Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Biking roundup (updated with items 6 and 7)

1.  Designing conflict in.  One of the points I make in terms of (1) shared use paths and "sharing" between modes moving at significantly different speeds; (2) significantly varying speeds among bicyclists; and (3) widths of shared use paths not being adequate for the amount and type of use (see the Shared Use Path Level of Service Calculator for guidance) is that too frequently we are "designing conflict in" to the situation when the point of planning and engineering is to design conflict out.

The New York Times has a piece, "Deaths Expose Chaos of Central Park's Loop," about two recent pedestrian deaths in Central Park, the pedestrians having been killed by stepping into the path of a high-speed bicyclist.

On the weekends you get a lot of biking and walking in Central Park on "The Loop" and fast moving "recreational cyclists" can travel at speeds of 20 to 30mph.  This is complicated by high demand destinations being located across the travel path.

I have no problem in "separating" uses, and moving high-speed bicyclists out of such conflictual situations.

2.  As another example of designing conflict in, DC's special events street closure permitting process for festivals should automatically include a requirement that bicyclists dismount.  Too frequently, bicyclists will ride through at speeds significantly higher than walking pace.  This is a problem at Eastern Market, DC's public market, where the street in front of the market is closed to traffic on weekends.

3.  Provision of event bike parking needs to be added to the special event approval process as well.  (I've argued this for awhile...)   Although as the Cleveland Plain Dealer points out, such a practice would require the provision of more bike parking ("Festival organizers adapt to growing number of bicyclists: Breaking the cycle."

4.  Bicycling-promoting cities should be concerned about bicycle theft.  Just as I mention that the "walking and bicycling city" should pay attention to the provision of sidewalks and bike lanes and all-season maintenance ("A "maintenance of way" agenda for the walking and transit city"), bicycle cities should address bicycle theft.  Last week the Cleveland Plain Dealer ran a series on the topic.  It wasn't particularly scintillating but it's important to shed light on the issue.

However, what was "path breaking" was the newspaper's creation of a database of all reported bike thefts in Cleveland and 12 suburbs.  That link provides links to the other articles in the series. re

Relatedly, Temple University argues that campus bike registration reduces theft.  See "Bicycle registration program contributes to cycling culture at Temple, cuts thefts in half."

5.  Jersey City opts to join Citibike rather than a bike sharing program unique to Hudson County, New Jersey.  Separately from NYC, Hoboken and neighboring cities have been testing bike sharing, as part of their commitment to sustainable transportation practices--Hoboken uses car sharing as a way to reduce demand for street parking and the city has the highest use of transit for work trips of any city in the US.

(Both Hoboken and Jersey City are connected to Manhattan by the PATH subway system, which is run by the Port Authority separate from New York State's MTA.  The fare media system is not integrated with the NYC Subway cards.)

When we were attempting to build a business in that sector we tried to bid on one of the early tests, but even then I thought it made more sense for them to consider integrating with New York City...

Well, Jersey City is deciding to do just that ("Three Cities in New Jersey Alter Bike Sharing Plans," New York Times) even though Hoboken and other Hudson County jurisdictions are pursuing their own program.  From a branding and identity and community connectivity standpoint, I think it makes a lot of sense.

(Now all they need to do is extend the 7 Subway into New Jersey.)

6.  The Friday Wall Street Journal housing section had a big piece on biking amenities as part of upscale residential developments.  (A couple years ago, I proposed something like this as part of a large residential and retail development in DC, but sadly, the developers just didn't get it.  I guess you have to see a bunch of articles in the national press before it sinks in.  Still, the complex I proposed this to is five times the size of the Velo Fremont building in Seattle.)

7.  A couple years ago Philadelphia instituted a law giving Councilmembers the ability to prevent a bike lane from being created in their wards.  That leads to a problem on Fairmount Street today.  See the column, "Changing Skyline: Battling over bikes in Fairmount," by Inga Saffron from the Philadelphia Inquirer.  From the article:
... the department's traffic engineers made the mistake of mentioning the B-word - as in bike lane - and now the worthy improvement project is ensnared in the web of City Council politics.

Leading the charge is Councilman William K. Greenlee, an at-large representative who lives in Fairmount. Although he says he's not anti-bike, he asserts that putting a bike lane on this part of 22d Street will slow automobile traffic and cause "serious backups."

His solution? Eliminate the bike lane, and devote it to cars.

Caught off-guard by his demand for more automobile capacity - most neighborhoods want less - the Streets Department has responded by delaying the striping until a consensus can be reached.
Such laws, giving Councilmembers final signoff on planning and zoning decisions, tend to be great opportunities for mischief. This is true in Philadelphia, Chicago and elsewhere, where such policies are in force. Interestingly, a property owner challenged aldermanic privilege in Chicago, as being unconstitutional. This makes sense, in terms of being a 14th Amendment violation. But the plaintiffs did not prevail on that claim

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San Francisco Bridges postcard booklet

Appropo of the 11th Street Bridge Park project, which I wrote about yesterday, and the posts from July and August ("The Anacostia River and considering the bridges as a unit and as a premier element of public art and civic architecture" and "Saving the South Capitol Bridge as an exclusive pedestrian and and bicycle bridge") arguing that the city could address bridges across the Anacostia River in a much more significant and design-forward manner, I came across a souvenir postcard folder from the 1930s, focused on how "The World's Greatest Bridges span the San Francisco Bay."  One side is devoted solely to the Golden Gate Bridge and the other side pictures the other bridges.

I imagine there are bridge-focused folders for other cities, so I'll have to be on the lookout for them.

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AMF Monorail (postcard), 1964-1965 World's Fair, New York City

Updated:  a commenter points out that I am behind the times in knowing about the current state of practice with regard to monorails, of which there are a number in Asia, at Walt Disney World in Florida of course, etc.  

The Wikipedia list of monorail systems, while incomplete, is a good place to start, as is the general page on monorails.

Of course, in various blog comments and other venues, people still argue that monorail is the future.  

Although the Wuppertal Suspension Railway system in Germany is cool-looking and the only substantive monorail system in the world--the Seattle system is very short, and not really transportational, more for tourists, although Seattleites did pass referenda supporting the system's expansion and the Las Vegas system went through a bankruptcy, but still runs.

I suppose you could argue just like streetcar opponents do, that monorails are 19th century technology too (the Wuppertal system started construction in 1897, but didn't open til 1901).

In either case, it would miss the point, as it's not when the technology first was introduced that matters--e.g., automobiles are 19th century technology too--but how the mode functions now that matters.

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Saturday was World Tourism Day

I am a strong supporter of leveraging tourism as a way to extend the array of cultural amenities available within a community.  I also think that the tourism promotion method is a good way to manage commercial districts, and that "locals" still benefit when this is done right.

See the 2005 post, "Town-City branding or "We are all destination managers now"."

This year's theme for World Tourism Day was Tourism and Community Development.

The 3rd UN World Trade Organization Global Summit on City Tourism will be held in Istanbul in November.  Last year's summit was in Moscow but I don't think presentations are available online.

-- WTO Global Report on City Tourism

City Break Tourism.  Earlier in the year during the writing project I was doing for the EU National Institutes of Culture Washington Cluster's Europe in Baltimore initiative, I came across a great paper about urban tourism opportunities in Thessaloniki (Development of Thessaloniki, Greece as a City Break Tourism Destination), which used a framework to evaluate what they called "city break" or urban-focused tourism, which is a particularly useful way to consider this issue.

-- Economics of Uniqueness: Investing in Historic City Cores and Cultural Heritage Assets for Sustainable Development, World Bank

UNESCO and cultural heritage promotion.  Separately, the United Nations Education, Science and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has both heritage conservation programs, specifically the World Heritage sites designation program, and the UNESCO Creative Cities Network, which promotes cities in terms of their being exemplary examples of particular types of cultural heritage.   For example, within this program, Dublin is a designated City of Literature.

Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Not realizing what we were doing so, we celebrated World Tourism Day by visiting Lancaster, Pennsylvania (actually we took a friend of the family up there to attend a funeral).

While there we visited some of our favorite places, including the Lancaster Central Market, which is one of the best public food markets in the Mid-Atlantic, Building Character, a building materials and crafts-reuse-thrift "co-operative" type market, and Telus360, which used to have a home furnishings store but has morphed into a multifaceted performance space.

The recession hurt the Downtown Lancaster quite a bit. But I have noticed year by year improvements.  This year the improvements are considerable, very much noticeable, with many fewer retail vacancies in the main retail areas.

While stopping in the Visitors Center (I try to never miss an opportunity to check out tourist visitor centers because very quickly you can learn a lot), I came across an economic impact survey* for the Susquehanna Gateway Heritage Area.

I hate to admit that I didn't know that Greater Lancaster has a defined heritage area designation, even though

(1) separately Lancaster City has been a leader in historic preservation policy and practice for decades, and in fact, on some dimensions is ahead of Washington, DC (they have design review guidelines for the entire city, will use eminent domain to cure habitual nuisance properties, link tourism, business and residential recruitment to preservation, etc.) and

(2) the State of Pennsylvania is a national leader in the development and expression of the heritage area concept.

In general, the city has a lot going on, fostered by being the location of a decent liberal arts college, Franklin and Marshall, as well as having a vibrant industrial sector still, especially agriculture, which I attribute to the strong critical mass of Amish and Mennonite farmers and businesspeople, who support a broad network of independent businesses.

Blue Ridge Parkway.  The Roanoke Times reports ("Blue Ridge Parkway visits up this year, but managers still face challenges") that tourism in the Blue Ridge Parkway region is up, but still below 2012 levels.  It attributes part of the drop to budget cuts and lingering impacts from the federal shutdown. Interestingly, 2/3 of the tourism is in the North Carolina section of the Parkway. From the article:
By the end of 2012, 15.2 million visitors had traveled some part of the 469-mile road that connects Shenandoah National Park in Virginia and Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina.
* Earlier this month at the monthly Eastern Market Community Advisory Committee, on which I sit, I suggested that the proposed market study include an economic impact study, because it will help bolster arguments for the market's role in Capitol Hill and the city's economic life, especially in terms of tourism.


American Society of Landscape Architects 2014 awards

(For what it's worth, generally landscape architects are the best physical planners, because they understand "landscape" and context.")
Norman B. Leventhal Park, Boston, at night, fine art photograph by Joann Vitali
Night in the Norman B. Leventhal Park, Boston.  The park was created as part of the reconstruction of an underground parking structure.  Fine art photograph by Joann Vitali.

From a press release:
The American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) announced the winners of the 2014 Professional Awards and Student Awards today. The awards honor top public, commercial, residential, institutional, planning, communications, and research projects from across the U.S. and around the world.

The October issue of Landscape Architecture Magazine (LAM) features the winning projects and is available online for free viewing. October's LAM will be featured on the end-caps of the magazine sections in nearly 600 Barnes & Noble stores beginning October 14.

The awards will be presented at the ASLA Annual Meeting and EXPO in Denver on Monday, November 24, at 12 noon, at the Colorado Convention Center. The 2014 awards program is sponsored by Victor Stanley.

ASLA will present 34 professional awards selected from more than 600 entries. See awards criteria, project information and images.
Here are some of the awardees that sound particularly interesting (and there are also categories for books and media, student projects, and contributions to the profession):
  • Segment 5, Hudson River Park A Resourceful and Resilient Space for a Park-Starved Neighborhood, New York City by Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates Inc. for the Hudson River Park Trust
  • Hunter's Point South Waterfront Park, Queens, NY, by Thomas Balsley Associates and Weiss/Manfredi for the New York City Economic Development Corporation/City of New York
  • Midtown Detroit Techtown District, Detroit by Sasaki Associates Inc. for Midtown Detroit
  • The Creative Corridor: A Main Street Revitalization for Little Rock, Arkansas, by the University of Arkansas Community Design Center and Marlon Blackwell Architect for the City of Little Rock, Ark.
  • Devastation to Resilience: The Houston Arboretum & Nature Center, Houston by Design Workshop Inc., Aspen, and Reed/Hilderbrand for the Houston Arboretum & Nature Center
  • Zidell Yards District-Scale Green Infrastructure Scenarios, Portland, Ore. by GreenWorks, PC, for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, City of Portland Bureau of Environmental Services and ZRZ Realty
  • Yerba Buena Street Life Plan, San Francisco by CMG Landscape Architecture for the Yerba Buena Community Benefit District
  • Unified Ground: Union Square - National Mall Competition, Washington, D.C. by Gustafson Guthrie Nichol for the Trust for the National Mall
  • Finding Connections to the Outdoors for Youth and Families in Larimer County, Colo. by Design Workshop Inc. for Great Outdoors Colorado and Larimer County, Colo.
  • Norman B. Leventhal Park at Post Office Square, Boston by Halvorson Design Partnership Inc. for the Friends of Post Office Square Inc.

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Monday, September 29, 2014

11th Street Bridge Park presentations today and tomorrow

Final submissions by the four teams:
  • Balmori Associates/Cooper, Robertson & Partners
  • Olin/Office of Metropolitan Architecture
  • Stoss Landscape Urbanism/Höweler + Yoon Architecture
  • Wallace Roberts & Todd/ NEXT Architects/ Magnusson Klemencic Associates
are online here:  11th Street Bridge Park Competition

Seeing the presentations (click for calendar)

1.  Online
2.  At exhibits at TheARC in Ward 7, the District Architecture Center, and the Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum
3.  In public presentations by the teams on September 29th and 30th at TheARC.

The site presents "some issues" given that the Navy Yard is still in use and presents serious security restrictions, which at time, close certain areas of the Riverwalk on the north (west) bank.

The decision process.  The Jury will be seeing presentations from the four teams today and tomorrow and the selection will be announced on October 16th at a press conference at TheARC in Ward 7.

The finalists will be presenting to the public this afternoon and tomorrow morning at TheARC as well.

Design oversight committee.  I am on the design oversight committee, which is a mix of representatives from various stakeholders (like the Navy Yard and the National Park Service), knowledge experts, and members of the community.

The committee participated in site visits and other information sharing with the teams after they were selected in June.  And in July and August the teams presented their in-process work to the committee for their response.

The committee wasn't supposed to say "we like this" or "we don't like that" and it wasn't a critique either, but a reaction with responses to questions posed by the teams.
11th Street Bridge Park project, Washington, DC
Me.  After the final submissions, based more on a reaction to the renderings, I had a preference, but because I am on the the design advisory committee (we react, we don't select, that's up to the jury) so I am not at liberty to express a public opinion.  In any case, I'm glad I'm not on the jury because selecting a winner will be difficult.

(More than 200 teams expressed interest, more than 80 teams submitted a response to the competition notice, and 4 teams were selected from this group to make proposals.  Each received just under $30,000 to cover the cost of preparing responses.)

Interestingly, the committee met last week and evaluated the four proposals (based on the more complete response document submitted by each team, which haven't been made public), as an analysis provided to the Jury.

At this stage, the task of the committee was to weigh each proposal against the design principles and evaluate whether or not the proposal as submitted would do a superior job creating a great park that is flexible, that will help to knit the two sides of the river together, and is "iconic."

But iconic is an interesting word with many meanings.  Does it mean a visual stunner, something that is "known around the world" not unlike the Frank Gehry designed Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, but not a great park?

In the end, I ended up changing my preference from my initial reaction, after a more careful and systematic evaluation of each proposal.  Iconic has different meanings and in the end, I decided that the "visual stunner" didn't follow through and also create the framework for a great park.

My reaction to the process.  The design review iterations and the ideas that were engendered led me to write four entries touched off by the interaction:

-- "The Anacostia River and considering the bridges as a unit and as a premier element of public art and civic architecture
-- "DC has a big "Garden Festival" opportunity in the Anacostia River""
-- "A world class water/environmental education center at Poplar Point as another opportunity for Anacostia River programming (+ move the Anacostia Community Museum next door)"
-- "Saving the South Capitol Bridge as an exclusive pedestrian and and bicycle bridge"

which could be considered an extension of various posts I've written about the area including:

-- "Wanted: A comprehensive plan for the "Anacostia River East" corridor"

Rather than considering the teams not selected as "losers," I'd prefer that we consider utilizing elements of their work  on other sites in the city, and continuing to work with all the teams.

Interestingly, the two firms that impressed me the most at the initial presentations by the finalists in June were the ones that impressed me at the end of last month's "review" meetings. It was interesting how the teams each looked at the project, and which elements.

(But in the end, I wasn't as impressed with those proposals, as I was with the one that in August I thought was the least interesting.)

Some of the elements that really surprised me and opened up my thinking included a recognition of the importance of wildlife sustenance as an element of "nutrition"/urban agriculture and how to program the space on a day-to-day basis (one of the firms ideas lays out a framework that I think is a substantive advance in parks planning, although maybe some business improvement districts are doing a form of this).

All the teams stepped delicately around the fact that there was more to the preferred program than can actually be accommodated on the bridge, and they made various proposals to extend programming on and along the banks of the Anacostia River.

Frankly, if I had been on one of the teams I would have advocated for an evaluation of the scope as part of the response, and pointed out the difficulty of realizing all of the program in the space available, just as each team evaluated the structural engineering elements of the bridge piers to determine what type of span could be accommodated and the constraints the bearing loads imposed on what could be achieved.

No swimming barge.  And in the end, no team suggested an in-river swimming barge.  See "From lidos to plunge pools: urban swim projects around the world" from the Financial Times.  What's up with that?

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Sunday, September 28, 2014

Car2Go is coming to Brooklyn, launches October 25th

Car2Go is a one-way car sharing program.  This means that you can leave the car in a place different from where you pick it up, unlike traditional car sharing programs like Zipcar (which is testing one-way car sharing in Boston), Enterprise, Hertz, etc., which are two-way, which means that you have to take the car back to where you got it.

That also means that you hold the car for the entire time of a reservation, where with one-way car sharing you don't have to keep the car at your destination.  (On the other hand, it might not still be there for you if you want to use it to return.)

See "Car sharing and integrated sustainable mobility planning" for more about the car sharing concept more generally.

Car sharing is a way to extend parking inventory.  Some cities like Hoboken are using car sharing as a way to manage parking demand and "add to supply" because members of car sharing services living in dense areas typically give up one or more cars after joining (Cars at Curbside, Available to Share" and "Car-Sharing Gamble in Hoboken Has Mixed Reactions," New York Times).

In Seattle, our intent was to switch from light rail to bus to get to our final destination from the airport.  But while lugging our luggage to the bus stop, I saw a car2go, and we used that instead.

I didn't think we'd be able to get around without a rental car, but between transit, some use of car2go and Zipcar, maybe one taxi ride, and a couple of rides from friends, we got around just fine.

There are restrictions on where you can leave the car, but generally you can park it on the street, in metered or residentially restricted spaces, without an additional charge.  If you park it illegally/outside of the restrictions, you're responsible for tickets.
Car2Go on 3rd Street SE, Capitol Hill
Car sharing firms pay for car access to street parking.  The company and therefore the user-members, pays a high annual fee to the city each year to cover the cost of this "free parking."

It's been controversial in some areas in DC, because some car owners, who pay little ($35/year) to nothing (some parts of the city don't require residential parking permits) for the privilege of being able to park on the street resent "those cars" using what they consider to be "their" spaces in front of their houses or otherwise on the street, not acknowledging that all city residents should have the privilege of being able to park on the street, that such a privilege shouldn't be limited to car owners.

Car sharing extends sustainable mobility lifestyles.  It's a useful alternative to transit when where you want to go or come from isn't convenient by transit, you're in a hurry, you ended up buying a bunch of stuff that you have to carry, etc.  And it's a useful alternative to biking when the person you're with doesn't/didn't bike.

And it is a complement to not owning a car in that it enables you to get around for trips where transit, walking, and biking don't always work.

We use car2go more than I'd like to admit, but it usually means getting home in 15 minutes or less from somewhere, as compared to an hour using transit+walking.  And it's cheaper than a taxi.

A Car2Go vehicle in the HafenCity district of Hamburg, Germany.  Note how the car is parked off the street.

Car2Go operates in 11 cities in North America.  Right now, US users of car2go can use the systems in any of the 11 cities in the US and the 4 cities in Canada where the service is operational.

Car2Go is offered in 13 cities across Europe, but currently, US members aren't afforded the privilege of using those systems.  (On the other hand, I figured I'd have no clue about how to drive in Germany, so that was probably a good thing.)

In addition to DC, I've used it in Seattle and San Diego--in San Diego they have electric cars, which are a dream ("Car2Go electric cars in San Diego"), but you can also use it in Austin, TX; and in Montreal; Toronto; and Vancouver in Canada
On the Trail of Brownstones in Brooklyn - New York Times.jpg
Ozier Muhammad/The New York Times.  Fifth Avenue along Sunset Park in Brooklyn.

Car2Go opens in Brooklyn on October 25th.  Brooklyn is next in line, and will be the 12th "city" (it's part of NYC) in North America to have car2go service.  (At this time, Brooklyn is the only borough where people will be able to "park" car2go vehicles.  Similarly, in other cities there typically are geographical restrictions on where you can park and release the cars.)

And you can join for free in advance of the service launch, and get 30-minutes of driving credit.

But if you get a referral from me, you can get 40-minutes of driving credit--10-minutes more than the basic inducement and I'll get some credit as well.

Drop me a line at if you want an invitation.

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Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Minneapolis North Side Greenway project as a quantum leap in transportation-placemaking-greenway-trail-parks planning

I am proud of my "Signature Streets" concept, which makes the point that communities need to acknowledge the foundation of their primary transportation network and ensure that it is high quality in all dimensions, for multiple modes, and in terms of the placemaking, aesthetic, and architectural qualities, as an element of civic architecture.
The Parkway concept as realized in Brooklyn's Ocean Parkway, 1894, included roadways, medians, and a dedicated bicycle path. NYC Parks and Recreation image.

A lot of other people's work has influenced the development of this idea, particularly parks planner David Barth, whose earlier

(1) "City Revival" approach recommends that city's treat streets as "linear parks," which is an extension of the parkway road concepts developed by the Olmsteds and others;

(2) Barth's later concept of the integrated public realm framework (below) which helps to unify our thinking about civic assets as the fundamental building blocks of our local community and government;

(3) funding and large scale project development programs like Seattle's Bridging the Gap and Oklahoma City's Metropolitan Area Projects;

(4) the use of design as a key element of community branding and identity systems;

(5) the re-focusing of public investment on existing places; and

(6) the effectiveness of investments in transportation infrastructure especially as a way to move revitalization forward more quickly.
Public Realm as an Interconnected system, Slide from presentation, Leadership and the Role of Parks and Recreation in the New Economy, David Barth

The development of the North Side Greenway in Minneapolis is a perfect illustration of taking the Signature Streets concept from theory to practice.

Midtown GreenwayMidtown Greenway.  Flickr photo by Payton Chung.

Minneapolis is "lucky" in that it had many railroad corridors crossing the city, most of them in trenches, and over the past couple decades some of these corridors have been transformed into Greenways--shared use paths--that provide dedicated throughways for bicyclists and pedestrians that are fully separated from motor vehicle traffic.

The Midtown Greenway is perhaps the most successful, and is known for having the Freewheel Cyclery shop and cafe directly on the trail.

The greenway system is becoming a notable and desirable amenity and a number of multiunit unit residential buildings have been or are being constructed adjacent to it and touting the proximity and access ("Uptown building to get a multimillion-dollar addition," Minneapolis Star-Tribune).

More recently, the Dinkytown Greenway opened, providing access to Downtown from the University of Minnesota campus ("New Dinkytown Greenway open for bikes, peds" and "New U bikeway fills an important metro link,"  Star-Tribune).
Dinkytown Greenway community meeting postcard
But what do you do for those parts of Minneapolis that don't have railroad trenches that can be converted to dedicated trails?

The Minneapolis North Side Greenway concept addresses this by proposing to create a greenway (or parkway) by repurposing and reconstructing almost 4 miles of existing surface streets into a greenway route that will connect the Victory Memorial Parkway, Crystal Lake Cemetery, Folwell Park and North Commons Park through the creation of a "linear park" or "parkway."  See "Proposed North Side greenway encountering some bumps" and "Greenway options on display for North Side" from the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.

Because of the need to acccommodate current mobility expectations, they aren't able to create a 100% dedicated greenway.  Instead they propose three (really four) different treatments.  One is total greenway.  One has one way traffic and parking with greenway or a narrow two lane street for through traffic, no parking, The third treatment is an enhanced bike boulevard with on street motor vehicle traffic.

Rendering of the proposed full greenway treatment.
North Side Greenway with no motor vehicle access

Rendering of one version of the street + greenway treatment.
North Side Greenway with one way street and parking, Minneapolis

Illustration of what the greenway concept could look like in real life, as demonstrated on Humboldt Avenue North at an Open Streets event, May 31st, 2014.  Minneapolis Star-Tribune photo by Eric Roper.
Demonstration of how the North Side Greenway could look

While there is some opposition to the project, because of the' existing greenway network, the proposal is less controversial than it might be otherwise, because people already are familiar with the concept, many have used the greenway network, and more people understand the value of these kinds of public investments as an element of community revitalization.

But probably more so than even NYC's conversion of street spaces along Broadway into pedestrian and bicycle spaces, the Minneapolis North Side Greenway proposal takes the integration of placemaking concepts and transportation infrastructure to a new level.

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Minnesota Nice Ride bike sharing system launches membership kiosks that dispense keys

According to Minnesota Public Radio, "Nice Ride MN gets an upgrade."  Before now, people joined online and got their key fobs in the mail.  This way they can get the fob immediately, which allows significantly faster check out than using a credit card.

Images of the Key dispensing kiosk courtesy of Minnesota Nice Ride.

Note that it took many many many years for the WMATA Metrorail system to install SmarTrip farecard dispensing machines in Metro stations.  Before that people received the cards by mail.

And it makes me realize that the various commuter stores in the jurisdictions, such as Arlington's Commuter Stores, ought to be promoting and selling bike memberships and dispensing key fobs too.

Thus far, this appears to be one of the only major technical innovations in North American bike share since the introduction of more modern systems beginning in Montreal in 2009.

Programmatically, the Hubway bike share system has innovated in terms of the cost of memberships for low income residents--$5 per year.

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Tuesday, September 23, 2014

A couple reports

1.  Who’s Moving to the Cities, Who Isn’t: Comparing American Cities | A Center for Community Progress Research Brief

It looks at "some of the hype" about center city "comeback" looking at three demographics: Millennials; 34-44; and older Americans and three types of cities: magnets; Sunbelt; and legacy to determine which cities are successfully attracting desirable demographics.  It also finds that there isn't a pronounced trend of older demographic segments returning to the city.

2.  Illinois Waterways: A Crisis Continued, by the Infrastructure Committee of the Illinois Chamber of Commerce.

Wikipedia image of towboat and barge on teh Chicago River.

The US doesn't really have a national freight transportation policy and plan.  One element is barge-based shipping, which is used primarily for food exports.  However the Chicago Sun-Times piece "6-cent hike in diesel boat fuel tax urged to fund waterway fix," mentions that in Chicago, concrete producers rely on barges for their raw materials, eliminating more than 100,000 truck trips.

This relates to a point I made during the MoveDC transportation planning process, that the city could work to shift the delivery of raw materials to the city's concrete and asphalt plants to train, and the same for movement of the detritus of demolished commercial buildings.

Anyway, will the reality of the need to invest in the country's infrastructure lead Congress to approve gasoline and diesel excise tax increases?

So far it doesn't look good.

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Arlington County and community-city-neighborhood-urban soul

"Heart Full of Soul" by The Yardbirds

Arlington is a suburb and a county, across the Potomac River from Washington, DC.  It's about 26 square miles--pretty small--and has about 220,000 residents and a bunch of conurbations, some somewhat "soulless" like Crystal City and Rosslyn, the national heralded smart growth  example of the"Wilson Boulevard corridor" anchored by four Metrorail stations over a two mile length, many interesting neighborhoods, a well-run innovative government, and an engaged and active population.

Map of the District of Columbia, 1835, showing the original 100 square mile geography of the District.  Arlington County makes up the majority of the secction listed as "Alexandria County" on the map.

Arlington and the City of Alexandria that abuts it were once part of the original 100 square mile "District of Columbia," but were retroceded back to Virginia in 1846 (too bad, if they hadn't , DC would have 1 million residents and we would be a lot less concerned about commercial and residential leakage to the suburbs).

Arlington is home to National Airport, the Pentagon and a lot of government agencies, centered around two major office districts--Crystal City and Rosslyn--convenient to DC and marketed that way against DC.

The Wilson Boulevard corridor is memorable because of how the county decided to locate the Metrorail there, underground, rather than within the media of I-66, and the decision to intensify development in the corridor to complement and leverage the subway service, while simultaneously preserving the residential districts just outside, and north and south of the corridor.

More recently, the County intends to construct streetcar service on Columbia Pike, a revitalization corridor in the county which has engendered vociferous opposition in some quarters, and is intensifying development in the Potomac Yards district west of Crystal City (most of this district is in Alexandria).

Arlington called "soulless."  A couple weeks ago, Senator Kristin Gillabrand caused some controversy when she wrote in her memoir that she moved from Arlington County, Virginia to DC because it lacks soul. Ben Adler  piled on ("Kirsten Gillibrand shouldn’t apologize. Arlington really is ‘soulless’," Post; "How to give a community a soul," Grist Magazine), agreeing that by comparison to DC neighborhoods like Georgetown, it's true, DC has ineffable qualities of "soul" and "character" while Arlington doesn't.

I think that's an ill-considered argument on a number of dimensions.

1.  There is no question that places like the Rosslyn and Crystal City office districts are uncongenial, but Arlington as a place to live and a place to engage is much more than the bad architecture and superblocks of those districts.

2.  Yes, many DC neighborhoods are older and have "better architecture" and aren't focused on automobility, although architectural superiority is a matter of opinion for people who prefer the Colonial Revival style that typifies much of Arlington.
Bloomingdale Rowhouses
DC's Bloomingdale neighborhood, 1st St. NW.

There is no question that DC has many more distinct and older neighborhoods than Arlington, and great swathes of historic rowhouse architecture that Arlington, unlike Alexandria, doesn't realliy have.

3.  Community is the sum of architecture, people and connections and organizations.   There is no question that DC's rowhouse building stock gives the city a very particular visual identity, but if "community" or "soul" is the nexus of the built environment and the people who inhabit it, Arlington is more than the content of its architecture and arguably, DC may add up to less than the content of its architecture and people.

Architectural character isn't enough to build "soul" and DC is losing a great deal of its soul or community as the city de-emphasizes the importance of neighborhood elementary schools--which are the basic building block of neighborhood identity and cause neighbors to meet--and as new residents move into the city in large part out of the attraction to historic architecture but with limited commitment to participation in neighborhood and civic affairs and community building activities.

Civic society and participation can be pretty weak in DC, although neighborhoods like Capitol Hill, Georgetown, and Takoma (although more the Maryland side) stick out for the variety of neighborhood-serving organizations, activities, and sense of community.  Neighborhood elementary schools are an essential building block in most of these places.

Dept. of Parks, Recreation & Cultural Resources Booth, Arlington County FairBy contrast, the Arlington County Fair is also a place where most of the county's government agencies exhibit, and even the County Manager spends some time in County Manager booth, talking with residents and answering their questions.

4.  Both Arlington and DC have some cool commercial districts and night-time destinations, and while the scale of places might be different between the two communities, Arlington holds its own with establishments like Clarendon Ballroom, Iota Cafe, Whitlows, Continental Pool Lounge and the Lost Dog Cafe.

Frankly, I'd rather have a branch of Lost Dog Cafe in Takoma than Republic, the ostensibly seafood restaurant from Jeff Black.

There is incredible vitality and street energy in the Wilson Boulevard corridor, and many great neighborhoods across the count

5.  Not only does Arlington have some awesome neighborhoods, it is also small enough so that many residents get involved in civic activities and pushing forward innovative practices, such as the County's focus on sustainability and energy planning, and a great deal of civic engagement.

For example, I have always been struck by how Arlington County Board members do things like lead community walks, and how the Arlingtonians for a Clean Environment community group leads environmental initiatives and helps push the county forward towards enacting and achieving a more progressive environmental agenda than surrounding jurisdictions.

Conclusion.  There's plenty of reasons to consider living in Arlington--other than the fact that the State of Virginia has some wacked politics and that the political structure is set up to advantage the rural areas over urban areas like Northern Virginia.

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Montgomery Alabama downtown loft tour

It's hard to believe these days, but 12 years ago it was a struggle to get certain segments of the housing market to consider living in Downtown and other neighborhoods in DC's core.  That's why in 2003, the city held the first and only "City Living Expo" to promote living in the city.

And I suggested to the city's "Long term revitalization coordinator" a "Downtown house tour" be created to highlight in-city living.  They never did it, and soon enough, trends and attitudes favoring urban living hit critical mass so that living in the city is no longer considered "outlier" behavior.

In my opinion, most other communities need to continue to promote urban living options in a concerted way, and house tours are a good way to do that.  However, most house tours are in more traditional neighborhoods comprised of single family households.

Printing Press Lofts.  Photo:  Julie Bennett, Huntsville Times.

Downtowns and similar districts are more typically comprised of multiunit housing, and not to many communities figure out that these districts can be promoted with house tours too.

Montgomery Alabama held such an event last Sunday, Loft Living Tour 2014.  See "Loft tour promotes downtown Montgomery living" from the Montgomery Advertiser.

-- Market District, Montgomery, Alabama
-- "Take a look inside The Printing Press Lofts," Huntsville Times
-- "Downtown's Printing Press Lofts have a storied past," Montgomery Advertiser
-- "City House: This loft has all the perks of suburban living and more right in the center of the city," Huntsville Times

From the first article:
The tour was a partnership between Foshee Management Co., which manages about 130 apartments downtown as well as other properties in east Montgomery and Prattville, and the nonprofit Landmarks Foundation, which promotes historic preservation.
Some of the featured residences were more like traditional apartments than true lofts, but each building offered a variety of repurposed urban living spaces that have no yard work involved. The demand for such downtown living has come about in just the last 10 years.
"Thirty or 40 years ago, apartments were by necessity," said Beau Daniel, regional property manager for Foshee. "Now, apartments are by choice."
Printing Press Apartments during construction. Huntsville Times photo.

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Monday, September 22, 2014

DC Soccer stadium supporter at the H Street Festival

I am not a fan of publicly-funded sports stadiums and arenas, and I have written about the proposal for a new soccer stadium, which granted is needed ("Concrete falls in RFK Stadium press box," Washington Post, here:

-- "Sports stadiums (and arenas) and local economic development and a DC soccer stadium,"

-- "What I don't like about stadium deals with professional sports teams: DC soccer stadium edition,"

-- "More potentially bad ideas: trading two city buildings for land at Buzzard Point, to build a soccer stadium (and a public safety campus)."

Obviously, this guy doesn't feel the same way.

Come to think about it, sports related organizations pushing various agenda items like stadium funding or an Olympics bid ought to be exhibiting at street festivals too.

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Sunday, September 21, 2014

H Street NE Commercial District Revitalization | H Street Festival

H Street Festival crowd shot, September 20th, 2014
H Street Festival crowd shot, September 20th, 2014, looking east from 4th Street NE.

With others of course, I was one of the lead organizers of the H Street Main Street commercial district revitalization program in 2002.

The effort developed out of an initial organizing initiative around 2000, which focused on stopping the construction of a 50,000 s.f. BP gas station on the 300 block, at the so-called "gateway" to the corridor.

Revulsion at the proposal brought together predominately white residents living south of H Street together with predominately African-American residents living north of H Street together with the H Street Merchants and Professionals Association/

Intersection of 3rd and H Streets NE.  In upper left of photo, apartments being constructed on the 700 block of 2nd Street/200 block of H Street.  In the middle right, the Landmark Lofts and Senate Square Apartments on the north side of the 200 block of H Street. In the lower right, the 360 apartment building.

Over time, not only was the BP venture scuttled (at that time with support of the DC Government under Mayor Williams--a similar type of support was not provided by the Fenty Adminstration in comparable situations later), residents started working with the Merchants group in order to foster nire systematic improvements to the commercial district.   See "360 Apartment building + Giant Supermarket vs. a BP gas station, which would you choose?"

It took thirteen years but instead of a gas station, the corridor has an apartment building with a Giant Supermarket on the first floor!

Simultaneously, the then Councilmember, Sharon Ambrose, secured funding and a commitment from DC City Council for a new revitalization plan for the corridor. The previous plan, mostly realized, was developed after the 1968, which devastated the corridor, and was very much big project/urban renewal oriented.

Despite the realization of most of the projects from the H Street Urban Renewal Plan (three sets of rowhouses built in place of frame houses or light industrial property, two senior apartment buildings, a strip shopping center, a shopping mall, a bridge over the railyard, a garden apartment complex and a garden condominium project) the corridor continued to languish.

The new plan, serendipitous developments (the renovation of the Atlas Theater and the sale of the Children's Museum and its conversion to housing) and other coordinated investments (primarily an investment in the streetscape and bringing streetcar service to the corridor, which will begin service within the next 3 to 6 months) and I would argue, the opening of the NoMA Metrorail station in 2004, which made living north of H Street a reasonable choice for people who wouldn't have considered it before, unleashed the changes that we see today.

Of course this was helped by the corridor's location proximate to Union Station and a short trip to Downtown and the US Capitol.

My line about our efforts is that we didn't have consensus about what we wanted to see, but we did have consensus that things needed to change.

In any case, and certainly evidenced by yesterday's H Street Festival, none of us could have imagined the actual changes that have come about in the last 14 years.

This building at 406 H Street NE has been vacant for the 27 years that I have lived in Washington, although the building is finally being renovated currently.

Definitely not people putting H Street tattoos on their backs or H Street being a nightlife destination.

As far as yesterday's street festival was concerned, the fact that maybe as many as 100,000 people attended was also unimaginable if not shocking.  I couldn't really believe it what I was seeing, thinking back to when I first moved to that area in 1987.

In terms of what the festival offered, I probably wanted more participation by nonprofits and government agencies--although the DC Streetcar had three streetcars open for people to check out, and a few agencies, like the Urban Forestry Administration, had booths.

I was impressed with how the bar-restaurants used their sidewalk access to leverage the presence of festival.  And a few of the retail and service businesses like Daily Rider bike shop and the TEFCU Credit Union had booths as well.

There were a number of booths touting various apartment and condo buildings, which definitely would have been unimaginable 10 years ago.

Changes in street festival logistics.  There's no question after attending the Adams-Morgan Festival last weekend and H Street Festival yesterday, that the city special events protocols have changed somewhat to ensure emergency access, simplify crowd control and minimize crowding.

At AMF, they ended the use of large stages at Columbia Road and U Street that had for the most part blocked the entire street.

They shifted the Columbia Road stage to a side plaza and the U Street stage was shifted to the ground, with stages at Marie Cooke and offset on 18th Street.

The H Street Festival did something similar. Stages were not placed perpindicular to H Street in a way that would have blocked the street.  

Stages were offset and placed partly on the side streets.  Mostly smaller stages were used instead of the larger trailershad been typical in past festivals..

In both cases the center of the street was not obstructed with booths--booths were pushed to the sides--providing for a wide walking zone and making impossible the kind of unsafe crowding that was experienced at the east end of last year's H Street Festival .

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Friday, September 19, 2014

Park(ing) Day

I didn't manage to get out and check out various Park(ing) Day installations across the city and metropolitan area.  Washington Business Journal has a gallery of photos and a short article.

Parking Day started in 2005 in San Francisco and sparked the parklet movement, which has become institutionalized in many communities.  The idea was to challenge our taking it for granted thinking about how cities use a majority of their public space for car storage.  Park(ing) Day is held the third Friday of September.

I still think that such installations could be better used to promote systematic structural improvements in urban public space and civic design and parks policy and practice, but that will have to wait til sometime in the future.

-- news coverage from around the country
Image from the Gray Matters blog at Georgia Tech, 2011.

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Dog parks and National Park Service installations

From time to time, I mention dogs and their impact on placemaking from the standpoint that dog walking brings people out of the house and "forces" them to walk around the neighborhood, increasing the number of  people out and about, which adds to community activity and vitality.

Dogs are an element of "social bridging," and enable people to meet when they otherwise would not.

2.  People in my neighborhood are interested in creating a dog park and one person suggested approaching the National Park Service, "because they might be easier to work with than the city."

Of course, that was laughable, because the NPS is subject to more rigorous environnmental assessment processes than the DC Government process.
Pico Jumps
Flickr photo by mylerdude.

Looking into it a bit more, I discovered that there is an ongoing Dog Management Planning Process at the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, which is a mostly urban National Park Service set of installations in the San Francisco Bay region.

The more than 1200-page Environmental Assessment document produced for that process is probably the most definitive document on dog planning EXCEPT for the fact that creating one or more dedicated dog park areas was not considered at all.

-- current policy on dog walking, Golden Gate National Recreation Area

It turns out that the national law under which NPS works is that dogs can't be off-leash, although some parks, in some areas, don't enforce this prohibition.  That means no dog parks, in all likelihood, on NPS controlled property.

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