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By Clarence Eckerson

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Streetfilms: Talking Traffic Safety at the Home of Vision Zero


Clarence Eckerson shot this great interview with Mary Beth Kelly of Families for Safe Streets and Claes Tingvall, director of traffic safety for the Swedish Transport Administration.

On Queen Street in Stockholm, a car-free plaza once “choked” with vehicle traffic, and standing within sight of the parliament building where Vision Zero took shape in the 1990s, Tingvall and Kelly discuss street safety policy for the 21st century.

“It’s about time the victims of everything we did wrong get a voice,” says Tingvall. “We want safe mobility for the elderly, for children, for anyone in the community.”

Tingvall says Vision Zero in Sweden involves “moving responsibility upwards” — holding fleet owners, like taxi companies, accountable for street safety, and not just individual drivers. “Safety becomes part of the market, rather than enforcement and punishment and other things — sure this is important — but in the end it’s going to be the leadership who really pick up all those norms first.”

With the advent of Vision Zero, says Tingvall, came the realization that mobility and safety are not mutually exclusive. ”We as people today, I think we are not willing to sacrifice one thing for another benefit. Or that some should sacrifice so that someone else is getting a benefit. That time is over.”

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Copenhagen’s Latest Cycling Innovations

Copenhagen just keeps finding new ways to make it easier and more convenient to bike. Recently I had the chance to take a tour with Mikael Colville-Andersen of Copenhagenize and see some of the innovations that have changed the city’s streets since I was there four years ago.

First off, if you’ve seen my 2010 Streetfilm about Copenhagen’s bike infrastructure and culture, the busiest bicycle street in the world has changed: The Knippelsbro Bridge now boasts 40,700 riders per day! And speaking of bridges, Copenhagen is building six new crossings exclusively for biking and walking to help its citizens get around.

Last month another cool bridge debuted — the Cykelslangen (“Bicycle Snake”). You’ll see loads of footage as we traveled back and forth. It is truly a handsome piece of infrastructure. Even going uphill seems pretty easy!

Read more…

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Buenos Aires: Building a People-Friendly City

Buenos Aires is fast becoming one of the most admired cities in the world when it comes to reinventing streets and transportation.

Just over a year ago, the city launched MetroBus BRT (constructed in less than seven months) on 9 de Julio Avenue, which may be the world’s widest street. The transformation of four general traffic lanes to exclusive bus lanes has yielded huge dividends for the city and is a bold statement from Mayor Mauricio Macri about how Buenos Aires thinks about its streets. More than 650,000 people now ride MetroBus every day, and it has cut commutes in the city center from 50-55 minutes to an incredible 18 minutes.

That’s not the only benefit of this ambitious project. The creation of MetroBus freed up miles of narrow streets that used to be crammed with buses. Previously, Buenos Aires had some pedestrian streets, but moving the buses to the BRT corridor allowed the administration to create a large network of shared streets in downtown where pedestrians rule. On the shared streets, drivers aren’t permitted to park and the speed limit is an astonishingly low 10 km/h. Yes, that is not a misprint — you’re not allowed to drive faster than 6 mph!

Bicycling has also increased rapidly in the past four years — up from 0.5 percent mode share to 3 percent mode share and climbing. Ecobici is the city’s bike-share system which is expanding to 200 stations in early 2015. Oh, and add this amazing fact: Ecobici is free for all users for the first hour.

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Parking: Searching for the Good Life in the City

Streetfilms is proud to partner with ITDP to bring you this fun animation that’s sort of a cross between those catchy Schoolhouse Rock shorts and the credit sequence for a 1960s-style Saul Bass film.

For too long cities tried to make parking a core feature of the urban fabric, only to discover that yielding to parking demand tears that fabric apart. Parking requirements for new buildings have quietly been changing the landscape, making walking and transit less viable while inducing more traffic. Chipping away at walkable, mixed-use neighborhoods has been a slow process that, over the years, turned the heart of American cities into parking craters and even mired some European cities in parking swamps.

Many cities around the world are now changing course by eliminating parking requirements while investing in walking, biking, and transit. Soon cities in the developing world will follow, providing many new lessons of their own.

Parking isn’t the easiest topic to wrap your head around, but it is right at the core of the transportation problems facing most cities. We hope this film helps illuminate how to fix them.

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Parking Craters: Scourge of American Downtowns

Streetsblog’s Angie Schmitt popularized the term ”parking crater,” and she explains it simply: A parking crater is “a depression in the middle of an urban area formed by the absence of buildings.”

Different types of “meteors” left behind parking craters in the 20th Century — sprawl subsidies, the erosion of manufacturing, highway building. Whatever the cause, parking craters absolutely destroy sections of downtowns and make the environment more inhospitable and unattractive for people. In these areas, there is virtually no street life. In warm weather the asphalt makes the air more oppressive. It’s hell on earth. It’s a parking crater.

In this Streetfilm we talk to advocates in Cleveland, Dallas, Hartford, and Houston about the parking craters in their downtowns – several of which have been contenders in Streetsblog’s annual Parking Madness tournament – and why these cities have such bad craters.

A final note: If this Streetfilm is well received, we intend to do a follow-up film looking at the flip side – cities that have undone their parking craters by adopting better policy.

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“The Better Block” Celebrates Four Years of Re-imagining Streets

Streetfilms has wanted to profile Jason Roberts and the amazing work of The Better Block for a long time. So it felt like destiny when, a few weeks ago, we were able to sync up and chronicle the fourth anniversary of The Better Block in Oak Cliff, Texas.  This temporary pedestrian plaza is right next to the original site where Roberts and the team at The Better Block first showed how you can completely transform a street using temporary materials and your imagination.

In this Streetfilm you’ll see some of the behind-the-scenes set-up and preparation. You’ll see how, in short order, they transform a dangerous intersection into a safe street with a barebones budget — including an incredibly inventive application of decals to create temporary crosswalks.

The Better Block approach to re-imagining sidewalk amenities seems to be catching on. In San Francisco, the Castro neighborhood will be getting rainbow crosswalks. Then, in the guerrilla striping tradition, an anonymous someone altered the bars on a Hawaii crosswalk overnight to read “Aloha.”

Check this map for a look at all the work Roberts has done with Better Block, and its impact around the world has inspired dozens of similar projects around the world.

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Hal Grades Your Bike Locking 2014

It’s hard to believe, but it’s been nearly five years since we last went traipsing around SoHo grading people’s bike locking with Hal Ruzal from Bicycle Habitat. So it was time for the next chapter with the mechanic who wears pink-purple socks, admonishing you about how to lock your wheels, frame, and seat correctly.

The process is simple: Hal and I spend about an hour walking around, and whatever happens, I try to capture it on the fly. (Which is harder than it sounds.)  This time it led to quite a few surprises and — as usual — many hilarious moments.  Among other things, we learned that Hal has become an international celebrity. And wait until you see the scenes at a Citi Bike station. Let’s just say Hal was impressed.

The previous three Streetfilms in the “Hal Grades Your Bike Locking” series have received at least 300,000 plays.  Here they are for your viewing pleasure.

2003: Hal Grades Your Bike Locking (originally from bikeTV)
2008: Hal & Kerri Grade Your Bike Locking
2009: Hal Grades Your Bike Locking 3: The Final Warning

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Lakewood, Ohio: The Suburb Where Everyone Can Walk to School

The inner Cleveland suburb of Lakewood (population 51,000) calls itself a “walking school district.” Lakewood has never had school buses in its history, and kids grow up walking and biking to school.

Mornings and afternoons are a beehive of activity on streets near schools, as kids and parents walk to and from classrooms. You can feel the energy. The freedom of being able to walk and socialize with friends is incalculable.

According to city planner Bryce Sylvester, Lakewood strives to design neighborhoods so that all children are within walking distance of their school. These decisions have paid off financially, saving the city about a million dollars annually, according to Lakewood City School District spokesperson Christine Gordillo.

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How Do Streets Affect Your City’s Happiness?

In this Streetfilm, Streetsblog publisher Mark Gorton interviews award-winning journalist Charles Montgomery about his fantastic new book, “Happy City: Transforming Our Lives Through Urban Design,” which delves into the hard-to-measure question of how the built environment affects our mental wellbeing.

Mark and Charles discuss how research from the fields of neuroscience, behavioral economics, and psychology is helping us understand the relationship between happiness and our surroundings. The film also ends up touching on quite a few New York City places like Times Square, the Lower East Side, and Jackson Heights, Queens.

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National Bike Summit 2014: United Spokes

Usually I limit conference wrap-up videos to right around four minutes in length. But there were so many great (and funny!) moments at this year’s National Bike Summit, it was important to pack in all of the coverage we could grab.

So sit back and enjoy many of the faces and fun that made this year’s #NBS14 a big hit.