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bikeshare

Capital Bikeshare, Washington, D.C. / Bethesda Now

In just four years, bike share has gone from being the fantasy of a few enthusiasts to a practical and low-cost way for tens of thousands of people in cities, both large and small, across the U.S. to get around. While some cities have created their own bike share systems, many have partnered with Alta Bicycle Share, a company based out of Portland, Oregon. Alta runs bike share systems in New York City, Washington, D.C., Boston, Chicago, and Chattanooga, really inventing these systems as they go. Like many start-ups, Alta Bicycle Share has never turned a profit and has also gotten blasted in the press for hiccups in the roll-out of its services (see the ongoing complaints with CitiBike in NYC). But Alta Bicycle Share was recently acquired by outside investors, and Jay Walder, the former head of the New York City Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA), will soon become the new CEO. According to Alta Bike Share founder Mia Birk, who spoke at Washington Ideas Forum, an event organized by The Atltantic and the Aspen Institute, this move is for the best, as “this new group can take us to the next level.” Birk said the acquisition signifies bike share is moving from niche into the mainstream, from being a start-up concept to a legitimate transportation option.

Birk, who is also the head of Alta Planning + Design, which plans and designs bicycle infrastructure, said bike share has been as transformational as any start-up in existence. “The numbers are phenomenal. To date, there have been an estimated 45 million miles traveled on bike share, ridden over 28 million trips.”

While major bike share systems like Washington, D.C. and NYC’s get all the press, Birk said there were actually 35 systems running in the U.S. Some smaller cities’ systems may just have a few hundred bikes. For example, Salt Lake City has GREENbike. Indianapolis has started its Indiana Pacer Bikeshare, and San Antonio, Texas, has also gotten on board.

Bicycling in general is up, even if safety remains a major concern. According to data from a recent Governor’s Highway Association study, bike use has increased 62 percent since 2000, but so have bike fatalities, with a 16 percent gain. Some 69 percent of those deaths have been in cities. Birk said “we’ve found that as bike use increases, there is also an increase in the raw number of crashes. However, the number of fatalities is very small, so even a few deaths can make the percentages go up.” Interestingly, some 80 percent of bicyclists killed are men, and 28 percent were shown to have been drinking. “People drinking on bikes are a real danger.”

On New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s goal of zero transportation-related deaths, Birk said this is a worthy but “probably more aspirational than realistic. Can we really expect everyone to behave? No. We don’t have sovereign control over humanity.”

To add, Birk said we must differentiate between bicyclist and bike share user deaths. “In bike share world, there have been no fatalities.”

So what’s coming up for bike share? First, Birk sees further integration with other established transportation systems. Cities will roll out “one passes,” which will enable transit users to easily shift between subways, buses, car share and bike share. “The San Francisco Bay area may be the first out of the gate.”

Second, notoriously car-centric cities like Dallas and Atlanta will become more bike-friendly, at least in parts. “These cities may not become bike meccas, but there may be pockets that change the culture.” In Dallas, Birk and her team are working on a new trail system; In Atlanta, the goal is to bring bike share to the Beltline project. Even Bentonville, Arkansas, home to Walmart, is creating a pocket of bike share, probably because it’s a cheap way to get around. “It’s not just in Portland anymore.”

Lastly, bike share and bicycling in general will become even safer. Today, only 1 percent of Americans commute by bike. “These are usually male, lycra-clad adrenaline junkies.” Another 6 percent of the population, said Birk, are “enthusiastic, confident bicyclists who bike on weekends with their kids but feel it’s too dangerous to bike to work in traffic. They are concerned about safety and parking. They want a low stress network of bikeways, and better separation between cars and bicycles, like you find in the European Union.”

To get that 6 percent commuting everyday, Birk argued that U.S. cities need “dedicated bike signals, which are used in every European transit system.” These signals are crucial to improving safety and reducing the number of irresponsible bicyclists who fail to obey traffic signals and bike up on the sidewalks. “This is really what happens when you have very little bicycle infrastructure. People behave how they want.” As one Dutch traffic engineer told her, “bicyclists are like water, they will flow into wherever they want to go.”

So cities need to get moving on building out more bicycle infrastructure — to meet growing demand and improve safety, but equally as importantly, to reduce the growing backlash against “bullying” bicyclists. In D.C., tensions have risen to such an extent between drivers and bicyclists that we can read statements like these in The Washington Post op-eds: “It’s a $500 fine for a motorist to hit a bicyclist in the District, but some behaviors are so egregious that some drivers might think it’s worth paying the fine.”

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SkyCycle

London’s proposed SkyCycle, from starchitect Lord Norman Foster / Foster + Partners

This year, two designs – one proposed and one built – for elevated cycletracks, which create bicycle highways above street level, have gained considerable media attention. They highlight questions at the heart of urban design: Should cities blend or separate transportation options? How can cities best mitigate the hazards created when cars, bikes, mass transit, and pedestrians mix? How can cities create low-cost transportation networks in increasingly dense urban cores?

In January, Exterior Architects and Foster + Partners unveiled their design proposal for the London SkyCycle, a 220 km (136 mile) network of elevated cycletracks following existing rail services with over 200 entry points (see image above). The design team claims that each route will be able to “accommodate 12,000 cyclists per hour and will improve journey times by up to 29 minutes.”

This vision even extends beyond London and even its suburbs: “The dream is that you could wake up in Paris and cycle to the Gare du Nord,” says Sam Martin of Exterior Architecture, quoted in an article in The Guardian. “Then get the train to Stratford, and cycle straight into central London in minutes, without worrying about trucks and buses.”

The plan was proposed during a particularly tense time for cycling in London after a spate of traffic accidents in November 2013 resulted in six cyclists killed over a two-week period. But while the project is reportedly backed by the Network Rail and Transport for London, it’s had plenty of criticism.

Notable critics include Mayor Boris Johnson, according to cycling blog Road.cc, and Copenhagen-based urban design expert Mikael Colville-Anderson on his blog Copenhagenize. On the London radio call-in show “Ask Boris,” Mayor Johnson called the plan “fantastically expensive. I don’t actually think as a cyclist it is what the city needs, what we need is more safety measures, we need better roads, we need better protection for cyclists of all kinds, we need better investment in our streets and that’s what we’re doing.”

Colville-Anderson, less diplomatically, calls the plan “Classic Magpie Architecture. Attempting to attract people to big shiny things that dazzle, but that have little functional value in the development of a city. Ideas like these are city killers. Removing great numbers of citizens who could be cycling down city streets past shops and cafés on their way to work or school and placing them on a shelf, far away from everything else. All this in a city that is so far behind in reestablishing cycling as transport that it’s embarrassing. With most of the population already whining about bicycles on streets, sticking them up in the air, out of the way, is hardly going to help returning bicycles to the urban fabric of the city.”

With the costs for just the first 6.5 km trial stretch estimated at a whopping £220 million (approx. $365 million) and the Mayor’s criticism slowing momentum, SkyCycle’s future is unclear.

Actually completed earlier this summer, though, is Copenhagen’s Cykelslangen, or Cycle Snake, which has received widespread critical acclaim. Designed by architects at Dissing and Weitling, the 235-meter (770-feet) long cycletrack curves and winds gracefully over the harbor and one-story above a busy waterfront shopping area.

Cycle-Snake-Rendering

Cycle Snake, Illustrated / Dissing and Weitling

Thirteen-feet wide with two lanes, the elevated bike route connects Bryggebroen pedestrian-bike bridge to parts of the city beyond busy waterfront area Kalvebod Brygge, at a cost of just $5.74 million.

Cycle-Snake-under-harbor

Cycle Snake over the harbor / Ursula Bach for Dissing+Weitling Architecture

Rather than a glitzy panacea to solve a city’s transportation woes on an outdated urban renewal scale, Cycle Snake targeted a specific problem area: a tricky staircase with heavy pedestrian traffic that didn’t mix well with cyclists trying to pass through.

Cycle-Snake-Entry-Ramp

Cycle Snake entry ramp / Ursula Bach for Dissing+Weitling Architecture

“There was a missing link that forced bicycle users to use the stairs or make a huge detour around a shopping center,” says Colville-Anderson in a FastCo.Exist article. “This solution provided a fast A-to-B from a bridge to a bicycle bridge on the harbor, while freeing up the harbor front for meandering pedestrians.”

The ride offers a nice bit of downhill coasting in a very flat city, and cyclists can enjoy views of the harbor without worrying about crashing into pedestrians. Copenhagen also plans on building six new bike-pedestrian bridges over the harbor.

Cycle-Snake-Lanes

Cycle Snake lanes / Ursula Bach for Dissing+Weitling Architecture

As cities continue to increase in density, we’ll continue to run into practical, logistical challenges, writes Sam Jacobs in Dezeen. “How can the variety of road users – pedestrians, bikes, cars, trucks – co-exist in a safe and civilized way? But it’s also a philosophical and political issue: who is the city for?”

Tourists? Urban bike commuters? Professionals coming in from the suburbs? All of the above? No easy answers, but these designs certainly raise plenty of questions.

Yoshi Silverstein is the ASLA 2014 communications intern. He is a Masters in Landscape Architecture candidate at the University of Maryland. He focuses on landscape experience and outdoor learning environments.

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NACTO Urban Bikeway Design Guide, 2nd Edition / Island Press

NACTO Urban Bikeway Design Guide, 2nd Edition / Island Press

In the year 2000, the District of Columbia had three miles of bike lanes. Today, the district has roughly 80 miles of bike infrastructure, including the first lanes in historically underserved Ward 8. Many other U.S. cities have made similar investments. Bicycling Magazine’s top 50 bike friendly cities includes some unsurprising places at the top – Minneapolis, Portland, Boulder, Seattle – but also shows how cities such as Cleveland, Miami, and Baltimore have made important strides in the last several years to improve their bike systems. Several of these cities are members of the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO), which has put out its best-selling Urban Bikeway Design Guide, first released in 2011, now with an updated second edition this year.

NACTO’s updated second edition is part of their “sustained commitment to making city streets safer for everyone using them.” Reformatted in an attractive hardcover with improved structure, it features photos, diagrams, and 3-D renderings of wide-ranging best practices in design for bike infrastructure. Also new is a chapter on bicycle boulevard planning and design. I particularly liked the handsome, debossed linen of the new hardcover, with its simple design and retro 1970s vibe.

Inside the cover, readers will find descriptions, information, and design guidance on various types of “treatments” — bike lanes, cycle tracks, intersections, signaling, signage and marking, and bicycle boulevards. Each treatment offers three levels of guidance:

  • Required: elements for which there is a strong consensus that the treatment cannot be implemented without.
  • Recommended: elements for which there is a strong consensus of added value.
  • Optional: elements that vary across cities and may add value depending on the situation.

Photographs show examples from cities around the country. The diagrams and renderings highlight important design recommendations for those looking to implement these solutions.

While the standard bike lane many likely think of is included, the design guide offers many alternatives that make biking safer and more efficient for pedestrians and drivers as well as bikers.

Two alternatives to the typical bike lane, which is defined here as a painted strip running parallel and adjacent to moving vehicle lanes, include:

The buffered bike lane, separated from cars by a few extra feet marked with painted strips.

Buffered bike lane / NACTO

Buffered bike lane (Seattle) / NACTO.

Or the cycle track, a lane nonadjacent to moving cars, which might be protected by parked cars, raised in elevation, or even moved alongside the pedestrian path on the sidewalk.

Protected cycle track (Chicago) / NACTO

Protected cycle track (Chicago) / NACTO

Raised cycle track (Cambridge) / NACTO

Raised cycle track (Cambridge) / NACTO

Over half of the guide is dedicated to design solutions for intersections, an area with high potential for conflict. Included in the guide’s recommendations for intersections are:

Combined bike turning lanes that help bikers and drivers navigate the mixing zone created when bikes approach an intersection and cars need to make a right turn.

Intersection approach / NACTO

Intersection approach / NACTO

Combined turning lane / NACTO

Combined turning lane / NACTO

Bike boxes – designated areas at the head of a traffic lane that provides bicyclists with a safe and visible way to get ahead of stopped traffic at a red light.

Bike box (Portland) / NACTO

Bike box (Portland) / NACTO

Signal phasing for traffic lights, which help to clarify when bicyclists should enter an intersection, and restrict vehicle movements.

signal-phasing

Hybrid beacon signal phasing (Portland) / NACTO

As mentioned, the reissue includes a new section on bike boulevards. These are multi-vehicular streets with low traffic and low speeds designed to prioritize bicycle travel. Creating these boulevards begins at the city planning level, analyzing which streets are appropriate and designing networks of boulevards to maximize accessibility. Signs and pavement marking designate the boulevards. Vehicular traffic is slowed through traffic calming measures such as raised crosswalks and intersections, speed humps, and “pinch points” where the street is narrowed through curb extensions or medians. Many of these measures can also easily include green infrastructure, part of the “green” and “complete” streets design standards.

Landscape architects, planners, and city officials should find this guide invaluable. Anyone who advocates for increasing bicycle infrastructure in our cities will find many useful tools for implementing best practice infrastructure. Notes and references listed in the back of the guide also offer a good starting point for those looking to get up to date with the literature on biking infrastructure. Many of the recommendations can be found on the NACTO website.

But if you’re someone like me who just likes to geek out on well-made diagrams and renderings, the new and improved Urban Bikeway Design Guide will gladly find a nice home on your bookshelf or coffee table.

Yoshi Silverstein is the ASLA 2014 communications intern. He is a Masters in Landscape Architecture candidate at the University of Maryland. He focuses on landscape experience and outdoor learning environments.

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helsinki

Helsinki / Wikipedia

The Guardian‘s excellent environmental coverage has been supplemented by a new section on cities, supported by the Rockefeller Foundation. Here, we learn about an ambitious plan in Helsinki, Finland, to create a revolutionary “mobility on demand” system by 2025. The system would enable all “shared and public transport” to be paid for with a single payment network available via smartphones. People would create their own transportation infrastructure from scratch. This is a complete rethinking of urban mobility for the age of ubiquitous connectivity.

The Guardian writes: “The hope is to furnish riders with an array of options so cheap, flexible, and well-coordinated that it becomes competitive with private car ownership not merely on cost, but on convenience and ease of use.”

Helsinki residents will use a new app to simply indicate start and end points, with perhaps a few preferences for mode of transit. “The app would then function as both journey planner and universal payment platform, knitting everything from driverless cars and nimble little buses to shared bikes and ferries into a single, supple mesh of mobility.” The app would be like Google Maps mated with a public Uber, but across all transportation options.

This city-wide mobility-on-demand system may build off of the Helsinki Regional Transport Authority’s new minibus service, Kutsuplus, which already lets riders indicate their own origins and destinations. With Kutsuplus, “requests are aggregated, and the app calculates an optimal route that most closely satisfies all of them.” Kutsuplus is expected to reduce car ownership, and even Zipcar membership.

The Guardian wonders whether this system can actually work in practice for everyone though. Riders would need a smartphone to be able to buy in. While this may work for upwardly mobile segments of Helsinki, does everyone there actually own a smartphone? What about the elderly, or people with disabilities?

Getting cost right will also be important. As an example, “Kutsuplus costs more than a conventional journey by bus, but less than a taxi fare over the same distance – and Goldilocks-style, that feels just about right.” How much will people pay extra for mobility on demand? And should they even pay extra, if this is to be a publicly-managed service?

Furthermore, could this model actually work elsewhere? The Guardian asks whether mobility on demand will be as effective in the spread-out, low-density suburbs of Helsinki.

And further afield, is this model transferable? Cities in the developing world that don’t have well-established public transportation systems (buses or subways) already rely on a network of private mini-buses and vans to move people around. These form a decentralized network that also responds to supply and demand. Could a Helsinki model be superimposed on such systems? And could it augment recent developments? Many developing world cities are moving towards more a more integrated public transportation network, often with new bus-rapid-transit (BRT) systems as the backbone. According to The City Fix from EMBARQ, 31 million urbanites now use BRT.

App-based urban transportation experiments are underway, perhaps showing the way to a new form of mobility. Almost all major urban transportation systems in the U.S. and Europe have their own apps that enable easy route planning; that’s a new thing. San Francisco is even testing an app to manage supply and demand for parking spaces. Uber and other taxi-on-demand services are now ubiquitous in the developed world, and have even caused widespread protests in Europe. But can an app really kill the car?

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60

What Makes a City Great? / Sasaki Associates

A new survey commissioned by planning and design firm Sasaki Associates asked 1,000 urbanites in San Francisco, Chicago, Austin, New York, Boston, and Washington, D.C. what they love most about their city. The findings, which cover diverse aspects of city life, offer truly fascinating insights for urban planners, landscape architects, and architects. One example: 60 percent of residents of these cities say they will still be in the city five years from now. Here are some other highlights.

What do urbanites love most about their cities? 

More than 40 percent cited the restaurants and food; while 32 percent said local attractions; 24 percent said historic places and landmarks; 21 percent said cultural offerings; 17 percent said parks and public spaces; and 16 percent said fairs and festivals. Some 15 percent said “the people,” while another 10 percent said they like the architecture the most, and 9 percent said the local sports scene.

And when asked, “what would get you out of your neighborhood?,” the findings are largely consistent with preferences listed above: 46 would venture out for a new restaurant; 25 percent would travel for a new store; 24 percent for a new cultural event; while just 18 percent would schlep to check out a new park or green space.

Where do urbanites’ favorite experiences happen?

While only 18 percent will travel across town for a new park, interestingly, a majority of people (65 percent) remember their favorite city experience taking place outdoors — either in a park or on a street. (A minority [just 22 percent] said their favorite experience happened in a building).

Of outdoor spaces, 47 percent say waterfronts are their favorite. Another 31 prefer large open parks, while 14 percent prefer small urban spaces, and 8 percent love their city’s trail system the most.

So where should cities make future investment in parks and open space? “41 percent support investment in making the waterfront more accessible and appealing; 40 percent would like to see more large parks that support both passive and adventurous activities; 37 percent wish their cities would make streets more pedestrian/bike friendly; 36 percent support adding outdoor music and entertainment venues; and 31 percent desire more small urban parks.”

What makes a city’s buildings iconic?

Some 36 percent said the historic nature of the building, while 30 percent said “great architecture,” and another 24 percent said a building’s “unique design.” A majority (57 percent) will stop and look at a historic building, while just 19 percent will do the same for a modern one.

What do urbanites like least about getting around in cities?

More than 40 percent said there’s “too much traffic,” while 23 percent cited the lack of parking. Some 14 percent said public transportation is not up to par, and 9 percent said biking is dangerous. Another 7 percent pointed to things being “too spread out,” while another 7 percent complained that sidewalks are too crowded.

These complaints reveal how Americans, even urbanites, get around: 58 percent use cars frequently, while 29 percent use public transportation. Another 10 percent try to walk everywhere and just 2 percent use bikes.

Surveys like Sasaki’s are important. We need to attract as many people as possible to cities, because urban life is central to a more sustainable future. In cities, per-capita carbon emissions and energy and water use are all much lower. But beyond the metrics, cities can just be great places if they are designed to be livable and beautiful, filled with outdoor spaces, historic buildings, and efficient transportation systems.

In keeping with Sasaki’s multidisciplinary approach, the team who put together the survey is comprised of a planner, landscape architect (Gina Ford, ASLA), and an architect, as it should be when dealing with all things related to our built environment.

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1. Bikes at Intersection

Bikers at intersection / Heb @ Wikimedia Commons

Investing in bicycle infrastructure is good for people and cities

For urban cycling advocates, investing in bicycle infrastructure can help undo the damage of decades of bad decisions, which have left too many places with a car-centric transportation system. The thinking — which was perfectly expressed by Copenhagen bicycle ambassador Mikael Colville-Anderson during his recent TED talk — is: “Bicycling is the most potent medicine we possess … for designing livable cities.”

Advocates say designing for bikes will yield broader benefits, making our cities healthier places to live. Shifting from motor vehicle based transportation to cycling produces multiple wins for cities: reduced greenhouse emissions and traffic congestion, and gains in air quality, fitness, and the economy.

Biking can also be a very efficient mode of transportation, especially in highly dense environments. The You Are Here project  from the Social Computing Group at the MIT Media Lab recently released a series of interactive maps enabling users to determine the best mode of transportation from various locations in eleven cities: walking, bicycling, public transit, or driving. As an example, they looked at Manhattan and found that outside short-range distances, where walking is fastest, biking often wins out for most locations leaving from midtown.

2. Manhattan Transportation

From midtown Manhattan, 49.7% of the city is reached fastest by bike, 33.8% by public transit, and 16.2% by car / You Are Here project via vox.com

Cycling is not without its risks. Good design can help mitigate them.

Bikers face an uneven match with cars and trucks, should an accident occur. The good news is designers and planners have found many ways to mitigate these risks through good design and increased awareness. Best practices, such as those listed in the NACTO Urban Bikeway Design Guide, have been implemented across the country with much success. A popular recent video from urban planner and designer Nick Falbo adapts a promising Dutch design solution for the continually sticky issue of intersections – still one of the more dangerous places for cyclists. And, in general, the more cyclists on the road, the safer conditions are for all cyclists. In its first year of operation, with estimated 8.75 million trips, New York City’s Citi Bike bike-share program has seen zero fatalities and just 25 visits to the emergency room. Capital BikeShare in D.C. also has yet to see any fatalities after several years in operation.

3. Protected Intersection

Protected intersection / Nick Falbo

Fewer solutions have been determined for the longer-term risk of increased exposure to air pollution. While the overall health benefits still appear to outweigh the risks, urban cyclists can inhale significant amounts of pollutants from nearby motor vehicles.

Suggestions for decreasing this risk — taking quieter back-routes, biking during off times (especially in the morning since ozone peaks in the afternoon), avoiding intersections, and wearing a respiratory mask — tend to place the burden on cyclists. They are also not much use to urban commuters and portray cycling as niche and unsafe, an issue at the core of Colville-Andersen’s TED talk. The bicycle ambassador, who is opposed to wearing helmets — he claims the science is split on their effectiveness and government mandates on helmet-wearing have tended to suppress rather than increase biking — would almost certainly not approve of the suggestion that cyclists wear face masks. (His arguments on helmets and the culture of fear are interesting and worth a watch).

4. Face Mask

A necessary health precaution? / Totobobo

A new study from the Harvard School of Public Health that compared exposure to air pollution — specifically “black carbon” and nitrogen dioxide — on bike lanes adjacent to traffic versus bike paths separated from traffic may offer guidance for designers, planners, and officials. In Boston, the study found exposure was impacted less by time of day or traffic congestion levels and more by proximity of cyclists to the traffic itself and the presence of greenery. Cyclists on the green bike paths separated from vehicular traffic saw the least exposure, an effect increased both by distance from cars and by the green buffers.

The study’s most significant case study focused on the bike path along Sturrow Drive, a major parkway along the Charles River, 100-feet away from the road and separated by a row of trees. There, fewer intersections reduced exposure, and trees both pushed fumes up and away from the path and collected particulate matter on their leaves.

Green buffers can be easily integrated into the existing urban fabric. Doing so will help keep cyclists safe and healthy, but all citizens will reap the benefits.

5. Protected Bike Path

Protected bike path / Paul Krueger via Flickr

Yoshi Silverstein is the ASLA 2014 communications intern. He is a Masters in Landscape Architecture candidate at the University of Maryland. He focuses on landscape experience and outdoor learning environments.

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greenstreet2
The American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) announces that a contract has been signed with landscape architecture firm Design Workshop to serve as lead consultant for a project greening the streets surrounding ASLA’s headquarters in Washington, D.C.’s Chinatown. The firm has a long history of designing landscapes that combine environmental sensitivity, economic benefits, artistic vision, and community input.

The Chinatown Green Street demonstration project involves the design and installation of an interconnected series of vegetated systems and innovative technologies to manage stormwater runoff and beautify the public right-of-way in the Chinatown neighborhood of Washington, D.C. ASLA intends this project to be a world-class model and education tool for developers, designers, city officials, and the public.

Design Workshop will oversee the project through all phases from design and installation to long-term maintenance planning and educational outreach. It will collaborate with the ASLA Site Sustainability Task Force throughout all phases of the project.

“This project is an investment in our city’s future. We want to show that landscape architecture can heal the environment as well as provide a safer street design that will benefit everyone,” said Nancy Somerville, Hon. ASLA, executive vice president and CEO of ASLA. “By implementing a more natural way to manage stormwater, it will help the District of Columbia in its goal of becoming one of the greenest cities in the United States while also providing a model for cities around the world. It will also make our neighborhood more walkable and accessible for residents and visitors.”

“Design Workshop is deeply honored to be working with ASLA on such a profound and substantial effort,” said Steven Spears, ASLA, principal and partner with Design Workshop. “In one’s career, there is truly only a handful of opportunities to make a transformative impact toward holistic sustainability. The Chinatown Green Street Demonstration project, located between the White House and the Capitol Building, will become the opportunity to showcase that street rights of way can be enjoyed and used by all forms of mobility while offering significant environmental, economic, community and artistic impacts.”

Learn more at the Chinatown Green Street demonstration project web site.

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dangerous
More than 47,000 people were killed while walking in the U.S. between 2003 and 2012, a rate that has been rising in the last few years. The majority of those deaths could have likely been prevented with safer street design, according to Dangerous by Design 2014, a new report released today by the National Complete Streets Coalition, a program of Smart Growth America, in conjunction with AARP and American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA).

The report also ranks America’s major metropolitan areas according to a pedestrian danger index that assesses how safe pedestrians are while walking. The four most dangerous — Orlando, Tampa, Jacksonville, and Miami — are all in Florida. The others in the top-10 most dangerous list are: Memphis, Phoenix, Houston, Birmingham (new to this year’s top 10), Atlanta, and Charlotte.

“We are allowing an epidemic of pedestrian fatalities — brought on by streets designed for speed and not safety — to take nearly 5,000 lives a year. This number increased six percent between 2011 and 2012,” said Roger Millar, director of the National Complete Streets Coalition. “Not only is that number simply too high, but these deaths are easily prevented through policy, design, and practice. State and local transportation leaders need to prioritize the implementation of complete streets policies that keep everyone safe.”

The report presents data on pedestrian fatalities and injuries in every U.S. metro area, as well as state by state assessments and an online, interactive map showing the locations where pedestrian fatalities have occurred.

More than 676,000 pedestrians were injured over the decade, equivalent to a pedestrian being struck by a car or truck every eight minutes. That rate increases significantly for more vulnerable populations such as older adults, children, and people of color.

While just 12.6 percent of the total population, those over the age of 65 years old account for nearly 21 percent of pedestrian fatalities nationwide. “Older persons account for one in every five pedestrian fatalities and have the greatest fatality rate of any population group,” said AARP Executive Vice President Nancy LeaMond. “America’s state, federal, and community leaders should focus on making our streets safer, which will benefit everyone, including the growing number of older Americans.”

Children 15 years and younger represent a significantly at-risk population, and fatal pedestrian injury remains a leading cause of death. Between 2003 and 2010 (the most recent year for which data is available about children), 4,394 children were killed while walking.

Among people of color, blacks and African Americans suffer a pedestrian fatality 60 percent higher than non-Hispanic whites, and Hispanics of any race have a rate nearly 43 percent higher.

The majority of pedestrian deaths occur on roadways that encourage speeding, and speeding is a factor in nearly one-third of all traffic fatalities. The report finds that these deaths can be prevented through changes to the design of our streets: providing sidewalks, installing high-visibility crosswalks and refuge islands, and calming traffic speeds.

This has proved true for roads such as NE 125th St. in Seattle, WA. In 2011, the city added a marked crosswalk, reduced the number of travel lanes, and installed bike lanes, along with other measures, to provide for the safety of pedestrians in a high-crash corridor where 87 percent of drivers were speeding. The modifications have reduced the rate of collisions by 10 percent and speeding by 11 percent and led to more people walking and biking along the roadway.

“More and more Americans are choosing communities that are walkable and accessible for pedestrians, children and older Americans, but that shouldn’t be a luxury,” said Nancy Somerville, Executive Vice President & CEO of ASLA. “Simple and affordable additions or retrofits to traffic signals, pedestrian islands, and sidewalks can make a huge difference in safety and protection.”

The report recommends states take action to improve safety for pedestrians in communities nationwide:

  • Increase the available funding and maximize the use of existing federal programs for walking and bicycling projects.
  • Adopt a complete streets policy and comprehensive implementation plan.
  • Emphasize walking and bicycling in the strategic highway safety plan (SHSP).
  • Reform measures of congestion, such as level of service, to account for the needs of all travelers.
  • Update design policies and standards.
  • Standardize and gather more comprehensive data on pedestrian crashes.
  • Give local cities and towns more control over their own speed limits.
  • Encourage collaboration across transportation, public health, and law enforcement agencies.

Read the report.

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queens

Queens Plaza / Margie Ruddick

Design responses to New York City’s tangled infrastructure, both instant and painstaking, were the subject of a conversation between “design patron” Janette Sadik-Kahn and landscape designer Margie Ruddick, ASLA. Sadik-Kahn is best known for her recently completed tenure as commissioner of New York City’s department of transportation (DOT) under Mayor Bloomberg. Ruddick, as designer of a complex re-imagining of New York’s Queens Plaza, has been one of the beneficiaries of that design-conscious administration’s patronage. Both speakers, winners of 2013 National Design Awards from the event’s sponsor, the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, turned a retrospective eye on their recent work in urban infrastructure. The last eight or so years, both speakers claimed, marks a sea change in New York City’s infrastructure and design culture, as design innovations marked a turn from privileging cars and drivers to supporting the comfort and mobility of pedestrians and cyclists.

Ruddick focused on the painstaking work of transforming the complex site of Queens Plaza from gateway and transit hub “morass” into a green refuge in a span of ten years (see image above). Ruddick argued that what was radical in 2006 has become mainstream today: the idea that urban infrastructure can operate aesthetically and ecologically is accepted in a way that was unthinkable when the project began.

Sadik-Kahn reviewed a series of pilot programs for city streets that were rapidly implemented and subsequently institutionalized under her tenure. Where previously streets encouraged speeding, visual clutter, and cycling accidents, these interventions have struck a new balance. Sadik-Kahn spoke of the city’s “new vocabulary” of designs for bike lanes, pedestrian plazas, benches, and green infrastructure. After years of “suspended animation,” the DOT showed that it was possible to change the DNA of city streets.

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Before and After: St Nicholas Ave & Amsterdam Ave / NYC DOT

Looming large over the discussion was the role of patronage and leadership in guiding better design for cities. Now that Bloomberg is gone, what might happen in New York? And who can spearhead similar changes in other cities?

For Ruddick, Queens Plaza, a complex and multi-agency project, was an object lesson in the importance of having a design process and the need to maintain a strong design vision, integrate performance, and avoid design by committee. But the story of her failure to implement a water filtration system across three jurisdictions without talking to the right people demonstrated that politics trumps design. The designer must have a firm hand, but they can’t make the project whole without the “fiat of the person at the top.”

Sadik-Kahn, one of those people at the top, emphasized the necessity of acting quickly, harnessing innovation. And as for the future of sustainable cities, it lies in selling mayors on the value of design as an economic development strategy and hoping for a “global competition of who can be greener.” Citing cities that have followed New York’s example — including Los Angeles, Portland, Oregon and Mexico City — Sadik-Kahn’s new role is to export New York’s “new vocabulary,” as codified in the Urban Street Design Guide, worldwide.

This guest post is by Mariana Mogilevich, PhD, assistant professor, metropolitan studies program, New York University.

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Yuelai Eco-city / Calthorpe Associates

Urbanization in China is the single biggest human migration in history. To accomodate the millions coming in from the countryside each year, China’s cities are tearing down their old human-scale, socially-rich neighborhoods, with their meandering, bicycle-friendly streets, and putting in highways and incredibly isolating towers set amid vacant-feeling “super blocks.” These are places only Le Corbusier could have loved. Or at least that’s the image some see in the West. At the World Urban Forum in Medellin, Colombia, a group of innovative Chinese urban planners explain how some of the latest “eco-cities” as well as design interventions in existing cities may help some Chinese mayors see the wisdom of sustainable urban development and taking those super-blocks down to size.

Dongquan He, with the Energy Foundation, said China now has more than 660 cities, with 20,000 more towns under construction. Over the next 25 years, 400 million more Chinese will move into cities. And by 2050, China will be 75 percent urban.

As China grows at incredible rates, its cities have created very wide streets that connect super blocks. “These have just a single function, moving from A to B. You really have to use a car to get around.” These planning decisions have also resulted in signficant environmental damage. The air in so many Chinese cities is basically unbreathable because cars have been let loose. He said: “China’s development problem is the super block.”

The Energy Foundation has come up with a whole set of criteria to explain urban sustainability to China’s mayors. The principles are well considered: places should be walkable; bicycling should be prioritized; networks of streets should be dense; public transit should be high-quality; developments should be mixed-use; and parking should be regulated.

To test these idea, He and his team became involved in a new thousand-hectare eco-city in Yuelai, Chongquing, one of the country’s mega-cities (see image above). He’s group worked with Calthorpe Asssociates and the eco-city developers to preserve the existing landscape. “We didn’t violate the natural systems.” They then created a plan that reduced the size of the average Chinese super block, allocating density near transit, creating small town-centers with public space every 500 meters, and also smaller grid spaces that fit high-rise, mid-rise. and low-rise buildings together in a dense, walkable street network. Parks and greenways connect people to the harbor, and a custom-designed streetcar system will also improve mobility. But He admitted that with this kind of huge development, “it’s hard to created the small spaces people like.” Indeed, in these images, the blocks still look a bit super.

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Yuelai Eco-city / Calthorpe Associates

Yang Liu with the China Sustainable Transportation Center outlined his organization’s work with the Chenggong New Town, in Kunming, which is in China’s southwest. He and his team are tackling “super blocks that didn’t feel safe crossing.” They helped increase the road network density by narrowing the streets and sidewalks considerably to improve the human fabric. Development is also now clustered around transit stations.

For EMBARQ China’s director, Haitao Zhang, the aim is to transform Qingdao, a major city in the northeast, through his Qingdao Low-carbon Sustainable Transportation study. Zhang has worked on reconnecting land use and transportation planning, putting stations where there is demand, and breaking the siloed approach to the problems of sprawl in the local government. EMBARQ is also planning a slew of “small-scale urban interventions” to improve the streetscape, turning super blocks into outdoor cafes and pedestrian-friendly plazas.

To learn more about the state of China’s cities, see a new report presented by Shi Na, with UN Habitat and the Urban Planning Society in China.

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