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Why People Who Love Nature Should Live Apart From It

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If you care about the natural environment, where should you live?

Surrounding yourself with the trappings of nature, writes Shane Phillips at Better Institutions today, is a far cry from respecting and protecting the wilderness: 

Much like the flower, for many of us, to love nature is to destroy it. We move from the city to the suburb or the rural town to be closer to nature, and to make it habitable (for us) we clear-cut it for new development, pave it over and turn woods and grasslands into manicured lawns, pollute it with our vehicles, etc. In our efforts to possess a small slice of “nature,” we change the meaning of the word, leaving us with something beautiful, perhaps, but far from natural. This strain of thinking is very popular in places like the Bay Area, where there’s a belief that we have to sharply limit development in cities in order to preserve some semblance of nature — ”how can a place so gray possibly be green?”

But environmentalism is about much more than surrounding ourselves with greenery; in fact, its true meaning is exactly the opposite. Real environmentalism means surrounding ourselves with steel, concrete, and other human beings, leaving nature to itself instead of attempting to own it and shape it to our own selfish needs. What makes cities so important is that they allow us to express our love and appreciation for nature in a healthy way: from a distance, as a societal and environmental resource that can be preserved far into the future.

Elsewhere on the Network today: Seattle Transit Blog says the city’s efforts to secure a streetcar are gaining momentum. The Transportationist prices out the economic costs of slower-than-expected travel times on the Twin Cities’ new Green Line. And This Big City looks at the impact of AirBnB on cities.

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Today’s Headlines

More headlines at Streetsblog USA

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Tell the City Where You Want Street Safety Fixes — The Clock Is Ticking

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The city’s Vision Zero map includes a new function that lets you use Street View to flag street safety issues.

If you haven’t visited the Vision Zero feedback map and flagged locations where you want the city to make streets safer, get it done soon. The website will be taking suggestions for street safety fixes through July 31, then city agencies will figure out what to do with those ideas.

The city launched the map at the end of April (disclosure: developers with OpenPlans, Streetsblog’s parent organization, helped create the map tool). About two and half months later, New Yorkers had submitted more than 7,500 comments about dangerous streets and what to do about them, according to DOT.

The tool has a new feature that lets you pinpoint a problem in Google Street View after you select the general location on the map. It helps a lot to get a look at the actual street when you’re trying to tell the city what’s wrong.

There are fewer than 10 days left in the feedback-collection period — get cracking!

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Satirical “Bicycle Lobby” Twitter Account Fakes Out Media Giants

The parody Twitter account "Bicycle Lobby" jokingly claimed to have placed white flags on top of the Brooklyn bridge this week. Reporters from the AP and New York Daily News didn't get it.

Reporters from the AP and New York Daily News took a tweet from the @BicycleLobby account a little too seriously.

The @BicycleLobby Twitter account is a parody inspired by last year’s unhinged rant about bike-share from Wall Street Journal columnist Dorothy Rabinowitz. Its running joke for the past 13 months has been that “the all-powerful bike lobby” envisioned by Rabinowitz is real — and yes, it controls the universe.

Sample tweet from July 20: “Today is the 45th anniversary of the day we faked the Moon landing.”

So when someone noticed this morning that the American flags atop the Brooklyn Bridge had been replaced with white flags, naturally @BicycleLobby took credit:

Screen Shot 2014-07-22 at 1.50.49 PM

The funny thing is, some big news organizations took the bait. First the New York Daily News and then the Associated Press reported that bicyclists had claimed credit for the prank. Not long after, those early reports were scrubbed from the Daily News site and the paper was calling it a mystery. But News 1130 in Vancouver, BC, was still carrying the AP story at 2 p.m.

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Queens Residents Speak Up for Bus Rapid Transit on Woodhaven

New York City can do better by bus riders and pedestrians on Woodhaven Boulevard, shown here at Jamaica Avenue. Photo: Google Maps

New York City can do better for bus riders and pedestrians on Woodhaven Boulevard. Photo of Woodhaven at Jamaica Avenue via Google Maps

Woodhaven Boulevard is one of the city’s most dangerous roads – eight pedestrians were killed there from 2010 to 2012, more than any other street in Queens. And while bus riders make 30,000 trips on Woodhaven each day, they’re slowed down by congestion and awkwardly designed service roads.

The MTA and DOT are working on a redesign that could dramatically improve both problems by dedicating more space to walking and transit. As the plans are developed and the agencies present the project to the public, residents say there’s a disconnect between who’s speaking the loudest at community meetings and who would benefit from the potential improvements. There are people who support major changes along the Woodhaven corridor, but their perspectives aren’t coming through in the local media coverage.

Toby Sheppard Bloch and his wife, a Queens native, have lived in Glendale near the busy intersection of Woodhaven and Metropolitan Avenue for almost 10 years. They have a 5-year-old daughter. “I drive a bunch. I’m a general contractor, so I’m often behind the wheel,” he said. “Even as a driver, it’s a nerve-wracking road to drive down. There’s a lot of speeding, and it’s very crowded.”

Sheppard Bloch has seen many serious crashes on Woodhaven, and the danger spills over as impatient drivers use local streets as shortcuts. He’s worried about his daughter, who will soon be walking around the neighborhood to meet with friends. He and his wife often take the bus or their bikes to catch the subway at Queens Boulevard. The buses are often overcrowded and slow, he says.

The redesign needs to make a clean break with the status quo, he said. “We’ve committed as much space as we possibly can on Woodhaven to cars,” Sheppard Bloch said. “It’s broken. We need to think about a different approach.”

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America’s Myopic Public Debate About Tolling Roads

A tolling holiday on the SR 520 bridge in Seattle would likely make traffic worse during a construction project, but that's what some have demanded. Photo: Marc Smith, Flickr

Suspending tolls on the SR 520 bridge in Seattle would likely make traffic worse during a construction project, but that’s what some motorists say they want. Photo: Marc Smith/Flickr

Seattle is getting ready to embark on a construction project that will put the squeeze on a few of its major highways. This event, ironically, served as a jumping off point for local media to indignantly demand a tolling “holiday” on the SR 520 floating bridge.

Martin Duke at Seattle Transit Blog said the episode illustrates the absurdity of the debate about highway tolling:

The idea that tolling is some insidious stealth tax, or a fundamental violation of the inalienable right to drive anywhere, for free, with unlimited subsidy is a well-established cancer on the Puget Sound’s discourse.

Spending hundreds of millions of dollars to expand our highway capacity and “ease congestion” does massive damage to the environment and ends up inducing the same congestion. But in that debate, the establishment wrings its hands about the economy and the need to move freight around, because time is money. When maintenance dramatically reduces highway capacity, however, no one cares enough about businesses to do the one thing that might help.

I agree that freight operators, the handyman with his tools, and so on need uncongested highways. And because shorter trips on the highway feed directly into their bottom line, tolls are but a fraction of the cost of sitting in traffic because there’s no alternative. The answer, if policymakers really care about businesses like PCC Logistics, is not to suspend the toll but raise the toll to whatever level keeps 520 free-flowing this week.

Elsewhere on the Network today: Counting Pantographs offers an interesting discussion about how sprawl affects the Mormon Church. Greater Greater Washington talks to activists trying to improve the impact of a Metro construction project on public space in Silver Spring. And the City Fix explains how congestion pricing could help reduce inequality in Beijing.

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Today’s Headlines

  • EPA: Cuomo Administration Jumped the Gun With Tappan Zee Bridge Loan (LoHud)
  • Keith Wright Presses Court to Reinstate License of His Top Staffer After DWI Arrest (Post)
  • Cement Truck Driver Runs Over Cyclist, Crushes Her Legs in East Williamsburg (Gothamist)
  • Driver Seriously Injures Woman in Williamsburg; Witness Says Driver Was Turned Around (WABC)
  • Hit-and-Run Motorcyclist Critically Injures Teen Crossing Grand Concourse (Post)
  • Crowley Bill Would Allow Workers to Spend Pre-Tax Dollars on Bike-Share (Observer, Post, WCBS)
  • TLC’s Joshi: Bending NYC’s Regs to Lyft’s Desires “Not Up for Negotiation” (CapNY)
  • New Plaza Is Central to Douglaston’s Plan to Revive Area Near LIRR Station (WSJ)
  • Eric Adams Talks Rezoning Brooklyn for More Housing With YIMBY
  • Crain’s Continues Its Campaign Against Installing Countdown Clocks at Bus Stops

More headlines at Streetsblog USA

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Study: People Living Near Biking and Walking Paths Get More Exercise

Walking and biking activity increased for people living near new facilities, in three U.K. communities examined. Connect2 is the name of the nonprofit group that helped install the infrastructure. Image: American Journal of Public Health

New bike/ped infrastructure in three UK communities (labeled “Connect2″ — the name of the nonprofit group that helped install the infrastructure) led to more physical activity. Graph: American Journal of Public Health

People who live near safe, high-quality biking and walking infrastructure tend to get more exercise than people who don’t, according to a study published last week in the American Journal of Public Health.

Researchers surveyed randomly selected adults before and after new bike/ped infrastructure was built in three communities in the U.K. Two of the selected communities opened bike and pedestrian bridges with well-connected “feeder” infrastructure. The other community upgraded “an informal riverside footpath” into a boardwalk during the study period.

Over three years, about 1,500 people responded to annual surveys about their walking and biking habits as well as other exercise behavior. During the first year of the survey — before the bike/ped improvements had been completed — there was no difference in biking and walking levels between people living close to the project areas and people living farther away. But by the final survey year, after the new infrastructure had been built, a disparity began to emerge.

Researchers found that people living within 0.6 miles of a protected bikeway got about 45 minutes more exercise biking and walking per week than people living 2.5 miles away. For every kilometer (0.6 miles) closer respondents lived to the infrastructure improvement, they exercised roughly 15 minutes more per week. People without access to a car were most likely to exercise more in response to the infrastructure improvements.

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Watch the NYC Bike Network Grow and Evolve Over 120 Years

Prepare to be mesmerized. Betsy Emmons has mapped the history of New York City’s bike network using the platform MapStory, where she’s currently a summer fellow. Watch the city’s greenways, bike lanes, and bridge paths expand over 120 years.

You can see the first designated bike routes — promenade-style parkways designed by Olmsted and Vaux in the pre-automotive era — crop up on Ocean Parkway and Eastern Parkway. Bike access via bridges and ferries is visible early on — these are labeled “Class L” in the data, says Emmons, which means they were designated as bike routes but did not necessarily include dedicated space for cycling.

While Robert Moses was remaking the city’s transportation system to move car traffic, most additions to the bike network seem to have served primarily recreational routes near the water. Then in the late 1970s, the first on-street bike lanes in the Manhattan core appear on Broadway and Fifth Avenue. More on-street routes show up in the 80s and 90s, and you can see the Hudson River Greenway take shape segment by segment.

As the on-street routes become a more cohesive network with the proliferation of bike lanes in the Bloomberg/Sadik-Khan years, you have to zoom in to get a better feel for all the changes. Though protected bike lanes are not differentiated from unprotected infrastructure in this iteration of the map, in a future version the underlying data could be used to show how those bikeways have recently become more common.

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Crashes Highlight the Hell’s Kitchen Bus Crunch

Last Monday, a left-turning coach bus driver struck two Spanish tourists in the crosswalk at 47th Street and 10th Avenue in Manhattan, sending them to the hospital with critical injuries. On Thursday, another bus driver crashed into scaffolding a few blocks away, causing minor injuries to passengers. The local community board chair says that without adequate bus facilities, neighborhood streets are getting overwhelmed.

The topic came up at a hearing last week where regional transportation leaders weighed New York’s big transit challenges, but only piecemeal solutions seem to be in the works at this time.

The bus driver in last Monday’s crash, 37-year-old Richard Williams, rolled over the leg of 62-year-old Maria Bagona and critically injured Maria Aranzazu Madariaga-Fernandez, 50 in the crosswalk. The women, relatives visiting New York from Spain, had planned to return home on Tuesday but were hospitalized.

The Post reported that the turning driver had a green light, neglecting to mention that the pedestrians would have also had a walk signal. In an interview from the hospital with the Daily News, the women set the record straight. “We were waiting to cross,” said Madariaga-Fernandez. “When the light turned, we started to cross. Suddenly, there was a bus… and it hit us.”

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