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Posts from the Pedestrian Infrastructure Category

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Photographic Proof That America Can Make Streets for People Instead of Cars

Whitney Avenue in New Haven, Connecticut

Walking across Whitney Avenue in New Haven, Connecticut, got a lot more inviting with these sidewalk extensions and painted crosswalks. Before/after via Google Street View and URB-I

Need some inspiration to make your city’s streets safer and more inviting?

Here’s a good place to start: URB-I, a collective of urban designers based in São Paulo, has been collecting before and after images of street transformations using Google Street View’s time lapse feature. The stockpile has grown to include 1,000 places around the world, including 107 in the United States. Below we’ve curated a selection of street redesign porn from URB-I’s library.

Like this one from Chicago — a parking crater by W Monroe Street transformed into a park:

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Fast Changes to City Streets: A 9-Step Guide for Creative Bureaucrats

Marshall Avenue and Monroe Avenue, Memphis, Tenn. Photo: John Paul Shaffer

pfb logo 100x22Michael Andersen blogs for The Green Lane Project, a PeopleForBikes program that helps U.S. cities build better bike lanes to create low-stress streets.

For most of the 20th century, cities answered transportation problems by adding more pavement.

More freeways. More lanes. More parking lots. More things that couldn’t be reversed or revised.

So it made sense, at the time, for the public process around civil engineering projects to focus, above all else, on not making mistakes. Generations of city workers embraced the value of “Do it once and do it right.”

But today’s transportation problems are different, and so are the projects that respond to them. Naturally enough, the process of planning and designing such projects has begun changing, too.

From the experimental lawn chairs scattered across New York’s redesigned Times Square on Memorial Day 2009 to the row of plastic posts on Denver’s Arapahoe Street after a bike lane retrofit last fall, city projects are tackling big problems with solutions that are small, cheap, fast and agile. But until now, no one has created a short, practical guide for cities that want to create a program to do things like these.

Today, we’re publishing that guide.

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Pedestrian Deaths Make Up a Rising Share of U.S. Traffic Fatalities

Pedestrians are making up an increasing share of traffic deaths in the U.S. Source: GHSA

Pedestrians account for an increasing share of traffic deaths in the U.S. Source: GHSA

Pedestrian deaths rose 10 percent in the first half of 2015 compared to the same period the year before, according to preliminary data released by the Governors Highway Safety Association. If that increase held up over all 12 months of 2015, it would be among the worst single-year changes since the GHSA started collecting data in 1975.

In a typical year, nearly 5,000 Americans are killed while walking. While fatalities for car occupants have been dropping, pedestrian fatalities have not. As a result, pedestrian deaths now make up about 15 percent of traffic fatalities, compared to 11 percent a decade ago, according to the GHSA.

The big question is “Why?” So far, no one has offered a compelling answer backed up with thorough research. The best we have are educated guesses. Of course, you’ll also see some wild and irresponsible victim-blaming in the media. Here are some of the potential explanations that have been put forth and some thoughts on how seriously we should take them.

People are walking more. About 1 million more people walked to work in 2013 than in 2005, according to Census data cited by GHSA. That’s a 21 percent increase.

Keep in mind, though, that the Census doesn’t measure total walking volumes — it just counts commuters. So while it seems like people are probably walking more overall, the lack of good data makes it difficult to know with certainty.

Vehicles are getting safer, while pedestrians remain as vulnerable as ever. Government traffic safety agencies like GHSA and NHTSA have historically focused on technology and behavioral strategies to improve safety for car occupants. Hence the emphasis on seatbelt campaigns and vehicle safety standards.

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Feds Propose Major Rule Changes to Eliminate Barriers to Safer Streets

Planners will more easily be able to design "Great Streets" like Fifth Street in Dayton, Ohio, pending new federal rules. Photo: APA

By eliminating outdated design standards, the feds can make it much easier for local governments to design streets like Fifth Street in Dayton, Ohio. Photo: APA

Applying highway design standards to city streets has been a disaster for urban neighborhoods. The same things that make highways safer for driving at 65 mph — wide lanes, “clear zones” running alongside the road that have no trees or other “obstacles” — make surface streets dangerous and dreadful for walking, killing street life.

The one-size-fits-all approach to street design has been propagated, in part, by federal standards that apply to a surprisingly large number of urban streets. But not for much longer. In what appears to be a major breakthrough, yesterday the Federal Highway Administration proposed rule changes that will allow cities and towns to more easily design streets in a way that’s consistent with an urban setting.

The FHWA may drop 11 of the 13 design requirements that currently apply to streets in the National Highway System designed for speeds below 50 miles per hour. In place of requirements that dictate things like street width and clear zones, FHWA is encouraging engineers to use judgment and consider the surroundings.

According to Joe McAndrew at Transportation for America, the rule change “will make it dramatically easier for cities and communities of all sizes to design and build complete streets”:

This covers most of the non-interstate roads and highways running through communities of all sizes that are built with federal funds, like the typical four-lane state highway through town that we’re all familiar with, perhaps with a turning lane on one side. Incidentally, many of these roads are among the most unsafe for pedestrians.

In its press release, FHWA said the change is part of an effort to eliminate “outdated standards.”

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How to Make Big Box Stores Less Terrible for Walking: 8 Expert Tips

Is there any way to integrate walking into the big box development model? Photo: @fineplanner/Twitter

It’s no coincidence that the most dangerous streets in many communities are the ones in front of big box stores.

As a rule, big boxes generate a lot of motor vehicle traffic — and they tend to be a nightmare to navigate without a car. Even though the industry is shifting and some mega retailers have started to create smaller, more urban stores, big boxes likely aren’t going away soon. Is it possible to salvage the streets and parking lots around big boxes to make them more walkable for the people who shop and work at these stores every day?

To find out, I interviewed June Williamson about how communities can make better use of big box sites. Williamson is an architect and co-author, with Ellen Dunham-Jones, of Retrofitting Suburbia. Here are her tips…

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Vote to Decide the Best Urban Street Transformation of 2014

streetsie_2014

If you’re searching for reasons to feel positive about the future, the street transformations pictured below are a good start. Earlier this month we asked readers to send in their nominations for the best American street redesigns of 2014. These five are the finalists selected by Streetsblog staff. They include new car-free zones, substantial sidewalk expansions, superb bike infrastructure, awesome safety upgrades, and exclusive transit lanes.

Which deserves the distinction of being named the “Best Urban Street Transformation of 2014”? We’re starting the voting today and will post a reminder when we run the rest of the Streetsblog USA Streetsie Award polls next Tuesday. Without further ado, here are the contenders:

Western Avenue, Cambridge, Massachusetts

Before

Before

After. (We're using a rendering because the project is not quite yet 100% complete.)

After. (We’re using a rendering because the project is not quite 100 percent complete.)

The Western Avenue road diet narrowed dangerously wide traffic lanes on this one-way street to make room for safer pedestrian crossings, a raised bike lane, and bus bulbs. Brian DeChambeau of the Cambridge Community Development Department, the lead agency on the project, adds these details about the redesign:

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Providence Will Transform Freeway Crossing Into Elegant Car-Free Bridge

The Providence River Pedestrian Bridge will stand where Interstate-195 once did. Image: City of Providence via Greater City Providence [PDF]

The Providence River Pedestrian Bridge will stand where Interstate-195 once did. Image: City of Providence via Greater City Providence [PDF]

Pretty soon, folks in Providence, Rhode Island, will be able to stroll casually over the Providence River on the same span once occupied by Interstate 195. Construction is set to begin in the spring on the Providence River Bridge, which will connect parks on both sides of the river.

The bridge will take advantage of footings from the old I-195 bridge. The highway was rerouted 2,000 feet south of its previous alignment in 2010, opening up 20 acres of downtown land for development and better positioning the road to withstand flooding events.

Tearing down the footings would have cost the state $2 million. By preserving and reusing the footings, that money went toward construction of the pedestrian bridge instead, reports the Providence Business News.

In 2010, the city held a design competition to solicit proposals for the structure, and Detroit-based inFORM Studio won. The original design called for a small cafe within the bridge, but plans were scaled back due to cost concerns.

The bridge is expected to open to the public in the fall of 2016.

Night view shows lighting effects. Image: City of Providence

Rendering: City of Providence

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“Safe Routes” Goes Global With the Model School Zone Project

"Please give us a safe route to school." This picture of a 9-year-old girl in Vietnam helped catalyze street improvements. All photos courtesy of Safe Streets Worldwide

“Please give us a safe route to school.” This picture of a 9-year-old girl in Vietnam helped catalyze street improvements. All photos courtesy of Safe Kids Worldwide

This post is part of a series featuring stories and research that will be presented at the Pro-Walk/Pro-Bike/Pro-Place conference September 8-11 in Pittsburgh.

To get to Seoul Gumsan Elementary School in South Korea, students have to cross a heavily trafficked road with a blind curve. Between 2009 and 2010, 89 children were injured and one killed in 86 traffic crashes near the school.

Seoul Gumsan then had the good fortune to become part of the international Model School Zone program, which chose 10 schools in 10 countries to showcase how better infrastructure and education could help keep kids safe on their way to and from school.

To make Seoul Gumsan safer, Safe Kids Korea, in conjunction with Safe Kids Worldwide, painted a mural on the side of the school to clue drivers in to the fact that they were in a school zone. They also installed skid-proof pavement on the road, since they found that cars often skidded in wintry conditions. In conjunction with directional road signs and other traffic calming measures, the average vehicle speed near the school went down by nearly half, from 34 kilometers per hour (21 mph) to about 18 kph (11 mph).

Near the Seoul Gumsan Elementary School in South Korea, before and after Model School Zone street treatments.

Near the Seoul Gumsan Elementary School in South Korea, before and after Model School Zone street treatments.

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Talking Headways Podcast: How Does This Podcast Make You Feel?

This week, Jeff Wood and I get indignant about Miami-Dade County’s misuse of transit funds for roads, and we speculate about why — with the current success of pedestrian projects like Times Square — old-style pedestrian malls are still going belly-up. And then we peek behind the curtain at an exciting new frontier for urban planning: connecting urban form with the feelings they inspire.

And then, just for you: a bonus Valentine’s Day outtake at the end. How could you not listen to the whole thing?

You can subscribe to this podcast’s RSS feed or subscribe to the podcast on iTunes — and please give us a listener review while you’re at it.

Leave your comments — and your Valentines and pickup lines — below.

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Turning Baltimore’s Streets Into an Indycar Track: Not So Fun for Pedestrians

Baltimore's Grand Prix Indycar race through the city streets turns sidewalks into cattle pens. Photo: Mark Brown

Road closures began early this week in Baltimore for the city’s annual Labor Day event: the Baltimore Grand Prix.

This isn’t your average marathon-day orange-cones type of street closing. The “celebration of acceleration” welcomes cars racing at speeds of up to 180 miles per hour through the heart of Baltimore, according to the organizers. Along the two-mile course, enormous reinforced fences have to be installed to ensure the safety of onlookers.

Street closures began Monday, but they escalated rapidly beginning today. All the streets won’t be reopened until 6 p.m. on September 3. Meanwhile, the Maryland DOT and race organizers insist they’re doing everything they can to minimize the impact on drivers.

But it’s a huge headache for people walking in the Charm City. Network blog Boston Streets says the event is an embarrassment on a lot of levels.

The Baltimore Grand Prix is a logistical nightmare for residents and workers. Concrete barriers and bleachers disrupt travel patterns for drivers, transit riders, cyclists, and pedestrians alike for a month leading up to the event. Trees are removed in the name of cleaner sightlines. And the noise!

To make matters worse, the company that runs the Grand Prix, Baltimore Racing Development, declared bankruptcy after its first year in 2011, and left the city of Baltimore holding the bag for some of its expenses. As part of the fallout, the company never replanted the trees as promised.

The event is run by Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake’s top campaign contributor. A source in Baltimore told Streetsblog, “Nobody within city government, or with business before city government (myself included) will trash it publicly.”