Michael Lewyn's blog

Michael Lewyn is an assistant professor at Touro Law Center in Long Island.
Michael Lewyn's picture

A Pig In A Parlor

The state of Virginia’s decision to limit the use of cul-de-sacs in residential subdivisions(1) will no doubt create a torrent of commentary, both pro and con.  In the residential context, cul-de-sacs do have certain advantages: they limit traffic near homes, thus allegedly creating quieter environments for homeowners.    So perhaps there is a case for the residential cul-de-sac.

But in a commercial setting, the cul-de-sac may be the "right thing in the wrong place--such as a pig in a parlor instead of a barnyard.”(2)   In such settings, the cul-de-sac has the same disadvantages as the residential cul-de-sac, with few of the advantages.

One Way To Save Transit

In much of the United States, day-to-day transit service is under assault as never before; state and local treasuries have been depleted by the recession, and the federal stimulus package is unlikely to be helpful because federal dollars are more likely to flow into capital programs (English translation: shiny new railcars) than into preserving existing service (1). Thus, Americans will have the worst of both worlds: billions thrown at transportation while existing bus routes get whittled away.

Two bad words

Often, participants in public debates use words to mean things very different from their common-sense meanings, in order to manipulate the public’s emotions. Two examples in the field of urban planning come to mind.

Two cheers for midblock crossings

A few weeks ago, I read a newspaper article commenting on a pedestrian who was killed in a car crash; the article suggested “educating pedestrians to cross at intersections.”  But sometimes, some pedestrians are actually safer crossing mid-block.

Here’s why: when I cross at the intersection nearest my suburban apartment, I have to look for traffic coming from a variety of directions: not just oncoming drivers in both directions who might run red lights, but also drivers turning from the corners of the intersection.

The joys of medium density

It is a chestnut of urban planning that a neighborhood must have a certain number of dwelling units per acre (usually around 8 or 10) in order to have adequate bus service. But the quarter-acre lot seems to get no respect: too dense for estate-home luxury, not dense enough to constitute "smart growth". But a 9 year-old girl recently taught me that, at least for children of a certain age, these medium-density neighborhoods have their advantages.

A weak link

A common refrain among environmentally-minded planners is: policy X will reduce global warming. So why would anyone be dumb enough to oppose policy X?

But often, global warming will be the weakest, not the strongest, argument for policy X.

A few feet

Because of President-elect Obama’s plans to spend billions of dollars on infrastructure, some recent discussion of smart growth has focused on proposals for huge projects, such as rebuilding America’s rail network.

But walkability often depends on much smaller steps, steps that require changes in tiny increments of space.

The Lesser Evil

Due to the collapse of local tax revenues caused by the national economic downturn, many transit systems may face shortages of money over the next year or two. Assuming this is the case, transit providers will have to either raise fares or reduce services by eliminating bus routes or otherwise reducing transit service.

It seems to me that raising fares is generally the lesser evil, both from the standpoint of an individual rider and from the standpoint of the transit agency itself.


Since tomorrow is Thanksgiving, I thought I would ask myself: what I am thankful for that is related to urbanism?

Why I fight

Occasionally, someone familiar with my scholarship asks me: why do you care about walkability and sprawl and cities? Why is this cause more important to you than twenty other worthy causes you might be involved in?

The answer: Freedom. I grew up in a part of Atlanta that, for a carless teenager, was essentially a minimum-security prison. There were no buses or sidewalks, as in many of Atlanta’s suburbs and pseudo-suburbs.  But in my parents' non-neighborhood, unlike in most American suburbs, there were also no lawns to walk on, so if you wanted to walk, you had to walk in the street - not a particularly safe experience in 40 mph traffic.