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Transportation Nation

Why One San Francisco Bike Lane Design Is Upsetting Drivers and Cyclists (AUDIO)

Friday, January 25, 2013

JFK Boulevard, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco. (Photo Courtesy of SFMTA Livable Streets)

A prominent bike lane in San Francisco may be suffering because of its unique design. The ambitious, and expensive, bike lane striping of Golden Gate Park stands out from the other projects of San Francisco's bike plan for the criticism it draws from cyclists and drivers alike, in part for a disorienting placement of line of parked cars.

“I think it’s one of the dumbest things I ever saw that they put these stripes down here,” says driver Jimmy Harris of the lanes, pictured above.

Average speeds of drivers and bike riders have both fallen, a success at what's known as traffic calming. But also a stark test case of transportation psychology as users cite narrow lanes and an unusual arrangement of parked cars as confusing.

Ben Trefny and Rai Sue Sussman took a ride along JFK Blvd, with a measuring tape, to see why these particular stripes are raising hackles of bike riders and drivers. Give the audio version a listen.

Here's more: 

For a bit of background, the streets of San Francisco are changing. There are separated bike lanes on Market Street. There’s green paint all over the much-used bike path called the Wiggle. The city is definitely becoming more bicycle-friendly.

After many delays, the city’s bike plan is taking effect, with streets long-designed for car traffic being reconfigured for other modes of transportation. Four years ago San Francisco had 45 miles of bike lanes. Today there are 65 and with more on the way. Plus, 75 more miles of streets will be stenciled with symbols designating them as bike-friendly routes. It’s all having a big impact.

According to the San Francisco Bike Coalition, bike trips have increased more than 70 percent since 2006. But the planners’ choices for JFK Blvd. havn't been implemented so smoothly – and it’s flat-out rankled many of the bicyclists it’s supposed to serve.

The wide JFK Blvd. used to have almost no stripes whatsoever. Now, it’s full of them, creating several chutes designated for different purposes:  there’s a bike lane at either the edge; then buffer zone; a lane for parking; and then in the center a car lane in each direction.

Last spring, we talked with Leah Shahum, executive director of the San Francisco Bike Coalition, about that project: the striping of Golden Gate Park

“Imagine the parking lanes that are kind of being moved out more into the center of the street, and the bikeway – the dedicated bikeway – will be against the curb, or against the green space, or the sidewalk area,” she said. “So that people biking actually have that physical separation from the moving traffic. JFK we think is a good street to try this because it is a very wide street it's way wider than most streets in San Francisco, so there was room there to try something different.”

It cost at least $425,000 to lay the stripes down – and the MTA estimates more than that to plan it all out.

So, what do the people who travel along JFK think about the new configuration?

“From a drivers’ standpoint, it’s pretty bad,” adds Daly City’s Nick Shurmeyetiv. “Honestly, the first few times I came in – like the first few times it really threw me off. I wasn't sure what was going on. I thought it was a traffic jam, or I don't know what,” he said of the parked cars that appeared to be a lane of traffic.

Frank Jones, from Concord says, “Well, we did pull up and stop behind somebody. And we thought, ‘They're not moving.’ Then we realized – there was nobody in the car! So we went around them.”

A count of cars lined up in the designated parking lane across from the De Young Museum one Friday afternoon showed 11 of 46 vehicles at least partially in the buffer zone. They followed a pattern: typically, each vehicle was aligned with the one in front of it. So if one missed the mark, many more would do the same. And they never missed on the side with car traffic. Only on the side toward the bikes.

“Yeah, you know the roadway, the width is a little narrower, but for the most part, this isn't a place to be going really fast from A to B,” says Peter Brown, who works as an SFMTA project manager.

If it’s the SFMTA’s goal to slow traffic on JFK, it’s been successful.

For cars, average speed has dropped about two or three miles per hour since the road was striped, according to a preliminary report. It makes sense, as the thoroughfare is much more narrow, now, and cars have to fully stop if anyone in front of them is trying to park.

Average bike speeds have also dropped, from an average of 14-and-a-half miles per hour to less than 13 during the week and a little slower on weekends. The report suggests that’s because bicyclists who used to cruise really fast up or down Golden Gate Park now have to slow down for other cyclists and the people who are trying to get across the bike lanes to their cars. Calming traffic, on paper anyway, arguably makes the route more accessible and safer.

The SFMTA surveyed people who use JFK both before and shortly after the new stripes went in. Almost 90 percent of responders felt like they understood the striping, but only about 60 percent liked it. Some people, like Lita Ward, don’t.

“I've had several incidents where I've nearly collided with people getting out of their cars, that are crossing the bike lane into the sidewalk area,” says Ward. “Obviously, we can't stop quickly enough... I think it's a great concept, but drivers need to be aware of what that change means for bicyclists."

It didn’t take long, wandering around JFK to see that scenario unfold. Just west of the De Young, two teenagers on mountain bikes blew through a stop sign on the downhill slope. A pedestrian crossing the bike lane to get to his car had to jump out of the way as they rapidly approached. The kids obviously hadn’t anticipated his presence, and the pedestrian didn’t notice until it was nearly too late.

Some people think better signage and public awareness campaigning would solve some of the ongoing issues with the newly striped lanes of Golden Gate Park, including longtime bike activist Chris Carlsson, who runs Shaping San Francisco, which looks into ways to improve the city.

“A proper educational campaign, in conjunction with an infrastructural transformation, I think could be really successful,” says Carlsson, who is one of the founders of Critical Mass.

[Related: Listen to an oral history of how Critical Mass was founded]

The people who most advocated for – and implemented – the striping of Golden Gate Park are examining the effects. The SF Bike Coalition has a webpage devoted to the “JFK Separated Bikeway Project.”

The page addresses some of the problems: cars that aren’t parked where they’re supposed to be; people crossing the bikeway without looking. SFMTA has a page called the JFK Cycletrack. It includes a survey in which people can share their thoughts about what they like and don’t like.

Even with the imposed structure, people are making the new configuration work for them. Sporty bicyclists take the car lane (which is allowed) to avoid slower-biking tourists and families; pedestrians walk in the bike path to avoid sprinklers; and cars drive through like they did before – only slightly slower.

But more than six months in, because of ongoing parking issues and -- for San Francisco -- the unusual off-curb parking situation, it appears that the striping of Golden Gate Park is not working quite as it was originally imagined. The removal of more than 80 parking spaces alone will be enough to change usage of the road. And unless a large-scale redesign is implemented, an experiment in shared road design may simply require users to get used to a number of imperfections.

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Transportation Nation

NY City Council: DOT is Flouting Law on Safety Stats

Thursday, January 24, 2013

New York City Council members James Vacca and Jessica Lappin with Transportation Alternatives' Juan Martinez (photo by Kate Hinds)

Listen to the audio from Thursday's press conference:

"In 2011, I authored a law called TrafficStat," said Jessica Lappin, who represents the Upper East Side. "The goal was to shine a light on the most dangerous intersections in the city." She and Bronx council member Jimmy Vacca recently sent a letter to DOT commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan. It reads, in part: "Although the DOT has been legally required to provide the information noted above to Council Members and Community Boards since June 2011, to our understanding it has yet to do so. The Council has requested copies of traffic safety reports in recent months without success."

The law requires the DOT to identify the city's twenty highest crash locations and then come up with a plan to make them safer. In addition, it requires the DOT to inspect the locations where fatal traffic crashes occur within ninety days.

A clearly frustrated Lappin said it wasn't clear whether the DOT is inspecting the locations of fatal crashes. "How would we know?" she said "They haven't told us that they have. If they have, they should tell us."

A representative for the DOT, reached after the press conference, took issue with the council member's characterization. Spokesman Seth Solomonow said when it comes to traffic safety, "the last five years have been the safest in city history."

The press conference comes a day after the NYPD posted data on traffic crashes online, but then acknowledged that data was raw and contained "overcounts."

Lappin said the council has been asking for the  information for five months. "And they keep saying 'oh, it's coming, it's coming, it's coming,' and we're just sick of waiting."

She said given the DOT's emphasis on safety, she was surprised by the agency's lack of compliance. "This is an administration that we know takes safety very seriously, so I don't understand why they are not complying with this law. We have been asking for months now for them to release this information, and they keep telling us it's on the way.  But we don't want to wait when there are lives on the line."

"I don't care how cold it is," said Vacca. (Reporter's note: the temperature at 10am was 14 degrees.) "I think that we in the city of New York have been in the deep freeze too damn long at the Department of Transportation."

It wasn't clear exactly how the council planned for force the DOT's hand. Lappin said, "we're going to keep pushing them." A member of Vacca's staff said that the councilman would explore the possibility of an oversight hearing if DOT doesn’t comply "soon."

In his statement, the DOT's Solomonow said: "From the landmark pedestrian safety report to annual traffic fatality numbers to street-specific studies, there’s never been more safety data available for New Yorkers. This particular law requires not simply reporting statistics but then identifying locations and taking steps to make each even safer. In practice, this report goes above and beyond the law, documenting the engineering, designing, community outreach, scheduling and implementation efforts that have already brought community-supported safety redesigns to these locations. DOT continues to work overtime on safety, and not a single project has been delayed by this report, which we expect to be complete in a matter of weeks."

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Transportation Nation

DC Commuters Want Less Traffic, More Transit -- And No Congestion Pricing

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

(photo by NCreedplayer via flickr)

Commuters are skeptical that congestion pricing will reduce traffic in the metropolitan Washington area and raise revenues to fund transportation projects. Instead, they favor alternatives to driving -- commuter rail, express bus service, or bicycling/walking.

report released Wednesday by the National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board (TPB) weighed the attitudes of 300 area residents who participated in five forums: two in Virginia, two in Maryland, and one in the District of Columbia. The participants were asked to consider three scenarios: 1) placing tolls on all major roadways, including interstate highways; 2) charging a per-mile fee measured by GPS systems installed in cars; and 3) creating priced zones similar to a system in London that would charge motorists to enter a designated area.

These attitudes are being probed at a delicate time for transportation funding in the region: Virginia's governor is proposing the elimination of the state gasoline tax -- while Maryland is looking at increasing theirs. Meanwhile, the area's largest transit project, the Silver Line, has yet to be fully funded.

But the funding scenarios posed to study participants received tepid support.

“This study shows people are cautiously open to concepts of congestion pricing, but they really need to see if it’s going to work, and they have doubts about that,” said John Swanson, a TPB planner.

“They really want to make sure that there are clear benefits, that [congestion pricing] is going to fund new transportation alternatives… particularly transit and high quality bus [service],” he added.

Scenario one – charging tolls on all major roadways – was supported by 60 percent of study participants, who engaged in extended exchanges of ideas and opinions. Scenario two – using GPS to track miles traveled – was opposed by 86 percent, even though drivers’ actual routes would not be tracked, only the number of miles.

“I don’t want to discount privacy concerns,” Swanson said. “I don’t think, however, the concerns were simply the classic ‘big brother’ concerns. There was a lot of code language for broader anxieties.  It was a complicated proposal that was hard to understand.  It seemed to be hard to implement.  A lot of people said it looked like it would be expensive to implement and, frankly, they are right.”

The study participants spoke of congestion in personal terms -- family time robbed, the stress of dealing with incessant traffic. Most commuters said driving is not a choice.

“The availability of other options besides driving—such as transit, walking and biking—increased [the] receptiveness to pricing. Participants also spoke favorably of proposals that would maintain non-tolled lanes or routes for those who cannot or do not want to pay,” the report said.

Transit advocates say the report shows shaping land use strategies to improve access to transit and create walkable, densely built environments is the best way to mitigate the region’s traffic jams.

“Newcomers to the region are very frequently choosing the city or a place near transit rather than a place where they have no option but to drive,” said Stewart Schwartz, the executive director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth.

“What’s most interesting about this report is that it was an effort to seek public support for congestion pricing, but what it documented was the much stronger support for transit and improvements in how we plan land use in order to give people more choices to get around,” Schwartz added.

The study’s authors – the TPB partnered with the Brookings Institution – found most participants were unaware the federal gas tax (18.4 cents per gallon) hasn’t been raised since 1993.  However, they also favored raising the gas tax as an easier, fairer alternative to implementing a congestion pricing program.

Support for increasing the gas tax increased over the course of the sessions --  from 21 percent when the study convened to 57 percent upon its completion.

The gas tax “is a hidden fee,” said Swanson. “We learned that people actually like that. There is a general sense of the invisibility of the gas tax being a problem and potentially a benefit, something that’s strangely attractive to people.”

Eighty-five percent of study participants identified transportation funding shortfalls as a critical problem, yet expressed doubts the government would make the right choices if additional revenues were made available through congestion pricing.

TPB board member Chris Zimmerman, who's also a member of the Arlington (VA) County Board, took exception to the wording of the study’s questions using the word “government” because he felt it provoked a negative response.

“If you are trying to interpret what people say, you have to be careful of what question you ask them,” Zimmerman said. “I think people get that there is a lack of funding.  They also get the fact there are a number of other problems.  There aren’t alternatives. For many in this region, they drive not because that’s what they are dying to do, but because they have no choice.”

Zimmerman, who background is in economics, said it should be no surprise people are lukewarm about congestion pricing proposals, given the lack of alternative modes of transportation in some places.  He is also unsure congestion pricing will work.

“The way roads are run is there is basically no pricing of them at all. Even if you are paying a gas tax it’s not related to your use of any particular road.  An economist looks at that and says of course you are going to get inefficiency and congestion,” Zimmerman said.

“You are not talking about going from the current situation to instantly pricing everything perfectly.  You are talking about implementing costs on particular segments of roads and that gets a lot more complicated because there are secondary effects," Zimmerman said. "We price one thing and many people shift to some other place.  Well, where is that some other place?”

“In practice, implementing that is very difficult.”

The Washington region saw two major highways shift to congestion pricing in 2012. Maryland's Inter-County Connector charges variably priced tolls; the 495 Express Lanes charge dynamically priced tolls and offer free rides to HOV-3 vehicles.

In the case of the Express Lanes, the state of Virginia will not receive toll revenues for 75 years as per its contract with its private sector partner, Transurban, and it remains to be seen if the new toll lanes will ultimately reduce congestion in the heavily traveled corridor. The ICC also has its critics, who say the recently constructed highway was a waste of money.

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Transportation Nation

Montana Legislators Want Drivers to Give School Buses More Room

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Rep. "Doc" Moore, the sponsor of HB 155. (Photo by Jackie Yamanaka)

(Helena, MT – YPR) – Montana lawmakers gave preliminary approval to a bill that would increase the distance motorists have to give a school bus when children are getting on and off.

House Bill 155 would amend current Montana law to increase the distance a motor vehicle has to stop from 15  to 30 feet when a school bus puts on its red flashing light.

Representative David “Doc” Moore (R-Missoula) is the bill’s sponsor.

The freshman lawmaker brought toy school buses and handed them out to many state representatives in the 100-member house to try to persuade his colleagues to vote for his first bill.

Rep. Kristin Hansen (R-Havre), chair of the House Education Committee, posing with her toy school bus after the vote. (Photo by Jackie Yamanaka)

Moore said the bill is about safety. “In 2011, nationwide there were 100 fatalities or injuries of school children in school safety zones,” he said. “Sixteen of these fatalities happened when children were getting on or off their buses.”

But not everyone was on board. Representative Jerry O’Neil (R-Columbia Falls) questioned whether the bill was necessary. He asked: where are the statistics that changing Montana law will save a child’s life?

“I think we’re better off to leave it the way it is. It isn’t causing any problems the way it is. I think we’re better off to just vote ‘no’ on this,” he said.

But HB 155 passed the Montana House on an 83-17 vote. It faces a final vote in the House. If it passes, it will go to the Montana Senate for consideration.

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Transportation Nation

NYC to Add Citywide 'Wayfinding' Maps to Encourage Walking, Business

Monday, January 14, 2013

(Image courtesy of NYC DOT)

Even with smartphone maps, a waffle iron street grid and numbered streets in most of Manhattan, too many pedestrians are getting lost in New York City according to the NYC Department of Transportation. The solution, or part of it, will begin rolling out in March: maps. Lots of them. Designed just for pedestrians to be placed on sidewalks and eventually on bike share stations all around the five boroughs.

"We have a great system of signage for cars, but we don't have a good system of signage for people," said Jeanette Sadik-Khan, NYC's Transportation Commissioner. (Earlier this week she unveiled newly designed, and less cluttered, parking signs). Starting in March, New York City will install 150 'wayfinding' signs on sidewalks in Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens as part of a citywide system that will roll out in phases at a cost of $6 million, most of it borne by the federal government, the rest by local business improvement districts.*

A sample of what NYC's new wayfinding maps will look like. Courtesy NYC DOT.

The sidewalk signage will show pedestrians where they are and which way they are facing -- a study last year found that many New Yorkers couldn't point to north when asked. Transit, local attractions, and businesses are placed on a large map of the local street grid with  circles indicating where you can reach with a five minute walk, and how long it will take to get to other attractions. Like countdown clocks in subways, knowing the time and effort involved in a trip can make it more appealing. The signs, the DOT hopes, will encourage more walking.

"We're very excited about it and think it will be a big boon, not only for visitors ... but also for business." A slowly ambling customer visiting a new neighborhood, or a new route, is much more likely to check out a new shop than a driver is to stop, park, and peek in.

"New York is a perfect place to have a wayfinding system because nearly one third of all trips are made by foot," Sadik-Khan said. A little encouragement to walk could be a tipping point to leave the car at home, she says, pointing out that a quarter of all car trips in NYC are less than a mile, a distance people could walk.

The signs will roll out in Chinatown, Midtown Manhattan, Long Island City, Prospect Heights and Crown Heights. "These are heavily foot trafficked areas," she says. "The lessons that we learn there... will help us as we build a bigger system citywide."

When bike share stations are installed in May, they will include these maps. That would add several hundred more pedestrian maps in many new neighborhoods.

Here's a full length sample:

Sample design of NYC's wayfinding maps. Courtesy NYC DOT.

 

*An earlier version of this post stated that the majority of the cost of the project would be borne by business improvement districts.

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Transportation Nation

D.C. Planners: Regional Job Growth Should Focus On 'Activity Centers'

Friday, January 11, 2013

(Photo CC by Flickr user Metal Chris)

Here's a strategy for growth. Build new housing where the action is. And that means around transit lines.

In the Washington D.C. area, regional planners have mapped out nearly 140 "activity centers" around the capital that they say should be the focus of future job and population growth.

An activity center is a densely-built housing, office, and retail space located on a major transportation corridor. Many of the 139 dots on the map unanimously approved by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments are located within D.C. city limits; others branch out into Maryland and Virginia along existing and future Metro lines.

It's a suggested guide for future growth mapped in stipple and meant to guide the coming population growth to areas like Mary Hynes' neighborhod. Hynes is vice chairman of the council's Region Forward coalition and resident of an activity center. "I live a block from the Clarendon Metro," she says. "The practical effect is I get in my car about once a week. I can walk to grocery stores or I can walk to the dry cleaner. I can walk to my job or take a bus to my job. It s a great quality of life."

While Arlington County is well known for building mixed-use, mixed-income, walkable neighborhoods around Metro stations, other places are catching up. Prince George's County has 15 Metro stations, but some are undeveloped.

"By focusing growth around those Metro stations, we will be able to receive some return on that investment and we will build on an infrastructure that already exists," says Al Dobbins, the county's Deputy Planning Director. "That precludes the need to go out and build even more transportation infrastructure."

The activity centers map was drafted in 2002 and last updated in 2007.

Click to enlarge

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Transportation Nation

INTERVIEW: Author Jeff Speck Explains What Makes a City Walkable

Friday, January 04, 2013

 

Manhattan pedestrians, stepping peppily (photo by Kate Hinds)

Manhattan pedestrians, stepping peppily (photo by Kate Hinds)

LISTEN to this interview that aired on Marketplace or read a summary below. 

(Sarah Gardner -- Marketplace) What makes a city walkable? According to Jeff Speck, the author of "Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America, One Step At A Time," a walk has to be useful, safe, comfortable, and interesting if you're going to get people out of their cars and onto the sidewalks.

"The pedestrian has to have a fighting chance against being hit by automobiles," says Speck, "but also the streets need to be comfortable in the way they're shaped by buildings, and you can't have a bunch of blank walls and parking lots to walk by."

Speck says that 77 percent of Millennials want to live urban cores. Of course, New York, Chicago and San Francisco have done a good job keeping their cities pedestrian-friendly, but Speck says no city has put the thought into walkability that Portland, Ore., has.

"The VMT [vehicle miles traveled] of your typical Portlander peaked in 1996," says Speck who lauds Portland for a long-term strategy to minimize the importance of the car, "and as a result, one economist has calculated that about 3.5 percent of GDP is money saved by driving less."

Many cities are doing good things to make their cities more walkable, but Speck says most average American cities still have a long way to go to become truly walkable. Why? The car is still the driving force in city planning.

"A city is being planned not by its mayor," says Speck, "but by a public works director who is responding to complaints about traffic and parking."


The majority of Americans still drive alone in a car to and from work. But in cities and states across the nation, the commuter population is turning to carpools, public transportation, walking, and bikes. Explore this interactive map on how America gets to work.

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Transportation Nation

YEAR IN REVIEW Washington, D.C: Silver Lines, Express Lanes, Gentrification, and Scandal

Monday, December 31, 2012

(photo by Wally G)

The Washington D.C. metropolitan region saw major developments in transportation that included progress toward completing the largest public rail project in the country, the opening of a new highway on the Beltway, and an update on D.C.’s coming streetcar system. 2012 also raised questions critical to the region’s economic future.  In a region plagued by some of the worst highway traffic congestion in the nation and a public rail system crowded to capacity, how can transportation planners and real estate developers maximize the region’s economic potential in a climate of finite funding for major projects.

1) The Silver Line

When the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors gave final approval to the county’s involvement in the $5.5 billion project that will connect D.C. to Dulles International Airport, lawmakers removed the last major obstacle to completing the Metro rail line by 2018.  Outstanding issues remain, however.  The most controversial issue is the Silver Line’s financing plan, overseen by the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority.  Without further federal or Virginia state funding, motorists on the Dulles Toll Road will cover half the Silver Line’s costs.

2) I-495 Express Lanes

A new highway is big news in this region. After six years of construction, high-occupancy toll (HOT) lanes opened on Nov. 17 on the 495 Beltway between the Dulles Toll Road and the I-95 interchange in Fairfax County.  Drivers using the HOT lanes may get a faster ride, but the project raised questions about the wisdom of highway expansion as a method of solving congestion as well as the pitfalls of funding megaprojects: without the public-private partnership between Virginia and the international road building company Transurban, the road would not be built.  Virginia gets a $2 billion road, and Transurban gets the toll revenues for 75 years.

3) Transit and Gentrification

Washington, D.C. is one of the fastest gentrifying cities in the United States.  While rising property values, economic development, and a growing number of residents living a car-free existence are transforming the District for the better, gentrification has its costs.

4) The Uber Battle for the Ages

After months of contention, the D.C. Council finally approved legislation legalizing the popular sedan car service Uber.  This battle was strange -- and it got personal. Legislators and regulators seemed to tie themselves in knots figuring out to handle the unregulated Uber while the district’s own taxicab industry struggled to modernize.  In the end Uber won.  And so did smartphone-using, taxicab-hailing residents of D.C.

5) MWAA’s woes

The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, which operates two major airports, rarely caught the public’s attention.  But after the authority took control of the Silver Line, however, the public’s attention intensified – and not for good reasons.  Audits by the U.S. Department of Transportation and news reports unearthed a litany of shady contracting, hiring, and travel policies and practices.  Critics have relentlessly pressed for changes to the plan to raise tolls significantly to pay for the Silver Line. MWAA is making changes but has not yet recovered the public’s trust.

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Transportation Nation

VIDEO: Transportation Nation's Mug. It Can Be Yours.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Action shot from "Multi-Modal Mug" shot film by Amy Pearl / WNYC

At Transportation Nation, we serve up serious news, with flair, style, and a flash of java.

Rejoice. (And get a tax deduction, too.) You can own a Transportation Nation coffee mug.

'What's so exciting about a coffee mug?' you might ask. 'It doesn't run on a smart grid or move at the speed of a bullet train." But, friends, it is a reminder to you of all the value this site has brought you in 2012. And your donation shows our reporters here at TN that you care.

Plus, the video is hilarious. We present to you the multi-modal mug. Yours as a thank-you gift for a donation of $5 / month to our ad-free, nonprofit public media project.

If you won't donate, consider sending this around to your friends who might.

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The Brian Lehrer Show

NYC Traffic Deaths in Context

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Robert Kolker, contributing editor for New York Magazine, discusses his new piece on why traffic deaths are up in NYC, and how the city is trying to make intersections safer.

What do you think is NYC's most dangerous intersection, and what can be done to fix it? Call 212-433-9692 or post below!

Comments [62]

Transportation Nation

NYC DOT Study: Street Redesign Good for the Economy

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Union Square's pedestrian plaza (photo by Kate Hinds)

New York City's Department of Transportation says redesigned streets have been very, very good to small businesses.

A new report says that retail sales are up along city streets that have bike paths, pedestrian plazas, slow zones, or select bus service.

In some cases, the increase is dramatic: on Brooklyn's Pearl Street, where the DOT maintains retail sales have increased by 172 percent since a parking triangle was turned into a pedestrian plaza.

In Measuring the Street, the DOT lays out metrics for evaluating street redesign projects. These include benchmarks like injuries, traffic speed and volume. And now it includes retail sales data along redesigned routes.

The report casts the city's street redesign in a favorable light just as hundreds of planners descend on the city for the Designing Cities conference, happening this week at New York University.

"For the first time, we have years of retail sales that were reported to the Department of Finance, and we were able to look at that data and apply it directly to the SBS corridors, the bike lane projects, etc.," said DOT commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan.

Sadik-Khan ticked off a list of streets that she said economically benefited from being overhauled.

"On Fordham Road [in the Bronx], we saw the growth in the retail sales by local businesses -- and these are not chain stores -- grow 71 percent following the introduction of the SBS route there in 2008, which is three times the borough-wide growth rate."

The report says that along Ninth Avenue, retail sales are up 49 percent -- sixteen times the borough growth rate -- three years after that street's protected bike lane went in. Manhattan's Union Square, which was revamped in 2010, reports a lower commercial vacancy rate.

Sadik-Khan said the reason for increased sales is straightforward: if you build it, the people will come.

And presumably those people have wallets.

"We've seen anywhere between a 10 to 15 percent increase in ridership on all the SBS bus routes," Sadik-Khan said, "amid a citywide decline of 5 percent on bus routes."  She said more riders along a route means more people getting on and off the bus, which means more foot traffic.

The DOT looked at sales tax records reported to the city's Department of Finance. The data excludes large chain stores and non-retail businesses.

 

 

 

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Transportation Nation

NY City Council Passes New Legislation For Commercial Bicyclists

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Bike racks in front of restaurants on Manhattan's Upper West Side (photo by Kate Hinds)

(Elizabeth Spain - New York, NY, WNYC) New York's City Council overwhelmingly passed a package of four bills designed to give the Department of Transportation more enforcement power over delivery cyclists.

The legislation creates civil penalties for businesses whose bicyclists fail to adhere to rules already on the books, like wearing reflective vests and helmets. It also requires commercial cyclists to complete a safety course.

“New York is a city on the go and we want to keep it that way, but we must do so safely,” said Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn. “Business owners are responsible for the safety of their employees and anyone else in the workplace ... We must all work together, along with the Department of Transportation and law enforcement, to make our streets safer. This is what this legislation aims to do.”

Civil penalties will give the DOT more power to issue fines and enforce the rules, which previously were criminal penalties and often not followed through on. Ticketing bicyclists for moving violations, like riding on sidewalks or running red lights, will remain under the purview of the New York Police Department.

The city's DOT has a six-person bike inspection team that's been going door to door to businesses on Manhattan's east and west sides. The inspectors' job right now is outreach and education; in 2013, however, they will begin enforcement.

A spokesperson for Mayor Bloomberg says that he will sign the new legislation.

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Transportation Nation

In Test of NYC's Public Support for Bike Lanes, A Tabled Plan Gets Second Look

Thursday, October 04, 2012

Columbus Avenue bike lane in September, 2011 (photo by Kate Hinds)

A stalled idea of putting a protected bike lane on a stretch of a Manhattan avenue is coming up for air, offering a test of public sentiment about New York City's often-contentious bike lane boom.

On the docket Thursday for Community Board 7's Transportation Committee meeting: whether to ask the New York City Department of Transportation to look at lengthening the existing two-year-old Columbus Avenue bike lane -- and redesigning Amsterdam Avenue to accommodate one.

Again.

When the Upper West Side's CB7 first began mulling over bike lanes in 2009, the group requested a study looking at protected lanes on both avenues, stretching from 59th to 110th streets. The DOT came back with a proposal for a single Columbus Avenue lane, running southbound from 96th Street to 77th Street. Amsterdam Avenue, the DOT decided, was too narrow to accommodate three travel lanes and a protected bike lane. The Columbus Avenue proposal was passed by the full board -- after failing at the committee level -- in 2010.

So why is an Amsterdam Avenue lane back on the table?

"This is an effort to see whether our priorities as a community might have changed," said Mark Diller, the chair of CB7, "not whether the width of a lane or the width of an avenue has changed."

He said that a member of the CB7 board wants the city to take another look at an Amsterdam Avenue bike lane -- as had other community groups. " It's a matter that's of interest to members of the community," said Diller, "so the community board will respond by taking a careful look at it."

And lessons learned during the first few months of the Columbus Avenue bike lane could help smooth the way for future lanes in the neighborhood.

Amsterdam Avenue and 84th Street (image from Google street view)

But Andrew Albert, the co-chair of CB7's transportation committee, said he couldn't ballpark what was going to happen at Thursday's meeting. "Because this hasn't come up yet, we don't know how the discussion is going to go."

Albert -- who in 2010 didn't support the installation of the Columbus Avenue lane --  said the committee wasn't won over by the idea of putting in another protected lane a block west. "There's a good number of people that don't believe the Columbus one is working as intended," he said, "so we're going to reserve judgment on Amsterdam for sure."

In one respect, said CB7 chair Mark Diller, the neighborhood had gotten off easy with the Columbus Avenue lane. Installing something similar on Amsterdam could require a politically sensitive decision that could spark some...lively debate. "Are we willing to trade a travel lane for a bike lane?" he asked.

Another view of  Columbus Avenue, with protected bike lane on the right  (image from Google street view)

 

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Transportation Nation

Virginia County Wants To Re-Envision Roads For City Rising West of Washington

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Tysons Corner (photo via wikimedia commons)

With four new Metrorail stations coming to Tysons Corner next year -- as well as a 40-year plan to to bring high-rise condos and gleaming corporate offices to the area -- local lawmakers are considering rethinking the road network.

The Fairfax County (Virginia) Board of Supervisors dug into a report Tuesday from Planning Commission member Walter Alcorn that includes about $1 billion in taxes on current and future developers to cover the costs of infrastructure for cars, buses, bicycles, and pedestrians.

“Right now Tysons has a super grid of very, very large blocks which are not walkable,” Alcorn said in an interview with Transportation Nation.  The county's plan states the "vehicle-based road network will need to transition into a multi-modal transportation system that provides transportation choices to residents, employees and visitors." That means, in part, building smaller, more walkable blocks.

County officials say they want the population of Tysons Corner to increase fivefold by 2050. Currently, the community has 20,000 residents.

The infrastructure redevelopment cost is $2.3 billion, and to pay for it, the planning commission wants to levy new taxes on developers and increase existing property taxes. However, tapping general fund revenues, issuing bonds, and adding a commercial and industrial tax are also under consideration.

“The actual street in front of the development that’s being constructed should be paid for by that developer. However, larger transportation projects that have a major benefit inside and outside of Tysons probably should be paid for by the public sector,” said Sharon Bulova, chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors.

“These are extrapolations,” said Bulova, referring to the revenue figures. “We’re looking ahead to an extent we’ve never done before to look at what it is going to take to support the new development.”

And Alcorn says it's worth it. “The point of all these improvements is not to facilitate traffic through Tysons or across Tysons, but frankly to help Tysons become more of a walkable, transit oriented community,” he said. “It’s a grid of streets. It’s also new connections from surrounding roads into Tysons, for example, new connections from the Dulles Toll Road, and improved connection to the Beltway.”

The board will take up the proposal next at its scheduled meeting later this month.
See Fairfax County's "Transforming Tysons" slideshow:

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Transportation Nation

Pittsburgh's "Paper Streets:" Hard To Maintain, Harder to Take Responsibility For

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Some cyclists use this shortcut after work, when it is dark and difficult to see the path. An adult bike is positioned next to the sinkhole to show scale. (Photo by Emily DeMarco/PublicSource)

Listen to the audio version of this story here.

(Emily DeMarco, PublicSource) In Pittsburgh’s late summer, Charles Carthorn and his son, Chuckie, rode their bikes over a favorite shortcut, a path sandwiched between the former Reizenstein Middle School and The Ellis School.

“We commute here by bike every day to football practice,” said Charles Carthorn, 42. “And this is our little shortcut.”

But he worried that 12-year-old Chuckie might be tempted to jump over a five-foot wide sinkhole on the path that looks as if it would gobble up about one-third of an adult bike.

“When he sees something like this, he wants to jump it,” Carthorn said of his son, who has been racing bikes for nearly half of his life. “I want to see him try it,” he said with a laugh, “but I don’t want him to do it because it looks kind of dangerous.”

The surrounding streets, however, are an even greater gamble for cyclists.

View this map in a larger version. Historic maps of the paper street can be found here.

Two fatal bike accidents recently occurred on Penn Avenue, less than two miles from Mellon Park where Chuckie plays football. One cyclist was killed by a hit-and-run driver in Point Breeze, on Penn Avenue near the East End Food Co-op. The second was struck by an SUV just a few days later, on a stretch of Penn Avenue near the border of Wilkinsburg.

As public officials urged cyclists to use side streets in light of the fatalities, the Carthorns’ shortcut -- known in the cycling community as the Great Northeast Passage -- may have become more important than ever.

Technically, their shortcut isn’t a real street. It’s a paper street.

Paper streets are like unfinished thoughts: Streets that were drawn on a map for a neighborhood, but were never adopted by the city. So no one really knows who’s responsible for the paper street. Is it the city? The nearby property owners?

According to Stanley Lederman, a lawyer for municipalities including Allegheny County, paper streets usually become the responsibility of the neighboring property owners.

“The paper street basically has a life of 21 years, under the current case law,” Lederman said.

If a city makes no improvements to the street, such as adding curbs or streetlights, after 21 years, it is sliced down the center by an imaginary dotted line. Properties on each side of the line automatically are responsible for the paper street.

And there’s the meat of the problem. The neighboring property owners don’t know they own a slice of the paper street.

Who owns the street?

The Pittsburgh Public Schools owns the now-empty Reizenstein building on one side of this particular paper street that has become a shortcut for bikers and runners. On the other side sits The Ellis School, a private all-girls academy.

Representatives of the schools indicated they do not own the paper street.

It’s not unusual for neighboring property owners to be unaware of their responsibility, said Robert Kaczorowski, the director of public works for Pittsburgh. They think a paper street should be taken care of by the city, he said.

Kaczorowski said his crews filled in the sinkhole in March 2012. And just hours after PublicSource interviewed Kaczorowski, his crews filled it in again.

Dan Gilman, chief of staff for Councilman Bill Peduto, a Democrat who represents the district, commended Kaczorowski “for taking quick action.” But, he said, there’s a problem if it takes a reporter or city council office to get the problem fixed.

“The bottom line is it’s dangerous to the public,” Gilman said.

The sinkhole was reported to Pittsburgh officials at least once before.

In December 2010, Todd Derr, 40, reported the sinkhole to Pittsburgh’s 311 non-emergency call center. Derr, a software engineer in Google’s Bakery Square offices, said the sinkhole has been a topic of discussion on the Bike Pittsburgh message board. But he “never saw any sign of repair or attempted repair,” he wrote in an e-mail.

The 311 department wrote in an email that Derr’s complaint was referred to the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority (PWSA).

Today, the sinkhole is filled with crumbled bits of roadway that look like a pile of chocolate cookie crumbs.

But that’s just a temporary fix.

(photo by Emily DeMarco/PublicSource)

A safer path?

Tom Leech, the superintendent of sewer operations for the PWSA, has worked on public infrastructure for 28 years.

Leech said a damaged private sewer is causing the sinkhole. PWSA’s sewers are all in good condition, which was recently confirmed by an inspection of their sewers in the area.

It’s likely the sinkhole will reappear. The damaged private sewer, which runs right under the sinkhole, is like a straw that will keep sucking bits of the dirt from the sinkhole.

Leech guessed the owner of the damaged sewer could be facing $3,000 to $10,000 in repairs.

“It’s possible [the sinkhole] could wash out and reappear,” he said, “But that’s actually the owner’s responsibility to maintain it and keep it safe.”

PWSA sent a letter on September 12 to The Ellis School to notify them that their damaged sewer is causing the sinkhole.

The damaged sewer will be removed in 2013, said Kitty Julian, director of communications for The Ellis School. School officials plan to expand the sports field and reroute bus traffic. They hope to work with their new neighbor, Walnut Capital, a private developer that plans to develop the property where the now-empty Reizenstein School sits.

Walnut Capital told PublicSource the bike and pedestrian path is a "high priority."

"We'd be delighted if there was also a pedestrian and bike pathway as well," Julian said.

Charles Carthorn said he hopes the shortcut will remain open to cyclists.

“I’m glad it’s here. I just wish it could be a little better kept,” he said. “Just so it will be safe.”

This story republished courtesy of PublicSource, a nonprofit investigative news group in Western Pennsylvania. For more photos -- as well as more maps -- visit their website. Contact Emily DeMarco at 412.315.0262 or edemarco@publicsource.org

 

 

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Transportation Nation

Dangerous Intersections Get Local Revamp -- but Albany Needs to Step Up, Says City DOT Chief

Thursday, September 27, 2012

(New York, NY -- WNYC) Eight months after a 12-year-old girl was killed crossing a street, safety upgrades have been completed at 14 locations along a notoriously dangerous street on Manhattan's Lower East Side.

New York City Department of Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan unveiled the revamped street on Thursday. The pedestrian crossings have been overhauled and car travel lanes have been re-engineered. Although the impetus for the redesign was the January 2012 death of Dashane Santana, over 700 people have been injured near that stretch of Delancey Street between 2006 and 2009.

Teresa Pedroza, Santana’s grandmother, said that while she's glad the street work has been completed, more could be done. “There are at least a good five or six schools in the immediate area,” Pedroza said. “You have at least eight lanes of traffic and there should be a crossing guard for these kids, especially when it’s time to come out of school.”

Sadik-Khan agreed that the redesign isn't enough -- but she wants more than a crossing guard. "We’re working hard to get speed camera legislation passed in Albany which will go a long way to help us address the problem of speeding and fatalities," she said, "which are a quarter of the traffic fatalities on New York City streets."

A recent city report revealed traffic fatalities are up 23 percent in New York City over a recent twelve-month period, although overall total traffic fatalities are down about 20 percent since 2003. The recent tick upward in New York mirrors a national trend. The federal government projects that traffic fatalities were up 9 percent in the first six months of this year.

Although no immediate reason was given for the increase, Sadik-Khan reiterated drivers need to obey the law. “The problem that we have on New York City streets is that people are speeding, they are running red lights, they are drinking while driving," she said. "These are all significant problems that we need to address.”

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Transportation Nation

NYC Reining in Scofflaw Delivery Cyclists with Six Restaurant Inspectors

Thursday, September 27, 2012

One-third of the NYC DOT bike inspection team: Demel Gaillard (L) and Ronald Amaya. (photo by Kate Hinds)

(New York, NY - WNYC) When it comes enforcement of cycling laws, New York City is willing to employ the stick. But first, the city wants businesses -- and their delivery men -- to eat carrots, at least until January.

On a recent afternoon, Department of Transportation inspector Demel Gaillard paid a visit to Haru, a Japanese restaurant on Manhattan's Upper West Side. The manager, Jamyang Singye, greeted him at the door.

"How can I help you guys?" Singye asked. "We’re just here to see if you guys have your posters posted," said Gaillard. "Outlining the commercial bicyclists law?"

Gaillard is one of six DOT inspectors, and his job is to make sure business owners know the commercial cycling rules and are communicating them to their employees. Singye brings him downstairs to the kitchen, where the rules are displayed on one of many text-heavy postings. "I’d be happy to give you a new poster," says Gaillard, offering up the newer, full-color edition.

"Do you also have it Chinese?" asks Singye. In fact the poster comes in seven languages -- a necessity in a polyglot city where bicycle food delivery men often hail from abroad. Haru, which has a Japanese sushi chef, Chinese delivery staff, and a manager from Nepal, is no exception.

Jamyang Singye, Haru's manager (photo by Kate Hinds)

"That would be great," says Singye.

What's not great is the public's perception of bike delivery guys. Speaking at a hearing earlier this month, New York City Council member Jimmy Vacca said the city's rogue cyclist problem is "tremendous."

"There’s not a day that goes by that I’m not in Manhattan where I don’t see a commercial cyclist on the sidewalk, going the wrong way on a one-way street," he said. "This is a constant occurrence.”

Delivery bikes parked on Amsterdam Avenue (photo by Kate Hinds)

DOT commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan hears these complaints all the time. Her inspectors can't enforce moving violations -- that's the domain of the police. In July, Sadik-Khan explained what her department can enforce.

"Our emphasis here is making sure that everybody knows you need to wear a helmet," she said, ticking off the requirements. "You need to wear a vest, you need to have bells and lights and have a bike that's in working condition and follow the rules of the road."

Commercial bicyclists also need reflective devices on their bikes or tires, and a numbered business ID card. Business owners must provide this equipment for their employees.

From the DOT's "commercial bicyclist safety" poster

Since July, the DOT has visited over 2,100 businesses to tell managers like Singye what he needs to do to follow the law and, as Inspector Ronald Amaya explained, what will happen if he doesn't.

"In January 2013," Amaya said, "if you’re not in compliance with all the rules and regulations – like your delivery men not having their vests, their helmet, ID cards, and the poster’s not up in your establishment, we will be issuing a fine, anywhere from $100 to $250."

Here's the important distinction with enforcement: if a DOT inspector sees a delivery guy riding without a vest, the inspector will issue a ticket to the business. If a police officer sees a delivery guy breaking a traffic law by, say, riding on the sidewalk, the officer will ticket the bicyclist. Brian McCarthy, a deputy chief for the NYPD, told TN the department has expanded enforcement and so far this year has issued 8,959 commercial bicycle summonses. That's about 25 percent of all bike tickets.

Meeting notice on door of St. Agnes Library (photo by Kate Hinds)

The DOT is holding public forums to hammer this point home. At a recent meeting on the Upper West Side, DOT staffers handed out posters, bells, and even samples of reflective vests to over a hundred managers and delivery workers. Department educator Kim Wiley-Schwartz explained details of the coming crackdown to a standing-room-only crowd of managers and bike delivery workers. She spoke about the need to wear helmets and vests and carry ID. Then she did a little consciousness-raising about the need to follow the rules of the road -- and yield to pedestrians.

NYC DOT staffer Kim Wiley-Schwartz, explaining commercial cycling rules

"You do not have the right of way. I don’t want a ‘ding ding ding ding’ as people are crossing the crosswalk when they have the light," she said, imitating the sound of a frustrated bicyclist leaning on his bell. "They have the right of way."

After the meeting, a lot of workers said the rules made sense. But Lawrence Toole, who works at a restaurant in the theater district, said he felt a little picked on.

"These are small businesses, and what they’re doing is they’re hiring people that need jobs," he said."It’s bad enough that there are no jobs out there. Now you’re going to penalize the people that are giving the jobs to people."

But a few seconds later, he reached acceptance. "But we got to follow the law all the same."

City Council woman Gale Brewer, who represents the Upper West Side, says there needs to be a culture change -- and it won't come easily.

"It is a very challenging job to convince the delivery people and their managers -- the managers change often, the delivery people change often," she said. There needs to be "constant education that safety comes before a customer who wants their food right now."

Starting in January, businesses that don't follow the rules could pay the price.

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Transportation Nation

NYC Suggests You Avoid Getting Killed By Looking Up From Your Smartphone

Thursday, September 20, 2012

NYC DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan (left) unveils new street safety campaign with U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. (Crouch down, Ray, like we rehearsed.) (photo by Jim O'Grady)

(New York, NY -- WNYC) The one-word street markings started appearing around Manhattan in mid-summer. An eagle-eyed TN reporter snapped a photo of one and, with no help from the city's tight-lipped Department of Transportation, deduced it was the start of a new pedestrian safety campaign.

That $1 million campaign has now been officially launched with the help of U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, who joined NYC Department of Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan at the corner of Second Avenue and 42nd Street in Midtown Manhattan to show off an oversized stencil that read "LOOK!"

That's better. (photo by Jim O'Grady.)

The emphatic order is meant to be spotted by a pedestrian with his head buried in a smartphone as he launches into traffic. The "O's" in LOOK! also double as eyeballs pointing toward a presumed onslaught of vehicles. Sadik-Khan said New Yorkers need the heads-up: more than half of those killed in city traffic accidents are pedestrians. She added that at that very corner, 75 people were hurt in crashes between 2006 and 2010.

The LOOK! markings are installed at 110 crash-prone intersections throughout the city, with 90 more to come.

LaHood said it's critical for pedestrians to remain alert while crossing the street because even when they're in the right, they can still be hurt--more than half of all New Yorkers killed last year by cars at a crosswalk had the green light. "Having the right-of-way does not guarantee your safety," he said. "Hold off on emailing or texting until you've crossed the street."

Sadik-Khan said she got the idea for the markings when she visited London and came across its well-known suggestions to "Look Left" or "Look Right" before crossing.

How London does it.

The NYC DOT isn't putting the burden of safety solely on walkers. The LOOK! campaign includes ads on the backs of buses that admonish motorists to "Drive Smart / LOOK!" Other ads tell drivers to yield to pedestrians when turning at an intersection.

A NYC DOT spokesman said the campaign is largely funded by the Federal Highway Administration.

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Transportation Nation

Streetcar Could Make Virginia's Community Pike Neighborhood More Walkable

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

This is the second part in a series of ongoing reports about the metropolitan Washington, D.C. region’s changing neighborhoods. Listen to the radio version of this story here. The first part highlighted Southeast D.C.'s Capitol Riverfront neighborhood.

Columbia Pike stretches three and a half miles through the center of densely populated Arlington County, Virginia just west of D.C.  The corridor, extends southwest of Arlington National Cemetery, into an evolving landscape of mixed-use development that builders and community activists alike are hoping to improve into more livable communities. But unlike the nearby Rosslyn-Ballston corridor that was built up around Metro rail, the Columbia Pike has no rail link to attract real estate development. The future does hold plans for a streetcar.

“We’re working toward implementing light rail in the form of the Columbia Pike Streetcar which will connect the density at the west end in Fairfax to Pentagon City and Crystal City in the east end,” said Chris Zimmerman, an Arlington County Board member who has been heavily involved in the county’s transit-oriented planning. He said the county just submitted its application to the Federal Transit Administration for streetcar grant dollars.

The future path of a light rail line is currently used by the busiest bus service in the Commonwealth of Virginia at roughly 15,000 daily riders.  While residents have access to transit – a key requirement to be considered a thriving WalkUP in a study by George Washington University professor Chris Leinberger – Columbia Pike’s population is missing some important elements. For one, the corridor needs more people.

“We need more density. Density is sometimes viewed by people as the antithesis of what you want in development, but what density has proven to do in Arlington is create places where you can move around easier,” said David DeCamp, a real estate developer, who accompanied a WAMU reporter on a tour of the pike along with John Murphy, the vice president of the board of directors of the Columbia Pike Revitalization Organization.

The corridor also lacks commercial development.

“Mixed-use has three components: residential, office, and commercial," Murphy said. "The pike sorely misses office right now.”

A streetcar line will not be a cure-all, so county planners implemented two other measures to spur development along Columbia Pike: zoning laws were changed to make development easier, and the housing overlay zone was altered to double the unit density. Landowners will be required to maintain roughly one-fourth of their new apartment units as affordable housing; the county will build a streetcar line so their tenants can move easily up and down the corridor.

The combination of maintaining some affordable housing and expanding access to transit will allow the pike to avoid some of the negative consequences of gentrification, namely population displacement, Zimmerman said.

“Our goal is to make it possible for everyone who lives there today to live there tomorrow,” he said. “We believe it’s possible to accommodate the same number of people who make, say, 60 percent of the area median income or less, if we build it into our planning.”

Zimmerman said thirty years ago, when the county began planning for the Orange Line, it was so focused on attracting affluent residents to the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor it neglected affordable housing units. That lesson is serving Columbia Pike planners today, he said.

“The community is very supportive of this because people understand that a lot of what they like about the Columbia Pike corridor is its diversity,” he said. “We don’t want it to become homogeneous. We don’t want it to become a place that is just for affluent people.”

Arlington County is considered a national leader in urban planning and land use. Although the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor on the Metro's Orange Line covers about 10 percent of the county’s land mass it produces 55 percent of its tax base, according to George Washington University professor Chris Leinberger.

“If you were to look at it 25 years ago you’d say, this may become a slum. All the obsolete strip retail was vacant,” Leinberger said in an interview with WAMU. “Today they have fabulous public schools. It’s a very diverse community and it’s extremely walkable.”

Murphy and DeCamp believe the same will be said for the Columbia Pike corridor.

“I’m excited about the potential of the pike to save the diversity of residents we have here,” said Murphy, who said the goal of zero population displacement is attainable. “They’ve made that happen. It’s going to be an incredibly dynamic, diverse, energetic engine with the streetcar in combination with the housing overlay.”

 

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Transportation Nation

Proposed Lowline Underground Park Debuts "Solar Harvesters" for Subterranean Photosynthesis (PICS)

Thursday, September 13, 2012

A sample "canopy distributor" channeling sunlight into a darkened warehouse demonstrates how the proposed Lowline underground park in Manhattan could have enough light to grow plants. (Photo by Alex Goldmark)

New Yorkers can get their first peek at the technology required to construct a proposed park in an underground abandoned trolley station. A year ago (almost to the day). the Lowline project teased the imaginations of New Yorkers and dazzled park lovers everywhere by releasing dreamy renderings of a lush park paradise-to-be in a most unlikely place: below ground. And not just below ground, but below Delancey Street, one of the most disparaged and dangerous stretches of asphalt in the whole city for a pleasant pedestrian stroll.

In dense Manhattan, though, clusters of unused cubic feet are precious, be they in a penthouse or buried in infrastructure purgatory. So an abandoned trolley terminal dating back to the early 1900s is a contender to become New York park space. The plan depends on subterranean sunlight shining through the sidewalk in beams powerful enough to grow greenery.

"What I envision is that we will have this kind of undulating, reflective ceiling actually functioning as an optical device to draw sunlight into the space to make it somewhere that you would actually like to spend some time," says James Ramsey, co-founder of the Lowline and designer of the "Imagining the Lowline" installation that opens Saturday to showcase sample "solar harvesting" technology.

A 35-foot wide aluminum canopy showers light upon a mock indoor park to demonstration the "remote skylight" concept. (Photo by Alex Goldmark)

The Lowline name is a play on the wildly successful High Line, which turned an abandoned freight rail line on Manhattan's far west side into elevated park space. To showcase how that might be replicated in cavernous conditions, the Lowline team has set up an exhibit in a warehouse at ground level, right above the proposed site on Essex Street between and Broome and Delancey Streets. The rugged, blackened warehouse aims to recreate what it might be like to amble through the 100-year old trolley terminal below.

"On top of this roof we created  a massive superstructure, that's way in the air, that's actually harvesting the sunlight, redirecting it through light pipes," Ramsey says. A computer guides the rooftop solar collectors to track the sun all day long for maximal reflected light through a system created by a Canadian company, Sun Central.

The solar technology was designed by Raad Studio, engineering firm Arup, and physics professor Lorne Whitehead of the Univ. of British Columbia. Landscape by Hortus Environmental Design. (Photo by Alex Goldmark)

To fund the exhibit, the Lowline raised $155,000 on Kickstarter. But it has to cross a number of hurdles before -- not to mention if -- it becomes reality.

Ramsey cautioned that the final design will depend on "many, many different conditions." Including negotiations with several city agencies. Delancey Street -- presently under a years' long redesign to become more bike and pedestrian friendly -- would need another overhaul to install "remote skylights." The preliminary engineering study for the Lowline is still weeks away from being finalized. That will bring with it cost estimates for tasks like lead paint abatement and adding drainage. After the price tag is tabulated, a design will be hatched, and the dreamers crazy enough to build a park below a busy city will have to commence some serious fundraising.

Also sharing space with the "Imagining the Lowline" exhibit is "Experiments in Motion," an installation sponsored by Audi and executed by Columbia architecture students to explore multi-modal transportation possibilities. The centerpiece of the projects on display is a 50-foot 3D model of New York's underground public spaces, mainly subway stations, meant to place the Lowline in spacial context.

Close up of the midtown Manhattan portion of a 3D model of the NY subway system. (Photo by Alex Goldmark)

The exhibit is open to the public Saturday, September 15th - 27th. More details are at the Lowline website.

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