Friday, August 29, 2008
Transportation Alternatives is going to push hard for a Car-free Prospect Park in 2009. Here is the article in the NY Sun.
The president of the Prospect Park Alliance, Tupper Thomas, said she's in favor of closing the park to cars, but said she understands the reservations of residents who are concerned that it would lead to congestion around the outside of the park.I really hope it happens.
She noted that even though there are few hours that cars can use the park, they coincide with the times that many New Yorkers also want to head to the park for a jog, a walk, or a bike ride — in the morning before work or in the early evening, when they get home.
Ms. Thomas said she rides her bicycle in the mornings, but leaves the park by 7 a.m. because she doesn't trust her cycling ability around cars.
"From a park's perspective, the more the park can be available to relax, recreate, enjoy yourself, the better it will be," she said.
Thursday, August 28, 2008
In New York City, recently IKEA was able to do what the city has not. Ikea created a new waterfront promenade, park, water taxi, and bus service to its Red Hook location. It has become common knowledge that many Red Hook residents use these services (especially the transportation) and have come to an equilibrium with the new Blue Giant in their neighborhood. Have we reached a time where local governments are not able (or willing) to get the things done that will improve and enhance the quality of life for our neighborhoods and communities, but rather would let the private sector do it for them?
This article discusses what many of the cities (Buffalo, Carbondale, Cleveland, Flagstaff, Los Angeles) losing population and hit with foreclosure are doing:
The best way to fight the tide, he says, is for each community and neighborhood to develop its own strategy based on the local economy and housing market. Schilling recommends that the redevelopment of large numbers of abandoned buildings happen in three phases. First, cities must stabilize neighborhoods by either demolishing vacant properties or acquiring them for redevelopment. Next, officials must establish a plan that focuses on how to reclaim vacant properties at the neighborhood level. Finally, cities must offer incentives—perks such as tax credits or expedited permitting—in order to lure back private developers and investors who would otherwise be disinterested.
This article discusses what developers are doing to change the image of Newark, Trenton, and Union City. Not only are private developers stepping in to create new housing, they are focusing on the amenities that need to come with new housing:
They got through it by using every stigma-fading technique they could think of. One was to put cheery pro-Newark ads on thousands of coffee cup sleeves for commuters between the Pennsylvania Stations in Manhattan and Newark; another was to install $800,000 worth of safety-enhancing new lighting on the exterior of Eleven80, a converted Art Deco office structure. The efforts seem to have paid off: 85 percent of the units, which rent for $1,650 to $3,895, were leased during the first year.I believe that private/public partnerships are usually to everyone's benefit, but it seems these days, with lack of revenues and budget cuts, that cities are instead selling or contracting out everything. Cash infusions now are not going to help in the next 6 months, years, or decades. Cities need to make hard choices, but need to start laying the groundwork for their futures if they don't want another fifty years of disinvestment and population lost.
In Trenton, Michael Goldstein of HHG Development Associates labors at the same two-pronged task, by means of his Hidden Trenton Web site. Mr. Goldstein established hiddentrenton.com in 2006, just as he and partners were proposing a renovation project in the Ferry District, one of the city’s more-or-less-defunct neighborhoods. Writing virtually all the material himself, Mr. Goldstein, a former technology company executive, posts items about Trenton’s restaurants, recreation and ambience. (Representative headlines from the site include “Divine Guatemalan Dive” and “North Trenton Brewskis.”)
“There’s a nice little blue-collar neighborhood already here,” said Marco Tartaglia, director of sales for Canco, “a great Indian restaurant, a fabulous bakery, and little convenience shops along the way to Journal Square and the PATH station — but the factory property was neglected, and there is still a lot of graffiti on the streets around it, and litter.” The Canco developer, Coalco New York, has “deputized” employees as graffiti removers, Mr. Tartaglia said. “We also fixed up the beat-up basketball court on St. Paul’s Avenue,” he added. “These are things that matter to people when they come to a neighborhood and look it over. Whatever they’ve heard, or might remember about the area in its darker days, we want them to get a picture in their minds about its best side now.”
Update: Here is a recent article about the private sector funding the nation's infrastrucutre improvements.
Wednesday, August 27, 2008
Having just finished my study on the imageability of bicycles commuters in New York City (I should have a final version posted later this week) I have been thinking of expanding the study further to pedestrians and subway riders. How do peds and public transit users see the city and how does this compare and contrast with bike commuters?
The New York Times had this recent article about the perspective of walkers in New York City and the perception of safety on the streets.
New Yorkers already tend to negotiate city streets with some vigilance, avoiding manhole covers since reports that people or animals had received electric shocks from them, and walking around, rather than stepping on, metal grates embedded in sidewalks. Or they choose not to walk under air-conditioners jutting from windows on the outside of buildings. Just in case.
So do we negotiate our paths differently depending on our mode of transportation? How does our view change when we combine these different modes (such as riding or walking to the subway and then taking the subway to our destination)? This article brings up many of the challenges that everyday New Yorkers face when using two feet to get to their destination.
Tuesday, August 26, 2008
Since living in New York City I have seen waterfront industry disappear and be replaced by skyscraper condos. Along with it comes displacement (of residents and jobs) and new housing that is usually not geared towards the current residents. This article in Minn Post about the Hiawatha Corridor and its future is troubling. Cities (NYC is not alone in this one) tend to see progress through new growth. While this new development can be justified, the question that is not asked: Can we rebuild what is about to be lost forever?
The first step in that process is now under way — a close study of the historic significance of the businesses, homes and other buildings in the three-block-wide strip between Hiawatha and Minnehaha avenues. It's an area full of challenges to county and city planners, mainly because it includes a highly visible swath of historic grain elevators and a still-functioning railroad spur serving them.
Among the questions facing them is how these towering silos — which, after all, still provide valuable jobs, industrial tax base and freight rail transportation connections — can be made to fit with the successful kind of "livability" moves performed along the Greenway. Steps like bike and walking paths free from dangerous motorized traffic, rebuilt road and sewer infrastructure made to suit residential uses, and extensive environmental clean-up?
This article clearly demonstrates that this is an active industrial area. While it is never easy to balance residential and industrial land use in combination, it would behoove the city to listen to residents and move slowly. Although these silos might not be worthy of being historical landmarks (defined by who?), what seems more critical to this situation is how can Minneapolis improve the city through livability, without having negative consequences for existing areas that create and maintain jobs. The wrong path is creating a wrong by doing a right, a lesson that our cities need to learn as we move forward.
Monday, August 25, 2008
Wind Turbines were all the talk last week in NYC after the mayor stated that they should be a part of the city's future and key to his 2030 plan. This New York Times photo essay and article demonstrates that not everyone is as excited about alternative energy.
Supporters of the wind turbines say that the towers bring in badly needed new tax revenue on land that would otherwise be empty. "We see this industry coming, we see the payments coming in," said William K. Wood, a former Burke town board member. The school board of Chateaugay, he pointed out, received $332,800 this year from Noble for payments in lieu of taxes, money the district used to lower school taxes, upgrade its computers and provide a pre-kindergarten class for the first time
In these small towns near the Canadian border, families and friendships have been driven apart by feuds over the lease options, which can be worth tens of thousands of dollars a year. These are towns where the median income can hover in the $30,000 range. Rumors circulate about neighbors who can suddenly afford new tractors or trucks. Opponents of the wind towers even say they have received threats; one activist said that on two occasions, she found her car windshield bashed in.
As we turn to alternatives to provide us the energy we need, this type of situation is going to become more common in all areas. It is difficult to navigate what is best for a community while determining the financial benefits. Are wind farms the answer or should we be incorporating wind turbines into our everyday lives and environment?
Saturday, August 23, 2008
Wednesday, August 20, 2008
A Seattle community took matters in to their own hands after the city did not act. The NewHolly neighborhood decided to install their own speed bumps to slow traffic and create a safer environment for everyone. This Seattle Times article discusses why they did it.
After witnessing a speeding car nearly run down her 12-year-son at the mailbox across the street, Van Nguyen won't allow him to ride his bike in the neighborhood anymore. "Even on the sidewalk," she said.
Nguyen is one of several residents of the NewHolly neighborhood in Southeast Seattle who tried forcing the issue of traffic safety by taking matters into their own hands. About six weeks ago, they installed eight rubberized yellow speed humps — purchased online for $900 — on two of NewHolly's busiest streets.
Transportation officials disagreed about the need for traffic calming in the form of bumps or humps:
Sheridan said the traffic volume residents are complaining about is generated by the neighborhood itself.
Radar-gun studies, including one done by the residents, clocked average speeds just above the 25 mph limit — significantly below the prescribed threshold for installing speed humps, Sheridan said.
I am not sure how thorough the process is, but in my experience qualitative data and perception can be just as important as the recorded speeds. I always figure safety first, especially if children are at risk. Hopefully they can convince the officials to install some type of traffic calming on a temporary basis and study the results.
Tuesday, August 19, 2008
The Daily News had this article about NYC Department of City Plannings Commissioner Amanda Burden. I really thought is was an Onion article because the article portrayed the commissioner as a community planner that is looking out for the residents, that could not be farther from the truth.
To understand communities, Burden walks miles of city streets. Armed with a tape measure, sunglasses and comfortable yet stylish shoes (she is, after all, a former socialite), the planning commissioner eyes building heights, studies the flow of people and contemplates how an area's past relates to its present and future.
"It's my job to affect the process for the betterment of the people who live here, shop here and own businesses here," says Burden, pointing to the row of iron fire escapes that give a sculptural frame to the brown brick tenement buildings of the lower East Side.
"I picture myself part of the community. Here, there is a vibrant commercial and residential history. We want to keep ground-floor retail and ensure nothing can be built that will take away from the symmetry of these historic buildings. The magic here is in the density of people using these streets and living together."
Burden's right, and locals love her approach. "I came to be close to the artists who live and create here," says Nina Garbiras, a successful actress who owns Fig, a European antique store and design business on Ludlow St. "The constancy of interesting people walking into the store is a big reason why it works."
It looks as if the community begs to differ.
Josephine Lee, an organizer with the coalition said, “We are trying to stop the plan its tracks.” She said that city officials has also talked about a separate Chinatown rezoning plan, which they oppose. “We believe that will isolate and divide the community even more,” she said. Anything less than including the entire community district in one plan will cause massive displacement of the community.”Check out this NY1 video and one of my recent posts discussing the effects of rezoning on NYC neighborhoods.
The protesters argue that the rezoning only protects the more affluent and white areas from over development, while excluding the poorer, predominantly Asian-American and Latino neighborhoods. Using 2000 Census data, they point out that while Community Board 3 is 28 percent white, almost three-quarters (73 percent) of that population sits in the rezoned area. In contrast, Asian-Americans are a greater percentage of Community Board 3, at 35 percent of the population, but fewer than a quarter of that population (23 percent) live in the rezoned area. And only 37 percent of Latinos live in the protected area, even though they are roughly the same percentage as the population as whites for the Community Board as a whole.
Monday, August 18, 2008
A colleague and I are doing the Design Competition for 4th Avenue and 9th Street in Brooklyn, NY. We met today and came up with a great plan. The details are:
BRT down 4th AvenueBring back the Streetcars to 9th StreetPedestrians only from 7-11th Streets3-5th Avenues on 9th Street closed to carsCreate new commercial space under the tracksGreen roofBenches, benches, and benchesBike parkingCar tunnel on 4th Avenue from 6th - 12th Streets
Friday, August 15, 2008
BRT gets a lot of attention these days for its ability to move people and is a fraction of the cost of building a rail line. As with any bus route, even BRT, some people are fearful that BRT lines can be taken away just as quickly as they sprang up. Because of that many cities are looking to the streetcar as a downtown solution to improve connectivity and have a permanent transportation improvement. Of course the business and real estate community like this because it will provide for more economic development opportunities along these new corridors.
This New York Times Story discusses exactly that in the city of Cincinnati. How smaller cities, take note larger big brothers, are seriously taking a look at creating a streetcar line. While the majority of cities had them at one time, most have not had an active streetcar line in the past 50 years.
At least 40 other cities are exploring streetcar plans to spur economic development, ease traffic congestion and draw young professionals and empty-nest baby boomers back from the suburbs, according to the Community Streetcar Coalition, which includes city officials, transit authorities and engineers who advocate streetcar construction.
More than a dozen have existing lines, including New Orleans, which is restoring a system devastated by Hurricane Katrina. And Denver, Houston, Salt Lake City and Charlotte, N.C., have introduced or are planning to introduce streetcars.
While any new transit line with spur TOD, what is more exciting is putting down that first line. If cities can re-establish a streetcar line it makes it much easier to expand and create a network down the road. Portland has been the shining example and how it has incorporated its Streetcar line into the existing mass transit system with logical connections to light rail and buses.
We only need to look at the past to realize the potential that streetcars can once again have in American cities. This post from Starts and Fits does a good explanation of how New York City's streetcars played a vital role in development and the sheer amount of people transit was moving over 100 years ago. While critics complain about costs and the death of merchant parking, the cities who don't want to see their streets as parking lots 20 years from now, are making the hard, but right choice.
Thursday, August 14, 2008
The Freakonomics Blog asked this question: What will U.S. suburbs look like in 40 years? Here is who they asked - James Kunstler, Thomas Antus, Jan Brueckner, Gary Gates, John Archer, Alan Berube, and Lawrence Levy. Below are some of the quotes that I like (but read the entire post, it is worth it).
In fact, it is already underway. One symptom of this is that the only subject under discussion about our energy predicament is how can we keep running all our cars by other means. Even the leading environmentalists talk of little else. We don’t get it. The Happy Motoring era is over. No combination of “alt” fuels — solar, wind, nuclear, tar sands, oil-shale, offshore drilling, used French-fry oil — will allow us to keep running the interstate highway system, Wal-Marts, and Walt Disney World.
The automobile will be a diminishing presence in our lives, whether we like it or not. Further proof of our obdurate cluelessness in these matters is the absence of any public discussion about restoring the passenger railroad system — even as the airline industry is also visibly dying. The campaign to sustain suburbia and all its entitlements will result in a tragic squandering of our dwindling resources and capital.
Suburbanization has shown a white bias, with most minority households yet to acquire their nice house in the suburbs. Some of this difference may reflect a history of housing-market discrimination, but lower suburbanization by minorities is mainly a result of lower incomes. As the black and Hispanic middle classes continue to grow and get richer, they are likely to follow the same suburbanization path as white households before them, restrained somewhat by higher gas prices. So U.S. suburbs 40 years hence will look much more ethnically diverse than they do today.
Nevertheless, as we look to the future, suburbia is evolving in three key directions — not incidentally, along the same paths already being paved by global capitalism; suburbia will be flexible, it will be smarter, and it will be hybrid.
Planning will become flexible as well, so that infrastructure of all scales can smartly adapt to changing demographics and advancing energy, water, transportation, and other technologies. Again, the flexibility of capital as an investment will be registered in the form of more flexible real-estate instruments — which, as different clusters and neighborhoods evolve in different ways over time, will afford more occasions for aesthetic and demographic diversity.
New physical forms. Just as America’s first suburbs sprouted up along the streetcar lines built in the early 20th century, the first half of the 21st century will see the growth of “light rail suburbs” (even in areas that don’t have the rail yet).
High oil prices and the imperative to address global climate change will help spur denser residential development along transit corridors outside of cities. We’d see more of it today, if supply kept up with demand. Chris Leinberger estimates that walkable suburban communities served by transit today command anywhere from a 40 percent to 200 percent price premium over conventional drivable suburban development.
What will the suburbs look like? My guess is with increased energy costs and less reliance on the automobile, it is almost impossible to determine, but mass transit will play a big part.
Wednesday, August 13, 2008
New Yorkers set the trends, so it can't be a surprise that the fashionable, famous, and rich are getting around by two wheels. The NY Post magazine has this article discussing the changing landscape of bicycle commuting.
Lela is just one of many boldfacers making cycling a fashionable pursuit in New York today. Celebrity riders like Gisele Bündchen, Amber Tamblyn and Leonardo DiCaprio can often be seen tooling around the West Village and the Lower East Side on their hybrids—a mixture of a road bike and mountain bike—which has become the popular choice among serious “spokes-people.” Oscar-winner Marisa Tomei rides a vintage three-speed, while Vogue model-of-the-moment Agyness Deyn pedals about on an Amsterdam by Electra commuter bike while wearing gladiator sandals.
Meanwhile, tricycles are all the rage among the well-heeled mommy set. “Wealthy women from Tribeca, Soho and the West Village are using them to take their children to school,” says George Bliss, owner of West Village cycle shop Hub Station on Morton Street, where Lela bought her ride. Although George is generating buzz with his customized tricycles, which he builds to look like long, narrow pedicabs, he’s doing a brisk trade in commuter bikes too. “Russell Simmons recently bought two Biria comfort bikes here,” he reveals. Bicycle Habitat on Lafayette Street is another A-list bike store seeing a surge. With fans like David Byrne and James Gandolfini, hybrid sales at the Soho spot are “up by over 20 percent this year,” says owner Charlie McCorkell.
Even Brad and Angelina are getting in on the action.
Tuesday, August 12, 2008
IKEA might have never provided the bike parking that many New Yorker's wanted, but this NY Times article illustrates that having the big blue box store in Red Hook is not as bad as residents thought.
But since the store opened, something unexpected has happened. Ikea has won grudging acceptance from some of its detractors, who admit, somewhat sheepishly, that the feared blue box has brought perks enjoyed even by those who have no interest in stepping into the store.
There is the daily water taxi and shuttle bus service provided free by Ikea, technically for its customers. But for residents, the boats and buses have made the hard-to-reach neighborhood without a subway stop a little less remote; the ferries in particular have given them a picturesque way to travel between Manhattan and Red Hook.
The grassy waterfront esplanade that Ikea built, featuring benches with a view of the Lower Manhattan skyline, framed by remnants of Red Hook’s maritime past, is also catching on as a neighborhood attraction.
And the onslaught of Ikea-generated traffic that so many predicted has yet to materialize. Indeed, traffic is so light on some days that a rumor started among locals that Ikea was actually turning out to be a customer-starved failure (Ikea said its store was meeting its financial expectations).
It makes sense that residents are embracing the store and the services it is providing. The residents of Red Hook for years have been neglected by the city and now have an entity that is providing them with free public transit and access to the waterfront. IKEA has been able to improve the quality of life for Red Hook residents, something the city has not been able to do. So what's not to like?
Monday, August 11, 2008
Urban Planner and Professor Tom Angotti has this excellent paper about the NYC 2030 plan. While Angotti has been a vocal critic of the plan since its release, this paper really lays out the thesis of what is driving the NYC 2030 plan. Here is a quote from the paper:
Because it has a densely developed urban core and the largest mass transit system in North America, New York City would seem to be a model for Smart Growth – concentrating growth in dense clusters to expand opportunities for physical activity, reduce energy and auto use, and expand opportunities for walking and biking – that is, a more environmentally sustainable and healthier city. The city’s increased density should theoretically help combat the public health epidemics associated with low-density suburban sprawl, including obesity, diabetes, and stress.Check out Angotti's regular columns at Gotham Gazette and the other working papers, and don't miss this 2006 Tree Hugger guest article.
One of the basic premises of New York City’s long-term sustainability plan, PlaNYC2030, released in April 2007, follows this logic by assuming that continued growth in the city, with the appropriate infrastructure development, can be sustainable and beneficial to the environment, and produce public health benefits. Using the language and logic of Smart Growth (Barnett, et. al. 2007) the plan favors the concentration of new development around existing transit nodes (“transit-oriented development”) to accommodate a million new residents by 2030. The new development would be accompanied by improvements to public transportation and open space, better air and water quality, and reduction of the city’s contribution to global warming.
I will argue that, notwithstanding the many noble goals of the New York plan, and specific improvements to the environment and public health that it promises, the plan is in substance a continuation of the finance/real estate sector’s historic policy of promoting extremely high densities at the highest-valued locations, with consequent negative environmental and health impacts, and neglecting other parts of the city. This policy of market-driven land development has produced some environmental benefits associated with high-density clustered development but it has also resulted in spatial inequalities, environmental injustice, and negative environmental impacts. The 2030 plan is large and complex, and this is not intended as an exhaustive analysis. Based on over two decades of my own engagement in community and city-wide planning in New York City, I hope here to establish an analytical framework and some hypotheses about the plan that will promote further discussion and debate both inside and outside government, in New York and elsewhere. I have been a participant in the public debates about the plan and do not profess to be an outside, detached observer.
Saturday, August 9, 2008
Thursday, August 7, 2008
The I-35 bridge collapse last August in Minneapolis demonstrated why maintenance and upkeep are critical. Here in NYC we are having the same issues with our subway system. Here is an article discussing larger infrastructure issues and how money is being diverted to newer, sexier projects.
No powerful interest group lobbies to make sure bridge-repair funds don't get diverted to new highways. On the contrary, well-connected developers and road builders lobby aggressively for wider lanes, new branch roads and additional off ramps. Builders often prefer lucrative contracts to pour concrete and steel for new highways rather than the uncertainty of relatively complex and labor-intensive restoration and repair. Preventative maintenance is scarcely noticed or celebrated by the public, and politicians far too often prefer shiny new roadways that they can cut ribbons for and point to as accomplishments.
Any homeowner with a leaky roof or cracked foundation knows how tempting it is to put off repairs until next summer.
The state of Minnesota consistently gave in to that temptation. In fact, the state auditor found that since 2002 more than half of the highway spending in the state was directed to expanding rather than maintaining roads, despite the department's own "preservation first" policy to do the opposite. Minnesota repeatedly borrowed money for ambitious highway expansion projects while leaving insufficient funds to maintain existing roadways. State officials and local governments repeatedly pushed the transportation department in that direction.
The bigger question is why the funds for repair and maintenance are being used to further growth (new projects). Why would I build an addition on my house if my roof is caving in? Nobody would do that, but that is exactly what states and cities all across the US are doing. Deferred maintenance doesn't help anyone in the end.
It is time to start talking about growth, not "smart," but how to stop it and first make sure our current infrastructure and built environment can handle the existing carrying capacity and population. So many new projects these days are driven by population projections, but those are merely projections. We need to start taking a hard look at our blocks, communities, and neighborhoods, and working on the improvements that get delayed year after year. There really is no excuse for accepting anything less from our leaders and elected officials. How many more disasters and lives need to be lost before we realize our mistakes?
Tuesday, August 5, 2008
New York City is happy to be closing streets (blocks) all around the city this summer. I have one more block that should be closed: the block that fronts Sara D. Roosevelt Park. NYC DOT did a new design for this block, to help pedestrians and cyclists, but the best option would have been closing this small block to vehicular traffic and making it the natural extension of the park that it already is.
This particular block has trucks, cars, pedestrians, skateboarders, and cyclists using it. The new design has actually made it less safe for all these users. Too many blind turns now exist for automobiles coming off the Manhattan Bridge that are making the immediate right turn. It has also made it more difficult to exit and enter the bridge for cyclists.
The simple fix would be to close the street 24/7, then create a bike lane that goes straight and a right turn lane for cyclists. This lane would then connect to the new proposed lanes. Also, while not official, Chinatown buses drop off right around the corner, so that should be incorporated into the design of the block. Finally, establish the new median as something for skateboarders (since they have appropriated it anyway) and create more sitting and lounging space for residents.
Monday, August 4, 2008
The building discussed in this New York Times article has been turned into a senior care home. The city decided to remove parking spaces from the front of the building so para transit can drop off and pick up residents. One long-term tenant feels that this is not fair and a violation of her (parking) rights.
The woman, Marcia Tepler, says in her lawsuit that the city’s Department of Transportation was wrong in putting in a 45-foot-long No Standing zone in front of her building at 333 West 86th Street, which is on the block between West End Avenue and Riverside Drive.Because one resident wants the right to park her car wherever she wants, whenever she wants, this no parking zone is wrong? Considering this no parking zone helps the rest of the residents of the building (including rent stabilized tenants and senior care) it benefits and serves more, not less. Unfortunately today the public good must take a backseat to individual rights, even if that means public street space for private use.
“It sounds trite, but I’m suing because of the injustice of it all,” Ms. Tepler said on Thursday morning in her apartment, as she went through hundreds of pages of legal documents and documentation of what she calls a travesty of parking privilege. “People can spend hours trying to find a spot on this block and the city thinks it can just take away spots and make it even harder on us?”
“It’s the quintessential New York story,” said Mr. Siegel, a former candidate for public advocate. “It’s a case about a passionate neighborhood activist and concerned New Yorker fighting city government over what she perceives is an injustice. Parking space in Manhattan is gold, it’s valuable property. People desire and sometimes fight or kill over it. Now, they’re suing for it.”