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Posts from the "Tactical Urbanism" Category

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Tacoma Vows to Prosecute Rogue Crosswalk Painters

 

A group calling themselves “Citizens for a Safer Tacoma” has painted five crosswalks around the city, in hopes of pressing officials to take pedestrian safety more seriously.

The city of Tacoma, meanwhile, has reacted defensively, threatening to prosecute the group, according to King 5 News. Kurtis Kingsolver, interim public works director, complained to the television station that it costs the city $1,000 each to remove the guerrilla crosswalks and that they create a safety concern. Apparently rising traffic fatalities and citizen complaints are not enough to compel the city to improveconditions for walking. He said the city must consider things like sightlines, street width, and traffic volumes before installing a crosswalk.

Members of “Citizens for a Safer Tacoma” say they are responding to an increase in traffic collisions. With 15 of their members having been hit by cars, they say they tried to get the city to help, but were turned away.

The threat of arrest isn’t deterring them. “If the city does nothing, we will,” an anonymous spokesman for the group told the television station. “None of us want to go to jail, but we’re more dedicated to the safety of citizens than we are to the law.”

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Guerrilla Crosswalk Turns Into Total Overhaul of New Haven Intersection

This guerrilla crosswalk preceded a safety-focused overhaul of the entire intersection. Image: New Haven Independent

Some New Haven residents were fed up with a dangerous intersection near Yale University, where repeated requests for a crosswalk had gone ignored. So one night last May, they painted a zebra-striped crosswalk on Whitney Avenue near Audubon Street.

The new intersection will be raised to improve visibility. It will include landscaped bump outs and three, faux-brick crosswalks. Image: New Haven Independent

But public officials worried pedestrians wouldn’t be visible to motorists cresting a rise right before the intersection. The crosswalk was removed by the city shortly after it was installed, according to the New Haven Independent.

But two city residents, Erin Gustafson and Doug Hausladen, saw the value in the guerrilla action. Gustafson, who works nearby, noticed cars stopping and letting pedestrians cross. The city of New Haven’s Complete Streets Manual offers a project request form that enables local residents to ask for safety improvements, so Gustafson and Hausladen formally appealed to bring the crosswalk back.

The dangerous crossing won’t be a worry any longer. As it happened, the city was working on a safety fix for the intersection at the same time as Gustafson and Hausladen, New Haven DOT chief Jim Travers told the Independent. The city will construct a raised intersection costing $320,000, with Yale chipping in $150,000.

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Q&A With Jason Roberts, the Brains Behind “Better Blocks”

The Better Block project, founded less than 10 years ago in Dallas, Texas, is not only changing streets for the better — in many ways, it’s changing the urban planning process.

Jason Roberts (right) was working as an IT consultant in Dallas when he started wondering why a particular part of his neighborhood was in such bad shape. Image: Pegasus News

Better Block brings “pop-up,” temporary businesses into abandoned buildings, creates temporary bike lanes with chalk and cones, turns underused parking spaces into outdoor cafés, and generally celebrates the awesome potential of ordinary urban places. The strategy of using temporary installations — a prime example of “tactical urbanism” — allows people to reimagine their neighborhoods while circumventing time-consuming and potentially hostile regulatory and political processes.

At the CNU 21 conference in Salt Lake City, I had the chance to sit down with Better Block’s visionary founder, Jason Roberts. Here’s his inspiring call to action:

Angie Schmitt: What is the history of the Better Block project?

Jason Roberts: The Better Block project started in April 2010, in Dallas, Texas. I had a series of blighted buildings in my neighborhood and a street that was really wide. I started trying to figure out why they were boarded up.

I found out it was zoned for light industrial, it wasn’t zoned for retail. The original reason these buildings exist was no longer allowed.

We looked at the streets and said, “Why can’t we get bike infrastructure in the area?” At some point I said, “Couldn’t we make this into our dream block, the blocks that I love in European cities or other places I’ve seen that are filled with flower shops and bakeries and cafes and bike infrastructure and landscaping and people sitting outside and eating and drinking?” I got together with some friends and we decided to do a guerrilla installation.

It was really inspired not so much by New Urbanism because I hadn’t known much about this. I came from an artist background and I also was an IT consultant. Really, I was looking at what happened with Shepard Fairey and the street art movement. I loved how those things were sort of shocking the system. I was thinking, why can’t we apply those same ideas to a block?

The first project we ever did was very guerrilla. We didn’t get permits, we just painted bike lanes in the streets. We found props like old historic lighting. We put café seating out. We took away car lanes. We went into the vacant buildings, we talked the property owners, they let us use the space. We created our own coffee shops, flower shops. We turned an old car garage into a kids’ art gallery and we built fruit stands and things like that. And then we printed off the ordinances and zoning for the area that we were breaking and we put it in the window, to show these are all the things that aren’t allowed in our city.

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