Category Archives: Culture

Exhibition Road Redux

“Shared space schemes labelled ‘dangerous’ in Lords report”

“A new House of Lords report has called for a moratorium on any new ‘frightening and intimidating’ shared space schemes”

Architects Journal

ExhibitionNews

But a House of Lords report says it doesn’t work well enough.

WE GAVE Exhibition Road a mixed review in Street Design. I visited Exhibition Road a few times and found it over-designed, a frequent problem for 21st century streets. I agreed with our friend and colleague Hank Dittmar, whom we quoted on the subject of Exhibition Road: “Only the parked cars look comfortable.”

It’s in the news this week, because it may be the most famous Shared Space in Britain, at a time when “Shared Space” is the buzzword of the moment for High Streets (Main Streets) around the country. Most local politicians in the UK seem to know about Shared Space, and now the House of Lords has come out with a report that labels them “dangerous”—and in fact many UK Shared Spaces do seem dangerous, for at least two reasons: cars driving on them routinely go faster than is safe for spaces where pedestrians, cyclists, and cars are sharing the road; and they are frequently unsafe for the blind.

Continue reading

Vester Voldgade – Our Street of the Day / A Street Design Supplement*

VesterVoldgade2015

Vester Voldgade, Copenhagen. Looking north, across Ny Kongensgade.

VESTER VOLDGADE, KØBENHAVN (“West Rampart Street, Copenhagen”) is interesting both for its current condition and and its original state. It’s called “Voldgade” because like the boulevards of Paris, it was built where the old city wall stood (the French word “boulevard” comes from the word “bulwark”). As in Paris, allées were planted on the old ramparts, but in Copenhagen the result was different.

Parisian boulevards became tree-lined, symmetrical streets (planted in patterns composed of squares, the landscape architect Douglas Duany has pointed out). In an old photograph of a section of Vester Voldgade then called “Filosofgangen” (Philosopher Path), we can see that there was a street next to the tree-covered ramparts, with all the trees on the rampart side of the road in what looks like a naturalistic planting.

VesterVoldgade1880

Filosofgangen (Vester Voldgade). Looking north in 1880.

Continue reading

Slow Street of the Day — the rue Norvins in Paris

rue Norvins Paris 18

Photo courtesy of Galina Tahchieva @ DPZ

ALMOST ALL STREETS IN PARIS now have speed limits of 20 or 12.5 miles per hour (30 or 20 kph). The rue Norvins in Montmartre was already slower  than that. Why? Not because of a city-set speed limit or police enforcement, but because of the natural design speed of the street.

The narrow roadway, the poor lines of sight, the rough cobblestones, the unforgiving stone bollards at the edge of the street, the lack of traffic signs (there’s only one, which limits cars to those belonging to residents between 3 pm and 2 am), and most of all, the free-range pedestrians in the middle of the street—these all produce a space that makes drivers unacomfortable driving quickly.

English authorities are introducing a number of shared space streets there. I haven’t seen most of them, so I can’t say much about the Sea of Change film that makes the proposal that new shared space streets in England are frequently unsafe for the blind and disabled. That’s obviously an important issue—if we are going to make slow streets that use slow speed and a lack of the traffic engineer’s separation of car and pedestrian to make safer streets, then we need to make them safer for everyone.
Continue reading

A Sidewalk Is A Terrible Thing To Waste

IN 1919, the car hadn’t yet conquered West 57th Street in Manhattan. Together, the sidewalks for the pedestrians were still significantly wider than the roadway, and the modern detritus of the traffic engineer is nowhere in sight.

West 57th Street in 1919, looking east towards 7th Avenue

West 57th Street in 1919, looking east towards 7th Avenue

MCNY image from “West 57th’s Hodgepodge Block,” by Christopher Gray

West 57th Street today, looking east towards 7th Avenue

West 57th Street today, looking east towards 7th Avenue

Also see the unbuilt Winslow Homer Walk. You can download a PDF about Homer Walk here.

Turn Lanes Are Anti-Pedestrian & Therefore Anti-Urban

2ndAveTurnLane

A NEW YORK CITY MTA Bus almost ran me over this morning as I WALKED my bike in a crosswalk with a green light. Before he almost ran me over the driver honked at me, loudly, to tell me to get out of his way. And I repeat, I was walking in a crosswalk, with the walk light.

That’s what turn lanes and turn lights do. They give drivers the idea that they have a right to turn, without people getting in their way. And green turn lights and boldly marked turn lanes encourage drivers to go quickly and “take the lane,” because they are clearly in an environment set up for cars—just like in the suburbs. The bus was going at least 35 miles per hour, and so was a long stream of traffic behind him. If the bus had hit me while going 35 miles per hour, I would have almost certainly been dead. While walking with the light in a crosswalk, on an island where 80% of the people don’t own cars.

Earlier this morning, I was at the corner of Broadway and 56th Street and watched while pedestrians going both ways (across Broadway or crossing 56th Street) all had to wait after the turn light went green, giving drivers the go-ahead to turn left onto 56th Street. That should never happen in Manhattan.

FACT: There is an inverse relationship between a traffic engineer’s or DOT’s Level of Service (LOS) and the degree of walkability. That’s why in our petition to the US DOT we proposed a Walkable Index Number (WIN) for towns and cities instead of an auto-based Level of Service. WIN versus LOS equals walkability versus drivability.

Residents of Manhattan deserve better. So do all the tourists walking around the city. The only way Mayor DeBlasio’s Vision Zero pledge to reduce traffic fatalities in New York to zero will work will be to level the playing field and stop giving so much of the “space between the buildings” to the small number of people who drive in New York. Even the planet would be improved if we got over the idea that everyone has a God-given right to ignore the best transit system in America and drive into the city.

Continue reading

Street Design in Salon

“How cars conquered the American city (and how we can win it back)”

Two quotes from the article by Henry Grabar:

John Massengale and I are standing in the middle of 1st Avenue at East 4th Street, in New York’s East Village, and he does not like the feng shui. He points to the thick, white lines in the roadway, directing drivers toward a left turn. “Automobile-scale striping,” he notes. “It’s telling you: ‘This is not a place for you.’”

Part instruction manual, part history, part manifesto, the book argues that it is the street, more than anything, that shapes the city. In traveling to cities around the world and interviewing residents, pedestrians and businesspeople, Dover and Massengale found a remarkable degree of agreement about which streets are nice and which are not. “If there is so much consensus on what makes a good street,” they ask, “then why are we still building so many bad and ugly ones?”

Before & After: Jaywalking, Jaydriving & Jayliving

These two videos are a fascinating study in the evolution of King Car in New York City. Although the second video is joking, it shows how much control of the street had shifted from the pedestrian to the car by 1928. The first movie, shot from a New York cable car rolling down Broadway about 20 years earlier, shows how comfortably pedestrians crossed the street whenever and wherever they wanted. Organized Motodrdom hadn’t yet brought us jaywalking and Transportation Corridors.

Other links:

Tom Vanderbilt, When Pedestrians Get Mixed Signals, New York Times OpEd

Vision Zero is America’s Most Walkable City, Street Design blog