Thursday, July 31, 2008

Pedal Power

Great segment. From Biking Bristol Via Eco Velo

A New Beginning

This recent article on citiwire by Keith Schneider demonstrates how this country has reached a watershed moment. We are currently in the process of changing our settlement patterns of the past 50 years, but what will the next 50 look like? Schneider's view is that urban and suburban will function together. Today the suburbs are experiencing the same disinvestment, higher costs, and poor planning that many cities suffered through and came back from:
Here’s why. The spread-out civilization that America invented in the 20th century was largely the result of a handful of major market trends — cheap energy, cheap land, rising incomes, formidable government wealth. Our drive-through economy, and the culture of convenience and plenty (and anonymity) that it fostered, was possible because families could afford the homes and cars, and government built the highways and subsidized the housing that tied it all together. The big losers were cities, which hemorrhaged jobs, and marooned millions.

That description, though, now applies to hundreds of American suburbs, especially those without public transit, located far from city centers. In many of these, housing values have dropped 40 percent or more in the last 18 months. Yet nearer to the city center, in the seasoned older suburbs where transit and parks and sidewalks and neighbors are in closer proximity, America’s successful 21st century suburban form is taking shape. And we’ll be needing these more efficiently conceived, metro-connected suburbs in a nation that will add 140 million people by mid-century.

Meanwhile, according to recent studies, a growing number of cities are attracting residents and seeing their housing values either hold their own or slip much less precipitously than many suburbs. There are exceptions in still-struggling areas like Cleveland and Buffalo. But check San Francisco - it’s the only city in the Bay Area that saw housing prices actually rise — about 1 percent in the last year. Or Seattle, expected to grow to 680,000 residents and add 84,000 new jobs by 2022. Chicago is building more than 10,000 new units of housing within blocks of its $475 million Millennium Park, near the Lake Michigan shoreline, the prosperity wave including neighborhoods that were blighted a decade ago.

These trends represent an absolutely sane response to critical new 21st century realities — high energy prices, high land costs, static family incomes, scarce resources, government deficits, flagging competitiveness, global climate change, and strong U.S. population growth.

Now more than ever it seems that the planning community and citizens need to demand that our elected officials put in place regional planning (beyond transportation). If cities and suburbs in regions are going to function and work together and continue to create liveable communities, this can't be done in a vacuum. Rather, we need a larger plan that will will help dictate local initiatives. This regional plan should not replace local and community planning but needs to be a guide and supplement to it. Why should a region have thousands of different zoning codes and ordinances based by county, city, and township? In this example, we need to have zoning that is comprehensive and that will work towards creating a unified region. Regionalism should be the new buzz word.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Share the Road

The recent incidents in Portland, Seattle, Minneapolis, and New York City demonstrate that we have a serious problem between cyclists and cars. Since all these incidents can't be blamed on critical mass or a few bad apples, we need a national discussion about how to rethink and retrofit our streets not only for cars and cyclists, but also to include pedestrians, transit, recreation, and other human powered modes. Although streets were designed with cars in mind, it seems the tipping point has come with the conflicts over road space and the cost of gas. Newsweek put it this way:
When gas prices surged above $4 per gallon earlier this year, it didn't take Nostradamus to predict that there would be a resultant rush to carbon-free commuting options—especially in a place like Portland, which is known for its ample network of bike lanes. Cyclists in "Stumptown" are spinning their spokes here in unprecedented numbers, trading in their fuel-guzzling SUVs for stylish 27-speeds.

But the cycling surge has created conflict, as the new breed of commuters bumps up against the old, oil-powered kind.

Most cyclists chalk it up to coincidence. But on bike blogs and other web sites, a debate is raging between the two user groups. Drivers charge cyclists with blatant disregard for the law—especially when it comes to stop signs and stop lights. And cyclists (some of whom defend their disdain for such regulations, arguing it's a pain to hop off their bikes at every stop sign) say drivers often act as if they don't exist.

It would be to everyone's benefit if a more equitable approach for streets, roads, and highways are pursued nationally with policy and implemented locally through design standards. If this is going to work, everyone has to be educated about multi-model transportation and respect all users of the street.

EDIT: Here are some current articles about Seattle and NYC

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Seattle is not Berkeley

I was happy to read this article today. After posting about the ballot initiative that is going to happen in Berkeley, which will more than likely hault AC transit's plans for BRT, Seattle instead is seizing the moment and getting $17.9 billion for transit on the fall ballot:
Sound Transit is putting a $17.9 billion rail and bus plan on the November ballot, in hopes that voters overlook this year's economic slowdown and think long-term. More than two-thirds of the money would be spent to build 34 miles of light-rail extensions, reaching the Overlake Transit Center near Microsoft in 2021, and Lynnwood and north Federal Way by 2023.

Late next year, light-rail service begins from downtown Seattle to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport; a north line to Capitol Hill and Husky Stadium is already scheduled for completion in 2016.

This is really exciting for the region, but will they make the hard decision to start investing in long term planning and financing for future transit, even though they will not see many of the results for years to come? Transportation planning is never easy because you have to plan so far into the future and ask your tax paying public to start paying for it now. In a culture that has become accustomed to immediate gratification, will these plans pass muster in November? I am optimistic that people are starting to understand some of the larger issues regions are facing and will starting making the necessary decisions at the voting booth in November.

Monday, July 28, 2008

NYPD's finest

From Streets Blog

Suburban Commuters

Here is a great NY Times article about bike commuters in New York. This time, these are commuters coming from nearby suburbs into the city for work.
It was 7:30 a.m. on a humid Monday, and David Muller, a doctor and a suburban bike commuter, was sweating his way to work. As he rode along the George Washington Bridge and into Manhattan, Dr. Muller, 44, seemed indifferent to the low roar of rush-hour traffic. He was halfway from Teaneck — where he lives — to Mount Sinai Medical Center — where he works — and was happy to be on his bicycle.

“It’s free, it’s good for the environment, good for your health,” he said, beads of sweat collecting under his helmet and underneath his backpack, about 5 miles into his 12-mile ride. “And it’s a little dangerous, so you get a little thrill at the beginning and the end of each day.” He also gets satisfaction from beating cars across the bridge. “I love it,” he said.

Five minutes later, another commuter pedaled along. Henry Minnerop, a partner in a Manhattan law firm and “70-plus” years old, said he drives each day — year round — to Englewood Cliffs, and then bikes about 12 miles into Midtown. “I park my bike in the garage I used to use when I drove in,” he said before riding off. “There’s a gym in my office. I shower and come out looking like a lawyer.”
Some are even doing what would be considered extreme commuting:
“Going into the city, it’s drudgery,” said Tom Begg, 43, of Glen Rock, who began riding to work this year. A consultant and a triathlete, he is one of a group of hard-core bike commuters who gather between 5 and 6 a.m. each day outside a car wash in Ridgewood to make the approximately 25-mile ride into New York City.

One of the longest bike commutes belongs to Phil Riggio of Darien, Conn., who rides to and from his Midtown office three times a week. Mr. Riggio, a technology trader at Cantor Fitzgerald, began making the 40-mile, two-hour trip in March, shortly after his office moved to Manhattan from Darien.
While I have a 20 mile round trip commute, you really have to give credit to these commuters from outside the city limits. Those crossing the GWB and making their way to Midtown have very few safe and enjoyable routes. This article demonstrates how the city really needs to start thinking multi-modal and getting those front racks on buses to finally to help some of these commuters out in a pinch.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Pratt Weighs in on Downtown Brooklyn

In a recent post I discussed the changes that are taking place in Downtown Brooklyn since the rezoning. The Pratt Center just released this report looking at the negative impacts that the rezoning has had on housing and businesses in the area. Here are the highlights:
1) Redeveloping Downtown Brooklyn is displacing businesses and jobs. While the EIS analysis estimated that 100 businesses—and 1,700 jobs---would be directly displaced by new development, it concluded that this does not constitute a “significant adverse impact.” To date over 100 businesses in the rezoning area have already been displaced.

2) The Downtown Brooklyn EIS analysis understates the potential for business displacement. The jobs that currently exist within designated urban renewal areas are not included in the 1,700 count of potentially lost jobs because in theory, those businesses are subject to displacement by the accompanying urban renewal plan. This methodology renders the count misleading and provides an understated picture of current and future business displacement.

3) An on-the-ground look at small business displacement reveals adverse impacts for many people who shop, work and do business in Downtown Brooklyn. As landowners clear out small businesses located on future development sites, moderate- income office workers find that the shops they have patronized for years are gone. Also, as small businesses get displaced, the character of Downtown Brooklyn—particularly the Fulton Street Mall--as a shopping destination for low and moderate-income households is being threatened.

4) Contrary to the expectations of city officials and the intentions of the Downtown Brooklyn Plan, housing has been the predominant type of development as of late.
This has two major implications: the thousands of office jobs that were expected to come online in Downtown Brooklyn have not materialized, and the area is becoming more of a residential neighborhood than before. However, most of the new housing units being created are market-rate and/or luxury and are therefore out of the economic reach of FUREE’s stakeholders.

5) Redeveloping Downtown Brooklyn threatens the long-term existence of a small residential community. The EIS analysis estimated that 386 residents living in about 130 housing units are subject to direct displacement if anticipated development on projected development sites occurs. Many of these units are in rent stabilized buildings, and their removal reduces the overall supply of affordable housing in New York City. The rezoning included no provisions to create or preserve affordable housing, and fewer than 800 below-market-rate units are being built in downtown Brooklyn.

6) As Downtown Brooklyn undergoes more development, impacts on neighborhood character will be significant and will affect many stakeholders’ sense of history and culture. While the EIS analysis has a very narrow perspective on the neighborhood’s historical significance and character and how they are expected to change, the new residents and workers who are expected to come to the area will create significant impacts.

This is the next logical step in urban evolution. While development and growth themselves are not bad, I would argue, the way they are used and implemented can create negative impacts. Unfortunately, once the FEIS is done, nobody seems to care about how the project is implemented and tracking the current impacts that are having an affect on people's daily lives. The rezoning is only the first step, in what should be, a long process and dialogue between the city, businesses, and residents.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

i cycle

Check out the Puma site that has some good NYC bike videos.

$600,000 worth of text messages

The MTA again has been able to spend more money while they are talking about raising fares to close their budget gap. Communication has never been one of the MTA's strong points, but I would argue that we could use the money to improve service on existing subway and bus lines. Here is what the new contract will provide:
That notification service will be unveiled in September. The authority has signed a $600,000 contract — $120,000 a year for five years — with the MIS Sciences Corporation, an Internet services company, to run a text-messaging service that will provide real-time alerts about subway, bus and train disruptions to millions of commuters. (The Daily News reported some details of the new text-messaging system on Sunday.)

Under the contract, the company must be able to send out at least one million messages in five minutes, far more than what the M.T.A. can do on its own. MIS Sciences provides a similar service to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

and yet,
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority will propose a substantial increase in transit fares and bridge and tunnel tolls next year to help close a widening budget gap of nearly $900 million, according to an official at the authority.

Though the precise amount of the fare and toll increase has yet to be determined, the authority will seek to increase the revenue it gets from those sources by 8 percent. If approved by the authority’s board, the increase would take effect next July and would follow a toll and fare increase in March of this year.

With another fare hike down the road, it might just be time (for those of you who haven't already) to dust of that bike you haven't ridden in years.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Tunnel Vision

The MTA continues to build more tunnels in the ground although the solution would be more ground transportation. I have not figured out why NYC DOT is against a tram and/or LRT system (other than you need to take existing traffic lanes away from cars). The 2nd Avenue Subway and East Side Access projects are just two examples of holding onto the past; no will to make a clean break and start planning for the future. The good folks over at Vision 42 have done most of the work for them. Here is a breakdown of LRT costs:
I suggest instead that the $3.8 billion be used for right of way light rail that will go from 42nd Street up 1st Avenue across 125th Street to 2nd Avenue down to 42nd Street. At this point the light rail can make a square route going from 42nd Street, down to 34th, and back to 42nd Street (would make all planned subway stops). I am building off the idea of vision 42 which has a plan to make 42nd Street a pedestrian way with light rail. My plans would include light rail going two ways along both 42nd and 34th and the connections (1st Avenue and 12th Avenue/West side highway).

According to Vision 42 and other recent light rail projects my projection is $204 million per mile of light rail that needs to be built(this is the high estimate). To provide the service to the areas I described above would be 18 miles and cost $3.6 billion. For the $3.8 billion you can have light rail service to Upper east side, Harlem, Grand Central, Times Square, Penn Station, Javitz Center, and connections to most subway lines. This could be built and running within 5 years time. While light rail car can hold 220 passengers per car, as opposed to 250 for a subway car, light rail can run closer together. I feel light rail would help alleviate overcrowding that is taking place on the Lexington line and in midtown. This would not replace the subway, but would rather be an alternative and easier form of transport for many New Yorkers.

Does LRT have a future in NYC?

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The Sorted Nation

Planetizen has a good three part interview with Bill Bishop and Richard Florida about the future of American cities within the context of their recent books:
Bishop is author of "The Big Sort", which looks at the increasing trend of self-segregation and homogeneous voting in communities across America. Florida is the best selling author of "The Rise of the Creative Class." His new book is "Who’s Your City?", which looks at how choosing a place to live is one of the most important decisions people make, and how people are increasingly moving to places with like-minded populations. We talk with Bishop and Florida about how the trends they’re seeing are affecting cities and people.
All three parts together are about a half an hour. Give it a listen.
Part I
Part II
Part III

Monday, July 21, 2008

Where is the coffee shop?

I was in Minneapolis/St. Paul metro region again last week. The first time (two weeks ago) I rented a car (big mistake), so this time I figured I would take public transit around even though I had three separate meetings in two cities and one burb. Not renting a car made for a much better and more pleasurable trip than the previous week. My main problem was I had a 4 o'clock meeting in St. Paul on Wednesday, the day I arrived. I figured I was due in at 1:30 so that was plenty of time to get from the airport to downtown St. Paul.

I jumped on the LRT and was in downtown Minneapolis by 2:00. The express bus (94) came about ten minutes later and I arrived in St. Paul around 2:45. Realizing that I had about a good hour to kill, I figured I'd go grab a snack and some caffeine. After circling a few blocks for about ten minutes (I had Google mapped this before so I knew a few coffee shops were in the area) I was having zero luck. With the monkey suit on and roller suit case in hand (it was a nice 90 degree day), I figured I would ask the next person I saw where to get some coffee.

I asked a woman who was clearly taking her cigarette break. She told me there are a few, but they are all in the skyway. I had what Oprah would call an "ah ha!" moment. The entire time I was thinking St. Paul is so sparse and sleepy, but I was mistaken; all the action is in the skyway. I made my way in and finally located a coffee shop to hang out at for the next 45 minutes.

The next day I found myself in the same predicament, but in Minneapolis. Unlike NYC, where the streets are overflowing with people during lunch time, in Minneapolis (where the streets are active) and St. Paul the skyway is the place that gets most of the action. While I realize this skyway system is a lifesaver in the Arctic cold months, the inhabitants of these two cities have adopted to life in the skyways. These skyways are quite the urban phenomena, from an outsider's perspective, and really are an amazing system that connects most of the large downtown buildings together. I plan on doing some research on these skyways, so expect more info down the road.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Broadway Blvd

NYC DOT is making over Broadway in a big way. Not only are they making much needed improvements at Madison Square, they are reclaiming street space from 35th to 42nd Streets by eliminating two lanes of traffic. They are proposing a Broadway Blvd were people can dine and relax, and a separate bike lane will allow for smoother biking through the area. This New York Times article covers the new design and hits the streets:
Many people interviewed on Broadway on Thursday were curious about the work, which included newly painted pavement and orange-and-white plastic traffic barriers that had mysteriously appeared on the street in recent days.

Ms. Sadik-Khan said that the department was planning to unveil the project closer to its scheduled completion, on Aug. 15. But she said that officials had spent months discussing it with the three business improvement districts and the local community board.

She said the city was spending $700,000 to create the string of blocklong plazas from 42nd to 35th Streets. That includes painting the bike lane green, buying the chairs, tables, benches, umbrellas and planters and applying a coat of small-grained gravel mixed with epoxy onto the pedestrian areas, which will set them off from both the street and the bicycle path.

I like DOT's approach to Broadway. Hit the main congestion areas first, and then later down the road they can easily reclaim the rest of the blocks between these two new Broadway Blvds. Considering this was designed by Gehl, and he has made it clear in the past that this sort of treatment needs to be done to all of Broadway, this might be a great thing.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

What is wrong with pedicabs?

In NYC it seems just about everybody (even fellow bikers) all hate the pedicabs. Last year the NYC Council tried to limit the number of pedicabs on the streets, but that regulation has been tied up in court. This NY Post article gives the update:
The rickshaw racket continues to be hell on wheels more than a year after the city passed a law regulating the pedicab industry.

But "enforcement of regulations enacted by the City Council pertaining specifically to pedicabs is currently enjoined by the courts," the rep acknowledged. Those regulations - which include laws on fare structures, seat belts, signals and identification of drivers - are all on hold until the two sides finish hashing out their differences in court.

Although there might need to be regulations in regards to safety and costs (just like regular taxis), I don't understand why this mode of transport gets such a bad rap. Most cities don't even permit pedicabs during rush hours in their downtowns. If NYC, which has 1.6 million cars entering Manhattan daily, can find space for pedicabs, what's the excuse for the rest of our major cities?

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Bike Planning 101

I found this posting on Planetizen by Micheal Lydon about bike networks an excellent way to assign proper bike usage to different paths and ways:
A proper bicycle network is comprised of four basic types of bikeways: bicycle lanes, bicycle boulevards, shared streets and off-street paths. Although bicycle use is not common in many American cities, planners and government officials must acknowledge that such activity is unlikely to increase without a sufficient bicycle network in place. Cities and towns interested in developing or expanding their bicycle network must consider plans that include all four types. Doing so creates a tapestry of options for the three types of bicyclists and their individual requirements (outlined in my previous post). Portland, Oregon and Berkeley, California experience some of the highest bicycle mode shares in the country precisely because they use a layered approach. Before continuing, it's important to loosely define each bikeway type.

Not only is this post a great way to approach the planning of a bike network, Lydon also realizes that there has to be an order and hierarchy in the planning process:
Though traffic engineers and many transportation planners are notorious for their myopic auto-centrism, this does not discount the same narrow scope respective to alternative transportation advocates, architects or environmental planners. Although this trend cannot be overcome simply through the discipline of bikeway planning, I would recommend that those involved with bicycle facility design assign priority in the following order:

1) Pedestrians

2) Bicyclists

3) Motor Vehicles

Recognizing this hierarchy means that bicycle facilities should not trump the pedestrian experience.

I like this approach and if we are serious about bike planning, just like the traffic engineers are serious about traffic, we need to have a systematic way to categorize every possible bike pathway. Check out the rest of Lydon's posts here.

Monday, July 14, 2008

BRT Backlash

The progressive liberal city of Berkeley has decided they don't want BRT in "their" backyard. While legitimate concerns have been raised in regards to the DEIS, this article once again shows how the commercial sector always cries wolf:
Merchants and residents along the famed avenue say dedicated bus lanes would force traffic onto side streets and make parking even more scarce. They say the $400 million AC Transit plans to spend on bus rapid transit would be better spent on cleaner buses, express buses that don't use dedicated lanes, or a bus rapid transit route that is not so close to BART.

"If customers can't park, it's yet another incentive for them to buy online or at a big-box store," said Bruce Kaplan, former owner of Looking Glass Photo on Telegraph. "We're not against bus ridership, but we think they should look at alternatives. This whole thing is a bad piece of land use."

Having lived in Berkeley, BRT would be a welcome addition to local AC bus services and BART. Also, this BRT sets out to drop passengers off at the major transit hub in downtown Berkeley. Unfortunately, residents and shop owners are so against the project they plan to make it a ballot initiative for the voters this November:
Opponents of AC Transit's plan for dedicated bus lanes on busy Telegraph Avenue south of the UC campus have gathered enough signatures to qualify the issue for the Nov. 4 ballot. The initiative, if approved by voters, would require voter approval to create any high-occupancy-vehicle lanes in the city, except on Interstate 80.

While this is clearly an ambitious project, it is forward looking to put infrastructure in place now, instead of years later when the streets are so clogged and residents are demanding more frequent, faster, and better bus service. Not to say whether AC or the residents are right, but I think this is community planning on steroids.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

$1.8 Million for Minneapolis/St. Paul Region

Thursday last week an announcement came out in the Twin Cities (even though I was there I missed it). The Metro area has been awarded $1.8 million to establish 5 corridors of bike boulevard and pedestrian improvements from Transit for Livable Communities. The Star Tribune had this article covering the announcement:
In another boost for the Twin Cities bicycling boom, more than 12 miles of local streets will be revamped to give priority to bikes. Under the federally funded effort, streets in Richfield, northeast Minneapolis, St. Paul's Highland Park and the Roseville-Falcon Heights area will get special pavement markings, new off-street bike paths, bike lanes and crosswalk improvements.
The Minneapolis/St. Paul region takes another positive step in improving upon their current bike infrastructure and network. It should be no surprise since cyclist counts on the Greenway and Lake Street Bridge are up 40%. Hopefully this will just be the beginning of connecting the greenway and trailways to existing bike lanes and pathways.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Too many bikes in Minneapolis?

This Star Tribune article discusses the increase of ridership in Minneapolis. Is bike congestion on the greenway really a bad thing?
When Marian Hayes took an evening bicycle ride along the Midtown Greenway in Minneapolis last year, she felt as if she had the trail to herself. Now the greenway is a freeway. Fast cyclists pass slower ones on the left. Commuters get on and off via exit ramps. Traffic moves along at 15 miles per hour. "You feel like you're in rush hour," said Hayes, who commutes 25 miles roundtrip from Mendota Heights to downtown Minneapolis.

Between May 2007 and May 2008, the number of cyclists on the Lake Street Bridge jumped 50 percent, said Steve Clark, the walking and bicycling program manager for Transit for Livable Communities. "That one is pretty representative of the overall city," Clark said. "We've seen some gradual increases, but this is really the first big jump."

I really liked this article because these new crop of commuters aren't concerned about the environment, roadies, or their waste lines; they are concerned about their pocketbook. For those of you who don't know about the strong bike community in the Twin Cities read the comments and check out MPLS Bike Love. For all the naysayers who think winter time puts a stop to this, Minneapolis has the highest ridership per capita in the country during the winter time.

UPDATE: Good article and video here.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Financial crisis of NYCHA

Public Housing is usually seen by many Americans as a social good for families that can't afford market rate housing. While there are stereotypes that the residents are welfare mothers, drug addicts, or just lazy, this simply is not the demographic of public housing. Housing residents tend to be the working poor, seniors, and disabled individuals.

NYCHA is on the brink of starting down a road that it will not be able to turn back from. While federal funding has been less throughout the Bush administration, the state and city are no longer stepping in to close the budget gap. This excellent article by Nicholas Dagen Bloom in the Gotham Gazette explains:
As a result of these declining federal subsidies and increasing operating costs, for the past few years the authority has run an approximate 10 percent annual deficit. Annual cuts have been made in everything from staff to social programs. Administrators have eliminated 2,500 positions over the past decade. Declining subsidies within a few years will lead to even steeper cuts in the projects that could undermine tenants' basic quality of life.

The authority's recent announcement that it will close its community centers, and raise rents once again on the higher income tenants, signals the onset of serious consequences resulting from annual shortfalls. The city as a whole can scarcely afford to let its projects decline as they have in other cities. The city government, to its credit, has underwritten billions in bonds for building renovation, and until a few years ago provided an annual subsidy. State and city government, however, have had to spend little to maintain such an enormous system because the combination of federal subsidies and rents have covered most of the annual costs.

The city is starting to feel the shock waves as NYCHA has announced that it is planning on closing its community centers throughout the city. These centers serve youth, senior, and social service agencies that utilize the space to provide services. While this may not seem like a a big shock, by taking away in-house services to their buildings these residents will either have to seek out these services elsewhere (very doubtful), or just won't even bother.

In times like these you would expect leadership from the Mayor and City Council and they would do what they have to do. Wrong! Instead, this current budget process the NYC Council put aside a paltry $18 million to help NYCHA close their funding gap of almost $200 million. In a $59.8 billion dollar budget, that seems like pennies.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Urban Planning (do renderings tell the truth?)

As most urban planners, designers, and architects usually utilize some sort of rendering software to create a picture of what a space can be, are we really creating an accurate illustration of what the area will look like? While these are usually slick and can awe many audiences, do they really paint a realistic image of the new the space?

While this Wall Street Journal article discusses the new approach Sacramento, CA is taking towards redesign, what actually caught my attention were the renderings that accompanied the article. (OK, I'll admit that I am a sucker for renderings that can show a better and brighter future.)

The question is do these slick design representations get to the heart of the matter; is this what the community needs and wants? I think we can forget that we are planning for a community, neighborhood, and existing residents. While we use standard design principles, is it not in everyone's best interest if we design with the community rather than for them?

This summer I am working as a planner in NYC, working with communities and neighborhoods through a block party initiative. What I have realized over the past few weeks is that many communities really need a partner in the planning process, a community planner who will work with the community and educate through advocacy. This person is working with them as equals and brings a specific expertise that is needed. So although rendering have a place in planning, I think we need to focus on the grassroots approach and listen, first and foremost.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

New Amsterdam Project (NAP)

Check out the New Amsterdam Project. They are a human powered delivery company based in Boston. What I really like is that their cargo bikes can hold 800 lbs worth of deliveries. Now that is pretty magnificent.
NAP provides human-powered pick-up and delivery services for local businesses, organizations and universities. We can provide your business with full service route delivery- inclusive of drivers, fossil-fuel free vehicles, and unparalleled marketing opportunities for your business on our unique, environmentally friendly trucks.

So is NAP the future of short distance deliveries with in cities? I think they might be onto something.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Beating the Dead Horse

How ironic that the NY Times will do this story about bike parking when it is clear that their building on 41st Street will not allow bikes inside or locked to the grid that covers the building, nor provide outdoor racks.
Even for those willing to park outdoors, space is limited. Although it is common for people to secure bicycles to signposts or parking meters, Seth Solomonow, a spokesman for the city’s Transportation Department, said that it is a violation of a city ordinance to lock a bike to anything other than a bicycle rack. In addition, many businesses and buildings post signs warning cyclists not to chain their bikes to fences or railings.

As usual in NYC we must talk about the lack of bike parking that keeps so many people from riding. Having just completed my study of bike commuters in NYC, however, I find that this is not the case. My results illustrated that while bike parking is important, daily commuters are more concerned with a bike network and on-street safety. Yet we cannot get past the fact that people will never ride their bikes if they can't bring them inside to the office!

Instead let us focus our advocacy efforts on rider safety and getting DOT to do a complete bike network. I have not heard of anyone being killed or injured because they didn't have a spot to park their bike. Once again, the NY Times pulls the covers over our eyes by addressing a issue, but not the most critical one. Check out the comments section and this post from Streets Blog.

The (new) Downtown Brooklyn

I've been avoiding the changes that are taking place in Downtown Brooklyn, but this Daily News article was a bit too honest for me to pass up.
When they look to the nearby neighborhoods of Brooklyn Heights, Cobble hill, Boerum Hill and Fort Greene, they see growing affluence and a lucrative demographic. "The area clearly needs what I'll call more home furnishing stores," said Aaron Malinsky of P/a Associates, which is developing City Point, new retail shops replacing Albee Square at the Fulton Mall. "Many families are coming to the area," he added. "We want to cater to those people." The developers also want to attract higher fashion retailers, both national chains and boutiques, Malinsky said.
An updated Fulton Mall would give the newcomers a place to shop and eat, backers said. A planned, city-funded make-over of the streetscape - with streamlined signage, better lighting, new outdoor seating and bus shelters - is expected to help upscale customers feel more at home.

Wow, City Point acts as if nobody actually uses Fulton Mall, or rather that not the right people are frequenting the mall. While the writing has been on the wall for some time now, I really can't believe this is the future of Downtown Brooklyn. Although Fulton Mall might not have the things that I need, it clearly is vibrant and has more than enough shoppers.

So the real question is: why is it permissible to destroy an existing mall to create a new mall for a different set of residents? Why can't improvements be made to the mall while retaining most of the businesses that are currently there? While big retail is bound to come in, does this mean that the current merchants, who have made the mall what it is, will eventually be pushed out to new buildings and sky rocketing commercial rents? I really believe that Downtown Brooklyn has a unique flavor and that these changes are going to alter it for good. But don't take my word for it:

Tuesday, July 1, 2008


Here is an excellent essay from John Field posted on Planetizen.
The making of architect media heroes is a new phenomenon. On the one hand such recognition is welcome and long overdue, and the problem isn’t the quality of design. It is that the responsibility for creating urban communities for the future is seldom part of the starchitect’s agenda. A mere 50 years ago, most architects would have been incredulous if you had told them that their name alone would raise millions of dollars for clients or be the difference between success and failure in leasing an office project. The number of famous architects in the world could be counted on one hand back then. But today the era of the celebrity architect is blooming worldwide. Architects’ names are now even associated with retail household products like teapots, watches and lighting fixtures.

Today the phenomenon has taken hold so completely that it is beginning to fracture the fabric of our urban areas. The purity of “autograph architecture” is preserved by holding it away from its neighboring buildings with plazas to create room to be better admired. Shouldn’t we ask ourselves why was it that Andrea Palladio could design a project as part of the fabric of the city in the 16th century without sacrificing his artistic integrity, and yet Mies Van der Rohe and many architects today have to have plazas isolating their designs, as if the surrounding riffraff of buildings would contaminate their jewels? Greater recognition of the importance of architecture should make better cities, but that’s not possible when no building can be next to another.

Architects are not planners and vice versa. Fields gets to a new phenomenon where architects are not making our urban areas better with their signature buildings. This other post on Planetizen discusses this as well, but from a journalistic angle. Is it time for architects and planners to sit down at the same table and find some common ground?