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News & Notes

→ The Atlantic Cities: The Simple Math That Can Save Cities From Bankruptcy

We tend to think that broke cities have two options: raise taxes, or cut services. Minicozzi, though, is trying to point to the basic but long-buried math of our tax system that cities should be exploiting instead: Per-acre, our downtowns have the potential to generate so much more public wealth than low-density subdivisions or massive malls by the highway. And for all that revenue they bring in, downtowns cost considerably less to maintain in public services and infrastructure.


→ The Hill: Transportation advocates see little hope for pre-election long-term highway bill

Transportation advocates are losing hope for passage of a highway bill before the election following Congress’s decision this week to pass another short-term funding extension.

Instead of approving the multi-year transportation bill that passed the Senate, lawmakers adopted a temporary extension of legislation that already funds road and transit projects. The short-term measure, signed Friday by President Obama, extends federal transportation funding until June 30.


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News & Notes

→ Five Things Every Mayor Should Know Before Starting a Bike-sharing Program [Shareable:Cities]

1) Be a bike-friendly community first.

→ Liberation Squares [UrbanOmnibus]

In the US, we tend to take public spaces and the activities they enable for granted. From the history of protests in Tompkins Square Park, to Martin Luther King’s 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech on the Washington Mall, to the makeshift memorial built in Union Square after 9/11, it is deeply embedded in our psyche that civil discourse should have a stage on which to play out. While some moments of dissent occurred in contained surrounds like Rosa Parks’ bus, the majority of democracies worldwide will continue to see their hopes and pains played out in sweeping public spaces.

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News & Notes

→ Reclaiming the center [The Boston Globe]

Today, the principle behind revitalization efforts is to make downtowns not just shopping areas, but 24-hour neighborhoods with homes, offices, and entertainment venues where residents can shop, dine, and mix at movies and concerts. Such efforts helped transform downtown Providence, for example, into a thriving cultural center and business district with local artists, new restaurants, and popular retail stores.

→ Understanding the Republican Party’s Reluctance to Invest in Transit Infrastructure [The TransportPolitic]

Conservatives in Congress threaten to shut down funding for transit construction projects and investments in intercity rail. One doesn’t have to look far to see why these programs aren’t priorities for them.

→ If you’re so happy in your car, why are you so mad at the people walking? [The Grist]

Pedestrian advocates sometimes talk about an attitude called “windshield perspective.” That’s the point of view people develop when their ass is planted firmly in the driver’s seat—a point of view in which people on the other side of the glass are somehow always responsible for everything that happens to them.

Once you’re aware of the concept, windshield perspective turns out to be everywhere. Cops have it. Courts have it. Reporters have it. You can develop it yourself surprisingly quickly.

→ Rail study on track [The Barnstable Patriot]

Also on Jan. 24, the MPO approved a $300,000 study of restoring weekend rail service to the Cape from Boston and New York. Cape Cod Regional Transit Authority Administrator Tom Cahir said if it’s found feasible, the trains could run from Memorial Day to Labor Day in 2012.

When rail service between Cape Cod and New York last ran in 1996, it went via Providence. Of course since then, we have opened a train station at the Airport as well. Previous service was run by Amtrak and as of yet, we do not have an agreement with Amtrak for their trains to stop at T.F. Green. Perhaps RIDOT should be speaking with the CCRTA about that.

Shameless Plug: Please feel free to nominate us as Best Blog in the Phoenix’s Best of 2011. You could also ask your friends, your mom, and your cat to nominate us if you like.

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Paris: You are responsible for all users who are lighter than you are

Streetfilms takes a look at how Paris is rethinking their streets. A big part of it is changing the equation from moving traffic, to moving people. The rules of the road are that you are responsible for all users who are lighter than you are; trucks responsible for cars, cars for bikes, bikes for pedestrians… As in other parts of Europe, Paris is looking to slow traffic and make streets more livable. This includes streets with 30km (18mph) and 15km (9mph) speed zones. For contrast, the speed limit in Providence is 25mph.

Paris is also utilizing shared space zones, what the Dutch refer to as a Woonerf.

Woonerfs were popularized in the Netherlands in the 1970’s as a reaction to the growing dominance of the automobile over bicycles. During the first few years after World War II, Dutch transportation engineers began to emphasize relocating bicycles onto separate paths to accommodate the growing number of vehicles on the streets. This created a backlash, and the country soon moved in the opposite direction. Motorists were now forced to make accommodations for everyone else. The intent of this new approach was not to make cars disappear, but rather to integrate motorists and other users of the street into a shared space.

While the Woonerf was originally designed for residential areas, Paris is utilizing shared spaces in the city center, including areas that are designed to mix pedestrians, bikes, and buses. And StreetsWiki lists Commercial Street in Provincetown as an example of a Woonerf.

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Commercial Street in Provincetown is open to all modes, yet pedestrians and bikes dominate | Photo (cc) muckster

Here in Providence our streets came together in the age of pedestrians and horses. Autos are late to the scene, but we’ve embraced a culture where our roads are for cars, and other modes are secondary. In Paris they are moving back to moving people, making consideration for modes, and valuing the safety of the most vulnerable modes, in the process making a more livable city.

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Providence Children’s Museum workshops about placemaking and play

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Photo (cc) Mikenan1

Children’s Museum Hosts Community Conversations About Play

PROVIDENCE, RI – Providence Children’s Museum is hosting two community conversations this fall to unite individuals and organizations from across the state to discuss the issues affecting children’s opportunities for unstructured, self-directed play. The conversations will be held at Providence Children’s Museum (100 South Street in Providence) and are free and open to the public.

Making Places for Play
Thursday, November 5 | 7:00-8:30pm
Join a discussion about how to build community, engage families and inspire child-directed play through placemaking. Hear from local people who have strengthened their communities by creating playgrounds, parks and gardens – including representatives from Brown Street Park in Providence, the Children’s Garden Network, Learning Community Charter School in Central Falls, and Ponaganset Middle School in North Scituate – and share your ideas.

Building Community
Wednesday, December 2 | 7:00-8:30pm
By fostering strong communities, together we can give children more freedom to play. Hear from individuals who have built and sustained community in their neighborhoods and beyond – by organizing a neighborhood block party in Barrington, community events and gardens through Southside Community Land Trust in Providence, and monthly hikes with Rhode Island Families in Nature – and share your thoughts and strategies.

The conversations were inspired by topics on the Museum’s new discussion listserv, “PlayWatch: Connecting the Community to Promote Children’s Play,” and will be moderated by Museum director Janice O’Donnell.

Contact Megan Fischer for more information and to RSVP. To read the PlayWatch listserv archives or to join the list, visit PlayWatch.org.

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Northern Rhode Island Transportation

Last week I posted a proposal for an intrastate rail line from Woonsocket to Quonset Point. This is not a new idea and talk about bringing trains back to Woonsocket has been going on for some time.

Earlier this week there was a Congressional Breakfast in Woonsocket attended by more than 100 people, with the topic being transportation in the northern part of the state. The Valley Breeze has a report on the breakfast. Above is a video prepared by the Pawtucket Foundation that was presented at the breakfast.

Thomas Mann, Executive Director of The Pawtucket Foundation presented a video that outlined four major points:

  1. Demonstrate the regional significance of the Pawtucket/Central Falls Commuter Rail Stop project. Pawtucket has secured $360,000 and the State of RI has appropriated $40,000 as the local match to access a $1.96M earmark for preliminary engineering and NEPA permitting.
  2. Implement a more in-depth regional feasibility analysis for an intra-state commuter rail proposal to create service from Woonsocket, through the Blackstone Valley to Providence and T.F. Green Airport
  3. Consider economic development as a criterion for transportation infrastructure investments. Focus transit funding to coincide with transit oriented development.
  4. Connect the Blackstone Valley Bike Path to the East Bay Bike Path. Expedite design and funding to complete the Blackstone Valley Bike Path.

Those in attendance were in agreement that a commuter rail line connecting northern RI to T.F. Green and points south is not only doable, but vital. The Breeze quotes Sen. Reed as saying that commuter rail, “has to be pursued vigorously.”

So what are the stumbling blocks. One is Amtrak, getting agreements to share the rails, but also agreements on liability. The Conant Street bridge in Pawtucket near the location of that city’s proposed commuter rail station remains closed due to not being able to come to agreement with Amtrak over liability issues in regards to repairing the bridge. The other issue, as always, money. While the rails are there, they will need slight upgrades, also stations will need to be built, rolling stock bought, conductors, engineers, and mechanics hired, all cost money of course. And if you haven’t heard, Rhode Island is lacking in the money department of late. Everyone seems to be in agreement though, that money invested in transit is a good investment for Rhode Island. Our limited land and dense population coupled with the existing infrastructure make transit a key tool to rebuild our economy.

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Sundance Channel documentary looks at Newark

Created and directed by the award-winning filmmakers Mark Benjamin and Marc Levin, BRICK CITY, is a five-part documentary series that captures the daily drama of a community striving to become a better, safer, stronger place to live. Against great odds, Newark’s citizens and its Mayor, Cory A. Booker, fight to raise the city out of nearly a half century of violence, poverty and corruption.

Brick City is a five-part series that actually ran last week on the Sundance Channel, however it is being repeated through October (schedule). Next American City has a short review, here.

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Streetfilms looks at Phoenix Light Rail and Seattle Streetcars

Streetfilms looks at the new light rail line in Phoenix as well as the new streetcar line in Seattle.

Streetfilms | Phoenix METRO Light Rail

The Valley Metro light rail line is a 20-mile starter line with 28 stations serving Downtown Phoenix and the suburbs of Tempe and Mesa. The Metro line has exceeded expectations carrying 40,000 passengers per day.

Streetfilms | Seattle Streetcar

Seattle’s South Lake Union Streetcar is 1.3 miles long and opened in December 2007. It carried half a million passengers in its first year. On July 18th a new light rail line opens connecting the southern end of the streetcar line to the SeaTac Airport.

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CO2 per acre versus per household

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The Housing + Transportation Affordability Index has a number of tools for generating affordability maps. Above is the Providence Metropolitan Area CO2 use per acre (on right) versus CO2 use by household (left). I can’t hyperlink directly to the Providence map, but go here and choose “Providence-Fall River-Warwick, RI-MA” from the drop down where is says “change region.”

As you can see, by acre the cities consume way more CO2 as there are way more people per acre in the cities. However, when viewed by household, the cities are teetotallers compared to the suburbs. This comparison shows the benefit of mixed-use dense regions. Even if everyone in the cities were driving to all their destinations (which we are not), having a mixture of uses, means we do not have to travel as far to reach our destinations; shopping, working, recreation…

Now not everyone is going to move to Providence, New Bedford, and Fall River and start walking and riding the bus everywhere. But we can make the suburbs more walkable and less dependant on fossil fuels. Our region was built around distinct village centers, we’ve lost the village centers to autocentric strip malls such as those seen on Route 2. These areas are designed in such a way that even if one wanted to walk from store to store, one cannot.

As big box stores go out of business and leave empty hulks behind, it is a good time to rethink our suburban development patterns. How can we fill in areas that are sprawling and make them more like the village centers of yesteryear?

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Kansas City Light Rail Video

This video illustrates nicely the connections between transit and land-use. The portion that shows the redeveloped “excess surface parking” immediately brought to mind Providence’s own, Parking Lot District.

Imagine KC from Jonathan Arnold on Vimeo.

Most people do not know that Light Rail is a land use issue – and not just about transportation. This video shows how pedestrian friendly developments are created around station locations, making light rail a catalyst for positive change in the community. We concepted, animated and edited this video for Kansas City Public Television as part of their Imagine KC

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Livable Streets

Bicycle Taxis and Bike Lanes in Barcelona

Barcelona Bike Taxis | Photo by Matthew Coolidge

Streets are the passageways that connect us to all our destinations, but they shouldn’t be just for cars, especially in the city. They also provide a path on which to walk or bike whether it be in a lane, on a sidewalk, or on a crosswalk. In essence they should be for people, no matter what the mode of transport.

Website goodmagazine.com has a fantastic interactive graphic that shows a typical city street transformed into a truly “Livable Street.”

Not only do they show in their graphic an image of a redesigned street, but they identify all the elements that make it beautiful, livable, and fun!

There are so many opportunities in Providence for livable streets. You’ll notice that liveablestreets.com is having a redesign contest. If you are artistically inclined, why not pick a street in Providence to redesign and submit? Send us a copy, and we’ll post it here, too!

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Mapped: Pawtucket Historic Sites

J. Hogue from Art In Ruins put together this excellent map of National Register Buildings in Pawtucket.

View Larger Map

  • Blue is the Downtown District
  • Light Blue/cyan is the Exchange Street District
  • Pink/Magenta is Quality Hill
  • Purple is the Church Hill District
  • Red is the Slater Mill Historic Site
  • Green are Individual Listings
  • Yellow are important but Non-contributing/not listed.

Great work J!

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Paolino For Non-Profit Expansion into 195 Land

Joseph R. Paolino Jr., real estate owner, developer, former Providence mayor, and, um, surface parking lot magnate has weighed in on the issue of developing the soon-to-be-available 195 land. In a published letter to the East Side Monthly (not where I would have chosen to get my opinion heard on downtown issues, but I digress) he strongly comes out in favor of allowing the health and education sectors (which are among the few to have grown and added jobs here in recent years) to expand into any of the plots available. In his own words:

“In my view, all land [italics are his] in the highway corridor should be open to tax-exempt as well as tax-paying institutions. The property-tax papyments that we give up will be more than offset by economic and community benefits in other forms… The important thing is to continue building a strong partnership with the universities and hospitals of Providence, so that they will continue to expand and enrich our city.”

He is especially concerned about the potential for a spurned Johnson and Wales to build its desired flagship campus for the 195 land at one of their other sites in North Carolina or Florida as well as lost potential for academic spinoffs to develop on the 195 land that would take advantage of the planned Brown Medical School expansion near Rhode Island Hospital. He also criticizes the slow development of Capital Center into something less than the tax coffer clogging economic engine that was originally envisioned and wishes the 195 land to avoid the same fate.

Whatever you think of Paolino’s political, business, or parking perspectives, I think he makes some interesting points (especially regarding Johnson and Wales) that make picking up an issue of ESM to read his letter worthwhile. I personally believe that this should ideally not be a divisive issue and that there will hopefully be enough room for both non-profit and for-profit development if planning for the land is done skillfully and efficiently. High density development here in the form of height and mixed-used structures could serve everyone’s interests, a fact that J&W appeared to recognize in their own plan for several low to mid-level towers on the land.

Many economists are predicting that our current economic condition will reverse in about 2011 to 2013, around the exact time the 195 land is predicted to come on-line. What do you think should be the ideal development plan for the 195 parcels when that happens?

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Learning From Others: Metro JAX

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The Metro Jacksonville site is definitely worth a visit just to see an outstanding webpage devoted to a city’s urbanism. For a non-JAX resident, however, one the best reasons to visit the site is under the “Learning From” tab, where their “Elements of Urbanism” series is housed.

These are comprehensive descriptions of other cities around the nation with oodles of statistics comparing them to Jacksonville. This alone would be interesting, but what elevates the reports are the “on the scene” photographs, maps, and reports.

Not only is there an “Elements of Urbanism: Providence” report, but several other local cities, including Boston, New Haven, Albany, and Buffalo, have reports there as well.

As we look to plan for the future and aim to do more and do better than just comparing ourselves to Worcester and Hartford, reading Metro Jacksonville seems like a great place to start and we could do a lot worse than to replicate their series for ourselves.

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