In an effort to continually help advocates, elected leaders and communities use our productions to fight for change in their neighborhoods, I am always looking for ways to manage our content better, despite only being a busy staff of one. (Yes, that's right for all those who write in weekly asking us to send Streetfilms crews places keep that in mind, it's just me!)
Over the last few years we have done some extremely popular Streetfilms, but some from other countries have been lengthy and harder for advocates to use the specific lessons contained in the middle. A few months ago I took our Zurich film and excerpted a few segments ("The Historic Compromise" & "The Zurich Traffic System") which I've gotten great feedback on. I also did one on Buenos Aires' 10km/h shared streets.
So today starts a new era at Streetfilms. If I produce a film of a long length and I think there might be value in shorter segments - you'll see them. My newest epic film from Stockholm (13 minutes) has great segments and I kept it in mind while editing that I'd break it down into shorter, more useable modules. And thus, viola! Here are four short segments with valuable lessons to use. Including how walkable Zurich is in the downtown, how successful congestion charging has been, the current bicycling climate there and looking at how Stockholm is moving beyond their Vision Zero campaign to make streets even safer.
Hey friends, a small plug for my friend Yvonne Bambrick's new book "The Urban Cycling Survival Guide" just out this month for purchase here. The book contains lots of great common sense advice for those new cyclists or those hungry to sharpen their skills on buying a bike, the rules of the road and basic maintenance, just to scratch the surface.
I'm quoted in it, but thought via this blog entry that this it is also an opportunity to offer some supplemental riding advice I've been handing out for two decades. (That is to those willing to listen.)
- When planning a bike commute, shortest does not always equal fastest or best, no matter what your map or app tells you. For example, I have three ways to get to work from my home in Jackson Heights to Canal Street in lower Manhattan (see my Streetfilm below). One is 11 miles (using Manhattan Bridge), one is 9.5 (using Williamsburg Bridge) and one is 8.5 miles (using QBB). Most would think to save time you'd choose the shortest over the QBB, but since the longer route hugs much of the Brooklyn coastline, it is usually quicker (far fewer traffic signals to stop for) and it is much safer (many protected bike lanes, more riders, fewer vehicles).
- Talk with fellow riders (and drivers) while stopped for lights. Most cyclists are talkative and fun to share a few words with. But drivers can be too - and it reminds them you are more than an object in the street, you're a real person. I've had some memorable exchanges over the years. Just a few months ago it was extremely cold and I was woefully underdressed riding a Citibike.. I let out a loud howl trying to stay warm as I pulled up next to a cab at a red light. The cabbie start laughing. He rolled down his window and we chatted. He kindly offered me a spare pair of gloves since I had none. He then said, "Vision Zero, baby!" A great spontaneous NYC moment.
- Don't be afraid to get a little lost. Once you get comfortable in a routine, if you have ample time try to change it up a little. I do this often on the journeys home as I near the end of summer knowing that the warmth is fading. I'll meander here or there to add a few miles and use roads I've never been on. Make an impromptu left here. Take a different crosstown route there. See that new pedestrian plaza in that neighborhood you're rarely in. I can't tell you how many discoveries and favorite spots I have stumbled upon at random. Or just watching the sunset from a new place.
- Go multi-modal (and multi-bike-modal!) Depending upon the season, I go thru many phases of how I'm feeling physically/mentally. I love bike commuting but I equally love walking and transit. For this reason it's always good to be a bike share member if your city has it. There have been plenty days where I am too tired or cranky to bike in. But once I get off the train at the office I wish I had ridden. No problem. I'll spend much of the day on a Citibike logging 10 or 20 miles running my errands, making meetings and filming whatever I see.
What would you add? What do you like to do to stay psyched?
On Tuesday, Streetsblog did a post of photos of the latest round of #sneckdown madness sweeping the nation. I posted one (above) of a sneckdown at end of my street in Jackson Heights, Queens, the corner of 34th Avenue & 85th Street. It was pretty typical of what intersections looked like that morning following the pseudo-Blizzard in my nabe.
It's now over 52 hours since the snow stopped falling so I went back and snapped some updates. Comparing the Tuesday and today photos there's really not much difference (except it's dirtier and wetter). We still have the SE corner (the turning corner) with essentially a ten foot snow extension from the curb. The closest tire track thru the snow is approximately 8 feet from the curb.
Some critics of the sneckdown phenomenon cite that it fails to take in to account larger vehicle turns. This is why it is important to use a little moxie in your documentation. If the sneckdown hangs around days after the initial snowfall, you'll have more anecdotal evidence the street is overbuilt. NYC has been largely back to normal for the better part of two days. There are still large piles of ice & snow calming traffic. The pace of cars is a bit slower. Good news for everyone except those who might want to drive more dangerously.
I've observed all kinds of vehicles easily make the turn on my block (which by the way could be considered more challenging since there's a median on 34th Avenue that makes the turn sharper - see photo.) I've seen SUVs, vans, long furniture delivery trucks, postal trucks and even a mini bus make the turn. Not a problem. (I admit I have not seen a firetruck to those who will naysay.)
Okay, yes, the sneckdown is not an absolute 1:1 ratio. But it's a conversation starter. It shows evidence where streets are seriously overbuilt and where modifications could help pedestrians. Of course I wouldn't advocate for 10 foot curb extensions on this block. Or even 8. But 5 or 6 feet is certainly a reality.
Finally, check out below the progression of what traffic calming does and the sneckdown simulates in this triptych. This parent starts crossing 34th Avenue with her child as the car waits patiently on 85th since they cannot make that turn so sharply. Then the car makes its turn. We can do this in so many places if we have the will and funds.
So get out there and document. And if you want more info on how to do it and inspire others, go to ioby right now where Streetfilms & Sneckdowns are featured in their 5 x 5 Getting Good Done in the Cold & Snow. Download the PDF for more #sneckdown tips. And keep posting on Twitter!
I am gonna keep this simple: are you having difficulty convincing your city/town about the merits of protected bike lanes? Streetfilms can help.
The above Streetfilm was put together back when then-New York City Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan was under a full-on bikelash assault from the media. It was done to show that protected bike lanes on wide avenues can have a wide range of benefits. From pedestrians to transit riders.
That was nearly four years ago. All those lanes survived and now some of the earliest lanes installed in NYC are becoming greener and making the streets more wonderful. Just see for yourself.
One excerpt I posted from that original video that I have gotten positive feedback was the next video. I interviewed Gary Toth from Project for Public Spaces and we chatted about why you need to have a buffer. So many people have emailed or told me this little clip was very useful.
Finally, hopefully cities in the U.S. will have the courage to do protected bike lanes with true style and safety like Copenhagen and Amsterdam do. One way of encouraging that is to show one place in the U.S. that has done an amazing job. Like they've done along the Indianapolis Cultural Trail. Yes, this loop was expensive, but you could do them with a little less panache for far cheaper and still make them look good. I hope these Streetfilms help.
By now, fans of Streetfilms probably know about the explosion of the hashtag #sneckdown on Twitter earlier this year. Now we are slowly watching another phenomenon roll out and it is easy enough to contribute.
In what has to make the Green Lane Project team happy, when Streetfilms fans have been seeing freshly painted (or re-painted) protected bike lanes in that bright green color that looks closer to a famous muppet, they're using the tag #freshkermit. Here's a few recent examples. Keep an eye out in your city and tweet away!
— Local Auckland (@LocalAuckland) September 5, 2014
— Streetfilms (@Streetfilms) September 5, 2014
— Pippa Coom (@pippacoom) November 19, 2014