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Streetsblog USA
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Paris to Return Its Great Public Squares to the People

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Paris’s Place de la République, before and after a 2012 redesign. Before photo: Google Street View; after photo: Clem/Flickr

If you look at paintings from the pre-automotive era, Paris’s monumental public squares were full of people strolling comfortably. But over time, car traffic has consumed most of these squares.

Now, under Mayor Anne Hidalgo, Paris is setting out to remake the city’s squares as great public gathering places.

The city is currently in the midst of an initiative to turn seven plazas and squares into pedestrian-friendly spaces, including the Place de la Bastille, Place de la Madeleine, and Place du Pantheon. Each will be redesigned with the goal of dedicating at least 50 percent of the land area to walking, biking, and public space. And for each project, the city will test out several different configurations, with public feedback and a rigorous analysis of how people use the space determining which version sticks.

The New York-based firm Placemeter is observing how people use the squares and compiling data for Paris officials. The company is currently using cameras to collect travel information from Plaza de la Nation, where six different designs will be piloted over the course of a year.

“You could call it tactical urbanism — testing,” said Placemeter’s Florent Peyre. “All of them will go through a phase of temporary installing with deployments before selecting the winning design.”

Place de la Nation “has a lot of symbolic importance for Parisians,” said Peyre, and serves as a major gathering center for protests. But on a typical day it is practically overrun by fast-moving car traffic.

Read more…

Streetsblog USA
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Highlights From Park(ing) Day Around the Globe

Today is Park(ing) Day — a day to demonstrate how scarce street space can do so much more than store parked cars. Around the world, people are setting up camp in parking spots and turning them into public spaces.

Here are some of the fun and creative installations we’ve come across on social media. Just for fun, vote for your favorite at the bottom.

Cambridge

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Via Streetsblog California
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The Streetsblog California Park(ing) Day Post

Janelle Wong and Kelsey Roeder at the pop-up Parklet at Valencia and Market. Photo: Streetsblog.

Kelsey Roeder and Janelle Wong at the Bicycle Coalition pop-up Parklet at Valencia and Market. Photo: Streetsblog.

Today is Park(ing) Day, the now-ten-year-old celebration that repurposes street parking spots for people rather than cars.

The concept is simple. People “take over” a parking space and use it for something other than car parking for a day, or a couple of hours, or until the meter runs out. As you would expect, Streetsblog generally finds Park(ing) Day pretty exciting and has led bike tours, produced maps, programmed our own spaces, and of course covered the heck out of the annual event.

Westwood Village in Los Angeles was the first picture we found today via Twitter.

Westwood Village in Los Angeles was the first picture we found today via Twitter.

This year, we’re asking for your help to cover Park(ing) Day throughout California.

The goal of Park(ing) Day is to show how much public space is wasted for below-market-rate storage of people’s personal property. Once people experience what can be done in even a small amount of space, they usually want changes in cities’ public parking policies.

Park(ing) Day is something of a success. Today, the concept of a “parklet” has taken hold in many cities, and what were temporary have in many spots become permanent people parking spots.

ReBar, the group that started the idea in 2006, no longer exists, and participation on the official Park(ing) Day website is spotty, so there’s no one central place you can go any more to see where parking spots are being turned into temporary parks in your city, or others. But other groups have taken over and run with the concept, from local advocacy groups like WOBO in Oakland to the American Society of Landscape Architects, which is designing and putting up parklets throughout the country today.

So there are still plenty of great Park(ing) Day parklets popping up around the state. Send your media from Park(ing) Day throughout California to damien@streetsblog.org or melanie@streetsblog.org and we’ll include it in this post. If we get enough media, we may even make our own video. More California Park(ing) Day Media, after the jump. Read more…

Streetsblog LA
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Proterra Unveils 350-Mile Range Electric Buses at APTA Conference in L.A.

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Proterra’s new Catalyst E2 electric bus parked outside the APTA conference. Photo by Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

At the American Public Transit Association’s annual meeting in downtown Los Angeles, electric bus maker Proterra unveiled its new Catalyst E2 transit bus. The Catalyst E2 electric bus is “named for its unprecedented Efficient Energy (E2) storage capacity.” According to Proterra:

[A]n E2 series vehicle achieved a new milestone at Michelin’s Laurens Proving Grounds where it logged more than 600 miles on a single charge under test conditions. Its nominal range of 194 – 350 miles means the Catalyst E2 series is capable of serving the full daily mileage needs of nearly every U.S. mass transit route on a single charge and offers the transit industry the first direct replacement for fossil-fueled transit vehicles.

Proterra manufactures these buses at plants in L.A. County’s City of Industry and in Greenville, South Carolina.

Los Angeles County’s Foothill Transit is among the nation’s early adopters of electric bus technology, with a planned all-electric bus fleet by 2030. According to Doran Barnes, Executive Director at Foothill Transit and new APTA board chair:

We just surpassed one million miles of revenue service with our battery-electric Proterra fleet, and we’re looking forward to many more miles to come. Since our first EV bus procurement with Proterra in 2010, we knew that zero-emission buses were the future of mass transit. Now, with the new Catalyst E2, this vision is a reality. We’re excited by the possibilities of an all-electric future.

Read more…

Streetsblog USA
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Where Car Commuting Is Shrinking — And Where It’s Not

Where are Americans making the shift away from driving to work?

Crunching newly-released Census data, Yonah Freemark looked at how commute travel is changing in different cities and regions. In general, car commuting in major metro areas declined between 2005 and 2015, but the shift was greater than a couple of percentage points in only a few cities.

Keep in mind that commuting accounts for less than 20 percent of all trips, so these numbers may not reflect trends in other kinds of trips. Annual Census estimates also have fairly high margins of error, so any shifts that aren’t very significant in size should be taken with a grain of salt.

Here are the tables that Freemark compiled.

The share of people driving to work dropped in most major metro areas

Graph: Yonah Freemark via American Community Survey

Table: Yonah Freemark

The standouts here are greater Boston, San Francisco, and Seattle. Meanwhile, the share of car commuters increased in greater Houston, L.A., and Charlotte. It’s worth nothing that both Houston and L.A. made significant investments in rail infrastructure over the last decade. But apparently that wasn’t enough on its own to shift commuting patterns.

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Via Streetsblog California
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Report: For Best Results, Address Equity and Climate Change Together

Screen Shot 2016-09-13 at 3.05.40 PMCalifornia Governor Jerry Brown just signed major new climate change legislation, and people will be grappling for a while with what the new laws will mean on the ground—and how California will be able to achieve its new greenhouse gas reduction targets. Tomorrow, several state agencies will be tackling the question of how to reach those targets in the transportation sector—Streetsblog will have more coverage of that later.

Meanwhile, a new report from researchers at the University of Southern California and the University of California Berkeley sets out to guide the ongoing policy conversation by pointing out the interconnections between climate change and equity.

The report, Advancing Equity in California Climate Policy: A New Social Contract for Low-Carbon Transition, discusses why climate change policies need to address equity and outlines benefits that will accrue if the state gets it right:

While many economists—and more than a few politicians—believe that disparities are simply a necessary (although unfortunate) consequence of economic growth, recent research shows otherwise: high levels of inequality are toxic for economic prosperity and sustainability. Research on environmental and health disparities parallel this finding, revealing that environmental injustices have negative spillover effects for society at large.

“What is climate equity?” ask the authors. “How can it be defined in a way that promotes both good jobs and prioritizes those communities that are hardest hit by climate change, multiple environmental hazards, and socio-economic stressors?”

The report sets out to help create a framework under which policies like renewable energy standards, incentive programs, and cap and trade can be developed—and assessed. It calls for policies to promote environmental justice, economic equity, and public accountability.

Professor Manual Pastor, Director of the Center for Environmental and Regional Equity at USC and one of the authors of the report, said that a well-thought-out framework is key. Read more…

Streetsblog USA
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FHWA’s New Goal: Eliminating Pedestrian and Cyclist Deaths in America

Pedestrian and biking safety has been lagging. Can federal officials reverse the trend? Graph: FHWA

Pedestrian and cyclist deaths account for a growing share of traffic fatalities in America. Can federal officials reverse the trend? Graph: FHWA

The Federal Highway Administration wants to eliminate pedestrian and cyclist fatalities “in the next 20 to 30 years.” In a new strategic plan [PDF], the agency calls for reducing serious injuries and deaths 80 percent in the next 15 years, which would be an intermediate goal on the way to zero.

FHWA also calls for boosting the share of short trips Americans make by biking or walking. It defines short trips as five miles or less for bicyclists and one mile or less for pedestrians. The agency’s goal is to increase the share of these trips 50 percent by 2025 compared to 2009 levels.

Now for the bad news. As admirable as these goals may be, federal transportation officials have limited power to see them through. Decisions about transportation infrastructure and street design are mainly carried out by state and local governments.

Nevertheless, the feds do have some means to influence street safety by changing design standards and using the power of persuasion. FHWA can certainly help move local decisions in the right direction. To encourage safer transportation engineering, the agency says it will ramp up its professional training and recognize states for making progress on walking and biking.

Here’s a look at some of the more promising ideas in the agency’s plan.

Promote safer streets through better design standards

One obstacle to safe streets is the widespread application of highway-style engineering strategies to local streets where people walk and bike. Wider and straighter roads might be better for cars-only environments, but they are terrible for pedestrian and cyclist safety.

Read more…

Streetsblog USA
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Complete Streets Won’t Work Without Complete Bridges

This is what the transition from the Anacostia Riverwalk Trail to the East Capitol St. Bridge looks like. Photo: WABA

This is what the transition from the Anacostia Riverwalk Trail to the East Capitol St. Bridge looks like. Photo: WABA

Networks of safe walking and biking infrastructure won’t work very well if they’re interrupted by bridges that are dangerous or stressful to cross. But when transportation agencies fix up bridges, their instinct is often to do the least for walking and biking that they can get away with.

Garrett Hennigan at the Washington Area Bicyclists Association reports that DC is attempting to sidestep complete streets policies at a couple of important bridges. He explains why it’s so critical to design these crossings for all users:

Over the next few years, the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) has plans for substantial rehabilitation work on the aging Whitney Young Memorial (East Capital St.) Bridge and Roosevelt (I-66/US-50) Bridge. Opened in 1955 and 1964, both bridges are structurally deficient and in need of serious rehabilitation. These bridges are important links in the city’s highway network, yet due to insufficient design, they fail to connect gaps in the region’s trail network and perpetuate barriers to safe walking and biking. Despite the opportunity, DDOT’s plans consider non-motorized accommodations as “outside the scope of work.” As DDOT plans the rehabilitation of these bridges, it has a duty to correct the mistakes of the past and improve both bridges for safe non-motorized access.

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Streetsblog USA
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Seattle Moves to Lower Neighborhood Speed Limits to 20 MPH

Image: City of Seattle

Image: City of Seattle

Seattle is getting serious about reducing the threat of lethal motor vehicle speeds.

The city is moving to lower speed limits on neighborhood streets from 25 mph to 20 mph later this year. On big arterial streets, the city will determine speed limits on a case-by-case basis, but the default will be reduced from 35 mph to 30 mph, and on downtown arterial streets it will be 25 mph.

Seattle DOT Director Scott Kubly and council members Mike O’Brien and Tim Burgess announced the proposal yesterday. The new rules need to be approved by the City Council.

Mayor Ed Murray promised to lower speed limits last year as part of Seattle’s Vision Zero initiative, which aims to eliminate traffic deaths and serious injuries by 2030. So far the city had been testing slow zones around schools. The blanket speed limit reduction would be much more comprehensive, affecting 2,400 miles of neighborhood streets.

The advocacy group Seattle Neighborhood Greenways led the campaign for lower speed limits, rounding up support from a variety of community groups. The city’s proposal is “really good,” Seattle Greenways policy director Gordon Padelford told Streetsblog.

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Streetsblog USA
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McMansions Fading Away?

Just a few months ago we were being tolderroneously, in our view–that the McMansion was making a big comeback. Then, last week, there were a wave of stories lamenting the declining value of McMansions. Bloomberg published: “McMansions define ugly in a new way: They’re a bad investment –Shoddy construction, ostentatious design—and low resale values.”  The Chicago Tribune chimed in “The McMansion’s day has come and gone.” Whither are these monster homes headed?

Even “Downton Abbey” is past its heyday (Highclere Castle)

Even “Downton Abbey” is past its heyday (Highclere Castle)

First, as we’ve noted, its problematic to draw conclusions about the state of the McMansion business by looking at the share of newly built homes 4,000 feet or larger (one of the standard definitions of a McMansion). The problem is that in weak housing markets (such as what we’ve been experiencing for the better part of a decade in the wake of the collapse of the housing bubble) the demand for small homes falls far more than the demand for large, expensive ones. So the share of big homes increases (as does the measured median size of new homes). And indeed, that’s exactly what happened post–2007: the number of new smaller homes fell by 60 percent, while the number of new McMansions fell by only 43 percent, so the big homes were a bigger share (of a much smaller housing market).  Several otherwise quite numerate reports gullibly treated this increased market share as evidence of a rebound in the McMansion market; it isn’t.

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