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Posts from the "Livable Streets" Category

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Vote to Decide the Best Urban Street Transformation of 2014

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If you’re searching for reasons to feel positive about the future, the street transformations pictured below are a good start. Earlier this month we asked readers to send in their nominations for the best American street redesigns of 2014. These five are the finalists selected by Streetsblog staff. They include new car-free zones, substantial sidewalk expansions, superb bike infrastructure, awesome safety upgrades, and exclusive transit lanes.

Which deserves the distinction of being named the “Best Urban Street Transformation of 2014″? We’re starting the voting today and will post a reminder when we run the rest of the Streetsblog USA Streetsie Award polls next Tuesday. Without further ado, here are the contenders:

Western Avenue, Cambridge, Massachusetts

Before

Before

After. (We're using a rendering because the project is not quite yet 100% complete.)

After. (We’re using a rendering because the project is not quite 100 percent complete.)

The Western Avenue road diet narrowed dangerously wide traffic lanes on this one-way street to make room for safer pedestrian crossings, a raised bike lane, and bus bulbs. Brian DeChambeau of the Cambridge Community Development Department, the lead agency on the project, adds these details about the redesign:

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FHWA to Engineers: Go Ahead and Use City-Friendly Street Designs

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NACTO’s Urban Street Design Guide includes engineering guidance for transit boulevards. Image: NACTO

The heavyweights of American transportation engineering continue to warm up to design guides that prioritize walking, biking, and transit on city streets. On Friday, the Federal Highway Administration made clear that it endorses the National Association of City Transportation Officials’ Urban Street Design Guide, which features street treatments like protected bike lanes that you won’t find in the old engineering “bibles.”

FHWA “supports the use of the Urban Street Design Guide in conjunction with” standard engineering manuals such as AASHTO’s Green Book and the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD), the agency said in statement released on Friday. FHWA had already endorsed NACTO’s bikeway design guide last August. The new statement extends its approval to the more comprehensive Urban Street Design Guide, which also covers measures to improve pedestrian space and transit operations.

Federal approval of what were until recently considered “experimental” street designs means that more engineers and planners will feel comfortable implementing them without fear of liability.

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Shared Space: The Street Design NYC’s Financial District Was Made For

Long studied, little implemented: This 1997 Department of City Planning map identified streets ripe for pedestrianization or plazas. Adding shared streets to the mix could open up more possibilities. Image: DCP

Long studied, little implemented: This 1997 Department of City Planning map identified streets ripe for pedestrianization or plazas. Adding shared streets to the mix could open up more possibilities. Image: DCP

For people in cars, the Financial District is a slow-speed maze. For everyone else, it is one of the city’s most transit-rich destinations. Despite this, most of the street space in the area is devoted to cars.

The Financial District is an ideal candidate for pedestrianization, but while it has seen redesigns on a handful of streets, it has yet to see the large-scale creation of car-free space that has been studied and talked about for ages. Could introducing shared space to the mix help transform some of New York’s oldest streets into truly people-first places?

If not for the the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel, the Financial District would effectively be a large cul-de-sac — there is no reason for through traffic to use its local streets. The evil twins of West Street and the FDR Drive feed cars to the tunnel and ring off the neighborhood from the waterfront. But within the Financial District itself, most of the streets are narrow and have far more pedestrians than cars.

There are a few places in the Financial District where car-free streets have taken hold over the years. Too often, the goal has been not to create an open, accessible city, but to build a fortress against the threat of truck bombs.

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Imagining a New Atlantic Avenue for de Blasio’s New York

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With the dangerous, highway-like conditions on Atlantic Avenue, much of the surrounding area is under-developed. A chain link fence surrounds this parking lot near Franklin Avenue.

Atlantic Avenue is one of New York’s most prominent streets, and in most respects, it is completely broken.

Stretching more than ten miles, Atlantic cuts through several neighborhoods in Brooklyn and Queens while functioning mainly as an urban highway for private motorists and truckers making their way east, toward the Van Wyck and Long Island, or west, to the Brooklyn Queens Expressway.

It is plagued with constant, speeding traffic. The avenue’s wide, highway-like conditions induce drivers to floor it, and as a result Atlantic is one of the most dangerous streets in New York City. When Council Member Steve Levin took a speed gun out to Atlantic, he found 88 percent of drivers were going more than 10 miles per hour over the limit. From 2008 to 2012, 25 people were killed on the 7.6-mile stretch of Atlantic between Furman Street in Brooklyn Heights and 76th Street in Woodhaven.

When the city announced that Atlantic would become the first street in the “arterial slow zone” program, with a 25 mph speed limit and re-timed traffic signals, it was welcome news. Atlantic is the kind of monster that has to be tamed if the de Blasio administration is going to achieve its Vision Zero street safety goals, and the new speed limit is a good first step.

In the long-run, though, Atlantic Avenue and the many other city streets like it will need much more comprehensive changes to not only eliminate traffic deaths, but also accommodate the economic growth and housing construction goals that City Hall is after.

Today, much of Atlantic Avenue is an eyesore, especially along the stretch east of Flatbush Avenue. It’s basically an unsightly speedway, and land values along the eastern portion of Atlantic have historically been depressed. Empty lots sit beside carwashes and parking lots. Grassy weeds poke up through a decrepit median. Some portions fall under the shadow of elevated train tracks — the Atlantic Branch of the Long Island Rail Road, which otherwise runs below ground.

Does it have to be this way? Can’t we imagine an Atlantic Avenue that is an asset to the neighborhoods which surround it, rather than a challenge to work around?

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New Software Lets You Virtually Stroll Down Streets That You Design

Folks across the blogosphere are geeking out over this new software created by Spencer Boomhower at the Portland firm Cupola Media. “Unity3D Visualization” lets users manipulate the features of a street and then evaluate the changes in an immersive animated display.

The software uses video game technology to help people understand how different designs will “feel.” Chuck Marohn at Strong Towns and Michael Andersen at People for Bikes think it has the potential to revolutionize the public planning process.

In the past, Boomhower combined his background in video game design and interest in transportation issues to create this amazing video explaining the folly of Portland’s CRC highway boondoggle. Boomhower told Streetsblog that the video game model can let people visualize transportation decisions in meaningful new ways:

Before this I had done a number of animated videos explaining issues relating to transportation and how it impacts places, but what I always wanted to do was make it interactive. When I build a virtual place in a 3D application I want to explore it, not look at it in a pre-rendered video. And I want to see it come to life with people and vehicles in motion. These are things you can do with video game tools.

Boomhower said he hopes the technology will enable people to become more engaged and empowered in the public planning process:

Game engines are designed to make dynamic places that can be explored from any point of view. Apply that to a street redesign: Want to see how a new curb extension will feel from the perspective of a slower-moving person on foot making that crossing? It’s just as easy as showing the perspective from the person approaching that intersection in the driver’s seat of his or her city bus.

You can try it out for yourself here. Right now the program is still in beta, Boomhower says, so you might encounter some glitches.

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Fight Street Crime With Speed Bumps and Crosswalks

In Gabe Klein’s exit interview with Chicago Mag, the outgoing transportation commissioner predicted that in the next few years, cities will be paying more attention to the correlation between lawbreaking by drivers and other kinds of crime.

Check out this lovely crime-fighting tool. Photo: ##http://www.seattle.gov/transportation/pedestrian_masterplan/pedestrian_toolbox/tools_deua_calming.htm##Seattle DOT##

Check out this lovely crime-fighting tool. Photo: Seattle DOT

“I think it’s a broken windows effect,” Klein said. “If you get control of the traffic crime, I think it can go a long way.”

He’s seen it in Chicago: “that correlation where you have people speeding, running stop signs, drunk driving, where you also have rape and muggings and murders.”

Former (and possibly future) NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton recently alluded to a “broken windows” effect by which acceptance of common traffic violations leads to pervasive reckless driving. But Klein’s point is more intriguing, and leads to a world of solutions that can solve so much of what ails our cities.

In neighborhood consultations, when advocates ask residents what troubles them about their block, they often get a mix of answers, interlacing safety concerns about speeding cars with their fears about other types of violence. Livable streets advocates can try to address traffic safety by slowing traffic and allocating more street space to bikes and pedestrians, but residents still won’t let their kids walk to school by themselves because traffic calming by itself doesn’t address the problem of the thugs on the corner.

Or does it?

The federal government is betting that it does. U.S. DOT’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has partnered with the Department of Justice to study the link between traffic violence and other kinds of violence and crime. “Traditionally, criminal activity gets much of the focus of law enforcement agencies, while traffic safety issues often remain secondary,” wrote DOJ’s James Burch and NHTSA’s Michael Geraci. “[The Data-Driven Approach to Crime and Traffic Safety] uses traffic law enforcement as a primary means to address both.”

They’re seeking to implement what they call “place-based policing,” which the Police Foundation says is more efficient and effective than traditional “person-based policing.”

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NACTO Urban Street Design Guide Sets Out to Change the DNA of Our Cities

Innovative street designs like this low-cost pedestrian plaza in lower Manhattan can provide more space for people and protect them from vehicle traffic. Photo: NACTO

In a direct challenge to the long-standing authority of state DOTs to determine how transportation infrastructure gets designed, the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO) yesterday launched its Urban Street Design Guide.

NACTO’s Urban Bikeway Design Guide has already empowered cities around the country to embrace protected bike lanes and other innovative designs that the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials has shied away from in its engineering bible, known as the “green book.” The Federal Highway Administration has even endorsed NACTO’s guide, and the agency is currently drafting its own bicycle facilities guidance, which will likely fall somewhere in between.

The Street Design Guide goes much further, giving engineering guidance on everything from crosswalks (zebra-striped, please, for greater visibility) to parklets (go ahead, usurp a few parking spots!) and from contra-flow bus lanes (bicycles optional) to slow zones (speed humps, tables, and cushions). As NYC DOT Commissioner and NACTO President Janette Sadik-Khan said, it’s a new DNA for city streets.

Those are treatments you won’t find in AASHTO’s green book. “Most of the design guidance that we work with on the city side is really targeted toward suburban areas and rural areas and is not really designed to meet the challenges of our streets,” Sadik-Khan told a standing-room-only crowd last night at the Newseum in Washington, DC. “So many things have changed in 50 years, but our streets haven’t, and our design guidance certainly hasn’t.”

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Photo Contest: Send Us Your Pictures of Kids on City Streets

Photo: Patrick Barber via Sightline Daily

Two weeks ago, I posted some thoughts on raising kids in cities and right away, the comments section and Twitter lit up with a fruitful discussion of urban and car-lite parenting.

The staff at Streetsblog and our partners at the Alliance for Biking & Walking love to see kids riding red wagons to day care, splashing in the fountain at the neighborhood park, and enjoying traffic-free play time in the street. Raising kids in cities is good for the kids and good for cities.

Streetsblog and the Alliance are jointly sponsoring a back-to-school photo contest. We want to see what “crawlable urbanism” looks like where you live. Send us your photos of car-free kiddie transport and street life for the under-12 set and you could win fabulous prizes (to be announced)!

Contest details

To enter: Email your pictures as a JPG or PNG file to photocontest@peoplepoweredmovement.org, with the subject line “Kids + Cities Photo Contest.” Photos should be high-resolution (at least 1,600 pixels wide or tall, if a vertical image), without watermarks. Please submit no more than 10 photos for this contest. In the body of the email, provide your name, address, telephone number, email address, and photo caption. Please submit your images in as few emails as possible.

Deadline: Friday, September 20 at 5:00 p.m Eastern time. Streetsblog and Alliance staff will pick 10 finalists and post them for our readers to choose the winners.

Permission: Taking pictures of people — even children — in a public place is legal and does not require permission. That said, we encourage you to ask permission as a courtesy when taking pictures of other people’s kids.

Rules: Employees (and family members of employees) of the Alliance for Biking & Walking, Streetsblog, and our parent organization, OpenPlans, aren’t eligible for this contest. Your submission constitutes your guarantee that the photograph is an original work created by you alone. Normal photo editing is fine, but please, no photo-shopping that alters the content of the photo.

By submitting photos to this contest, you are authorizing the Alliance for Biking & Walking to place your photo into the Alliance’s online Flickr photo library for use by the Alliance, Streetsblog, and Alliance member organizations for charitable purposes related to bike and pedestrian advocacy.

Prizes: More information coming soon!

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Meet Streetmix, the Website Where You Can Design Your Own Street

Streetmix lets users mix and match design elements to create the street of their dreams. Image: Streetmix

Last fall, Lou Huang was at a community meeting for the initiative to redesign Second Street in San Francisco. Planners handed out paper cutouts, allowing participants to mix and match to create their ideal street. Huang, an urban designer himself, thought the exercise would make for a great website. Now, after months of work beginning at a January hackathon with colleagues at Code for America, it is a great website.

The principle behind Streetmix is simple: it brings drag-and-drop functionality to a basic street design template. Users select a road width and add or remove everything from light rail to wayfinding signs, adjusting the size of each feature meet their specifications.

“It’s a little bit like a video game,” collaborator Marcin Wichary said. ”We were very inspired by SimCity.”

But Streetmix is more than just a fun way for amateur street designers to spend an afternoon. “What we want to focus on is, how can this enable meaningful conversations around streets?” Wichary said. “For many people it’s a kind of entry point.”

The first version of Streetmix went online in January, but the latest version, which has new features and a slicker design, launched less than two weeks ago. In that short time, advocates have used the website to illustrate possibilities for Dexter Avenue in Seattle and Route 35 on the Jersey Shore. Streetmix has profiled how people from Vancouver to Cleveland use the website. Residents of Sioux Center, Iowa, even used Streetmix illustrations in their campaign to stop the state DOT’s road widening plan in their town.

“It’s giving power back to the people, allowing them to vocalize what their streetscape priorities are,” Huang said.

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Eyes on the Street: No Parking in the Low Post

Photo: Susan Donovan

Streetsblog reader Susan Donovan, a.k.a. Futurebird, posted this pic on Instagram yesterday. It’s a DIY basketball court on Walton Avenue near Joyce Kilmer Park, a few blocks from Yankee Stadium. Writes Donovan:

Creative traffic calming in the Bronx! My neighbors have painted a basketball shooting zone on the street near the bike lane and hydrant creating a basketball court right in the street. (You can see the movable hoop stored nearby.) The city should do this. It’s counter intuitive but street play slows cars and makes everyone safer. What a cool idea.

By taking the play streets concept a step further, this grassroots public space reclamation is reminiscent of a time when kids could play on their blocks with no police barricades needed. Before children “darted” in the streets, they grew up on them.