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Streetfilms

By Clarence Eckerson

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New Yorkers Tell Streetfilms Why They’re Biking More Than Ever

By every metric, today New Yorkers are biking more than ever. So to mark Bike to Work Day, Clarence Eckerson went over to the Transportation Alternatives commuter station by the Queensboro Bridge to ask people if they’re biking now more than five years ago, and why. Here’s what they told him.

There’s a lot of great insight here, but tops on the list for me is how new bike infrastructure has helped people beset by crowding and delays on the 7 train. A fully built-out network of low-stress bikeways could be such a valuable complement to a transit system that is bursting at the seams.

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Streetfilms Shortie: Double-Parking Insanity in the Jay Street Bike Lane

While out collecting footage yesterday, one of my missions was to document a whole bunch of street conditions that NYC DOT is actively working to improve. One was the chronic double-parking that has overrun the Jay Street bike lane in Downtown Brooklyn forever.

The level of disregard for the bike lane is just about unmatched anywhere else in New York City. Even with all that bike lane obstruction, 2,400 cyclists a day use Jay Street, since it’s a critical link to the Manhattan Bridge. NYC DOT is working on a plan to replace the current design with parking-protected bike lanes on each side of the street.

I intended to sit on all my “before” footage to use in future pieces, but I just couldn’t believe how bad it was, so I posted this. I had budgeted about an hour to film Jay Street, but I only needed about ten minutes to sufficiently document the dysfunction on camera. As you can see, the immediate yield was very high.

On top of it all, NYPD loves to hand out tickets to cyclists up and down Jay Street. But how many tickets do they write for these drivers? I’m not sure, but since parking placards are everywhere on Jay Street and the illegal parking situation never seems to improve, I’m guessing it’s close to none.

Barring any real enforcement, we sure could use Peatónito, or a battalion of Peatónitos, on Jay Street to set these illegal parkers straight.

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High Frequency: Why Houston Is Back on the Bus

Every so often, every city should do a “system reimagining” of its bus network like Houston METRO did.

Back in 2012, Houston’s bus network was in trouble. Ridership was down, and weekend ridership was especially weak. Frequent service was rare. Routes didn’t go directly where people needed to go. If you wanted to get from one place outside downtown to another place outside downtown, you still had to take a bus downtown and transfer.

It was a system that had basically stayed frozen since the 1970s. And as you can surmise, the service it provided was not effective, convenient, or appealing for many types of trips.

METRO’s solution was to wipe the slate clean. What would Houston’s bus network look like if you designed it from scratch? By re-examining every bus route in the city, talking to bus riders, and making tough decisions, METRO reinvented its bus network. The new system features better, more efficient routes, shorter wait times, and increased service on nights and weekends. The changes were essentially revenue-neutral — Houston now runs a better bus system on the same budget, because it optimized the use of existing resources.

This Streetfilm was produced in partnership with TransitCenter, the first in a series of four films looking at transit innovation in American cities.

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Five Eclectic Questions for Streetfighter Janette Sadik-Khan

Right before former New York City Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan set off on a multi-city book tour for Streetfight (along with co-author Seth Solomonow), I was able to get a few minutes to ask her five eclectic questions in Washington Square Park.

Want to know the story behind the appearance of hundreds of cheap lawn chairs on opening day in car-free Times Square? We asked her. Want to know if she has a crush on David Byrne? We asked her that too! Want to know her favorite color jellybean? Well, we didn’t ask her that.

But we think you’ll enjoy our quick, engaging conversation that’s saturated with footage from the Streetfilms vault from Sadik-Khan’s 2007-2013 tenure at NYC DOT.

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Peatónito in NYC: Protecting Pedestrians in the Crosswalk

Peatónito (“little pedestrian”) might be the most beloved figure in the world of street safety. How can you not love a superhero who protects pedestrians from cars?! Since donning the cape and luchador mask three years ago, he’s become a media sensation in Mexico. This week he’s in New York City for Transportation Alternatives’ Vision Zero for Cities 2016 conference, and Streetfilms was lucky enough to squeeze in this exclusive whirlwind walking tour of Brooklyn and Queens streets showing him in action.

Jorge Canez, the man behind the mask, has been a pedestrian advocate in Mexico City for quite a while. He’s been involved with many tactical urbanism-type of interventions, like painting crosswalks with his own spray can. As Peatónito, he’s attained a new level of fame for gently scolding drivers, escorting pedestrians though dicey intersections, and pushing cars (or occasionally walking over the tops of cars) to make motorists more aware of their transgressions.

Come along for a fun short as Peatónito hits the intimidating streets near Brooklyn’s Barclays Center, the constantly blocked bike lanes on Jay Street by MetroTech, and crosswalks in Jackson Heights, Queens, helping children walk to school.

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The Gaman Spirit: Why Cycling Works in Tokyo

In Tokyo, bicycling accounts for 14 percent of all trips. Yet Tokyo does not have the cycling infrastructure of Amsterdam or even Hamburg. As much as wider bike lanes would help, Tokyo residents will bike regardless. If there’s no bike lane, they’ll just hop on the sidewalk or wherever they feel safe.

Joe Baur produced this excellent Streetfilm. He writes:

Still, it was easy to see some of the same problems in Tokyo that I’ve seen in my own cycling in Cleveland and throughout the United States. That is, motorists will take that space back when it pleases them.

Read more…

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Austin: The Most Bike-Friendly City in Texas

I was in Austin a few months ago for the NACTO Designing Cities Conference. While in town I was able to put together this look at what the city is doing to improve bicycling, including the dazzling 3rd Street curb-protected bikeway. Also captured on camera: many bike paths along the Pedernales River, car-free nights on 6th street, and the ridiculously long Halloween Social Ride, which is an exhilarating weekly nighttime bicycle excursion with hundreds of people that manages to follow traffic laws to a T. (I did all 30 miles on a heavy B-Cycle — there were quite a few hills!)

The timing was excellent, because near the end of 2015 the League of American Bicyclists declared Austin a gold status bike-friendly city, the first city in Texas to claim the honor. So let Streetfilms take you on a tour of the bike lanes, greenways, floating bridges, and bike-friendliness of Austin.

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The Transformation of Queens Boulevard, Block By Block

For many years, New York City’s Queens Boulevard was known as the “Boulevard of Death.” The street cuts through the heart of the Queens, expanding at some points to a chaotic 12 to 16 lanes of traffic — which makes it extremely dangerous for human beings. From 2003 to 2013, 38 pedestrians and cyclists were killed and 450 suffered severe injuries.

Last year, the New York City DOT announced a $100 million dollar commitment from the de Blasio administration to humanize Queens Boulevard and make it safer, a flagship project in the city’s Vision Zero initiative. Instead of waiting until the planned permanent reconstruction in 2018 to make any changes, DOT wanted to build in safety improvements immediately. After holding public workshops with communities along the corridor, 1.3 miles of Queens Boulevard have been redesigned, and the changes are already making a huge difference.

If you’re an urban planner, transportation engineer, or advocate wondering just what can be done with what seems to be an irredeemably messed up street, then this is the Streetfilm for you. We got an exclusive tour of the changes with NYC DOT Deputy Commissioner Ryan Russo, going block-by-block over the creative solutions the DOT team implemented. Queens Boulevard is as complicated a roadway as there is: Nearly every block is different. To add a functional bike lane and pedestrian mall seemed highly unlikely. Yet here it is.

I’ll admit, I’m especially excited about this project since I’ve lived near Queens Boulevard for years. I was skeptical when the announcement was made that I would see any truly life-altering change, and even if the city pulled it off, it would take years and years. But the installation has been swift and extremely well thought out. The service road is noticeably slower, narrower, and easier to navigate for people walking or biking. So much so that I was motivated to document the transformation with this Streetfilm, which I hope will be a learning tool that people can put to use in their communities. If you can put a good protected bike lane on Queens Boulevard, then just about any street in America should be in play.

In 2015, no one was killed on Queens Boulevard.

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Can We Get Some of These DC Protected Bike Lane Features in NYC?

A few days ago I was in Washington, D.C. for a shoot. After leaving Union Station with my gear I made a beeline to check out the newest improvements to the 1st Street bike lane that runs adjacent to the station. I’d heard it was pretty fab, and upon close inspection, it really is.

The separation on this two-way lane varies between three treatments: 1) a concrete curb, which is substantial and well done and runs about half the length of the lane; 2) A combination of green paint, plastic bollards, and armadillos, which all work extremely well in conjunction; 3) paint and plastic bollards for the long block connecting to the Metro Trail. All of the variations feel comfortable on streets where car lanes are narrow and motorized traffic tends not to exceed the 20 mph range.

I was in town to meet up with former D.C. and Chicago transportation commissioner Gabe Klein, who has a new book debuting this week called “Start-Up City” that you should read. We shot some short vignettes, the first of which is above, where Gabe talks about the genesis of the Pennsylvania Avenue two-way, center-running bike path.

Read more…

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Gabe Klein Talks About Getting Sh*t Done in His New Book, “Start-Up City”

Streets can be tough to change. Between institutional inertia, tight budgets, bureaucratic red tape, and the political risks of upsetting the status quo, even relatively simple improvements for walking, biking, or transit can take years to pull off — if they ever get implemented at all.

But a new generation of transportation officials have shown that it doesn’t have to be that way. Cities can actually “get shit done,” as former DC and Chicago transportation commissioner Gabe Klein puts it in his new book from Island Press, Start-Up City.

Streetfilms and our producer, Mark Gorton, recently got to sit down (and walk around) with Gabe to talk about the ideas in the book, which ties together his career as a transportation commissioner and his experience in start-ups like Zipcar. Start-Up City is filled with advice about how to get projects done quickly while choosing the best option for the public (and, of course, having fun). You can get a flavor for the book in this extensive interview with Gabe.

Full disclosure: Gabe Klein sits on the board of OpenPlans, the non-profit that produces Streetfilms and Streetsblog. This video is made possible by the Knight Foundation.