- See more at: http://www.bloggerhow.com/2012/07/implement-twitter-cards-blogger-blogspot.html/#sthash.DO2JBejM.dpuf

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Paint the Town

Transportation engineers have long been painters, although the markings they have applied in white and yellow are not something anyone has ever recognized as artwork. Of course, they never intended for their functional markings to be a visual art (although their engineering work can be as much art as science at times). I find it interesting to note the pallet they use has been expanding in recent years, and our cities are gaining a little more colorful accent as a result. In some cases, transportation agencies are even using paint to create public art in places that have traditionally been mundane or outright unsightly.

Here's a quick rundown of the color pallet used for functional markings, a note about incorporating art to mitigate the unattractive spaces sometimes created by transportation, and some discussion of the limitations of paint.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Why One-Way Streets Work

The one-way operation on East 17th Street on the northern edge of Union Square allowed
NYC DOT planners to recapture space for a bike lane and new public space (photo NYC DOT)

One-way streets can provide many benefits for safety, sustainable transportation, and public space, when used properly under the right circumstances. Nevertheless, there are progressive advocates who believe that two-way streets are intrinsically superior. Their heart is in the right place in their effort to makes cities more livable, but I fear they are reaching the wrong conclusions because of an incorrect assumption and perhaps a bit too much nostalgia. This is an important issue for transportation and quality of life, so we should have some real discussion and communication.

This issue has been on my mind for some time, and a recent tweet by Brent Todarian brought it to the forefront:
One of the biggest city-making mistakes that continues to haunt & weaken downtowns is the abundance of one-way streets. .
From what I have seen, Todarian is a thoughtful planner with experience making substantive improvements in Vancouver. There are real limits to the complexity of an issue that can be conveyed in a tweet, so in all likelihood Toderian's thoughts have much more nuance. There are, however, vocal advocates who dogmatically take the position that one-way streets are fundamentally an anti-urban and illegitimate configuration.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Speeding Past Schools During Alternate Side Parking

On a day off from work this week, I noticed something troubling about the New York Police Department's approach to enforcing Alternate Side Parking. Drivers were speeding past the local grade school, and it looked like the NYPD's methods were inadvertently contributing to the problem.

The New York Police Department generally allows double parking on the opposite side of the street during Alternate Side Parking for street cleaning. Nobody seems to really know or understand how this rule is supported in law, but it is generally observed and respected. There is a situation, however, where the NYPD does not allow this practice. You cannot double park on a block that has a school.

Supposedly there is some safety concern that motivates the NYPD to reign in the permissiveness around schools. If there is any effect, however, it quite likely makes the situation more dangerous. What I saw this week was cars absolutely flying down the block past the local grade school.

A typical NYC block, where double parking
is allowed during Alternate Side Parking
The next block over with a school, where double
parking isn't allowed. It encourages speeding

After a look around, the reason seemed obvious. Consider the blocks that allow double parking. The parking maintains a narrower effective width on the street, which helps discourage speeding. The blocks with schools, however, create wide open roads where drivers feel comfortable stepping on the gas.

Since the NYPD is clearly comfortable allowing the widespread practice of double parking during Alternate Side Parking, they should reevaluate their strict enforcement on blocks with schools. These may be the locations where double parking may actually be most appropriate.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Don't Stoop to That Level: Better Contextual Design

Intact, well-maintained stoops in historic neighborhoods certainly
create an appealing rhythm to the streetscape
Planners often promote and sometimes even require stoops for new urban neighborhoods or infill development in existing neighborhoods. This is supposed to be contextual. It is supposed to provide a varied streetscape. In practice, it often looks contrived and generally creates unnecessary problems for the people who will live in or visit the homes.

To be sure, stoops are often well-loved features in many historic neighborhoods. Residents may sit on their stoops watching pedestrian traffic and talking with their neighbors (although this generally seems to happen somewhat less in real daily life than romantically imagined). They create a rich layering of space and provide a rhythm for pedestrian progress down a block. The appeal is obvious, and preserving the character of such historic neighborhoods is an important task.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Active Use for a Sealed Door

Bruckner Bar and Grill in the South Bronx

Creative use of a sealed door or window.  Usually these types of modifications in the use of old buildings look cheap and thoughtless. This fully uses the otherwise dead space and looks dignified (yet was still clearly not expensive).