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Posts from the Public Space Category

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Talking Public Spaces with Mark Gorton: Episode One with Meatpacking BID Jeffrey LeFrancois

Here's an absolutely great interview between Open Plans' Mark Gorton and NYC's Meatpacking BID Director Jeffrey LeFrancois. Intended to be the first of an on-going series with Mark Gorton where he interviews neighborhood leaders, BID directors and elected officials about how to manage open streets & open spaces and how much effort needs to be going on behind the scenes to pull it off successfully, he and Jeffrey chat about how this grid of streets in NYC has become more friendly to people.

This is a wonderful, enlightening interview that is filled with so much incredible footage of great events & everyday footage in NYC's Meatpacking District. For anyone who wants to make their city, neighborhood or BID more friendly to people this video is a MUST! Enjoy!

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Spend Saturdays in October at “Little Prince Plaza”

A new temporary (Saturdays in October) plaza in SoHo is called "LIttle Prince Plaza"

This stat just says it all:

Cars
Last known vehicular count: 4,639 a day (2019)

Little Prince Plaza 2pm - 5pm
Bike: 398 people cycling
Ped: 8,916 people walking

 

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Clarence in Streetfilms 2000-2021 (Montage)

So following my 1,000th Streetfilm I put together a quick montage sample of all the Streetfilms/bikeTV to prepare for some media. I will be joining John Simmerman for his 100th podcast interview and it just seemed the time to let people see what I have been doing over the years.

Just so you know this is only a sample montage. I am sure I have missed some of my best appearances, but this at least gives a look into my work - sometimes skinnier, sometimes younger - but fun to check out my metamorphosis and the places I have been!

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PSA “Secret Mission” with Janette Sadik-Khan

Here is one we really should have released a long time ago!

A few years ago "Streetopia" in NYC was conceived as an idea to get people motivated to take back their streets and change our streets for the better. The event was held at the Museum of the City of New York and Janette Sadik-Khan and Seth Solomonow along with Clarence Eckerson Jr. were asked to put together this fun PSA we called "Secret Mission" to show to the hundreds of invited guests that night.

It was a huge, hysterical hit. But we never released it to the public even though we fully intended to! I'm sure JSK's fans will love it. I love it. I watch it a few times per year while looking through archives and since we are about to hit 1,000 Streetfilms I have always considered it one of the fun gems I loved to making. You know when you are out giggling and laughing between takes with your subject you are making something special.

 

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Montreal’s Popular Pedestrian Open Streets

No wonder they call it the Great White North.

Last month, I journeyed to Montréal, a city I have visited many times in the last three decades, to see how much progress it has made in reining in the car culture, creating more livable communities, encouraging cycling, making roadways safer and, most important, bringing back freedom to inhabitants long oppressed by car drivers.

The changes are amazing — and they are the subject of two new Streetfilms, my 1,000th and 1,001st of my career. The first one is about open streets. The other is about cycling. Both will make New Yorkers drool … or book tickets.

Of course, Montréal has fewer open streets than New York City does, but the open streets in the Paris of North America are much better. Montréal’s 13 open streets are much longer and operate almost entirely car-free — car-free, meaning no parking, either! — 24 hours a day, all summer long.

“It’s about making the city accessible for everyone,” Montréal’s mayor Valérie Plante told me. “There has to be more room for cyclists and pedestrians, and arts and parklets.”

On Montréal’s open streets, you don’t just see people walking or biking as you see in New York, but also art installations, benches, bioswales, swings (with cupholders!), play areas for kids and bollards to keep out the cars.

Bollards to keep out the cars.

“It just brings so much joy and fun and, of course, safe spaces for our kids,” Plante added.

And local business owners confirm that pedestrianized zones bring in more money for struggling merchants.

A 1.5-mile stretch of Mont Royal Avenue is fully pedestrianized, including some side streets. That’s about the same length as New York’s best open street — 34th Avenue in Jackson Heights — but in New York, the open street is still filled with parked cars and only open between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m., limiting what residents can do, how many can do it and how long they can do it for. There’s a movement to make the open street permanent and 24 hours — a position supported by incoming mayor Eric Adams — but opponents in the neighborhood want the open street reduced or even eliminated.

Montréal proves that the real solution should be to double-down on open streets. Barricades keep the cars out — and don’t require a massive volunteer effort. And instead of dismissing older adults’ worries about getting around, the city provides transportation (via pedicabs) for them.

One final note for all us nerds: Make sure you check out the appearance of former Streetsblog contributor Steven Miller in the Montreal open streets vid

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NYC Restaurants Need Open Streets NOW

StreetFilms latest release is "NYC Restaurants Need Open Streets NOW". Produced and hosted by Henry Rinehart.

Open Streets NOW takes us on a bike ride around NYC to hear from some of the city’s finest restaurateurs and chefs about how open streets meet the needs of an industry in crisis.
Henry Rinehart on Open Streets for Restaurants

“My people and I are hurting. My city is hurting. Our leaders are not creating the safety and certainty that our lives, and our jobs require.“

“When the weather changes, after 100 days of solitude, we are all going to be desperate to be together, but to be safe. All we know now is that safety requires space. There is available public space in front of every door. Restaurant people are planners and doers. We do not sit alone in silence well. Give restaurants access to open streets and they will bring us all hope and sustenance.”

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Future Streets: Little West 12th Street in NYC’s Meatpacking District

Little West 12th Street in the Meatpacking District has been transformed from an underused open street into a bustling, lively hangout thanks to 5,000 square feet of donated sod — Exhibit A in the open-and-shut case for more car-free streets in pedestrian-majority neighborhoods.

It’s a pleasant place to sit or stroll — and it’s good for business. “There’s an organic visual appeal — you see a street like this and you want to walk down it,” said Jeffrey LeFrancois, the executive director of the Meatpacking Business Improvement District, which created the one-block vision of utopia as part of the “Future Streets” collaboration of the American Institute of Architecture, the American Society of Landscape Architecture and the American Planning Association.

The block-long stretch between Washington and Greenwich streets has been largely transformed — first by the elimination of car storage (which still typically mars the de Blasio administration’s “open streets” program), then with the installation of tables and a large, grass-covered seating area on the western end of the block. That’s created foot traffic, which creates more business. “We’ve had twice the normal number of customers,” said Courtney McKamey, the manager of the Little West Wine and Spirits on the block, who provided a reminder that businesses that rely on walk-in customers have no need for streets filled with parked cars.

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Miracle on 34th Avenue: NYC’s Best Open Street is in Queens

The Jackson Heights, Corona and Elmhurst areas of Queens were among the hardest hit in the United States by the Covid-19 epidemic. This film looks at the months-long struggle in Jackson Heights to get an open street on its beautiful tree-lined 34th Avenue. Featuring two-way streets separated by a median, it was the perfect place in the neighborhood to allow more social distancing, allow people to get some exercise and have better mental health due to the virus' long shadow on our city.

Now that the open street runs for 1.3 miles every day from 8am to 8pm, you will see children, families, exercisers, seniors and people using it that need to shop & run vital errands. It was a unique partnership from the city and neighborhood alliances. And in these days where we could use some good news and inspiration, the folks that made this happen should be applauded!

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Madison Square Before & After Pedestrian Plazas (and more!)

Check out this video montage showing how horrible and inhumane Madison Square/Flatiron Building area was for pedestrians & cyclists in 2007 compared to now!

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Letting Citizens Redesign Their Streets: Mark Gorton Talks with Amsterdam’s Rocco Piers

This is essentially a follow-up from our smashingly popular Streetfilm from earlier this year where Amsterdam's new government announced they were removing 10,000 parking spaces from the streets.

Mark Gorton, the Chairman of Open Plans was curious to the exact decision process came about to remove on-street parking in the Frans Halsbuurt neighborhood , so he flew to Amsterdam to meet with Rocco Piers, the district alderman who is helping usher in a new way of allowing residents of streets to get together and re-design them the way they would like to see.

Of course the neighbors overwhelmingly favor: more green, more play areas, tons of bike parking and environmentally-friendly practices while also preserving limited access for cars and retaining ample loading zones on each block for residents to still use a car for when the need arises.

The original Streetfilm "Amsterdam's Removing 10,000 Parking Spaces: See what's possible!" can be found at this link: vimeo.com/339735964

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Life on a Dutch Woonerf (Living Street)

When I posted I was headed to The Netherlands once again to visit (and for my first time to Utrecht,) as usual I got a lot of recommendations on what to look at. One of the first people to contact me was Rebecca Albrecht, who moved there with her husband Paul from Boston about three years ago and couldn't be more delighted to live there.

She mentioned she lived on a Dutch play street (woonerf) and when I looked at the photos she had snapped from the window of her bed & breakfast, my first thought was: maybe this would be an opportunity to get a unique angle from residents since I had ridden on so many similar streets in Amsterdam and in Copenhagen but didn't want to be too nosy.

When I arrived the street was full of neighbors and children and they wanted to talk to me about their lovely street. But this is not something exceptional as over 2 million Dutch people live on play/living streets. So take a gander but be warned: you will want the same thing for your block.

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Queens Fights to Keep their Car-Free Travers Park

“No cars in parks.”

That was one of the many signs carried by one of the hundreds of Jackson Heights residents and safe streets activists who rallied Saturday on 78th Street, which the city has long promised would be converted from a roadway into a park — only to apparently renege on that promise so a car dealership could use a portion of the street near deadly Northern Boulevard.

As Streetsblog reported earlier this month, the city may not finish the job of converting 78th Street into a park in deference to Koeppel Mazda, which operates a dealership on the corner of Northern and 78th Street and wants to keep using the northern end of the street for moving cars around. City officials have given us no answers — and Koeppel isn’t talking.

(above text written by Gersh Kuntzman, StreetsblogNYC)

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10 Years Later the Pedestrian Crush on NYC’s 34th Street is Still Chaos

Sidewalks around Penn Station are not wide enough to handle the number of people who walk in the area. That was the case in 2009, when Streetfilms’ Clarence Eckerson and Streetsblog Publisher Mark Gorton surveyed the pedestrian crush at 34th Street and Seventh Avenue, and it’s no less true today.

Last spring DOT announced plans to add sidewalk space on Seventh between 42nd and 34th. Nearly 300 people were injured in crashes on that stretch between 2010 and 2014. One hundred thirty-eight of those victims were pedestrians — 12 of whom sustained severe injuries.

A year later, that project has not materialized. Clarence and Mark recently returned to 34th and Seventh to show how the city is still forcing people to walk in the street, even as motorists steal public space next to the curb.

“We filmed this exact intersection to show the sidewalk overcrowding, to show how we need more space for people,” says Gorton. “And in those 10 years nothing has happened. If anything it’s gotten worse.”

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Rotterdam: A Post-War Central City Moves Beyond the Automobile

On a trip to the Netherlands this summer for the VeloCity conference in Nijmegen-Arnhem, I had one extra day on my itinerary. So I asked the Streetfilms Twitterverse what I should do with my 24 hours, and I heard loud and clear from people in Rotterdam that I should come see their wonderful city. I'm glad I did.

Rotterdam is the second largest city in the Netherlands. Because so much of the city was razed during a World War II carpet bombing, Rotterdam lacks a historic central district. Its newness makes it an interesting comparison to American cities. Even though much of central Rotterdam was built during the era of mass motoring, the city is still taking major steps to shift away from cars and toward transit, biking, and walking.

Traffic and parking are on the wane in Rotterdam as the city actively encourages more efficient modes of travel, with an extensive tram system and improving bike network (bicycling mode share currently stands at 20 percent and it's rising quickly). The city even has rain and heat sensors at traffic lights that give cyclists more green time during tough weather.

My guide to the city was José Besselink, a planner and one of the leaders of Rotterdam's "City Lounge" initiative, which makes public spaces in the central city more active and inviting for people. The program has been transforming parking lots and other underused spaces since 2008, and the results are impressive.

Perhaps the most stunning change is around the majestic Rotterdam Centraal Station. A 2014 overhaul reallocated huge amounts of space around the station, limiting car access while opening up more room for pedestrians and cyclists and laying down a "green carpet" for trams.

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Meet Some of the “100 Most Influential Urbanists” via Streetfilms!

Recently, Planetizen named their 100 Most Influential Urbanists of all-time, based on public voting off of a list of 200 nominees. Jane Jacobs won. As she should have.

Whether you believe the list is correct or has some people ranked too kindly or not at all, it has been circulating like mad on Facebook and other social media. Of course, when I took a look at the list, my first thought was how cool it was that Streetfilms had interviewed or featured dozens of them.  So if you want to learn or see many of these individuals in action, take a gander at the films below!

2. Jamie Lerner

The renowned urban planner became mayor of Curitiba and implemented their BRT system which we explore in this popular Streetfilm. But I selected the more intimate video we did on the story of Curitiba's first pedestrian street since it has lots of him.

 

4. Jan Gehl

In fact, there are many Streetfilms that have featured Gehl over the years. The film below is one of four I made - in five days - while in Copenhagen in 2010.  But our first with him was the most important: an influential video we cut of him  evaluating a horribly un-friendly-to-people Times Square in 2005 with Mark Gorton! In many ways it helped ignite the livable streets renaissance that NYC has been moving towards since.

 

10. Charles Mahron

About five years ago, Streetfilms first met Chuck, and we could tell he was an original thinker with ideas about our cities we needed to help spread. I thought he would make an interesting subject and followed him to a few cities.

 

12. William H. Whyte

Holly Whyte passed before I became deeply immersed making videos about urbanism and transportation. But since I always admired the simple language he used in his book "The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces", I wanted to honor him with this montage of my favorite shots that matched the words in his book.

 

13. Donald Shoup

The undisputed expert of parking policy was part of our plan early on to highlight how ample free parking was a hurdle to having better cities. We interviewed him the first time he came to NYC and the 2nd time we did I decided it was time to take out some matchbox cars and show visually some of his concepts.

 

16. Janette Sadik-Khan

As NYC DOT Commissioner, we were perfectly positioned to watch the meteoric rise of Janette Sadik-Khan and how she introduced progressive public space initiatives and changed Times Square, Madison Square & brought us Summer Streets and more! She easily holds the record for appearing in more Streetfilms than any other person and  you might as well chalk all of this up to her,  Here we feature one of her first sit down interviews in 2008 with Mark Gorton about her work.

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