Innovative Public Transportation Infrastructure

brt_1-imageDeveloping innovative solutions within an existing city layout may be one of the challenges faced by some cities when accommodating for growing populations. It can be time consuming and expensive for a city to rework its pre-existing urban infrastructure. Rather than retrofitting the city’s public transportation infrastructure, it seems to be more feasible for a city to create an innovative solution in collaboration with pre-existing developments.

Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) is one approach to incorporating public transportation within a city that may not have the space or fiscal capacity to rework pre-existing infrastructure. The Institute for Transportation & Development defines BRT as, “a high-quality bus-based transit system that delivers fast, comfortable, and cost-effective services at metro-level capacities.”

A successful example of BRT can be found in the city of Curitiba, Brazil, where the public transportation integrates with the city layout and maintains efficiency similar to projects requiring more construction. According to The Guardian, “For much of its existence, Curitiba was a sleepy town eclipsed by São Paulo, its much larger neighbour to the north-east. But by 1960, the city’s population was beginning to grow significantly and within 20 years it had surged from 120,000 people to 361,000.” In 1971, Curitiban architect Jaime Lerner took office as mayor. Lerner realized the importance of public transportation for the growing population, but the addition of subway lines and wider streets for cars would be costly. As a result, Lerner developed a low-cost bus system to run along the streets similar to light rail. The first line opened in 1974, albeit it was not a success at first. In 1979, Lerner established the Rene Integrada de Transporte (Integrated Transport Network) to manage the system and add more routes. To increase efficiency as popularity surged, Lerner renovated the station design from traditional bus stops to futuristic glass tubes with multiple door boarding in October 1991.

Another example of a response to growth and public transportation concerns can be viewed in China’s Transit Elevated Bus (TEB). China’s TEB travels above the streetscape and allows cars to travel underneath the bus. By elevating the TEB above cars then streets do not need to be widened and cars and public transportation can move freely without interference from each other. Engadget reports that the TEB is powered by electricity, can carry up to 300 passengers, and is 72 feet long, 25 feet wide, plus 15 feet tall. Cars less than 6.5 feet tall will be able to drive underneath. It is expected to reach speeds up to around 37 mph. In early August 2016, a test run occurred on a 984-foot demo track. As of December 2016, project development has slowed.

According to Citylab, car ownership in China is soaring with an estimated 20 million new drivers hitting the roads each year. The World Health Organization (WHO) reported in their “Global Status Report on Road Safety 2015” that China had 250 million registered vehicles in 2013. By comparison, Brazil had 81 million in 2013 and the United States had 265 million in 2011. WHO estimates that China had 261,367 traffic fatalities in 2013. Contrastingly, the United States was estimated to have 34,064 in 2013. It appears that China’s TEB is in part a response to the aforementioned data, potentially resulting in an intention to build upwards rather that contribute to urban sprawl.

Both BRT and TEB are truly innovative designs that appear to consider the past, present, and future of their individualized city layouts. The discussed examples leave room for innovative ideas to be further explored, built upon, and applied to urban ecosystems with similar public transportation questions.

Matthew Pinsker is contributing author to this blog. He can be reached at or by email at

The Architect and the Entitlement Process

entitleEntitlement is approval from governmental agencies to use or develop a parcel of land. Approval may depend on many factors—including the building’s use and size, appearance, historic status, and environmental impact—overseen by separate agencies. The process is especially complex in cities, where land is scarce and land values are high, which makes development a risky proposition. Development means change, and there are many who resist change, often for valid reasons. Opinions are strong. In such challenging circumstances, the most effective tool for gaining approval is a good design. Continue reading

2016 California Building Standards Effective January 1, 2017

califbldgcodesThe 2016 Edition of Title 24, the California Building Standards has become effective as of January 1, 2017. The codes are revised every three years and are in conjunction primarily with the Code Change Cycle for the International Family of Codes and other Standards.

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California Legislature Lowers the Bar on Granny Units.

ADUThe California Legislature recently passed new rules making it easier, faster, and presumably less expensive, for people to get permits for new “granny units” otherwise referred to as “accessory dwelling units” (“ADUs”).  Senate Bill 1069, which was signed by Governor Brown on September 27, 2016 and takes effect on January 1, 2017, amends Government Code section 65852.2 to require local agencies statewide to amend their zoning ordinances to implement several uniform development requirements and restrictions on ADUs – both substantive and procedural.

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New California Energy Standards Effective January 1, 2017

code-changesEvery three years, the California Energy Commission (CEC) revisits its energy efficiency standards, augmenting the building code to align with recent technological advancements and the state’s new efficiency goals. The commission underwent this process again this year, identifying areas for improvement in both new construction and retrofits for residential and nonresidential properties.

With this most recent set of revisions, the commission is striving toward a pair of new state efficiency targets: achieving net zero energy for new residential construction by 2020 and for new commercial construction by 2030. Referred to as the 2016 version, these standards will go into effect January 1, 2017. Continue reading

The Architecture of Affordable Housing

As affordable housing developers build in inclusionary zoning areas, cities and residents demand high quality architecture and construction comparable to market-rate housing

One of the challenges that frequently confront market-rate housing developers building in cities with inclusionary zoning ordinances is the requirement that a certain number of affordable units be built alongside market-rate housing to promote a more diverse community. The juxtaposition of affordable with market-rate housing also demands that the affordable housing features a higher level of architectural style to compete aesthetically with the market-rate housing. Continue reading

Cradle-to-Cradle Design in Architecture

00cradletocradleWhat is Cradle to Cradle Design?
Cradle to Cradle Design (also referred to as Cradle to Cradle, C2C, or regenerative design) is a concept which proposes to change our way of thinking on materials and products from a linear process into a circular one. Our current linear cradle to grave process causes numerous environmental problems. Nature is sacrificed to the harvest of materials towards human needs, valuable materials are buried or burned after use, and huge amounts of waste and toxins are produced. Continue reading