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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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What do you like about 34th Ave open street?

It was once again time to ask people how much they enjoy the 34th Ave open street in Jackson Heights, so I went out for about an hour yesterday to ask folks to tell me. It wasn't hard to find people to talk since it is one of the most popular things ever in the neighborhood. I only asked that one simple question. Nothing more. But I couldn't believe how many times people used "community" in their answer, I think nearly everyone. (But I had to edit some out due to length constraints.) I think you'd likely find the same answers in just about every open street across NYC. Also: in unsurprising news, Mayor Bill de Blasio signed the open streets legislation passed by the NYC Council keeping the open streets program running.

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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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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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Coronavirus Has Changed Our Streets And We Need To Heed Those Lessons

I live in NYC's Jackson Heights, 11372. Which is currently among the hardest hit zip-codes in the USA for Coronavirus cases and fatalities.

It has been a tough month for many of our neighbors and friends. I get outside for a socially distanced hour every day so I can get footage to show how drastically our streetscape has been altered by the virus — and to make the case that once this is all over, we should never accept how we allocate public space in favor of car drivers rather than the majority of New Yorkers who get around on narrow sidewalks, unprotected bike routes or on buses that are constantly being delayed by people in their own private vehicles.

Under normal circumstances, the world is upside-down — as a result of a minority of NYC car owners, the rest of us are breathing toxic exhaust, getting stuck in their traffic, being killed by their reckless use of steel cages, being terrified just to cross a street, etc. So let's change that. When you see my before-and-after videos, you can see that no one will want to return to the pre-virus status quo. The first step will be to eliminate all unnecessary car trips. Then we can redesign our streets to prioritize long-suffering bus riders, cyclists and pedestrians, who are fighting over crumbs. So many U.S. cities are leading.

It's time for Mayor de Blasio to allow his best city planners take over from do-nothing bureaucrats and allowing the police (most of whom live in the suburbs) to dictate streets policy.

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The Innovative Way Ghent, Belgium Removed Cars From The City

Witness the transformation of Ghent, Belgium, who instituted the Traffic Circulation Plan in April 2017, which completely changed the way nearly every resident gets around the city and has inspired unheard of mode shifts. It encourages less car use, more bicycling and more transit use by splitting the city into  seven distinct zones: a mostly car-free city center core surrounded by six zones which have been cordoned off with concrete or controlled by cameras. The only way to reach them is to travel to the ring road on the city outskirts, thus making it not impossible to use a car but motivates those shorter trips to be done via human power or mass transit. Bike mode share in 2012 was 22%, now it is 35% and growing!

This swift, creative strategy of turning Ghent in to a place for people is such a phenomenal story it's a mystery as to why it has not gotten more attention worldwide. It is a city of 262,000 residents, so not a large metropolis, but not a small city either. The metamorphosis was achieved thru a sort of tactical urbanism approach by throwing concrete barriers and planters here and there (some backed by enforcement cameras) and altering the gateways into public spaces and safer places to walk and bike. (There are now 40% fewer cars on bicycle priority streets than before the plan!)

Their main inspirations were the cities of Groningen and Utrecht, both in The Netherlands. And as Vice Mayor, Filip Watteeuw explains they did not have the funds or the time to spend 10, 20 or 30 years to catch up to where they were. So they improvised with interesting tactics and treatments and The Traffic Circulation Plan. And as I have said before what happened was stunning: almost never has their been such a rapid metamorphosis occurred in such a short time. And Ghent isn't stopping there.

Ghent was a fabulous city for many reasons. I highly recommend a visit. It is quiet and lovely and nearly everywhere is attainable by multiple modes of transportation. You can even use a car if you like - but just remember it is a little more complicated.

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Ghent’s Political & Media Obstacles to Implementing the Traffic Circulation Plan

SUPPLEMENTAL CONTENT!

We had to cut out so much from our Ghent Streetfilm on The Circulation Plan and how wonderful it was for the country. We probably could have released a 30 minute version!!

But we had to take out over half of the section on the political obstacles and negative media sensationalism that led up to (and during) the first days. So this was important to retain more of this story in an additional release for those curious. After all, we all know the usual story that occurs when a city, state or country tries to implement an innovative transportation scheme: there are often community scare tactics, the opposing political party tries to take advantage or not support it and - usually standard - the media tries to drum up controversy and say the plans will not work and cause difficulty.

Thus it is a valuable tool to make this expanded story from Ghent as you will hear about some of these (including "death threats" to the Vice Mayor Filip Watteeuw and even Dutch planners, yes the Dutch(!) saying the plans were "political suicide".

But as we know in most cases well-thought plans do work and the public ends up liking it more than the media ever assumes.

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The Climate March: A Streets Perspective (2019)

Where can you find the ONLY coverage of NYC's Climate Strike including a Manhattan march, a group bike ride and PARKing Day 2019 all wrapped in one tidy package?

(And also shot only by human power over 5 hours at dozens of locations?)

Well right here on Streetfilms my friends. Enjoy!

StreetFilms
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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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Utrecht: Planning for People & Bikes, Not for Cars

Utrecht is a city with unbelievable momentum for altering how its city center integrates with people. They've been slowly pushing the car out for decades in favor of bicycling and transit. But in the last few years it has turned up the dial.

For one, they are removing multiple roadways and converting them to bikeways, featuring green spaces and restoring the city's canal which was removed in the 1970's for a highway. They are on the verge of having 33,000 bike spaces with the opening of a to-be 12,000 space facility under Utrecht Centraal, which you are legally allowed to bike thru! They are encouraging more bike use with new routes and the Dutch way of bicycle streets. And they have built the symbolic Dafne Schippersbrug, a technological feat of creative imagination that features a multi-use path that lands on top of a school.

You have got to see it all and that is one reason why this Streetfilm clocks in at 13+ minutes, the 2nd longest video we have produced of all time (only Groningen - also in the Netherlands - is longer).

It was such a joy bicycling around the city. Everything felt reachable by bike or transit. That's why 98% of residents own at least one bike and the city center boasts a 60% bike mode share. Transit abounds, whether it's buses, trains or trams (a new one is opening as we speak).

The lesson for the world is that Utrecht has put the health and well being of its citizens first, not car travel. That transportation plays an integral role in doing that so making traveling simple and easier by bike or bike/transit/walk combo is far better than having people driving around in metal boxes polluting, hogging road space and making it dangerous to road users. Cars create far more problems than they solve. And hopefully Utrecht can export that lesson to the world.

Sure, you cannot make your city become Utrecht overnight. It takes decades of planning and smart policy. But if your city isn't so friendly to people, bikes and transit you can get started today. And then maintain that commitment to change.

The most incredible thing I learned? Utrecht works so well that taxi/car service/Uber is hardly a thing there.

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Amsterdam’s Removing 10K Parking Spaces: See what that can look like!

On my swing to The Netherlands to visit Utrecht, I planned on just trying to gather up enough footage and talk to a few people in Amsterdam regarding the transportation headlines they made a few months ago when they announced they would be removing from 10,000 to 11,000 parking spaces from the city's core.

I really only planned on perhaps a very short 90 second vid showing a few shots of parked cars and soundbites from a few notable folks in Amsterdam. What I got was so much more. As you will see I got to talk to some amazing folks including Zeeger Ernsting, a City Councilperson for GroenLinks (Green Party) who gave me the story how the initiative came about and told me I needed to visit the Frans Halsbuurt neighborhood where an entire grid of streets now virtually has no parking except for loading spaces (an extremely good idea!) and a few spaces for handicapped access.

The neighborhood has been undergoing a transformation for many years and there are a myriad of reasons why the spot was chosen (in fact I am planning on going back in July to fully document it even more in-depth.) But if you go to Google and check out the street views from 2012 thru this year, you will see car parking evaporate in the final panels. As dramatic and lovely as this film makes it seem I must advise you: it is even more lovely, lush and livable. If you have a chance, go there. See it for yourself.

We need to be thinking about this in every major city. A commitment to start shrinking the number of places we allow parking.

Paging Dr. Don Shoup!

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Utrecht’s Vredenburg is the busiest cycle path in all of The Netherlands!

In Utrecht you'll see the most mesmerizing site: Vredenburg carries 33,000 cyclists on an average day! 60% of trips into the city are by bike.  Private cars are banned from the road, all you will see is mega helpings of people on bikes, plus pedestrians, many bus lines and the very occasional taxi (taxis aren't very popular in Utrecht.)

On the plane ride home while going thru nearly 2,000 shots I took in Amsterdam and Utrecht, I realized so much of this good footage will not figure in the final product of my mega doc from Utrecht. So I thought best to put up a fun montage using some of the best shots. After all, I tweeted just one 30 second shot of footage overhead and that was watched nearly 400K times. So I figure there are probably many thousands that would love to just sit back and watch the bicycles flow by, sometimes their operators seemingly floating in air. If you go I warn you: one night I just sat for a half an hour sans camera taking it all in.

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Portland’s Tilikum Crossing: A Bridge for People, Not For Cars

In 2015, Portland, Oregon opened North Americas's longest car-free bridge The Tilikum Crossing, a bridge that allows travel for pedestrians, bikes and scooters as well as light rail, streetcars and buses!

It's a superb transportation marvel, not only elegant but it's surrounded by one of the most multi-modal places in the United States connecting logical routes not only right now but providing for the future as Portland's Southwest waterfront continues to go thru its ambitious development. It also connects to the equally exquisite aerial tram to Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) which at its base boasts the largest bicycle valet service in North America!

Being around the area on a few summer days it's easy to see all this beauty and planned car-free options in action.

Here's Streetfilms' love letter to the Tilkum which easily makes the case for other cities considering transportation options near bodies of water. There are many great reasons to do it the same way. The bridge is nearly silent except for the periodic serenade of public transit. The footprint of the bridge is small since interconnecting off-ramps and large roads taking up valuable real estate is not needed, which in turn makes it much cheaper than a bridge with cars. The comfort for those using active transit (bikes and walking) was carefully considered with bike lanes on both sides, and wide pedestrian/running areas in either direction. Also, the fact that it can accommodate three different modes of transit: streetcars, light rail and three bus routes should be a huge selling point.

And the final wonderful feature: the LED lights on the span change colors based upon the temperature and water level of the Willamette River! Believe me on a beautiful summer night you want to stay on it forever.

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Street Transformations – Union Square (NYC)

Going thru the archives found some really great "vintage" footage to put together yet another episode in the Street Transformations series, this one looking at the positive transformation of the roads that encircle Union Square.

Rewind to 2005 when I was really starting to dive in to the work that would become Streetfilms. I decided to tape a big Community Board meeting to announce the results of a year long traffic study to see the feasibility of extending Manhattan's Union Square north, specifically making two-way 17th Street, one lane, one-way west and adding ample footage for a sidewalk, an extension of Union Square or both.

The "livable streets crowd" really thought this would be a big win but alas - NYC DOT reported other than installing a barnes dance crossing and some small signal timing changes, that 17th street, 19th street and other nearby streets would suffer unacceptable "levels of service" according to the federal guidelines in the Manual for Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) handbook. In another word "gridlock"!

Of course back then the MUTCD factored very little for pedestrians & bicyclists and discounted livability in favor of moving traffic along at any cost, a huge complaint of sensible transportation advocates.

But as we all know since then, New York City has had a decent renaissance on its streets. Both NYC DOT Commissioners Janette Sadik-Khan and Polly Trottenberg have progressively chipped away at road space for vehicles and added two-way protected bike lanes on two sides, pedestrian plazas, a unique ped/bike one block only section on Union Square West and, yes, extended the park north as was once hoped for all those years ago.

This look back reveals the danger of relying solely on the MUTCD when evaluating cities and their neighborhood streets. NACTO under Sadik-Khan's leadership started a process to broaden the accepted techniques other cities have employed thinking creatively with pilot including paint, bollards, boulders and protected bike lanes.

In the end, what the real failure of the 2005 decision by NYC DOT is the fact that they projected traffic to grow over the ensuing ten years. No one questioned that. But in fact later as NYC slowly deemphasized Broadway as a through route of travel and removed some parking, it actually became easier to see that predictions of traffic Armageddon were not true. And besides: even if traffic on some streets did go up a bit, wouldn't it be worth it to the tens of thousands of pedestrians, bicyclists and transit users to have a much more peaceful journey?

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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)