PlaceMatters logo PlaceMatters text logo

Unsolicited Architecture for Celebration and Place Making

buckybar_04At the 2016 New Partners for Smart Growth conference, PlaceMatters set up an exhibit demonstrating ways to incorporate pop-up design into community planning and stakeholder engagement. At the front end of the exhibit was a pocket park featuring a geodesic dome made out of umbrellas. I got the idea from photos I had seen of a pop-up event in Rotterdam where students from Dutch Architecture Studios created a dome made of umbrellas and re-assembled it in a few hours on the streets of Rotterdam catalyzing an impromptu party underneath. They called the structure a Bucky Bar, in honor of Buckminster Fuller and his multiple designs of geodesic domes. In one of the write-ups on this event, they gave the structure and associated event the label of unsolicited architecture  I like this term as another classification of what we often refer to as  tactical urbanism or pop-up up design, referring to the deployment of easy to assemble structures that draw attention and encourage spontaneity, socializing, and conversations about placemaking.

Live•Ride•Share - Pop-up Demostration - May 2016Since the New Partners conference, PlaceMatters did a pop-up demonstration of a protected bike lane and place making activities, May 17th as part of the Live•Ride•Share conference. A self imposed goal of this pop-up demonstration was to be able to set up and take down the demonstration in under 30 minutes, utilizing materials that had been used in prior demonstrations and/or would be reusable in the future with minimal waste and clean-up. The demonstration included contributions from the Ladies Fancywork Society that is famous in the Denver Region for their crochet bombing techniques, adding art and beauty to objects in the area. My favorite crochet bomb they made for us was the flower petals/leaf added to the “B” sign of the nearby B-cycle bikeshare rack. They also decorated the bike racks, trees, and one of the bikes next to the pop-up demonstration.

 

The Making of the Umbrella Tent

Luckily, I was able to find a Sketchup Design done by Taff Goch that I imported into my own SketchUp model of our exhibit area. Below are some screenshots of the exhibit and the dome design.

Sketchup rendering of NPSG 2016 parkletGeodesic umbrella dome - NPSG 2016

As you can see from the photos and the SketchUp model, this partial dome is made out of a combination of octagons, squares, and 7 prong stars, which I confess caused hours of head scratching on how these shapes could come together to form a dome. It helps to realize the pattern cannot be repeated to create a fully enclosed polyhedron. If I did it again, I would probably make a dome out of 5-ribbed and 6-ribbed umbrellas, mimicking the soccer ball design of a truncated icosahedron but with extra hexagons.


DIY 7 rib umbrella for geodesic umbrella dome - NPSG 2016One of the challenges I ran into was finding similar umbrellas to what creators at the Dutch Architecture Studios used. It’s not hard to find octagon umbrellas but finding heptagon or 14-rib umbrellas that are the right size is another matter. The umbrellas I ended up finding and ordering were shipped from China. And because I ordered them 2 weeks before the event, I realized they would not arrive until after the conference. To be able to build the dome without the 7 or 14 rib umbrellas, I ended up making a 7 prong hub in Sketchup and printing the hub with a 3D printer. I used ¼ oak dowels for the spokes. We then put a white photography umbrella in the hole of the center of the hub. Special thanks to Drew Hastings and Holst Architecture, in Portland, for offering to print the hubs on their new 3D printer. 

Here is a panoramic picture of the entire exhibit area.

Panoramic view of NPSG 2016 PlaceMatters Parklet

For a blog entry on all the parklets featured at the conference refer to the following overview put together by the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA). In addition to the indoor parklet, PlaceMatters partnered with ALTA Planning in Portland to do a pop-up demonstration of a protected bike lane on Broadway Street, just outside of the Hyatt Hotel where the conference was. Here is a nice blog posted on Bike Portland’s website about the demonstration and some of the challenges of doing a demonstration under wet conditions.

Additional notes on building your own umbrella dome

Not sure how long these links will remain valid, but here are links to the materials I found.

  • Octagon Umbrellas: Rainstoppers 34-Inch Children’s Umbrella – great price and the plastic knobs on the ends are perfect for tying the umbrellas together with pipe cleaner wire.
  • 14-rib Umbrellas: ColorDrip Business Style Windproof Automatic Travel Sun-Rain Umbrella – it took a long time to find these since 14 rib umbrellas are rare, and finding the right size is even more rare. Because these ship from China they took more than a month to arrive.
  • Top of geodesic umbrella domeFor the center support pole, I used a 10 foot black pipe from Home Depot with two floor flanges for each end. On the bottom, I screwed the flange into a 12X12X1” piece of oak. On the top, I used bailing wire to attach the flange to the four umbrellas at the top.

Feel free to contact me if you have questions or need further details on materials and construction of the dome.

 

The Economic and Fiscal Benefits of Walkable and Bike-able City and Town Centers

unnamed (1)

A great webinar hosted by Smart Growth Online, Sign up HERE!

Date and time:Friday, October 30, 2015 2:00 pm Eastern Daylight Time (New York, GMT-04:00)

Duration:1 hour 30 minutes

Description:The webinar will feature the experiences of 8 U.S. cities in creating or increasing the walkability and bicycle-friendliness of their downtown areas. The cities profiled include small towns (Grandview, MO and West Jefferson, NC); medium-sized cities (Orlando, FL, Redmond, WA and Lancaster, CA) and large cities (the Bronx in NYC, Cleveland, OH, and Charlotte, NC). The webinar will focus on the implemented strategies, the resulting increases in walkability and bike-friendliness, and the economic and fiscal benefits of each project.

unnamedPanelists:
– Jim Cohen, Senior Lecturer and Director, Urban Studies and Planning Program, University of Maryland College Park (Moderator)
– Dennis Randolph, Director of Public Works, Grandview, MO
– Carolyn Hope, Park Planning, Arts and Culture Manager, Department of Parks and Recreation, Redmond, WA
– Brian Ludicke, Planning Director, Lancaster, CA
– Gustavo Castro, Project Manager, Transportation Planning Division, Orlando, FL
– Dean Ledbetter, Senior Planning Engineer, North Carolina Department of Transportation

Best Practices of Neighborhood Improvements to the Built Environment

Screen Shot 2015-07-30 at 1.40.34 PM

Our local partner, Groundwork Denver, has published a collection of lessons learned and recommendations for best practices when implementing low-cost improvements to create better neighborhood environments, including improvements for pedestrians and cyclists, neighborhood cleanup, tree planting, and more. This is based on their work in Denver for the past several years.

Over the past couple of months, I have been working on additional chapters to this guide on tactical urbanism, walkshops, community engagement, and parklets. This work is made available to HUD grantees and folks interested in making a difference in their communities.

See the final version of the Best Practices Guide for Neighborhood Improvements to the Built Environment here!

Re-imagine West Colfax!

 

 

ColfaxViaduct

Caption: The Colfax Viaduct facilitated moving vehicles, and trolleys in its early days, from Downtown Denver to West Colfax. Many businesses were moved to make way for its construction. Photo from: colfaxavenue.com

Colfax Avenue turned 140 years old this year. Since its inception as a six block long road, it has swelled and expanded to over 26 miles across the Denver metro area and has become the longest continuous commercial street in the United States. At one point, Colfax was the place of mansions, trolleys, trees, and wealth, but with the introduction of interstate highways and disinvestment in the properties along Colfax, the spine of Denver fell from prominence. Colfax became less of a destination to live close to and more of a thoroughfare, widened to 60 feet, for moving vehicles East and West through the center of the city.

 

Today Denver is seeing a resurgence of population in the city and higher demand for urbanized, bikeable and walkable living. Colfax continues to transform, with new businesses adding to existing, and more residents wanting to be within close proximity to vibrancy. However, the physical layout of the road has not changed at the same pace as the communities that surround it. The incongruent change has created concerns for pedestrians and bikers.

 

IMG_0504

Biker uses the pedestrian space to navigate West Colfax. Photo credit: Anne Kuechenmeister

 

The West Colfax Business Improvement District from Sheridan to Federal Blvd is one area of Colfax leading the charge to find design solutions to make the road more compatible to walking, biking, and transit. Data collected by PlaceMatters, WalkDenver, the University of Colorado, and residents in the West Colfax area has helped pinpoint key pedestrian concerns. Bike route analysis has identified large service gaps, which create high stress biking environments. Stakeholder input has further refined priorities for area businesses, property owners, residents, employees, and visitors. The resulting partnership and efforts to identify design solutions for the area is called Re-imagine West Colfax.

 

 

Kansas City Demonstration_0

Temporary design demonstration showing parklets, or pop-up parks, more space for pedestrians and added greenery/ Photo Credit: Kansas City Better Block

The Gates Family Foundation has awarded grants to PlaceMatters and WalkDenver and have partnered with Groundwork Denver, the University of Colorado, Alta Planning + Design, and Radian to organize a series of activities and events this summer assisting the West Colfax Business Improvement District and its efforts to demonstrate what the next era of Colfax could be. The Re-imagine West Colfax design demonstration on August 16th will include several types of bike lanes that allow riders to test what it feels like to ride on each. It will include pedestrian bulb outs to decrease the crossing distance on Colfax. Participants can also experience enhanced crosswalks, median refuges, wider sidewalks and small pop-up parks along Colfax. All of these features will be paired with food trucks, music, art and beer!

 

 

Pop up bike lane

Pop-up bike lane lets riders test a safer and lower stress riding experience

The long term vision for this demonstration is to show the community and city how data collection, community participation and short term design demonstrations can lead to better long term improvements and planning in the community. The temporary design demonstration allows residents, business owners, government agencies and traffic engineers to see the designs in action prior to long-term implementation.

 

If you would like to see collaborative community planning in progress, and test out how bike and pedestrian environments can be improved, please join us on August 16th, 10 am to 4 pm, on West Colfax Avenue between Tennyson and Utica.

 

Support Re-imagine West Colfax by volunteering your time. Please join us at a community meeting at 4500 W Colfax Ave Denver, CO 80204 from 6pm to 8pm on July 28th or August 11th.

Support Re-imagine West Colfax with your donation, and see your pledge matched by the WCBID’s $3000 match grant! Donate Now!

For more information contact: Anne Kuechenmeister, anne@placematters.org

 

Re-Imagining West Colfax: Join Us on June 11th!

Calling all West Colfax community members, visitors, business owners, and advocates for biking and walking!

The West Colfax Business Improvement District, in conjunction with local partners, is hosting a resident engagement kick-off meeting on June 11th! Join us at Confluence Ministries from either 9 to 11am or 6 to 8pm to learn about the project and provide input on design preferences to improve walking and biking along West Colfax.

The feedback will be used to inform design decisions for a temporary installment of improvements for pedestrians and cyclists this summer in a tactical urbanism design demonstration.

 

Web_English

 

SpanishUpdate-07

What makes West Colfax so wicked for pedestrians? WALKscope data provides insight.

Famously dubbed “the longest, wickedest street in America,” Denver’s Colfax Avenue offers a myriad of diverse destinations ranging from bars and restaurants to elementary schools to major employment centers to steam baths. The public buses that traverse Colfax are among the most used in Denver’s entire transit system, with the highest boardings per hour and lowest subsidies per boarding. Outside of downtown, Colfax may be the busiest pedestrian corridor in the city.  And yet, as anyone who has spent time on the Avenue can attest, Colfax can be an unpleasant and sometimes even unsafe place to walk.  A new report from WalkDenver and partners highlights some of the factors that make Colfax, specifically West Colfax, so wicked for pedestrians.

Many intersections along West Colfax, such as this one at Vrain Street, have no crosswalk or traffic lights, requiring pedestrians to walk several blocks out of their way to cross the street safely. Photo source: WALKscope.org.

In the summer and fall of 2014, WalkDenver, PlaceMatters, the West Colfax Business Improvement District, and Ken Schroeppel’s Planning Methods class at the University of Colorado, Denver, College of Architecture and Planning partnered to audit the pedestrian environment along the West Colfax corridor. Trained neighborhood volunteers and planning students used the WALKscope mobile tool to collect data about sidewalks, intersections, and pedestrian counts throughout the area roughly bounded by Sheridan Boulevard to the west, Zuni Street to the east, 19th Avenue to the north, and 10th Avenue to the south.  A total of 1,532 data points were collected: 1,062 sidewalks, 425 intersections, and 45 pedestrian counts. Major findings of this assessment include the following:

  • The places where the most people walk, including Colfax Avenue and the areas adjacent to light rail stations, are the least pleasant and the least safe for pedestrians.
  • Unsafe traffic speeds are a major problem on Colfax.
  • Crossing distance is also a problem on Colfax. Pedestrians must cross 5 or more lanes to get across Colfax at pretty much every intersection.
  • Crosswalks are few and far between on Colfax, where they are needed most. In many cases, people have to walk several blocks out of their way to cross at an intersection with crosswalks.
  • The lack of buffers between sidewalks and the street degrades the pedestrian environment.  With few exceptions, the sidewalks along Colfax are all “attached,” meaning they are directly adjacent to the street with no buffer.

Click the infographic above for more details, or view the full report here. PlaceMatters and WalkDenver is continuing to work with the West Colfax BID and surrounding neighborhoods to identify potential interventions along the corridor that would improve the pedestrian environment, and we hope to demonstrate some of these design concepts with temporary installations.

This blog post was cross-posted with permission from WalkDenver. View its original posting here.

 

Curbee Your Enthusiasm

PlaceMatters has a virtual water-cooler for employees to post interesting ideas and articles we want to share internally–things we could imagine discussing at the water cooler if we had a water cooler. One of the most frequently discussed themes is biking and bikability in cities. We have had long threaded discussion topics including bike safety, helmets, and bike infrastructure design. Recently, I was sent a link to a CityLab article about a curbside device called the Curbee, designed to make it easier for bicyclists to rest while stopped at an intersection. I was totally unimpressed.

Photo: Steve Vance (from Street blog)

Photo: Steve Vance (from CityLab article linked above)

Not including installation, the cost range was between $600 and $1200. I can think of a number of other things I would like that money spent on–like design elements on streets created to slow down cars and give bikers equal, if not priority, standing in the car-bike hierarchy. If Denver is going to keep painting sharrows on many of the roads, I would spend money on education/outreach to teach people about the etiquette of sharrows long before I would dedicate money for Curbees.

Not because I am a big sharrow advocate (I’m not) but if we are going to have sharrows, we need an information campaign so more people know how they should behave (both in a car and on a bike) when on a road with sharrows.

SharrowI did several searches on sharrows, etiquette, safety, and rules and found more postings indicating confusion on how to behave as a driver of a motorized vehicle and as a bicyclists than clear instructions on proper use. Wikipedia was one of the better links I looked at with a description of the city planner’s intensions behind the use of sharrows.

Sharrows are used to: assist bicyclists with lateral positioning in a shared lane with on-street parallel parking in order to reduce the chance of a bicyclist’s impacting the open door of a parked vehicle; assist bicyclists with lateral positioning in lanes that are too narrow for a motor vehicle and a bicycle to travel side by side within the same traffic lane; alert motorists of the lateral location bicyclists are likely to occupy within the traveled way; encourage safe passing of bicyclists by motorists; and reduce the incidence of wrong-way bicycling.

Other sites emphasized that under Vehicle and Traffic Law, a bicyclist is permitted to use the travel lane on a street to commute just the same as a motor vehicle and that sharrow bike markings indicate to a motorist and a bicyclist that the roadways has a shared travel lane.

I learned some credit goes to Denver for first instituting the use of icons to delineate shared roads. In our 1993 Bicycle Master Plan, James Mackay, the Master Plan’s Project Manager, describes its adoption as more of a compromise than a preferred best practice.

The City of Denver’s unwillingness to commit to bike lane markings meant that shared lane markings were the only pavement marking treatment for bicyclists that the City would implement. The hollow arrow surrounding the bicyclist was intended to reinforce the correct direction of travel for bicyclists (who were frequently observed riding the wrong-way, against traffic, in Denver).

Credit for the now more commonly used chevron over a bicyclist design (the sharrow) goes to San Francisco. This quote from Mackay reinforces my criticism of sharrows as a planner’s solution that while perhaps well intentioned does not fully address what’s needed. In fact, the trend of painting sharrows on many of the roads in Denver with little information on how to behave as drivers and bicyclists on roads with sharrows dilutes their utility. The same Wikipedia article cites studies researching different changes for bicyclists and which ones seem to make the most difference in decreasing the number of accidents and the severity of injuries. Evidence behind sharrows are inconclusive, if not negative. I found this cited study particularly helpful:

Despite the differing variables important in the two analyses, there are consistent patterns: features that separate cyclists from motor vehicles and pedestrians (cycle tracks, local streets, traffic diverters) and lower speeds (motor vehicle speeds less than 30 km/h, level grades) were associated with significantly lower injury risk to cyclists. These features are incorporated into transportation design in northern European countries with high cycling modal shares and low injury risk, and have been shown to encourage cycling in North America. Important additional evidence from this study includes the importance of obstacles in [improving] safety (traffic circles, streetcar or train tracks, construction). Transportation planners and engineers in many North American cities are interested in promoting cycling and will benefit from the accumulating evidence about the value of building environments sensitive to cyclists.

Portland bike enthusiasts have created blog sites on different bike lane designs. Delineated lanes with flexible barriers are described in great detail on this site, something that has been deployed in Denver on 15th Street, yet with mixed results in many user opinions.

If I had a say in where to invest money, I would love to see one intersection designed with a protected intersections for bicyclists (also described as Dutch Junction Design).

This seems like a brilliant way to delineate bike, ped, and vehicle traffic. Fortunately there is growing interest in designing bike lanes that dramatically improve safety for the bicyclists, pedestrians, and vehicles.

In November, the Downtown Denver Partnership (DDP) launched the city’s biggest crowdfunding campaign to date for civic infrastructure with a pitch to raise $35,000 of the $155,000 needed to build a protected bike lane on Arapahoe Street. The first $120,000 was raised with donations from the Downtown Denver Business Improvement District and the Gates Family Foundation. PlaceMatters donated the final 1% needed to reach the campaign’s goal. The DDP has organized a task force to improve bikeability downtown, with the crowdfunded lane on Arapahoe the first of four priorities. The other priorities include devising a better bicycle parking plan; establishing a “Mile High Loop” that connects downtown with nearby attractions; and making the annual “Bike to Work Day” a monthly or even weekly event.

First + Final Mile Connectivity and Equitable Access in Transportation

Current trends in Denver and nationwide show that people are driving less and walking and biking more. They also show that Colorado is rapidly densifying as more people move to urban areas to live, work, and play. As one of the fastest-growing cities in the U.S., Denver’s population is increasing especially in the millennial age range, and with over 60% of Downtown Denver employees using transit, bike, walk, or share the ride to work, this creates enormous pressure on our infrastructure and on our neighborhoods to plan for and implement successful transit oriented development (TOD) projects to be able to move more people more efficiently.

In 2014, The City of Denver released its TOD Strategic Plan to specifically address TOD within the Denver region, identifying six core strategies critical to creating communities that are walkable, livable places and provide citizens with access to most of their daily needs. Of these strategies, the City specifically highlights the importance of first and final mile connections, noting that successful implementation of first and final mile considerations increases “the reach of a station into the community,” and improves “resident and business access to the rest of the RTD passenger rail system and the regional economy.” The plan continues by stressing the importance of removing barriers to transit-oriented development and improving multi-modal first and last mile connections around rail stations. Doing so can help “fill in the missing urban fabric between Denver’s new rail transit system, established neighborhoods, and emerging areas.”

For transit users, the hardest part of using transit isn’t actually the buses themselves. It’s everything between home and transit, transit and destination. For example, a few weeks ago, I was staying in a different part of Denver housesitting for a week. I normally bike to work, but was further away and it would have more than doubled my commute from just over 2.5 miles, along the lovely Cherry Creek Trail, to over 5 miles, the additional miles being mostly on street (with a bike lane), or just over 6 miles on trails. Always eager to experience different transportation modes around Denver, I instead opted to take the light rail, which was conveniently located only ½ a mile away from I was staying. Looking up directions on how to get to the I-25 and Broadway station safely by bike, I was surprised to find that there was no good way to get there on bike, other than riding on Broadway, a major seven-lane boulevard underneath the I-25 highway overpass (which I’d have to make a left turn at), or its narrow attached sidewalk, covered in potholes, cracks, obstructions, and even some broken glass, for at least a block.

FFM picture - Broadway I25

This section at Broadway is in no way welcoming to cyclists, so I decided to use the sidewalk. Carefully avoiding the obstacles, I eventually crossed Broadway safely, getting back onto the street which turns into the light rail station, and was abruptly cut off by a car—note that there is only one wide driving lane and no bike lane on this road–finally cruising into the light rail station with barely time to spare to catch the next train.

So what’s the big deal? I made it to the light rail, and it was only a little inconvenient, right? But that’s just me, the kind of person that relishes taking public transportation and biking. But what about the person without a smartphone, unable to look up the best route to get across a busy street? What about a mother with a stroller and young children trying to navigate the potholed narrow sidewalk along a busy street? What about the fact that I had to do it all again, in reverse, that night when I came home, in the dark? Would you just decide, with all these questions flying around in your head, that you would probably just drive instead?

These are the barriers to first and final access that drastically affect how and how often people use public transit. First and final mile planning looks at the infrastructure and environment around transit, making it safer and easier for riders to get to transit stops. The first and final mile can include any range of transportation modes: walking, biking, skating, scooter, taxi, carpool, other transit, etc, but walking is the most frequent first and final mile mode, just as in most major metro areas; in LA, more than 80% of Metro trips begin by walking to transit (Streetsblog LA, per Metro survey). With investment in first and final connectivity, transit can be more accessible to a larger and more diverse population, serving to increase ridership; encourage healthier and more sustainable modes; and also make areas around transit stops more active, safe, and economically thriving.

There are many different projects to improve first and final mile connectivity. Road diets and other various improvements to pedestrian infrastructure can go a long way toward creating a safer and more enjoyable walking commute to transit. RTD has added art to transit facilities along the West Rail Line to make the transit experience a bit more pleasurable for waiting riders. Even ideas such as updating bus signage and wayfinding signs, or making alleyways safer and more artistic, or just adding more facilities for transit users, can make a significant impact on first and final mile connectivity.

Despite the importance of understanding these first and final mile connections, there is currently little to no data in the region to inform and support these ideas, resulting in them being overlooked in transportation infrastructure planning. Last year, PlaceMatters took the first step toward addressing first and final mile considerations when we received a grant from Mile High Connects, in partnership with WalkDenver, to develop a crowdsourcing data collection tool called WALKscope. This innovative tool allows users to collect data related to sidewalks, intersections, and pedestrian counts. The crowdsourced data makes a significant leap toward addressing one of the key data gaps in first and final mile connectivity by identifying barriers and helping build the case for improvements. In less than a year, we have collected over 4,000 surveys that document the quality of pedestrian infrastructure in the greater Denver region. The WALKscope tool complements the WalkDenver pedestrian audit and the PlaceMatters Walkshop – an interactive program we have offered in four communities and deployed to more than a dozen organizations. Walkshops take people out on the streets to investigate and imagine potential changes in the built environment that would help support inclusive, affordable, and vibrant communities and connections to multi-modal transportation. We have found that the combination of an in-person event and an innovative tool is a highly effective way to engage residents in conversations about urban design, access, mobility, affordability, community assets, and economic health. These conversations have led, in turn, to data-driven recommendations for mobility and infrastructure improvements.

Screen Shot 2014-11-13 at 4.34.10 PM

As our region continues to invest in the expansion of our regional transit network (with Union Station, FasTracks, BRT, and more), we must pay attention to the transit system’s condition and the overall experience of residents using it—from start to finish. How are people getting to and from the transit network? What is their experience walking or biking to the train station or bus stop? What is the overall experience using the existing transit system? Are there barriers to access or safety that discourage or limit the use of low-income, disabled, or other typically underserved populations? Thanks to the WALKscope tool, we are becoming more informed about the pedestrian experience, but we still lack critical information on other key measures of first and final mile connections, such as biking, bus stops and stations’ quality, and transit experience. We aim to address some of these gaps by expanding on the WALKscope tool and adding BIKEscope, TRANSITscope, and STATIONscope tools to our toolkit. This additional data will be key in identifying potential solutions for more equitable transit access, as well as building awareness and a larger movement around first and final mile access issues.

We are currently undergoing major developments of this first and final mile toolkit and pursuing grants and partners to help us with this mission. A new version of WALKscope will be available by early 2015, followed by the full First + Final Mile Toolkit, and the application used to collect data will be made available as an open-source project for communities interested in using the First and Final Mile Connection Toolkit. Stay tuned to our blog for upcoming news or contact Kayla or Critter [at] placematters.org.

Yonkers, NY: Street Festival to Gather Public Input on Brownfields Redevelopment

In the 1940s, Southwest Yonkers had a train called the Putnam Line, which traveled between Van Cortland Park and Getty Square. However, after World War II, the line was abandoned by New York Central in 1944 after a series of legal challenges by the city (Source: WCBJ). Though the rail tracks were pulled up, the right of way still remains for the long-abandoned three-mile branch line. We are now looking at different options for this corridor and how improvements can benefit the neighborhood.

Groundwork Hudson Valley was awarded a grant from the US Environmental Protection Agency as part of EPA’s Brownfields Redevelopment Program to clean up and reuse former industrial sites. Groundwork has formed a steering committee in Yonkers made up of local non-profits, churches, the Municipal Housing Authority,  governmental agencies, and other project stakeholders to gather public input and identify ways in which a multi-use trail and improvements to adjacent streets could better serve the needs of the community. The path will provide a direct link to the subway and access to jobs in New York City, helping revitalize the community.

Through our grant with HUD-EPA Sustainable Communities Initiative, we were able to provide support for Groundwork Hudson Valley and the team to organize a public neighborhood Street Festival this summer on Lawrence Street, a major corridor in Yonkers, NY. The Street Festival served to demonstrate the potential of the neighborhood and to solicit public input to identify wants and needs of the community.

Along with Alta Planning + Design, we were able to demonstrate some great complete streets features in the neighborhood with street calming elements. We taped down a pop-up designated bike lane with parallel parking between the bike lane and the street, serving as a barrier to protect cyclists from car traffic. This allowed kids to ride down the street without fear of being too close to moving cars. Once we began taping down the bike lane and crosswalks, traffic on the street instantly slowed. It was great to see how quick and easy traffic calming elements really made a difference for Lawrence Street; it completely changed the street experience in less than an hour–from cars whizzing down the hill, to kids and families playing in the street. The team also recruited several local businesses and stakeholders to come “open shop” and help residents imagine new businesses and a more active streetscape with food trucks, activities for kids, music, and seating areas.

IMG_4553

IMG_4559 IMG_4561 IMG_4563
We also collected public input from the neighborhood during the street festival. We invited participants to give feedback through:

  1. An 11-question multiple-choice/open-ended paper survey, which asked participants about their vision, barriers, and transportation mode in the Lawrence Area Neighborhood; and
  2. A visual preference survey dot exercise, that asked participants to rate 4 examples in each of the following seven category of Retail, Mixed-Use, Single-Family Residential, Multi-Family Residential, Parks & Public Spaces, Sidewalks & Trails, and Youth Activities.

We also made a version of the survey available online and through an SMS-based (mobile text messaging) survey platform called Textizen, to give residents several ways to give us feedback. With translation assistance from Groundwork’s youth team, we were also able to provide a Spanish-translated survey (approximately 11% of the surveys were administered in Spanish).

IMG_4555 IMG_4576 IMG_4562
 

After the July 31st charrette, PlaceMatters prepared a full report on findings for the team, which is available here. Some key findings included the identification of a priority vision to be “Cleaner” and “More Active,” and that crime and safety is a major barrier for the community. Additionally, there is a want for more cycling, bus, and Metro-North (train) access in the community, and a large majority of respondents indicated that they would use a multi-use trail. Residents are excited about improvements to their community, and seemed to be very supportive of any type of development that was an improvement to existing conditions, rather than being picky about specific styles. There was a high priority for public space improvements, including activities for families and youth, trails, and parks.

PlaceMatters is still providing minimal assistance as Groundwork Hudson Valley moves forward in the process of creating a multi-use trail. To learn more, visit the project website here. If you or someone you know lives in the area and would like to get more involved in the public process, please contact Curt at Groundwork Hudson Valley. Check out below for even more pictures!
Yonkers Street Fair 2014 - 010 Yonkers Street Fair 2014 - 018 Yonkers Street Fair 2014 - 020
Yonkers Street Fair 2014 - 029
Yonkers Street Fair 2014 - 032 Yonkers Street Fair 2014 - 042

 

The Dramatic Transformation of NYC Streets

Not too long ago, New York City was like many major American cities where the prime directive of the transportation department was moving cars. That began to change in 2007, however, when the Bloomberg administration released a citywide sustainability blueprint, PlaNYC 2030.  The plan sparked a major public discussion about the city’s transportation problems and how to solve them.  This in turn led to the adoption of the city’s first strategic transportation plan, which set specific benchmarks to implement transit-priority corridors, reduce traffic deaths, and increase bicycling.  Under the visionary leadership of Bloomberg’s transportation commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan, and often with little more than paint and planters, streets and intersections across the city underwent a radical redesign from car-choked to people-oriented.  The protected bike lanes, pedestrian plazas, “pop-up” cafes, and bike-sharing system were not without their critics, but in many ways responded to neighborhood groups that had been calling for more bicycle- and pedestrian-friendly streets for years.  Subsequent polling indicates that New Yorkers love their more livable streets.  Perhaps the greatest sign of success is the extent to which the ideas first tested in New York City have spread across the country.  Protected bike lanes are the most prominent example – almost non-existent in American cities just a few years ago, now dozens of cities have built bike lanes with physical buffers protecting cyclists from adjacent motor vehicle traffic.

The before-and-after photos below dramatically illustrate the major transformation of New York City’s streets that has taken place over the last several years.  We hope they will continue to inspire other U.S. cities to imagine what is possible.

Allen and Pike Streets in the Lower East Side 

 

Herald Square

 

Broadway at Times Square

 

Delancey Street in the Lower East Side  

 

Union Square

 

All photos courtesy of New York City Department of Transportation.