Vacant Lot Transformation for Green Jobs and Neighborhood Revitalization

Vacant Lot Transformation for Green Jobs and Neighborhood Revitalization

I just found this little blue-print I drew up for a vacant lot by one of my houses in Pittsburgh. I never had the chance to put this into place, but it would be wonderful to have more non-consumerist places to spend time between home and work.

Break it Down!

There’s tons of space in Pittsburgh and tons of bricks from demolitions so it would be pretty great to build a rainy or very sunny day pavilion as you see in the top left corner.

The top right corner would hold the Constance Street community bread / pizza oven and would also benefit from spare bricks.

Going down the top center are several long picnic tables.

Trees are much needed on this highway-side of Pittsburgh’s Northside so some nice fruit and shade trees in the middle of a block will sooth the residents and be beautiful and delicious. Sporadic dots both labeled and unlabeled represent trees.

The bottom center of the lot includes plans for some weird seating to be designed by one or several of Pittsburgh’s many amazing artists.

And at the very bottom, a lovely long row of soil-cleansing, sun-worshiping, smile-making sunflowers!

Let’s Make Green Jobs Fixing Our Communities

We have so much public land that’s being wasted as over-grown and trash-filled lots. At the same time, we have so many under and unemployed people. Let’s find a way to create and fund jobs that would enhance our communities, like rehabilitating abandoned lots, while putting under-worked Americans back in the workforce.

I’m underemployed myself and I’d jump at the chance to have a part-time job cleaning up and beautifying my neighborhood.

Give Me Work and Give Me Beauty

We want bread but we want roses too!

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Reimagining Public Space on PARK(ing) Day

Reimagining Public Space on PARK(ing) Day

A few days ago there were an outstanding 31 organizations and businesses in Pittsburgh working to recreate parking spaces to transform for public usage on PARK(ing) Day on September 17.

A temporary park in New York in 2008 by Flickr user prizepony

Now there are 47! Keep up with the growing list here.

What the heck is PARK(ing) Day?

(directly from the original organizers)

PARK(ing) Day is a annual open-source global event where citizens, artists and activists collaborate to temporarily transform metered parking spaces into “PARK(ing)” spaces: temporary public places. The project began in 2005 when Rebar, a San Francisco art and design studio, converted a single metered parking space into a temporary public park in downtown San Francisco. Since 2005, PARK(ing) Day has evolved into a global movement, with organizations and individuals (operating independently of Rebar but following an established set of guidelines) creating new forms of temporary public space in urban contexts around the world.

The mission of PARK(ing) Day is to call attention to the need for more urban open space, to generate critical debate around how public space is created and allocated, and to improve the quality of urban human habitat … at least until the meter runs out!

LA residents claim a parking space to cool off by Flickr user waltarrrrr

Curious what the most innovative museums, designers, artists, architects, and other forward-thinking businesses might develop? Bike Pittsburgh members are developing a bike tour of all the spots and…

I Just Can’t Wait!

Greenery swoon in Seattle. Imagine if we had this lining our streets all the time! Yum! photo by Flickr user Rob Ketcherside

Check out the current Pittsburgh list!

South Side Local Development Company
AIA Pittsburgh
Western PA Conservancy
Cultural District
Oakland Planning & Development Corporation
Bloomfield Development Corporation
Lawrenceville United
Whole Foods
East Liberty Development, Inc.
Friends of the Pgh Urban Forest
CMU Architecture Studio
Bike Pittsburgh
Allegheny Commons Initiative
CDCP
Mattress Factory
The Andy Warhol Museum
Kelly-Strayhorn Theater
REI
Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy
ARTica Gallery
EDGE Studio
GTECH
Pittsburgh Glass Center
Rothschild Doyno Collaborative
Children’s Museum
Penn State University
Shaler Elementary School
Chatham University ASLA Club
Washington and Jefferson College
Brandon Ciampaglia
The ToonSeum
Lili Coffee Shop
The Urban Gypsy
Commonwealth Press
CTAC
Animal Friends
Carnegie Science Center
Chalk for Peace
Winchester Thurston
Artist Image Resource
L’ville Dog Park
OTB Cafe
Caffe Davio
Dance on Water: Story Dancing
Nina Marie Barbuto
Gabe Felice
Christina Miller
Suzanne Trenney
Monika Gibson

BikeFest Party Tomorrow!

BikeFest Party Tomorrow!

Get your body in something beautiful and get down to the Pittsburgh Opera tomorrow night for the Kickoff Party for BikeFest. Not in Pittsburgh? Get here.

Officially, this is the biggest fundraiser for Bike Pittsburgh, the dashing and appropriately named bicycle advocacy organization for the city of Pittsburgh that is both my employer and favorite non-profit group.

Unofficially this is going to be one of the most fun parties of the summer filled with eye candy in the form of people, bicycles, and prizes.

There’s a silent auction which has tons of cool items, including this painting of a burly Triplets of Belleville-style fellow churning up Pittsburgh’s Canton Ave, one of the two steepest urban streets  in the world (37% grade, yeow! You’ll also want to check out that video of the Dirty Dozen ride).

I want it!

Credit to Lou Fineberg for this strangely angled shot

This will be a superb spot for people watching, so get out your party best, get on your bicycle and ride it down to the Opera like the 700 other people we’ll be bike valeting.

There’s a ton of other auction items too like bicycles (I think we’re raffling / auctioning five), custom bags and hats, swank vacations, etc. You can find it all here or you can just show up because you want to support the only organization in Pittsburgh that works to make the city safer to bicycle for transportation for everyone from 8 to 80. Bike Pittsburgh’s only been around for 8 years now, and only had staff for five years but already has nearly 1300 members.

Since it’s a Kickoff Party, it’s gotta be starting something, right?

BikeFest! It’s the 10 day long bicycle party of Pittsburgh with over 60 rides and events planned by bicyclists for bicyclists. Check it out. Time management is going to be key to make it to all the events. Check out the calendar now and I’ll be doing some updates here and on the Bike Pittsburgh blog, so stay very tuned. Not used to riding bikes? Dust off that two wheeler, pull it out of your garage, friends, or rent one because there are plenty of beginner rides that are ideal for getting accustomed to riding in the city. This is the time to ride.

I love bicycles!

Can’t Get There From Here: The Woeful Tale of a Stranded Pedestrian

Can’t Get There From Here: The Woeful Tale of a Stranded Pedestrian

This is the soundtrack for my exploration stroll the other day around my neighborhood. Unless you loathe R.E.M., it is a good accompaniment to reading this post.

Several times in the past I have celebrated my neighborhood and home on the North Side of Pittsburgh. But I have to tell you that I exaggerated a little and omitted much.

There are many beautiful areas of the North Side and much of it is quaint, wonderful, and convenient. But I have to confess: I live on the OTHER North Side, the part that was cut in half by a neighborhood dividing highway.

The parts that contain all the amenities like the National Aviary, the Andy Warhol Museum, coffee shops, grocery stores, and parks are all on the other side of this highway:

That is the scene I have to ride or walk across when heading to other, more lovelier parts of the North Side.

And if I want to go downtown or shopping in the Strip District, I find myself facing signs like this:

No Pedestrian Signs are More Common Than Crosswalks

Riding bikes is not much of a problem as you’re on the road, but if you are trying to get around by foot, as are children and many elderly who do not own cars, it is a death-trap. A place filled with crumbling gravelly sidewalks that are dangerous for nearly everyone except the most fit.

What if I depended on a wheelchair to get around? I’d never make it in this neighborhood.

Getting to the bus stop is quite perilous and I waited through three lights at one intersection waiting for a pedestrian signal. Over 50 cars drove by in three light switches and not one stopped to let me cross,  so I finally had to just make a run for it.

To cross to this intersection:

If you look really closely there used to be a crosswalk

Then the friendly pedestrian must run across another faded crosswalk, but this time there is a light for the walker!

Crossing East Ohio

Seems like that should be hazardous enough, right? But if I want to get my groceries from the Strip, I still have to get to the 16th Street Bridge and walk past the highway exit where this sizable vehicle powered up to the sidewalk where I was standing:

Intimidatingly Large Truck

And though I wasn’t trying to walk onto the highway, seeing this sign just reinforced how my walk felt:

Pedestrians Prohibited

By this point I’d walked less than half a mile but it took me nearly 20 minutes with all the waiting and trying not to die.

I’m fairly young and in shape, I ride a bike and move around all the time and this area is really difficult for me to navigate. Imagine how dangerous these streets are for people who are older, maybe less fit and less able to make a run for it across the street.

This area is incredibly unfriendly to pedestrians and many people do not have the luxury of investing a substantial amount of their income on a vehicle.

We need, very soon:

  • Crosswalks to be repainted
  • Pedestrian crossing signals at all intersections

Can you think of any other easy-to-implement solutions that could make this area safer for everyone?

Kid on Bike Violence Demands Community Solutions

Kid on Bike Violence Demands Community Solutions

There always seems to be a story about this, some bored kids with nowhere to go and nothing to do decide to entertain themselves by tormenting an anonymous person on a bike, or on foot, or in cars.

There was a rash of brick throwers in DC a couple of years back, and this past weekend some more kids throwing bricks on the South Side of Pittsburgh. The biker was hit and suffered a massive gash to his head, but luckily was not killed. (Interestingly, the Post-Gazette said that the bicycle rider “drove under a trestle”)

Last year while riding my bike on the highway-esque Rhode Island Avenue in Northeast DC, a gaggle of kids pelted me with hot water balloons, knocking me off my bike into the lane of fast-moving traffic. Luckily (again), the driver in the lane wasn’t texting and reacted quickly enough to swerve and avoided hitting me.

I called the police, somewhat reluctantly and they answered the call even more reluctantly. The car-bound officers shrugged, saying that there was nothing they could do. The kids had all scattered and I wasn’t really hurt, after all, was I?

Warm weather seems to infuse bored children with the passion to fling heavy objects at cyclists or pedestrians or cars.

I wish I had some better ideas to share, but all I have are questions and frustration.

Are there any solutions?

  1. Better engagement for kids? Video games, television, and the news perpetuate the concept of violence as a culturally appropriate response to conflict resolution as well as presenting it as entertaining.
  2. Better police response? I don’t think this is the right one. The U.S. has the world’s highest incarceration rate, according to a study by the King’s College of London at 756 per 100,000 and has 23.4% of the world prison population. “Correctional facilities” seem to “correct” little except the number of people that are part of their communities and raising their families.
  3. More community and parental involvement? Nice sounding but how to actually implement this? Even families with two parent incomes are being continuously squeezed in this economy leaving many kids alone to entertain and raise themselves.
  4. Education? (“Rocks hurt!”? Nope.)
  5. More places for kids to play? I grew up playing kickball on my street nearly every day but many streets are too dangerous for kids and many drivers are too reckless, eliminating huge swaths of cities as potential grounds for play.

Any ideas?

Parking in San Francisco, Planning in DC, Walking Everywhere

Parking in San Francisco, Planning in DC, Walking Everywhere

There has been quite a bit of buzz over San Francisco’s parking census and future smart parking plan. I wrote about it here (“Golden Gate Parking Lot: San Francisco Conducts First Ever Parking Census“) a few weeks ago concluding that it’s great to know how much parking is available but the goal and the outcome of making parking easier is misguided and short-sighted.

The other day I wrote about it in greater detail for my column in Next American City. It’s generated an interesting discussion with a little bit of frantic windshield panic thrown in from a resident in DC who seems to think that pro-people measures that make streets safer for pedestrians and bikers are “anti-car” and anti-poor.

I’m not anti-car, but I am against the financial, social, and environmental burden they place on individuals, cities, and the world.

Freeway Jail

I’m for people, not for modes of transportation. I want to make our cities healthier, safer, cleaner, more efficient, and more affordable for all.

I want to create better cities for the person who travels by foot and so becomes a “pedestrian”.

I want to create better cities for the person who travels by bicycle, not for their bicycle.

I want to create better cities for the person who travels by public transportation, not for their bus or train.

And lastly, I want to create better cities for the person who drives a car, not for their car.

I want to make better places for all of these people, not their mode of transportation.  Moving people by foot, bike, and public transportation are the most efficient ways to provide mobility for all in terms of space and cost as well as causing far less pollution and sprawl than creating a world where each person drives an individual car.

That is why I support infrastructure that makes walking safe for everyone from the very young to the very old, infrastructure that makes biking safe for the very young and the very old, and accessible and affordable public transportation for all.

Mobility is a human right, free parking is not.

Why Words Matter: This isn’t a Plaza, it’s a Strip Mall

Why Words Matter: This isn’t a Plaza, it’s a Strip Mall

This is why words matter. When you call a strip mall a plaza, the meaning of the word plaza is twisted and becomes meaningless. A strip mall is “a long usually one-story building or group of buildings housing several adjacent retail stores or service establishments” which is what we find in the not so lovely Shadyside “Plaza”.

If this location were actually a plaza we might find “a public square in a city or town” or “an open area usually located near urban buildings and often featuring walkways, trees and shrubs, places to sit, and sometimes shops”

Instead, we see this:

 

Shadeside

Ugh!

A plaza is a gathering space, a beautiful respite in a city, a place where people take pictures, meet friends, a place to show off to out of town visitors.

A strip mall is none of these things. Rather, it is a waste of precious urban land, a careless, unplanned, ugly, quick construction; a symbol that no one cares what it looks like, what it feels like, or the experience that people have when going to or by it.

Strip malls have no place in dense urban centers and certainly do not deserve the honor of the title plaza. They are usually inhabited by bland, faceless corporations with zero ties to the community that have no investment in making their location a better place to live.

This is just one small example of the importance of language and how inaccurately describing something limits our ability to correctly interpret.
Some other examples:

The difference between car accident and car crash. Car “accident” automatically removes any responsibility and accountability from a driver.

Global warming vs. climate change. Global warming sounds GREAT, doesn’t it? Everyone likes being warm and doesn’t that mean reduced heating bills? When incorrect terminology becomes popularized, it changes the scope of the debate.

Alternative transportation. The word “alternative” automatically isolates and alienates anyone who chooses to use a method of transport beyond a car.

Pittsburgh Ranked 28th Most Bicycle Friendly City

Pittsburgh Ranked 28th Most Bicycle Friendly City

Bicycling magazine has released their rating of the 50 most bicycle friendly cities (with a population of at least 100,000) in the country.

The magazine considered these factors in the ranking:

  • segregated bike lanes
  • municipal bike racks
  • bike boulevards
  • having the ear of the local government
  • a vibrant and diverse bike culture
  • smart, savvy bike shops

Minneapolis edged out Portland (#2) and won most bicycle friendly city.

Pittsburgh, home to me and the steepest street in America, was ranked number 28.

Washington, DC, where I cut my teeth on a bicycle, was ranked number 13. I wrote about DC biking culture and infrastructure for Momentum magazine last year, but even in a year, a lot of dramatic improvements have been made.

When I was researching the story for Momentum, I organized a happy hour to get the feel of what average riders and advocates wanted to see changed to make the city better. The top four recommendations kept surfacing again and again:

  1. Impose a congestion/commuter tax on those who drive into the city from Virginia and Maryland. Since the population of Washington nearly doubles to a million during the work week, it is logical that those drivers who benefit from our roads ought to pay for them.
  2. Install cycle tracks (bike lanes) on all arterials and on all future construction.
  3. Initiate a widespread education campaign about the rules of the road, sharing, and how to be both a safe driver and rider; delivered through PSAs, driver education programs and public schools
  4. Complete the trails that are unfinished, repair those in disrepair, and begin construction on all others.

What elements do you consider important in your decision to ride, or to not ride, your bike?

Now Let’s Talk About Getting There

Now Let’s Talk About Getting There

Now that bike parking is in the bag, it’s time to move on, and move on quickly.

I wrote about this one last time for Next American City.  It was exciting to hear the support among city residents and council members for moving to take more dramatic steps to improve the overall experience of riding for transportation.

In Kara Lindstrom‘s response to my story, she said “the biggest concern for most bicyclists is the ride, not the destination. If you’re pedaling in pock-marked bicycle lanes, sharing the road with motorists who have no mutual respect (“get on the sidewalk!”) – then where to lock up may be the least of your concerns.”

I completely agree.

I’m glad that measure has passed, but really, getting safely to work, or the store, or my friend’s house is more important to me.

I’m excited about working on different, creative, and group ways to make riding for transportation even more fun, social, and cooperative.

I Want to Ride Without Threat from Cars

One of my dreams is to be able to ride really slowly, whimsically, and without threat from cars. But there aren’t many places like that yet.

One third of Americans do not drive.

Why not turn at least some of the streets in our cities over to use directly for small-scale transportation? Or maybe cycle tracks like the ones being installed on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, DC.

I’ll pay taxes for that. If I can have some roads that are safe for me to use, I’ll definitely pay taxes for that.

P.S. Keep sending your bicycle love stories, and I’ll share the first one with you next week. Here is an example of my own bicycle love story from last year, about my fascination with riding really really slowly. What a sentimental story!

Update: Pittsburgh Approves Bike Parking Proposal

Update: Pittsburgh Approves Bike Parking Proposal

Today the Pittsburgh City Council unanimously approved the bike parking ordinance which has been floating around the city since last September.

Follow the riveting saga and re-live each breathtaking moment!

The City Planning Commission approves bike parking ordinance, measure to go before City Council and open for a public hearing, scheduled for February 9. Details about the ordinance are available here.

Next, the constantly falling snow prompted the Council to postpone the hearing. This is the same snow that covered bike trails for weeks after it was cleared off roads.

The hearing is rescheduled for March 9, unfortunately coinciding with the National Bike Summit in Washington, meaning that the entire staff of Bike Pittsburgh, the advocates that have been working on this legislation for quite a long time, will be out of town and unable to attend.

Read more