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

Sunday, June 29, 2014

The Wilderness

New York City Nature Preserves

By the time we can speak of preserving and protecting wilderness, it has already lost much of its meaning: for example, the Biblical meaning of awe and threat and the sense of sublimity far greater than the world of man and unencompassable by him.
"Wilderness" is now a symbol of the orderly process of nature.  As a state of the mind, true wilderness exists only in the great sprawling cities.
- Yi-Fu Tuan, Topophilia 

Monday, June 23, 2014

"Urban Triage" on Our Streets?

With the number of pedestrians and cyclists who get killed on our streets every year, you might think that "Urban Triage" was a reference to the aftermath of vehicular violence. It sounds like it could be part of New York City's "Vision Zero" campaign. Instead, it is a term Jeff Speck uses in Walkable City. He attributes the phrase "Urban Triage" to his mentor, Andres Duany, and he recommends it as a way to determine which streets are deemed worthy of saving. The idea is that resources are limited, so projects should be focused on the streets that have the most potential:
Only the "in" streets are to receive walkability improvements like safer traffic patterns, street trees, and better sidewalks.
Before I sound too critical about Speck's recommendations for prioritizing downtown streets, I want to emphasize that Walkable City has been very effective at sparking public interest around the need to design streets that support pedestrian activity. My views align with Speck's far more than they diverge, especially in the earlier portions of the book where he synthesizes many of the current efforts underway around the country and beyond to understand and improve pedestrian conditions. Overall, it has been very positive that Speck has brought so much attention to the need to improve pedestrian conditions and put real effort into developing active transportation networks.

Nevertheless, as Colin Dabkowski in Buffalo recently noted, there are some real problems with Speck's approach. Dabkowski is right that social equity needs to be at the forefront of our efforts to improve cities, and he is right that Speck's writing does not lead the discussion in that direction.

Speck posted a response, where he claims that these concerns are unfounded, that his critics simply failed to understand him. Speck's tone is dismissive (he accuses Dabkowski of not fully reading his book), but Speck's response ends up reiterating some of the basic problems with his planning approach.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

The Residue Clogging the Bus Lanes

Creating a dedicated bus lane requires the displacement/destruction of the pre-existing uses within that right-of-way. Those uses almost always have a lower social value than a bus lane, and often so much so that those uses can actually be detrimental to the quality of life in a neighborhood. Nonetheless, the existing uses are fully enmeshed in the daily lives and habits of the community. That's why change can be so very hard, even when the results may be so clearly beneficial.

When the change in use prevails, it is rarely an immediate, complete transformation. Residues of former uses remain. An examination of those residues can be quite enlightening. Change exposes hidden sources of power. While illicit exploitation of street space has occurred in these locations for a very long time, the new conflicts created by the bus lanes bring the activities new exposure. Part of what becomes exposed is the accommodation of the City's enforcement apparatus. Far from random occurrences or oversights by busy departments, the pattern of enforcement demonstrates a set of cultural priorities. In the case of the bus lanes, what shows through is the prioritization of a car culture above the rule of law or the needs of the citizens who rely on transit.

The consistent failure to address violations by commercial businesses that encroach on the bus lanes demonstrates an informal policy that accepts the appropriation of public space by these businesses as a supposedly reasonable practice to provide what is viewed as an important service on constrained, urban sites. This is a value judgment that puts the interests of a car culture (which is the minority in New York City) above the needs and rights of the residents who take transit and walk in the area.

This car wash blocks the bus lane all day, every day
At the Vision Zero town hall meeting at the Bronx Library Center on April 1, there were repeated complaints about problems with NYPD's uneven enforcement on our streets. Among the specific complaints were auto drivers using the bus lanes, and commercial businesses taking over portions of streets and sidewalks. High-level NYPD officials were there and assured the audience that these problems would be taken seriously. Unfortunately, there has been little sign of improvement.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Growing Public Space from Grove Street

There is some exciting news that Jersey City may extend the public space from the plaza at the Grove Street PATH station further up Newark Avenue.

The plaza at the Grove Street PATH station

The existing plaza has already closed the easternmost block of Newark Avenue to traffic. Closing another block to traffic could make Newark Avenue part of an emerging trend of converting historical main roads into pedestrian space. The new plazas in Times Square are the prime example. Dating back to pre-colonial times, the trail that became Broadway was the main route up the island of Manhattan and beyond. Over time, its importance as the main traveled way waned as other routes were designed and constructed to standards more specifically meant to move vehicles, while local activities continued to crowd onto Broadway. Today, at Times Square, Broadway has been interrupted as a traveled way entirely. The social activities have asserted themselves as a place and the land has been converted into public plazas.

Streets experience a continual conflict between going and staying. Strips of land are transformed into active ways through the practice of travel, but the travel activities must push aside other uses that might utilize the space. Roads have been characterized as non-places. This is appropriate in a way, since places are spaces where people stay. The road or street is the space people use to leave.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Legally Blocking the Crosswalk?

The first question on anybody's mind is surely: What kind of jerk parks in the crosswalk?

The more important question is: Why would New York City, a place that relies so heavily on walking, enact regulations to make it legal?

In 2008, the New York City Department of Transportation (NYC DOT) quietly changed the parking rules to allow drivers to block unmarked crosswalks at T-intersections.

According to the New York City Department of Transportation
it is legal to park in the locations indicated with red circles.
Source: NYC DOT