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Posts from the "Livable Streets" Category

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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.

Read more…

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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.

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Why Is the Manhattan Institute Afraid of Livable Streets?

The term “livable streets” first surfaced in 1981. That’s when UC Berkeley urban planning professor Donald Appleyard made it the title of his path-breaking new book on the social effects of cars on cities. But it was the advent of Streetsblog and the livable streets movement 25 years later that brought the term into public view.

According to surveys, local businesses benefit from the livable streets improvements at Union Square, and data shows there's less speeding without affecting congestion for the worse. So why does the Manhattan Institute claim that projects like this are part of a "war on cars"? Photo: c34/Flickr

The beauty of “livable streets” and of the movement bearing its name is that it unites under one rubric what had long been largely separate concerns — better bicycling, safer walking, affordable transit, inviting public spaces, urban sustainability. The term also recasts a negative as a positive, turning what could appear invasive — “getting people out of their cars” — into something situational: creating streets for people.

Try telling that, though, to the folks at the Manhattan Institute, who this week published a spectacularly retrograde piece, Idle in Manhattan, by one Herbert London, retired academician and one-time NY State Conservative Party candidate for governor. Writing in the Institute’s City Journal, London trots out one canard after another: Londoners “grudgingly” tolerate congestion pricing … “Most bicyclists in Manhattan are delivery carriers” … “In one hour [at the First Ave. bike lane] I counted just two bicycles” … “the mayor[‘s] efforts to control traffic … have only increased congestion.”

It takes about a minute of fact-checking or direct observation to rebut these claims. But what’s striking about (Herbert) London’s diatribe isn’t just its counterfactualism, but its willful ignorance of how livable streets change the way urban transportation systems function.

Pondering the genesis of the Bloomberg administration’s bike lanes and pedestrian plazas, London can’t conceive that the mayor was connecting the dots between physical activity, fighting obesity and downsizing health-care costs. Or had learned from his planning and transportation commissioners about cities in Europe where active transportation (biking and walking) accounted for as many as half of all trips, and workers, residents and tourists alike flocked to the city centers. Or thought it was worth putting a handful of districts on a road diet to see if the maxim that turning more street space over to cars produces more gridlock, could be run in reverse.

No, according to Herbert London, the mayor’s attempt to try out livable streets practices in New York is proof that “the Bloomberg administration has declared war on the automobile.”

Yet the facts show that city drivers aren’t victims of the emerging street paradigm, they’re beneficiaries — not just in Midtown, where car speeds have risen following introduction of the Broadway plazas, but throughout the Manhattan Central Business District.

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Heads Up, Tom Latham: Livability Pays Big Dividends in Rural Iowa

You could say Oskaloosa, Iowa, population 11,000, is a model of small-town livability. Families rent apartments over renovated historic storefronts. Local college students take the bike lane down Market Street to grab a bite in the local restaurants. Visitors travel from distant towns to browse the city’s local bookstore in its revitalized, walkable town square.

Oskaloosa’s vibrancy is owed in large part to Iowa’s Main Street program — a public-private partnership aimed at returning economic competitiveness to historic town centers. Over its 25 year history in the state, this program has encouraged walkability, mixed use development and historic preservation in 47 Iowa communities.

Oskaloosa residents enjoy an event in the town' revitalized downtown. Oskaloosa is one dozens of Iowa towns to have benefitted from the state's Main Street Program, helping advance rural livability. Photo: ##http://blog.preservationnation.org/category/general/main-street/page/2/## National Trust for Historic Preservation##

Oskaloosa residents enjoy an event in the town's revitalized downtown. Oskaloosa is one dozens of small Iowa towns to have benefited from the state's Main Street program. Photo: National Trust for Historic Preservation

To those who question whether the concept of livability works in rural communities, the answer from Oskaloosa and the Iowa Main Street program is self-evident. The Main Street effort has been credited with attracting $1 billion dollars in private investment — about $79 private dollars for every public dollar — according to an economic analysis commissioned by the program. Hardly an exclusive domain of the Hawkeye State, Main Street is a national program of the National Trust for Historic Preservation — at work in 37 states.

However, some key Republicans have threatened to dismantle efforts to bring these kinds of common-sense investments to communities around the country.

Indeed, Iowa Congressman Tom Latham, whose district is just a few miles from Oskaloosa, is chair of the powerful Transportation and HUD Subcommittee on Appropriations. Latham has questioned whether the concept of “livability” applies in rural communities. And others in the Republican leadership have threatened to cut funding for President Obama’s Sustainable Communities Regional Planning program and TIGER grants, efforts that aim to bring important economic and quality-of-life improvements — as well as overall infrastructure cost savings — to both rural and urban areas.

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Revisiting Donald Appleyard’s “Livable Streets”

You may have wondered, while watching a Streetfilm or reading a post on Streetsblog, where we got the term “livable streets.”

The answer can be found in the work of Donald Appleyard, a scholar who studied the neighborhood environment and the ways planning and design can make life better for city residents. In 1981, Appleyard published “Livable Streets” based on his research into how people experience streets with different traffic volumes.

Today we’re revisiting Appleyard’s work in the second installment of our series, “Fixing the Great Mistake.” This video explores three studies in “Livable Streets” that measured, for the first time, the effect of traffic on our social interactions and how we perceive our own homes and neighborhoods.

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MAS Survey: New York City Is Livable But Not Everyone Benefits Equally

The intersection of Northern Boulevard and 108th Street is dangerous enough that Mayor Bloomberg announced the city's Pedestrian Safety Plan there, but has Corona received the livable streets improvements found elsewhere in the city? Image: Google Street View.

The intersection of Northern Boulevard and 108th Street is dangerous enough that Mayor Bloomberg announced the city's Pedestrian Safety Study there, but has Corona received the livable streets improvements found elsewhere in the city? Image: Google Street View.

New Yorkers think their city is very livable, a new survey conducted by the Municipal Art Society shows, but livability isn’t equitably distributed across the five boroughs. To make the city truly livable, said panelists today at an MAS conference, New York needs to figure out how to bring its best features to all neighborhoods.

Overall, New Yorkers like their city: 84 percent of those surveyed said they were satisfied or very satisfied with living in New York City, and 82 percent said the same about their neighborhoods.

Perhaps part of that satisfaction comes from living in the American city least dominated by the automobile. The two neighborhood characteristics that New Yorkers were most satisfied with were access to transit (93 percent) and neighborhood walkability (85 percent).

However, the MAS survey showed huge disparities in the degree to which New Yorkers find their neighborhoods to be livable. Overall, while 22 percent of African-Americans and 29 percent of Latinos were dissatisfied with their neighborhoods, only nine percent of whites were. Only eight percent of whites disagreed that their neighborhood was a good place to walk, while 18 percent of African-Americans and 19 percent of Latinos disagreed.

In the words of MAS Urban Fellow Mary Rowe, “If you’re white, you’re male, you’re under 45, and you’re making more than 75K, the city’s working well for you. Duh.”

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