To sort this out, I built a regression model that accounts for both gas prices and the unemployment rate in a given month and attempts to predict from this data how much the typical American will drive. The model also accounts for the gradual increase in driving over time, as well as the seasonality of driving levels, which are much higher during the summer than during the winter…. The model predicts that given a somewhat higher unemployment rate but much lower gas prices, the lower gas prices should have won out: Americans should have driven slightly more in January 2009 than they had a year earlier. But instead, as we've described, they drove somewhat less. In fact, they drove about 8 percent less than the model predicted.Silver believes Americans may, in fact, be changing their habits. He looks at recent home values in a variety of cities and sees that more car-dependent cities have fared worse than less auto dependent cities. Still, Silver presents cities as relatively static places, and planning and design are largely absent from his analysis: “In the real world, of course — outside perhaps a half dozen major metropolitan areas — American society has been built around the automobile.” For at least the last decades communities across the country have been employing a variety of means to promote walking and biking, from building mixed use, higher density neighborhoods, to adding bike lanes and light rail lines, to banning cul-de-sacs, to investing in downtown developments. America, in some places at least, is not being built the way it was twenty years ago. Certainly these efforts must have some cumulative effect.
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On March 21, SCI-Arc's SCI-FI program and The Architect’s Newspaper announced the winners of their open ideas competition, A New Infrastructure: Innovative Transit Solutions for Los Angeles.
The competition, inspired by LA County Measure R—a half-cent sales tax hike that promises up to $40 billion in transit funding for the city— attracted 75 proposals from around the world. It offered architects, engineers, urban planners, and students a chance to propose new ideas for the city's transit infrastructure. Their entries focused on specific rail extension projects in the city and also take a look at larger-scale, interrelated planning challenges.
The competition jury included architects Thom Mayne, Eric Owen Moss, and Neil Denari; Aspet Davidian, director, Project Engineering Facilities, LA County Metropolitan Transportation Authority; Cecilia V. Estolano, chief executive officer, CRA/LA; Gail Goldberg, director of planning, City of Los Angeles; Roland Genik, urban planner and transit designer; and Geoff Wardle, director, Advanced Mobility Research at Art Center College of Design.
Más Transit: Joshua G. Stein/RadicalCraft, Aaron Whelton/AAW Studio, and Jaclyn Thomforde with Jacob M. Brostoff
Más is regional high-speed rail for Los Angeles with a landscape to match. Promoting dense, organic development, it diversifies the communities in the built environment, making travel less necessary, easier and more predictable, and bypassing roadway congestion through a new raised infrastructure. Looping around the city, with connections to subways and buses, Más links local and inter-regional commuting; providing frequent service that will also sync up with the California High Speed Rail network. San Diego via más is less than an hour away, including transfer times; San Francisco is less than three hours away.
Infrastructural Armature: Fletcher Studio: David Fletcher, Dylan Barlow, Ryan Chandler, Daniel Phillips, Tobi Adamolekun
Recognizing the vital role that mobility, water, and sewage will play in Los Angeles' future, the city must begin to invest in a core armature of new bundled infrastructures which will allow the city to survive the impending reality of peak water and peak oil. The city must reorganize along the matrices of transportation, water and sewer networks, and grow infrastructural tentacles out into the world to ship and receive.
Mag Luv: Osborn: Holly Chisholm, Kate Harvey, Armen Isagholi, Takeshi Kobayashi, Michael Pinto, Jared Sopko, Esmeralda Ward, Yuju Yeo
The scheme proposes eroding a portion of the freeway and supplanting it with a new object, mode, and form for adoration—Mag Luv. The high speed magnetic levitation peripheral train appropriates freeway, right of way, and “dream space” to become the mega structure of the Los Angeles transit system. The loop circumnavigates the city providing 12 hubs of activity, transportation, and power production.
HONORABLE MENTION: PROFESSIONAL
Mobility on Demand: RSA: Dwight Bond, Diane Tadena, James Wong
A combination of rail, light-rail, smart cars, bike share, and different bus systems will provide easy connections in and between cities. Multiple vehicle types provide users with choices among combinations of cost, comfort, and functionality. A commuter might choose to ride the train to work, pick up a smart car to attend a meeting, go to the gym, or pick up groceries before going back home. In creating a dense commercial and residential environment to support and foster the inevitable expansion of the transit system, the scheme also investigates alternative development strategies that are adaptable to the ever-changing conditions of our urban culture.
Green Tech City: NBBJ: Harry Bairamian, Hrant Bairamian, So Eun Cho, Tony Choi, Scott Hunter, Byoung Kweon, Anthony Manzo, Nnamdi Ugenyi, Jonathan Ward, Tim Zamora
This scheme created green-tech districts along the Westside expansion corridor stretching from downtown to Santa Monica. The plan likened itself to a living organism, including a Skeletal System composed of new green districts between stations; a respiratory system that included a 2.5-mile green park along the length of the transit system; and tendons, which were linkages to the community, like freeway bridges, human-scaled densities, walkability plans, urban parks, and agricultural zones.
Go Mixed-Modal: Tom Beresford
In 2000, LA Metro gambled that it could increase both ridership and transit efficiency by making a bus a little more like a subway: The Metro Rapid. Mixed-modal goes even further to suggest that any bus has the potential to go “local,” “rapid,” or “express” at coordinated points along its route to flexibly serve transit demand. A bus may go “express” by entering grade-separated express lanes shared with planned or existing rail modes, with the help of new frictionless electric power-transfer technologies and hybrid rail/road drive surfaces. The mixed-modal project offers a vision of what the Expo line might look like if it operated as the “trunk” of a regional transit tree with “branches” extending up and down existing Metro Rapid lines.
Glocalizing Los Angeles: Ryan Lovett
The physical separations between places of work and play have become outdated and burdensome. Meanwhile the divide between commercial, residential, agricultural, and manufacturing zones have become so exaggerated that the infrastructures needed to connect and sustain them crumble in lack of upkeep and congestion. In conjunction with newer, faster transit systems, this plan proposes a simple development strategy that collapses the distances between all the elements needed to support our lifestyles by suggesting that workplaces, as well as production of food and goods, be within walking distance.
Modular Diffusion: Alan Lu, Yan-ping Wang
In a car, the passenger can go from any given point to another in one continuous trip. To achieve this level of mobility in tandem with an increase in roadway capacity, we introduce a mass transit system based upon a Modular Transit Vehicle (MTV for short). This modular system would allow passengers to (1) board from a wide range of street stops, (2) travel along the freeway, and (3) take the freeway exit closest to the destination and drop passengers off there, all in one ride.
Freeways Are For Trains: Ben Abelman, Vivian Ngo, Julia Siedle
This team believes that Los Angeles need not invest in a “new” public transportation system but transform its existing transportation system of freeways into “trainways.” By taking over “freeways” with rail tracks, a comprehensive expansion of the LA Metro will respond to the projects that are indicated in Measure R and will commence at a much lower cost due to taking advantage of the rights of ways established by the freeway.
HONORABLE MENTION: STUDENT
Feeding Community and the Gold Line
University of British Columbia
If we are to develop along a freeway we need to keep in mind that the surrounding residential neighborhoods need to access the train in a way that encourages a shift away from car dependency. This entry proposes a string of micro-scale infill developments along a bus line that feeds into the Eastside Transit Corridor. Positioned along newly developed commercial corridors, stops have waiting rooms that store bikes, serve as markets, and create a center of community.
Tim Do, George LaBeth, Randy Stogsdill
This scheme proposes a reconsideration of the existing freeway corridor as a multi-function transit corridor. The existing freeway would be retrofitted with a new structure that over a series of stages adds layers of public and environmentally friendly transit options. As this second tier becomes more populated, greenscaping is added, converting the freeway corridor into a vibrant public space.
Cal Poly Pomona
Los Angeles’ current subway network relies too much on a centralized spoke-network approach. A more effective subway system should also include cross-linkages. This subway design project looks to develop a new cross-link between the existing red line (which connects Hollywood and Downtown) and the future purple Westside Extension line. The proposed connecting line would add three new stops: the first at Santa Monica Blvd. and Highland Ave, the second at Santa Monica and Fairfax, and the third at La Cienega. The connecting point to the red line would be at Hollywood and Highland, and the connecting point to the future purple line would be located at the Beverly Center.
Fast, Fluid & Free: ODBC/ Odile Decq
This project takes advantage of LA’s polycentric character, developing a grid of multimodal transit systems, articulated on different levels within the existing city. On the scale of the city, the plan proposes a Free Car Transport System, on the model of free bike systems largely developed in Europe today. Electric cars will be available for hire throughout the city. Other proposals include Smooth Jumps over Motorways: stations that combine the urban proposal of green park links between the two sides of the freeways by building a station over them, and containing contain carparks, commerce, Free Car and Free Bike stations.
The Answer Is Not Mass(ive) Transit: Wes Jones
Instead of the massive, resource-intensive, and inflexible infrastructure that results from top-down approaches to planning, this proposal argues, why not consider a flexible, pragmatic, small-scale, bottom-up approach? Introducing the Elov, a small, pod-like vehicle that fits into less space than a smart car and reduces the volume of traffic by serving the same number of occupants in only one quarter of the space. Because of its light weight and micromotor efficiency, the Elov can be charged overnight using home outlets, further reducing the required infrastructure.
Friday, March 27, 2-4 pm
A New Infrastructure Discussion:
Competition Winners and METRO Transit Officials
Windsor Room, 15th Floor
One Gateway Plaza
Thursday, April 2, 7-9 pm
A New Infrastructure Discussion:
Transit And The City Panel Discussion
MAK Center at the Schindler House
835 North Kings Road
Tuesday, April 14, 7-9 pm
A New Infrastructure Discussion:
Transit and The Community Panel Discussion
6824 Melrose Avenue
Friday, June 26, 1:45-3:15 pm
A New Infrastructure Discussion:
Architects And Transit Panel Discussions
AIA Mobius/ Dwell Conference
Los Angeles Convention Center
1201 South Figueroa Street
Sponsors for A New Infrastructure include AECOM, Arup, and Sussman/Prezja. The project is also funded in part by a grant from the City of Los Angeles' Department of Cultural Affairs.
On Election Day across the country, citizens registered their votes for major changes in the White House and Congress. But change will also soon come to California’s built environment, as several major initiatives facing California transit, infrastructure, and development were approved or denied.
On the statewide ballot, Proposition 1A passed with 52.3 percent approval, meaning a high-speed train linking San Diego, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Sacramento—and most major cities in between—could be ferrying passengers at speeds of up to 220 miles per hour by 2030. While a whopping $9.95 billion in state bonds was allocated by the proposition, development cannot continue until matching funds are secured from federal, local, and private sources. A business plan for the program was released on November 7, equating it in scale to the State Water Project, the world’s largest public water and power system, funded by a 1960 bond measure. California High Speed Rail Authority chairman Quentin Kopp called the proposition’s approval a “21st-century golden spike."
Once funding is secured, the Authority will focus first on the LA-to-San Francisco “backbone” segment. Environmental impact reports have been completed for the route and alignments chosen, with the exception of the Northern Mountain Crossing connection between San Jose or Oakland and the Central Valley.
In Los Angeles County, another major transit proposal, Measure R, reported 67.93 percent voter approval when a 2/3 majority was needed. The 30-year, half-cent sales tax increase will fund improvements and expansions for light rail and subway lines, HOV lanes, freeways, and traffic reduction. According to Metro spokesman Rick Jager, the tax will go into effect next July, and citizens could start to see evidence immediately, since a portion of the funds will go directly to LA-area city governments. “The local return is an important element because these 88 cities will start getting their 15 percent share from the tax that’s generated,” he said, noting that many cities had plans for street resurfacing, pothole repairs, improving left-hand signals, pedestrian improvements, and bikeways. It also postpones a planned Metro fare increase to 2010.
The rest of the funds generated by Measure R will be available in 2010, when the major projects up for funding will be an extension of the Gold Line that goes to Azusa (the first six-mile extension of the Gold Line, begun in 2004, is on budget and on schedule to open in the summer of 2009), the Green Line extension to LAX, and the second phase of the light rail Expo Line stretching from downtown LA to Santa Monica. The first segment of the Expo Line’s route from downtown to Culver City is scheduled to open in 2010, and with this burst of funding, it could reach Santa Monica as early as 2013. Later, funding will become available for the Purple Line or “Subway to the Sea” extension in 2013.
In Santa Monica, the hotly-contested Proposition T, which would have limited development in the city to under 75,000 square feet annually, was defeated 55.92 percent to 44.08 percent. This was a relief to many architects and developers who had fought hard against the measure, including Gwynne Pugh of Pugh + Scarpa, who, in his role on Santa Monica’s planning commission, will address Proposition T’s concerns in the city’s new Land Use and Circulation Element (LUCE), which is currently in environmental impact reviews. “The LUCE has addressed this issue by stating that there will be a goal of ‘no new net trips,’” he said. “Unlike previous plans, this will be monitored, and development phased as resources are developed such as the Expo Line.”
After Beverly Hills’ city council approved a 12-story, 170-room Waldorf-Astoria hotel and two condo buildings on the site of the Beverly Hilton in May, opposed residents gathered enough signatures to put the decision on the ballot as Measure H. After results were too close to call for several weeks, on December 2 the city certified that Measure H had been approved by 129 votes, meaning that an architectural design review and tract map will move forward as planned.
In San Francisco, Proposition B, which would have required the city to set aside 2.5 cents for every $100 of assessed value over the next 15 years for affordable housing, failed 47.4 percent to 52.6 percent. This was disheartening to housing advocates and the city’s Board of Supervisors, who strongly urged its approval to prevent what they called an “affordable housing crisis” due to budgetary concerns. Proposition B would have allocated $30 million to help house those making less than $18,000. According to housing advocate Calvin Welch, the budget currently only reserves $3 million for affordable housing. Mayor Gavin Newsom was one of the strongest opponents of Prop B, arguing that it was unnecessary.
And while its outcome did not directly impact architects, another Measure R, this one also in San Francisco, was certainly a topic of conversation for anyone working in infrastructure: This ballot initiative that would have renamed a Bay Area sewage plant in honor of President George W. Bush was soundly defeated.
When the Danish urban-design guru Jan Gehl visited New York a few years ago, he was struck by how little the city had changed since the 1970s—“as if Robert Moses had only just walked out the door!” But since that visit, as Gehl recalled last night at the Center for Architecture, New York has made a surprising about-face on matters of public space, embracing the ideals of his late friend (and Moses nemesis) Jane Jacobs.
Gehl was holding forth in a town-hall-style meeting with New York City Department of Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan, who has played no small role in challenging the dominance of the automobile in New York, and who hired Gehl Architects last year to study the quality of public life on the city’s streets. She and Gehl articulated their shared vision for keeping New York globally competitive by making its streets some of the best in the world. “We can’t afford to slip into a Yogi Berra situation,” said Sadik-Khan, “where New York becomes so crowded that nobody goes there anymore!”
Unfortunately, Gehl continued, New York still bears deep scars of Moses’ long reign. His team’s findings (in a report distributed on eco-friendly USB drives, naturally) highlighted telltale signals of poor-quality street life: pedestrian crowding, low frequencies of stationary activities, and low proportions of children and elderly on the sidewalks. Partly to blame are a sad dearth of sidewalk cafes, along with far too much scaffolding and too many shuttered facades. (The stretch of Broadway from Columbus Circle to Houston Street—one of the busiest in the city—has only six curbside cafes, and scaffolding obscures 30 percent of its buildings.) Gehl’s team also deplored the fact that many public spaces don’t link to their surrounding streets and buildings, but instead require a deliberate trip—often across traffic—to reach them.
Still, Gehl expressed unhesitating enthusiasm about the city’s potential. “You are absolutely lucky here!” he exclaimed. “You have such wide streets. So you can have nice comfortable wide sidewalks, street trees, bike lanes. Maybe even,” he allowed with a grin, “also some lanes for the cars.”
And what about the economic crisis? Can we really afford to pour money into prettifying our streets at a time like this? Streetscapes, it turns out, may be just the right focus for urban investment at the moment. “It is very cost-effective for us to make these changes,” Sadik-Khan emphasized. That’s partly because many DOT projects can be achieved at relatively minimal cost—but also because, as Gehl’s research has shown time and again, pedestrian-friendly streets boost nearby property values and deliver more customers to local businesses.
So how far is New York prepared to go toward pedestrian nirvana? When one audience member asked if the city had given any thought to closing off Broadway to cars entirely, there was a smattering of applause—and then came Sadik-Khan’s reply, which more or less translated to fuhgeddaboudit.
All the same, it was impossible not to feel a touch of exhilaration at the city’s new trajectory. “I am quite sure that in her heaven,” as Gehl told the crowd, “Jane Jacobs is looking down and thinking, ‘Finally, my city is on the right track!’”
The Department of City Planning has introduced new zoning language that would require secure bicycle parking in all new commercial, multi-family residential, and institutional buildings. The zoning change will go through public review before being voted on by the City Council. “It’s one of a series of incremental changes that we hope will lead to a snowball effect,” said Rachaele Raynoff, press secretary for Planning Commissioner Amanda Burden. “It’s about changing the culture to make biking a fun, easy, and safe mode of transportation.”
The requirements are relatively modest. Residential buildings with more than ten units will require one space for every two units. Office buildings must provide one space for every 7,500 square feet of space. Retail and most commercial and community uses would be required to have one space for every 10,000 square feet.
Bicycling advocates hailed the move as a significant step forward. “It’s major. It’s one of the big three, along with bike sharing and dedicated lanes, necessary to make New York a great biking city,” said Wiley Norvell, communications director for Transportation Alternatives (TA). Still, TA believes requirements need to be adopted for existing buildings, which make up the vast majority of the city’s building stock.
The change goes against the wishes of some in the real estate industry. In a letter to members, Real Estate Board of New York president Steven Spinola encouraged voluntary inclusion of indoor bicycle parking, but wrote, “We have strongly urged the city not to consider legislation requiring office buildings to provide bicycle parking and we will continue to do so.”
In another step toward upgrading cycling conditions in New York, the winner of the City Racks Design Competition, which called for a new standard bike rack for the city, will be announced on Friday, November 15. Ten finalists were named, but the announcement was delayed by a week to allow some of the winners to travel for the ceremony. On Friday, November 7, the design competition website Bustler incorrectly implied that a red, free-form design by Francis Anthony Bitonti’s FADarchitecture had been selected. According to Norvell, who knows the winning team but declined to name it, Bitonti was not the winner.
New York’s quixotic quest to turn traffic-choked streets into pedestrian paradise took another step forward today, when Transportation Alternatives released the winning entries in its Designing the 21st Century Street competition.
The contest, which drew more than 100 entries from 13 countries, challenged designers to reimagine sidewalks and avenues that could safely accommodate pedestrians, bicyclists, transit, trucks, and cars on the same “complete street”—a notion gaining traction in other nations and cities, but one that has until very recently eluded New York's car-centric transportation planners.
Coming on the heels of the Design Trust for Public Space’s Grand Army Plaza competition, as well as the popular PARK(ing) Day, Transportation Alternatives’ competition focused on the intersection of 4th Avenue and 9th Street in Park Slope, Brooklyn, a wide-street crossroads plagued by speeding and reckless driving.
“We asked entrants to thread the needle of safety and mobility while designing world-class public space,” said Paul Steely White, executive director of Transportation Alternatives, in a statement. “Given that this intersection is one of the city’s most problematic crossings, each of the winning designs could serve as a template for countless streets across NYC.”
The jury—which included Danish planner-about-town Jan Gehl, New York City chief urban designer Alexandros Washburn, and architect Laurie Hawkinson—selected three winners. Rogers Marvel Architects was recognized for its entry Streets for Everyone, which focused on integrating infrastructure, turning 9th Street into an urban stormwater swale that filters runoff on its way to the Gowanus Canal. The design also places bike lanes in the middle of the street, offers “flex lanes” that can be claimed as neighborhood social space during times of low traffic, and revamps an adjacent overpass as a covered plaza with sheltered bike parking.
Somerville, Massachusetts-based Steven Nutter took honors for Shared Space, an entry that looked at fine-grained boundaries between different user groups. The plan widens 4th Avenue to allow for street trees on each side and a wider, mixed-use median with container-planted trees. Street life is focused on 9th Street, with widened sidewalks, bike paths, lighted bollards, and benches that create a more intimate scale.
Finally, Philadelphia-based team LEVON’s entry boldly resurrects the street as public domain, adding civic space, markets, gardens, leisure zones, and water areas. A heavy dose of green—in the form of street trees, gardens, and other organic elements—cuts down on the heat-island effect while providing new spaces for social use. In a nod to urban efficiency, all of the project’s elements are organized around a single, flexible module—one that is exactly the size of a parking space.
THE STIMULATING JEAN NOUVEL
Ah, springtime, when young men’s fancy turns to love, and middle-aged men’s fancy apparently turns to things a little fleshier. At a recent launch party for L’Homme, a new men’s fragrance from Yves Saint Laurent, the main attraction was the presence of Jean Nouvel, who had designed the fragrance’s bottle. Like so much of what the bald and black-clad architect creates, it caused gasps. A thick test-tube-like glass shaft rises from an octagonal platform base. But heck, biomimicry is all the rage these days, right? The brief was presumably to come up with something virile, and Nouvel obviously took his directive literally. And just in case you missed the joke, there is a squirmy little bauble floating around inside. Mr. Nouvel described it thusly to the good people of Wallpaper*: “I wanted to give it a clear-cut shape, so it would easily fit a man's hand while still stimulating different aspects of his imagination.” We prefer to rouse our imagination by gazing at the picture of L’Homme’s spokesmodel Olivier Martinez.
A TELEPORTER IN EVERY POT
We are feeling civically inclined this afternoon, and tough times require bold thinking and new ideas. We would therefore like to make a suggestion to Governor David Paterson for a successor to Patrick Foye of the Empire State Development Corporation: the writer Andrei Codrescu. We were flipping through Architect magazine the other day and saw an article on the parlous state of America’s infrastructure, and what a handful of experts and thinkers recommend to fix it. Most suggested sound and reasonably predictable measures—planner and teacher Alex Garvin thought money should be allocated to a trust fund for community planning, design, and engineering, while a fellow from the League of American Bicyclists advocated a comprehensive network of bike lanes—but nothing so vanilla for Codrescu. Once we have introduced hydrogen-fueled mag-lev trains and free access to bikes, commuter vans, and canoes, he wrote, “we should mobilize a huge national will to make teleportation available to everyone.” To finance it? “Within every municipality there should be a tax-exempt 24-hour zone where everything is legal: drugs, sex, and music.” This last suggestion, we dare say, might just get traction among some local pols.
SEND TIPS AND TELEPORTERS TO EAVESDROP@ARCHPAPER.COM
Cyclists on Ninth Avenue will soon have a lane of their own. Currently under construction, the separated bike lane is adjacent to the sidewalk and buffered by a parking lane, and is believed to be the first of its kind in the country. Modeled on a similar program in Copenhagen, it also includes planted medians at intersections that shorten the pedestrian crossing distance by 25 feet. This so-called “complete street” design is being tested from 16th to 23rd streets where they then connect to more conventional bike lanes in the Meatpacking District and the West Village. “We’re really trying to get quality over quantity, not just more bike lanes, but the best bike lanes in any given situation,” Joshua Benson, bicycle program coordinator for the Department of Transportation (DOT), said.
While the goal of the program is to improve bicycle safety and to increase bike ridership as a part of Mayor Bloomberg’s PlaNYC, the design should provide benefits for drivers as well, chiefly through easier turns at left lanes at 16th, 18th, and 22nd streets. The turning lanes should relieve what DOT calls “back pressure,” a situation in which drivers, for fear of being rear-ended, make hasty turns that imperil pedestrians. In addition to the left turn lanes, which cross the bike lane, intersections will be equipped with special signals for both the turn lane and the bike lane. “There are a lot of pieces to it, but people are adjusting smoothly,” he said. “The key for this project is to study it and learn how it functions.”
Cycling enthusiasts are effusive about the design. “The design was unveiled and it was under construction a month later. In New York, that’s nothing short of revolutionary,” said Wiley Norvell, communications director for the advocacy group Transportation Alternatives. “I know a lot of planners around the country who are jealous.”