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Queens’ Corona Plaza: A Community Place Rises

Something special is happening in Corona, Queens.

Last week, Streetfilms visited Corona Plaza -- the city's newest car-free space, next to the 103rd Street stop on the 7 train -- and found it already packed with families, children, and shoppers.

This plaza has been in the works for many years, and the local community has taken ownership of it immediately. Volunteers help in locking up the tables and chairs at night and assist in cleaning the space themselves.

The area previously had no public seating whatsoever, which is astonishing considering the dozens of restaurants nearby. Now it is a magnet for people, especially kids, who give the place a vibe that feels different than most other pedestrian plazas. To watch parents sit calmly while their kids play would have been unheard of before the street was reclaimed from traffic and parking.

Andy Wiley-Schwartz, an assistant commissioner at the NYC Department of Transportation, tells us about the future of this space and the thinking behind its current incarnation:

We're planning long term for what we call a capital reconstruction -- where we would build this plaza out completely with concrete and pavers and fixed seating with permanent plantings in the ground and really make it into a beautiful, permanent plaza.  But for the moment we can capture this space by putting things on the surface.  So we paved over the asphalt with epoxy gravel - loose gravel that is glued to the ground to make it look like a public space. We moved in planters to green and beautify the space. We have moveable seating that people can move in or out of the sun and also the umbrellas. And blocking off the space with granite blocks so that cars cannot drive in it. That way we can create this space for a few years while we are planning and constructing the capital portion.

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“The Porch” at 30th Street Station Welcomes You to Philadelphia

For nine months now, Philadelphia's awesome new public space "The Porch" has been flying under the nation's livable streets radar.

Installed next to 30th Street Station as part of a larger PennDOT undertaking, the project reclaimed asphalt from cars and devoted it to people. The Porch provides a great place to meet up, and it shows what American cities can achieve at major transit hubs when they strive to create great public spaces.

The planners of The Porch looked to New York City's Times Square for inspiration, and there might be something for NYC to learn in return as the city considers transforming parts of Vanderbilt Avenue outside Grand Central Terminal into pedestrian spaces.

StreetFilms
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A Car-free Street Grows in Queens

Back in 2008, Jackson Heights residents banded together to win car-free Sundays on 78th Street, creating a new, temporary public space for children and families in one of NYC’s most park-starved neighborhoods. This year neighborhood activists aimed much higher: They wanted to make the street car-free 24-7 for the entire months of July and August.

As you’ll see, thanks to committed volunteers and strong leadership from District 25 Council Member Daniel Dromm, they overcame initial hesitation from the local community board’s transportation committee — which voted the idea down — to make it happen.

The fight was worth it, Dromm told us. “It was recognized just about two weeks ago in The Queens Tribune as being one of the best things about Queens – this play street,” he said. “So imagine if we hadn’t done it?” Indeed. We hope other electeds are in tune with their neighborhoods as much as Council Member Dromm.

All summer long, 78th Street was filled with a warm, family atmosphere, sometimes well after sundown. As for next year, there’s talk of possibly giving this car-free street even greater permanence.  Stay tuned.

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Copenhagen’s Car-Free Streets & Slow-Speed Zones

In Copenhagen, you never have to travel very far to see a beautiful public space or car-free street packed with people soaking up the day.  In fact, since the early 1960s, 18 parking lots in the downtown area have been converted into public spaces for playing, meeting, and generally just doing things that human beings enjoy doing. If you're hungry, there are over 7,500 cafe seats in the city.

But as you walk and bike the city, you also quickly become aware of something else: Most Copenhagen's city streets have a speed limit of 30 to 40 km/h (19 to 25 mph).  Even more impressive, there are blocks in some neighborhoods with limits as low as 15 km/h (9 mph) where cars must yield to residents.  Still other areas are "shared spaces" where cars, bikes and pedestrians mix freely with no stress, usually thanks to traffic calming measures (speed bumps are popular), textured road surfaces and common sense.

We charmed you last month with our look at bicycling in Copenhagen, now sit back and watch livable streets experts Jan Gehl and Gil Penalosa share their observations about pedestrian life. You'll also hear Ida Auken, a member of Denmark's Parliament, and Niels Tørsløv, traffic director for the City of Copenhagen, talk about their enthusiasm for street reclamation and its effect on their city.

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People, Parklets, and Pavement to Parks (plus Mojo Bicycle Café)

In San Francisco, the Pavement to Parks program has launched an initiative that may someday alter the way many dense U.S. cities decide to treat the streets of their commercial strips.

Taking the PARK(ing) Day concept to a more permanent, logical level, the Parklets Program has begun experimenting with trial spaces allowing businesses to convert parking spaces into outdoor public spaces and cafes.  The first was installed in March outside the Mojo Bicycle Café on Divisdero Street where two parking spaces were reallocated to people-space; now cafe tables & chairs, benches, bike parking, and plants sit over a raised platform over the asphalt.  If all goes well thru the evaluation period, the idea is to eventually turn the process into a regular permitting process that business groups and communities can apply for.  It looks good: owners of Mojo say business is up 30% and they have had to hire more staff.

The Pavement to Parks program has already transformed a number of community spaces in the Castro, Showplace Triangle and Guerrero Park. We briefly look at those at well in this video.

StreetFilms
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In Appreciation of the NEW Times Square

Mayor Bloomberg is expected to announce his verdict on Times Square's new pedestrian spaces very soon. Will the changes be permanent? This morning Bloomberg told radio host John Gambling that we'll find out sometime next week. In the meantime, it seems like the media has decided to fixate on rumorsthat Midtown traffic speeds may not have increased across the board, without paying much attention to the tremendous difference this project has made for hundreds of thousands of pedestrians every day.

It's been eight months since this part of Broadway went car-free, and maybe it's hard to recall just how bad Times Square used to be for everyone walking around. To really appreciate what we have today, you've got to take a trip back in time to see the crowded, dangerous mess that used to fester at the crossroads of the world. Naturally, the moment calls for a Streetfilms retrospective.

StreetFilms
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Carmaggeddon Averted as Broadway Comes to Life

When New York City opened up new pedestrian zones in the heart of Midtown this summer, naysayers predicted a traffic nightmare. Nearly two months later, we're still waiting for the much-feared Carmaggedon.

In this video, Streetfilms funder Mark Gorton takes us on a tour of Broadway's car-free squares and boulevard-style blocks, where conditions have improved dramatically for pedestrians, cyclists, and, yes, delivery truck drivers. As Mark says, the counterintuitive truth is that taking away space for cars can improve traffic while making the city safer and more enjoyable for everyone on foot. There are sound theories that help explain why this happens -- concepts like traffic shrinkage and Braess's paradox which are getting more and more attention thanks to projects like this one. While traffic statistics are still being collected by NYCDOT, there's already a convincing argument that Midtown streets are functioning better than before: To understand it, just take a walk down Broadway.

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Jaime Lerner on Making Curitiba’s First Pedestrian Street

This is the third installment of videos from Brazil. Demonstrating again how Curitiba Brazil was 35+ years in front of our NYC livable streets curve, this video is about a street transformation.

Former Mayor and founder of Bus Rapid Transit, Jaime Lerner sat down with me during my visit to discuss how and why he made the first pedestrian street in the middle of downtown Curitiba.

Rua XV de Novembro (15th of November Street) is a vital artery through downtown Curitiba. In 1972 under the direction of then Mayor Jaime Lerner, it became the first major pedestrian street in Brazil. The first phase of closing the street to automobiles and opening it to people took place in only 72 hours. The pedestrian plaza spans 15 blocks, and although it was initially unpopular, it is now a central meeting spot and the epicenter of local businesses in the center of Curitiba.

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The Transformation of NYC’s Madison Square

We figured we'd hit at least one spectacularly warm day during the doldrums of winter, and yesterday was it. So Streetfilms ventured out to Madison Square to remind the denizens of Gotham just how sassy some of these new public spaces are - and how much support they have.

We already touched on Madison Square in our in-depth interview with Janette Sadik-Khan last fall, but we always felt that it deserved a much closer examination based upon all the footage we couldn't use in that Streetfilm. In fact, I feel like even at this length, this short doesn't really do it justice. It also hit me while editing that I've started to forget what an ugly nightmare that nexus of Broadway & 23rd used to look like. Chances are you have to, so here is a reminder of the great work NYC DOT has done there. Take a gander, then go out in your community or city and spread the word that well designed public spaces work.

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Rethinking Streets in Paris

Back in July I made a video about Paris' public bicycle system, Velib. Its success must in part be credited to the provisions made for safe cycling and the understood "street code," where users are responsible for others whose vehicles are lighter than their own.

This video explores traffic calming amenities Paris has installed. For example, in several areas of Paris curbs have been removed and bikes, pedestrians, buses and taxis coexist at low speeds. On wider roads bikes share the BRT lanes with buses and taxis. Counter-flow bike lanes expand the bike network. Raised crosswalks and neckdowns slow traffic and make pedestrians more visible at intersections. Watch for more.

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An Alfresco chat with Jan Gehl

Every time we manage to snag an interview with Jan Gehl, it ends up being one of the coldest days of the Fall. But that didn't stop the Danish livable streets maestro from grabbing a table in New York City's new wonderful public space, Madison Square, to chat with Streetsblog's Editor-in-chief Aaron Naparstek.

It was just a little over two years ago we talked with Mr. Gehl in the iconic Times Square "bowtie" where he offered up a sobering evaluation of the lack of public space in NYC. You can watch that here. But thanks to recent initiatives by the NYC DOT, these days the future looks more promising for pedestrians and cyclists. During their conversation Mr. Gehl and Aaron covered much ground including the rapid pace of the transformation of our streets, the concepts behind the fluidity of traffic, the release of World Class Streets: Remaking New York City's Public Realm, and the democratic process - with a shout out to our future 44th prez!

If you love this, don't miss some of our past interviews. Here are just a few: Janette Sadik-Khan. Enrique Penalosa. Gridlock Sam. Donald Shoup. Randy Cohen.

StreetFilms
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Queens Play Street

Jackson Heights is in the beginning stages of a great experiment - 78th Street between 34th Ave and Northern Boulevard is being closed for twenty consecutive weeks to provide a Play Street for children and their families!

Many neighborhood groups, organizations and the NYC Department of Transportation came together to implement this trial which is designed to enhance the already limited amount of public space available in Jackson Heights. Eventually there are plans to move the local green market into the space to allow for even more opportunities for interaction and programming. For the first week Bike New York came out to teach children how to ride a bike.

Streetfilms plans to revisit this program in the Fall to see how it progresses and expands.

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Williamsburg Walks!

If you regularly visit Williamsburg's Bedford Avenue you know that the area is an eclectic mix of shops, people, and synergy. But the sidewalks are often jammed with people. Bikes are clamped to anything that won't move. Consequently, it can be uncomfortable to navigate its density.

This past Saturday (and three more upcoming thru August 9th) Bedford has undergone a livable streets alchemy. From noon to 7 pm, Bedford has been opened up to pedestrians, bikes, and people power between Metropolitan to North 9th Street. On July 19th it was quiet, safe, relaxing, and human. Word of mouth promises to make future weeks even better. I am surely going back again; without a camera so I can chillax in the street too.

One important distinction to make here: this is not a street fair in any sense of the word. It is simply a street that has been de-motorized and opened to allow residents to re-discover, re-imagine their street. They decide what they want to do. Credit goes to many groups, individuals, and businesses, but look to Williamsburg Walks which has done a great job working with everyone to make this possible.

StreetFilms
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Lounging & Lollygaging in Wodonga

David Engwicht is a livable streets philosopher and author. Creator of the Walking School Bus, Mental Speed Bumps and many other innovative ways of taming traffic and increasing pedestrian safety, he has taken on "the challenge of a lifetime" to revitalize the downtown district of Wodonga, a small city in Australia often referred to as "Struggle Town" in comparison to its sister city Albury just across the Murray River.

Watch the video to see great placemaking in action. Engwicht has initiated the successful Lounging on High Friday night series. The diverse programming features giant versions of board games and an eclectic range of seating options, the goal being to encourage residents to take back their streets and re-imagine what is possible. To create a more human pace, on these Friday nights Wodonga closes one street and removes two lanes of car travel on another to encourage relaxation and fun.

David Engwicht (left): "If we can do this here...any city can take back their public space."