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Posts from the "Transportation Alternatives" Category

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What SF Needs to Catch Up to NYC’s Bicycling Success: Political Leadership

New York City's Prospect Park West parking-protected bike path. Photo copyright Dmitry Gudkov

New York City has raised the bar in recent years for rolling out bicycle improvements and reclaiming public space from automobiles. While San Franciscans have come to expect major delays for bike projects as the norm in their city, New York, the only American city more dense than SF, has zoomed ahead by adding roughly 20 miles of protected bike lanes since 2007, with more on the way. After each new NYC bikeway is built, injuries to all users decline and bicycling increases along the corridor.

How can San Francisco emulate New York’s success? In short: San Francisco’s public officials need to exert bold leadership to hasten a painstakingly slow planning process intended not so much to achieve specific goals, but to avoid rocking the boat. That was the general sentiment at a recent forum where local bike advocates popped questions at Paul Steely White, the executive director of Transportation Alternatives, New York’s leading advocacy organization for bicycling, walking, and transit.

“New York’s success, tenaciousness, vision, and drive have been guiding the way for other American cities,” San Francisco Bicycle Coalition (SFBC) Executive Director Leah Shahum told an audience at the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association last Thursday, where she and White discussed the state of the bicycling movement in the two cities.

“We all know that we talk about Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Berlin, and Barcelona as being these wonderful bicycling cities, and many getting better and better, but [with] that European model, you really lose people,” said Shahum. ”To have a great American city guiding the way in being a great bicycling space, and really reclaiming space from the automobile and creating public space for people, frankly, is making our job a lot easier in San Francisco.”

NYC DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan has earned a reputation for pursuing groundbreaking projects like the two-way bikeway on Prospect Park West, which produced major benefits and, despite high-profile resistance from a small group of politically-connected NIMBYs, has been largely embraced by the public.

“We’ve been very lucky to have such great leadership that has managed, nevertheless, to involve communities and be very democratic while at the same time acting swiftly and decisively to implement safer streets,” said White. “I think one way to cut through the red tape, and maybe some of the needless process, is to appeal to safety, and say that every day that a street goes without pedestrian or bike infrastructure is putting people in danger.”

“There’s enough data now to show that it’s simply inhumane not to add bike lanes and pedestrian infrastructure when there’s an opportunity,” he added.

One of the main barriers preventing San Francisco from experiencing the same “impressive explosion” of visible change, said Shahum, is that SF transportation officials and politicians like Mayor Ed Lee haven’t been as willing to commit to completing bike projects, and that New York planners don’t have “to go through as much process as we do in San Francisco.”

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Give Your Line Some Love: Enter GOOD Magazine’s Best Bus Route Contest

Photo: GOOD

Photo: GOOD

While many Americans may not think riding a bus is the sexiest form of transportation, the reality is that a majority of public transit trips in the U.S. are taken by bus. The numbers are even higher in the Bay Area. Every one of the hundreds of thousands of passengers who boarded a bus in the last year has a story to tell and there are probably lots of Streetsblog readers who would love to share a tale about their favorite line. So why not nominate it as the best bus route in America?

Transportation Alternatives, New York City’s advocacy group for bicycling, walking and public transit, has joined with GOOD Magazine for a contest asking public transit riders to email in their photos and brief captions making a case for why their bus ride is the better one. From GOOD’s website:

Bicycles can be chic, subways artful, but buses? Buses are not exactly the golden child of transportation. They’re more like the red-headed step child: Deep down you know they mean well but they’re just a little harder to love.

Yet public buses are an essential form of transit in cities across the country, and they account for a big chunk of the nearly 10.2 billion trips Americans took on public transportation in 2009. We think it’s time to give a little love to one of the least celebrated modes of transit. To that end, we’ve teamed up with Transportation Alternatives and an impressive group of bus-loving jurors to see and hear why your bus route is the best in America.

What is it about your bus route that you love? Is your bus driver brilliant? Is the view from your window breathtaking? Do your fellow riders characters belong in a Hemingway novel?

The judges include Earl Blumenauer, Enrique Peñalosa and TA Executive Director Paul Steely White. I’m honored to also be a judge. You only have until next Wednesday, November 10th, to submit your entry. You can email them to busroutes@goodinc.com or tweet the entry to @GOOD and use the hashtag #bestbusride. Good luck!

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Great Streets Project Hires Director, Hits the Streets Running

Market_rail.jpgFlickr photo: JaimeAndreu
Yesterday marked an important day for livable streets in San Francisco. In coordination with the Castro Street CBD, Supervisor Bevan Dufty, and the Mayor's Office of Greening, the nascent Great Streets Project (GSP) co-hosted a roundtable discussion about how to start and manage successful public spaces, with particular emphasis on the proposed street closure and public plaza at 17th Street and Market Street. 

Only weeks after hiring Kit Hodge to direct the GSP, this event marked the first step toward building a constituency that clamors for turning over more street space to people and improving the quality of the public realm.  According to Hodge, agency heads sat down with community organizers and all discussed ways to improve streets, to effectively manage new public spaces, and to locate areas throughout San Francisco that are ripe for transformation.

Hodge explained the GSP as "a catalytic and short-term effort to enhance the livable streets projects in San Francisco and institutionalize them in city government."  She said she will create an online database of best practice examples and tools intended for professional planners, engineers and agency personnel so they can easily reference the work of their counterparts in other cities.

Currently, the GSP is a collaboration between the SFBC, Project for Public Spaces (PPS), and the Livable Streets Initiative (produced by Streetsblog SF's parent company, The Open Planning Project), and Hodge expects many more groups to sign on in short order. 

"I have tremendous respect for the many groups that have been working on this for many years, but we want to broaden the conversation by talking to other organizations that don't focus on transportation issues," said Hodge.

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That’s Sooo Vanilla!: Friday Bike Porn in Forbes Magazine

Picture_8.pngYum.
One of several ways I drove down my productivity when I worked at Transportation Alternatives in NYC (think SFBC with a livable streets angle) was to click through the websites of the hand-made bicycle manufacturers who participate in the annual North American Handmade Bicycle Show competition, ogling the master craftmanship displayed there.  No bicycle maker appealed more to my sensibilities and my lust for a unique bike than Vanilla Bicycles, based out of Portland, Oregon (warning: bike porn, NSFW, if you need to do any more work today).

Picture_7.pngMmmm, brazing.
Vanilla, the handiwork of former bicycle courier Sacha White, got a nice plug in Forbes Magazine, as part of the magazine's profile on companies that are fairing well despite the economic downturn.  The magazine gives background on White I'd never read before, including:

White fell into his business after his own bike frame cracked in 1999. The frame builder, Timothy Paterek, offered a weeklong course on building for $1,250. White saved for a year to enroll and later spent five months making his first solo frame for his wife, then friends, then strangers who had seen or heard of his work via the spidery Portland cycling network. Taking off a month from his courier route to make bikes in 2001, White never carried another message.

But then it makes a claim that strikes me as dubious:

Bike couriers in Portland and San Francisco, when describing something as cool, now routinely say, "That's sooo Vanilla."

Can anyone help me out?  Have you ever heard that phrase or used that phrase?  Am I really that out of touch and old already?

Some of the other delectable offerings from NAHBS are local manufacturers, including Broakland Bicycles in Oakland, Inglis and Retrotec in Napa, Sycip in Santa Rosa, Caletti in Santa Cruz, and Hunter and RR Velo in Watsonville.

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Why is There a Picnic in My Parking Spot?

park_ing_.jpg
Park(ing) in Park Slope, Brooklyn, May 6, 2006. The sign says, "Public space reclamation in progress."

Today is International Park(ing) Day, the day when urban dwellers all around the world reclaim on-street parking spaces for purposes more creative and life-affirming than private motor vehicle storage. If you found a bunch of kids playing in an available local parking spot on a grassy, sod carpet, that's why.

Addendum: Transportation Alternatives organized New York City's first Park(ing) event in October 2005. And while Oklahoma City residents staged a similar event in 1935 to protest the introduction of the first parking meters, the generally acknowledged first modern Park(ing) squat took place in Oxford, England in 2003 when a family installed a complete living room in the middle of a residential street and watched Wimbledon on the telly. That particular event ended after an angry local motorist ran his car into their sideboard.

This year, Park(ing) Day started off as a one-off art project in San Francisco just two years ago and has emerged as a widespread grassroots movement to take back city streets from the automobile. There will 50 Park(ing) events in San Francisco, 28 in New York City and scores more in cities all around the world. Streetsblog is looking for photos of Park(ing) events around the city. Please send them to tips@streetsblog.org.

Here's where Park(ing) events are planned in the five boroughs:

The Bronx
  • High Bridge Area
  • Southern Blvd. & E. 163rd St.
Brooklyn
  • Seventh Av. & 1st St.
  • Bedford Av. bet. N. 4th & 7th Sts.
  • Carlton & DeKalb Aves.
  • Cortelyou Rd.
  • Myrtle Av. bet. Washington & Waverly Aves.
Manhattan
  • Columbus Av. bet. 83rd & 84th Sts.
  • Rockefeller Plaza
  • Times Square
  • Lincoln Center
  • Grand Central Terminal
  • Astor Place
  • 1st St. & First Av.
  • Penn Station
  • Stuyvesant
  • 9th St. & Third Av.
  • Houston St. bet. Second & Third Aves.
  • Broadway bet. 113th & 114th Sts.
  • Midtown TBA
  • 563 Columbus Av. (at 87th St.)
  • Seventh Av. bet. 24th & 26th Sts.
  • Seventh Av. & Charles St.
Queens
  • Western Jackson Heights
  • TBA in Astoria
Staten Island
  • Everything Goes Book Cafe in Tompkinsville
  • 3 Central Av. near Library