The Case for Separated Bike Lanes: Streetfilms is Coming to Pittsburgh

The Case for Separated Bike Lanes: Streetfilms is Coming to Pittsburgh

I want to share a couple of their videos with you so you can see how quickly positive changes can be made when there is political will.

Streetfilms made a video three years ago called the “Case for Separated Bike Lanes” which depicts the dangerous and chaotic nature of New York’s city streets and showcasing the successful implementation of beautiful, safe, green, and accessible bike infrastructure. Sounds boring, right?

Take a look at this video, compare the view of New York streets to that of other cities seen in the video: Paris, Boulder, CO, Copenhagen, and others. These cities have made creating safe space for bicycles a priority just as we are accustomed to having safe places to walk: sidewalks.

No one would imagine motor vehicles and walkers sharing the same space and similarly it makes no sense for bicyclists to share the same space with either walkers or motorized vehicles.

Notice how cars and trucks were constantly taking over the space allotted for bicycles? How a little paint on the road made no difference and provided no safe space to travel by bicycle — but how a curb, a concrete barrier, a buffered zone, a row of trees made a world of difference!

NOW, look at the amazing change just three short years later. New York is a biking mecca. Kids can ride safely, parents can ride with their kids, people can commute to work without risking their lives.

Pedestrians, then bikes, then parked vehicles, then motorized vehicles motorizing.

Photo by Neal Patel of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition

All we need is a little determination to make bicycling, the incredibly cheap and healthy mode of transportation accessible to all.

We can do it here in Pittsburgh and we can do it everywhere.

We should do it here in Pittsburgh, and we should do it everywhere.

Because we need safe and accessible transportation choices for all.


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Manhattan Will Ban Private Cars By 2020

Manhattan Will Ban Private Cars By 2020

That’s my prediction.

Or will it be San Francisco? Or Washington, DC?

Someone’s got to do it, who will be first? Will it be a South American City?

Maybe Medellín or Bogotá?

Or maybe a European city: Copenhagen or Amsterdam?

Or perhaps Asia will take advantage of its density and invest primarily in public transportation. What about Beijing?

I wonder if the United States will become an innovator again or if we’ll continue unimaginatively trailing the world and throwing all our weight, money, resources and land at obsolete technology.

Some of the News That’s Fit to Print: Stories News From the Neighborhood, City, Region, State, Country, and World.

Some of the News That’s Fit to Print: Stories News From the Neighborhood, City, Region, State, Country, and World.

A former gas station in the Larimer section of Pittsburgh has been converted into The Energy and Environment Community Outreach Center, scheduled to open in the fall. The Center will offer a place for people to learn about water conservation and growing local produce, and will feature solar panels, a community garden and a green roof that will collect rainwater for irrigation.

Urbanophile advocated for public transportation, arguing many of the same points we posited a few weeks ago, including a few additional ones: “We don’t pay to check books out of a library. We don’t pay to visit most city parks. We don’t pay when the police or fire department come to our house for a legitimate emergency. Most non-utility municipal services are provided for free to users and funded by taxes. So why is transit different?”

I pointed out “We offer free public education to our citizens, why not offer free transit to get them to work and school? Many cities offer trash and recycling services, employment and career assistance, police and fire response, parks, pools, and community centers. Why not offer community-supported transportation?

Carfree.US analyzes their financial and environmental impact of commuting by bicycle after their first two months of living Car-free, concluding that

  • I’ve saved $47 in gasoline expenses and the equivalent of $457 in fixed costs for a total savings of $471.49 when accounting for bus costs.
  • Burned 22,356 calories which if I had been eating a normal diet is the equivalent of 6.4 pounds of fat!
  • I have kept 543 pounds of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere (19.546 lbs per gallon and my car gets an average of 21 MPG).

They also offer a download of the spreadsheet used to track savings and output on their website. Check it out!

Boston Biker has picked up the most recent Streetfilms release, Fixing the Great Mistake: Autocentric Development, and written an eloquent post about the necessity of moving away from car-centered planning. The post begins by taking on the question so may of us have had to answer — you know the one, about how we “hate cars.” As Boston Biker writes, “it’s more about hating what cars do to humans, and seeing the need for change. (from Streetsblog)

A man in Argentina builds a house out of 6 million glass bottles and creates instructional video for others to follow, while another man in Tennessee builds a ten story treehouse, the world’s largest, out of salvaged lumber for $12,000 (though doesn’t provide a video).

And Streetsblog continues their excellent coverage of rampant DWI accidents by NYPD officers  drink and drive with impunity.

Broadway Now Permanently Car-free

Broadway Now Permanently Car-free

Yesterday Mayor Bloomberg of New York City made an historic announcement that will have wide-reaching implications for street design and public space transformation around the country.

Broadway in Times Square (42nd St. to 47th St) and Herald Square (33rd St. to 35th St) will now be permanently closed to traffic. What initially started as an experiment to improve public safety and traffic flow in May 2009 is being widely touted as an outstanding success.

The result? Traffic speeds are up on diverted routes, pedestrian and motorist injuries have plummeted (down 63%), businesses are benefiting from increased foot traffic, noise pollution is down and the area is dominated by people rather than modes of transportation.

The move to make these stretches of Broadway permanently car-free is supported by 74% of people who work in the area, according to a survey conducted by the Times Square Alliance.

Take a look at the stark difference in the Before and After pictures of Times Square:

Times Square Before, photo by NYC DOT
Times Square After, photo by NYC DOT

The transformation has widespread support from the business community as well and was called “a 21st century idea” by Dan Biederman, director of the 34th Street Partnership (thanks to Streetsblog).

Last October I argued that temporary transformation is a more effective and legitimate way to gauge public opinion:

“People are used to roads and streets and public space being devoted to cars. That’s why it is essential to make the changes initially and give people the opportunity to feel and experience the delight of a public plaza and then to vote. New York and San Francisco are making temporary changes to demonstrate the value of returning space to people and have promised to return them to business as usual if that’s what people want.”

I’ll repeat: If you build cities for cars, you get cars. If you build cities for people, you get people.

New York did this and people love it. The rest of the country should begin following suit immediately.

The State of Women on Bicycles

The State of Women on Bicycles

Elly Blue of Bike Portland recently wrote an succinct and powerful exploration of “My year as a woman in a city of bikes“, an examination of the gender imbalance in the biking community.

Elly has been an dedicated bicycle and transportation activist for years, working with Shift to Bikes, Carfree Portland, organizing the Towards Carfree Cities Conference (the first held in the U.S.) and for the last year has acted as the managing editor of the popular and influential Bike Portland blog.

In this capacity, Elly examined some of the experiences she has had as a rider, a customer, a journalist, and an advocate in the male-dominated cycling world. It’s a touchy subject, certainly: her article generated 194 comments, many positive and affirming, some less so.

Elly notes a recent study by Scientific American which confirms what is obvious to any cyclist, that women are outnumbered in bicycle trips in the U.S. 2:1, or 3:1, in the case of New York City. Women are not just underrepresented on the road, but also in bicycle shops, and advocacy leadership positions. Scientific American suggests that “women are considered an “indicator species” for bike-friendly cities”, so what do we need to get more women on bikes? Here are a few possibilities off the top of my head.

Thirteen Ways to Get More Women on Bicycles

  1. Off street infrastructure such as separated bike lanes?
  2. Women in transportation leadership positions such as Jannete Sadik-Khan, who is changing the face of New York City streets?
  3. Municipal programs such as Portland’s “Women on Bikes” which offers classes on “Riding with hurdles” and maintenance?
  4. Community-based programs like the women and trans night at Pittsburgh’s bike collective Free Ride?
  5. More women in advocacy positions?
  6. More women writing about bicycles as transportation, such as Amy Walker, Mia Kohout, and Tania Lo of the superb magazine Momentum?
  7. More tax breaks?
  8. More subsidies from employers?
  9. Showers in the workplace?
  10. Bicycle safety information required in driver education program?
  11. Bicycle education in elementary school as is standard in many countries in Europe that have much higher rates of women riders?
  12. Education for police officers?
  13. Grocery bikes?
  14. Other ideas?

In order to improve our the health of our communities, it is essential that we move away from single passenger car usage by funding transit and bicycle infrastructure, as well as doing whatever possible to get more people riding bicycles.

Public Space Transformation Needs to be an Urban Priority Now

Public Space Transformation Needs to be an Urban Priority Now

Neil Takemoto’s excellent blog Cool Town Studios points out a few great examples of the pedestrianization of cities taking place across the United States.

New York and San Francisco are coming out ahead with their programs designed to reclaim wasted space and return it to the residents in the form of public squares and pedestrian zones. New York City’s Department of Transportation manages the city’s Public Plaza Program which is designed to “re-invent New York City’s public realm.”

Why? “In New York City, the public right of way comprises 64 square miles of land – that is enough space to fit about 50 Central Parks” while “San Francisco’s streets and public rights-of-way make up fully 25% of the city’s land area, more space even than is found in all of the city’s parks.”

Following the lead of New York City, San Francisco’s new Pavement to Parks program “seek[s] to temporarily reclaim these unused swathes and quickly and inexpensively turn them into new public plazas and parks. During the temporary closure, the success of these plazas will be evaluated to understand what adjustments need to be made in the short term, and ultimately, whether the temporary closure should be a long term community investment.”

Image from Streetblog of Pearl Street Plaza, a triangular pocket park that only a few weeks ago served as a parking lot and illegal dump.
Image from Streetsblog of Pearl Street Plaza, a triangular pocket park that served as a parking lot and illegal dump a few weeks before this photo.

This is the type of initiative we need to see from our city leaders across the country.

Cooperation between city agencies is necessary to move forward and we need visionary leaders who are willing to make some waves in order to shake up the status quo that is simply not working.

If you build cities for people, you get people

New York and San Francisco are vying to become the most progressive pedestrian and urban planning cities in the U.S. and they are surpassing other cities, particularly Washington, DC, not just by leaps and bounds but by 64 square miles of creativity.

Clearly, proposing some little pedestrian park or plaza on paper isn’t going to and hasn’t persuade anyone that it will improve our cities. People are used to roads and streets and public space being devoted to cars. That’s why it is essential to make the changes initially and give people the opportunity to feel and experience the delight of a public plaza and then to vote. New York and San Francisco are making temporary changes to demonstrate the value of returning space to people and have promised to return them to business as usual if that’s what people want.

It’s not. Support is overwhelming for pedestrian plazas ONCE people have the chance to experience them. According to a poll by Quinnipiac University, “banning cars on Broadway, creating a pedestrian mall from Times Square to Herald Square is a good idea, New York City voters say 58 – 34 percent … Support ranges from 66 – 27 percent among Manhattan voters to 50 – 44 percent among Bronx voters.”

I’ll paraphrase a common adage: If you build cities for cars, you get cars. If you build cities for people, you get people.

Streets for Cars:

photo from earth island institute
photo from earth island institute

Streets for People:

photo from NY Daily News
photo from NY Daily News