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!

Seven Things You Can Do to Protect Air, Water, and Soil Quality

Seven Things You Can Do to Protect Air, Water, and Soil Quality

These tips are taken from the posts “Thank You Pittsburgh For Banning Marcellus Shale Drilling” and “Drilling for Natural Gas in the Marcellus Shale: What’s It All About and What Can We Do.”  They are specifically about working to protect air, water, and soil quality from the dangers of natural gas fracking. Of course, the last three can apply to anything.

  1. Check out Marcellus Protest
  2. Here are some tips from Pittsburgh organizer Gloria Forouzan
  3. Watch background and analysis of Marcellus Shale industry by the Real News Network
  4. Watch Gasland and share your story
  5. Write letters to the editor
  6. Talk to your neighbors
  7. Educate yourself
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
Mattress Factory
The Andy Warhol Museum
Kelly-Strayhorn Theater
Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy
ARTica Gallery
EDGE Studio
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
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

Are Americans Ready for Nimble Cities?

Are Americans Ready for Nimble Cities?

Imagine you had the power to do anything to fix the transportation systems in this country.

What would you do?

A fellow named Tom Vanderbilt wrote a book called Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us). Lots of people have already read it. I’m not one of them but it’s on my list, moving closer to the top. He wants to know what you’d do, and so do I.

Tom Vanderbilt talks enthusiastically about transportation, is pretty cute in a Traditional Clean-Cut Sort of Way, and also writes a great column at Slate.

Now he’s started something that is mix between a project and a conversation called Nimble Cities that is looking to solve the great transportation problems of today by looking to the whole world for ideas.

Ideas are flowing in nearly as quickly as the BP oil catastrophe pumps gas into our oceans. Submit yours now.

This is your chance. What are your great ideas?

Our Transportation System is Bankrupting and Killing Us

As he says in his Request for Ideas:

Transportation is also costing us even more: At the turn of the 20th century, U.S. households spent about 2 percent of their income on transportation. That figure is now around 18 percent, and it’s also rising.

And then there are the other social costs, not just time lost in congestion but the larger cost in human lives: The World Bank estimates that by 2030, road deaths could become the fourth or fifth leading killer worldwide, a larger threat than malaria.

I suggest that we Fully Fund Public Transportation

I think the most effective method to change consumption patterns in the U.S. would be to fully fund public transportation with public money. If taking public transportation was free for the user, ridership would grow astronomically. It’s been demonstrated again and again.

Level the mobility playing field. Give everyone the right and the means to get to work, to school, to fun, to appointments, to recreation.

We should invest in excellent public transportation that is:

  1. Fast
  2. Free (to the user)
  3. Predictable (schedules available at all stops and on phones)
  4. Attractive / Beautiful
  5. Clean
  6. Frequent (always less than a ten minute wait)
  7. Everywhere (less than a ten minute walk from most locations)
  8. Efficient (Local and Express)
  9. Resourceful (should maximize options of local terrain. Pittsburgh for example could use streetcars, along side ferries and the incline to take advantage of our rivers and hills)
  10. and has the right of way against all other modes of travel.

(Thanks to the blog, Free Public Transit for their constant work on equitable transit for everyone.)

Quote of the Day: March 30

Quote of the Day: March 30

“As we all know, the more parking there is available, the more convenient car use becomes relative to other travel option. The more convenient car use is the more likely a car will be used.”

– Rachel Weinberger, a planning professor at the University of Pennsylvania and former transportation policy adviser to New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

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!

Washington, D.C.’s Transportation Action Agenda

Washington, D.C.’s Transportation Action Agenda

I was bowled over last week when I saw the Action Agenda from Washington, D.C.’s Department of Transportation. I was really excited to share some of the best parts of it, but now a bunch of time has passed and many other people have already analyzed it so I’ll just send you in their direction.

The WashCycle calls the plan “very exciting stuff,” noting that “If they pull half of this off, it’ll start to look a lot like Portland around here…It’s like our DMV has grown up into a real Transportation Department.”

Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space‘s Richard Layman says the Agenda “refocuses the transportation agenda on what we might call complete places and sustainable and optimal transportation and linking land use and transportation planning and objectives. It appears to extend the thinking of the Transportation element from the DC Comprehensive Plan in a more integrated fashion.”

Overall, I am really, really impressed.

I am especially excited about the plan to educate new drivers about bicycle and pedestrian safety. Although I think it should be incorporated into license renewal procedures for already licensed drivers… And even better would be if DOT and the Department of Education worked together to incorporate bicycle safety and use into the curriculum at an early age, as is standard in many European countries that have a much lower dependence on automotive transportation.

Things are looking up in Washington, DC where I was a pedestrian, cyclist, public transportation aficionado for nearly eight years. I’m excited to see what happens next.

My recommendation for Action Agenda 2014 is free public transportation.

How about it, government? How about it, citizens?

The End of the Road for Cars

The End of the Road for Cars

NASA rings the death knell for car-based design in a new study concluding that cars, buses, and trucks are the greatest source of global warming. NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies analyzed 13 sectors of the economy to estimate which will have the greatest impact if we continue on the same trend from 2000-2100 as we have in the past.

They concluded that “motor vehicles emerged as the greatest contributor to atmospheric warming now and in the near term. Cars, buses, and trucks release pollutants and greenhouse gases that promote warming, while emitting few aerosols that counteract it.”

The new analysis offers policy makers and the public a far more detailed and comprehensive understanding of how to mitigate climate change most effectively. The study was led by Nadine Unger who asserts that “targeting on-road transportation is a win-win-win. It’s good for the climate in the short term and long term, and it’s good for our health.”

Our next step is address the problem of designing cities and suburbs and towns that leave people strapped to their cars with little alternative, even if they wanted to stop driving in order to save money, eliminate their contribution to climate change, reduce stress, make the streets safer for kids, and the elderly.

We need to stop developing new roads that perpetuate dependency on an environmentally, financially, and socially destructive tool and, most urgently, need to start investing heavily in public transportation – as though our lives and planet depended on it.

Portland Investing $600 Million in Bicycle Infrastructure

Portland Investing $600 Million in Bicycle Infrastructure

From Streetsblog via Portlandize:

Portland is planning to invest $600 million dollars to support bicycle infrastructure over the next 20 years with the aim of increasing trips made by bicycle to 25%.

An excerpt from the Portlandize article:

“What many cities in Europe have found out, is that pedestrians and cyclists are better shoppers than those who arrive in automobiles. They are more able to stop on a whim, browse casually…. Many major shopping districts in European cities are car-free, and they thrive.

Active citizens are healthier citizens, and more productive citizens, and the city, as well as companies, pay money to support health care costs for the citizens of a city. An active lifestyle is one of the best preventative medicines, and countries in Europe have done studies that show the monetary benefits of having their workforce healthy and productive due to being regularly active are massive.


We spend hours and hours sitting in our cars, wasting fuel, wasting time, polluting the air. Our streets simply cannot handle the volume of traffic we currently have, and we are expecting growth. Not only can we not afford to tear up our neighborhoods to build bigger roads (from a community point of view), we can much more easily afford to add bicycle infrastructure to our existing roads than build more roads. Portland’s entire 300 mile network of bikeways cost about the same as 1 mile of urban freeway. Granted, some of the stuff in the Portland Bicycle Plan is more expensive that what we have done so far, but it is still minuscule compared to the cost of building and maintaining automobile-only roads.”

Planning a city for public transportation, for bikes and pedestrians is both more space and cost-efficient. In addition to the monetary savings, investing in active transportation provides enormous health benefits, including improved air quality.

Now is the perfect time to start making sound decisions for our neighborhoods and cities.

Houston Considering Free Public Transportation

Houston Considering Free Public Transportation

America’s traditional response in our ongoing war against traffic has been to build more roads and build more highways.

When those become too crowded, we widen those roads and widen those highways and when those become too crowded, we build more roads and build more highways and when those become too crowded, we again widen those roads and widen those highways.

It never ends, the roads keep being built, the cars keep coming.

The rush hour only gets longer and longer and our approach has stayed the same for decade upon traffic-snarled decade.

Houston’s new mayor Annise Parker is considering a different tactic in her car-dominated city where 70% of residents drive alone to work.

Welcome to Houston! (Photo by aloofdork, courtesy of flickr)

Parker has been mayor for just over a month and is already making major waves by suggesting that Houston’s Metropolitan Transit Authority explore the possibility of free service.

Only 20% of the operating costs of the MTA are derived from fares and by subsidizing the entire system, the city would be able to offer mobility to all, including those that are too young or too old to drive, as well as those unable to afford a car. Parker wants to shift the focus of the MTA to ensure that those “who depend on public transportation should receive priority in Metro’s planning.”

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?

Removing the upfront cost of transit makes it more efficient as buses and trains will not have to wait for people to pay their fare before continuing on their route. Removing the upfront cost of transit has been shown to greatly increase ridership, inevitably removing cars from the road and reducing congestion and pollution.

The town of Hasselt, Belgium was profiled by Dave Olsen after city officials introduced free public buses with the principal aim in making it “the natural option for getting around. And it did — immediately.” On the first day, ridership increased by nearly 800%. The first full year showed a constant increase of 900% over the previous year and by the second year was up by 1,223 %. A major motivation for officials in Hasselt was to “to guarantee the right to mobility for all residents in Hasselt… that an improved public transport system simply means a better use of the public space that will not only improve the quality of traffic, but the quality of life in general.”

Of course it wouldn’t be as easy as removing the fare box. Additional bus lines and stops need to be added, bus shelters need to be improved or installed, and service needs to be consistently fast and reliable.

It must to be more convenient and cheaper to take transit then to drive. By removing the fare, the cost equation disappears for many people. When transportation is actually public, when it is actually a service, people will use it because it will save them money. More people on transit means less people driving alone.

When 40 people elect to take the bus instead of driving alone, that takes 40 cars off the road and makes travel faster, more convenient, and more efficient for everyone.

Let’s take this solution to our own communities.