In the age of apps, we have seen basic human activities like eating, dating, shopping, and exercising be condensed into simple swipes and clicks. It’s a brave new world and one that has folded-in the complex process of financing, developing, and designing new projects. And in recent years, there has been a batch of new apps designed to help planners, architects, cities, and the general public create more livable cities. Here are a few of those apps that caught AN’s attention. StreetMix Imagine if you could redesign a city street in an instant—without the hassles of political approval, community input, or extensive planning. Sounds pretty nice, right? Well, an app called Streetmix lets you live that urbanist dream, at least in a two-dimensional, cartoony kind of way. In the Streetmix world, if you want a wider bike lane, you can go right ahead and build a wider bike lane. You want light-rail? All aboard. You want a wayfinding sign? Done. How about two wayfinding signs? They’re already in. It’s just that easy. Now, obviously, the app is not intended to be an actual data-driven planning tool. For starters, there are no implications if you, say, remove all driving lanes and mass transit options and replace them with trees and benches. And that’s the fun of it. Instead, Streetmix was designed as a user-friendly program that lets everyday citizens understand what's possible on a typical city street. Lou Huang, of Code For America, which is behind the app, told Next City that he hopes these people can then use this knowledge to better engage in their community's planning process. WideNoise and Stereopublic A neighborhood's lively mix of restaurants, bars, streets, and shops can be both its biggest draw and its most frustrating feature. All of that street-level action may signify a vibrant and livable slice of the city, but try living directly above it. Try getting some sleep with all of that constant chaos. For those who have to wear earplugs, and sleep alongside a white noise machine, there are two apps that may be able to help you out. The first is called WideNoise and it allows users to track noise pollution across an entire city. It’s part of a larger, open-source EU project called EveryAware which monitors all types of pollution. WideNoise is focused entirely on the noise side of things. “With WideNoise you can monitor the noise levels around you, everywhere you go,” explained the app's creators on its website. “You can also check the online map to see the average sound level of the area around you. Do you live in a ‘sleeping cat area’ or in a noisier ‘rock concert area’?” So WideNoise might not be a huge help to those currently living in a noisy area, but it could be a helpful tool when they try to escape it. A somewhat similar crowd-sourcing, noise-tracking app is the less-official-sounding Stereopublic. The app's creators describe it as "a participatory art project that asks you to navigate your city for quiet spaces, share them with your social networks, take audio and visual snapshots, experience audio tours and request original compositions made using your recordings.” OppSites and OpportunitySpaces Officially launching this fall is OppSites, an app that connects cities that want to develop with national investors who can make it happen. To do that, the platform allows cities to “promote their development priorities and share local knowledge” with interested investors. There is a free service that offers investors real-time market and civic updates on certain sites, but those willing to shell out a few dollars can get the premium level that provides visualizations of development opportunities. There is also a similar website with a similar name, OpportunitySpace, that offers a similar service: portals that visualize under-used or vacant sites that are all publicly-owned. The idea is roughly the same—connect developers, investors, and the public with information about cities, but the website is focused entirely on government properties that have seen better days. In June, the site’s cofounder and CEO, Alex Kapur, told CityLab that all the information they display is publicly available, it's just not publicly accessible.
Posts tagged with "light rail":
After years of planning, Detroit's M-1 Rail Line took an important step into physical reality this week, as piles of 80-foot-long, 3,000-pound rails arrived on construction sites that will build the 3.3 mile streetcar line by the end of 2016. Streetcars in Detroit made their final run in 1956, but the new $140 million public-private infrastructure project could renew public transit in the Motor City. It's a small stretch of rail in the context of Detroit's massive urban footprint and widespread depopulation, but despite the system's shortcomings, some see M-1 as a reason to be optimistic about the city's future. Others say it's a boondoggle. At 3.3 miles long, the line will include 12 stops along Woodward Avenue, connecting pockets of development in Downtown and Midtown. It was originally intended to be almost 10 miles long. If the M-1 catalyzes development in the area, as its supporters predict, it's possible there would be an extension of the rail line. Rides are expected to begin by late 2016, around the same time as portions of an ambitious plan to attract development with cultural destinations and a new Red Wings arena. Meanwhile Detroit-based construction firm Farrow Group is already at work laying the rails, which arrived earlier this week from an Indiana factory of L.B. Foster Co.
It finally happened. After decades of planning, five years of construction, and months of delays, Washington D.C.'s brand-new Silver Metro line welcomed over 50,000 commuters for its opening weekend. The new 11.4-mile line, which includes five new stations, will ultimately connect the city to Dulles Airport in Virginia. That part of the line is scheduled to open in 2018. The Silver line, though, is more than an attempt to connect a city with its airport—it's the latest, multi-billion dollar effort to expand a rail system, spur economic development, and create more walkable, pedestrian-friendly destinations. So, yes, it's ambitious. And, yes, it was expensive. A host of local and national officials—including Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx—were on hand this weekend to test out the new rails, which were first proposed in the early 1960s. Many of the excited commuters on their inaugural rides told local news crews that the Silver line will significantly cut down their commute time and may even allow them to ditch their car altogether. The Metro predicts there will be 50,000 daily riders on the Silver line by this time next year, and more than twice that by 2025 when the line is connected to Dulles Airport. Of course, building an entirely new rail line comes with significant costs (and significant delays and significant cost overruns). This first section of the project cost $2.9 billion, which is $150 million over budget, and opened six months late. All told, this first phase of the line cost nearly $47,000 a foot. The second phase is expected to cost $2.7 billion. About half of the total cost of the first phase came from increased tolls on the Dulles Toll road. The remaining half is a mix of funds from federal and local levels. In between DC and Dulles is Tysons Corner—an area in Virginia that's trying to shake its reputation as just a collection of shopping malls and office towers. That is no easy task, but the powerful interests in town see the opening of the Silver line as a crucial test of whether that's even possible. “There's not much riding on the Silver Line except the future of the American suburb as we know it,” CityLab recently declared. “A half-dozen Fortune 500 companies are based [in Tysons],” explained the site. “The area is rife with high-end hotels, restaurants, and department stores; there's even a Tesla dealership coming in. But grocery stores never arrived in any substantial numbers, nor did churches or parks or any of the other sorts of services that could help make a place feel like home for the roughly 19,000 people who live here now.” To achieve that, Tysons is planning new permanent green space, pop-up parks, new trees, overall streetscape improvements, and thousands of new apartments. A key element of the Silver line's planning seems to be perfectly aligned with that goal of a more walkable, urbanistic future. But it's not what the Silver line offers Tysons—rather what it doesn't: parking. The Washington Post reported that there are no parking garages at four of the five stations in Tysons. Walking or biking to one of these stations, though, appears to be a rather hellish experience, according to Ken Archer, who works at a software firm in Tysons."I've endured the lack of crosswalks in Tysons Corner for years as a pedestrian, but assumed that Fairfax County would add crosswalks before the Silver Line began operation," he wrote on the blog Greater Greater Washington. "The county needs to create safe pedestrian pathways immediately, rather than waiting until someone gets hurt or killed."
For a metro area as widely praised for its alternative transportation options as Minnesota’s Twin Cities, it’s surprising Minneapolis and St. Paul are only now celebrating a new light rail connection between their downtowns. The U.S. Department of Transportation called the Central Corridor, also known as the METRO Green Line, “the single largest public works project in the history of Minnesota.” The Twin Cities' Metropolitan Council says construction employed 5,500 people and created 200 permanent new operations jobs at a total cost of $957 million, $480 million of which was in federal funds, including TIGER grants. State and local governments split the rest. The METRO Green Line runs between Target Field in Minneapolis and Union Depot in St. Paul, stopping 23 times. Some 45,000 people rode the new transit line on June 14, its opening day, reminding many of the more than 500 miles of streetcar tracks that crisscrossed the Twin Cities 50 years ago. Some criticized the project for its costs, the Star Tribune reported, labeling the 11-mile route “the money train.” Others used an opening day with no major hang-ups to call for a slew of other rail projects around the city and state. Now that the Green Line's hoopla is over, as the Pioneer Press put it, “its real test begins.”
As part of continuing efforts in the Southwest to develop and improve transit systems, the City of Austin has announced its intention to build an urban rail system known as UltraRail that will run through the city’s eastern downtown. Traffic in east downtown Austin is beastly. It is largely made up of drivers who have short commutes, who together create major congestion during rush hour. For this reason UltraRail is being designed as a light rail/streetcar hybrid. It will be built with sharper control sensibilities, allowing for tighter corner turns, and regularly spaced, relatively close stops along the route that will hopefully make it a viable alternative to driving. But the heavy-duty installation is no light matter. Depending on how plans solidify, UltraRail is estimated to cost $1.6 billion. Half of the money will be paid by federal dollars; the other half will come from obligation bonds. Austin is currently working with stakeholders to determine the exact length and placement of the UltraRail system, and how best to phase the project. In addition to ironing out the technical wrinkles, the usual hurdles remain: nailing down the specifics of budget, design, and pushing through the various planning stages in order to begin building. Completion is presently slated for 2020.
As development along the Brooklyn and Queens’ waterfront has increased dramatically over the years, transportation options—for residents old and new—has not. The number of glass towers, startups, and parks along the East River has only been matched by style pieces on new “it” neighborhoods from Astoria to Red Hook. But, now, the New York Times' Michael Kimmelman has used his platform to launch a plan to change that equation, and give these neighborhoods the transportation system they deserve. Kimmelman is proposing a modern streetcar to better connect these waterfront neighborhoods. He explained that a streetcar system takes less time to build than a new subway line, needs less space on the road than light-rail, and is more romantic than a city bus. “By providing an alternative to cars, streetcars also dovetail with Mayor De Blasio’s vow to improve pedestrian safety,” Kimmelman said, adding that the mayor wouldn’t need Albany’s blessing for this plan. The streetcar would, of course, not run cheap, but Kimmelman said the upfront costs are more than worth it. “The city’s urban fabric can’t be an afterthought,” says Kimmelman. “The keys to improved city life—better health care, housing, schools, culture, business, tourism and recreation—all have spatial implications.” Read Kimmelman's full proposal at the NY Times.
Blair Kamin convened a panel of designers at the Chicago Architecture Foundation last Wednesday for a discussion around themes explored in his recent series “Designed in Chicago, Made in China,” in which the Chicago Tribune architecture critic assessed the effects of that country’s rapid development on urbanism and design. “It’s often said that architecture is the inescapable art,” Kamin said to lead off the talk. “If that’s true then China’s urbanization is the inescapable story.” Joining Kamin were Jonathan D. Solomon, associate dean at the School of Architecture at Syracuse University; Thomas Hussey of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill; Ralph Johnson of Perkins + Will; and Silas Chiow, SOM’s China director. The event was part of the Tribune's "Press Pass" series. If you haven’t read Kamin's series, you should. It examined contemporary Chinese cities and some U.S. designers thereof, giving special attention to trends in three categories: work, live, and play. Photographer John J. Kim illustrated with visuals. “In regards to street life and public space,” said SOM’s Hussey, “there can be a lack of an attitude towards it.” Long Chinese “megablocks” in Shanghai’s soaring Pudong district facilitate an urbanism not on the street, which few Americans would find walkable, but it has given rise to a kind of vertical urbanism within mixed-use towers and urban malls. Hussey pointed to SOM’s plan for a new financial district in the port area of Tianjin, China’s fourth largest city, which seeks to restore the street life present in Chinese cities before rapid modern development. And while Chinese cities are growing up, they’re also growing out. Ralph Johnson of Perkins + Will reminded the audience that in the absence of property taxes, Chinese municipalities make money for new development by selling off land. That creates a ripple effect of rising property values and a pressure to sell that is devouring arable farmland. That trend’s not likely to slow down, said SOM’s Silas Chiow, since part of China’s national strategy to turn the largely manufacturing nation into a consumer country is to continue its rapid urbanization. That pressure helped produce China’s enviable mass transit systems and light rail connectivity, but also a homogeneity of design that some have called dehumanizing. Height limits, uniform standards for south-facing units and other design requirements that by themselves improve standard of living can breed sprawling, cookie-cutter developments that are easy to get lost in. Still, housing projects in China don’t carry the social stigma that they do in the U.S., commented a few panel members, in part because they’ve brought modern amenities to so many. Where China’s urbanization goes from here, however, is an open question. Images of smog-choked skylines remind some of Chicago in 1900, but the situation is not a perfect analogue. For one, the problem of carbon pollution is far more urgent now than it was then, and its sources far more potent. “Will China be the death of the urban world,” asked Kamin at the panel’s close, “or its savior?”
Detroiters have heard before that the Motor City could see better mass transit as soon as 2015. Local and state leaders came together in 2012 to form the area’s first regional transit agency (RTA), but Streetsblog reported locals are losing patience with Michigan’s newest RTA. While waiting times for buses drag on, frustration grows. The RTA recommended holding off on a ballot measure for another two years, prompting a protest march from transit advocates. They marched from the Rosa Parks Transit Center to the board’s meeting place at 1001 Woodward, one of many Rock Ventures developments in the region (Read a Q&A with Rock Ventures real estate chief Jim Ketai here). We Are Mode Shift reported even members of the RTA are losing faith:
Larry Dilworth, a member of the board’s Community’s Advisory Committee and the disabilities advocacy group Warriors on Wheels, told board members he had considered stepping down from his position with the CAC due to doubts about the RTA’s short-term effectiveness.RTA’s chief executive John Hertel resigned in January in part because of concerns about funding stability—a problem that still plagues transit efforts in a region with a long history of sprawl, segregation, and steep financial challenges. Detroit’s light rail project, the Woodward Light Rail Line, got a boost last year from former U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood in the form of $25 million in federal TIGER funding. The 3-mile long light rail system along Woodward Avenue would include 11 stops running from the city’s downtown to New Center.
It’s no secret that Houston is going through a growth spurt. The city currently has four central business districts that, if separated, would each be among the country’s top 15 employment centers. In the next 30 years, 3.5 million people are projected to move to the 8-county region, with two million of those concentrated in Harris County. In a recent presentation to the Livable Houston Initiative, Kimley-Horn Associates engineer Sam Lott characterized the increased traffic that this population growth will entail as an impending crisis. “Our crisis is that we cannot build enough capacity,” said Lott. “TxDot is reaching the limit of what they can do. They’re now at a point where it’s going to be a challenge to maintain the capacity we’ve got. More traffic will move to city streets and the congestion on the freeways…is going to last all day long. The light rail and bus system, as important as it is and as we need to build it, is not in itself going to be able to provide the necessary capacity.” Lott put forth a three-fold solution to this congestion forecast. 1) Establish protected right of ways to increase the capacity of the freight rail system. 2) Create a regional commuter rail system as an alternative to the freeways with stops every five to 10 miles. 3) Build a grade-separated transit circulator system to work in concert with the light rail and regional commuter rail. Lott posited that a grade-separated circulator that connected the city’s four employment centers would be a boon for Houston. “I believe we would have the economic equivalent of Manhattan if this system were built,” he said.
In what the Cincinnati Enquirer called “a meeting filled with fire and suspense,” City Council voted 5-4 to halt construction on its $133 million streetcar project. The Enquirer has a breakdown of how and why, in their own words, each council member voted:
“We don’t want to waste money,” said Councilwoman Amy Murray, who voted with the majority. “This is really hard. (But) I don’t feel confident of the numbers I have.”Councilwoman Yvette Simpson nearly salvaged the plan with a proposal to keep going with $35,000 per day of streetcar construction while an independent analysis was done. Vice Mayor David Mann was ultimately unmoved by that bid. The project was a focal point in Mayor Mark Mallory's State of the City address last year, which came shortly after the 18-stop line broke ground. The route was to run from the river front through downtown and past Findley Market in the Over-the-Rhine neighborhood. Before work began, however, Ohio Governor John Kasich moved to strip the project’s funding. Cincinnati voters ultimately voted down a ballot measure that would have banned rail funding in 2011, and the light rail line was back on track. Streetcar supporters will “regroup” on potential legal action to keep the streetcar project alive.
White House officials revealed on Sunday that Charlotte, North Carolina Mayor Anthony Foxx will be named President Barack Obama’s next Secretary of the Department of Transportation, replacing outgoing Secretary Ray LaHood. The Charlotte Observer reported that Foxx rose to prominence last year when his city hosted the Democratic National Convention, and has garnered continued attention for his efforts to tackle Charlotte’s transportation challenges, from expanding the Charlotte Douglas International Airport, to extending the city’s light-rail system, and brining street cars to the city-center. The 42-year old Mayor was first elected in 2009, then re-elected in 2011 with 70 percent of the vote. Earlier this month Foxx announced that he would be leaving office at the end of the year to spend more time with his family, though now it appears those plans have changed. If his nomination is confirmed, Foxx will assume his position July 4th.
A new video released by LA METRO gives us all a much clearer conception of the construction sequencing of the Regional Connector, the 1.9 mile downtown underground light rail line that will connect Los Angeles' now-dispersed Gold, Blue, and Expo lines. The $1.3 billion connector, funded largely by 2008's Measure R sales tax increase, is set to begin construction later this year. It will travel primarily under Flower Street and 2nd Street, and is set to open by 2019. Movement of utilities around the line began in December. Yes, more transit in Los Angeles. This is really happening!