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Posts from the "Car-Free Streets" Category

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The Rise of Open Streets

Streetfilms has been documenting the open streets movement for over seven years, beginning with our landmark film in 2007 on Bogota’s Ciclovia, currently the most viewed Streetfilm of all time.

The next year, Mike Lydon of The Street Plans Collaborative decided to get an open streets event going in Miami, which led to his research for The Open Streets Project, a joint project with the Alliance for Biking & Walking.

Miami wasn’t alone. In 2008, there were new open streets events in more than a dozen cities, including San Francisco, Portland and New York. All told, open streets events have increased tenfold since 2006.

“The Rise of Open Streets” examines the open streets movement from myriad perspectives — how it began, how events are run, how they shape people’s perceptions of their streets, and how creating car-free space, even temporarily, benefits people’s lives. And it looks not only at big cities like Los Angeles, but smaller ones like Fargo, Berkeley, and Lexington.

We’ve interviewed some of the most important people in the movement, including former NYC DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan and former Chicago DOT Commissioner Gabe Klein, as well as former Bogota Parks Commissioner Gil Penalosa and Enrique Jacoby, from the Pan American Health Organization.

We were proud to partner with The Street Plans Collaborative and the Alliance for Biking & Walking to produce this film, which we hope will encourage even more open streets events throughout the world. Funding for “The Rise of Open Streets” was graciously provided by the Fund for the Environment & Urban Life.

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How Children Demanding Play Streets Changed Amsterdam

The above video, excerpted from a Dutch television documentary series, shows how children helped catalyze the fight for safe streets in Amsterdam more than a generation ago.

The documentary examines the conditions in a dense urban neighborhood called De Pijp, from the perspective of local children. In the film, neighborhood kids energetically advocate for a play street, free of cars.

Bicycle Dutch recently shortened the episode and added English subtitles. The documentary originally aired in 1972. That very same year, several play streets were installed in the city. In the 1970s, traffic fatality rates in the Netherlands were 20 percent higher than in the United States, but thanks to grassroots efforts like the play street campaign in De Pijp and the “Stop de Kindermoord” movement (“Kindermoord” translates to “child murder”), the Dutch changed their approach to street design. Today the traffic fatality rate in the Netherlands is 60 percent lower than in the U.S. — 22,000 fewer Americans would die each year if we had kept pace with the Dutch.

Here’s a look at one of those play streets in De Pijp today — a stark contrast from the streets pictured in the video:

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The Crossroads of the World Goes Car-Free

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I've lived in New York City for just about twenty years now but yesterday was my first trip to Times Square.

Sure, I've been to Times Square before. Plenty of times. But until yesterday Times Square had never ever been a destination for me. Rather, it had always been a place to avoid or, if unavoidable, a place to get in and out of as fast as possible on my way to somewhere else.

The New York City Department of Transportation's "Green Light for Midtown" plan brought me and a lot of other people to Times Square yesterday. And it kept us there. By simply removing motor vehicles from Broadway around Times and Herald Squares and inviting pedestrians in with seating, street performers, good people-watching -- and a naked cowboy -- New York City has created two great new public spaces for tourists, office workers and, yes, even jaded residents.

NakedCowboyTough.jpgStreetfilms' Clarence Eckerson squares off with the Naked Cowboy. Icon Parking Systems, the Cowboy's sponsor, may be one of the few businesses unhappy with the new Times Square. The Cowboy is pleased.

The space is still raw and unfinished and it'll be interesting to see how it works during the weekday, but my two young sons and I had a blast yesterday along with thousands of others. Times Square is suddenly a place worth visiting and staying a while (especially if you're a parent desperate for an easy, low-cost weekend adventure for your kids).

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Jan Gehl Says San Francisco Must be Sweet to Pedestrians and Cyclists

jan-and-gabriel7.jpgIt's a good day in a city's urbanist evolution when Jan Gehl comes to town, and now San Francisco can add itself to the growing list of cities around the world that have embraced his people-first approach to urban design and planning.

Hoping to keep pace with the progress in New York City over the past two years, the San Francisco Planning Department has commissioned Gehl Architects to transform several prominent streets and public spaces in the city, starting with one of the busiest tourist attractions in the U.S., Fisherman's Wharf. 

On Tuesday night, in front of a standing-room audience of special guests at Pier One's Bayside Room, Gehl presented his general vision for improving San Francisco's public realm. The event, sponsored by Mayor Gavin Newsom, San Francisco Planning and Urban Research (SPUR), the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, Livable City, and Walk SF, was the first in the new Great Streets Campaign Speakers Series, which will bring some of the world's most remarkable urban visionaries to the Bay Area in the coming months to share their successes and offer San Francisco models for instituting its own vision for a sustainable and healthy city. 

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What Does Summer Streets Mean for Business?

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All this relaxed foot traffic surely brought a smile to the face of many a retailer and restaurateur

While press coverage of Summer Streets has been generally positive, tales of the miffed muffler shop owner and complaining cabinet maker are bound to continue, as reporters hunt for naysayers to "balance" out their stories. But what will be the economic reality of Summer Streets? Here, Streetsblog Publisher Mark Gorton gives his account of Saturday lunch with the family at an outdoor café on Park Avenue and 51st Street.

The host told us that he could seat us, but that they couldn't put our order in for at least a half hour because the kitchen was so backed up. He said on a normal Saturday they would have had three or four tables occupied, but there were about 30 tables filled. He pointed and said, "Look, even the manager is taking tables." We were happy to wait, so we sat and ate. As I looked around the café, only a couple tables looked to be filled by bikers. My guess is that lots of people who would never have bothered to walk along Park Ave. on a Saturday suddenly found it an interesting place to be.

Most of the stories we've seen reflect Mark's experience: In general, businesses which rely on foot traffic expected and/or received a boost from Summer Streets. Streetsblogger Larry Littlefield has suggested altering the route to exclude more car-dependent enterprises, like furniture stores. What else could, or should, the city do -- if anything -- to take such businesses into account? And how did (or will) Summer Streets affect your spending habits?

Photo: Ben Fried