Monday, December 08, 2008

The Louvre Cafe Syndrome

August 8, 2008
Wendell Cox
Visiting Professor, Conservatoire National des Arts et Metiers, Paris

Tourists, journalists and urban planners are often smitten with what might be called the “Louvre café syndrome.” This occurs when Americans sit at Paris cafes in view of the Louvre and imagine why it is that the United States does not look like this. In fact, most of Paris doesn’t even look like this, nor do other European urban areas. Like their US counterparts, European urban areas rely principally on cars for mobility (though to a somewhat lesser degree) and their residents live in suburbs that have been built since World War II.

The latest example of Louvre Café Syndrome comes from Washington Post Writer’s Group columnist Neal Peirce, who suggests that Amsterdam, with its bicycles, is the model for America to follow in a time of high energy prices (See Multiple Transit Options -- A Dutch Treat We'll Be Needing. Not only is this view incorrect, but Amsterdam is not even a model for the Netherlands. The largest urban areas of the Netherlands, Amsterdam and Rotterdam, have been “stuck in neutral” with respect to growth for at least 45 years. United Nations data indicates that since 1960, 97% of urban growth in the Netherlands has occurred outside these two large urban areas. While the population of the two largest urban areas has increased approximately 10%, the urban population outside these areas has increased 120%. And how do these urbanites that have chosen not to live in Amsterdam or Rotterdam travel? Try by car. Overall, in the Netherlands, approximately 85% of travel is by car---a figure that is nearly identical to the United States. All of the subway and light rail ridership in the Netherlands is less than the annual increase in car use. Some model.

America is a growing nation. Between now and 2030, approximately two-thirds of the urban growth in the developed world is projected to occur in the United States---that is a considerable number given the fact that the US accounts for less than one-third of the developed world’s urban population today. The strategies that work in urban areas with stagnant growth---such as Amsterdam---will not work here.

As for the bicycles, one could also point to walking and the large share of travel that it represents in Manhattan or the Chicago Loop. A European felled by Louvre Café Syndrome might visit these places and imagine that the urban area looks the same all the way to the urban fringe---that the citizens of New Brunswick, Westfield or Aurora live in residential skyscrapers and that they walk everywhere. Such a view would be as faulty as Peirce’s vision of Amsterdam. It helps to think of things in context. Amsterdam would barely rank in the top 50 metropolitan areas of the United States. The Netherlands has a population less than that of two American metropolitan areas (combined statistical areas), New York and Los Angeles. Finally, all of the Netherlands---urban and rural areas---would fit into an area approximately 1.5 times that of the New York metropolitan area.

You can’t see everything from the Louvre.

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23 Comments:

At 9:57 AM, Anonymous AnonymousUrbanPlanner said...

Ha! I can't believe 'Louvre Cafe Syndrome' hasn't been termed sooner.

One of the most grating experiences that come with being a planning consultant is finding yourself at a suburban planning charrette, confronted with eager and concerned soccor moms and kindly grandfatherly types who, time and again, without a doubt, beeline their way over to ask whether or not I have "ever seen the Champs-Élysées? You know, in Paris?" This is usually followed by their stroke-of-genius suggestions to work in some of those types of design elements into the plan.... for their 1.4 acre stripmall. In their city that has a parking requirement of 3.3 per 1000 sf. So that said soccor mom can park her Escalade as easily as possible.

Sigh.

 
At 12:50 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

And the "progressive" version of the syndrome is enunciated by SF's bike people: Gee, why can't we just do away with cars and ride bikes, like they do in Amsterdam? The answer: Because this is a major American city, not a cutesy European city which, as Cox points out, isn't even representative of the Netherlands, let alone Europe in general.

 
At 1:33 PM, Anonymous Philip said...

Overall, in the Netherlands, approximately 85% of travel is by car---a figure that is nearly identical to the United States.
So the Netherlands still has great scope for refinement of it's public transport system.

The strategies that work in urban areas with stagnant growth---such as Amsterdam---will not work here.
This seems to be a rather ill-considered leap of logic


As for the bicycles, one could also point to walking and the large share of travel that it represents in Manhattan or the Chicago Loop.
No shit Sherlock. And ...?

It helps to think of things in context. Amsterdam would barely rank in the top 50 metropolitan areas of the United States. The Netherlands has a population less than that of two American metropolitan areas (combined statistical areas), New York and Los Angeles.
Hmmm! Size matters! But does it negate the relevance of mobility strategies which are not car centric? I think not.

 
At 5:02 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Area
Amsterdam = 64.1 sq mi
San Francisco = 46.7 sq mi

Population
Amsterdam = approx 755,000
San Francisco = approx 765,000

Density
Amsterdam = 11,550/sq mi
San Francisco = 16,380/sq mi

Can you explain again what is drastically different between the two (besides the hills)? What makes Amsterdam a cutesy city while SF is a major city?

 
At 11:57 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

So instead of nice livable cities like Amsterdam or Paris... we should instead treat our cities like drive through fast food joints...

Ah yes the "freewayization" of America... pave it and bring the SUV. Oh la la.

Never mind those two legs you have, they are obviously for the gas and brake pedal, eh?

 
At 2:31 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

SF got hacked up and turned into a motor city, that's what happened. It's going to take generations to get things back into balance.

 
At 2:37 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

And how will you dismiss Portland, Oregon?

 
At 2:17 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Up in Portland, receptiveness to bikes for transportation in Amsterdam is commonly admired and mentioned. Suggestions and requests for turning Portland or the suburb I live in into some kind of fantasy cycling utopia that 'Louvre Cafe Syndrome' seems to be associated with, are not mentioned.

Improvement in infrastructure allowing for increased use of bikes for transportation aren't being made to create some pretty picture for a bunch of idle tourists sitting around at cafes sipping wine.

People up here are serious about their riding. They work to have streets designed so as to allow the most efficient, visible, safe movement between points A to B with the least amount of congestion for all road users rather than only for motor vehicles.

There probably wouldn't be any argument over the idea that SF is more of a city for tourists than is Portland, but still, my impression is that at the heart of the support for SF's bike plan is the same kind of serious bikes for transportation individuals that work for bike infrastructure improvements in our town.

wsbob

 
At 10:15 AM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

I'm not familiar with Portland's streets vis a vis bike lanes, but I do know that it's a zero-sum game in SF. Most of our neighborhood streets are only two lanes with parking on both sides. Taking away either parkng or traffic lanes to make bike lanes means that everyone in the city who uses other means of transportation---cars, buses, trucks, etc.---are going to come up losers. We need to focus on what the recently-released Draft EIR on the Bicycle Plan---or, to be exact, the city's new version of that plan---is proposing for specific streets. The DEIR is available on the MTA's website. I'll be posting my thoughts on the massive document soon.

 
At 1:09 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Since I'm not personally familiar with SF, I'm not sure how much I'd be able to get out of my own study of SF's DEIR, but I'll be excited to read the viewpoints of SF residents that have read it. I might take a dare and try read parts of it myself.

"Taking away either parkng or traffic lanes to make bike lanes means that everyone in the city who uses other means of transportation---cars, buses, trucks, etc.---are going to come up losers." rob anderson

Removal of parking or traffic lanes does not have to necessarily occur in order to accommodate bike lanes. With SW Broadway here in Portland (center of the city...goes by all the big old hotels), neither lanes or parking were removed to install a bike lane. Rather, each of the streets 4 lanes were slightly reduced in width to create space for the bike lane.

Each situation is different though. If SF planners do feel it's necessary to remove parking and traffic lanes to create space for bike lanes, learning their reasons for this should would be good to know.

Up here, creating well designed street infrastructure that allows for safe, efficient movement of all transport modes, including bicycles, seems to be very much a trial and error, experimentation kind of thing due to the need to deal with different kinds of street design situations. Planners with the city and activists look to other cities such as Amsterdam for ideas that might be adapted successfully to Portland's existing infrastructure.

They try various things; bike lanes, bike boxes, merge lanes (to avoid the right hook). There's talk of experimenting with bike boulevards and sharrows. None of them are perfect or sure things. Ongoing efforts though, are necessary to relieve the inevitable, overwhelming congestion that will occur if the street infrastructure is primarily configured to only accommodate motor vehicles. The street is only so big.

Around Portland, nearly everyone recognizes this fundamental urban reality. Even the critics, with certain conditions, grudgingly recognize that bikes as transportation and infrastructure to support it is a necessary development.

 
At 9:42 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

"Removal of parking or traffic lanes does not have to necessarily occur in order to accommodate bike lanes."

Yes, you were right in the first instance: you don't know anything about SF.

"If SF planners do feel it's necessary to remove parking and traffic lanes to create space for bike lanes, learning their reasons for this should would be good to know."

Planners in SF are know-it-all assholes like you. Why do you think they want to take away street parking and traffic lanes to make bike lanes? Because they are bike assholes, who, like you, think they know something that they must jam down our throats. Like these "planners" you have all the stupid bike bullshit at your finger tips.

Thanks for the input, you incredibly smug twit.

 
At 3:38 PM, Blogger murphstahoe said...

Regarding the bike fantasy. Californians used 470 MILLION less gallons of gasoline this year compared to last year. People are voting against cars with the most effective vote - their pocketbook.

Prices are way down, consumption has not come back. This is in large part because the economy is cratering - the economy that is based upon cars (Ref: Anderson, Rob). The first economy to transition away from the unsustainable auto-centric emphasis, wins. The Californians are trying to take the lead.

 
At 4:46 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

Just because I scorn the bicycle fantasy doesn't mean I don't welcome a transition to more sustainable sources of energy. Cars and trucks that now run on petroleum-based fuel will be replaced by hybrids and vehicles that run on alternative fuel. In other words, Murph, just because Californians are driving less doesn't mean they are going to turn en masse to bicycles, which will always be nothing but a minor "mode" of transportation in the US.

 
At 9:44 PM, Blogger murphstahoe said...

Rob -

Ah yes, more fantasies from the Sci-Fi crowd. This stuff is rocket science - and in this case, I am actually a rocket scientist, and you are ... remind me again what your training is?

It's easy to say we don't need to change our habits because a magic car fairy will bring a 200 MPG Hybrid, or we will run them on magic Bio-Diesel, or plug them into the wall. People love to hear this because it means their life will stay the same. Of course, this is a fantasy - Hybrids won't overcome peak oil, Bio-Diesel has a net negative oil return, Electric cars run on electricity which is already in short supply, it would be impossible to produce the joules of energy to power our current car usage with solar, wind, or even Natural Gas - ergo more coal, an even worse alternative to oil.

Not to mention that roads are not paved with corn, ships transporting cars use bunker oil, hybrid cars still need to be parked in a time where populations will be moving to denser areas, need travel lanes, the batteries fail and need hazardous waste disposal.

Of course, I am just a so-called expert, and you are a guy with a computer and a loud mouth, so clearly you are more trustable.

 
At 9:02 AM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

Getting a little nasty, Murph? So your adherence to the bicycle fantasy is based on your expertise? "Joules of energy"? Bullshit. You're an expert like the "planners" in SF who keep telling us we need to build highrises because ABAG says we should, that we can do that in city neighborhoods along transit arteries/Muni lines without degrading those neighborhoods. There's plenty of oil for us to transition to whatever is going to fuel the next generation of motor vehicles. But you haven't told us how bicycles fit into your apocalyptic vision. Let me guess: the people of the US will turn their lonely, energy starved eyes on---the bicycle to fill in the gap!

 
At 11:03 AM, Blogger murphstahoe said...

Hopefully we don't turn to walking, itisn't safe.

 
At 11:22 AM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

It's not safe for people---especially old people with walkers---to cross Geary Blvd. where there is no crosswalk. I either walk or take Muni everywhere I go and feel equally threatened by reckless motorists and cyclists running red lights and/or riding on the sidewalk.

 
At 11:48 AM, Blogger murphstahoe said...

And why is there no crosswalk? Because we decided to prioritize cars in the design of the area. So the old person with a walker is now required to walk up a pedestrian overpass. For this gentleman, that detour was worse than accepting the risk of crossing Geary.

You seem to think this is acceptable. On this, we differ. Your fight is to support more configurations that are dangerous to cyclists AND pedestrians (see Market/Octavia). As such, I must push back.

 
At 1:18 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

Of course it takes more of an effort for anyone with a walker to use the pedestrian overpass, just as it does anyone using a walker---or a cane---to cross any city street compared to the rest of us more or less able-bodied people.

Does that mean that we should redesign our streets to ensure that aged jaywalkers in walkers never get injured? Ridiculous. As the caretaker for my 93-year-old mother, one of the things I've noticed about her is that her judgment is impaired; she does and thinks things now that would have embarrassed her only a few years ago. I bet if/when the real story behind that old guy's fatal shuffle across Geary Blvd. is known, we will learn that he also suffered from some degree of dementia that impaired his judgment.

I see old folks every day on Muni that can barely get on and off the bus, people who really need to have someone intervene and/or help them negotiate their daily lives, since they are obviously barely able to do so now. It's tragic and pathetic, but it's a point that---if we are lucky or unlucky enough---we will all face eventually.

A few months ago, my mother wondered wistfully if she would ever ride a horse or a bicycle again (she knows nothing about my nefarious litigation against the great, planet-saving bicycle movement!). I suggested gently that her riding days were definitely over, and she got a little huffy. I reasoned with her, reminding her that there were a lot of things she would never do: she would never pilot a jet plane or go to bed with George Clooney, etc.

I explained to her that, most importantly, putting her on bike would be bad for my political campaign: "Anderson straps his mom on bike for one last ride!" is what the cover of the Guardian would scream.

 
At 1:26 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"If SF planners do feel it's necessary to remove parking and traffic lanes to create space for bike lanes, learning their reasons for this should would be good to know." anonymous

"Planners in SF are know-it-all assholes like you. Why do you think they want to take away street parking and traffic lanes to make bike lanes? Because they are bike assholes, who, like you, think they know something that they must jam down our throats. Like these "planners" you have all the stupid bike bullshit at your finger tips." Rob Anderson

Rob Anderson, have you actually met and talked with SF's planners? Have you made some attempt to understand why the planners, in those situations, where replacement of motor vehicle traffic lanes and/or parking with bike lanes was the design choice arrived upon, found this course to be the best one?

In SF, is elimination of motor vehicle traffic lanes and/or parking always part of street redesign for the purpose of creating bike lanes? If you haven't already, maybe you could interview some of SF's planners about their reasoning for certain bike infrastructure and publish that interview on the District 5 Diary weblog. I know I'd be interested in their answers to your questions to them.

Maybe SF's planners are, just as Rob Anderson chooses to dismiss them, "...bike assholes..." and consequently, this personality character motivates their every planning decision. If that were really true though, SF residents, one way or another, would probably have gotten rid of them long ago.

wsbob in the Portland area

 
At 2:06 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

Yes, I've observed SF planners quite a bit over the years in government meetings. And I've read many of their boring, semi-literate, poorly-punctuated documents. Planners in SF often drone on, reading from documents the Planning Commission already has in front of them, taking up hours of everyone's time by filibustering through meetings. They seem to think they are on the cutting edge of urban planning---smart growth, highrise development along transit corridors, the bike bullshit, etc.---but they are really lemmings running with the prog pack in SF. If and when they stop doing so, that's when they would lose their jobs.

And the members of the Planning Commission are even worse, if that's possible. And all of this is a direct result of our "progressive" Board of Supervisors, a bunch of dim-bulb PC provincials who, with the active collaboration of the mayor, have run our bloated city government onto the rocks.

 
At 3:56 PM, Blogger murphstahoe said...

"They seem to think they are on the cutting edge of urban planning---smart growth, highrise development along transit corridors, the bike bullshit, etc.---but they are really lemmings running with the prog pack in SF. If and when they stop doing so, that's when they would lose their jobs."

Rob also thinks he's on the cutting edge, fortunately he doesn't have to worry about his job because he doesn't have one. That's why he is able to spend so much time observing the planners. And he calls us the liberals/progressives!

 
At 4:49 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

I'm retired and living mostly on Social Security, Murph. I was working as a dishwasher until a few years ago, when I became the full-time caretaker for my mother, the hardest job I've ever had, and I've worked my whole life. Since I have to be home most of the time, I can still watch a lot of Planning Commission meetings on SFGTV.

Still waiting for your expert comments on the Market/Octavia Plan and UC's ripoff of the old extension property on lower Haight Street, two awful development projects that Supervisor Mirkarimi is pushing through the system, when he isn't carrying water for the SF Bicycle Coalition.

 

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