approach really possible with high-speed transit?
These are important questions with potentially complex answers. For insight we turned to Rick Harnish. He’s executive director of the High Speed Rail Alliance, the nation’s largest high-speed rail advocacy organization. The organization’s goal is to make high-speed trains “fast, frequent, and affordable.” Harnish cofounded the Alliance in 1993 (he’s also a Strong Towns member), and we’re pleased to welcome him as our guest this week on the Strong Towns Podcast.
In this episode, Harnish and Strong Towns president Chuck Marohn talk about how much of the transit that gets built is based on what places need versus what they can get funding for. They discuss the problem of thinking about transit as a “charitable overlay” to an auto-oriented system, and whether we can afford to fund high-speed transit while also funding new car infrastructure. They also talk about what the U.S and Canada should—and shouldn’t—learn about high-speed rail from countries like France, Japan, and China.
Additional Show Notes