• Cyburbia is a friendly big tent, where we share our experiences and thoughts about urban planning practice, the built environment, planning adjacent topics, and anything else that comes to mind. No ads, no spam, and it's free. It's easy to join!

road trip observations


this past weekend I went to visit my brother for his birthday. For the time being he lives in Columbia, SC with his wife (a native of Charleston). On my way back I spent the night in Myrtle Beach at their friends beach house. I rented a car for the weekend because it wound up being less than half the price of flying down there with my girlfriend. So . . . here's how it went down.

Before i left on thursday i spent a few minutes checking out the DOT websites for VA and NC. I-95 looked like one big construction zone so i opted for the western route which consists of I-76 to Harrisburg,then I-81 past Roanoke, then I-77 to Columbia. It's 45 miles longer than taking I-95 but it's well worth it.

I-81 seems to be one big bypass for 95 and 85.

I had to pass through downtown Columbia to get to my brother's house in West Columbia. A sign pointed to the Amtrak station. Something i considered but the cost was only slightly less than flying and driving was faster.

My brother said that they scaled back bus service in Columbia when the electric company gave traded the contract for it (part of the trade off for monopoly electric service in the 30's was that the power company had to continue running the streetcars) but I saw a lot more buses in that one day then i ever did in the year i lived there.

Columbia has done a great job getting people to live, work, and play in the old warehouse district but some of the new office buildings pay only lip service to the street. You can tell the design standards are there in that the new buildings occupy prominent corners but something is lacking in the bulk standards and some of them still have the entrances around back where the parking lot is.

I think they need to concentrate on the downtown some more. A large new office tower is going up on Main St. and people are now worried about vacancy rates going up even more. There are some beautiful old office buildings there. The demand for residential has been proven - go for the 2-pt. conversion.
The parking garages and the car fetish at USC is a little ridiculous. The school and the city needs to work on finding a better way to get workers to work and students to class.

Driving to Myrtle Beach and passing the rail head about two miles from the beach made me wonder why the city hasn't exploited that.

People were everywhere on foot, crossing busy US 17, but the pedestrian amenities were few and far between. With terrible traffic it's often quicker to walk 20 minutes than to sit in the car for an hour trying to go a mile to the movie theater. Why is the city ignoring this?

A rapid bus system was was in place on the strip. The buses were packed. The curbside parking has been turned into a bus only lane from 4pm to 2am and the stops were dedicated, spaced every 1/4 mile or so. wow! Apparently the merchants on the stip are blaming it for taking their business - never mind the lousy economy. Myrtle Beach could be an amazing, appealing city that had more pull than generic tourism. You can see potential everywhere. What's going on?

The traffic leaving the beach was horrendous so i headed north towards Wilmington, NC and I-40. I saw a new bypass under construction that looks like, when finished, will be a freeway version of the route i took to get from 17 to 40. Let's hope that's all it is.

the whole way through VA and NC was one freeway project after another. I kept thinking to myself - "no one even lives here. if this were a transit project it would get thrown out the window on low ridership estimates." then it dawned on me "ohh. that's why they're building it. No one lives here. Yet."

2 miles south of downtown Richmond a new bridge and associated ramps were going up over the James River. The grade on the ramps was so steep I wondered if trucks would be able to climb it. My first question is - why is this bridge necessary? The second is - do ships that big make it this far up the James that a bridge that large is truly necessary? Lastly - how much did it cost and what other projects didn't get funded as a result?

Just south of DC a maze of ramps was climbing over I-395. I was thinking: "I wonder if the same people who caused this problem in the first place are the ones who came up with this idea as a solution." I really can't see that solving any problem for more than 3 or 4 years. I was also thinking - "If our rail network had that same system of exit ramps, flyovers, and by-passes the train ride from Philly to Columbia would be about 6 hours" These highway systems breakdown or fail completely every 10 years then new $1billion interchanges are proposed as the fix for the next 10 years and if not that then brand new, redundant highways and by-passes to handle the "growth" when really traffic tie-ups aren't an example of "growth." "Growth" is just a symptom related to poor design, poor/no planning, and in the end system meltdown.
I wonder how much of the Dulles rail link could've been paid for with the money wasted on this new interchange?

If you live in or near any of these place i'd like to hear your thoughts.