Thursday, November 27, 2008

Hunter College study gets is wrong

I am a bit surprised by this study done at Hunter College. For newer readers I had started this blog because I was doing a study of bike commuters in NYC (you can read the study here). This new report points out all the things cyclists do wrong, but yet the students who did the study merely observed the cyclists. It would have been good if the study actually had these students do a few things.

1. Ride themselves in these conditions

2. Interview the riders as to why they broke the law

3. Put the results in the larger context of street use in NYC (transportation planning)

It is great to have more institutions doing studies about biking in cities, but I feel this study ignores the most obvious thing. In NYC a cyclist does what they have to just to stay alive. This might not convince everyone, but it is the truth. Plus, the study could have looked at how the rules of the road are geared toward drivers, thus they don't really apply to cyclists and the way they use the road. Here is the NY Times article.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Is Target hurting or helping our cities?

The Sustainable Cities Blog has this entry about Target supporting a community garden in Harlem:

Just last month, the Target East Harlem Community Garden was opened. On 117th St. just east of 1st Avenue, a new garden is growing with $300,000 of Target money. Much of this is going into an endowment for up keep. The rest was for the creation of the garden which includes a storm water capture system on the roof of the adjacent building, photovoltaic capturing discs (red to remind us of the sponsor), wind turbines, and of course the green garden itself. Focus groups were held within the community (only about a dozen people were spoken to though) before the design concept was drawn up. For the most part though, people seemed to want green space for children to play, seeing as there are already a few other nearby gardens that grow vegetables and produce.

What is interesting is the point they make about corporations stepping where cities should be funding these projects. While I completely agree, we no longer live in a world, unfortunately, when we can count on our city, state, or federal government to step in and make these community projects happen. On the flip side, would we rather not have the garden? I am not so sure this does mean corporate ownership. Corporations need to support neighborhoods and groups so why not let someone like Target fund a community priority. Honestly, many non-profits doing community work have relied on funding from corporations for years, even though it is not out in the open, would we really want them to stop providing their services to communities around the country? I think not. Here is the NY Times link.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Americans vote for transit

Transportation for America has this article that recaps all the transportation initiatives that got voted on this past election. What seems clear is that Americans are ready to pay a little more on their taxes to see mass transportation improvements.

It’s perhaps most telling that even in a time of brutal economic crises and expensive gas, taxpayers voted for 14 initiatives that will raise their taxes. In short, we seem to be collectively tired of business-as-usual — more highways, all the time, resulting in only more congestion, with no coherent vision for world-class transportation in our cities and communities — and we are willing to pay out of our own pockets for solutions that can get us out of traffic and keep us moving. Hit the jump for the details.

At least 23 transportation-related initiatives were approved nationwide, meaning that more than $75 billion will soon be flowing into our transportation networks. There were big victories in California with Measure R in Los Angeles (read our Q&A with the campaign director) and Proposition 1A statewide that will provide the initial financing for a high-speed rail system from San Francisco to Los Angeles.

Change happens slowly but it is great to see that priorities are starting to change across the country. I am not sure we still get how much trouble we are in for the next few years in regards to transportation and infrastructure, but it is great to see the focus start to shift.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Practice What You Preach

I realize that not everyone is in a position to live a car-free life. Actually, having just moved to the Twin Cities from NYC I have seen how years of built infrastructure is crippling the TCs. Everything seems to be about parking. So yes, I did sign up for car share (and honestly a car might be in my future for sharing with my wife) but right now I am still going to battle it out with the bus, light rail, and my new bike. I feel it is important to not only "talk the talk" but you need to "walk the walk."

I found this article ironic when a city planner confesses how much they love to drive:

Almost daily, I promote smart growth - alternative transportation choices,reduced greenhouse gases, increased housing densities. It's my business to help Canadians understand and adapt to a future that is different from the past. I am a 21st-century city planner.Along with fellow futurists, I advocate less vehicle travel, more cycling and transit use, smaller cars and sensible energy consumption. The terms "eco-density," "high-occupancy vehicles" and "environmental footprint" are common currency. By day I'm committed to radical societal change. But my lifestyle is suspect because I really like to drive. Mostly by myself. Pedal to the metal. Wide-open spaces. No boundaries. Zoom, zoom, zoom.

And an unsustainable future:

I understand the disconnect between the extravagant past and our frugal future. My lifestyle is unsustainable and I need to change my patterns. But I subtly resist the shift. Perhaps it's the curse of the baby boomers. For our generation, driving has been a lifelong love affair, one that isn't easily surrendered.

Don't get me wrong, cars are always going to be a part of our lives. What I promote is a balance of options so that people have the opportunity to walk,bus, rail, or even bike to a destination. My concern is that when we have streets that are designed with one thing in mind (moving cars through as quickly as possible) as a planner and community development director, it is my duty to show people a different way of thinking about these spaces.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Saturday, November 22, 2008

The Big Box

This Slate article is looking at how communities have taken big box stores and have put them to better use.

Big-box buildings are the large, free-standing, warehouselike structures that have become dominant in the American landscape, constructed by one-stop-shopping retailers, grocers, and category-killers. Hundreds of new big-box buildings are built each year—and hundreds are vacated. In a healthy economy, retailers often leave behind one store to build an even bigger one nearby. In tough times, weaker chains are forced to close stores. Circuit City recently announced it will close 155 stores before the holiday season. What happens to big-box buildings when a retailer abandons them?
Check out the slide show here.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

NYC transit cutting subway and bus lines

Every New Yorker knows that the MTA NYCT has been in trouble for years. When times are hard, transit seems to take the brunt of it. This Daily News Article illustrates just how dire things have become in the Big Apple:

The MTA's doomsday budget will wipe out the W line, zap the Z line and ax more than 1,500 NYC Transit jobs, the Daily News has learned. The list of bus and subway cuts the Metropolitan Transportation Authority will unveil at its monthly board meeting Thursday is extensive and potentially bruising, sources said.
With ridership in NYC is the highest it has ever been, the bigger lesson that we should learn from this is that you don't build an extension onto your house when the roof is leaking. For years the MTA has moved forward with large projects (Eastside access and extension of the 7 line) while the "state of good repair" for the rest of the system has been less than perfect. In the future, large projects and extension of services, should only be done when the current status of the system (and funding for it) are currently adequate. Hopefully the MTA NYCT can get a bail out from the state, but going forward better practices would avoid these situations when the economy takes a dive.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

NYC buses are slow?

Here is a great tidbit from New York Magazine:

Everyone who takes the bus in New York City knows that you have to have something to read, or a video game to play, in order to not go insane. Not because the people around you are crazy, or because it's too crowded, or anything like that. It's because if you are left with nothing to do, you will inevitably notice that outside the window, the same people are walking past your window at every stop. Pedestrians, you see, walk just as fast, if not faster, than plenty of city buses. And forget it if someone in a wheelchair gets on. Buses in New York are great; they're clean, they're effective, and they get you where the subway won't take you. But they're not for getting anywhere quickly.

An annual study of bus speeds and reliability by the Straphangers Campaign came out yesterday, and they handed their "Pokey" and "Schleppie" awards yesterday to the M96 and the M101/103 lines. The M96 moves at 3.7 mph, and the M101/103 is unreliable one out of four times. According to the geniuses at the Daily News, that means that the M96 moves more than twice as slowly as a swiftly moving chicken.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Hour Car

While my bike is my main mode of transportation (and has been for the last 10 years) I am also a frequent user of the bus, light rail, other people's cars, and of course walking. Today I decided that the car was going to be the best use of my time and money. Twin Cities' Hour Car was there for the rescue.

Having lived in other cities that have car sharing programs (Chicago, NYC, Philly) this is the first time I actually have had the real need to use it. I needed to do a bunch of errands this morning and doing it by the other modes was just not going to work since I had to be in the office at 9:00 am. Car Sharing was the perfect solution for me today. For those individuals who are interesting in different ways to get around town check out these website and resources for a multi-modal approach to life: Hour Car, Commuter Connection, and Smart Trips.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Are shopping centers the answer?

The Bad Architect Website poses the question and has an answer on both sides. Yes:

Retailers and users are demanding public spaces, civic streets and squares in new developments. The internal agenda has become truly external, moving the focus away from controlled environments towards outside spaces and places.

New developments are creating a sense of place which is a natural extension to the city, not just a retail scheme, and through it, restoring and creating civic pride.

We have created destinations to get people back into city centres that were previously underused, with a rich mixture of retail and leisure that caters for the widest range of people, as well as offices, hotels and residential.
and No:

Shopping centres certainly provide jobs and activity, but they do so at the expense of virtually everything else, rather in the way that a forest planted only with conifers will sterilise the ground around it.

They suck the life out of the shopping areas nearby, creating a much larger regeneration challenge in their wake. Drive past the enormous Westfield shopping
centre in West London in a few months’ time, and doubtless the process of decline will have begun.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

First Impressions

It has been a week and I have managed to ride to work, downtown, to St. Louis Park, and pretty much all around South Minneapolis. The first thing that struck me about riding around the Twin Cities, driver awareness. Coming from NYC where hitting cyclists and running over pedestrians is a daily event, the Twin Cities drivers are not out to run over every cyclist in their path to make it to their destination 5 seconds faster.

In NYC I was so use to drivers pulling out in front of me my muscle memory kicks in every time a car comes to a stop on a side street. So far, in the Twin Cities, these cars actually stop and wait for me to pass. Can you believe that.

On Saturday I was able to go to Trader Joes in St. Louis Park and 95% of the ride was on trails.

Two things I like about the trails: first, it really is a bike super highway. Second, they provide a great environment to ride in where all you have to worry about are the other trail users. Bike parking is every where (see pic above). Unlike NYC where getting a spot is like winning the lottery, the Twin Cities had plenty of bike parking around its commercial areas. It could do a lot better in residential areas.

Finally, it is getting cold. I had to hit the store today to get a base layer and a set of long underwear. I still need to get some smart wool socks for when the temps really start to drop. That is it for now.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Can New York Reinvent Itself?

Days after 9/11 the country and the world thought that New York City would be devastated. Most projected that it would be years before New York City got back on its feet. It shouldn't have been a real surprise that with in about six months NYC was getting back to normal.

Today, New York State and New York City are facing hard economic times. Just this past week Governor Patterson announced a huge budget deficit. Patterson stated that overspending by the state and Wall Street's meltdown will result in a $47 billion deficit over the next four years if nothing is done. Just a week prior to Patterson's announcement Mayor Bloomberg said the City's budget would swell by $500 million during the current fiscal year because of weakening tax revenues.

Joel Kotkin over at New Geography may have the answer that NYC needs: San Francisco. In his article he looks to San Francisco as a luxury city that reinvented itself after the meltdown. It may be time for NYC to diversify itself. The 9/11 recovery was fast because Wall Street recovered. Today it is different, the three main industries in NYC (finance, insurance, and real estate) are all on a major decline. I am hopeful that NYC will eventually pull out of this recession, but Mayor Bloomberg and Governor Patterson might want to start thinking differently about the industries that basically support the city and the state.

Images from the New Geography.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

California Transportation

East Bay BRT

High Speed Trains

Assembly Report

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Cycle Track

Is the cycle track the solution to bike safety? Cyclists have been advocating for years to be treated equally on the road. Does the cycle track, a physical separated lane, hurt or help that cause?

I have mixed feelings about cycle tracks. While they do provide safety for cyclists, does it not reinforce the idea that drivers then don't have to worry about cyclists on the road (they have their own lane I don't need to pay attention). Or would we rather have an approach that looks at street space as something that needs to be shared by all users, even if it is a complete or shared streets approach. I am torn on this issue because both have logical and real world applications.

I end up not loving the idea of the cycle track because it reinforces the idea that riding a bike needs to be treated separately than other users of the road. Of course we can continue to make accommodations to make cycling safer and easier, but at what social and cultural costs are we loosing out. Cycle tracks unfortunately reinforce the idea that a cyclist is less superior than an auto vehicle and should be treated as such.

Check out this post over at TC Streets for People.