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Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Tons of Passengers

New York City's major transit hubs have tons of passengers.


While "tons of [whatever]" is a common figure of speech, it is interesting to think about just how many actual tons of human beings are transported through the main regional hubs on a normal weekday.  Grand Central Terminal, for example, moves more than 17,000 tons of human bodies.

Just imagine if we replaced the clock at Grand Central with a scale!

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Trailer Park Education

The New York Times recently ran an article about New York City's desire to stop using trailers for classroom space. It noted:
"As of a 2012 count, about 5 million students across the United States were being housed in 280,000 trailers..."
I wish I could say I was shocked, but our nation has allowed these deplorable conditions for decades. The anti-government rhetoric that took root in the 1980s changed the way we look at public education. The poor conditions the Times noted were the conditions of much of my own public education. It was not until I spent more time looking at older school buildings and reading historical documents that I came to understand just how much we have devalued our schools.

We no longer treat schools as the civic heart of our communities. We are not paying and honoring teachers as community leaders who inspire our future leaders. The buildings where we send our children have abandoned the use of architecture to communicate the importance of knowledge. You're lucky if the roof doesn't leak.

There is nothing new about this. Decades ago, my high school classrooms had multiple buckets to catch the water that leaked through every time it rained (and it rained very often in Oregon). When I was in middle school, I took some of my classes in one of those trailers. It was dubbed "the relocatable," although it was never relocated anywhere. It stood in the same place for over 20 years after I attended the school.

That trailer was scrapped in recent years. Students no longer try to learn in that decrepit shack, but the situation has hardly improved. Rather than building a new school or a permanent extension, they merely bought a new trailer a few years ago and plopped it down on another side of the school.

This stands in stark contrast to the way America once viewed our schools. Most people can probably think of at least one grand, old school that represented a major public investment in a solid building with proud architecture. The citizens who built those schools buildings had much less comfortable lives than we have today, yet they made the sacrifice to ensure the school was solid and looked important.

As an example, consider the early years of Albany, Oregon, when it was growing quickly and promoting itself. The early civic leaders viewed public education as a key to their boosterism. An 1888 book published to attract new businesses emphasized how well they paid the teachers. It compared how many months of school they provided each year and promised they were making progress for more. The school building was a key feature.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Old Institutions Need New Vision

This is not the type of intersection you want to cross with your children to go to the zoo:

It's not really the type of intersection you would ever want to cross to go anywhere. It's too wide, and has too many fast-moving cars making turns through the crosswalk while you're trying to get across.

Of course, there is nothing much unusual about this type of intersection. This has been a fairly standard approach to designing major streets all across the continent for decades.

What is remarkable is that much of the section of Fordham Road/Pelham Parkway that begins at this intersection was just recently reconstructed here in New York City, where the Department of Transportation has earned an international reputation for its innovative street designs. Sometimes the old highway mentality can be persistent, even in transportation departments that are at the forefront of change.

This vast and expensive reconstruction also exposes the outdated views of the major cultural institutions in The Bronx. The project was initiated and moved to the top of the City's priority list by the "Four Bronx Institutions." With their drive and input, the project completely rebuilt the frontage between the Bronx Zoo and the New York Botanical Garden, two of the four member institutions, so it really demonstrates the vision they have for their patrons and employees, the surrounding neighborhoods, and each other. That vision belongs in the dustbin of the past, but I am afraid we will be forced to live with this new construction  long into the future.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Connecting Neighborhoods Across Mosholu Parkway

Mosholu Parkway is a great shared civic space between the Bedford Park and Norwood neighborhoods. One of the aspects that first impressed me about this area was the groups of older men who walk together and talk on the parkway. Yet while the parkway is a place where the community comes together, it also acts as an inconvenience for movement between the neighborhoods.

There are some long stretches on Mosholu Parkway between intersections, which are the only locations where pedestrians may legally cross the roadways. At several of the intersections, pedestrians are confronted with regulatory signs prohibiting them from crossing at certain corners, imposing yet more limitations on their ability to get around easily.

These locations where pedestrians are prohibited from crossing should be changed. Prioritizing the turning movements of drivers cutting through the community over the residents walking between neighborhoods is the wrong choice. At these locations, the prohibitions appear to do very little to benefit the drivers anyway. The volumes of turning vehicles and pedestrians appear modest enough that allowing pedestrians to go where they want should not create any real problems with turning delays.