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Streetfilms

By Clarence Eckerson

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NYC Replaces a Parking Crater With Parking-Free Housing and Retail

One of Manhattan’s few remaining parking craters is going to be filled in with housing and retail — all without any car storage, despite the city government’s belief that the site called for up to 500 parking spots. Call it “Parking Sanity.”

The project, called Essex Crossing, is on the Lower East Side. It replaces surface lots formerly known as the Seward Park Urban Renewal Area, or SPURA, which were cleared decades ago and formed a parking crater engulfing multiple city blocks. The development will add 1,000 apartments (including 500 subsidized units), park space, a grocery store, a public market, and other retail.

Earlier this year, the developers decided to drop parking from the project entirely, even though the city pushed for up to 500 parking spaces — above and beyond the parking maximums that would normally be allowed under the zoning code.

The city, which initiated the project before selecting the developer, saw off-street parking as an elixir to help the project go down smoothly with the neighborhood. But it was not economical to build that much parking, and the developer eventually chose to eliminate parking entirely because site limitations would have placed the garage in a problematic location.

Streetsblog and Streetfilms recently sat down with Council Member Margaret Chin, who represents the area. Chin has advocated for the city to replace parking garages with affordable housing in her district, and she thinks things will be just fine without parking in the new development. As she says, people have plenty of other options for getting around.

Construction on the first phase of the development is set to begin this summer.

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Exploring the Streets of Stockholm

In 2014, I got the chance to visit Stockholm near the end of an incredibly hot summer. It’s a charming and walkable place with a downtown buzzing with people. There’s an easygoing rhythm to the city. After dark the pedestrian streets fill with both residents and tourists out for a walk, even after most stores and restaurants close.

I met up with a great mix of advocates, residents, and transportation experts to discuss what’s going on in Stockholm. Sweden is well-known as the birthplace of Vision Zero, the country’s goal to eliminate road deaths and serious injuries by 2020. Several American cities have now made it their explicit goal to reduce traffic deaths to zero in the next 10 years..

There’s much more worth taking away from Stockholm, which in the last decade has implemented congestion pricing, expanded its bike network, and adopted a plan called “The Walkable City” to create streets that work better for public life.

In tandem with the release of this film, I have great news to share: Since some Streetfilms, including this one, can get a bit long, we’ve decided to break them up into bite-size pieces, for those times when you want to show a great idea but may not be able to hold people’s attention for 12 minutes. These shorter segments will be available on Vimeo. Below are the four slices of Stockholm video you can mix and match to reach the masses.

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America’s Love Affair With Great City Streets

People crave interaction with other people. Given the choice, we’ll gravitate to places where we can socialize or just be in the presence of our fellow humans.

It’s not in our nature to spend hours each day isolated inside a car, but for much of the 20th century we shaped our streets and cities to make driving inescapable. In a few short decades we all but designed walking out of our lives. The good news is that by now, many cities have recognized that mistake and are working to fix it. We’re falling in love with our streets again.

In this Streetfilm, four American mayors talk about why they’re working to make their cities more walkable, bikeable, and sociable, and you’ll hear from advocates and experts who are leading the movement to reclaim streets for people.

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Hey #bikenyc: Where Would You Put New York’s Next Protected Bike Lanes?

At the September press conference where Bicycling Magazine named New York City the best American city for biking, NYC DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg committed to adding five miles of protected bike lanes per year “all over the city, not just in the core of Manhattan.”

Since then, anytime I’ve been at bike events or out on the streets shooting video, I’ve been interviewing riders about where they would like to see new protected bike lanes. As with most things bike, when you talk to the people riding the streets every day you get incredibly smart recommendations.

So I present this montage of New Yorkers who bike, sounding off on where they want the city to install protected bike lanes. I think they all made great suggestions.

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Zurich: Where People Are Welcome and Cars Are Not

When it comes to smart transportation options and city planning, Zurich can credibly claim to be the global champ. This Swiss city has enacted a number of policies and practices that have produced streets where people come first. Getting around and simply experiencing the city is a pleasure.

How did they do it? In a 1996 city decree referred to as “a historic ompromise,” Zurich decided to cap the number of parking spaces. From then on, when new parking spaces were built anywhere in Zurich, an equivalent number of spaces had to be eliminated elsewhere within the city limits. Many of the new spaces that have been built since then come in the form of underground garages, which allow for more car-free areas, plazas, and shared-space streets.

Zurich also has an intricate system of more than 4,500 sensors that monitor the number of cars entering the city. When that number exceeds the level Zurich’s streets can comfortably accommodate, all cars are halted on highways and main roads into the city until congestion is relieved. Thus, there is never significant traffic back-up in the city itself.

It’s tough to top the city’s transit options. Zurich has a network of comfortable commuter trains and buses, plus the magnificent gem of the city: its 15-line tram system. Trams run everywhere frequently and are easy to hop on and off. The coordination of the lines is a wonder to behold. And it’s the preferred way to travel in the city center — business men in suits traveling to the richest banks in the world ride next to moms and skateboarders.

That’s only the beginning of some of the great things going on in Zurich. Bike mode share is now 6 percent and climbing. People flock to the amazing parks and rivers that have been cleaned up. Car-free and car-lite streets are filled with restaurants and people at all times of day. If you can never get to Zurich yourself, I hope you’ll be able to experience a bit of what it’s like via this Streetfilm.

Note: All stats in the video are from the Mobility and Transport Microcencus of 2010 by the Federal Government of Switzerland. The survey on travel behavior has been conducted every five years since 1974.

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Counting Bicyclists on the Manhattan Bridge!

Since this has been an such amazing year for NYC bike commuting (after all Bicycling Magazine says we’re the #1 bike city, right?) two dear friends of Streetfilms (Steven O’Neill & Brooklyn Spoke‘s Doug Gordon) who frequently ride the Manhattan Bridge bike path joined me this morning to count some bicycles. We spent 20 minutes during the morning rush hour — specifically, 8:49 a.m. to 9:09 a.m. — tallying commuters just for the fun of it.

It was a beautiful morning for riding and the numbers didn’t disappoint. You’ll need to watch the short video to find out the final tally, but the count won’t shock anyone who rides regularly in this part of NYC. After all, the Manhattan Bridge has seen bike traffic swell over the last five years, and the advent of Citi Bike in 2013 is helping to keep that growth going.

Last October, NYC DOT tallied 4,004 bikes over this bridge in 12 hours. Of course, our average came out much higher than that because we counted during rush hour. It will be interesting to see what the official 2014 counts yield.

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Mayor Bill Peduto Wants to “Leapfrog” Your City on Bicycling and Livability

Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto is putting the rest of the United States on notice. His city is on the rise, and he fully intends to keep it that way.

For the first time in over half a century, Pittsburgh is expecting an increase in residents as the number of people moving back to the city grows. Complete streets policies are high on Peduto’s agenda for managing this growth and making the city more attractive. Earlier this month, the ProWalk ProBike ProPlace conference took place in Pittsburgh, and the energy of the city was on full display. So was Peduto, who was very active at the event.

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Mayor Bill Peduto soaks up some rays at Park(ing) Day 2014. Photo: City of Pittsburgh

Peduto is now at the forefront of a new wave of American mayors who understand how reforming the design and function of urban streets is key to growing a city. When talking to him, it’s clear right off the bat that he’s well-versed in urbanism and the history of cities. Even so, he wants to learn more. This summer, he went on a study tour with The Green Lane Project to check out the best bike infrastructure Copenhagen has to offer.

Local advocates have high hopes for Peduto’s administration, which has already delivered some high-profile improvements. According to the latest stats, Pittsburgh has the 11th highest bike mode share in the country, and there is solid momentum to build on that. Pittsburgh recently implemented its first true protected bike lanes downtown, part of Peduto’s push to create a more multi-modal city.

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”Bikelash!” The Streetfilm

Six months ago, Dr. Doug Gordon and Dr. Aaron Naparstek charmed audiences at the 2014 National Bike Summit with a great routine called “Moving Beyond the Bikelash,” sharing what they’ve learned from the pushback to New York City’s bike network expansion.

So last week, while at the Pro-Walk Pro-Bike Pro-Place conference, I thought it would be interesting to ask advocates from across the country about the state of bikelash in their cities and how they combat it. Here’s what they told me.

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Need to Add a Bike Lane to a Bridge? Experiment Like Pittsburgh Did

The Pro Walk Pro Bike Pro Place 2014 conference took place this week in Pittsburgh. Even though the Andy Warhol Bridge already has a nice shared bike-ped path on it, for one week the city decided to put bike lanes on its roadway. It’s the simplest design you can imagine, just two rows of small traffic barriers and a little bit of signage. I compiled a few moments of footage while walking to an event one night.

In New York City, the Brooklyn Bridge is just packed with pedestrians and cyclists. For about the last ten years or so, the crowding gets so intense at peak hours that it can be perilous. There have been many solutions suggested over the years, including converting one of the roadway’s car lanes to a two-way protected bike lane so cyclists and pedestrians don’t have to jostle for space on the narrow promenade they currently share.

Of course the Brooklyn Bridge has more traffic of all types than the Andy Warhol Bridge. But keep this Pittsburgh experiment in mind for the future. Something has to be done on the Brooklyn Bridge. Maybe a trial bike lane during the summer would be a good place to start.

It wouldn’t be an unprecedented decision. There are many other examples throughout the world — here’s our video of Vancouver giving road space to bikes on the Burrard Bridge:

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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.”