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Archive for the ‘Sustainable Transportation’ Category

tactical

Tactical Urbanism / Island Press

Tactical Urbanism: Short-term Action for Long-term Change, a new book by urban planners Mike Lydon and Anthony Garcia is the first book to really organize all the small fixes that seem to have spontaneously sprung up in so many communities in a way that everyone can understand. These fixes — some temporary and others long-term — aim to address common problems in communities today, often in streets and public spaces: a lack of safe sidewalks or crosswalks; the absence of clear signage; the dearth of neighborhood parks and plazas, and, more broadly, the lack of community connection and solidarity. Shedding its perception as an illegal or “guerrilla” approach, tactical urbanism is becoming a method of choice for innovative local governments, developers, or non-profits as well. What one learns from the book is that it’s now an approach happening everywhere, not just in New York City, with its transformation of Times Square and other car-only places into pedestrian plazas, or San Francisco, with its Pavement to Parks program, which led to the explosive growth of parklets everywhere. These types of small, yet potent interventions are going mainstream because they work — at least at fixing some problems.

As Lydon and Garcia explain in a great overview that provides deep historical context, “tactical urbanism” isn’t new. Since humans have lived together, they have been involved in city-making. The first urban street in Khoirokoitia, on the island of Cyprus, built sometime around 7,000 BCE, was 600 feet long and connected residents and merchants at different elevations, through a series of steps and walkways. “Without any formal, overarching government structure, Khoirokoita’s reidents were not only responsible for the creation and maintenance of the street. They understood its importance for the survival of the village.”

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Khoirokoita, Cyprus / Ophelia2 via Wikimedia Commons, courtesy of Island Press

Leaping forward thousands of years, Lydon and Garcia explain the woonerf, Dutch for “living yard,” which came out of a local citizen’s action in the Dutch city of Delft to slow down car traffic in a residential area. The residents tore up the street themselves in the middle of the night so cars would be forced to more carefully navigate their neighborhood. Their streets then became safe for bicycling, playing, and walking — not just a through-lane for cars. At first, the municipal government ignored the woonerf, but, seeing it succeed and spread as a model, they decided to advocate for it. In 1976, the Dutch parliament passed regulations incorporating woonerven into the national streets code. The authors identify many other planning, landscape architectural, and architectural innovations that sprouted up and spread — like the urban grid itself.

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Dutch woonerf / Dick van Veen

Lydon and Garcia do an excellent job of defining what tactical urbanism is and isn’t, and the various forms it takes. As they define it today, tactical urbanism is a “an approach to neighborhood building using short-term, low-cost, and scalable interventions and policies.” For citizens, “it allows the immediate reclamation, redesign, or reprogramming of public space. For developers or entrepreneurs, it provides a means of collecting design intelligence from the market they intend to serve. For advocacy organizations, it’s a way to show what is possible to garner public and political support. And for government, it’s a way to put best practices into, well, practice — and quickly!” Tactical urbanism efforts are largely targeted at “vacant lots, empty storefronts, overly wide streets, highway underpasses, surface parking lots, and other under-used public spaces.”

The authors differentiate tactical urbanism from all the other related terms that have, well, popped-up, too — “Do-It-Yourself (DIY) urbanism, pop-up urbanism, user-generated urbanism, insurgent urbanism, guerilla urbanism, and urban hacking.” They argue that “not all DIY urbanisms efforts are tactical, and not all tactical urbanism initiatives are DIY.” For example, yarnbombing, eye-bombing, and other fun, eye-catching DIY artistic happenings in the public realm can’t be considered tactical because most “usually aren’t intended to instigate long term change;” they are instead “opportunistic placemaking.”

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Yarnbombed tree / Made in slant

And they explain how not all tactical urbanist projects are illegal, carried out in the middle of the night (although many still are). Tactics run along a spectrum ranging from unsanctioned to sanctioned.

On the unsanctioned end are projects like Build a Better Block, by Streetscape Collaborative and landscape architecture firm SWA Group, which won an ASLA 2011 Professional Communications Honor Award. This first project transformed an urban street in Dallas, Texas, just for a day. “An entire block was restructured and transformed by placing new rows of street trees and a ‘median’ created of shrubs. The new open spaces created by these trees accommodated café seating and areas for vendors to sell their wares.” It gave the community a glimpse into what a more people-friendly street would do for their community. The model quickly spread to many other cities, showing many what’s possible.

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ASLA 2011 Professional Communications Honor Award. Build a Better Block / Jason Roberts, David Thompson

In the middle of the spectrum are initiatives like Park(ing) Day, which was founded by landscape architecture firm Rebar and conceived by landscape architect John Bela, ASLA, and has become a truly global movement. Each Park(ing) Day, residents turn parking spaces into pint-sized parks, highlighting not only how so much of our streets are given over to cars, but also all the other potential productive uses these spaces offer. This past year, more than 1,000 parking spaces were turned into mini-parks.

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Park(ing) Day, Onward State

And Park(ing) Day showed one responsive city, San Francisco, that people are demanding more out of their streets, which resulted in the city government making a policy shift. On the sanctioned end: the San Francisco city government created a permanent Pavement to Parks program, which has resulted in more than 50 parklets. As John King, urban critic for The San Francisco Chronicle, points out, though, five years on, not all parklets have been successful: “They are as varied and problematic as the city itself.” Still, the parklet model has since spread to many other major cities, including Vancouver.

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San Francisco Parklet / Sacramento Area Bicycle Advocates

One of the only criticisms of this thoughtful, informative book is there is no candid assessment of where tactical urbanism has gone wrong. Surely, not all projects are the result of supportive, inclusive coalitions (what about the naysayers in every community? Are they just left out?) What would have been useful is a few examples of where tactical urbanism projects have failed and what can be learned from their mistakes. Not all bottom-up community improvements are beloved. Not all parklets are well-used. Not everyone likes food trucks crowding out storefront businesses. Pop-up vegetable gardens that aren’t well maintained can quickly become eyesores, or, worse, attract rodents. No matter how well-intentioned, too few contemporary projects have shown signs of successfully spurring long-term permanent change, but perhaps it’s too soon to tell.

Also, in his intro Garcia speaks to “how dysfunctional the public planning process has become.” He describes the arduous process of creating a more progressive zoning code in Miami, Florida. “The project had gone through hundreds of public meetings and was significantly better than its predecessors, yet was still attacked for being drafted behind closed doors.” He goes on about the “dozens of land-use attorneys, developers, and lobbyists” and how “the approval meetings were a dizzying circus of opposition.” He concludes that “I began to see small-scale changes as part of the answer to the stalled momentum of large projects.”

While everyone who has been involved in the depths of a bruising multi-year battle can agree with this, planners and landscape architects need to continue to fight the big fights for those large-scale, transformational projects, too. Lawsuits and well-funded opposition are just part of the territory these days with any major project where there are winners and losers; it’s part of the democratic process.

As Lydon and Garcia make very clear throughout, tactical urbanism can’t solve all problems. These projects are really about building community sustainability, empowering neighborhoods to push for pedestrian-friendly improvements. Community building can lead to new coalitions that yield real improvements in quality of life and replicable models that spread. The methodology for bottom-up empowerment and change is valid.

But it’s not clear whether many small-scale efforts can scale up or be replicated everywhere. High-profile projects like Times Square’s revamp as a pedestrian plaza seem the result of a unique set of factors, like smart, willing leadership. Will other cities follow NYC’s lead? Furthermore, can these efforts help solve our cities’ most intractable problems?

Planners and landscape architects need to continue to push for the comprehensive plans that improve walkability on the broad scale; grand, permanent parks that yield big environmental and social returns; complex multi-use infrastructure; and mixed-use developments that can enable “live, work, play,” all of those major investments that can grow and sustain livable communities, while also experimenting at the small scale. We are in the era of lawsuits and opposition.

Read the book.

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Madison, Wisconsin / Spontaneous Tomatoes

Over the past few years, AARP has become a much more vocal advocate in Washington, D.C. for walkable, affordable communities for seniors, and, well, everyone, but they have recently put the full weight of their 38-million-member organization behind livability, with their new Livable Communities Index, which was announced at the American Planning Association conference in Seattle. Given how powerful AARP is on Capitol Hill and in state legislatures around the country, this is a boost for all of us focused on reducing the real social, economic, and health costs of car-dependent, sprawled-out communities. At all levels, AARP is pushing for policies that support aging in place, which is what their research tells them 80 percent of seniors want to do.

AARP argues that a livable community has “affordable and appropriate housing, supportive community features and services, and adequate mobility options, which together facilitate personal independence and engagement of residents in civic and social life.” Furthermore, a livable community is a place where “please can get to go where they want to go, living comfortably and in good health, and being able to remain active and engaged.” With this new focus on livable communities, AARP argues that what is good for older Americans is for good for all. For example, a recent report produced by Smart Growth America, with AARP and ASLA, called Dangerous by Design examined how the lack of safe sidewalks in so many communities has lead to the unnecessary deaths of 47,000 both young and older Americans. Good sidewalks benefit everyone.

The new livability index, which measures communities capacity to offer these elements, is rooted in a national survey of 4,500 Americans 50-plus, which found that older Americans want the following things the most: a strengthened police presence, improved schools, more walkable streets, better transportation options for seniors and the disabled, and more high quality parks. Using the survey responses, a team of experts selected 60 factors across seven categories — housing, neighborhood, transportation, environment, health, engagement, and opportunity — to create the index, which weighs data from 50 sources.

This result is an easy-to-use tool that enables anyone to plug in an address or zip code to determine how livable their community is. According to AARP, the average community scores a 50. When I typed in my neighborhood in Washington, D.C., it got a score of 60, barely in the green or livable section. My neighborhood scored poorly on a few metrics, like the number of days with bad air quality and heavy street-level car pollution, the lack of affordable housing, and the high rates of inequality. After exploring the metrics, users can look into whether their neighborhood or community has policies that improve livability. For example, for my neighborhood, the index reported that there are no local housing accessibility or affordability laws. Urban planners, landscape architects, and policymakers can further customize the tool, weighing some factors more heavily than others.

AARP also released their list of the 10 most livable neighborhoods, and 30 most livable cities in the country, separated into large, medium, and small-sized cities. For their respective categories, the top cities are San Francisco, California (70); Madison, Wisconsin (68); and La Crosse, Wisconsin (70). Running a number of their top-ranked neighborhoods through the index, it appears that a top score is around 70. As AARP says in their video above, almost every community has a ways to go to meet their definition of livable.

See more resources from AARP.

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normal

Uptown Normal Circle / Pinterest

Normal, Illinois, doesn’t sound like a typical spring break destination—but for me, it was the perfect getaway. Along with fellow urban planning students from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, I visited Normal in March 2010. We started our day with a walking tour of Uptown Normal and ended it by biking to its neighbor, Bloomington, via the Constitution Trail. The highlight of the tour was the town traffic circle (yes, a traffic circle!) called Uptown Circle, designed by Hoerr Schaudt Landscape Architects, which is a gathering place that captures and filters stormwater and simplifies a complicated intersection. On a sunny afternoon in 2010, it was easy to see why it’s the heart of the district.

Normal invested more than $90 million in this neighborhood, spending about half of its investment ($47 million) on a Complete Streets approach that considers all users—people traveling by foot, bicycle, transit, or car—of all ages and abilities. They widened and repaired sidewalks, reconstructed Constitution Boulevard, and built Uptown Circle and Uptown Station, a multi-modal transportation center.

Today, more than 40 percent of all trips in Uptown Normal are by foot or bicycle. Since these improvements, it experienced a boost in retail sales (46 percent) and attracted more than $160 million in private investment.

Perhaps the best outcome of all? “People love Uptown Normal,” said Normal Mayor Chris Koos. “They ride the bus, they bike the trail, they shop, they socialize, and they recreate in a wonderful urban center.” This project shows how Complete Streets principles can transform a place.

But neither Normal’s approach nor its results are unique. More than 700 cities, regions, and states have made a commitment to use a Complete Streets approach.

As a recent analysis by Smart Growth America’s National Complete Streets Coalition demonstrates, using a Complete Streets approach is one of the best transportation investments a community can make.

Examining before and after data from 37 projects redesigned with Complete Streets goals, this study found:

Streets were safer: Automobile collisions declined in 70 percent of projects, and injuries declined in 56 percent of projects.

Safety has financial value: Each collision that a safer street helps to avoid represents avoided costs from emergency room visits, hospital charges, rehabilitation, and doctor visits, as well as the cost of property damage. Within our sample, Complete Streets improvements collectively averted $18.1 million in total collision costs in just one year.

Complete Streets encouraged multi-modal travel: The projects nearly always resulted in more biking, walking, and transit trips.

Complete Streets are remarkably affordable: The average cost of a project was just $2.1 million—far less than the $9 million average cost of projects in state transportation improvement plans. And 97 percent of Complete Streets projects cost less per mile than construction of an average high-cost arterial.

Complete Streets play an important role in economic development: These findings suggest that these projects were supportive of higher employment, new business, and property values. Several projects saw significant private investment since their completion.

Particularly striking is what the projects achieved with a small public investment. For example, Portland, Oregon, spent $95,000 to re-stripe the streets, add plastic bollards, and new signage to NE Multnomah Boulevard. This project created 34 new automobile and 12 bicycle parking spaces. Cycling along the corridor increased 44 percent, and the number of vehicles exceeding the speed limit fell by half.

For some projects, the cost-savings from safer conditions alone justified their costs. For instance, after Reno, Nevada, added bike lanes in each direction and widened sidewalks along Wells Avenue, collisions fell by about 45 percent. The value of Reno’s safer conditions within one year’s time ($5.8 million) is more than its entire project cost ($4.5 million).

The before and after data shows the extraordinary effect low-cost, thoughtful street design can have on local communities. As more communities implement Complete Streets policies — with an explicit aim to make travel by foot, bike, and transit convenient and safe — we should measure our progress toward those aims and make sure we invest accordingly.

Read the full report, Safer Streets, Stronger Economies: Complete Streets.

Ready to get started on measuring your community’s Complete Streets work? Check out the Coalition’s latest guide: Evaluating Complete Streets: A Guide for Practitioners.

This guest post is by Laura Searfoss, Associate, National Complete Streets Coalition.

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A runner crosses the Rosemont Bridge as the sun rises over downtown in Buffalo Bayou Park in Houston / The Dallas Morning News

Buffalo Bayou Park in Houston / The Dallas Morning News

What Dallas Can Learn From Houston’s Buffalo Bayou for the Trinity River ProjectThe Dallas Morning News, 3/1/15
“How do you transform the flood plain of a neglected urban waterway into a grand public park and metropolitan gateway? Dallas has been struggling with this challenge for more than 20 years, making incremental progress on the Trinity River corridor while debating whether to burden it with a toll road. Houston has spent that same time successfully remaking a 10-mile stretch of the Buffalo Bayou into precisely the kind of urban amenity Dallasites have long imagined for themselves.”

Stunningly Beautiful Private Gardens of Paris  – Fox News, 3/5/15
“Paris has many famous, beautiful public gardens and even more exquisite private ones tucked behind the walls of its private houses and on the terraces and rooftops of its apartment buildings. A selection of these come beautifully to light in In & Out of Paris: Gardens of Secret Delights, a new book written by Zahid Sardar and photographed by Marion Brenner.”

A Plan to Turn Melbourne’s Elizabeth Street into a Rainforest Canal WA Today, 3/7/15
“The man who turned Melbourne’s neglected and decrepit laneways into a globally renowned attraction has another radical idea to improve the city. His proposal: rip up Elizabeth Street, currently a pretty tired and uninspiring CBD thoroughfare, and incorporate and revitalize the hidden waterway under it that runs down to the Yarra River.”

Google Plan for Mountain View Campus Shuns Walls, Roofs, Reality The San Francisco Chronicle, 3/7/15
“Google’s proposal comes with a laudable list of proposed community and environmental benefits. The design team is earnest, with a strong contingent of local firms who know the terrain, such as landscape architect CMG and Sherwood Design Engineers.”

What the New Memorial Park Could Look Like The Houston Business Journal, 3/11/15
“The master plan for Memorial Park is complete, and, if approved, Houston’s largest park will get a major makeover. The project would potentially cost $200 million over the next two decades, Sarah Newbery, project manager for the Uptown Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone, told the Houston Business Journal.”

Q&A with Landscape Architect Martha SchwartzNewsweek, 3/11/15
“The profession has grown immensely. It is the fastest-growing design profession in the U.S. Many schools of landscape architecture have opened. The field is booming.”

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Russell Square, London / Ali Amir Moayed.com

“Just as all parts of an ecosystem must be healthy if the system is going to work,” an environment for people — a “people habitat” — must have “homes, shops, businesses, and an environment that fit in a harmonious way,” said urban thinker and author F. Kaid Benfield at the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C. For the past 50 years, “we have not been living in harmony with our environment.” To undo the damage, Benfield proposes a wiser approach, set out in his new book People Habitat: 25 Ways to Think About Greener, Healthier Cities. He covered a few ways to achieve these healthy environments in his talk:

Focus on Regions and Neighborhoods, Not Cities: Regions, Benfield argues, actually define the way we live today. Cities extend far beyond their jurisdictional boundaries. For example, “the functional region of Atlanta is 12 times the size of the city of Atlanta.” Only city governments and cartographers care about boundaries. “The environment, commerce, transportation, and people all cross borders.”

Neighborhoods, at the other end of the spectrum, are the center of people habitats and the agents of change on the ground, as they are where people spend much of their time.

Create Walkable Places: “Americans don’t walk much, and I don’t blame them.” Among a list of 20 plus developed countries, America ranks dead last in the amount they walk. Just 26 percent of Americans want often or sometimes. In 1969, Benfield says 48 percent of children walked to school; in 2009, it’s just 13 percent. There’s are many reasons for this, but the built environment is a major culprit.

Think of all those cul-de-sac neighborhoods designed for cars, or strip malls without sidewalks or crosswalks. There, people take their own lives into their hands going out for a walk. Why don’t kids walk anymore? It’s because so many suburban schools are now “bigger than Disneyland,” isolated and disconnected. Showing photos of the typical suburban school, Benfield wondered if it was a school, mall, or prison.

The death of walking has had negative ripple effects as well: It’s no surprise that places where you cannot walk face an epidemic of obesity. “Weight-related diseases are connected to a lack of walkable environments.” Today, many states’ obesity rates top 30 percent.

Integrate Nature into Cities: Benfield believes in the power of urban parks, particularly small neighborhood parks, to improve the health of a community. As an example, he pointed to Russell Square park in London (see image above), which is “big enough so you known you are in nature, but small enough so you know you are in a city.” He strongly believes that “bringing the function and beauty of nature into a neighborhood” has many positive benefits, including a boost in our health and well-being. “When we are immersed in nature, our blood pressure goes down and our mental acuity increases.”

Consider the Whole System of Energy Use and Emissions: “What is called green development in many places really isn’t green.” When examining the sustainability of a residential development, for example, we need to look at that development’s energy use and carbon expenditures vs. the amount of energy used and carbon expended by transportation getting to and from that place.

Using Prairie Ridge, a “net-zero development” outside Chicago, Benfield showed how the use of the term “net-zero” there is a misnomer because the community failed to consider the whole system of energy use and carbon emissions. While the development may produce as much energy as it consumes, its residents are expending huge amounts of energy and creating a lot of pollution getting there. This is because Prairie Ridge’s Walk score is literally zero. “It’s next to a corn field.” Residents of Prairie Ridge expend four times the amount of carbon as those in downtown Chicago.

For city after city, Benfield showed how different the carbon profile of people can be depending on where they live. “If you are living on the fringe of a city, you are driving longer distances.” In contrast, people living downtown are putting far less carbon into the atmosphere getting around.

Preserve the “Continuity of Places”: “If a place has a sense of continuity, it has a calming, reassuring effect.” In contrast, a place without it can be jarring, “disorientating.” Places treated with respect are the result of a slow accrual of layers, carefully thought out so they fit into a harmonious whole. These kinds of places spur “cultural engagement,” they invite us to “use our imaginations.” And they are the places with the most “civic vitality.” They are mixed-use and feature building of different sizes and ages.

On a related theme, Benfield argued that preserving the continuity of old buildings is also important: “the greenest building is the one already built.” Even replacing an inefficient older building filled with embedded energy with a new “green building” means starting at zero with carbon emissions. “It will take years for the new building to make up for the carbon emissions.” Benfield argued that “we have forgotten about the energy efficiency of thick old walls, solar orientation, windows, air, the basic principles. Now, it’s about gizmo green.”

Take Advantage of the Future Trends Here Now: “The future will be different from the past.” To be successful, communities need to take advantage of some emerging trends. First, cities are sprawling less today. “Greenfield development peaked in the 90s.” Second, Millennials prefer to live in the core of cities twice as much as other generations. Some 2/3 want walkable places, even in suburbs. “They value density, connectivity, and convenient access to jobs.” Third, people are driving less. The vehicle miles traveled per person per year has been falling since 2005 and staying down. Today, 46 percent of 18-year-olds don’t have a driver’s license. The miles driven by 16-34-year-olds has also fallen 40 percent in the past decade. Lastly, among all generations, bicycle use is up 24 percent and walking 16 percent.

Invest in Lovable Places: “People will take care of places they love, which makes them sustainable” (read more on this). Lovable places can be complex, like Quincy Market in Boston, or simple, like a small street cafe in Barcelona. They can be old or modern, but lovable places — like the French Quarter in New Orleans — always have culture. While many in the smart growth movement have focused solely on density and connectivity, Benfield argued that these projects ultimately fail because “they are not great places.” Great places need green spaces to attract people. “We can have both compact development and green spaces together. We can have it both ways.”

Read People Habitat: 25 Ways to Think About Greener, Healthier Cities.

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Union Square Pedestrian Mall / Urban Omnibus

“New York City’s mean streets are getting a little sweeter,” said Janette Sadik-Khan, former NYC Transportation Commissioner under Mayor Michael Bloomberg, at the Transforming Transportation conference in Washington, D.C. That sweetness takes the form of a “new ecosystem of pedestrian plazas and bike lanes.” In a wide-ranging talk, Sadik-Khan showed what NYC accomplished over her term and where the rest of the world’s cities still need to get to make streets everywhere sweeter — and, really, safer.

“New York City now has the lowest traffic fatality rates in the world. But this is not because New Yorkers are nice. It’s because global cities have a long way to go.” Worldwide, traffic deaths total around 1.25 million per year. Traffic fatalities are the 9th leading cause of death, and the number-one cause for young people. In the U.S. alone, some 33,000 people lose their lives each year in accidents. “This is a public health crisis.”

New York City has made much progress since the pedestrian-unfriendly 1920s, when official city planning documents actually included the phrase: “here, pedestrians will be removed and cars will invade.” Streets were remade by car companies and the city government to be habitats for cars, not people. For the decades that followed, “this was an issue hiding in plain sight.”

In 2010, the city created its first pedestrian safety action plan. Six years of data had been collected showing the “who, what, why, and where of traffic fatalities in the city.” For example, the research found “27 percent of accidents were caused by when drivers failed to yield to pedestrians in crosswalks. Another third of accidents was due to driver inattention.”

The city decided to make simple, inexpensive changes that “reversed the pyramid, putting pedestrians on top, then bicyclists and public transportation systems, with cars at the bottom.” Sadik-Khan discovered that “cities can change their streets in real time, aiming fixes at the most vulnerable — kids and seniors.” The result: between 2008 and 2012, traffic fatalities dropped 20 percent.

The plan called for hundreds of specific street-level improvements in dangerous areas. “The goal was to integrate people and transit.” With 400 miles of new bike lanes, bicycle ridership quadrupled as well.

To spread what NYC and other forward-thinking cities are doing, Sadik-Khan spearheaded the effort to create NACTO’s Urban Street Design Guide. Before, many cities had outmoded traffic guidelines created by traffic engineers. “We created a new standard guidance that gave cities permission to innovate.” The U.S. Department of Transportation has since adopted the principles of the Street Design Guide. And the same NACTO team is now working on a global street design guide, with real lessons from developing world cities.

For NYC, vision zero — that is zero traffic fatalities — is the new goal. NYC’s new road safety advertising campaign, which is aimed at “cutting through the noise,” uses shocking ads to change the culture. Other cities are creating equally as dramatic campaigns to “end the indifference to death on streets.”

Sadik-Khan did warn though that changing from a car-centric to a pedestrian-centric street culture isn’t for the fainthearted. “Some people will treat each parking spot like their first born child.” Sadik-Khan was indeed brutalized by some constituencies and communities for pushing forward change so rapidly. But hats off to her. If New York City can make their mean streets sweeter, any city can.

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NYC Complete Street / Complete Street Prince

As more communities invest in green, complete streets to create environments that are both safer and more accessible for pedestrians and bicyclists, there are growing problems for those who must move goods, said Peter Plumeau, Resource Systems Group, at the Transforming Transportation conference in Washington, D.C. Complete streets by their definition must accommodate all users, but they aren’t doing as good of a job in accommodating trucks and delivery vehicles, which are critical to goods movement, argues Plumeau. For example, curb extensions, which have many benefits, are a great way to block access for a truck. And more people-friendly roundabouts, which feature tighter streets, are becoming a nightmare to get around. Plumeau said the answer is more creative thinking about how to move goods.

Some communities are creating exemptions for some streets. In Seattle, which now has a comprehensive complete street program, “there is flexibility in industrial areas where there are lots of goods being moved in and out.” Others are making it easier on those haulers: Ontario, Canada, has a “guide for local truck routes.”

Some cities are using flexible street design to accommodate goods-carrying vehicles. In some of Boston’s busy complete streets, there are “curb space allocations” just for trucks.

And still others are coming up with novel policy approaches for access: In Philadelphia, trucks can idle in traffic to make deliveries if they have the right windshield ID, effectively allowing sanctioned parking in no-parking zones. New York City is also looking into a similar approach but combined with overnight delivery, taking advantage of less-congested time frames. And in some neighborhoods in Germany, there are secure kiosks trucks deliver to, places where people must walk to in order to pick up parcels.

Plumeau’s point is “economic vitality is also key to sustainability.” And furthermore, it’s often not the truckers fault if they are stuck trying to navigate a complete street: “the goods movement is now driven by demand. These truckers are not acting on their own schedule.”

He called for “getting rid of parking regulations in cities, which undermines affordability to begin with.” He believes expensive, highly regulated parking is one reason “jobs are heading to the suburbs because these places have cheap parking.”

However, the other side of this argument — as one audience member noted — is that “more parking just creates more sprawl.” If parking is ample in a community, it can prevent more transit-oriented development.

The debate about truck access and parking will no doubt continue as more communities remake their streets.

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Traffic circle in Mexico City / Dezeen

“The science is clear. Climate change is already costly and shaping development,” said Rachel Kyte, the World Bank’s chief climate representative, at the Transforming Transportation conference in Washington, D.C. “The problem is this poor trade-off has been set-up: we can either have growth, progress, prosperity, or we can halt all our dreams to reduce carbon emissions. It’s not a vote getter.” Kyte believes sustainable development needs to be sold differently. With a smarter, more sustainable approach, “we can live differently, that’s exciting. We can live in cities with clean air, that’s exciting. We can create new jobs in a greener economy, and that’s exciting. It doesn’t have to be zero-sum; we can all benefit.”

“Transportation currently accounts for 15 percent of global carbon emissions. If we do nothing, it could account for 50 percent in 20 years.” Kyte said this kind of tired, hectoring narrative no longer works. “We need to step back and revolutionize cities and make them exciting.” What excites you about cities and transportation?

A group of panelists were tasked with answering this question:

For Kevin Austin, with C40, a group of leading mayors fighting for climate-friendly development, what’s exciting is out of the C40’s list of the top things cities can do to reduce climate change, 14 relate to transportation and urban development. “These things include more compact, transit-oriented development; reclaiming brownfields; congestion charging; electric vehicles; and non-motorized transportation.” Austin said what also excites him is more global cities are actually committing to achieving measurable targets. “When cities commit, they achieve three times more.”

Robin Chase, founder of Zipcar, said “technology is what’s exciting as it enables us to share assets in a transformational way. The old idea of one household and one car is going out. Using technology, we can achieve 100 percent shared vehicles. We can even achieve shared trips on shared vehicles.” Chase pointed to the rise of Zipcar as well as Uber and Lyft as an example of how a new system can come out of “many small parts.” Today, she said most car-owners spend 18 percent of their income on their vehicle, but end up using it only 5 percent of the time, a huge waste. Car sharing, Chase believes, can also work in non-compact cities. “We could use just 10 percent of the cars on the road today to satisfy needs.”

And Vincent Kobensen, PTV Group, thinks it’s the ability of new technology to “spread out existing infrastructure.” Given so few cities have the money to build brand-new infrastructure or even significantly upgrade it, technology can be deployed to “optimize multi-modal systems.” Already, 2-4 percent of global GDP is wasted due to congestion. In the future, congestion could disappear as more people take advantage of car sharing. It could be: “I don’t own a car, but I want to use one.”

According to Holger Dalkmann, head of EMBARQ at the World Resources Institute, Mexico City’s recent gains are a cause for excitement, as is its new mayor, Miguel Angel Mancera, a “champion of sustainable urban transportation.” The city has just created a new mobility law, which aims to give each of its 17 million inhabitants the right to people-friendly transit, with complete streets, safe sidewalks and bus stops, and an easy, consolidated payment system for all public transportation. There are also ambitious new greenhouse gas reduction targets (40 percent).

Alain Flausch, International Association of Public Transportation, pointed to the growing global commitment to reach his organization’s target of doubling public transportation worldwide. “We have 110 networks that have made 350 commitments.” Flausch added that “public transportation needs to lead the pack in the climate fight. We need new fuels, vehicles, and systems.”

And for Patrick Oliva at the Michelin Group, setting urban transportation emission expectations low is what’s exciting. London’s low-emission zone, made possible with a congestion charging scheme, was launched in 2003 and has resulted in positive action on traffic and car-related emissions.

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Bus rapid transit, Jiangsu Province, China / Scania Group

The answer is a resounding yes, said Felipe Calderón, former president of Mexico and chair of the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate, who spoke at the Transforming Transportation conference in Washington, D.C. The economy and the climate are intrinsically connected and so are their problems. Today, those problems are low growth and climate change. But, in the future, higher, more productive growth could be linked with more stable climatic and ecological systems.

To create that new model for development, Calderón and Nicholas Stern, a renowned climate expert from the UK, have assembled an impressive team, with many mayors, two Nobel Prize winners, business leaders, and hundreds of institutions and research partners around the world. The commission’s goal is to create an action plan for environmentally and economically-sustainable development, which can inform the creation of the new UN Sustainable Development Goals, now being hashed out, and move government and business leaders to make more effective investments for the future.

Calderón believes three systems need to shift over time: energy, land-use, and cities.

On energy, Calderón says we must “decouple economic growth from carbon emissions.” He said the “cost of renewable energy is dropping rapidly. Solar power is now 80 percent cheaper than it was 8 years ago.” He also pointed to successful energy efficiency programs in Mexico, where over 2 million old refrigerators were swapped out for more efficient models in just 3 years.

As for land-use, which accounts for 20-25 percent of global emissions, the challenges are severe. “We need to produce 70 percent more calories over the next 20 years, meeting an expanding population’s food needs on the same surface we have now. We need a new green revolution but one that protects the environment. We must also recover degraded ecosystems.”

The city, one of our most complex systems, also needs to change. “In the next 15 years, one billion people will come to cities.” To accommodate all those new urbanites, the world will need a “Washington, D.C. every month for 5 years.” Calderón called for “connected, compact, and coordinated cities.” The cost of sprawl is just too high: In the U.S., the loss productivity of sprawl is estimate to be around $724 billion a year, if we account for public and private born costs.

To hit home the high costs of inefficiency, Calderón compared Atlanta with Barcelona, two cities with around the same population, about 2.5 million. Atlanta covers 4,280 square kilometers and each person emits about 7.5 tons of carbon per year. Barcelona covers just 162 square kilometers and each of its residents only emits about 0.7 tons of carbon.

Given it’s so hard to change old cities, “we need to create new cities right,” which is why his commission recommends aiming efforts at “emerging cities in the developing world,” where all the future urban growth will be. And what’s key to creating these connected, compact, and coordinated cities of the future? Smart transportation systems.

There are many reasons to invest in better urban transportation. In Beijing alone, the cost of congestion and pollution equals 4 percent of that city’s GDP. Air pollution does untold damage on urbanites’ health, with millions of deaths worldwide from bad air. Sprawl also “promotes inequality.” Calderón said people without a car are paying for the privilege of those who have a car. Instead, cities could invest in bus rapid transit (BRT), which “promotes equality and inclusion” and is far cheaper than subway systems.

Calderón’s commission believes the only way to support positive change in these areas is to create “better growth.” The drivers of this will be improved natural resource efficiency, labor reforms, and infrastructure investment. Over the next 15 years, the world will spend $90 trillion on energy, land-use, and cities. “We can use that money to invest in a new model with low carbon emissions and better quality growth.”

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Rhinoceros / Kruger National Park

At nearly 19,000 square kilometers, Kruger National Park, which spans both South Africa and Mozambique, is one of the largest wildlife preserves in Sub Saharan Africa. It’s home to thousands of highly endangered elephants, lions, leopards, and rhinoceroses. In fact, the park is one of the last refuges with large numbers of white and black rhinoceroses; there are only 25,000 of these magnificent animals left. According to the International Wildlife Center (IWC) Africa, tourism is what’s largely keeping them alive.

IWC are the organizers of a new international design competition, which aims to create a new center and accommodations for tourists and volunteers. The facility is meant to enable a “learning experience that includes direct contact with the species in Kruger National Park.”

IWC intends to attract tourists, volunteers, and conservation professionals who want to broaden their knowledge of Africa’s keystone species and restore their habitat. The new visitor center will provide action-oriented education and “responsible rehabilitation of the fauna.”

The competition is open to all kinds of designers worldwide. First prize offers € 3,750 as well as publication in a range of international design publications. Registration is due January 16, 2015 and costs €75 for individuals and €100 for teams.

Other competitions of interest:

In New York City: Gowanus by Design, a “community-based urban-design advocacy organization,” has launched its third international design competition, Axis Civitas, which invites participants to first map the existing conditions of the heavily-polluted yet recovering Gowanus Canal in Queens and then design an “urban field station” accessible to the public. The collective mapping exercise will lead to a comprehensive atlas of the area that can “facilitate the community’s grassroots collaboration in the continuing evolution of the neighborhood.” Submissions are due March, 6 2015. Student fees are $50; $75 for professionals.

In London: The borough of Wandsworth seeks concepts from multi-disciplinary design teams from around the world for a £40 million bicycle and pedestrian bridge that will cross the River Thames between Nine Elms and Pimlico. The competition will identify the best team and explore options, not select a specific design. According to the organizers, “partial funding has already been budgeted for the bridge’s future construction and it is hoped that the winning design can be used to attract further match funding.” Stage one submissions are due January 6, 2015. Shortlisted finalists will each receive £12,000 to create concept designs.

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