We tend to be optimists here at Streetsblog, so we couldn’t end 2013 on a sour note. Yesterday, we brought you some of the best of 2013 — our favorite Republican, the best proof that change is in the air, a city that’s absolutely nailing the whole bike thing. And then we took a turn toward the dark side, balancing our cheers with jeers for everyone who took us backward in 2013.
Back to the bright side! There are more awesome things to say about 2013 and we shall leave no horn untooted. Here’s what made us happy last year:
Best Culture Jam: Last year saw a few great transit ads that poke fun at the macho, all-American, rugged-individualist image car companies try to portray with their commercials. One of our favorites was a high-value production out of Sweden, showcasing its Västtrafik bus service. But our other favorite was this hastily-assembled, amateur take on Dodge Ram’s saccharine “So God Made a Farmer” Super Bowl commercial. While we bristled at Dodge’s bald-faced attempt to co-opt values that they don’t actually embody, we cheered Diana Lind of NextCity, whose celebration of public transportation shines light on the great gifts Americans receive every day from the unsung heroes at our local transit agencies.
Most Awesome Guerrilla Action: Our voters were charmed by all the DIY spirit out there — everyone striping lanes and crosswalks where they’re lacking — but the top vote-getters were the “Reasonably Polite Seattleites,” which installed an unsanctioned protected bike lane on Cherry Street. What made their action especially awesome, though, was the enlightened response of the city’s traffic engineer, Dongho Chang, who apologized to the group for having to remove the pylons — and then installed permanent ones! Kudos to SDOT and the Reasonably Polite Seattleites!
Best Trade: Just about everyone who works on transportation legislation breathed a big sigh of relief in January, when Rep. Bill Shuster took over the gavel of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. He succeeded Rep. John Mica, who had spent the past two years coming unhinged, elevating Amtrak backlash to an Olympic sport and losing the good graces of the party leadership. Into the void stepped Shuster, heir apparent to the position his father held decades before Mica ever did. Shuster has brought bipartisan collaboration back to a committee that had always found ways to work together, getting a water resources bill passed with overwhelming support from both parties, just after the shutdown tore Washington apart. Shuster will lecture anyone who will listen on the federal responsibility to build and fund infrastructure, and he’s distanced himself from his and Mica’s discredited proposal to privatize Amtrak. You won’t see Shuster at Critical Mass anytime soon, but he’s a big improvement over the man he replaced.
Best Business Ally For Safe Streets: Fresh off your online holiday shopping binge, you all were so grateful to Amazon for their low prices and free two-day shipping that you gave Amazon the honor “Safe Streets Star of the Business Community.” It’s exciting to see a behemoth like Amazon model good corporate behavior by locating its headquarters in the heart of the city and helping improve the surrounding streets for sustainable modes. Amazon will pay for a protected bike lane in front of its new office complex on Seattle’s Seventh Avenue. The action may not be out of the company’s commitment to complete streets — it was the outcome of a negotiation with the city for control over some public alleyways within its new corporate compound. Perhaps once again Seattle Traffic Engineer Dongho Chang truly deserves the credit?
Best Tech Contribution to Safe Streets: Technology has given us Uber, NextBus, Car2Go, and countless other transportation options that make our lives better. But we give this year’s tech Streetsie to Unity3D Visualization, software that lets users, with a click of the mouse, widen a sidewalk, add a bike lane, re-arrange parking — and evaluate how it changes the feel of the street. Created by Spencer Boomhower at the Portland firm Cupola Media, the software makes urban planning accessible to anyone who can play a video game. Combined with similar applications like Streetmix, it’s a great contribution to widespread understanding of what makes for a good street.
Clearest Proof We Can Get Rid of Parking Minimums: Alan Durning of the Sightline Institute gave his entire year to helping people understand the damage that parking minimums inflict on communities. And then the icing on the cake came on Black Friday — the busiest shopping day of the year, as we ceaselessly hear — when pictures came flooding in of half-empty mall parking lots. Much of the land we devote to parking doesn’t even have a purpose the one day a year when it’s supposedly justified. This may not seem to belong in a “best of 2013” list — but if communities take heed and reduce the amount of space they surrender to automobile storage, it could be the best thing to happen in 2014.
One State that Got It Right: So Ohio and North Carolina tried to block streetcars, Texas took a stand against bike-share and Connecticut and Wisconsin got lost on a sea of highway boondoggles. But some states started to wake up and smell the carbon emissions in 2013. Pennsylvania took a long and circuitous path to its transportation bill, but they ended up with a good one: Enough money to spare SEPTA the disastrous cuts it was threatening and give some needed stability to Pittsburgh’s transit agency. A multi-modal fund of $144 million. Requirements for bike/ped spending. Language that makes bike/ped projects eligible for more funding. These improvements will be funded with higher gas taxes and vehicle fees. Well done, Pennsylvania.