Philadelphia officially recognizes cyclists as a constituency deserving special protection. This week, Mayor Jim Kenney announced the creation of a "Complete Streets Commissioner," a new position in city government to oversee the creation of more bike-friendly infrastructure. But the story gets complicated from there. Historically, Kenney is not the most ardent supporter of "complete streets," a term coined by the National Complete Streets Coalition to describe roads harmoniously designed for cyclists, pedestrians, public transportation users, and cars. In 2009, as a City Council member, Kenney introduced legislation to up fines for headphone-wearing bike riders. His co-legislators are not too enthused about bikes, either: The same City Council gave itself veto power over proposed bike lanes in 2012. The Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia lead the creation of the commissioner position. According to Philadelphia Magazine, the Bicycle Coalition organized a mayoral forum for Democratic candidates, where each would-be mayor claimed to support "Vision Zero" objectives. The group issued a platform last year during election season, outlining reforms needed to make safer streets. Sarah Clark Stuart, executive director of the Bicycle Coalition, maintains that "creating a commissioner who is thinking about and looking at all transportation modes, and how to make them safer and work better for everyone, that is new. And what that signals is that there is a dedicated, high-ranking official who is assigned the responsibilities to marshall citywide resources and set policy toward the goal of making Philadelphia's streets safer for everyone." Why isn't Philadelphia's Office of Transportation & Utilities assuming these responsibilities? In a shift towards a "strong-managing-director form of government," Kenney is simultaneously creating the Complete Streets Commissioner position while closing the Office of Transportation & Utilities. Clarena Tolson, the Deputy Managing Director of Transportation & Infrastructure, will continue to oversee street maintenance, water, some of the complete streets program, as well as synchronize operations of the Philadelphia Energy Authority and SEPTA. There's no word yet on the application process. Urbanists, keep your ears peeled.
Posts tagged with "Complete Streets":
After more than a decade of planning and three years of construction, Queens Quay in Toronto has been turned into a veritable urbanist's dreamscape on the waterfront. Four lanes of traffic have been reduced to two making room for a separated bike path, separated light rail, benches, thousands of new trees, and extra-wide pedestrian promenades with pavers set into maple leaf patterns. https://www.youtube.com/watch?t=54&v=gIv4dCDfIlc In 2006, West 8 and local firm DTAH, won an international design competition led by Waterfront Toronto to fully reimagine the area. "Once uninviting, the opening of the new world-class Queens Quay, links major destinations along the water’s edge creating a public realm that is pedestrian and cycling-friendly," said West 8 on its website. "It offers a grand civic meeting place and an environment conducive to economic vitality and ground floor retail activity." (In April, West 8 won another Waterfront Toronto competition to reimagine the Jack Layton Ferry Terminal and Harbour Square Park.) In the video above, West 8 explains the massive undertaking, which included significant infrastructure upgrades below the new public amenities. While the long-awaited revitalized Queens Quay has been celebrated and enjoyed by pedestrians and cyclists, the new configuration (notably the reduction of traffic lanes) has been confusing, and frustrating, some Toronto drivers. This learning curve should straighten out soon, though, as the Toronto Star reported that new signs and street markings are on the way to clear up any questions about who and what goes where. Check out the video below, as Toronto Star reporter Stephen Spencer Davis bikes along the Queens Quay.
It’s been about a year since the Los Angeles Department of Transportation (DOT) took the reins over MyFigueroa, a project that hopes to remake the 4-miles in and around Figueroa Street from LA Live to Exposition Park, near USC. But things are quickly wrapping up, because the $20-million Proposition 1C funds it was awarded need to be spent by 2014. On April 9, DOT hosted a community meeting in downtown LA to unveil updated designs for this crucial connective corridor, which when finished, would be the city’s first implemented complete street. The design includes plans for a cycle track, a fully separated path from 7th Street south to 11th Street and then again from 20th Street south to Exposition Boulevard. Remaining areas will have painted, buffered bike lines, which would delineate between bike lanes and car lanes. Other elements include: bus platforms built into the sidewalk; improved LED street lighting; pedestrian-oriented signage (including ones that will inform pedestrians how long it takes to walk toward certain destinations); high-visibility crosswalks; new and repaired paving; as well as additional and removed plantings. The result is meant to be a street that “reflects the way we live now,” said Melani Smith, principal at Melendrez Design Partners. It would transform Figueroa Street into a fast-paced alternative to taking the 110 highway into a multimodal hub that would accommodate bus lanes, bike lanes, and pedestrians on its streets. A few skeptical community members raised concerns on the design’s traffic impact, especially on 11th Street, which will be reduced to one car lane from two, but will have a buffered bike lane and possibly an extended sidewalk. Damien Goodmon, executive director of the Crenshaw Subway Coalition, looked for the traffic studies and environmental study that was done in the corridor. David Somers of City Planning assured the public that traffic projects with a 20-30 year horizon were taken into consideration in the plans. Past precedents do make a strong case for MyFigueroa. Designing complete streets not only increases pedestrian safety, but also adds to commerce. When Union Square North in New York was protected from traffic, studies showed a 26 percent decrease in injuries and 49 percent decrease in commercial vacancies. When complete street extensions were implemented on 8th and 9th Avenues (again in New York), there was 35 and 58 percent decrease in injuries respectively while retail sales increased 49 percent. Jeff Jacobberger, vice-chair of Mid-City West Community Council agreed. “Change is always unsettling,” he said. But as a cyclist and a car driver Jacobberger said MyFigueroa is something that needs to be done rather than maintaining a status quo where drivers are continually given precedence on the streets at the expense of the city’s quality of life. MyFigueroa plans have finished environmental studies and will be up for approval by the Los Angeles DOT General Manager sometime in May. Once approved, the designs will go out for bid the rest of 2013. Construction will occur throughout 2014.
Planning and transportation wonks from around the country gathered at NYU's Kimmel Center this morning to mark the beginning of three-days of the NACTO Designing Cities conference, emphasizing new and innovative ideas for designing streets and public spaces. To jumpstart the event, the National Association of City Transportation Officials released the Urban Street Design Guide, collecting design principles, strategies, and case studies from across the country on how to best design and implement everything from cycletracks to bus rapid transit. NACTO President and perhaps the most revered transportation official ever, NYC Department of Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan served as event host, praising efforts to rejuvenate cities across the country. "Our nation's strength lies on our cities, which are proving grounds for innovation and bold ideas from the curb line to the skyline," she said. "As we unveil this first-ever playbook for innovative, sustainable streets, we're also seeing time and again that these investments deliver incredible economic benefits as they build safer, more attractive streets." While stressing the important role cities are playing and will continue to play, Sadik-Khan pointed out what many have observed throughout the current election season: the seemingly third-rail quality of the word "city" in national politics. She stressed cities must not wait for the politicians to come to them, and instead lead their own way toward urban reinvention. The keynote was delivered by U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood, one federal player not afraid of tackling urban issues. As he has throughout his tenure, LaHood looked ahead to the future of transportation policy and design, placing added emphasis on finding new ways of infrastructure financing. The three-day Designing Cities event covers every topic a transportation nerd could love, from 8-80 Bikeways to Open Streets to inclusive urban design, occasionally delving into the more esoteric concerns of traffic light signal phasing and parking payment policy. At this morning's "Complete Streets in Constrained Corridors" session, leaders from Chicago, Boston, and San Francisco shared case studies from their respective cities, highlighting new trends in managing street interactions (such as how cyclists and buses and streetcars can get along safely), working with the public to increase engagement and understanding of complete streets designs, and the differences in the regional approaches to complete streets policies. If three days with the likes of LaHood, Sadik-Khan, Tom Vanderbilt, and Bruce Katz weren't enough, the Museum of the City of New York is hosting another transportation-related event this evening with RPA's Robert Yaro, historian Kenneth Jackson, and Jonathan Peters from the College of Staten Island. Staten Island Traffic Report: The Moses Legacy and Beyond kicks off at 6:30p.m. at the museum.
With only 75 weeks left in New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg's administration, cyclists the city over will inevitably be concerned about the next mayor's stance on bike lanes and street designs lest initiatives put in place under Bloomberg fall from grace. One need only to recall Marty Markowitz's parodic tricycle stunts poking fun at bike lanes or former NYC DOT commissioner Iris Weinshall's efforts to remove a protected bike lane from Brooklyn's Prospect Park West to realize that the concern is not unfounded. At yesterday’s regularly-scheduled City Planning review session, former Bogotá Parks Commissioner Gil Penalosa was invited to give a pep talk, placing a particular emphasis on bike lanes. He warned an audience filled with commissioners and planning staff that as the weeks wind down before the mayor leaves office, they'd better get cracking at PR and permanence: the public needs to become even more familiar with the bike network and the infrastructure needs to become permanent—and striped bike lanes won't cut it! Penalosa now runs the Toronto-based non-profit 8-80 Cities, which espouses the philosophy that if a city is safe for 8-year-olds and 80-year-olds then it will be safe for all citizens. While the philosophy is applied to sidewalks as much as bike lanes, it is particularly interesting when applied to the great strides made in New York's bike network under current DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan. Take 8th or 9th avenues in recent years as an example. You might not be too concerned if your kid or grandma pedaled along the green-painted, protected bike lanes in Chelsea, where the lanes runs between the sidewalk and a planted median, and is further buffered from car traffic by parked cars. But moving toward Midtown, the street shifts and bike are moved into narrower striped bike lanes or sharrowed streets at the Port Authority Bus Terminal with no separated bike lane at all. Fortunately in this case, the city recently announced that 8th and 9th avenues will be treated with protected bike lanes between 34th Street and Columbus Circle, filling in the missing teeth. Clearly some of Sadik-Khan's surgical approaches to curb traffic, increase safety, and make way for pedestrians and cyclists are working their way toward permanence, with Snøhetta's Times Square redesign being most extraordinary example. But Penalosa warned that an incremental approach to building a bike network is like the city building a soccer field in phases: We'll put up one field goal this year, then part of the field next year, and hopefully we'll get to the other goal before the next administration decides its a waste of money and abandons the plan. And with the city's 10,000-bike-strong Citi Bike bike-share system to be launched as soon as August, a complete bike network will be more important than ever. Penalosa said that the bike network as it stands is a very substantial start that has opened people's eyes. Cities the world over are pointing to New York's plan as an example, and some, like Chicago, are taking it even further. But he noted that without a network of protected bike lanes and lower traffic speeds, bike infrastructure will struggle to reach its full capacity beyond those who are already established cyclists. If the city wants to coax more people into the system, Penalosa said, then they need to feel safe. So, could all of New York's bike lanes be erased? While it seems unlikely today, one only needs to look to Penalosa's home base in Toronto where several pro-environment mayoral candidates on the left couldn't get their act together to protect strides made by former Mayor David Miller. The conservative candidate Rob Ford won the mayoral election promising to end the "war on cars" brought about by increased cycling. "Not even in his wildest nightmares did Miller think that Rob Ford would be elected," Penalosa said by phone from Toronto. "There's a point when the stars are aligned, when you have the right mayor and the right politicians, but you never know if the next mayor is going to be the same."
One of Jane Jacobs’ most valuable contributions to the understanding of cities was her faith in the wisdom of the urban dweller. She argued that the physical city—and any approach to city planning—could not be separated from the wisdom of each individual inhabitant, “People who know well such animated city streets will know how it is. I am afraid people who do not will always have it a little wrong in their heads, like the old prints of rhinoceroses made from travelers’ descriptions of rhinoceroses.” The complication arising from Jacobs’ argument is simple though difficult to solve; how can we plan a city when planning is one part abstraction and abstraction removes us from Jacobs’ precious “real life” mentality? A step towards solving this contradiction is sfbetterstreets.org, a website launched last week by the City of San Francisco. Developed by the San Francisco Planning Department in conjunction with other city agencies, the website is part of the city’s larger, “Better Streets” initiative. The legislative concept, described in San Francisco's Better Streets Plan, is to create streets “designed and built to strike a balance between all users regardless of physical abilities or mode of travel… maximizing features for the comfort, usability, and aesthetics of people walking.” Many cities have made strides to improve the everyday experience of urban dwellers; PlaNYC in New York is an excellent example. Unique to San Francisco’s approach though—encapsulated in the “Better Streets” website—is an emphasis on direct citizen engagement through the provision of necessary tools for engaging city government and the community. The website empowers individual citizens and associations to change their streets by including ideas for street improvements, accessible descriptions of necessary permit processes, and suggestions for building community support. On the page for each specific street improvement, a small box entitled "Agency who can help" provides access to further information on how to request a specific street improvement. Sfbetterstreets.org is best understood as city-supported citizen engagement. When the New York City Department of Transportation created a website to solicit crowd-sourced suggestions for locating stations of the upcoming Bike Share program, it received over 70,000 votes from interested members of the public. San Francisco’s “Better Streets” outreach is an important example of how to harness the public’s interest in shaping city planning. Although a city-led initiative, “Better Streets” taps into the city itself, acknowledging what Jane Jacobs believes to be the most knowledgeable voice in the city: the people themselves.
Synthetic Forests. BldgBlog uncovered a series of aerial photos of Dutch tree farms by artist Gerco de Ruijter. Called Baumschule, the pristine man-made geometry overlaid upon nature is really quite stunning. Saving Robin Hood. One of the first brutalist buildings in London by the Smithsons could be saved from demolition and converted into modern family townhomes. BD Online reports that a proposal by Sarah Wigglesworth Architects plans new units on the roof. Completing Indy. A proposed "complete streets" bill for the Indiana Department of Transportation is currently being considered that would require a multimodal approach to transportation design and could be a be a coup for pedestrians and cyclists. Urban Indy has the details, including a potential loophole. Urban Playoffs. There's an ideological battle fermenting between the forces behind New Urbanism and newcomer Landscape Urbanism. The Boston Globe details the differences between the two and the latest on the battle of the urban minds.