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The Metamorphosis of New York Streets

A great video from Streetfilms showing how the streets of New York have changed over the last few years with primarily quick and cheap transformations that have re-prioritised space around pedestrians and cyclists.

There’s nothing more dramatic then looking back five or ten years at Streetfilms footage (some of it a bit low-res) to see how much the livable streets landscape of New York City’s streets have changed. In this wonderful montage that even makes us cry check out the transformation of Times Square, Herald Square, the Brooklyn Waterfront and many other places that out-going NYC DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan and her staff have intrepidly installed.

We have similarly high hopes for Mayor de Blaiso as he takes office today and look forward to what he and his new NYC DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg. As much as has been done, the large majority of our streets still need reforms, we need drastic policy change, slower speed limits and traffic calming for our most vulnerable citizens. Hopefully, this short gets them excited to top the transportation record of the Bloomberg administration.

Please note: this is but a short sample. Seriously, we could have put together a one hour version!

We really need some of these types of changes to happen in Auckland so come-on Auckland Transport, get your act together and stop being so worried about the flow of vehicles.

How to REALLY do cycling infrastructure

A great video from Streetfilms shows how the Netherlands has transformed itself to cater for and encourage cycling over the past few decades. What’s really interesting is how things haven’t always been this way – rather through investment in really good quality cycling infrastructure (not just green paint on roads):

Also very very little lycra and almost no helmets.

H/T Atlantic Cities.

Is it time for us to try Sunday Streets?

My focus this morning has been on San Francisco and watching Team New Zealand win the first two races in the America’s Cup (bloody hell that first race was exciting). It has also got me thinking of an initiative that happens in San Francisco that I would love to see implemented here in Auckland – Sunday Streets. San Francisco didn’t invent the idea but they definitely appear to have embraced the idea. Here is how it is described:

Sunday Streets are events that encourage recreation, community activities and fun in San Francisco. Sunday Streets closes stretches of city streets to automobile traffic, and opens them to people for several hours on a various Sundays throughout the year, so participants can enjoy a large, temporary, public space where they can bike, walk, run, dance, do yoga, or do any other physical activity. Non-profit and health organizations offer free activities and share information about their services during the event.

The great thing about the idea is that it doesn’t have to cost huge amounts of money on permanent infrastructure. Some temporary road closures and staff to manage it but it is really just about making use of streets that already exist. Here’s a photo’s from San Francisco but there are heaps more here.

And here is a video from a few years ago of the event in San Fran.

In New York the idea is known as Summer Streets

While in the city that first came up with the idea 30 years ago – Bogatá, Columbia – it is known as Ciclovia. What is neat about the Bogatá ones is that they appear to be a network of routes and the focus is more of a case of just turning over the street to pedestrians and cyclists rather than the more festival style implementation in San Francisco.

http://vimeo.com/12564994

About the closest thing we have had was an event in February 2012 called “Playing in the Streets” where a section of Queen St was closed down. But that was a one off and hasn’t been repeated. How neat would it be if we could do this on every Sunday during the summer months, perhaps each week could take place in a different local board area to ensure it is spread around the city rather than just be CBD focused.

So where would you like to see get the Sunday Street treatment?

Lessons from Salt Lake City

A little video from the US showing that even in what is considered the most conservative state in the US, when you present a real vision for Public Transport that people will vote for it and even agree to higher taxes to enable it to happen sooner (not that we are suggesting that with the Congestion Free Network).

Here is a bit more background to what is happening in Salt Lake City.

It’s number one in the nation in per-capita transit spending. The only city in the country building light rail, bus rapid transit, streetcars and commuter rail at the same time. And that city — Salt Lake City — is a town of just over 180,000 in a remote setting in a red state.

It’s a remarkable story that began in the 1990s, when an organization called Envision Utah facilitated a regional visioning process and created a plan that has been recognized as one of the most promising smart growth models in the nation.

There’s a lesson here for other cities. In 1997, leaders in a 10-county region centered on Salt Lake County set out to see what people valued about where they lived. They designed a plan around those values, with a communications campaign to support it. At that time, the state was expected to grow by a million people by 2020. Rather than cede that growth to meandering sprawl, the region chose something more orderly and compact.

“At that point, to many Utahns, ‘smart growth’ was not a popular word,” said Robert Grow, Envision Utah’s president and CEO. “We made people some promises. We’d save a lot of time, money, lower emissions, improve air quality, develop more housing choices, and build a transportation system with greater efficiency.”

I really like this line

“How is it that the most conservative state… how is it they’re one of the most progressive in the country on transit?” said Allsop. “It’s because the case was made in a way that fit with people’s values.”

There are perhaps some lessons both Auckland Transport and Auckland council could learn from the experience in Salt Lake City.

San Francisco: Reclaiming Streets With Innovative Solutions

Another great video from Streetfilms:

Tom Radulovich, the executive director of the local non-profit Livable City, describes the recent livable streets achievements in San Francisco as “tactical urbanism” — using low-cost materials like paint and bollards to reclaim street space.

That willingness to experiment was a big reason that the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP) gave its 2012 Sustainable Transport Award to San Francisco (an honor shared with Medellín, Colombia). In this Streetfilm we profile the innovations that earned SF recognition from ITDP.

Perhaps the city’s most exciting new development has been the parklet program, which converts parking spaces into public space complete with tables, chairs, art, and greenery. These mini-parks are adopted and paid for by local businesses, but they remain public space. The concept has its roots in the PARK(ing) Day phenomenon started by the SF-based Rebar Group in 2005.

San Francisco has also seen an impressive 71 percent increase in bicycling in the past five years, despite being under a court injunction that prohibited bicycle improvements for most of that time. The city aims to have 20 percent of trips by bike by 2020. Sunday Streets, San Francisco’s version of Ciclovia, has also drawn huge numbers of participants and continues to expand.

The city has also taken the lead on innovative parking management with the SFPark program, which uses new technology to help manage public parking in several pilot neighborhoods. It aims to make it easier to find a parking spot by adjusting prices according to demand, helping to reduce pollution, traffic, and frustrations for drivers, pedestrians, and cyclists.

So many lessons for Auckland there.

Rethinking the automobile – video

This is an excellent, if rather lengthy, video by Streetfilms about the impact of automobiles on our cities:

A description:

For more than 100 years New York City government policy has prioritized the needs of the automobile over the needs of any other mode of transport. Working under the faulty assumption that more car traffic would improve business, planners and engineers have systematically made our streets more dangerous and less livable. As a result, even the idea that a street could truly be a “place” – a shared space for human interaction and play – has been almost completely destroyed.

During his decade long effort to understand and improve the streets of New York City, entrepreneur and livable streets advocate Mark Gorton has gathered together a compelling set of examples of how transportation policy impacts the quality of our daily lives. Mark is regularly invited to speak in public about these issues.

In his current presentation “Rethinking the Automobile” Mark explores the history of autocentric planning and considers how New York and other cities can change. Filled with ample video footage of dozens of Streetfilms, we’ve worked with Mark to create a version of the presentation here.

As the founder of Streetfilms, Streetsblog, OpenPlans, and the New York City Streets Renaissance Campaign, Gorton has been on the front lines of the battle to transform New York’s streets. But Mark is not done fighting. He contends that the recent improvements that have been implemented in New York should only be considered as the “tip of the iceberg” and that a truly comprehensive set of changes are still necessary.

Compulsory viewing for traffic engineers methinks.

Protected bike lanes

I have discussed previously the importance of not only making cycling actually safer through the provision of cycle lanes, but also making it feel safer by ensuring those lanes are constructed to a high standard and provide some real shielding from vehicles. I can’t see too many people feeling that some green paint and a white line makes a huge difference to the likelihood of them being run over by a truck while cycling.

A recent Streetfilms video highlights the approach Chicago is taking, through what they call “protected bike lanes”. This is exactly the kind of thing that I think we need to focus much more on providing here in Auckland:

At a guess, I doubt this would be particularly expensive to do, especially along streets that do seem unnecessarily wide (Richmond Road and Surrey Crescent come to mind as candidates on this count).

Bogota’s TransMilenio

If you’re looking for a great example of how a vastly improved public transport system has transformed a city – Bogota, the capital of Colombia in South America – is a great example. And here’s a neat video from Streetfilms on the Transmilenio BRT system that Bogota has constructed over the past decade:

While I get annoyed at people who think that Bogota is proof that BRT is always better than rail (Bogota is a pretty different place to Auckland) there are some aspects of Bogota’s system that clearly have filtered through to projects like the Northern Busway, and could be further implemented in future bus priority projects. It’s interesting to see where things are going for TransMilenio too.

Contested Streets: Breaking New York City Gridlock

Here’s a really interesting video on the history of transport issues in New York City. What’s quite fascinating about New York is the fact that, despite an extremely extensive public transport network and the kind of densities that work so well with that transport system, the city has spent much of the last 50 years trying to destroy itself to make life easier for cars to get around. Fortunately that’s now changing.

Description from Streetfilms:

Produced in 2006 as part of the New York City Streets Renaissance Campaign, Contested Streets explores the history and culture of New York City streets from pre-automobile times to present. This examination allows for an understanding of how the city — though the most well served by mass transit in the United States — has slowly relinquished what was a rich, multi-dimensional conception of the street as a public space to a mindset that prioritizes the rapid movement of cars and trucks over all other functions.

Central to the story is a comparison of New York to what is experienced in London, Paris and Copenhagen. Interviews and footage shot in these cities showcase how limiting automobile use is in recent years has improved air quality, minimized noise pollution and enriched commercial, recreational and community interaction. London’s congestion pricing scheme, Paris’ BRT and Copenhagen’s bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure are all examined in depth. New York City, though to many the most vibrant and dynamic city on Earth, still has lessons to learn from Old Europe. 

Some interesting parallels to Auckland’s 20th century transport history.

Complete streets

This is a fantastic video from Streetfilms on New York City and their approach to remaking streets as “complete streets” over the past few years. The key with complete streets is providing mobility and accessibility for all types of transport: pedestrians, cyclists, public transport and cars – instead of cars and pretty much nothing else.

Over the last four years, New York City has seen a transportation renaissance on its streets, striking a better balance by providing more space for walking, biking, and transit.

As with any departure from the status quo, it can take a while for everyone to grow accustomed to the changes. So Streetfilms decided to look at three of NYC’s most recent re-designs — Columbus Avenue, First and Second Avenues, and Prospect Park West — and show how pedestrians, cyclists, and drivers benefit from safer, calmer streets. We talked to transportation engineers with decades of experience, elected leaders, community board members, people on the street, and business owners to get their take on the new configurations.

The truth is, no matter how hard some media outlets try to spin it otherwise, these new street safety projects have broad community support. And while the story of these changes often gets simplified in the press, the fact is that the benefits of the redesigns go far beyond cycling. A street with a protected bike lane also has less speeding, shorter pedestrian crossings, less lane-shifting and more predictable movements for drivers, and the opportunity to add more trees and plantings. Injuries to pedestrians, cyclists, drivers, and car passengers drop wherever the new designs go in. And on the East Side, these improvements have been paired with dedicated bus-only lanes with camera enforcement, making service more convenient and attractive for thousands of bus riders.

I wish Auckland would take this approach to its street upgrades more often.