Monday, May 17, 2010

Post-Weekend Walkable Linkages

Been a little busy lately with various things, but ready to get back at it. Onto the news, reports, and studies that have recently caught my eye:

Urban Omnibus takes a stronger stance than even I might (albeit true) in stating that sprawl is to blame for the Gulf oil spill:
Let us cry over some spilled oil, but let us then find some introspection in the tragedy. Let us rebuild this nation by being the America that built Grand Central Station and Park Avenue, by being the America that built the inter-continental railroad, by being the America that once welcomed striving immigrants to the shores of her cities, by being the America that invented the internet and alternative energy. Let us build a new America that desires density and shuns suburbs.
Our cities are no longer the squalid places of the industrial period that we fled from for literally greener pastures. Except those pastures are no longer green. They are the muted grays of parking lots and oversized roads punctuated with the color splotches of billboards and a drive-by world. However, to desire density again we have to eliminate all of the barriers to livability that remain in cities.
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How is this for a transition? Professor Norman Garrick and student write that the unlivable qualities of cities are due to the remnants of automobile oriented sprawl gutting those cities:
The lesson that is emerging from this study suggests that when suburban policies are adopted in an urban environment, the resulting urban-sprawl hybrid may fail to reap the benefits of either city or suburb. By trying to accommodate as many automobiles in Hartford as there were residents, commuters, and visitors, the city has been left with a disconnected urban space where land for non-transportation use continues to shrink, as more land must be used each year for storing vehicles.
/Nods head.
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MIT interviews a personal hero of mine, a guy that I've been following for years, green development pioneer Jonathan Rose in Cities Are the Answer:

As cities become the centers of gravity for the world's population, an understanding of what characterizes a healthy city is crucial. The question that Rose often asks himself is, "Why do cities die?"

He believes that the answer lies in a lack of resiliency. "In good times, cities boom to the very limit of their resources," Rose said. "In bad times – whether because of draught in ancient times or economic crises now – they exhaust their primary resources, which don't have extra capacity or diversity built in."

The mission of cities – like the mission of organisms – is to survive, and the way to survival is through flexibility and adaptation. "Our cities and communities need extra capacity built in, and that comes from having multiple systems in place," he said. "Transportation, for example, should support for a healthy diversity of modes – walking, biking, and mass transit, in addition to cars."

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Speaking of cities and their transportation systems comes somewhat bizarre story of Copenhagen City Council wishing to cap speed limits citywide pitted against the peculiar reluctance of the Police Department.

But the most interesting thing is the specific goal oriented nature of the City Council, driving their policies. What in particular? That they want to have ZERO traffic deaths for a year. Last year, they had 5.

Establish goal (ed. I should add that that goal must be clear AND measurable, ie have zero traffic deaths, otherwise we spin in circles and have no effective way to measure the successes of certain policy actions). Learn, test, and apply policies pursuant towards that goal. The secret to Copenhagen's success.

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GOOD has the playbook for recapturing your streets as sidewalks, as people space which hearkens back to the Better Block project in Oak Cliff.
The idea has caught on and spread throughout South America and up north to places like Ontario, New York, and El Paso. Now Los Angeles is joining the ranks of Ciclovia cities with their own CicLAvia this September. Miles and miles of asphalt normally occupied by automobiles will be turned over to a parade of pedestrians, cyclists, and walkers. Wondering how you can make this happen in your town? We turned to one of the CicLAvia organizers, Joe Linton, for answers.
The three most important points IMO:
2. Organize. Find some like-minded people who care about public space, community health, and making your city awesome. From there, outline a plan of action and a timeline. Things to consider early on: fundraising and budget, potential routes, key allies, and an outreach plan. Remember, it’s critical to build a board from different communities with diverse skills.

4. Get chatty. Stakeholder engagement is key to success. “Talk with local restaurants and business groups like the Chamber of Commerce, Business Improvement Districts, Rotary Clubs,” says Linton. “Talk with local bicyclists. Go to bike shops and talk with bike non-profits.” The more business groups and local residents you can get on board, the easier it will be to get local government support, which leads us to our next step.

5. Talk to the man. You’re going to need the backing of City Hall. Come equipped with a letter of support from residents and businesses. “Take a bike shop owner and others business owners with you,” says Linton. Come armed with statistics showing how successful Ciclovias have improved the local economies and public health in cities like Miami, NYC, Guadalajara, and San Francisco.
Let's compare those to a couple of the necessary bullets I sent to Jason Roberts, the energetic force behind Dallas's Better Block:
  • Must occur on roads of a certain size/scale. Too wide and there isn't the human scale or "cross-shopping" effect. Too narrow and there is no difference.
  • Transformative Capacity. How will it affect people's perceptions/values for how public roads are used/lived on? The effect should be that a road that acts currently as a barrier can become a seam.
  • Does the road have significance within the community? Is it an important spine or connector? Is it in an area of prominence or "convergence" where all roads seemingly lead to it or near it such as the intersection of Kings Hwy/Davis/Tyler. The excessive pavement at intersections can make great reclamation opportunities to return car space to people place.
  • Is it in a potentially forgotten area of the city?
  • Scale of space - Ideally, there should be historic building stock, but more important is dimension between building face to building face, as mentioned above, which is typically related to older structures or streetcar nodes, but not always.
  • Presence of local businesses and ability to approach and organize them in favor (use of evidence of improved vitality in front of their stores equates to more business). Is there a range of business types there? Are they locally based/owned? Are they neighborhood service oriented businesses?
  • Streets without parking currently, ability to show the effect of adding parallel parking as a buffer for bikes or pedestrians.
  • Stewards. Presence of young buyers in the area.
  • Is there an emerging sense of community but without the space or forum to provide for community interaction?
  • Does a neighborhood organization already exist whether real or online that can be approached and used to organize and promote the pilot event?
  • Relatedly, is there relatively stable housing stock in the immediate vicinity? Does the street or block have the ability to act/function as the center of community for the neighborhood? Can neighborhood residents safely get there? Is it walkable/bikable?
  • Is there a grid of streets? What is the density of intersections/square mile radius of the proposed block? (safety, interconnectivity, access issue) Or are there cul-de-sacs?
  • Is it an area in transition? Is it ripe for reinvestment? Can underdeveloped/underperforming properties be upgraded without negatively affecting the new complete street or character of the neighborhood? (The city is all about leveraging investment of projects into increased density aka tax base)
  • Is there current, proposed, or potential for transit access (other than buses)?
  • Is it a dry area?
  • Is it far enough from a school or church where alcohol can be bought/sold?
  • Are open containers for pedestrians tolerated on the sidewalk/seating areas?
  • Are there schools nearby to promote safe roads for kids to walk/bike to school (competes with the above)?