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What's the Next Vision for New York?
Christine Quinn delivers the New York State of the City Address.
William Alatriste

As part of her annual State of the City address, on February 9 City Council Speaker and potential mayoral candidate Christine Quinn announced her support for the future growth of New York’s design industries: “We have more designers than any city in the United States, with nearly 40,000 New Yorkers working in everything from graphics to movie sets, architecture to interior decorating. We’ll grow our design sector by stealing an idea from the fashion industry. Fashion Week, which starts today, brings 300,000 visitors and nearly $800 million into our city every year. Working with Council Member Karen Koslowitz, we’re going to give that same kind of boost to our design industry by creating and hosting a New York City Design Week.”

The next mayoral election is still over a year in the future, but the speech does raise the question of what a new mayor will mean for the city's departments of Planning, Transportation, Parks and Design and Construction not to mention our dynamic design community. It is common knowledge that Mayor Bloomberg’s administration made a conscious effort to bring architectural and urban design thinking into city government more than at any time since Robert Moses and John Lindsay in the late 1960s. In the same way that Lindsay's two terms as mayor coincided with a remarkable transformation of urban life in New York, Bloomberg’s three terms have witnessed a profound change in the life of the city. It will of course be up to future historians to assess the current mayor’s ultimate success and failures but his quartet of Commissioners at City Planning, Transportation, Parks, and Design and Construction have overseen a total transformation in how citizens move about, experience, and live in the city.

Then again it may be that Bloomberg only happened to be mayor when architecture was taken up for the first time by New York property developers as a salable commodity and when they commissioned some of the world’s best architects to design Manhattan luxury housing. The mayor certainly did not directly create anything of great civic architectural quality for our public sphere, but as a believer in the private market supported by public, philanthropic initiatives of high design quality like the High Line, Brooklyn Bridge Park, the Governors Island development, and the DOT’s bike lanes and “parks in a street” maintained by Business Improvement Districts and other non governmental agencies. These are of course heavily Manhattan-centric in their geographic reach and influence, so Bloomberg’s new city is less visible the farther one travels from Midtown. We all remember when he pinned his legacy to an Olympic master plan, West Side Football stadium, and the possibility of a really great World Trade Center development.

Or it may be that Bloomberg happened to be mayor when New York emerged as the most important design hub in the United States if not the world. Last summer we commented on the Growth by Design report assembled by the Center for an Urban Future that detailed the growing importance of the design sector to New York’s economy. It revealed how design sector jobs in the New York metropolitan area grew by 75 percent over the past decade. In fact the report claimed that in New York the design field (architecture, graphic, interior, fashion and industrial design) has nearly twice as many designers as Los Angeles, the nation's second largest design hub.

But back to Speaker Quinn and her support for design in New York City. Really, is a week-long design festival the best that the Speaker can do to support and encourage this dynamic sector of the city's economy? We need to hear what she proposes for the various departments like City Planning and Parks. Its hard to imagine that department heads like Amanda Burden, David Burney, Janette Sadik-Khan, and Adrian Benepe will stay on after 12 years of public sector employment, but will the new mayor even want them to stay or will she/ he replace them, and what types of policies will new commissioners be pursuing? Will the next mayor continue to support new bicycle lanes and curbside park development from the DOT and the ambitious architecture policies of Commissioner Burney? We have heard almost nothing from Quinn and the two or three other likely candidates about their potential policies. Proposing a week-long festival is not really enough of an initiative to tell us much about what a new Quinn administration might mean for the  city. In the coming months, we need to hear much more from the Speaker and all the other candidates.

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Taking it to the Streets
Chicago's first protected bike lane on Kinzie Street.
Courtesy CDOT

Change is coming to Chicago’s streetscapes and transportation landscape. The experiences of people driving, cycling, taking the bus or train, and walking are going to be transformed from one that overwhelmingly favors cars to one that serves many modes and users. Several large-scale projects, such as the Bloomingdale Trail and bike sharing, will be ambitious and noticeable, supplementing finer-grained changes like protected bike lanes and pedestrian improvements.

After years of Daley rule, Rahm Emanuel’s administration is taking a fresh look at how Chicagoans traverse the city. “I’m expecting that the Emanuel administration will look at the city’s transportation system more holistically in terms of including high-priority projects for bicyclists, pedestrians, and transit riders as well as infrastructure that serves drivers,” said Jennifer Henry, a transportation policy analyst in Chicago with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).

Mayor Emanuel campaigned on a platform that included sustainable transportation. In his campaign plan, he talked about finishing projects that were in the initial planning stages, such as extending the Red Line trail and introducing bus rapid transit (BRT). These plans were made more concrete with two events: the hiring of the charismatic former Washington, D.C., transportation commissioner, Gabe Klein, in April 2011, and the release of the Transition Report in May 2011.

 
A community-driven plan would rework Logan Square with more green space and pedestrian and bike amenities.
Courtesy Don Semple
 

The Transition Report includes goals to make Chicago a safer place to cycle, create new public transit options, and promote transit-oriented development; another goal is to realize the Bloomingdale Trail. Since inauguration in May 2011, new initiatives have emerged, including the pedestrian safety campaign and a large-scale bike sharing system with a tight deadline of a launch by June 2012.

Henry also expects that the benefits of these changes will make contributions “in terms of reducing congestion, keeping Chicagoans’ costs down, keeping the city vibrant and appealing, and keeping the environment clean.” These plans also have the potential to make Chicago meet many of its long-stated ambitions to reduce pollution, injuries, and obesity, as well as make it the most bicycle-friendly city in the country and increase park space.

Commissioner Klein argues more balanced transportation is about safety and economic return, an agenda the administration is pursuing with decisive speed. In May 2011, the city opened the city’s first protected bike lane on Kinzie Street, which was completed after just one month of planning and construction. “There’s slowing traffic down, increasing the responsible driving of livery drivers, enhancing and activating public spaces, and widening sidewalks when possible,” he said. The city developed its first-ever pedestrian plan last year and is in the midst of implementing strategies of the Pedestrian Safety Campaign, including somewhat gory advertisements on garbage bins. The commissioner has more tactics in his tool kit, including repainting faded pavement markings and restoring crosswalks (such as the one made famous by Queen Elizabeth II in 1959 that was removed in 2005). Klein is in discussions with the police superintendent to incorporate more traffic-safety enforcement “baked into what officers do every day in the streets,” he said. There is also staff within the Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) working to find a test location for the first “pedestrian scramble,” a situation where all traffic signals turn red and people can cross in any direction.

A detail of the Logan Square plan shows narrowed lanes, curb extensions, permeable pavers, and a bike/bus-only lane bisecting the park.
Courtesy Don Semple
 

In addition to repainting the lane markings and crosswalks to keep traffic more orderly, Klein says they will be repaving more than ever before. “That improves conditions for all road users.” But, keeping economics in mind, “we’ll be leveraging the work of the utility companies and maximizing the taxpayer’s investment for safe road surfaces,” he said.

The department also recently approached the Wicker Park/Bucktown special service area (a business improvement district) to be a partner in developing the city’s first “parklet,” a temporary park built on a parking space. Brent Norsman, an architect in the district who also owns a bike shop, said, “Parklets offer a low-cost opportunity to expand the public realm and make the streets more livable.” No two parklets look the same, as each neighborhood can design it for their needs. Norsman has seen parklets that offer a place to sit and relax, add appealing landscape elements to barren areas, and provide bike parking and sidewalk café seating.

Klein reiterated the importance of looking at transportation projects as safety projects. He cites New York City’s study on the number of bike trips, which has shown a link between the increasing number of people cycling and a decreasing number of injuries while cycling.

Not all infrastructure ideas have to come from the agency, though. In January, a group composed of a preservationist, a transportation engineer, and an architect met with Klein and Luann Hamilton, deputy commissioner of project development at CDOT, to present their vision and plan about a traffic problem in their neighborhood. In the past 100 years, Logan Square has become less square and more circular, to the detriment of people trying to pass through on foot or bicycle. It now has four lanes of fast, one-way traffic circling the small park, which includes the Illinois centennial monument. Four lanes of Milwaukee Avenue cut through the square diagonally.

The group has a plan to reduce the number of lanes and make the diagonal open to bike and bus traffic only. “I thought, ‘Wow, this has become a big enough issue that the community has come up with ideas for a solution. We often, in agencies, go to the public to build support for solutions, but they’ve already started doing that,” Klein said.


The future site of the Bloomingdale Trail.
Steven Vance
 
 

The plan could become a reality, but Klein’s staff will have to look into possible property acquisition, the costs of the plan, impacts on traffic, and whether it can fit into the plan to revitalize the entirety of Milwaukee Avenue to determine its viability. “I don’t think all the wisdom for traffic design and engineering resides within the agency. Everything should be looked at,” he added.

The plan also includes better bicycle accommodations, which go along with the sentiment of building new and different bikeways. “You’ll see some pretty dramatic changes in the streetscape,” Klein said, including new bike lanes, bike boulevards, and buffered and protected bike lanes, as well as bike sharing. “We want to make it safe to ride bikes, but also provide bikes for residents to use.”

CDOT plans to announce a bike-sharing vendor soon. Cindy Klein-Banai, the director of the sustainability office at the University of Illinois at Chicago, is excited about how bike sharing can better connect the campus to the city. She expects that students and staff will use the bikes for pleasure rides or to run errands. “Office workers could use it to get to meetings, or people could get some exercise on their lunch break.” Gabe Klein sees bike sharing more as part of the transit system in Chicago than as a separate bicycle initiative. He said there will be planning to have “modal connectivity with bike share, bus, and rail transit.”

Over a decade in the making, the Bloomingdale Trail received two huge boosts in 2011: finally signing an agreement with the lead contractor after a two-year delay, and receiving over $40 million from a federal grant program to reduce congestion and clean air. The project is a hybrid of bicycling, walking, and public space infrastructure. Both a park and an off-street trail, the project will convert an abandoned, elevated railroad into a linear park and trail, about 2.7 miles long. A public planning process started in summer 2011 with design charrettes and stakeholder meetings. There have been several public meetings where the design team, led by Arup, with several subcontractors from Chicago and New York City, has gathered input to develop a vision and framework plan, due later this year.

This project also was initiated at the community level. D.C.-based planner, and former Chicagoan, Payton Chung, recalled discussing a “Bloomingdale Bicycle Expressway” in 2000. The Friends of the Bloomingdale Trail was later founded; Aldermen at the time were not supportive of the project, but it now has widespread aldermanic support. CDOT and its contractor have largely taken over the planning and development role.

 
CDOT's Gabe Klein pedals down Wabash Avenue (left) and Klein sits in a dunking booth during a temporary closure of State Street (right).
Steven Vance (left) Jennifer Henry (right)
 

CDOT is also partnering with the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) to improve the bus and train systems in the city. They recently received a federal grant to build a BRT system on Jeffery Boulevard on the South Side, for CTA buses. “It can be a lower-cost alternative” to light- or heavy-rail transit that “makes use of existing roadway infrastructure,” said Peter Skosey, vice president of the Metropolitan Planning Council. “It has a lower implementation cost than those, but if done properly, can be just as effective.”

“It’s Chicago’s first foray into bus rapid transit. However, we’ve done intensive planning for the East-West BRT corridor, connecting the two busiest downtown commuter stations with shopping and jobs on Michigan Avenue and Navy Pier, which is giving us a great opportunity to really create a complete street,” Klein said.

NRDC’s Henry says that the upgrades to the 2nd Avenue bus in New York City have helped change transit riders’ perceptions that buses are always slow: “As a non-driver, you feel like the city government is more on our side than it used to be, and I think the benefits of that are going to reverberate for decades.”

Many of the changes you see in Chicago will appear to be very similar to those New Yorkers started seeing in 2007: new types of bike lanes in Manhattan and the creation of new pedestrian plazas, among other streetscape augmentations.

 
Lawrence Avenue east of Western Avenue will include curb extensions with bioswales and pedestrian refuges.
Courtesy CDOT
 

A lot of this change can be attributed to current New York City transportation commissioner, Janette Sadik-Khan, who was hired by Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg in 2007. Soon after starting the job, Sadik-Khan traveled to Copenhagen on a study tour. The city then hired Jan Gehl and his firm, Gehl Architects, known for innovative streetscape and traffic improvements. Their first project was transforming Madison Square, a pilot project to test out some theories of street design.

“The effects are transformative,” said Henry. “Areas like Union Square, which received a treatment similar to Madison, Herald, and Times squares, feel much safer for pedestrians and bicyclists to move around.”

Staff from the Chicago Bicycle Program, within the Department of Transportation, went to the Netherlands in fall 2011 with Alderman Daniel Solis on the city council. “The urban areas are especially friendly to bike riding, pedestrians, and public transportation, and all three forms of transportation are very well coordinated. Automobile driving in the city is actually last on the priority list,” Solis told sustainable transportation blog Grid Chicago.

Klein and CDOT think there is a growing demand for such improvements. In Chicago, the number of trips to work by bike increased from 0.5 percent in 2000 to 1.1 percent in 2010. “I think there was a push in the past to make it so that cars moved as quickly as possible. We want Chicago to be a walkable, livable city. We also want it to be a bike-able city, but walkable first,” Klein said.

How fast will these changes come? Copenhagen, where Gehl comes from, didn’t change overnight. Neither has Paris under Mayor Bertrand Delanoë, nor London. “The changes in Copenhagen to a more balanced transportation network were gradual, over 20 to 30 years, starting with narrow bike lanes, turning car lanes into bike lanes, and turning some car parking into bike parking, as well as creating pedestrian spaces,” Skosey said.

With the variety of tools transportation officials and community groups are putting to use, Chicago may be able to shorten that timeline—one step, or pedal, at a time.

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Runners vs. Bikers at VanCortlandt's Putnam Trail
The hullabaloo over Brooklyn bike lanes at Prospect Park subsided continues as strong as ever, but a new bike controversy has been brewing up in the Bronx over the past few months. The drama centers on Parks Department plans to pave over Van Cortlandt Park's Putnam Trail, a path that was originally cleared for a rail line more than a century ago. The new plan was spurred by the "Rails to Trails" movement. The path, much beloved by the runners, has spurred some mudslinging by the pro-dirt contingent against “an elite, mostly out-of-borough handful," as trail lover Michael Burke put it in an Op-ed piece for The Riverdale Press back in December. The runners have been fighting back by gathering over a thousand letters and nearly 600 signatures through their Save the Putnam Trail Facebook page. The group argues that a stone dust surface would be far more eco-friendly than the proposed asphalt and would cut the projected $2.4 million budget for the project in half. The group says its not anti-bike, just anti-asphalt and a stone dust path would suit wheels just fine. For their part, Parks said that the their plan would open the trail to all users by providing a dirt path for runners, creating a lane for bikers and making the path ADA accessible. The new trail would be a contiguous path connecting to a paved path in Westchester County and the citywide greenways. Van Cortlandt park administrator Margot Perron said in a statement that stone dust is much more difficult for wheelchairs, strollers and bicycles to navigate than a hard surface and requires much more maintenance. UPDATE 2/15:  On the Save the Putnam Trail site yesterday, Meg Riordan reports that she spotted machinery preparing the trail for the paving. "From an ecological view, I am also confounded as to 'how' adding more impervious surfaces - to replace dirt - benefits the natural wooded habitat," she writes. A spokesperson from Parks pointed out that new drainage will carry runoff. Also, four hundred saplings and 42 young trees will be added and invasive species will be cleared away. The project will last one year.  
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Legislative Update> Transit, Biking, Walkability, Preservation & the Environment at Risk
It's becoming clear how Congress' approval ratings keep dropping to new historic lows—the latest Gallup Poll released yesterday puts it at a squat ten percent—when the legislative body continues to threaten policies not just architects but also the general public hold near and dear. Now, as key transportation bills that set funding for all national infrastructure--including roads, transit, shipping, pipelines, and even sidewalks--prepare for a votes in the House of Representatives and Senate as soon as the coming week, we're seeing transit, biking, walkability, the environment, and historic preservation all at risk. Here's a roundup of the latest: Among the chief concerns of the House's HR7 bill, otherwise known as the American Energy & Infrastructure Jobs Act, is that dedicated funding for transit, biking, and walkability is eliminated. That includes funding requirements for Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality (CMAQ) programs that promote alternative transportation, such as sidewalks, bike lanes, and the Safe Routes to School program.  But that's not the end of it; Yonah Freemark at The Transport Politic has a great write-up of all the bill's problems. For instance, on why funding is being eliminated for transit, bikes, and pedestrians in the first place:
The members of the committee determined that to remedy the fact that gas taxes have not been increased since 1993, the most appropriate course was not to raise the tax (as would make sense considering inflation, more efficient vehicles, and the negative environmental and congestion-related effects of gas consumption) but rather to transfer all of its revenues to the construction of highways. Public transit, on the other hand, would have to fight for an appropriation from the general fund, losing its traditional guarantee of funding and forcing any spending on it to be offset by reductions in other government programs.
Highway cost overruns not covered by the gas tax could be paid for by up to $2 billion from drilling for oil in coastal waters, including areas in the Gulf hit by the massive BP oil spill,and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The New York Times recently blasted the GOP bill that Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood, a former Republican congressman himself, called "the worst transportation bill I've ever seen during 35 years of public service." He also told Politico, "It also is the most anti-safety bill I have ever seen...It hollows out the guts of the transportation efforts that we've been about for the last three years." With a vote imminent, groups from Transportation for America to the National Resources Defense Council declared today a national day of action to get in touch with your elected officials and voice your opinion about the bills. AIA President Jeff Potter is among those concerned that current transportation bills are flawed. “While we are gratified that both the House and the Senate are moving ahead on transportation bills, there are some provisions that would take our communities in the wrong direction,” said Potter. “We urge Congress to continue working on a truly bipartisan bill that helps meet the design and construction industry goals: hold funding levels steady, support multiple modes of transportation, and account for the many enhancements that well-planned transportation projects can bring to communities throughout this great nation.” While the AIA praised the Senate for including provisions that assist in planning mixed-use communities around transit, it worries that by removing dedicated transit funding, those planning capabilities are jeopardized. From the AIA's official statement:
The AIA is concerned that provisions in bills that have passed House committees would hurt a community’s ability to plan. This is especially true for provisions in the Ways and Means bill that remove transit from the trust fund and provisions in the Transportation and Infrastructure committee’s bill that prevent communities from using funds for preservation and re-use of historic facilities.
Historic preservation is at risk in the Senate's S. 1813: MAP-21. Here's the gist of the problem from the National Trust for Historic Preservation:
Transportation Enhancements (TE), the single largest source of federal funding for historic preservation, is still under siege. ... MAP-21 (S. 1813) eliminates dedicated funding for TE, forcing the program to compete with other types of road projects that do not possess the same job creation or cultural heritage benefits as preservation-oriented TE projects. In addition, we anticipate harmful amendments that would further weaken the program. To make matters worse, the outlook for TE is even bleaker in the House. Current proposals not only eliminate the funding set aside but also eliminate the preservation-related categories of the TE program entirely. This is why it is critical to get favorable TE language into the Senate bill.
The National Trust has also called for concerned citizens to contact their legislators about the proposal. You can read more about the connection between preservation and transportation at the Trusts's Preservation Nation blog.
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Commonalities
David Chipperfield.
Giorgio Zucchiatti, Courtesy la Biennale di Venezia

Planning for the 13th Venice Architecture Biennale is in high gear with only a few months to go until opening day on August 29.

There is nothing common either about the gilt and canal-veined city or the event held every 24 months in the extravagantly-scaled Arsenale where the mighty Venetian fleet was built in the 14th century. And yet Common Ground is the title that this year’s director, British architect David Chipperfield, has announced as his guiding theme.

“I want this Biennale to celebrate a vital, interconnected architectural culture, and pose questions about the intellectual and physical territories that it shares,” said Chipperfield in a statement, adding that his biennale will emphasize collaboration and dialogue, in the way that Kazuyo Seijima at the 2010 biennale emphasized people and Aaron Betsky in 2008 stressed alternative media over building.

Chipperfield’s more earth-bound approach seems poised to address the continuities in architectural practice rather than experimentation with a promise that a closer look at architecture in context will be revealing. “I do not want to lose the subject of architecture in a morass of sociological, psychological or artistic speculation, but to try to develop the understanding of the distinct contribution that architecture can make in defining the common ground of the city,” he said standing at a press conference alongside Paolo Baratta, long-time president of the Venice Biennale.

Key to Chipperfield’s Common Ground will be a tag-team approach wherein invited contributors will be asked to call on others to join. The much-admired President Baratta who at one point last fall had seemed on the verge of being deposed from the event, noted that this will be the second time in a row on recent years that an architect has run the show.

The Common Good is embedded in the approach taken by the Institute of Urban Design, curator of the U.S. Pavilion as in “Spontaneous Interventions: Design Actions for the Common Good.” The emphasis here is on “the nascent movement of architects, designers, planners, artists, and everyday community members initiating their own projects to bring positive change to the urban realm” according to a recent press release.

Projects reflecting social engagement will be featured such as guerrilla bike lanes, community gardens, urban farms, pop-up markets, crowd-sourced urban planning, and something called “chair bombing.” Those with interventions of their own are encouraged to submit to the website, Spontaneous Interventions by February 6 for consideration by the U.S. pavilion curators, Cathy Lang Ho, former editor of AN; Ned Cramer, editor-in-chief of Architect; and curatorial strategist David van der Leer, assistant curator of architecture and design at the Guggenheim Museum.

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Zoning and you
Green markets, bike lanes, the design of street life—New York City zoning aims to impact your quality of life. "In the Bloomberg administration, as wielded by the New York City Planning Commission and its director, Amanda Burden, zoning has assumed a more activist role than ever before," writes AN Executive Editor Julie Iovine about the ambitions of zoning 50 years after the New York Zoning Resolution was passed. Read the full article, "Zoning Grows Up," in The Wall Street Journal.  
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Quick Clicks> Postal Nostalgia, Storing & Riding Bikes, Pocket Parks, & Zaha
  Postal nostalgia. During the Great Depression, the WPA built a post office with a tile roof, marble steps, and an intricate mural in Venice, CA.  The LA Times noted that the historic post office may now close down due to USPS budget cuts, much to the chagrin of Venice residents. A place for bikes.  The number of indoor bicycle storage rooms at offices is slowly increasing throughout New York City.  Though expensive to maintain and space consuming, the NY Times asserted the presence of a bike room benefits the real estate industry (by increasing interest) as well as residents. Biking Memphis.  StreetsBlog reports Memphis Mayor AC Wharton has proposed 55 miles of bike lanes to be inserted into existing streets.  Local businesses are subsequently concerned about slower traffic. Parking in LA.  The LA Times reported LA Mayor Villaraigosa has announced he wants to build 50 “pocket parks” in the next two years.  First on the agenda, is the construction of several parks ranging from 5,000 to 20,000 square feet in Southern Los Angeles that begins next month. Hadid no diva.  Zaha Hadid sat down with Newsweek and Daily Beast editor Tina Brown to discuss her life, her career, and her reputation.
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CityLights Finally Begin to See Daylight
Approximately six years after Thomas Phifer and Partners, the Office for Visual Interaction, and Werner Sobek won the CityLights competition for a new standard streetlight, some of the first examples are popping up in Lower Manhattan. The design for LED streetlights was cutting edge at the time, and the technology was very expensive. Prices for energy efficient LED's have fallen considerably since then, allowing the ultra slim fixtures to find their way onto city streets. The Bloomberg administration has changed New York's scrappy streetscapes in numerous ways, including adding new pedestrian plazas and hundreds of miles of bike lanes, and commissioning new street furniture and newsstands. These fixtures, developed by the Department of Design and Construction and the Department of Transportation, are the latest of these efforts to make gritty city a bit greener and more civilized.  
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Biker Town
The Capital Bikeshare program in DC is a precedent for Chicago's larger initiative.
Andrew Bossi / Flickr

Chicago’s transit system has long helped commuters navigate the city, but a new bike-share program announced by the Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) will help fill in short-distance gaps between trains and buses. Bike sharing allows riders to check out a bike at one location and deposit it at another and is seen as a supplement to existing transportation networks. The proposed system calls for an initial run of 3,000 bikes to be distributed over 300 stations increasing to 5,000 bikes and 500 stations over the following two years. Stations will be located around existing transit stops and in densely populated areas of the city.

The ambitious opening date set for summer 2012 is no less bold than Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s vision for a world-class cycling city. Bike sharing is one of four goals espoused by Emanuel to increase Chicago’s bikability. The mayor also seeks to double the amount of bike parking in the city, build the Bloomingdale Trail, an elevated bike and stroll path on an old rail right of way, and install 100 miles of protected bike lanes over the next four years, with 25 miles completed by May 2012.

“We’re very encouraged by the mayor’s support for cycling,” said Ron Burke, executive director of the Active Transportation Alliance. “We think the city can achieve these objectives. The most challenging aspect of this process is turning around the RFP.” The city is currently seeking a bike-share operator, with responses due October 25.

For the past two years, a small privately-operated bike share system called B-cycle run by the bike-rental company Bike and Roll Chicago has maintained 100 bikes and eight stations in the city. The system is limited but still popular. “It’s steadily been growing,” said Jared Arter, general manager at Millennium Park. “We’re seeing about 80 rentals a day.” Arter said B-cycle has responded to the city’s RFP. “For a private company to go solo without government support, it can only be so big,” Burke added.

Federal Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement (CMAQ) grants will provide initial funding, but user fees and corporate sponsorships will also contribute.

Gabe Klein, CDOT’s commissioner, already has a track record for implementing large bike-share programs. He oversaw the launch of Capital Bikeshare in Washington, D.C. in September 2010 when he was director of the District Department of Transportation. The $6 million, 1,100 bike, 100 station system has been heralded as an enormous success in its first year, doubling its initial ridership goals and hitting 1 million rides on the system’s anniversary. In D.C., cyclists averaged 1.79 miles per trip, demonstrating the strength of bike-sharing to connect short distances.

“Across the board, cycling has increased in Chicago. It’s doubled in the last ten years,” Burke noted. “Bike share is a great way for people to make biking part of their daily routine.”

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2011 Jane Jacobs Medalists Champion City Life
As we all know, Jane Jacobs was a visionary urban activist and author, whose 1961 publication of The Death and Life of Great American Cities had a tremendous impact on how we think about cities and urban planning today. She challenged prevailing assumptions in urban planning at a time when slum-clearing was the norm and emphasized the intricacies and sensitivities of an urban fabric. In 2007, the year after Jacobs died, the Rockefeller Foundation launched the Jane Jacobs Medal, an annual award given to those who stand by Jacobs' principles and whose "creative uses of the urban environment" renders New York City "more diverse, dynamic and equitable." Two awards covering New Ideas & Activism and Lifetime Leadership are presented each year. Janette Sadik-Khan, commissioner of the NYC Department of Transportation and Paul Steely White, executive director of Transportation Alternatives took the New Ideas & Activism title for their contributions to public space and transportation while Robert De Niro and Jane Rosenthal were presented with Lifetime Leadership awards for their contributions to the Tribeca neighborhood. Sadik-Khan was lauded for her standout efforts to increase access to public space, improve traffic flow, and promote sustainable transportation. Her work includes the creation of select bus service routes in the Bronx and Manhattan, the installation of 18 pedestrian plazas, the addition of over 250 miles of on-street bike lanes, car-free summer streets, and a new Street Design Manual. Steely White's leadership is responsible for championing public campaigns to make New York's streets safer for pedestrians and cyclists including traffic calming initiatives and the Safe Routes to School and Safe Routes for Seniors campaigns, which were later adopted by NYC DOT. His organization also led the government call to install new pedestrian spaces and 200 miles of bike lanes between 2006 and 2009. The Lifetime Leadership awards went to Academy Award-winning actor Robert De Niro and Jane Rosenthal, co-founder and driving force behind the Tribeca Film festival. Together, the pair not only founded the Tribeca Film Center, the first commercial space in Tribeca dedicated to film, television, and entertainment companies, they also responded to the devastating consequences the 9/11 attacks on Lower Manhattan by founding the Tribeca Film Festival in 2002, whose active presence heavily contributed to the city's long-term recovery. The recipients were decided by a jury comprised of Dr. Judith Rodin, president of the Rockefeller Foundation, Richard Kahan, founder and CEO of the Urban Assembly and recipient of a 2009 Jane Jacobs Medal, Mary Schmidt Campbell, dean of New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, and Bruce Nussbaum, professor at Parsons The New School for Design.  The 2011 Jane Jacobs Medal was administered by the Municipal Art Society.
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Share the Road, Slash the Parking
A protected bike lane in Chicago.
Courtesy CDOT

While many of Mayor Daley's initiatives promoting citywide sustainability were visionary, transportation is one area where new thinking is still needed. Chicago traffic is among the worst in the country, and its air quality suffers as a result. Mayor Emanuel's planning policies are just beginning to take shape, though we are heartened with his selection of Gabe Klein as department of transportation commissioner.

Emanuel saw Klein's work first hand in Washington, where, as the capital city’s DOT head, he added hundreds of miles of bike lanes and implemented the nation's largest bike sharing program. Klein, like his better-known peer in New York, Janette Sadik-Khan, is one of the new breed of transportation planners who are seeking to give pedestrians and cyclists a bigger share of the road. For too long we have designed our streets with primarily the car in mind, to the detriment of street life, the environment, our health, and our cities. It also makes bad economic sense. The era of cheap oil is over.

Innovative commissioners like Klein and Sadik-Khan, recognizing their relative autonomy and the vast portfolios of public spaces under their control, are changing things quickly. Sometimes these changes ruffle feathers, but Washington and New York are seeing big increases in cycling and significant improvement in pedestrian safety. It has also helped make them celebrities in planning circles.

Bike sharing, complete streets, sidewalk extensions, and pedestrian scramble intersections change the look and texture of streetscapes, usually for the better. They help transform streets from pass-throughs into destinations. With its wide streets and flat topography, Chicago seems primed to be a leading bicycling city, expanding its already active and visible cycling population.

Architects, directly and indirectly, have been part of the car monoculture problem. In order to meet parking requirements most new high rises include vast parking podiums, which, even with ground floor retail, deaden street life and pull eyes off the street, to paraphrase Jane Jacobs. An overabundance of parking encourages casual, even constant, car use, and helps generate traffic and sprawl. But that could change. In a recent interview with the smart transportation blog “Grid Chicago” Klein said he wants to reduce the parking requirements for new construction: “I think we should have a maximum and no minimum.” I couldn’t agree more.

Klein also reiterated the Emanuel Administration’s commitment to building the Bloomingdale Trail. While that project is routinely compared to New York’s High Line park, the Bloomingdale Trail is being conceived as a transportation artery, not a merely as a place for a romantic promenade. It will be the most protected bike lane of all. I can’t wait to take a spin down it, preferably using a shared bike.

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Quick Clicks> Prairie Preserved, Library Voyeur, Mapping Riots, & a Culver City Compromise
Prairie Hotel. After a 2-year, $18 million renovation, Frank Lloyd Wright's last standing hotel has reopened in Mason City, Iowa. The Historic Park Inn Hotel is a premier example of the Wright's Prairie style, and features deep hanging eaves and a terra-cotta façade. A massive art-glass skylight drenches the lobby in multi-colored light. More at ArtInfo. Library of Glass. Although Philip Johnson's Glass House library is transparent, Birch Books Conservation will soon offer the public a view the architect’s library without a trip to New Canaan. The non-profit publisher hopes “to preserve the professional libraries of artists, architects, authors, and important public figures through publishing photographic and written research,” with an inside look at Johnson’s personal collection, reported Unbeige. Mapping Poverty and Rebellion. The Guardian opened up the recent London riots for debate. Journalist Matt Stiles mapped the newspaper’s accumulated data of riot hot spots on a plan of London’s neighborhoods. Deep red stands for the British capital’s poorest regions, while blue represents the wealthiest communities. Metro In-The-Middle. The long-awaited Culver City Expo Line station was delayed by a disagreement between Culver City and construction authorities. Now, the two parties have agreed to the $7 million budget increase, which will fund a pedestrian plaza, bike lanes, parking facilities and pavement improvements. More at Curbed LA.