Designing or Ticketing Our Way to Safer Streets?

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Fastcoexist.com weighs in on something we all think about: is the way to stop vehicular crashes a design one? Should we be insisting that engineers design better roads? The answer is yes, by slimming vehicle lanes down,  factored in with the magical ingredient of slower speeds.

Slower cars means safer roads, and while adding speed cameras and reducing speed limits can help, nothing beats a design that stops drivers from speeding in the first place. Also, slower cars mean less injury in the case of a collision, but again, avoiding the collision to begin with is even better.

Alon Levy, writing for Pedestrian Observations, makes the argument for better infrastructure. One of the main causes of accidents is driver fatigue and sleepiness, which is in turn caused in large part by monotony. “It is better to design roads to have more frequent stimuli: trees, sidewalks with pedestrians, commercial development, [and] residential development,” writes Levy. Another trick is to make lanes narrower. Drivers speed up in wider lanes, and they’re also pedestrian-hostile, making it harder to cross streets safely. Narrowing them helps in both cases, and could create more space at the side of the road for bigger sidewalks or wider bike lanes.

Levy cites Sweden as a good example of road redistribution. In Stockholm, the few arterial roadways in the city have “seen changes giving away space from cars to public transit and pedestrians.” Many roads only have one lane in each direction for cars, with other lanes given over to pedestrians, buses, and bikes. Levy also covers “setbacks,” the wasted land in front of a building that sets it back from the road. Some U.S. zoning laws mandate these setbacks, and these should be repealed, for a more pedestrian-friendly space.

The article also discusses the use of bollards to cut off residential streets used by short cutting commuter traffic, which also allows cyclists and pedestrians better and safer use of the street. But these changes require knowledgeable politicians and citizen resolve-those decisions require a political will that is often too weak in the face of bullying from car drivers. Design may be more important than enforcement, then, but it’s strong politics that will make those changes.

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The Case for Density Transit and Walking

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Five years ago an extraordinary team of people from the two universities, the two health authorities, the metro Vancouver municipalities and regional government and TransLink got together to run a conference with an innovative idea-that creating communities around walkability was the intersection between health, happy places, liveliness and aging in place.You can view some of the proceedings from the Walk21 Metro Vancouver conference here.

Now Co.exist and others accept as doctrine the innovative concept that the conference was trying to impart-that a walkable city  is a sustainable, sociable well designed city that puts the health and well-being of residents first. In fact while the relationship between walkability and health status has already been established, this study “published in the Lancet, looked at 14 cities in 10 countries, all of which had a similar design, in order to determine whether or not the cities’ layouts themselves were the reason for increased health, as opposed to different lifestyles in different countries. The physical activity of the 14,222 adult participants was measured over four to seven days using Fitbit-style accelerometers. The principal data point was the average number of minutes walked per day.”

Looking at cities in Australia, South America, Europe and three cities in the United States there were some surprising findings, specifically that  urban factors that meant people walked more included “residential density, park and public transport density, and intersection density. Parks are obvious in their effect—people take walks in parks. Residential density is important because if you live in a compact neighborhood, you can easily walk to do your errands. And public transit density is important because not only does it obviate car use, but people have to walk to their nearest station instead of their driveway”

Mixed use development, density, and convenient transit go hand in hand in making walkable places. We’ve now got the evidence to convince policy makers of the important interconnectedness of these three things to design for walkable sustainable communities that support happier, healthier residents of any age.

 

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Motorists Fume as the Right Bank Turns Left

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As reported by the CBC and others the City of Paris is doing a remarkable thing in permanently closing the Right Bank to car traffic, turning it into a pedestrian and cycling paradise. The road along the Right Bank has been in Paris’ downtown since the 1960’s and worked perfectly for what it was designed to do-move commuting traffic. But Paris has an air pollution problem-living in Paris means your life expectancy is reduced by 2 years,  and  air pollution claims 6,500 people.

While the Right Bank has been closed since the early 2000’s into a beach experience each summer, it reverted to its car dominated use in the Fall. Now Mayor Hidalgo, who also is the head and chair of the C40 Cities addressing climate change, has spearheaded a movement which has passed to permanently close the Right Bank road.

Since vehicles regularly commuted on this route prior to the closure, there is a bit  of pushback from those motorists. Before making way for the beach this summer, an estimated 43,000 cars drove the quay highway daily. Suburban commuters, taxi drivers and Uber are bitterly against the closure.

But Eric Britton, a sustainable development consultant looks to Copenhagen and the remarkable work that has been done to make that city into a biking and walking haven. He states”You see, congestion is also a policy. It’s a very valuable policy. Traffic is people, and people are smart, and they figure out other ways to get around.”

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Making New York City’s Fifth Avenue into a Pedestrian Mall

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Dna info reports that the New York City Police Department is finding it challenging to have a President-elect living in New York City. “The massive NYPD presence around Trump Tower is costing the city millions of dollars, which has yet to be reimbursed by the federal government, to the alarm of Mayor Bill de Blasio and local elected officials.”

But Janette Sadik-Khan has an elegant solution which she shared with the New York Times. Donald Trump lives at Trump Tower at Fifth Avenue and 56th Street, the same five lane Fifth Avenue “that joins the New York Public Library, the Empire State Building and Rockefeller Center, as well as numerous cathedrals of commerce, tourism and high-end retail. Because the avenue is such a popular destination, retail floor space there rents for $3,000 per square foot a year, the highest price in the world, more than double the cost of similar space along the Champs Élysées. It seems appropriate that gold is a popular color for building facades on Fifth.”

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As people flow through this area of Fifth Avenue in their day-to-day activities, the street and sidewalk movement has been challenging due to the required police officers and secret service agents near the Trump Tower. And New Yorkers are  unhappy “The motorcades and security restrictions that will result will permanently paralyze the city’s streets. The swearing-in hasn’t even happened, but the swearing has already started: New Yorkers want their Fifth Avenue back.”

Ms. Sadik-Khan sees this as an opportunity to not close Fifth Avenue but to “reclaim” Fifth as a  “pedestrian street, free of private vehicular traffic but shared with mass transit. The change, which should span the stretch of the avenue from Central Park to the Empire State Building at 34th Street, would create a truly American public space: an entirely new civic platform at the nation’s new center of political gravity.” Since commercial vehicles are already banned from Fifth Avenue, two lanes would be reserved for buses, and the other three lanes could be dedicated for pedestrians. New York has already proven that streets that accommodate more people are great for business bottom lines.

New Yorkers get their street back, the federal government gets a zone that would make the job of protecting the president easier, and President Trump gets a public space he can call his own.

It would be a win-win all around.

Montreal’s Innovative Neighbourhood Inspired Pedestrian Projects

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Sometimes its easier just to get out of the box, build something, call it a demonstration project-and if it is successful, make it permanent. As CBC reports that is exactly what the City of Montreal is doing on Atwater, Roy and  Wellington Streets.

The City of Montreal will spend $1.7 million dollars over three years to transform one block lengths of Roy Street East and Wellington Street, and several parts of St. Ambroise and Atwater Street. Grants will be given  to neighbourhoods to create and animate pedestrian oriented pilot projects. Depending on the effectiveness of the closures, the streets will remain fully pedestrianized year round or for part of the year.

This is the third year this program has been operating, with approval ratings as high as 90 per cent from participating neighbourhoods.

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“Road Violence” Killing Pedestrians, and Why Slower Speeds Are Crucial

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Patrick Brown is a Toronto based criminal injury lawyer-and he was recently on CBC Radio’s Ontario Today discussing something we at Price Tags have pondered-Where the heck is the criminal  sentencing and consequences when at fault drivers maim and kill pedestrians and cyclists?

Mr. Brown maintains that in Ontario “special status” has been given to drivers, meaning that it is circumstantial whether causing a fatality is a crime.  “Certainly if there’s drinking involved or if there’s an individual in a hit and run or there’s racing and I would also consider distracted driving a crime and that means there was intent to do a behavior that was reckless and careless and resulted in loss of a life”.

But what happens with drivers that say that their gas pedal gets stuck, or other excuses? There’s a responsibility when you’re driving the car that you don’t act recklessly, that you make sure that your sandal does not get caught in the accelerator and that you prevent your vehicle from crossing lanes and killing someone. We have to have a system that reacts to these situations in a different manner than we’re presently watching. Erica Stark was standing on a sidewalk when the car went up over the curb and killed her. The response to that by our system was a $1,000 fine.”

Road violence is surprising in that the maiming and killing of vulnerable road users does not have serious consequences for the driver. Mr. Brown notes that he has seen instances where a seriously injured pedestrian is given a jaywalking ticket while the car driver responsible for the injuries is never charged. But, under Ontario law, if a crosswalk is more than 100 metres away, a pedestrian can legally cross a road. “That’s the systemic type of outlook that happens at times in relation to drivers and pedestrians. “

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Patrick Brown sees speed reduction as absolutely necessary— “speed kills and is the number one factor in these pedestrians getting hit and killed and it would make a significant difference if we reduced the speed limits. And most importantly, vulnerable road user laws — these have already been passed in at least 10 of the states down south, and these laws say that if you hit a pedestrian, a cyclist, somebody using a mobility aid, anybody who’s vulnerable, doesn’t have that protection of airbags and collapsible steering wheels, that you’re going to be subject to added penalties on top of what you’re already going to face.”

After practicing this area of law for 20 years, Brown says that there is  “a repetitive result,’ where individuals who are clearly negligent, careless and reckless and kill and seriously injure people” have been given a slap on the wrist.”  This needs to change, and it needs to change now. In Oregon, hitting a vulnerable road user results in a licence suspension, a mandatory driving course and up to 200 hours of community service, and a fine or jail. Mr. Brown maintains  “A $500 fine to an individual may mean nothing, It’s like going out for dinner for a night. The fine is less than the dent in the car. But you actually make them proactively have to do something and reflect on their conduct, then you’re sending a message out of deterrence to all society — you have to pay particular attention when you’re near these individuals”.

In the 21st century it is time for us to treat road violence as a crime, require mandatory slowing of speeds neighbourhood wide, and deter driver inattention and behaviour. How do we ensure that all road users can safely and sustainably use our roads and streets?

Walking “Sheds” and Why They Matter

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From the brilliant minds of  Public Square, Robert Steuteville writes about the return to compact walking friendly neighbourhoods, with shops and services in close walking distance. When the City of Vancouver developed Greenways, we said that these streets which favour walking and biking ahead of vehicular traffic should be a twenty-minute walk or a ten minute bicycle ride from every residence in Vancouver.  New urbanism architect Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk and city planner and author Jeff Speck take this concept one step (no pun intended) further. They are using the  terminology of  “pedestrian shed,” a distance that can be covered in five minutes at a normal walking pace—typically shown on a plan as a circle with a quarter-mile radius.

Work undertaken by  Victoria Walks in Australia  shows that seniors and young people will go about the same distance by foot to access services-one kilometer. At a speed of 6 km/h that normally takes a person about ten minutes. The five-minute radius suggested  by Plater-Zyberk and Speck is about 400 meters.

“If the built environment is appealing and human scale, the theory is that most people will walk at least five minutes rather than get in a car. The idea is embedded in a thousand new urban plans and incorporated into zoning codes now. Although the quality of the built environment can expand or shrink the distance people will walk, the quarter-mile pedestrian shed remains an influential and useful idea for designing neighborhoods and building complete communities. “

Speck sees the walking shed as a primary way to organize develop that emphasizes walkability and connection, and reinforce the concept of walkability in neighbourhoods. The article goes through the theoretical discussion of early planning form which incorporated walkability before being usurped by  the car and by suburban developers.  There is also discussion of  how retailing and mixed use is returning to walkable locations reminiscent of the  accessible corner store from the last century.

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Walking and Benches-Good for Everyone’s Bottom Line

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In my TEDx Talk  on the Transformative Power of Walking I noted the importance of benches in making places for people to be sociable, feel accepted on the street, and to people watch, a very important human activity. I also cited a study completed by  New York City’s Department of Transportation that showed that placing benches outside retail stores increased sales volumes by 14 per cent at the adjacent storefronts.

BBC’s Katie Shepherd examines an encouraging trend in North America where municipalities are now encouraging the placement of benches as a welcoming gesture outside of stores. Such actions by individual shop keepers often is the first step (no pun intended) to how to create a more coherent and customer friendly commercial area.

“American cities have an excess of roadway space,” says Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris, an urban planning professor at the University of California, Los Angeles. The street seats movement aims to reclaim some of that road for the pedestrian” by making public space active and vibrant.

“In Washington, DC, the annual Park(ing) Day celebration, in which businesses and community organisers build temporary parks in metered parking spots, inspired a program to allow permanent parklets to be installed in approved spots along the District’s streets. Inside these new parklets, businesses put out benches and chairs for their customers and the public to use whenever tired feet need a rest.” New York City has two established programs encouraging public seating for transit riders and pedestrians, especially the elderly. In a program called “CityBench” the Department of Transportation reimburses businesses for public bench installation. Over 1,500 benches have been added by storekeepers so far. And, as in the case of New York City, taking out a parking lane of City Street for benches improves businesses’ bottom line.

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“Portland runs a “street seat” programme that has inspired eclectic designs – from benches that look like giant lawn chairs to seats that double as planters reminiscent of grassy hillsides. “Community engagement, that’s what made them really popular and really fun,” said Leah Treat, director for the Portland Bureau of Transportation.”

Where is Metro Vancouver’s program supportive of increased seating in commercial areas? Is this something that can be themed or provide a whimsical gesture to the street? Seniors say we don’t have enough benches for the elderly in the commercial areas.  Would this be a good place to start?

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Rediscovering Walkability-Lose a Highway Gain a Walking Place

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There is a renaissance occurring in many American towns that are reclaiming their downtowns when bisecting highways are rerouted from town centres. Mayor Bob Crowell is the Mayor of  Carson City Nevada. This is the capital of Nevada and has a population of about 55,000 people, located fifty kilometers or 31 miles from Reno Nevada. Since the last mid-century, Carson City hosted a highway right through their main downtown area, with the highway effectively bisecting both sides of the street and minimizing pedestrian and cycling movement. Traffic was through traffic, and  there were metal fences on the side of the sidewalks to keep pedestrians further separated away from the travelled portion of the road.

The 21st century brought two changes-a plan for the new Interstate 580 to go around the downtown area, and a 1/8th  cent sales tax devoted to community improvements, including a downtown revitalization project to bring the city’s heart back into a walkable, bikeable sociable place. The total cost of the new downtown streetscape revitalization plan was 11.4 million dollars.

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“A big part of what we’re doing down here is to create not just a sense of place, but a sense of community,” says Carson City Mayor Bob Crowell. “Some will say, you know, you are just doing this for downtown businesses but we are doing it for the entire city so that we all share in what is happening with the diversification of northern Nevada.

There are wider sidewalks and a bicycle lane, shorter pedestrian crossing distances on streets and new trees and light poles similar to those installed in this historic town in the 1800’s. Even the benches located on the main street echo the sandstone brick used to build the capital building in 1869, also situated on the main street. One side street has been closed and made into a public plaza and water park. This new McFadden Plaza is located directly across the street from the state capitol building.

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There was a lot of discussion about the changes in the streetscape, but as the Director of the Downtown Business Association noted “Downtown Carson City has always been a gathering place for our locals to get together on a Friday night or Saturday. This should expand that to make it a fun, easy-to-get-to place to shop, have a bite to eat or visit local pubs any time of the day or day of the week.”

The  proof is in the use, with the area fast becoming an arts and entertainment centre as more businesses open up along the Main Street. Carson City has its downtown back.

 

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