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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.
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.
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.”
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.