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News & Notes

Streetsblog: The Epidemic of Pedestrian Deaths in America, and Why It Barely Registers

In 2010, 4,280 pedestrians were killed in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control, and another 70,000 were injured. That’s one death every two hours.

It’s impossible to quantify the human toll of traffic fatalities, but as David Nelson at Project for Public Spaces points out, AAA estimates that traffic crashes cost America $300 billion annually in the form of medical expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering, and other factors. That works out to three times the annual cost of congestion reported by the Texas Transportation Institute. But while we’re spending billions “fighting congestion” with expensive new roads, getting a handle on pedestrian deaths and injuries is almost a non-issue at your average state DOT.


The New York Times: Where ‘Share the Road’ Is Taken Literally

“Woonerf” is what the Dutch call a special kind of street or group of streets that functions as shared public space — for pedestrians, cyclists, children and, in some cases, for slow-moving, cautiously driven cars as well.

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News & Notes

A Stupid Attack On Smart Growth [Planetizen]

The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) has a well-financed campaign to discourage communities from considering smart growth as a possible way to conserve energy and reduce pollution emissions. They contend that compact development has little effect on travel activity and so provides minimal benefits. The NAHB states that, “The existing body of research demonstrates no clear link between residential land use and GHG emissions.” But their research actually found the opposite: it indicates that smart growth policies can have significant impacts on travel activity and emissions.


Most Aging Baby Boomers Will Face Poor Mobility Options [Transportation for America]

By 2015, more than 15.5 million Americans 65 and older will live in communities where public transportation service is poor or non-existent, a new study shows. That number is expected to continue to grow rapidly as the baby boom generation “ages in place” in suburbs and exurbs with few mobility options for those who do not drive.

The report, Aging in Place, Stuck without Options, ranks metro areas by the percentage of seniors with poor access to public transportation, now and in the coming years, and presents other data on aging and transportation.


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News & Notes

Saint-Pierre River Site to Become Montréal’s first Woonerf [Spacing Montréal]

The borough describes a woonerf as a convivial street where one can safely walk, bicycle, play, and relax, while still being accessible to cars, adding that the woonerf aims animate residential streets by giving them a soul. But the project also has more tangible goals: the subsidy requires the woonerf to have permeable surfaces over at least 85% of the site, to introduce vegetation in order to reduce the heat-island effect, and to incorporate a space for urban agriculture.


World Map on Bike-sharing [Fietsberaad]


View The Bike-sharing World Map in a larger map
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News & Notes

Ad Nauseam 2010: The Year in Car Commercials [DC.Streetsblog]

Car sales are up, auto shows are packing them in, and the GM IPO was oversubscribed, but there may be no surer indicator of the auto industry’s recovery than the renewed avalanche of car ads rumbling across every medium. And there’s no better way to get a glimpse of what a born-again car culture might look like than to stay on the couch for a spell, un-mute the TV, and watch|that’s right, on purpose|a sample of 2010’s ads selling us our car-centric way of life. Here are some of the year’s most egregious attempts to get us into the dealership by conflating car ownership with American values.

Neighbors won fight for narrower Willy St. | now they want even more [The Capital Times, Madison, WI]

It is a walkable commercial and residential strip that embodies the cityscapes lauded as new urbanism by city planners. It’s also the main drag in a neighborhood that’s home to many of the city’s most outspoken activists. So when the aging infrastructure of Williamson Street on Madison’s east side is scheduled for a rebuild, you’d better believe its citizens will have their say. Speak they have, and managed the unlikely feat of getting the street scheduled for narrowing.

But some say that’s not enough.

How Shared Space Challenges Conventional Thinking about Transportation Design [Planetizen]

Before he died in 2008, the great Dutch street designer and engineer, Hans Monderman, re-introduced to the world the concept of shared spaces as the appropriate basis for designing urban streets. Shared space is based on the idea of self enforcing use of public spaces by different types of users, including pedestrians, bicyclists, transit and private vehicle operators. The idea has caught the imagination of some designers in the USA, but it is still largely treated as a design style rather than for what it really is – a fundamental rethinking of the underlying philosophy related to the design and operation of transportation facilities.

As She Walks Out the Door, (CT) Gov. Rell Makes it Safer to Walk Down the Street [Mobilizing the Region]

On Friday, outgoing Connecticut Governor M. Jodi Rell announced significant changes to ConnDOT’s bike and pedestrian policies aimed to improve the delivery of projects, increase the pot of funding for bicycle and pedestrian projects and enhance the existing design manual so cyclists and pedestrians are fully considered as part of the design process, as required by the 2009 Complete Streets Law.

Can streetcars save America’s cities? [CNN]

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News & Notes

Tootling [The New Yorker]

“At twenty [mph], you’d actually save time,” King said. “Going forty miles per hour doesn’t change your position in the next queue, at the next traffic lights.”

“You’re right,” DeCarlo said, and he nodded. “I’m a firm believer that, whether you do twenty or fifty-five, you’re going to get to the same place at the same time.”

New York Expands Pop-Up Cafe Program in 2011 [The Architect’s Newspaper]

The concept is simple: street space is limited and valuable. To that end, New York has been evaluating whether the highest and best use for street space along narrow sidewalks is storing cars. Like a glorified Park(ing) Day spot made (semi-)permanent and held on high, these pop-up cafés invite pedestrians to imagine their city in new ways.

Dreyfus Tees Up Center Leg Freeway [DC Mud]

Washington, DC developers plan to deck 3 blocks of the Central Leg Freeway which separates the city. When they are done, they are welcome to come to Route 95 in Providence.

Pedestrians take to the streets; motorists learn to coexist [New Urban Network]

Monderman advocated getting rid of the welter of traffic signs, pavement striping, and other devices intended to regulate conflicting modes of traffic. He believed that human beings | whether in motor vehicles, on bikes, or using their own two feet | could intuitively adjust their movement and manage to cross the streets and squares safely.

Monderman operated mainly in small towns, where traffic tended to be light. There it was fairly easy to count on pedestrians and motorists to keep an eye on one another, thus avoiding accidents. By contrast, Hamilton-Baillie has introduced the shared-space idea to streets in the center of a great metropolis | London.

US shared space: Starting small [New Urban Network]

Cambridge created two shared-space streets, both in 2008. The first was on Winthrop Street adjoining Winthrop Park, not far from Harvard Square. It’s a narrow, minor street near restaurants. People were already walking in the street, so it was a natural to be officially designated a shared space. A sign identifies it as shared by pedestrians and vehicles, with a posted speed limit of 10 mph.

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News & Notes

SFGate: Footbridge an elegant new icon in East Bay

The 600-foot-long arc not only eases the way for pedestrians and bicyclists, it also sends a message naysayers choose to ignore: our society should aim to produce civic works on par with cherished landmarks from the New Deal or the Carnegie libraries of the generation before that.

This larger cultural role is what civic infrastructure can achieve when built with ambition and the long-term view. Contra Costa’s Redevelopment Agency deserves credit for pulling together the funding from county, state and federal sources.

The word “icon” is used far too often in architectural hype. But at its own modest scale, Robert I. Schroder Overcrossing shows what an icon can be. You don’t expect to see it; once you do, you’re glad it’s there. And you look forward to seeing and experiencing it again.


American Planning Association: 10 Best Public Spaces of 2010

Maybe someday Kennedy Plaza will make the list.


The Gondola Project at Creative Urban Projects: Rio to Open Urban Gondola System This Year

Peter Brassard touched upon aerial trams, or gondollas, in his recent post and here is another urban system to add to the list in Brazil. As Rio prepares to host the Olympics in 2016(?) this is one of the infrastructure projects they have been working on.

In this article I even learned a new term, CPT meaning Cable Propelled Transit system. Add that to the lexicon of BRT, LRT, TOD, and other transit acronyms.


Lincoln Institute of Land Policy: Public Space Project and Shared Space-Harvard Square-Woonerf Streets

But in Europe, designers are taking it a step further – removing traffic signals and signage altogether, relying on the human ability to adapt and communicate with other drivers and pedestrians by entering an intersection or traveling down a street and figuring it all out. It’s a counter-intuitive notion to be sure, based in the Dutch concept of the “woonerf,” a street that eliminates the strict separation of uses and instead invites a civil set of ad-hoc rules and eye contact. Woonerfs are all around us – the valet area in front of a hotel, or the parking lot in front of Target. Everybody slows down because there is an obvious mix of parking and getting out of cars and moving around on foot.

I mention woonerfs here from time to time and at some point really should devote an entire post to the concept, but until I get around to it, this post is a really good introduction to the concept.

A woonerf plaza outside City Hall is included in the Vision For Kennedy Plaza and I often walk down the alley I live on on Federal Hill and imagine it transformed into a shared space. Let’s try to introduce “woonerf” into the Providence lexicon.


Market Urbanism “Urbanism for Capitalists/Capitalism for Urbanists”: The inanity of airport connectors

The airport connector is a special beast of a rail-based transit system that’s a relatively recent phenomenon outside of transit-dense regions like Western Europe and Japan. So manifestly wasteful that it generates more animosity towards mass transit than it does riders, it’s a project that only politicians and unions could love. Unlike more integrated networks where the airport is just one station on an otherwise viable route (like Philadelphia’s Airport Line or DC’s proposed Silver Line), airport connectors generally serve only the airport and one local hub. With no purpose other than to get people in and out of the airport, they provide neither ancillary transit benefits nor TOD opportunities. Oftentimes they don’t even reach downtown, acting instead like glorified park-and-rides.

Luckily our connector is one stop on a line that runs from Boston and eventually past the airport onto Wickford Junction and maybe Westerly, New London, who knows… It is one of the good ones…

[…] with the Rhode Island DOT recently reaching a deal on its $267 million “Interlink” project, which entails building a station at the airport on an existing line, along with a commuter parking garage and a rental car facility. The station is only expected to see six trains a day initially, which is probably for the best since Providence’s T.F. Green Airport isn’t exactly O’Hare. No word on whether any additional density is being allowed around the new station, but something tells me the answer is no.

Sigh. The City of Warwick established the Warwick Station Redevelopment Agency years ago to guide development in the “Metro Center” area around the station. RIPTA is keen on transforming bus services in Kent County to focus transportation on the new station, making it a transit hub not just for air and rail, but for buses, further fueling the transit oriented development potential of the station area.

Yup, T.F. Green is not O’Hare, for that matter neither is Logan or BWI or LaGuardia or JFK or LAX. 6 trains a day, initially, yes. But once Wickford Junction opens next year, that number goes up. The Interlink is not about getting people to and from planes full stop, it is much more than that. It is a commuter link for Kent County and South County, it is an economic development tool for the City of Warwick and the airport.

Kevin Dillon, President and CEO of RIAC pointed out in rebutting Joe Paolino’s characterization of the Interlink as a “boondoggle” on GoLocalProv that low cost European carriers are looking at the northeast and at T.F. Green in particular. Why Green and not Bradley or Manchester? Because of the Interlink.

[airport connectors] are often a sort of cargo cult urbanism that seeks to emulate the frills of good transit systems isn’t willing to make the hard decisions necessary to actually build a robust network and allow the density to fill it. In the case of the the Providence airport, lawmakers said they hoped the station would attract international service to the currently domestic-only airport – as if Providence can acquire the amenities of a big city without allowing itself to become one.

There will undoubtedly be some NIMBY hurdles to overcome regarding density along the rail line, especially if we add a station in Cranston (can you imagine, denisty in Cranston!?), but the whole point of the southern push of commuter rail is to build density where it makes sense, along the transit line, and to aid people who live further from it in leaving their cars somewhere other than downtown (or idling on the highway getting to downtown).

The line about Providence trying to attract big city amenities without actually allowing itself to become a big city… that I just don’t get. Again, there will always be NIMBYism surrounding growth, but I think political leaders, the business community, and a good deal of the citizenry would be more than happy to see the city become bigger. At the very least, if we grew it would be indicative of our economy emerging from the toilet.

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Patching Patches


Photo by Jef Nickerson

So this is silly, but it doesn’t really bother me all that much and I’ll tell you why.

This is my street, taken from out my window. You can see years and years of various patches and a current patch that doesn’t actually fill a new hole. Further up the street there is a deep lake. Every year the city comes out and patches these holes. At some point, you can’t patch anymore, the street needs rebuilding. This street is clearly at that point.

But. I don’t really care. My street is very minor, one block long and one lane wide (though it has two-way traffic somehow). It is a pretty minor street, but gets a good deal of traffic. And the city has been using it as a detour occasionally during work taking place on Dean Street. The street should be rebuilt, but so should a lot of streets in the city, a lot of streets that are more important and get much more traffic than this one. So with the city and state’s budgets the way they are, I don’t really think my street is a priority.

And as I said before, I kinda like potholes. My street gets traffic, but in the grand scheme of city streets, not that much really. The traffic it does get, tends to move way too fast though. People annoyed by traffic on Atwells speed down my street when they get out of the traffic. And the valets from the Atwells restaurants fly down the street (do you know what valets do with your cars, it is not pretty). So the potholes are working as a traffic calming device, which I like.

What I would really like to see, is the street rebuilt as a woonerf. A woonerf is a Dutch invention whereby a street is built for pedestrians and bikes, and the auto is a guest on the road and has to give way to the other users. Everyone commingles and has to watch for each other. My street as I said, is only one lane wide, and the sidewalks are maybe 3 feet wide. With such sidewalks, no one walks on the sidewalks, everyone walks in the street, so it is in effect, functioning as a woonerf already, though drivers still think that they are in charge of the space.

I’d love the street rebuilt without sidewalks and have visual cues added to show drivers that they must share. The street also has drainage issues. The potholes are so persistent because there is no drainage on the entire block and when it rains, the whole street floods and water stands on it (until it drains into the ground through the potholes). Some small bioswales would help address the drainage issues.

The street needs rebuilding, but I don’t want the city to just come and lay a layer of blacktop over it, that won’t address the speed or drainage issues. If that’s what the city would do, then I say don’t bother, just keep patching the patches and focus on the main arteries that need rebuilding more than my little alley.

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