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.
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The CTA is abuzz with new projects these days, having successfully avoided fare hikes during dire budget negotiations this summer. Now another $65 million investment will deliver the new Cermak / McCormick Place El Station Mayor Rahm Emanuel promised early this year, as well as new library, school and three-story building rehab for the South Loop. New renderings presented by the Mayor on Friday show the new Green Line stop, which will be designed by Carol Ross Barney, principal at Ross Barney Architects. It’s a sleek tunnel shape, reminiscent of Rem Koolhaas’ IIT Green Line stop. Coming from the same architect who designed CTA’s last major addition, the celebrated (if pricey) Morgan station, news on this improvement to El service was highly anticipated by residents in Motor Row and South Loop. The neighborhoods rode higher and fell further than most in the city over the past decades; now a resurgence of downtown residents may have primed the pump for a broader renaissance just south of the Loop. If it does, new CTA service should soon make it easier to check out.
“Safety is in the eye of the beholder,” says New York City DOT Commissioner Sadik Khan. Khan’s remarks came Wednesday as the New York City Department of Transportation unveiled its new LOOK! safety campaign urging self-responsibility on the part of drivers and pedestrians alike. The updated campaign features thermoplastic curbside lettering spelling L-O-O-K with appropriately focused eyeballs replacing the O’s on crosswalks at 110 of the most fatality ridden intersections across the city. The street markings are accompanied by witty color photograph ads on nearby phone stalls, bus shelters, and the backs of city buses warning us to heed our mothers’ advice and look both ways before crossing the street. The campaign plans to eventually increase their range to include 200 intersections and more than 300 buses. 57 percent of traffic fatalities in 2011 involved pedestrians and nearly half of those fatalities occurred during the pedestrians’ right of way, states a statistic provided by the NYC DOT. In spite of this, NYC streets are the safest of their kind with the lowest fatality rate of any US city with a population exceeding one million, according a report written by John Petro of the Drum Major Institute for Public Policy and Lindsey Ganson of Transportation Alternatives. The latest ads follow the DOT’s 2011 safety campaign, which incorporated colorful artwork by artist John Morse and haiku styled safety messages.
Plans for a fixed-track trolley system in St. Louis got a $22 million infusion last week, when the Federal Transit Administration followed through with plans to fund construction of the city’s long-awaited Loop Trolley system. The Loop Trolley Transportation Development District would administer a 2.2-mile track from the Missouri History Museum in Forest Park to the University City Library—part of a regional plan for more sustainable transit. Three hybrid electric trolleys will make nine stops along the way, offering connection with the existing light rail MetroLink system. Fares would cover almost half of the system’s operating costs, with the rest coming from advertising, institutional subsidies, and the District. A ground-breaking ceremony is expected this fall, but no construction date has been set. St. Louis’ first Loop Trolleys may run as soon as 2014. Kansas City, Cincinnati, and Los Angeles have all mulled over streetcar, light rail or trolley plans in recent years.
Despite an increased focus on sustainable transportation, Cleveland lost its spot on Bicycling Magazine’s list of the 50 most bike-friendly cities. With New York’s bike share program delayed, DC reporting increased bike ownership, and Chicago rolling out new protected lanes, efforts to promote pedaling in Cleveland have not dominated national bike news. But after landing 39th on the magazine’s list in 2011, the city was not named this year. That prompted Rust Wire to rally for Cleveland to "boldly prioritize bicycle infrastructure," building on a recent safety ordinance considered one of the most progressive in the state. (Photo: Spacing Magazine/Flickr)
Every day, an average 4,000 pedestrians and 3,100 cyclists cross the upper-level pathway of the Brooklyn Bridge. Commuters, tourists, and joggers vie for space on the congested path, whose width varies from 16 feet to as little as 8 feet—creating a bottleneck for two-way bike traffic. For years observers have recounted harrowing tales of near collisions on the overcrowded span, like the bike-phobic Post pitting reckless cyclists against merely oblivious tourists and the Times calling for the appropriation of a traffic lane for bike use. But now a proposal to double the width of the path could offer a solution to the overcrowding. The answer to this conflict is expansion, according to three City Council members from districts adjacent the Bridge: Margaret Chin representing Lower Manhattan and Brad Lander and Stephen Levin representing the Brooklyn waterfront from Greenpoint through Carroll Gardens. “As the lower Manhattan and Brownstone Brooklyn communities continue to grow, the Brooklyn Bridge is becoming an increasingly vital connection,” council member Chin wrote in a statement. “We must ensure this historic destination is equipped to handle our city’s growing transportation demands.” Currently the pathway widens as it passes around the iconic bridge towers supporting the bridge's suspension cables, extending over the innermost traffic lanes below. The council members propose widening the entire pathway to that width, creating a dedicated bike lane on the northern side and an additional pedestrian lane on the south side, thus tripling pedestrian capacity. The proposal has not yet been discussed with designers or engineers, and council member Levin suggested a design competition to create a more refined plan. No budget or plans for funding have been established and no timeframe has been set for such a project. The council members suggest that it could be integrated with current plans for a redesign of the approach at Tillary Street on the Brooklyn side of the bridge, which currently leaves pedestrians and cyclists to pile up in the middle of the road waiting for a crosswalk. Increased capacity will also demand a redesign of the Manhattan approach, as bottlenecking already creates congestion there as well. Any alterations to the bridge will require the approval of city preservationists, as the main span is a city-designated landmark, a national historic landmark, and a national historic civil engineering landmark. Modification would not be unprecedented, however, as the original trolley and railways were removed from the bridge in the 1950s.
We've been anxiously waiting for the city to drop off the planned 10,000 Citi Bikes—after all, there will be 82 bikes parked just outside AN's HQ in Lower Manhattan!—as part of NYC's bike share system originally slated to open this month. Our dreams of riding with the wind in our hair were crushed, or at least postponed, when system operator Alta began surreptitiously tweeting news of the delay: “Look for the launch in August.” When the bike share system is complete, 10,000 bright-blue bicycles will be scattered throughout three boroughs, docked at 600 stations located in Manhattan, Long Island City, and a healthy chunk of Brooklyn from Downtown Brooklyn to Bed-Stuy and north through Greenpoint. The bikes and stations are being assembled at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, and with 20,000 tires to inflate, we're willing to give them a little slack. In the meantime, check here for public demonstrations being staged around the city, where you might just land yourself a free helmet.
With nine million dollars total in prizes up for grabs, The Mayor’s Challenge simply asks for innovations in city life, a subject that’s been a growing concern for countless architects, planners, and governments worldwide. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced the competition last week calling for individual designers and teams to address urban challenges from sustainability to citizen empowerment. "Every day, mayors around America are tackling increasingly complex problems with fewer and fewer resources," Bloomberg said in a statement. "Our cities are uniquely positioned to inspire and foster the innovation, creativity, and solutions needed to improve people's lives and move America forward." Mayors of cities with a population above 30,000 people—about 1,300 across the country according to the 2010 census—are invited to participate as team leaders. Entries will be theoretical, but will be judged for their vision, ease of implementation, potential for impact, and replicability in other cities. Teams are encouraged to present new and radical ideas relevant to multiple cities addressing social or economic problems, improving customer service, improving accountability, or that help governments run more efficiently. But what ideas are big enough to change cities across the country? The challenge points to PlaNYC, an initiative launched by the Bloomberg administration in 2007, calling in part for transforming 4,000 acres of New York City land into public space to provide every New Yorker with a park within a ten-minutes walk from their homes; Chicago's 311 hub, implemented in 1999, also helped improve city life by combining multiple city services and access points in one easy-to-reach location, providing efficient customer service and encouraging public engagement. From the contesting cities, twenty finalists will be chosen to attend an Ideas Camp and among them five will be named national winners, with one $5 million grand prize and four $1 million prizes to help implement the ideas. All qualified entrants are required to RSVP by July 16th, 2012 and apply by September 14th,2012.
ONE Lab, New York School for Design + Science is a non-profit research and education collaborative that plans to begin year-round programming when the historic renovation of Building 128 at the Brooklyn Navy Yard is complete in 2014. This innovative, interdisciplinary school currently operates out of the Metropolitan Exchange, a professional cooperative at 33 Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn, NY. The co-chairs, Maria Aiolova and Mitchell Joachim of urban ecology thinktank Terreform ONE, seek to promote "research and education at the intersection of design and science." The ONE Lab Summer Session 2012 on Future Cities, an annual summer program, will take place July 9th through August 3rd and brings together innovators across design and technology to explore the relationship of the fields and what impacts they can have on our cities. Special attention will be paid to ecology with radical solutions the goal. Programming will include three parts: a design studio, a series of seminars, and workshops. Previous summer sessions have focused on bio-design (2011), and urban farming (2009 and 2010). The design studio will focus on the project's mission to "establish new forms of knowledge and new processes of practice at the interface of design, technology, engineering and biology." New York serves as the laboratory, and over 100 hours of design studies will explore the possibilities of self-sufficiency in New York. The seminar is comprised of 40 hours of TED style talks delivered by experts from the fields of architecture, urban design, biology, physics, and art, including Dr. Dickson D. Despommier, Vito Acconci, Natalie Jeremijenko, Marc Forens and Graham Hill, the founder of world renowned media outlet Treehugger. Four workshops will teach participants processes of biotechnology (including technologies such as genetic engineering, tissue culture, and cloning), growing materials, grafting trees and plants, scripting and computational modeling for controlled growth. The program is open to all college level students and post graduate professionals interested in design and its relationship to science and technology. For information on how to apply to ONE Lab: Summer Session on Future Cities 2012, or to register for the design studio, seminars, or workshops, please visit www.onelab.org. Students attending the seminars series only do not need to apply. Deadline: May 15, 2012.
Crain's has an encouraging report on the drop in demand for parking spaces in Chicago's downtown residential buildings. At Lakeshore East, which includes Studio Gang's Aqua tower, only 40% of renters are leasing parking spaces. The developers had forecast a 55% demand. As a result many buildings are dropping the price for spaces. Other factors including buildings with on-site car sharing and secure bicycle storage areas are also likely cutting demand for parking spaces. As a result, some developers are rethinking how much parking to include in new projects, which would mean smaller podiums and more active street life, something any city would want.
Nationally the number of Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) has been declining in recent years. Transit ridership has also held steady or been climbing slightly. Minnesota seems to be a dramatic example of this new transportation reality, according to figures from the Minnesota Department of Transportation as reported on Minnpost.com. They cite a 40% increase in transit ridership from 2004 to 2011, and a small but significant decline in VMTs 2011 from their 2007 peak. Road congestion has also been easing slightly. High gas prices, an increasing preference for walkable neighborhoods, and teenagers postponing getting their licenses are all cited as contributing factors. It all adds up to further evidence that political rhetoric around gas prices, transportation, and energy policy needs to catch up to the reality on the ground.
Big changes are coming to Chicago's streets, as AN has reported. One of the most visible, the city's planned bike-sharing system, just took a major step forward with the selection of a vendor, Portland, Oregon-based Alta Bicycle Share and Public Bike System. The vendor will supply 3000 bikes and 300 solar powered charging stations this summer, according to the Chicago Tribune. The number will be upped to 5000 bikes and 500 stations by 2014. The Alta/Public partnership operates bike-sharing systems in London, Melbourne, Boston, Minneapolis, Toronto, Washington, D.C. and Montreal among other cities.