San Jos� State University

URBP 256/ URBP 178/ ENVI 178

Spring 2009

Professor Asha W. Agrawal

Memo Assignments


For most of the class sessions, there will be an associated memo assignment. The memos will help you to think about the readings in advance of each class, so as to stimulate your thinking and prepare you for productive in-class discussions.

Below you will find the memo assignments for the class. Note that for some weeks I have not yet decided on the memo topic � these will be added later.  Also, I may occasionally revise a memo topic, so check for the latest version before you prepare a memo.

Memo formatting requirements:

Due dates and grading policies:

Memo #1: Accessibility for All

Due in class on January 29, 2009


You are a transportation planner working for community X. (X is a city or town of your choice, perhaps the one where you currently live.)

The city council has decided that one of its major policy initiatives for the next year should be to identify and adopt policies that would increase accessibility for one of the following groups: women, immigrants, racial and ethnic minorities, the elderly, or youth.  Choose one of these groups to be the subject of your memo.

The City Council members have asked you to write a brief memo recommending the most useful one or two policies they could adopt to improve accessibility for the group you are writing about.  Explain what each policy is and how it would help the people in question.

In the memo, cite statistics from both the Crane and Blumenberg et al readings to support your arguments. (You may cite other sources as well, if you wish, but this is not required.)  Be sure to cite your sources following the Turabian formatting system, using footnotes and a bibliography.

The text of the memo, excluding citations, should be around one page, or about 250 to 300 words.

Memo #2: Livable Streets

Due in class on February 5, 2009

This memo assignment has three parts:

Step 1: Interviews

Find at least three people to interview. For each interview, ask the following two questions.

Tip: Do not tell your interviewees why you are asking the first question until after you finish the interview. You can say that you are doing an assignment for a class on city planning, but don�t give them any further information.

Step 2: Data summary

Write up a brief summary of each interview. This is not meant to be fancy�just list each person�s 4 or 5 observations and add a description of the street.  If you'd like to include a hand-drawn stretch of the street layout, you can do so, but this isn't required.

Step 3: Analysis

Write a paragraph or two explaining how your findings are either similar to or different from what Donald Appleyard learned from his research for the book Livable Streets.

Memo #3: Traffic Calming

Due in class on February 12, 2009

Traffic calming is very popular with many residents in the Bay Area because they believe it makes their streets quieter and safer.  (I.e., traffic calming can help achieve course evaluation metric #2, improving local quality of life).

However, traffic calming is not an unmixed blessing. In terms of course evaluation metric #1, improving multi-modal accessibility, planners often discover that traffic calming impacts each mode differently.  Pedestrians tend to like traffic calming, saying that it makes walking safer and more pleasant.  Bicyclists have varied reactions, as they like slow traffic but may not like cycling over devices like speed humps. Motorists, however, usually dislike traffic calming a great deal, saying that it inconveniences them when they drive.

You are a transportation planner working in a community that currently has no traffic calming program.  Your city council is considering adopting a new program to implement traffic calming in a few neighborhoods.  The council members have asked you to write a short memo explaining whether or not they should create a new traffic calming program to install speed humps and traffic circles in a residential neighborhoods in your town. (If the program were implemented, the decision to install traffic calming on a particular block would only be made after careful study of that location.)

In arguing your position, make sure you do the following:

  1. Discuss the trade-offs between the benefits to residents (metric #2), and the varying accessibility impacts for drivers, pedestrians, and bicyclists (metric #1).
  2. Refer to the evidence Ewing presents in the Transportation Quarterly article about the effectiveness of traffic calming devices.  (I.e., if the city installs them, what is the likely impact on driver behavior?)

The memo should be around one page, or about 250 to 300 words.

Memo #4: Walkability Audit

Due in class on February 19, 2009


In this exercise you will evaluate how walkable four different blocks are. The overall goal of the exercise is for you to:

  1. Develop a greater awareness of the environmental features that make different street types more and less friendly for walkers.

  2. Develop an understanding of the process of collecting data about walkability.

Step 1: Review the Pedestrian Environment Data Scan (PEDS) instrument

To do this, you need to visit three websites.

  1. For a very brief overview of the tool, visit

  2. Next, look over the PEDS data-collection instrument itself, at

  3. Finally, read over the "PEDS Protocol," which explains how to use the instrument:

Step 2: Audit four blocks for walkability

Find four blocks to audit for walkability.  To minimize the time this assignment takes, you may test out the instrument on blocks that are near places you go during your regular routine (near your home, SJSU, your workplace, etc.).  However, pick four blocks that are at least somewhat different from each other, so that you can see how they each score.

For each of the four blocks, fill out the PEDS instrument and also answer the following four supplemental questions, giving your subjective assessment of the block:

A) How safe from traffic do you feel walking on this block?

        � Very safe
        � Somewhat safe
        � Somewhat unsafe
        � Very unsafe

B) How safe from crime would you feel walking on this block at night?

        � Very safe
        � Somewhat safe
        � Somewhat unsafe
        � Very unsafe

C) How attractive is this block to walk along?

        � Very attractive
        � Somewhat attractive   
        � Somewhat unattractive
        � Very unattractive

D) If you were walking to go somewhere, would you want to walk along this block?  Consider both your feeling of safety and also whether or not the block is attractive.

� I would go a little bit out of my way to walk along this block because it is so nice
� I would choose to walk along this block if I didn't have to go out of my way to do so
� I would avoid this block if I didn't have to go out of my way to do so to do so
� I would avoid this block even if it meant walking a little bit out of my way to do so
� I would not care one way or the other if I were to walk down this block along my route

Step 3: Write up your results

Write up a short memo (one page maximum) in which you summarize what you learned about the role that environmental factors do (or do not) play in creating walkable streets.  Along with this summary, hand in the sheets on which you scored the four blocks using the PEDS instrument and the four supplemental questions provided above.

Memo #5

Due in class on February 26, 2009

For each of the three readings for the day, write down:

  1. One or two ideas you found particularly interesting and/or surprising. For each point you make, explain in a sentence or two what interested or surprised you and why.
  2. One or two questions you would like to ask the author.

Memo #6

Due in class on March 5, 2009

Part 1: Traffic impact analysis

Read the City of Morgan Hill's "Guidelines for Preparation of Transportation Impact Reports," and then skim the draft traffic impact report that Fehr & Peers prepared for a proposed new Trader Joe's store in Morgan Hill.

Based on these readings, write two questions you would like ask Sohrab Rashid, who will be visiting our class to talk about traffic impact analysis.

Part 2: The transportation-land use connection

Many people believe that planning building relatively dense and/or mixed-use and/or transit-oriented communities will lead people to reduce their driving and increase their travel by transit, walking, and biking. (Or, to go back to one of the five evaluation metrics for the class, they believe that this type of community enhances multi-modal accessibility for residents.)

You work as a planner for Green Acres, a city that has several square miles of undeveloped land in a district informally known as Golden Futures.  Several developers are all chomping at the bit to get permission to build large projects in Golden Futures.  Your city council wants to know if developing this land in the form of dense, mixed-use, and transit-oriented neighborhoods will lead the future residents to drive less and use alternative modes more than they would if Golden Futures were developed as low-density residential suburbs.

Write a one-half to one-page memo advising your council members on how residents' travel patterns would likely differ if the city were to require all major new developments in Golden Futures be compact, mixed-use, and transit oriented versus developing low-density residential suburbs. In your memo, cite the day's reading by Susan Handy.

Memo #7

Running a Mayoral Campaign as the "The Congestion Terminator" -

Brilliant or Foolish?

Due March 19, 2009


As we've discussed in class, one of the many roles that planners play is to advise politicians on whether or not to tackle a particular issue and what general approach to take.  For example, imagine the following scenario in City Y (a city of your choice), picking a city that has at least a moderate amount of traffic congestion:

Mayor X of City Y is preparing for a reelection campaign. One of the mayor's most trusted campaign managers, who likes action movies, has suggested that the mayor bill him/herself �The Congestion Terminator� and run on a platform of promising to make congestion relief a centerpiece of his/her next term in office. Because the mayor knows that you are both politically savvy and an expert in transportation planning, s/he has asked you to write a one-page, confidential memo explaining whether or not this is a good idea.

In your memo, be sure to address the following three issues:

  1. Is there a pressing need to focus attention in the city on congestion management at this time?
  2. Would "congestion relief" be achievable, or would it be a deceptive campaign promise? If you think "relief" is achievable, how should the mayor define "relief"? (In other words, what kind of congestion relief is the mayor likely to be able to achieve in four years?)
  3. If the mayor adopts this platform, list a few key planning strategies that s/he should support as part of such a platform given the particular land-uses, political culture, policy goals, and other characteristics of City Y.  (Policies might be road or highway expansion, higher parking fees, land-use planning, etc.)

Be sure to cite both the Taylor and Downs readings in your memo.

Memo #8: Equity

Due April 2, 2009


Currently the Bay Area has two ambitious congestion pricing proposals under consideration (though a long way from implementation).  One is a regional network of HOT lanes on Bay Area freeways, with the possibility of those lanes being used for an express bus network as well as for solo drivers and carpools. The second proposal is to implement �area� congestion pricing for downtown San Francisco: drivers would have to pay a fee to enter the congested portion of the city, and the fee rate would vary so that it is higher in the most congested times and lower or even free during the off-peak period. Pick whichever proposal interests you more to write a memo following the directions below.


A high-level MTC staff member, who wishes to remain anonymous, has asked for your help because she knows you are knowledgeable about and sensitive to equity issues in transportation. S/he wants to understand (1) the equity issues related to the congestion pricing proposal you pick (a HOT lane network or area pricing in downtown SF) and (2) how the proposed new system could be designed to minimize those concerns.  Write a one-page memo summarizing the key points she should consider, making sure to cite both readings for the day.

Memo #9: Planning for the Grand Boulevard along El Camino Real

Due in class on April 9, 2009

You are a planner working for VTA and have been asked to help the cities of San Jose and Santa Clara with a project to turn El Camino Real into a "Grand Boulevard." Your director at VTA, Ms. Planella Visiona, has asked you to do a little reading about the project and visit the corridor, and then to write up a brief memo on your  observations and recommendations from this preliminary reconnaissance work.

Task 1: Read about the project

Go to the homepage for the Grand Boulevard and read:

You may wish to browse through other pages on this website, as well, but doing so is optional.

Task 2: Visit the site

Take a drive, bus ride (VTA Route 22/522), bike ride, or walk along the Grand Boulevard corridor, starting on the Alameda, in San Jose, just west of the Arena.  Follow the Alameda as it turns into El Camino Real in Santa Clara, and continue for about 3.5 miles, at least up to the intersection with Kiely/Bowers. You can see the route on this map.

While you are traveling along El Camino, take notes on what you see, keeping in mind the memo you will write, as described in Task 3.

I encourage you to do this site visit together with other members of the class so that you can discuss your observations together.  However, you should write the memo (Task 3) by yourself.

Task 3: Write your memo

Once you are home, write a memo of 1/2 to 1 page recording your observations and recommendations for improving  the corridor.  Be sure to discuss how the boulevard changes along the way (e.g., the differences between The Alameda in San Jose and El Camino in Santa Clara). Also, explain what steps  you recommend the cities of San Jose and Santa Clara take to turn the corridor into a street worthy of the name the "Grand Boulevard." What opportunities do you see? What challenges do you think the cities will would face, and how would you try to overcome them?

As you think about what changes to recommend, try to think of recommendations that will help to achieve the five evaluation criteria we have been discussing all semester (these are on the top of the course syllabus).

Task 4: Prepare questions

 Write at least two questions you would like to ask Rob Swierk during his class visit on April 9.

Alternative assignments if you cannot visit this stretch of El Camino:

Everyone must read the material assigned  in Task 1 and prepare questions for Rob Swierk (Task 4). However, if you are unable to visit the part of El Camino described in Task 2, above, you may do one of these alternatives for Tasks 2 and 3:

Alternative A: Visit another stretch of El Camino that is at least three miles long and write a memo following the guidelines in Task 3, though of course you will be describing a different section of the corridor.

Alternative B: Visit a stretch of either Van Ness Avenue or Geary Boulevard in San Francisco, and write a memo equivalent to the one described in Task 3.  If possible, also read the Bent et al (2008) article listed under the recommended readings for the April 9 class.

Alternative C: Visit a 3-mile or longer stretch of a major commercial corridor. The corridor should have commercial development along at least part of the stretch, and the street should have at least four lanes of traffic (two in each direction).  In the East Bay, for example, San Pablo Avenue or Telegraph Avenue would be good choices.  After you do your observations, write a memo equivalent to the one described in Task 3.

Acknowledgment: Rob Swierk designed the concept for this memo assignment.

Memo #10 - Parking Policy at SJSU

Due in class on April 16, 2009

Task 1: Questions

After reading the document "Reaching for Ridership and Rationality: Santa Clara County Bus System Comprehensive Operations Analysis," write down three questions you would like to ask guest speaker Ying Smith.

Task 2: Memo

Members of SJSU's Parking, Traffic, and Transit Committee (PTTAC) want to encourage more employees to switch from driving alone to work and parking in campus garages to, well, anything else. (Carpooling, walking, biking, taking transit, bouncing on a pogo stick . . ..)

Right now the university charges staff $86 a semester for a parking pass (with some discounts for those who only want to park one or two days a week). Staff who buy parking year-round can do so with pre-tax dollars.  Staff are always guaranteed to find a space in a garage on campus.

The main programs designed to encourage alternative commute modes are:
- Preferred parking spots for registered carpoolers.
- "CommuterCheck," a program that lets staff buy transit tickets and passes with pre-tax dollars.
- Semester passes for VTA buses and light-rail that staff can buy from an office on campus for $25/semester.
- Assistance finding carpool partners.

Some PTTAC members have proposed raising the price of on-campus parking to $2/hour, or a maximum of $8/day.  No long-term passes would be available.  Other PTTAC members oppose this idea as a hardship on staff and say it would be better to instead allow staff to buy up to $50/month in free transit tickets (the university would pay for this).  Now the committee is at an impasse, with neither side budging.  The members would like you to write a one-page memo advising what policy/policies they should support, explaining the rationale behind your recommendation.

When you write the memo, be sure to cite the day's reading by Litman.

Memo #11: The Demise of the Streetcars

Due May 7, 2009

Sometimes planners must decide what they believe about a controversial issue where both sides present alternative evidence and argument to back up their positions.  One such issue is the long-standing dispute over whether or not General Motors intentionally replaced streetcars with buses in order to make public transit so inconvenient that people would start using automobiles instead of transit.

Write a one-page memo arguing whether or not you believe this argument about General Motors is true. Be sure to use the articles to justify your position, citing those arguments in them that you find the most persuasive. Note that since you may write only one page, you should focus on just the most important arguments/evidence.


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Page last modified: 8 April 2009