STREET DESIGN http://streets-book.com The Secret to Great Cities and Towns Mon, 23 Jan 2017 17:36:33 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.2.16 “When you degrade the public realm, the common good suffers” – Street Design, page 1 http://streets-book.com/2017/01/23/commongood/ http://streets-book.com/2017/01/23/commongood/#comments Mon, 23 Jan 2017 17:36:33 +0000 http://streets-book.com/?p=1653 The post “When you degrade the public realm, the common good suffers” – Street Design, page 1 appeared first on STREET DESIGN.

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Streets for People in New York City http://streets-book.com/2016/10/21/people/ http://streets-book.com/2016/10/21/people/#comments Fri, 21 Oct 2016 19:26:27 +0000 http://streets-book.com/?p=1650 The post Streets for People in New York City appeared first on STREET DESIGN.

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Occupy Broad Street http://streets-book.com/2016/09/21/occupy-broad-street/ http://streets-book.com/2016/09/21/occupy-broad-street/#comments Wed, 21 Sep 2016 21:37:40 +0000 http://streets-book.com/?p=1644 Today is the fifth Anniversary of Occupy Wall Street. For some thoughts about that, click here. THE BROAD crossroads where Wall Street and Broad Street come together is a beautiful space, fully the equal of medieval European plazas. Today, post-911, it’s closed to almost all traffic, because the New York Stock Exchange sits at the southwest corner of the […]

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Today is the fifth Anniversary of Occupy Wall Street. For some thoughts about that, click here.

Broad Street
THE BROAD crossroads where Wall Street and Broad Street come together is a beautiful space, fully the equal of medieval European plazas. Today, post-911, it’s closed to almost all traffic, because the New York Stock Exchange sits at the southwest corner of the intersection. A few weeks ago, it was the symbolic center of the NYC DOT’s Shared Streets Lower Manhattan, when one Saturday afternoon 60 blocks were designated “shared spaces,” where “Pedestrians, cyclists, and motor vehicles will share the historic streets of Lower Manhattan and motorists [were] encouraged to drive 5 mph.”

When Americans talk about shared space, someone will often say, “We’re not Amsterdam.” Well, parts of Nieuw Amsterdam / New York City make a good place to start shared space experiments. Eighty per cent of Manhattan residents don’t own a car, and only twenty per cent of Manhattan workers commute to work by private car. Then add the fact that many streets in the Financial District have restricted access: some streets are only open to residents or workers employed on the street; while other streets have tank barricades and are only open to emergency and delivery vehicles.

In the real Amsterdam, 85% of the streets today have s speed limit of 30 kilometers per hour (18.6 mph), and the other 15% have a top speed of 50 kph (31 mph). On the slower streets, pedestrian and cyclist have as much right to the street as cars and trucks, and may be anywhere on the street at any time. All of the detritus of traffic engineering—bold stripes and arrows painted on the pavement, large signs, colored bus lanes, and the like—is missing, and at the intersections, there are no stop lights, stop signs, yield signs, or crosswalks. Motor vehicles must be driven at a speed that successfully allows cars and trucks to stop for pedestrians and cyclists in the intersection.

That is “Shared Space.” That is the spirit behind the experiment the DOT tried out on Saturday, August 13, and what it hopes to try again in the future. I hope they will and therefore I make Broad Street my Street of the Day. Some of the my notes on that continue below.

First, experimenting with Shared Space streets in New York City is an important and needed step. If grabbing land in Madison Square and introducing Vision Zero are the two most important things DOT commissioners in the US have done in the last fifty years (and I think they are), this could be number three.

Personally, I prefer to call them “Slow Streets,” because in the cycling world a number of bad British Shared Space designs built in the last few years have made Shared Space controversial there. Successful Shared Space depends on the cars going 20 miles per hour or slower, and the primary problem with the controversial British streets is that the designs allow the cars to go too fast. Whenever the topic of Shared Space comes up in the Twitterverse—and sometimes elsewhere—you can expect British cyclists to jump in with diatribes against Shared Space that hijack the conversation.

The defining characteristic of Slow Streets, however, is that the cars go slowly. And Slow Streets can naturally be part of Slow Zones, which New York already has. And Slow Streets and Slow Zones enable good placemaking and good urban design. More on this later.

Second, the Financial District is a great place to start, for all the obvious reasons: the police have already blocked many of the streets; traffic is already light and slow; the streets are often narrow and naturally slow; the streets are frequently narrow and picturesque; there are already lots of tourists in the area, with things for them to do; there is lots of food and drink in the area; there is lots of history in the area (that could be better managed); the intersection of Wall and Broad Streets is both historic and beautiful, the equal of places like the Via della Dogana Vecchia in Rome’s Centro Storico (a Shared Space); there are more great streets, great buildings, and historic sites nearby.

Broad Street was one of the two most important streets in Nieuw Amsterdam. At it’s top, on Wall Street, was the first US Capitol, where George Washington had his first inauguration. Catty corner stand the New York Stock Exchange and the House of Morgan, the two most emblematic symbols of “Wall Street,” itself the symbol of New York’s financial industry (the Morgan building, 23 Wall Street, has stood empty since 2008—it’s owned by a Chinese billionaire embroiled in scandal).

The space at Broad and Wall is beautiful.* The buildings that shape it are historic and beautiful. Trinity Church terminates the vista on the west, drawing pedestrian traffic to Broadway. To the east, is another great urban street, with great picturesque views like the deflected vista at the National City Bank Building (55 Wall Street). The NYPD has already pushed cars off both Broad and Wall Streets.

In terms of urban design, the New York Stock Exchange and the NYPD have brought problems with their security concerns. The fence running down the middle of Broad Street—in exactly the wrong place—looks like it was bought in a bargain sale at Home Depot. The tank barriers are obvious overkill that are bad for pedestrians and cyclists. Design can solve problems, and there should be an equally secure solution that does not disrupt the street as badly as the tank barriers, if the NYSE and the NYPD would agree to discuss what their needs are. Civic Art and security are not necessarily in conflict with each other.

Urban designers frequently talk about A streets and B streets: A streets are the best streets for people, with or without cars; and B streets are those where cars dominate. The particulars of A streets and B streets can be analyzed and designated in many ways, but in terms of walkability, the simplest way is to walk the streets with maps and markers, marking the places where it is pleasant to be and the places that are unpleasant. This should be done quickly, without a lot of thought (the thought can come afterwards, when deciding how to use the findings). Tests have shown that if this is done with a large group of people, there will be a lot of overlap and agreement on the best and worst places.

Broad Street and Wall Street are obviously both A streets. The A Streets are the streets where people would walk the most, and they might have no parking. The B Streets, where people don’t want to walk, should have the most concentrated parking. There will be some blocks where one or both ends of the block might be A, while the middle of the block might be B. B Streets can be merely boring, not actually bad. An example is Beaver Street between Broadway and Broad Street. The middle is merely boring, particularly at night. Marketfield Street, perpendicular to Beaver in the middle of the block, is an alley that is clearly a B Street. Across Beaver from Marketfield is New Street, less bad, but still a B Street. Other parts of Beaver Street have stretches that are not pedestrian friendly, but these can be interspersed with historic sections. This is where judgement and design come in during the planning, balancing parking needs, historic sites, and the like.

The Shared Space / Slow Zone could begin with the entire sixty-block area used in the DOT’s Shared Space day, or it could start with a few blocks around Broad and Wall, where traffic is already banned, and be expanded over time. Tactical urbanism can be used, but even in the tactical urbanism there should be less engineering and more urban design. Engineering applies formulas such as Functional Classification street types and preferred forms of speed control devices. Urban design works with the context to solve problems and make places. This partly explains why engineers frequently say, “the devil is the details” (making the formula work), while architects and urban designers say, “God is in the details” (creating designs that make places).

In the end, traffic calming usually still prioritizes traffic flow and the car over walkability and placemaking: engineering formulas used to calm traffic are rarely the best solutions for maximizing walkability. The purpose of traffic calming devices such as speed bumps is to slow traffic. The purpose of the urban design elements I mention is to make places where people are safe and comfortable walking. Safety is not their primary purpose, but in making streets where cars must go under 20 mph and drivers know pedestrians and cyclists have equal right to the street, safety is greater than on most streets where cars going 25 mph and faster come into contact with pedestrians.

Some examples: “pinching” the entrance to the street is usually an engineering solution. Urban designers want to make the whole length of the street appropriate for the speed and a good place to be. Urban designers do not like White Plastic Sticks, which delaminate and yellow with age, looking cheap and unpleasant—especially up close and at walking speed. If it’s important to mark the entrance, iron bollards can do that more effectively than white plastic sticks, which can safely and with no penalty be hit and run over.

On streets with no parking, “bumpouts” should usually not be used to move the curbs in and out. What is important is the shape of “the space between the buildings,” and the easiest way to make that harmonious and comfortable is often to line things up: buildings, trees, sidewalks, bollards, etc. That’s not an absolute rule, but it can be a good place to start.

National retailers, who have determined to the penny how different design elements affect their sales per square foot, are adamant that streetscapes should not be fancy, with many colors, materials, shapes, etc., because they want to make sure that pedestrians are looking at their windows, not at colored sidewalks or fancy benches. Similarly, what is important for the pedestrian is the harmony of the space, not a multi-color intersection that draws attention to the wrong place. Cars have the most conflicts at the intersections, but public life takes place between the buildings, not at the crosswalks at the intersections. Fred Kent at the Project for Public Spaces says “‘streetscape’ is a dirty word.”

The great Dutch traffic engineer Hans Monderman showed that Shared Space requires the removal of all the elements that make the driver comfortable going quickly: bright stripes, bold graphics, traffic signs, stop signs, stop lights, and even protected bike lanes. Conversely, the pedestrian’s limbic system understands that highway-scale graphics announce, “This is machine space—Stay Out!”

Better than traffic elements like “20 MPH” written in six-foot letters are design elements like cobblestone rumble strips. These can also replace speed bumps, which frequently inspire teenage boys to accelerate and brake hard between the bumps. They also make driving on the street an unpleasant experience.

Trees planted in permeable strips are a good way to narrow a street without the expense of moving the curbs. Many FiDi streets are not good candidates for majestic street trees, but some of the streets would work well with pollarded trees. We know now that these can grow well in Silva Cells and the like, but that they should never be put in tree pots, which makes them stunted and prone to disease. All of these suggestions are made in passing. Real decisions obviously require more time.

One thing that struck me during the Shared Space experiment was how many more people were over on Broadway than in the Shared Space zone. Something like a Freedom Trail could pull people into the Slow Zone, as well as beyond the intersection of Broad and Wall. Without looking at the numbers, one imagines that Ground Zero must be an enormous tourist draw. Many tourists also make it over to Broadway, and then to Broad and Wall, but most of the other streets seem to have far fewer tourists, despite the large number of bars and restaurants.

A trail that would take people through the Slow Zone and to the Battery and the harbor seems like a good, simple, and easily achievable idea, but the trail would require some management. Some of the special events organized by the NYC DOT for the Shared Space day should be there all the time (the band that wandered the streets was excellent). And I couldn’t help but think that many New Yorkers would be happy to see some of the Times Square tourists moved to the Financial District. Are there places downtown such as in buildings on Water Street with the underused arcades where the Disney or M&M stores would be less obnoxious than on the Great White Way? I think so.

Do many tourists realize that there is an Museum of American Finance at 48 Wall Street, or that the Customs House has the National Museum of the American Indian? Wouldn’t the Finance Museum be better in the House of Morgan? Perhaps it could be combined with a branch of the Museum of the City of New York, which has a great fifteen-minute show on the history of New York.

Back to the design of Shared Space and Slow Streets in Lower Manhattan: ddifferent countries in the West have approached the problem differently. The American solution, particularly the American solution that will work today in New York City is still evolving. Figuring out how to do that involves what Stanford calls “Design Thinking.”

Every country has discovered that safe, effective Shared Space requires that the car goes 20 mph / 30 kph or less. Much of the best shared space is in the Netherlands, like the streets in Amsterdam mentioned above. We need more streets that show New York is serious about reducing auto use and the automobile’s contribution to climate change.

Slow Streets don’t invite suburban drivers to bring their cars to the city, as our urban highways and one-way arterials do. Slow Streets favor pedestrian and urban life. When we remove all the striping and signs that mark the streets as machine space, it becomes easy to make streets where people want to be. Before the automobile, we even put stone monuments and fountains in our streets. Temporary monuments like the original Washington Arch, which was originally in the middle of the street, marking the beginning of Fifth Avenue, were common. New Yorkers felt free to step out into the street as they do in Amsterdam. That’s the essence of Shared Space.

 

* Neurocognitive testing, Visual Preference Surveys, City Satisfaction Surveys and the like show that beauty is one of the most important factors in making places where people want to walk.

 

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Occupy Main Street http://streets-book.com/2016/09/12/occupy-main-street/ http://streets-book.com/2016/09/12/occupy-main-street/#comments Mon, 12 Sep 2016 19:16:20 +0000 http://streets-book.com/?p=1636 Great Barrington’s Main Street should be a place where place people want to get out of their cars to shop, eat, and socialize—under a majestic canopy of tall trees. That’s not what State DOTs build, however. This story originally ran in the Berkshire Record, following earlier stories (links below). AN OLD CHINESE PROVERB says, “The […]

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Great Barrington’s Main Street should be a place where place people want to get out of their cars to shop, eat, and socialize—under a majestic canopy of tall trees. That’s not what State DOTs build, however.

This story originally ran in the Berkshire Record, following earlier stories (links below).

East Side of Main Street

East Side of Main Street, Great Barrington, Before & After
(Larger images below, with commentary)

AN OLD CHINESE PROVERB says, “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.” In other words, it’s not too late to fix the economic and social problems the recent rebuilding of Main Street brought to town.

Great Barrington’s Main Street has lost the curb appeal that helped make it the Smithsonian’s best small town in America. “That’s just aesthetics,” some will say — including a few who contributed to the design decisions that make the new Main Street so ugly — but what real estate brokers and developers call “curb appeal” is not just aesthetics. It has economic value and social outcomes.

Let’s look first at the trees on Main Street. Studies by groups like the city of Portland, Oregon, the Yale School of Forestry and the National Association of Realtors show that majestic street canopies like the one Great Barrington used to have increase retail sales and real estate values. Surveys in which people walk around towns and cities recording the places they like and don’t like show that we are attracted to places with beautiful trees. The book The Happy City establishes that beautiful, mature trees increase our day-to-day happiness, and a growing body of research in cognitive science is beginning to record the data behind these effects.

Great Barrington's Main Street in the Nineteenth Century, when it had a classic American streetscape of mature street trees forming a canopy over the space.

Great Barrington’s Main Street in the Nineteenth Century, when it had a classic American streetscape of mature street trees forming a canopy over the space.

The details of the design of the street, the sidewalks, and the streetscape matter too. We know what it takes to get people to get out of their cars and walk: people want streets that are safe, interesting, comfortable, and convenient. “Safe” has many aspects, including not being too close to rushing traffic. “Comfortable” includes being able to get away from the hot sun in the summer, as well as being able to walk in the warming sun in the winter (think “trees”).

“Convenient” means that there are more than one or two things to do when you get of your car—something Great Barrington has in spades (But note that when a law firm or real estate office replaces a good store or restaurant, pedestrian traffic goes down). “Interesting” also means many things: interesting things to look at (including storefronts and buildings); beautiful things to look at (one of the things cognitive science has proven—beauty is not in the eye of the beholder); and good people-watching. We are social beings, and we love looking at each other and running into friends. That’s one of the things that makes us value town centers. When we drive on modern roads, our neighbors become our adversaries, slowing us down and keeping us from getting where we want to go.

This is anecdotal, but I noticed in the week before Labor Day that the number of teenagers hanging out on Main Street was a lot less than I’m used to. Restaurants seemed emptier (several had stopped serving lunch), and I never saw a crowded store. The only restaurant I saw with lots of customers is one everyone drives to, just on the edge of town. What’s needed is what architects call a post-occupancy survey, comparing both sales receipts and public attitudes before and after the rebuild.

For now, we can talk about some of the design details, which is my field. I said above that beautiful mature street trees have economic and social value. The trees that were planted as part of the reconstruction project were chosen because they will never grow wide or tall.

In Street Design, The Secret to Great Cities and Towns, I wrote about why professionals from different fields don’t want to plant traditional street trees today. The reasons vary from profession to profession, but they all preclude the making of the majestic canopies that American Main Streets traditionally have. I also wrote about why the idea that the best way to deal with future blight is to plant many varieties is a fallacy.

One of the reasons given for the choice of trees that will remain small was a desire to use a “cherry picker” to go over the top of the trees to access the second and third floors if there’s an emergency in the buildings along Main Street. Much of my career has revolved around the Congress for New Urbanism (CNU), which the New York Times called “the most important phenomenon to emerge in American architecture in the post-Cold War era.” I surveyed friends and colleagues in the CNU about this and found that not one of them has ever worked in a town or city anywhere in the world that had that criteria for street design. Plain and simple, it is not the best way to protect lives or property in a fire, while it works against making a place where people want to be.

Similarly, we know from all the studies, surveys, and cognitive testing, that people like simple, harmonious, well-proportioned streets with good materials. The cheap concrete and the cheap concrete bricks, the oddly-shaped planters with attention-grabbing plantings, and the curbs that jump up and down and in and out are poor urban design and weak placemaking.

The highway-scaled lamps and oversized light poles are appropriate for exurban commercial strips (known as “auto-sewers”), but not for places where people are walking next to them. And so on and so forth, right down to the all the stripes and arrows in the roadway, bolder and brighter than the ones they replaced. The old simpler and less expensive sidewalks were places where people were more inclined to walk.

The good news is that legally, Great Barrington owns Main Street. In most states, the state controls what happens to state highways as they go through towns, but as one can see from signs at each end of town, Great Barrington owns and in theory controls the street between the brown bridge over the Housatonic River and the National Grid building.

I say “in theory” because MassDOT carefully controls the funding, and as the old traffic engineer joke goes, “What’s the difference between a DOT and a terrorist organization?” Answer: “You can negotiate with a terrorist organization.” But Massachusetts, almost uniquely among states, has a traffic code that differentiates between the design of town centers and state highways, and Great Barrington’s citizens and selectmen have the legal right to make the street work for the town. If surveys and tax receipts show that the new street is making commerce and public life worse, logic says that the town should do what it can to make Main Street a place where people want to be.

East side of Main Street, Great Barrington

The east side of Main Street before the rebuilding of the street.

img_9782

The east side of Main Street after the rebuilding.

ADDITIONAL PHOTO COMMENTARY: While we were writing Street Design, The Secret to Great Cities and Towns, the Richard A. Driehaus Foundation gave us a good-sized grant to travel around and visit or revisit the streets in America and Europe that are usually considered to be the best places (which are only rarely also the best “transportation corridors”).

One thing we found was that the streets where people want to be are almost always simple, like Great Barrington’s old Main Street. The buildings, the trees, the sidewalks and the street all lined up, for example, and the sidewalk was a single material. The old street was simpler, more harmonious, and more beautiful.

The main material in the new sidewalk is a concrete that will probably be durable, but the concrete mix used before was more pleasing to the senses. Then the curbs jump in and out, the cheap concrete bricks are frequently arranged in a way that draws attention to the fact that they don’t align with neighboring shapes like the tree pits, the trees have a variety of shapes and sizes, the new pipe rail railings are cheap and visually disruptive, and the new lights are large, numerous, and more appropriate for a rural highway than a town center where people are walking (more on this below). It’s the type of design that makes the Director of the Project for Public Spaces say, “‘Streetscape’ is a dirty word.” A less expensive sidewalk, with fewer materials and better-quality concrete, would make a better place for people.

The new trees will never grow large enough to form a well-shaped space like the one in the photo above. History and studies show that people congregate in well-proportioned spaces like the old one. The new design simultaneously makes the sidewalk more open to the street, which is too wide for the buildings to successfully “contain” and erodes the space with knick-knacks, highway-scale fixtures, and a visual cutting up of the space.

Southwest corner of Main Street and Elm Street.

Southwest corner of Main Street and Elm Street.

This highway-scale pole is not the largest pole in the new design, but it is typical of the lack of thought given to placemaking. The pole and the bolts holding it in place are inappropriate for town center where people walk, as is the electrical box, which could have easily been buried while the street was dug up. Even if the plants grow in they will still be unattractive, just like the odd raised curbs. The galvanized metal is the wrong material for lights in a town center, and they look even odder when painted “historic” poles are sometimes introduced. The yellow high pressure sodium bulbs used are considered out of date for town center use as well. Many American towns and cities are retrofitting their streets with LED lights, which use less energy, and which can be adjusted for a more pleasing light.

National retailers like The Gap and Williams-Sonoma know that replacing the wrong light in their stores with the right “warm” bulbs significantly increase sales per square foot, because people are more attracted to places with warm light. The same principle that works for The Gap makes us more likely to stand in front of Baba Louie’s at night and catch up with our neighbors.

In the photo, you can see the large corner radius between Elm Street and Main Street (meaning the curve that connects the curb on Elm Street to the curb on Main Street). That may have been of the justifications for the raised planting bed, since large corner radii can interfere with pedestrian ramps. Large corner radii are designed to speed auto flow and to allow large trucks to turn the corner without going up on the curb. But high speeds are inappropriate here, and trucks don’t need large corner radii who entering a wide street (Main Street) from a one-way street (Elm). The sidewalk detail is poor urban design, because it takes a large piece of the sidewalk away from the pedestrian, making it narrow, and produces an awkward, ugly, and uncomfortable place.

Also odd is the fact that pedestrians now need to push a button and wait for the walk light in order to legally cross the street. On a one-way, low-volume street like Elm Street, it’s unusual to give priority to cars like that, particularly when the busier, wider Main Street has the opposite treatment, giving pedestrians the right to cross at all times.

Historic photo of Main Street at Railroad Street.

Historic photo of Main Street at Railroad Street.

More photos at photos.massengale.com.

The MassDOT Chainsaw Massacre
MassDOT Mistake: How Not To Rebuild Main Street
Street Design in the Berkshire Record
Occupy Main Street in the Berkshire Record
The Berkshire Record

occupymaina5-3
Download the PDF

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Occupy Main Street (from the Berkshire Record) http://streets-book.com/2016/09/12/occupy-record/ http://streets-book.com/2016/09/12/occupy-record/#comments Mon, 12 Sep 2016 19:00:54 +0000 http://streets-book.com/?p=1640 Download the PDF Occupy Main Street (@ blog.massengale.com) The MassDOT Chainsaw Massacre MassDOT Mistake: How Not To Rebuild Main Street Street Design in the Berkshire Record The Berkshire Record

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occupymaina5-3

Download the PDF

Occupy Main Street (@ blog.massengale.com)
The MassDOT Chainsaw Massacre
MassDOT Mistake: How Not To Rebuild Main Street
Street Design in the Berkshire Record
The Berkshire Record

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The Great White Way — Street of the Day http://streets-book.com/2015/12/31/the-great-white-way-street-of-the-day/ http://streets-book.com/2015/12/31/the-great-white-way-street-of-the-day/#comments Fri, 01 Jan 2016 00:30:56 +0000 http://streets-book.com/?p=1609 First they came for the pedestrian plazas, then they came for the Desnudas.* But the Times Square plazas that cover a few blocks of Broadway seem to have survived. And even though the plazas are full of tourists shopping at tourist traps, New Yorkers love them. Thank you Mayor Bloomberg and Commissioner Sadik-Khan. Since 80% […]

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TimesSq
First they came for the pedestrian plazas, then they came for the Desnudas.* But the Times Square plazas that cover a few blocks of Broadway seem to have survived. And even though the plazas are full of tourists shopping at tourist traps, New Yorkers love them. Thank you Mayor Bloomberg and Commissioner Sadik-Khan.

Since 80% of Manhattanites don’t own a car and at least 75% of all New Yorkers love the street design revolution brought by Mayor Mike and his DOT Commissioner, why was the survival of the plazas ever in question? Because we all grew up in the age of the automobile and our streets are still controlled by traffic engineers, who were all taught in school that their job is to make traffic flow fast and smooth, like water in a pipe. So the evolution of the revolution can be slow. Seventh Avenue still sends a torrent of cars through Times Square (see below) and sometimes makes even The Crossroads of the World seem like an auto sewer—but the revolution is happening! Happy New Year to all and to all a good night.

New York City* If you’re not a New Yorker, you may have to Google this.

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To Stop Pedestrian Deaths New York City Must Change The Way It Builds Its Streets http://streets-book.com/2015/12/28/change/ http://streets-book.com/2015/12/28/change/#comments Tue, 29 Dec 2015 04:13:40 +0000 http://streets-book.com/?p=1601 From CITYLIMITS.ORG: November 13th—Friday the 13th—marked the 13th day in a row that a pedestrian died on a New York City Street, all killed by cars or buses going too fast. They were among the 19 pedestrian deaths in the city last month—basically, one person lost for every business day. These fatalities occurred because despite […]

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From CITYLIMITS.ORG:

November 13th—Friday the 13th—marked the 13th day in a row that a pedestrian died on a New York City Street, all killed by cars or buses going too fast. They were among the 19 pedestrian deaths in the city last month—basically, one person lost for every business day. These fatalities occurred because despite all the progress New York has made since Mayor de Blasio and his DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg signed the Vision Zero Pledge in December 2013 (more on this below), most of our city streets are still seen primarily as transportation corridors for cars and trucks.

Until we prioritize pedestrian safety over traffic flow, we will never get to zero deaths for pedestrians, cyclists, drivers, or their passengers. But the good news is that when we do make streets that are safe for pedestrians, traffic still flows—and it becomes easy to design streets where people can want to get out of their cars and walk, enjoying public life. Which, after all, is what city life is all about. We don’t have to choose between pedestrian plazas in Times Square and suburban-style arterials. We can have our cake and eat it too.

A little history is relevant here: for decades, our city streets have been controlled by the DOT—the Department of Transportation— which employs traffic engineers and transportation planners who have traditionally seen their job as making traffic flow quickly and safely. They use a federal grading system that grades street quality according to the “Level of Service” (LOS)—a measurement of how well traffic moves.

Anything that impeded traffic flow was a problem to be identified and eliminated. Trees became known as Fixed Hazardous Objects (FHOs), because they damage cars that hit them. Standard practice in traffic engineering is therefore to confine trees to a Vegetative Containment Zone kept away from the vehicles.

People are called MHOs—Moving Hazardous Objects. They also slow down and damage cars that hit them, and so they’re kept away from the cars too.

Continue reading at CityLimits.org
Continue reading at Better Cities and Towns (more photos)
A Sreet Is A Terrible Thing To Waste — from New York State Conference of Mayors Summer Bulletin

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QB Redux: I think that I shall never see… http://streets-book.com/2015/08/17/qb-redux/ http://streets-book.com/2015/08/17/qb-redux/#comments Mon, 17 Aug 2015 17:39:29 +0000 http://streets-book.com/?p=1596 WHEN I SHOWED A TRANSFORMATION FOR QUEENS BOULEVARD that included trees over the subway beneath the wide street, some people naturally had some doubts about how well the trees would grow. But look at these trees above the similar “cut and cover” subway at Broadway and 86th Street in Manhattan. “Cut and cover” is a construction […]

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WHEN I SHOWED A TRANSFORMATION FOR QUEENS BOULEVARD that included trees over the subway beneath the wide street, some people naturally had some doubts about how well the trees would grow. But look at these trees above the similar “cut and cover” subway at Broadway and 86th Street in Manhattan. “Cut and cover” is a construction process in which the street is dug up, the tracks are laid, and then the street is put back like a roof. I haven’t examined the drawings for either Queens Boulevard or Broadway, but the details should be similar.

Imagine how much better Broadway would look if the trees chosen had come from one of the great street tree species that form majestic canopies (they weren’t), or if the trees had been properly planted for healthy and mature growth (ditto). That means not only giving the roots enough room to spread out, but also planting trees like sycamores in conditions that allows their roots to intermingle, because we know now that many of the great street species share disease resistance through their roots. And today we have systems like Silva Cells for conditions where we know soil compaction and root spread can be a problem.

Now imagine how much worse Broadway would look without any trees…

BWAY_7656 BWAY_7657

Made in  the shade at the corner of Broadway and West 86th Street, perfect for a hot August afternoon.

engnewsdc784l

A New York City Subway Cut and Cover Construction Detail

Two Birds with One Design: Affordable Housing & The Boulevard of Death
Affordable Housing & The Boulevard of Death Followup

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The design of streets where people walk should begin with true 20 mile per hour speed limits & Vision Zero principles http://streets-book.com/2015/08/14/walkable-streets/ http://streets-book.com/2015/08/14/walkable-streets/#comments Fri, 14 Aug 2015 19:48:05 +0000 http://streets-book.com/?p=1594 SlowStreets.com #20isplenty #VisionZero

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SlowStreets.com
#20isplenty #VisionZero

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Exhibition Road Redux http://streets-book.com/2015/07/31/exhibition-road-redux/ http://streets-book.com/2015/07/31/exhibition-road-redux/#comments Fri, 31 Jul 2015 13:56:54 +0000 http://streets-book.com/?p=1590 “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 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 […]

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“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.

I say “frequently,” but I’ve only visited a few Shared Spaces in the UK. I’ve been tweeting for a while with the makers of a film called Sea of Change, however, which shows “the devastating impact of shared space on the blind and partially sighted people of Great Britain.” It premiered at the House of Lords in December 2013.

During the planning process for Exhibition Road (opened in 2012), modifications were made for the blind, but those don’t seem to be enough. In addition, the design speed for Exhibition Road is just too high. In theory the speed limit is 20 miles per hour, but drivers comfortably go faster—and that’s a problem for any Shared Space. The problem gets worse at the northern end of the road, which is in the City of Westminster, where the design speed is even faster than in the southern part in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. Of course that traffic behavior spills over. The wide roundabout at the border introduces a little confusion, but not enough to make everyone drive as slowly as they should in a Shared Space.

That’s one reason why I prefer the name “Slow Streets,” because Shared Space doesn’t work unless the cars are going slowly. And apparently that’s not the case in too many British examples. It’s going to be interesting to see how this plays out.

Exhibition_Road_Wikipedia

I believe the striping and texture is for the benefit of the blind—but how do they cross the road, knowing that drivers are sometimes going quickly?

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