Monday, July 30, 2012

Ray Bradbury: Author, Visionary, Pedestrian

Joseph Mugnaini — The Pedestrian

Last month the world lost one of its great authors, futurist and fellow Angeleno Ray Bradbury. Unique for many reasons, I just learned something about him that makes me love him even more: he never drove a car. (Though for the record his family owned one--his wife just did all the driving because, "In a really smart family, the woman does the driving. If a man is smart, he says to his wife, ‘You drive because I’m not a good driver.’")

Bradbury dreamed of a future where city-dwellers ditched their cars for high-speed monorails, but acknowledged that reality might look bleaker if we continue down our current path. He describes a much darker vision his 1951 story The Pedestrian, about a city where one brave man dares to walk the sidewalks--and the consequences of engaging in such devious behavior.

You can read more on Bradbury's thoughts on transportation here.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Following the money

We all know that it creating great pedestrian environments take money, but understanding transportation funding is a little trickier. Last week Tri-State Transportation came out with this great tool that helps you understand how much your state is spending on bicycle and pedestrian projects (not to mention bridges, transit, and other transportation infrastructure).

And if the recent federal transportation debacle has you confused (not just depressed), here's a nice summary of the MAP-21 legislation.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Car Wars

One thing advocates of "alternative" transportation modes are constantly accused of is hating cars. This piece from NPR's Cities Project takes a closer look at the so-called "car wars" that planners are waging. One quote from a DC resident summed up for me the predominant--but uninformed--view on the situation:

"[Cars are] the predominant form of transportation in America. In fact, it's something that we can't live without...When you get a refrigerator delivered ... they don't bring it on a bicycle. ... They bring it in an automobile. It's easy to vilify the automobile, but it's not productive."

Setting aside for a moment the fact that many people do in fact live without cars, let's look at the second part of that statement. While he doesn't use the term, what the speaker is talking about is goods movement. And he's right: transporting goods around the city (and country) quickly and smoothly is essential to our economy, and a lot of that goods movement isn't going to happen on a bike.

But moving merchandise is an entirely different type of trip than, say, going to the hardware store, a nuance that often gets lost when we talk about the "war" on cars. You'd be hard-pressed to find a planner who really believes that cars have no place whatsoever in our society--heck, I heard this story while driving home from work in my car. But there are lots of trips where driving really doesn't--or at least shouldn't--make sense, and these are the trips we'd like to shift to other modes.

As I like to say, no one buys a Ferrari to drive to the grocery store. We should focus on using cars for the trips where they really make sense (and ensuring that drivers pay the full cost of driving, but that's another post), and ensuring that the pedestrian environment is safe enough for people to walk when they want to. As Washington DC Planning Director Harriet Tregoning says in the piece, cars are nice but, "It's also great to get out of them every once in a while."

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Upcoming Events in San Diego

Lunchtime Panel Discussion
The Public Realm: The Re-emerging City Building Framework

Date: Wednesday, July 25, 2012, 12:00-1:00 P.M.
Location:  NewSchool of Architecture and Design, 1249 "F" Street, San Diego, CA  92101
Lunch Included: $5.00 in advance, $7.00 at door
RSVP: by email or call 619.544.9255

The public realm is once again being understood as a critical element in making cities work for the health and well-being of their citizens. Public health professionals have joined with design professionals in recognizing that quality urban design, and a well designed public realm, are key to the health and wellness of the community. Local author Richard Louv has given the lack of connection to nature and the public realm a name: "Nature Deficit Disorder.”At the same time we are renewing our understanding of the importance of nature in the public realm, we are experiencing the lack of resources for improving and maintaining public spaces. This panel discussion will address where San Diego is, where we might go, and lessons learned from other places.

Community Walk
Ocean Beach
Meet: Foot of Ocean Beach Pier (end of Niagara St)
Date: Saturday, July 21, 2012; 9:00am
Come learn the fascinating and varied history of this beach community, including the Wonderland Amusement Park, the old fishing bridge across the Mission Bay Channel, and Albert Spaulding’s Japanese Gardens at Sunset Cliffs.  A three-mile walk with some hills. (this is a repeat of a walk done in 2010)

Community Walk
Downtown Gaslamp
Meet: 5th and B St in front of the Wells Fargo Building fountain
Date: Saturday, August 15, 2012; 9:00am
Come explore the rich history, architecture, and people of the Gaslamp historic district and surrounding area. A three-mile walk on flat terrain.

Summer walks are open to everyone; reservations not required. Contact Dave Schumacher, with questions; Free for WalkSanDiego members, suggested $5.00 Non-Member donation

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Whose sidewalks are they, anyway? Part 2

I've written before about Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris and Reina Ehrenfeucht's important work on sidewalks and their crucial role in creating and sustaining a vibrant city--along with city officials' ongoing attempts to thwart that role. Last week in LA we were treated to yet another example of a city trying to limit the use of sidewalks to specific, sanctioned activities.

For the non-locals, downtown LA is in the midst of a renaissance that includes an extremely successful nighttime Art Walk on Thursdays. Last week Occupy protesters organized a "chalk walk" during the Art Walk festivities, writing their slogans on the local sidewalks and--in the process--impeding the flow of pedestrians. When they refused to move, police got involved, and (as the pattern goes here in LA) things got out of control.

It would be easy to make this about the sometimes-unruly Occupy movement and their politics, but the real issue has nothing to do with the specifics of this incident. Instead, it highlights a fundamental disagreement over the purpose of sidewalks. As quoted in the LA Weekly, the LAPD argues,

"One thing that's getting lost is...we had people writing on the sidewalks and, because so many were doing it, they were blocking the sidewalk and forcing pedestrians to walk in the roadway."

The unspoken implication is that the sidewalk serves one purpose only: moving pedestrians (while of course keeping them out of the way of all-important flow of vehicle traffic).

But sidewalks do so much more than that. They're a place for social interaction, expression, discovery, art and beauty. They're the place where the shopkeeper and the millionaire executive can nod to one another as equals. For some people, they're even home.

Until Los Angeles acknowledges--and even embraces--the many reasons sidewalks exist, we're never going to have a world-class walking city.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Upcoming Webinars

Here a web, there a web, everywhere a webinar...

July 17 - 11:00 AM PDT
What's Working in Collaboration for Health Promotion

When health advocates work together across local, state and national lines, they achieve change more effectively.  Online resources can help them come together — but with so many different resources out there, which are the most useful? Join and public health experts on July 17 for a free webinar to discuss current collaboration trends and success stories.

Register here.

July 17 - 10:00 AM PDT
Making Tough Choices Easier: How To Prioritize Pedestrian Infrastructure Needs
Safe Routes Coaching Action Network

How do you know which infrastructure improvements will have the greatest impact on walking and biking to school?  This webinar will help you learn how to prioritize projects at various schools within a community and how this has been applied in two communities.  First, you will be introduced to the guide on infrastructure project selection developed by the National Center for Safe Routes to School. Then planners and engineers from San Francisco and Miami will discuss two different approaches to prioritizing projects at multiple schools.  

Register here.

July 18 - 12:00 PM PDT
The Greener Side of Green Streets: Reducing Pavement Footprints
Association of Pedestrian and Bicycle Professionals
This webinar will explore how some cities are working to reduce the environmental footprint of their streets while also adding value for bicyclists and pedestrians. Attendees will learn about Portland's Green Street Projects which improve both storm water management and traffic calming through the use of semi-diverters, curb extensions, offset intersections and pervious pavements as components of neighborhood greenways and pocket parks. The session also includes information about Chicago's Sustainable Streets demonstration projects, which use recycled materials, pervious surfaces, reflective pavement coatings, street trees and other treatments to create sustainable streetscapes.

Register here.

July 24 12:00 PM PDT
TRB for Bike/Ped Professionals: Understanding and Engaging the Transportation Research Board
Association of Pedestrian and Bicycle Professionals

Attend this free webinar to find out what the Transportation Research Board does and how its work benefits bicycle and pedestrian professionals. TRB's focus is research; presenters will explain how TRB conducts and disseminates research, citing current outcomes from the Bicycle and Pedestrian Committees. Learn how to engage with TRB through research needs statements, submitting a paper, the peer review process, and practice-ready papers and other TRB products.

Register here.

July 26 - 11:00 AM PDT
The Economic Benefits of Safe Routes to School
Safe Routes to School Partnership
In this webinar, expert speakers will discuss how bicycling and walking can boost local economies, how bicycling and walking saves communities money and specific research on the topic.

Register here.

July 30 - 10:00 AM PDT
SRTS Middle School Curriculum: Why it is Important and How to Make an Impact
Safe Routes Coaching Action Network
When most people think of SRTS programs, elementary school students come to mind. In this webinar, we will discuss why it is so important to reach out to middle school students, why it is often so challenging to get through to them, and three examples of programs designed to make an impact on these preteens.

Register here.

July 24 - 12:30 PM PDT
Using Health Impact Assessments to Connect Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety and Health
Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center

Health impact assessments are a valuable tool for estimating the health impact of various projects and policies. This webinar will explore what health impact assessments are and how they can be used to connect bicycle and pedestrian safety and health. Bethany Rogerson, senior associate for the Health Impact Project, a collaboration of The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Pew Charitable Trusts, will provide an overview of HIA programs and how they can add value to a decision-making process.

Register here.   


Saturday, July 14, 2012

This week on foot

This week we learn The Awful Truth About the Transpo Bill’s Bike/Ped Loophole, and how it may reduce the amount of funding for bike and pedestrian projects nationwide. Fortunately, we can always take things into our own hands with DIY speed bumps: Traffic control for neighborhoods that don't rely on federal funding...

And we need it, since this week there was a Pedestrian fatally struck by car in West Los Angeles and a Big-rig kills pedestrian on LA area freeway. Yet at the same time a new Plan Calls for Wider Wilshire, Skinnier Sidewalks. Is LA still not understanding the importance of walkability?

If so, LA isn't the only one: in the Bay Area we learn this week about The opportunity that Apple is missing to build a better neighborhood, while Inadequate transit, sprawl cut off workers from jobs across the country and there's a big MassDOT Mistake: How Not to Rebuild Main Street.

But elsewhere things are looking more promising. As pedestrian accidents mount, Ocean City looks for answers, Greensboro police emphasize pedestrian safety and Bronx teenagers campaign for pedestrian safety, win neighborhood ‘slow zone’ from city for Mount Eden. While New Jersey's

more here:
2010 law to reduce pedestrian injuries sees mixed results, at least New sidewalk improves safety for pedestrians along Route 31 in the Flemington/Raritan area, and North Van walkabouts teach residents how healthy living is planned.

Which is important, because Health expert says children need more unsupervised play time--but for that to happen they need safe streets to play on, unlike in Covina where a Pedestrian struck by Metrolink train identified as 14-year-old Glendora boy.

Elsewhere in the world there's Another Sydney pedestrian run over, and they're worried about Big box social engineering in Calgary. In India we're reminded that Walking and cycling saves us lakhs per day and in Manila Realtor envisions a bolder Makati with better walkability.

Perhaps they can look to Oregon, where a New pedestrian and bicycle bridge across Interstate 5 opens Saturday in Southwest Portland. You never know. A Pedestrian bridge could be an 'iconic structure'.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Pedestrian Mall: Friend or Foe?

Scott Donyon has a problem with pedestrian malls. As he writes on the Better! Cities & Towns blog:

The idea seemed solid. Give multiple downtown blocks over to pedestrians and, in the process, take on the new suburban malls with a compelling destination to draw crowds back downtown. Only, in most cases, it didn’t really work out that way.
Here’s why: The problem — at least the most visible one — was that we had relinquished our streets to the automobile, relegating all other users to second or third class status. We had taken the complexity of the public realm and dumbed it down into a single-use car sewer. Cars good, walking bad.
So how did we try to fix that? By doing the exact same thing, except in reverse. This time it was cars bad, walking good, which presents a similar set of problems because community doesn’t thrive in the all-or-nothing extremes of complexity reduction. Instead, the workable solutions tend to be the ones found in the messy middle ground, where culture and commerce intersect and competing interests are confronted and reconciled.

I agree that all-or-nothing approaches rarely work, but I don't believe the problem with pedestrian malls is eliminating vehicles per se. As this study from earlier in the year explains, walkable centers generally don't have a sufficient market within their pedestrian shed (the distance people will walk to get to the center) to support their businesses. Instead, they need to "import" customers from surrounding locations via transit, biking, or driving--modes that accommodate longer trips. A sustainable pedestrian mall will allow for these trips, even if it doesn't direct them straight through its core.

That's one reason that Estes Park is so ideally suited for a pedestrian-mall-type road closure: the parking lots that ring main street allow outsiders to drive to the downtown perimeter and park, then leave their vehicles behind and browse on foot. (And why is window-shopping on foot better than driving through a main street? It encourages impulse buys: you're much more likely to pause for an ice cream cone if you don't have to search for parking first.)

Monday, July 9, 2012

A Destination without a Destination Street

We're back from a week in Estes Park, Colorado, and it turns out that it's true: you can take the girl out of the planning department, but you can't take the planner out of the girl. All week, every time we drove or walked down the city's main street (above), I felt an uncontrollable urge to call up the local town council and beg them to do a walk audit. As you can see above, while the city has made some effort to improve walkability by adding bulb-outs at key intersections and decorating the on-street parking with bricks, there's still a busy, four-lane road cutting through what is nominally the prime tourist street of a town with a tourism-based economy.

What's particularly absurd about this, is that the layout of the surrounding streets and parking have actually been designed to encourage drivers to either 1) bypass downtown Estes Park entirely by using a parallel side-street or 2) park in one of the many lots surrounding main street and walk into downtown. If the idea is to make Estes Park's main drag a "destination" for pedestrians to leisurely stroll along, window shopping and purchasing the occasional ice cream cone, why destroy the street's walkability by clinging blindly to the idea that vehicles must retain their dominance in the streetscape?

In fact, why even keep the street open to vehicles at all?

As I mentioned, the main street is surrounding by parking lots and paralleled by a bypass road for through traffic. There's really no reason I can see to keep main street open to vehicle traffic to all. At a minimum, imagine what the road might look like if it followed the model of Central City, Colorado:

Note the narrow, woonerf-style street that clearly tells pedestrians, "this is your space, we just let the cars borrow it now and then." Downtown Estes Park has a slew of great features for pedestrians (a riverwalk with pocket parks, human-scale buildings, street trees), but until the city gives up on the idea that all streets must prioritize vehicles, it's never going to be the great destination that it should be.

Monday, July 2, 2012

LA Walks Community Meeting

Join Los Angeles Walks for a Community Meeting on July 10

Los Angeles Walks wants your feedback on expanding our current campaigns. Come by and let them know what you think would make walking in L.A. safer, easier, more convenient and more fun! Snacks and drinks provided.

July 10, 2012, 6:30-8:30pm
Downbeat Cafe (downstairs)
1202 North Alvarado St. (Just north of Sunset)
Los Angeles, CA 90026

  •    6:30 pm meet & greet
  •    6:45 pm introduction to los angeles walks
  •    7:00 pm dialog about 'how do you walk in la?'
  •    8:15 pm wrap up and next steps
More info at the LA Walks website here.