Showing posts with label Innovation. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Innovation. Show all posts

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Cool Ped Stuff #6: Parklets

Count on San Francisco to come up with a program that turns Pavement into Parks (and on Streetfilms to make a movie of it):

Inspired events like Park(ing) Day and New York's pedestrian plazas, the joint effort of the mayor's office, public works and planning departments, and the MTA creates temporary mini parks in unused (and often unusable) patches of public street right-of-way. Although the parks are currently dismantled after an intial trial run, the idea is to make the most popular ones permanent fixtures in the SF streetscape.

What I really admire about this idea (aside from the improvements to the pedestrian environment, of course) is its brilliant political strategy. Putting up a "temporary" park bypasses much of the bureaucracy and political finagling that would be required to build a permanent park. Once the temporary park is place, people fall in love with it. Suddenly there is a group of park supporters who will help fight to make the park permanent--a group who probably never would have existed if the temporary park hadn't been built in the first place. In other words, sometimes the only way to get a good idea implemented is to put the proverbial cart in front of the horse...

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Beyond Transit Oriented Development


No, it's not just an Apple product.

POD stands for Pedestrian Oriented Development, the topic of a recent speech by author and professor Reid Ewing (described in this recent article in the Planning Commissioners Journal). Ewing explained that effective POD requires higher density (8-12 dwelling units per acre), diverse land uses, and of course "good design" (e.g. short blocks, public spaces). Unfortunately, antiquated development codes and a continuing focus on auto-oriented development currently stand in the way POD. Nonetheless, Ewing estimates that roughly 3-5 percent of development in the US could be classified as POD, a number that will hopefully increase as cities begin to revamp their municipal codes to promote more walkable communities.

While planners have long touted the benefits of Transit-Oriented Development (TOD), which promotes higher-density, mixed-use development around transit hubs, Ewing argues that in fact pedestrian-oriented development has more potential in many US cities, where there simply aren't enough people to support effective transit service.

Hopefully the transit folks won't hate me for saying this, but personally I agree. It's not that I have anything against transit per se. (Well, actually I do--not enough bang for the buck, too much focus on commute trips, biased towards expensive rail projects that primarily benefit rich, white people--but that's not really the point of this post.) It's just that I spend almost all of my time in places (Ventura County, Woodland Hills) that don't have the kind of density/population/job centers to support the frequent transit service that makes for good TOD. So no, transit and transit-oriented development don't excite me much.

On the other hand, I'm lucky enough to live in a community that's so walkable that I can literally go days without getting in my car (don't snicker, that's impressive for a LA suburb). I see the difference having sidewalks and places to walk to can make in travel patterns--imagine if my neighborhood also had short blocks, street furniture, and some of the other POD features that Ewing talks about. Moreover, I'd be willing to bet that implementing POD is cheaper--and maybe even more effective at reducing vehicle trips--than a lot of the transit projects out there.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Street Summit 2010

In true--ironic--LA fashion, I drove for 2.5 hours yesterday to learn more about how I could spend less time in my car. Yes, yesterday was the 2010 Los Angeles Street Summit, and I wanted to share some info about what I learned in the afternoon's workshops.


MoProject is a multi-media contest that allows young people in California to enter their videos, posters, or spoken-word pieces about the health issues they deal with every day. Last year the contest focused on challenges to health in California, such as dangerous sidewalks. This year's asks California teens, how do you "own your health"? Sponsored by CANFIT, MoProject provides a venue for young people to become active participants in their community's health and development.

Greenfield Walking Group

Recently recognized by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation for its success in promoting community health, the Greenfield Walking Group started in 2006 with a few moms who simply wanted to get some exercise by walking in their local Bakersfield park. Unfortunately, they were thwarted by nasty dogs and even nastier trash, not to mention a language barrier. Enter the walkability assessment. Working with California Walks, the ladies were able to assess the walking conditions in their park and identify key problems. Once armed with actual data, they were able to communicate effectively with city leaders about the lack of walkability in their park and develop real solutions for the area (lights, playground equipment, a jogging trail). Now 150 strong, the group has begun to branch out to other communities, teaching them how to advocate for improvements within their neighborhoods.

Trainings and Resources

Those of you who are interested in transforming your community the way that Greenfield ladies did can get some free help from folks at state and federal level. In California, the Office of Traffic Safety in partnership with UC Berkeley provides four-hour Community Pedestrian Safety Trainings in numerous cities throughout the state each year, as well as Pedestrian Safety Assessments for California communities.

The Federal Highway Administration also offers several programs related to walkability and pedestrian safety, including free technical assistance and bi-monthly webinars. The FHWA also recently revised its handbook on creating a Pedestrian Safety Action Plan.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Thank you Ray LaHood

Yesterday Transportation Secretary LaHood announced on his blog (all the cool people have them these days) the "end of favoring motorized transportation at the expense of non-motorized." This major policy revision from the FHWA includes several key recommendations:

  • Treat walking and bicycling as equals with other transportation modes.
  • Ensure convenient access for people of all ages and abilities.
  • Go beyond minimum design standards.
  • Collect data on walking and biking trips.
  • Set a mode share target for walking and bicycling.
  • Protect sidewalks and shared-use paths the same way roadways are protected (for example, snow removal).
  • Improve nonmotorized facilities during maintenance projects.

It's great to see leaders at the top of the transportation world recognizing that people who travel on two feet deserve exactly the same treatment as people who travel on four wheels. Here's hoping that whole bit about treating walking and biking equally extends to funding...

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Cool Ped Stuff #6: Skinny Streets

Who could resist a story (from Grist) that starts with a headline like that? It led me to the blog of photographer and self-proclaimed urban planning geek David Yoon, who passes the time creating pictures of what LA streets might look like on a road diet. Here's one example from Santa Monica, which shows how narrowing a street can transform it from pedestrian acquaintance to pedestrian friend. You can see more at Narrow Streets Los Angeles.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Enjoy the Walk

Michelle Obama isn't the only one with a campaign to encourage physical activity.

Tipped off by a story last week in the Ventura County Star, I learned about an ambitious walker named George Throop who is traveling from Vancouver, Washington to Washington, D.C. on foot in the hopes that his example will inspire others to "Walk 20 Minutes Today." Guessing that anyone who had already walked through three states would have something to say about walkability, I caught up with George and his current walking buddy (Colin Leath from Santa Barbara) over the weekend.

First, the obvious question: why walking? George explained that he chose walking because it was something that pretty much anyone can do; it doesn't take expensive equipment or special training to walk. He also wanted to keep his message direct. Instead telling people to do something vague like "exercise more," George decided to focus on one simple lifestyle change: walk 20 minutes a day for better health.

Then there's the community-building aspect of walking. People who walk in their neighborhoods every day get to know their community and their neighbors. Their eyes are out on the street instead of inside houses or cars, leading to safer communities. Plus, placing an emphasis on walking helps to generate demand for pedestrian infrastructure and the political will that it takes to push for pedestrian-friendly communities.

George is realistic about what walking can accomplish in terms of people's health. He acknowledges that walking 20 minutes a day won't prevent all health problems, but he believes it can increase awareness about preventative health. He hopes that walking 20 minutes each day will create some momentum in people's lives, moving them towards a healthier lifesytle overall.

So how is it out there? George says that walking conditions have been mostly good so far. Many neighborhoods have sidewalks, particularly in middle class areas (though they often lack curb ramps). However, in poorer neighborhoods the sidewalks are often run down--or nonexistent. Interestingly, sidewalks are also missing from many of the the wealthier communities George has traveled through ("maybe they're inside the gates?").

Some of the most challenging walks have been along rural roads, such as Box Canyon Road in Simi Valley, which aren't built to allow pedestrian access. Highway 1 along the California coast, with its many blind curves, was also a dangerous stretch--although George points out that the good thing about walking is that you can generally hear cars coming early enough to get out of their way. However, George explains that freeways have been the biggest barrier to walkability he has encoutered. He's often confronted by freeways without a pedestrian crossings, forcing him to take long and time-consuming detours.

With his neon yellow safety vest and bright signs advertising his trip, distracted driving hasn't been much of a problem for George yet. On the contrary, he is often the distraction. George explains that drivers regularly veer towards him while trying read his signs, quickly correcting themselves when they realize what they're doing.

Not surprisingly, both George and Colin agree that walking across the country is different that traveling by other modes. George explained that the more you slow down, the greater the experience--which is partly why he has moved the finish date of his trip from June to November. Colin, who has already completed a cross-country bike trip, finds walking more social than other modes. He notices that people are more likely to stop you with questions--or even join the walk for a block or two--when you travel at "human speed."

This week you can find George and Colin walking through Los Angeles along Wilshire Boulevard. After they cross they city, they'll cut north to Glendale and follow Interstate 10 east to Phoenix, El Paso, and eventually the White House. George is hoping he'll be able to convince President Obama (and maybe the rest of the first family) to finish the last 20 minutes of the walk with him.

You can learn more about George and his walk on his website:

Monday, January 25, 2010

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Pedestrian-Oriented Parking

A new year, a new parking ordinance.

Okay, technically the ordinance became law in November. Still, I hope you’ll forgive me for dawdling on writing this up (and for tooting my own horn), because I couldn’t resist bragging about Ventura County's new parking ordinance.

This isn’t the same old motor-centric set of regulations that linger on in many jurisdictions’ codes; the purpose statement is full of phrases like “reduce the adverse effects of motor vehicle parking areas,” “create pleasant neighborhoods designed at a human-scale for human needs,” and even “encourage reduced driving.” Yes, this is a parking ordinance that wants you to drive less.

The ordinance works towards creating a more walkable environment in many different ways, but rather than subjecting you to all 30+ pages of code (available in legalese for the truly motivated here, Section 8108, --or in layman's terms in the companion Parking and Loading Design Guidelines), here are a few highlights:

Safe Pedestrian Access: the new code mandates that pedestrians have safe and convenient access from the street to building entrances. Among other things this means direct pathways to the front door, including pathways through parking lots where necessary, and no drive-through lanes or vehicles impeding the pedestrian path. This is particularly important because many pedestrian crashes actually happen within parking lots and not out on the roads.

Urban Design: the ordinance encourages sites designed with buildings in front and parking the back to create more pedestrian-friendly streets. When parking lots are located between the sidewalk and the building, extra landscaping is required to soften the impact of parking spaces.

Parking Space Reductions: new regulations allow reduced parking rates for uses that provide sidewalks, crosswalks, and other enhancements to the pedestrian environment. Considering how expensive even a single parking space is ($5,000 to $10,000 for a surface space, not including maintenance), this should motivate developers to substitute cheaper pedestrian amenities for pricey parking spaces.

Landscaping: updated landscaping requirements increase the amount of greenery required in parking lots, lessening the effect of all that asphalt on the streetscape. The code even allows some required parking spaces to be maintained in a landscaping “reserve” (kept as landscaping unless future demand warrants their conversion to parking). Result? More green space for pedestrians.

Since this is a pedestrian blog I won’t go into the new section on bicycle parking, but I assure the bike advocates out there that it’s equally extensive.

Let’s remember that we’re not talking downtown San Francisco here, where high densities and extensive transit systems provide ample opportunities to get creative with parking policy. This is unincorporated Ventura County, where a lot of serious regulatory issues revolve around roosters. If we can adopt (unanimously, I might add) an ordinance like this in Ventura, shouldn’t the rest of the region (yes LA, I’m talking to you) be able to follow suit?

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Cool Pedestrian Stuff #4: Crosswalk Art

Adding a little visual interest to your otherwise uneventful crossing.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Piano Stairs

Setting aside the somewhat suspicious fact that this project is sponsored by a car company, I like the "theory" that making walking fun will encourage more people to do it. Of course, that's the entire premise of walkability: creating pleasant pedestrian environments makes people want to walk. Obviously we aren't going to integrate musical instruments into every sidewalk (or could we?), but we can provide street furniture, trees, art, and other elements that lend foot travel panache instead of tedium.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Show your support for pedestrian-friendly changes to CEQA

For decades the California Environmental Quality Act has been making life difficult for pedestrians in the name of enviromental protection.

Hidden deep in the appendices of the CEQA Guidelines is a checklist intended to help jurisdictions decide which transportation impacts from new projects are "significant." The checklist provides a number of questions to consider, nearly all of them focused on vehicle flow, parking, and traffic congestion. Only at the end is there a suggestion that jurisdications should also, maybe, if they have the time and feel like it, consider impacts to "alternative transportation" (no explicit mention of pedestrians to be found).

Not surprisingly, the result has been years of environmental studies that go to great lengths to examine traffic conditions and provide solutions to project-induced congestion problems...while entirely ignoring--or even harming--pedestrians and other transportation modes.

Spurred on by agency staff and advocates in the Bay Area, the California Natural Resources Agency has proposed changes to the CEQA guidelines (available here) that incorporate alternative transportation modes more fully into environmental analysis. The proposed guidelines tone down the emphasis on driving and vehicle-focused performance measures, and instead encourage jursidictions to evaluate impacts to all aspects of the transportation system--including impacts to pedestrian facilites.

While this won't completely eliminate the anti-pedestrian bias in environmental documents (individual jurisdictions still adopt their own specific thresholds of significance, most of which are currently based on level of service for drivers), it is an important first step.

I encourage you to contact tothe California Resources Agency to show your support for these changes. The public comment period ends November 10. Comments should be sent to:

Christopher Calfee, Special Counsel
ATTN: CEQA Guidelines
California Resources Agency
1017 L Street, #2223
Sacramento, CA 95814
Facsimile: (916) 653-8102

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Then of course, there's this...

I'm not sure if the idea is to encourage or terrify, but at least it gets kids out on the street.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Cool Pedestrian Stuff #3: "Divans"

A 1911 New York Times article describes this "novel auto invention" that was intended to prevent vehicles from knocking down and crushing pedestrians. As the article explains, the "scissorlike fender" attached to the front of private vehicles and streetcars and scooped up errant pedestrians, bearing them along in a "sort of divan" until they could be safely deposited elsewhere. The inventor claimed that the device had been proven effective at vehicle speeds up to 60 mph, though I'm skeptical that any encounter with an object traveling so fast--no matter how cushy--would be comfortable for a pedestrian. (Of note: the article blames these crashes on the "careless pedestrian" who steps thoughlessly in front of moving vehicles. Hmm, sounds familiar.)

Researchers today continue to investigate solutions for decreasing the impact (sorry, bad pun) of pedestrian crashes. One solution is to create vehicles that can sense when they are hitting pedestrians and implement appropriate safety mechanisms. In this example, designed by Bosch, the vehicle automatically raises its front hood when it hits a pedestrian to help decrease pedestrian injury.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Cool Pedestrian Stuff #2: Donkey Stickers

Living out the dreams of frustrated pedestrians everywhere, the Streetpanthers are a group of activists who have taken the job of enforcing pedestrian laws into their own hands.

Their work takes place primarily in Thessaloniki, Greece. Aside from maintaining a website, online forum, blog, and 1,800-member facebook page, the Streetpanthers roam the streets planting "donkey" stickers on vehicles parked in crosswalks, on sidewalks, and generally anywhere that interferes with pedestrians' ability to safely navigate the streets.

The stickers say something along the lines of "I'm a donkey, I park where I want and ignore the rights of pedestrians"...though from what I gather the original Greek might not be quite so polite.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Cool Pedestrian Stuff #1: PedFlags

These little guys caught my eye on a recent trip to the Pacific Northwest--a region that tends to get dreamy-eyed and giggly at the mere mention of alternative transportation modes.

I thought they were a new innovation, but it turns out that the City of Kirkland's PedFlag program has been in place since a series of pedestrian fatalities in 1994 led the city to bump up its efforts to address pedestrian safety.

After a group of rogue pedestrian advocates set up their own version in a Seattle suburb, the Seattle Department of Transportation implemented a one-year pilot program to test out the idea themselves. SDOT plans to decide this fall whether or not to continue the program.