A few months ago, I was fortunate to spend a few days observing the tremendous street changes that have occurred in Buenos Aires (documented in our Streetfilm above). I also got to meet and interview Guillermo Dietrich, the architect and force behind shaping a city that has dramatically improved transit (via MetroBus BRT), walking (with 100 blocks of 6 mph shared streets in the downtown) and bicycling by adding miles of bike lanes & a free bike share system (Mejor en Bici). The Streetfilm has been very successful and I thought it'd be good to follow up with some questions to help fill in more of the Dietrich's personal story.
1 - You’ve accomplished a remarkable transformation in Buenos Aires in the last five years. Where did you get your inspiration from to change the streets?
A lot of our work is based on international experience but always adapting solutions to our own reality.
To build the on- street protected cycle network we took as reference the examples of different cities such as Bogotá, Barcelona and Paris, among others. Those examples were crucial when planning the network, however the design itself is of our own authorship. Every city is different, each place has its own topographic characteristics. Plannification must take in consideration of those qualities.
The improvement and increase of pedestrian areas in order to encourage walking is based on what is called pedestrian “desire lines”. The study of the desire lines is an international tendency adopted by cities like New York, London, San Pablo, Madrid and Tokio, among others.
One of our main aims is the priority of public transport. We had introduced a network of Bus Rapid Transit that was inspired in different experiences around the world, especially in Latino America such as Bogotá or Curitiba. However we came out with our own brand: “Metrobus”. The critical components of a well-planned BRT solution are the importance of political will and support, flexibility (not all BRT corridors are the same) and an open mind in listening to the points of view of all stakeholders involved.
2 - Metrobus BRT has dramatically changed the way people get around Buenos Aires and has cut commuting times. Are you seeing evidence of residents switching from driving to transit?
In order to decrease the use of cars we need to offer alternatives. That's why one of our sustainable mobility plan’s objectives is the priority of public transport, which it is the most efficient transport mode. Over the last six years the percentage of people who use cars as their main transport mode has decreased from 17% in 2008 vs 12% now.
3 - Speaking of driving, prior to being Head of Transport, you were the CEO of Dietrich, one of Argentina’s largest car dealerships. When you took this job how did your view of streets change?
During my time at Dietrich, naturally, my work was framed in the enterprise’s search for profit. We were selling cars, and I worked to accomplish that objective. However, when I decided to be part of the Government, my work shifted in a total different direction. Being in charge of the Transport Department my main aim is to improve citizens way of moving. At the beginning of this journey I understood that public space and streets are for people. When we (myself and Transport Department team) started with the sustainable mobility plan we knew that public transport should be a priority, and that some cars use would be discouraged. Why? Because it’s the way that most people choose to travel around the city (more than 80% of Buenos Aires citizens). Working in public sector involves the pursuit of common good.
4 - Is there advice you can give other cities struggling to more fairly balanced their modes of transportation? Any advice on what to say to drivers?
Wherever you go you´ll find congestion. Car drivers must know that traffic increases every year. This is impossible to avoid. There is no city in the world where congestion does not increase. That's why we need to encourage rational use of cars. To accomplish that aim, we must offer citizens less polluting and more efficient transport systems. Metrobus, and our bike sharing system are both part of that work.
Today it's beyond debate whether we should or shouldn’t encourage public transport as a priority. Our policy is to reward people who chooses transport modes that are less polluting, more economic and more efficient than particular cars.
5 - What are a few things we can look forward to in the coming years from Buenos Aires?
In 2015 Buenos Aires will launch four new Metrobus corridors in order to reach 56 km that will connect the main transport hubs of the city. We have already worked on the renovation of two important hubs and we will continue working to transform three new ones.
We will also expand our bike sharing system. In the short term, we will be installing new infrastructure and technology in order to respond the exponential growth of trips and demand for public bicycles. Technology is also being used to optimize our traffic light system. We have six control centers from which we monitor lights. For example, we can expand green light in order to avoid congestion. We will be adding technological tools to improve the whole system.
Regarding urban mobility, we are studing different car sharing systems around the world. We want Buenos Aires to have its own system with electric cars.
Last month was a very bad month in the tabloids and local news for NYC bicyclists. As you've probably heard we had two awful tragedies on the loop drive of Central Park in 2014 with cyclists striking pedestrians, killing both. What followed was sadness, anger and head scratching. But also the predictable media manipulation demonizing cycling, much of it unfair or downright ignoring facts.
While there's no excuse for bicycling at excessive speeds in our public parks during heavy use periods, the fact there are still cars allowed in what should be places of solitude (Central, Prospect & Astoria Parks) is completely insane. I've been a member of Transportation Alternatives (T.A.) for nearly 20 years and know far too much the long campaign to rid our parks of cars. And that's why I really enjoyed Stephen Miller's recent Streetsblog post "Traffic Lights Don't Belong on a Park Loop", which I hope help enlightens the masses that our parks are not highways.
Back in 2004, I was hired by T.A. to produce the (above) short film "The Case for a Car-free Central Park." Though I had been doing transportation videos long before, now looking back I consider it my first Streetfilm. Running an epic 20 minutes we interviewed health care professionals, advocates, authors, electeds and a cross-section of users from all the adjacent park neighborhoods.
Gasp, was it really eight years ago PARK(ing) Day San Francisco 2006 happened? It only feels like a few years have passed. I'll never forget being in Oakland visiting a friend and learning that PARKing Day was happening the following day. I got up early, jumped on BART with my camera and went looking for all the spots inspired by Rebar, a unique & awesome art and design studio in San Francisco.
What a day. I never had so much fun as an in-the-moment filmmaker. I shot for almost 8 hours straight and by the end was exhausted and nearly dehydrated. But as I saw the energy and the diversity of the spots - and the underlying message in Rebar's mission - I knew I had to churn out a film fast. 36 hours later the above film debuted on-line. It was easily our most popular film for the next two years until Bogota's Ciclovia Streetfilm surpassed it.
Since then PARK(ing) Day has really launched a worldwide phenomenon and inspired the awesome parklet movement. It has given regular citizens a chance to see how we can re-purpose parts of streets for cafes. mini-parks, and bike parking. Streetfilms continued documenting PARK(ing) Day in NYC and 2007, 2008 and 2009.
The Pro Walk Pro Bike Pro Place 2014 conference took place this week in Pittsburgh. Even though the Andy Warhol Bridge already has a nice shared bike-ped path on it, for one week the city decided to put bike lanes on its roadway. It's the simplest design you can imagine, just two rows of small traffic barriers and a little bit of signage. I compiled a few moments of footage while walking to an event one night.
In New York City, the Brooklyn Bridge is just packed with pedestrians and cyclists. For about the last ten years or so, the crowding gets so intense at peak hours that it can be perilous. There have been many solutions suggested over the years, including converting one of the roadway's car lanes to a two-way protected bike lane so cyclists and pedestrians don't have to jostle for space on the narrow promenade they currently share.
Of course the Brooklyn Bridge has more traffic of all types than the Andy Warhol Bridge. But keep this Pittsburgh experiment in mind for the future. Something has to be done on the Brooklyn Bridge. Maybe a trial bike lane during the summer would be a good place to start.
It wouldn't be an unprecedented decision. There are many other examples throughout the world -- here's our video of Vancouver giving road space to bikes on the Burrard Bridge:
Ah yes, that's the now-famous "Snowy Neckdown Redux: Winter Traffic Calming" Streetfilm above. As you may recall, I shot the video in my Queens neighborhood of Jackson Heights a few years ago to demonstrate how we could extend our curbs further into the streets to slow drivers and shorten pedestrian crossing distances. Then the idea completely blew up this winter with the #sneckdown hashtag causing a media sensation.
Now, as you can see in this series of photos, I can report some unexpected progress.
In the last week, curb extensions have sprung up at many of the intersections I documented in the video (and photos). It looks like neckdowns will be installed at 81st, 82nd, 83rd, and 84th streets on 35th Avenue, a stretch that has seen its share of car violence, and maybe more are coming.
Slowing traffic in this residential area is especially important. There are many schools nearby, and lots of senior citizens crossing 35th Avenue. And this type of traffic calming is perfectly aligned with the new 25 mph default speed limit set to take effect in NYC this fall.
People in many other cities did their own photo documentation of sneckdowns this winter. It'll be interesting in the coming months and years to see if sneckdown mania helped lead other local DOTs to take action. Let me know via @Streetfilms on Twitter using the #sneckdown hashtag or tell us about it here in the comments.