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Posts from the Tactical Urbanism Category

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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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500 People Ate Dinner on a Freeway in Akron This Weekend

"500 Plates" brought together people from all over Akron to have a meal together on the to-be-closed "Innerbelt Freeway." Photo: Jason Segedy

“500 Plates” brought together people from all over Akron to have a meal together on the Innerbelt Freeway, which is not long for this world. Photo: Jason Segedy

How’s this for a creative reuse of outdated 20th century infrastructure? This weekend, 500 people in Akron, Ohio, sat down and had dinner together on the Innerbelt Freeway.

The event, dubbed “500 Plates,” brought together people from all over the city to talk about the future of the Innerbelt. The city is planning to decommission the lightly-used 1970s-era highway and redevelop the land — but exactly how is still under discussion.

Photo: Jason Segedy

Photo: Jason Segedy

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Tactical Urbanism Win: Cyclist Protects Boston Bike Lane With Flowers

Boston cyclist Jonathan Fertig created a temporary protected bike lane in Boston this week using $6 potted mums he bought at the hardware store. Photo: Jonathan Fertig

Boston cyclist Jonathan Fertig created a temporary protected bike lane in Boston this week using $6 potted mums he bought at the hardware store. Photo: Jonathan Fertig

Even the most delicate barrier between bikes and auto traffic can change the behavior of drivers and make cycling a lot more appealing. Case in point: An ingenious bit of tactical urbanism in Boston this week resulted in a bike lane protected by $6 pots of hardware store mums.

Jonathan Fertig told Streetsblog he was upset the city had striped bike lanes on Massachusetts Avenue, near where a truck driver killed surgeon Anita Kurmann in August, but hadn’t yet installed flexible posts that would prevent drivers from parking in the lane. So he took matters into his own hands Sunday by adding a row of potted mums, an idea he says he cribbed from the “Tactical Urbanism” manual written by Mike Lydon and Anthony Garcia. Amazingly, the plants remained in place and untouched for several days, until the city returned this week to install the posts.

“The tops of the flex posts are open, so I’m actually planning to put a bouquet of flowers in each one on my way home as a statement that I’m still here, and that honestly I’m not satisfied with the city’s solution at this intersection,” Fertig said, adding that he’d like to see a more substantial protective barrier at the site.

Fertig followed up his flower pot coup with these random orange-cone curb bumpouts this week.

Fertig followed up his flower pot coup with these random orange-cone curb bumpouts this week.

Meanwhile, Fertig’s efforts caught the attention of the Boston Globe, which published a surprisingly sympathetic story that put the city on the defensive over the delay in adding protective bollards.

Fertig used the platform to announce a GoFundMe campaign to raise money for future interventions of the same type. The campaign has raised more than $3,200 in just two days.

Fertig has used some of the money on projects like using orange cones as temporary curb extensions [pictured at right]. He said he simply dropped the cones on his way to work.

Given the large amount of money raised so far, Fertig said he might explore more comprehensive tactical urbanism projects, like a Better Block demonstration.


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.”


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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