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By Clarence Eckerson

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20’s Plenty: The Movement for Safer Speeds in the UK

Five years ago, Streetfilms was in the UK town of Warrington to talk with the great folks behind 20’s Plenty For Us, a largely volunteer group trying to get speed limits reduced to 20 mph. The first film drew broad interest in the 20’s Plenty movement, and on a recent trip I caught up with them again.

Founder Rod King MBE reports some amazing statistics: More than 14 million residents of the UK now live on streets with speed limits of 20 mph or less, including 3 million in London. Despite being a very small organization, 20’s Plenty has empowered 263 local campaigns across the UK asking for 20 mph streets. The film captures some of the impact of 20’s Plenty in Central London, Liverpool, and Cambridge. It’s amazing to see energized volunteers deploying all sorts of creativity to get the message out: stickers, banners, yarn-bombing, children’s art, t-shirts. The success has been remarkable.

20’s Plenty is now campaigning for “Total 20 By 2020″ — the goal of making most of the streets in the entire country 20 mph. For viewers in the United States, this film is like a road map for building public support and getting your community energized around lower speed limits.

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Central London Streets Transformed: A Walking Tour With Iain Simmons

While filming an exciting Streetfilms update about the progress of the “20’s Plenty” campaign in the UK, I got to interview Iain Simmons, assistant director of city transportation for the City Of London. What was originally supposed to be a few short clips for that piece turned into an unexpectedly generous two-hour walking tour of central London! I seized the opportunity and kept the camera rolling. The result is this “bonus” Streetfilm.

We did quite a bit of impromptu touring, looking at sidewalks that have been widened, traffic calming techniques that keep speeds at 20 mph, and one of London’s next generation of protected bike lanes under construction.

What I found most refreshing was hearing a public official speak so candidly about how we need to accommodate people first and not cars. Mr. Simmons emphasizes the lesson cities have learned over and over: While skeptics always predict “everything will start to fall apart” when new bike lanes, sidewalk extensions, and traffic calming street redesigns are proposed, “the reality is it never, ever, ever does.”

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The Queens Boulevard Protected Bike Lane Celebration Ride

If Queens Boulevard can get a protected bike lane, you can probably put one on almost any street in the country.

Yesterday, the Transportation Alternatives Queens Committee hosted the first of what it hopes are many celebratory bike rides down Queens Boulevard, trying out the first 10 blocks of the bike lane installed this month by NYC DOT. When complete, this project will run 1.3 miles from Roosevelt Avenue to 73rd Street. It’s the first phase in what the city has promised will be a thorough overhaul of the “Boulevard of Death,” which is also the most direct east-west route in the borough.

Over the years, many lives have been lost on Queens Boulevard. I spoke to riders yesterday about all the hard work that volunteers and advocates put it in to make this bike lane happen.

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Hamburg’s Quest to Get Bicycling Up to 25 Percent of All Trips

Hamburg, a city of nearly two million people in northern Germany, has a 12 percent bike mode share and regularly ranks among the world’s most bike-friendly cities (Copenhagenize currently has it in 19th place). Nevertheless, many cyclists and advocates in Hamburg believe their government should be doing much more to build safer bike lanes and encourage cycling.

Guest Streetfilms journalist Joe Baur was recently in Germany and got to interview advocates about the state of cycling and how Hamburg can achieve its goal of 25 percent bike mode share by 2025.

You can view more of Joe Baur’s work on Vimeo.

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Cambridge: Britain’s Cycling Capital

In the city of Cambridge, just about an hour’s train ride north of London, you’ll find lots of people bicycling. In fact, the official bike mode share is 22 percent, but advocates believe it’s even higher and could comprise up to 50 percent of all trips in the city center.

More than protected bike lanes, the key to Cambridge’s success has been the management of motor vehicle traffic. For one, the city center is now ringed by a cordon of moveable bollards that only recede for buses, taxis, and some service vehicles. Private cars are not allowed downtown but people on bikes are free to enter at any time — which makes the bicycle the most convenient mode of transportation.

In residential neighborhoods, Cambridge has also tamed cars using a strategy called “filtered permeability” — placing physical barriers at some intersection that divert motorized traffic while allowing other modes to filter through. This prevents motorists from using residential areas as short cuts and encourages cycling. Similar techniques are employed in famous cycling cities like Groningen, Copenhagen, and Amsterdam, and even here in the U.S. in places like Portland and Berkeley.

Cambridge is a growing city, and if new residents choose to drive cars, its streets could become overwhelmed by traffic. So the effort to create better streets for biking and walking continues. Recently, the city has adopted a 20 mph speed limit for most of its roadways, and a new push is on to install much more robust protected bike lanes in targeted areas where cycling feels less safe.

For bonus footage of Cambridge streets, check my post from earlier this week.

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A Thousand New Yorkers Call for Action on Vision Zero

A crowd estimated at 1,000 people strong gathered in Union Square yesterday evening to remember victims of traffic violence and call for preventive action at the Vision Zero Vigil, organized by Transportation Alternatives and Families for Safe Streets.

The message was simple: Traffic crashes and the suffering they cause are preventable. We can’t accept life-altering injuries and the deaths of loved ones as unavoidable “accidents.” Robin Urban Smith was there to capture it for Streetfilms.

New York’s streets are getting safer, but not fast enough. With 123 traffic deaths and more than 23,000 injuries so far in 2015, the city has to do better. There’s much more the de Blasio administration can do with street design and traffic enforcement to rapidly reduce the scale of traffic violence. Hopefully last night’s gathering left an impression on DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg and NYPD Deputy Inspector Dennis Fulton, who were both in attendance.

Aaron Charlop-Powers, whose mother was killed by a bus driver while she was biking in the Bronx five years ago, closed out the vigil with a call to carry the momentum forward. “We aren’t asking for your condolences,” he said. “We are asking for your action.”

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Fort Worth Turned Two Parking Lots Into Sundance Square Plaza

While in Dallas for the CNU23 conference this May, I wanted to explore. It was my second time there in less than a year, and I wanted to see if Fort Worth was much different than the tough-to-be-a-pedestrian conditions I was experiencing in Dallas. I spoke to some folks at Project for Public Spaces (PPS) who convinced me that I needed to go see Sundance Square Plaza, which PPS President Fred Kent has called one of the best squares in the world.

I was glad I went. Sundance Square Plaza is a bold, beautiful space filled with energy. As PPS wrote soon after the plaza opened in 2013:

Where once there were two parking lots on either side of Main Street in the center of downtown Fort Worth, there is now the much-loved and much-used Sundance Square. The Square has become an integral part of the downtown Fort Worth experience, hosting events both large and small, and taking on an increasing role in the life of the city.

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It’s Smart to Be Dense

As the world’s population continues to urbanize, our cities have two options for growth: densify or sprawl. To accommodate a more populous and more prosperous world, the spread-out, car-dependent model of the 20th century must change. In this video, the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP) and Streetfilms team up to bring you the most important reasons for building dense.

If you like this one, don’t miss our other productions with ITDP:

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Family and Friends Dedicate Cooper Stock Way

On Wednesday dozens of kids joined family members of Cooper Stock to designate W. 97th Street at West End Avenue as Cooper Stock Way. Cooper’s mother, Dana Lerner, shared memories of Cooper, along with classmates — “Cooper’s Troopers” — who waved signs imploring motorists to drive safely.

Cooper, 9, was killed by a turning cab driver in January 2014 as he and his father crossed the street in the crosswalk with the signal.

“On that night — why we have this sign — a driver was impatient,” said Barron Lerner, Cooper’s uncle. “Impatient. Broke the law. Couldn’t wait. And now Cooper is dead. Other children are dead. Adults are dead. Every day.”

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London’s First Open Streets

Five years ago, David Love experienced Summer Streets in NYC and was so captured by the warmth and excitement he decided to bring open streets to London.

The starter event was held in the borough of Southwark, on Great Suffolk Street, and featured music, dancing, food, art and, most important, activities for children and families to enjoy.

Open Streets London hopes to have frequent and bigger ciclovias in the future, and to continue to enlighten Londoners to the value of re-thinking their streets as places for more than automobiles.