Saturday, October 13, 2007

Big Box Evaluator

Although this class is all about living without ... I thought this would be of interest esp as a tool to fight.

Announcing Release of the

Big Box Evaluator Website and Tool

The tool that helps you learn
about the impacts of big box retail stores

October 10, 2007

For Immediate Release

Middlebury, VT -- The Orton Family Foundation enthusiastically
announced its release of the Big Box Evaluator tool, designed to help
communities and individuals learn about the impacts of big box retail
stores. The unbiased tool is designed not to take a stand on big
box development, but to help citizens make informed decisions based on
each community's specific characteristics and values.

Available free to the public at, the web-based interface allows users to
learn about commercial and retail development in general, but also to
input specific information from their communities and receive customized
reports on economics, values, planning and municpal services, and ways to
improve the development process.

Citizens in communities facing proposals for big box development can
select the type of town that most closely resembles their own, and the
type of development proposed (neighborhood store to large
"supercenter"). Users can then enter specific information
and personal values in four categories (Economy, Environment, Society,
and Visual), ranging from expected tax revenues to amount of signalized
intersection work required, runoff mitigation requirements to the
importance of community character.

The Big Box Evaluator creates a customized report for each user based on
the specific inputs, with information like projected municipal costs and
revenues, change in average wages, and annual price savings for
family. Users are also given a list of action items based on the
input values, which store developers can consider in order to help meet
the community's concerns.

The Orton Family Foundation is a Colorado- and Vermont-based operating
foundation supported by profits from the

Vermont Country Store.

For more information contact:

The Orton Family



PO Box 111

Middlebury, VT 05753

Tools and Strategies

1. Expanded TCAT bus system. Having buses that run to and from the Cornell campus during class times is great. Having buses only come every hour, or even not having buses to many places from campus on weekends and nights is not so great. Not having a direct bus to Ithaca College cuts off a lot of potential connections as well. Weekends and nights are the times when people are free – yet they are the times that bus service is currently limited.

2. Car restriction zones. With the current level of car traffic within Ithaca, enforcing restriction zones, maybe starting with school areas, major pedestrian shopping areas, parks, etc, would be a great start to creating a safer and more pedestrian friendly city. No one wants to wait to cross 3 lanes of traffic, and crossing 13 near the Farmer’s Market is like playing chicken!

3. Community taxi/car share. This seems like it would be a perfect option in Ithaca, especially considering the large number of college students! Even if Cornell were to start with one – over 13,000 undergraduate students would be a great test population, and would help to expand the university’s commitment to restricting cars on campus. I personally do not own a car, but would love to be able to borrow one for the occasional weekend or errand (say, at a time when the buses weren’t running on the weekend!).

4. Single ticket. The idea of a single ticket for car share rentals, a bus, a taxi is a great idea. Being able to arrange multiple forms of transportation ahead of time, or even being able to decide as you go without the hassle of cash, cards, and plan-ahead reservations would do wonders for lessening the hassle of travel.

5. Transit-oriented development. As we’ve seen in most of our readings, and with the ConnectIthaca plan, transit-oriented development makes tons of sense, especially in an urban environment. The ABC plan explained in Green Urbanism is a model that Ithaca could use, especially in light of the new planned development behind WalMart. That portion of 13 could become a pedestrian hub, with the expansion of bus routes, and possibly a train service running down 13 in the future.

6. Package deals for new developments. Along the lines of #5, transit could be “part of the deal” for the new Southside developments. If there were a car share program, a train system, expanded bus system, and discounts for residents to use public transit (and maybe even an agreement not to own cars), perhaps the WalMart parking lot could be converted to a park area for the residents in the new development?

7. Small electric trucks for distributing goods. This makes a lot of sense for a place like Ithaca, with many small restaurants, grocery stores, shopping malls, and already crowded streets, the use of small, electric trucks would mean easier navigation for the truck drivers, and quieter streets with less congestion for Ithaca residents.

8. Electric carts. During much of the bicycle/pedestrian walkable city sections, I would find myself wondering about the elderly or disabled – how could we expect them to walk everywhere or ride bikes? The idea of golf-cart like, small electric vehicles could be a perfect way to solve the problem. They would not only be useful for getting from point A to point B easily, but for hauling groceries and other goods to and from home.

9. Street narrowing. I thought of State Street when reading about narrowing the streets. On our walk, I noticed the nonexistence of seating areas or places to socialize, along with areas for kids to play (and right near the Commons would be a great place for small green spaces!). If State Street were to be narrowed, or even made one lane, and sidewalk areas were widened, there could be streetside cafes and pedestrian spaces galore, along with some benches to sit in the shade of the street trees, great assets for revitalizing some business and nightlife.

10. Trams and planting. Restoring the historic tram (trolley) service to the Cornell campus would, I’m sure, please many Cornellians, especially if it were to extend down to the Commons and then perhaps down State Street and down 13. (Right along the proposed ConnectIthaca routes?) Planting along the tram routes would be nice as well, and keep them from being an eyesore to people living along them, in addition to helping to quiet the noise of a tram.

Week of 10/14: 10 Tools and Strategies

10 Tools/Strategies for Sustainable Transit

1. Land use policies and incentives that encourage sustainability vis-à-vis transportation. This is a broad “tool” that captures many of the practices in recounted Green Urbanism (GU), specifically the act of reserving the land that is near natural transit nodes for appropriate high-density or transit-oriented uses. An example is the Dutch A-B-C system (p113).

2. Lifting parking space requirements in new, urban developments. Most of the parking space requirements in zoning ordinances are incredibly egregious. As pointed out in GU and elsewhere, preserving space for automobiles merely engenders greater automobile usage. If it were impossible to find parking in Ithaca, people would (probably) find other ways to transport themselves.

3. Creation of transit villages. Going along with points 1 and 2, clustering goods and services as well as residences near public transit hubs makes car-free or car-reduced living much more convenient.

4. Frequency of public transit. No one in NYC ever has to memorize the subway schedule—you just go down to the platform and wait a couple of minutes until the train comes. Then you get on and get where you’re going, fast. TCAT is at the far opposite end of the spectrum, in terms of frequency and speed. The T-burg bus comes about 8x per day, and takes 35 minutes to get to Ithaca! Sorry, dude, life’s too short and my life in particular is not nearly predictable enough to make busing feasible.

5. Ease of use. Love the idea of “smart cards,” where you pay the fare on a bus or tram or train by using a declining-balance debit card. The ability to use it across different modes of transit is particularly appealing.

6. Tying into existing rail lines. Ithaca has a non-intensively used railroad running right through the main business corridor. By using wide-carriage tram cars as one German city did, we could tie light rail into the heavy rail and have a Rte. 13 passenger train.

7. Public transit itinerary creation services. Like the trip planning you can get by calling an operator in the Netherlands (and then arranging a taxi to meet you somewhere if need be), this could help take a lot of the headache/fear out of itinerary planning. is an automated example of this, and allows you to create a route that is a combination of subway, bus, and walking. Way better than a street map and a bus schedule.

8. Congestion pricing. As London has shown, congestion pricing works. Soon NYC will be another example. If implemented in Ithaca, revenues collected could subsidize investment in public transit.

9. “Nurturing and growing a transit ethos.” So important in a place like Ithaca where it s perceived that only poor people, hippies, and noisy college students ride the bus. Key to a justice-driven (pardon the pun) system, where public transportation is not stigmatized.

10. Using sheep to calm traffic. OK, this is a little in jest, but I just loved the idea. I hate getting stuck in traffic or slowed down on the road, but on my drive in I often have to stop to let turkeys, ducks, and deer cross the road. The turkeys in particular take forever, but I never mind. They make me smile. My main point is the recognition that “no single strategy” will work, and that creativity and perseverance are critically important to reaching the goal.