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Defending NYC’s Wonderful Pedestrian Plazas

For a few weeks now I've wanted to write about this New York City anti-plaza sensationalism since the desnudas showed up in Times Square . Thankfully many articulate others were busy crafting their own smart opinions like this and this shortly afterwards and laid the truth at Mayor de Blasio's feet.

By complete happenstance, I found myself grabbing a quick lunch on Saturday in one of NYC's newest plazas at 33rd Street in the shadow of Madison Square Garden. The temporary plaza, maintained by Vornado Royalty Trust, will be removed October 11th, then evaluated. I happened to have my gear from a cancelled shoot and though only there about 20 minutes, grabbed the fun montage above to demonstrate just how thriving the human element becomes and how much we need more space in a often loud, cramped city of 8.5 million people.

Of course the Steve Cuozzo's of the world never see it that way. He's one the loudest barkers in the anti-livable streets movement - a man who'd probably be happy to see 12 lanes of cars down every NYC Avenue. He's all about bluster and never making the world a better place for people. I like to balance the absurdity of words from people like him.

I've documented quite a few plazas in NYC, probably more than anyone else in the city. And physically I have visited just about every one. From Sunnyside's Bliss Plaza under the 7 train to Brooklyn's DUMBO Plaza, one of the very first waaay back in 2007. And, frankly, I'm pretty insulted by all this negative coverage and the lack of intelligence by a few powerful men.

Just take a look at the video above from Corona Plaza. It's a wonderful people space. And so popular it is scheduled for a $3 million dollar upgrade.

Look at what they did in Jackson Heights, turning 78th Street into a paradise. I am now proud to call it my home all these years later.

The transformation Janette Sadik-Khan and her team at NYC DOT did to Madison Square is nothing short of remarkable. In some ways, I think it is a bigger success than Times Square.

And speaking of Times Square, here's what we can never return to. Our interview between Mark Gorton and Jan Gehl in the Times Square of 2005 shows how horrible conditions were. Just watch. There's no better way to end a blog rant when you have irrefutable visual proof.

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Why did so many people think Hamburg was declaring a car-free City Center?

This one continues to be a head-scratcher!

Last year, many in the transportation world thought Hamburg, Germany was making plans to declare a car-free city center. I, too, had read many articles such as this and this that reported of it.

Even Copenhagenize which lists Hamburg as its #19th Most Bike-Friendly City on their biennial index was hoodwinked (make sure you read their addendum.)

When guest Streetfilms journalist Joe Baur was headed to Hamburg a few months ago he asked if I'd be interested in a story on the city's plans to become car-free. But when he dug deeper residents told him it just wasn't true! (See the above excerpt on what some of told him.)

As Joe wrote, "Basically nobody had any idea what I was talking about. One of my initial contacts said that the story was started by a British journalist who obviously got the story wrong and then every other outlet from there just picked up the story without fact-checking. The only thing anyone agreed on is that they wish it was a true story." We invite any readers who know more or have any instinct as to what happened to please leave information in the comments.

Regardless, Joe was still able to put together a nice piece for Streetfilms about Hamburg which you can watch here.

By the way, let me just include a few words about Mr. Baur who is a travel writer and filmmaker by trade. He's been car-free for the last four years and lives with his wife in Cleveland who gets that constant "How do you live without a car?" query from suburban family and friends.

He recently spent a year in Central America and promises to be uploading travel videos to his site and putting together a podcast focused on a mixture of travel, urbanism as it relates to travel, and simply talking to interesting people. So if you are "interesting", drop him a line!

 

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Looking back at our “Streetfacts” Series!

A few years back we decided to make a short series of four Streetfilms we christened "Streetfacts" trying to once again to give some great tools to our loyal followers, while attempting to showcase a different style of animation, charts, photos, video and written narration to tell our stories.

They did moderately well, but not as highly successful as we hoped. Thus in this blog post we present them all one page to see if they'll possibly catch fire. There are lots of great facts and topics, we highly encourage you to sample the first two and keep going if you like what you hear.

The "Streetfacts" hit upon some eclectic items we thought were good to highlight. 1) That protected bike lanes are now being installed in smaller cities and towns. 2) That Americans are driving less, a fact that seems to be taking hold in advocates heads the past few years.  3) That building roads is a money losing proposition.  4) That children have lost the freedom to roam - which was surprisingly the bit hit of the series!!

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Teasers & Bonus Videos from our upcoming Cambridge, UK Streetfilm!

In early August we'll be debuting an exciting new ten minute Streetfilm from Cambridge, UK. The city lies about an hour train ride north of London and is easily the highest mode share for bicycling in Britain: 22% of residents ride (though some say it's even higher than that.)  But the most fascinating thing is how the city has accomplished that without building a huge amount of protected bike facilities.

Instead they have achieved at least the atmosphere of safety by using many traffic management techniques - including a series of rising bollards that prohibits drivers without transponders (which are mostly on buses & cabs) from entering the city center - making it a better place to walk, shop, eat and bike. They have also done much work over the past decades around the idea of "filtered permeability", a process by which neighborhoods have had key intersections re-designed so that only people walking and biking can use them but vehicles need to go navigate around.

They've also recently begun converting most of their roads to 20 mph thanks to adopting the campaign by the organization "20 is Plenty for Us".  (On a side note we will have an updated Streetfilm on that organization up by end of summer!)  So enjoy these few bits we've posted here of various clips and extended bits that just didn't make it into the final film. Consider them just a small teaser of what you will be seeing in August!

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Bicycle Rush Hour Around the World!

I've been fortunate enough to be able to visit many great bicycle cities around the globe. Sometimes it's worth to get people psyched by compiling in one post some of the great footage of cycling rush hour around the world. Here are just a few of Streetfilms' greatest shorts, but make sure you look thru the site as there are over 700 films to choose from!!

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Documenting Dangerous Streets: Crossing 111th Street, Queens

As you know, in this space I am always trying to find ways to inspire and change our streets for the better, which means giving you tools or film ideas to use in your community. Of late I've been doing some documentation using my GoPro and have been pleasantly surprised at how incredibly educational the footage can be.

Here in NYC, there has been an intrepid battle fought by many groups and Queens leaders to improve 111th Street, a dangerous speedway to cross for pedestrians and cyclists. In April, NYC DOT, working from results of a Vision Zero workshop spearheaded by Make the Road and Transportation Alternatives, presented to Queens Community Board 4 a smart proposal to put 111th Street on a road diet, add a two-way bike lane, and make the pedestrian crossings safer for the copious numbers of families, children and seniors going to Flushing-Corona Park & The Hall of Science.

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But some members of CB4 are pushing back, including NYS Assembly Member Francisco Moya, who “has expressed that he will do everything to block this project,” according to Julissa Ferreras, the council member who endorses the NYC DOT plan and has allocated $2.7 million in capital funding to make it happen. (The above graphic is the proposed new road alignment from NYC DOT.)

IMG_0346So last weekend I decided to go out, strap a GoPro to my head and provide some running commentary in an attempt to show people just how dangerous it is to cross 111th! I'm in that area frequently, and as an adult it is very scary. And now while sitting back and editing the footage I can't believe how much I was jerking my head around to constantly monitor the traffic. In fact, I've ridden with the GoPro on my head while bicycling all over the city and I have never seen footage quite like that (which admittedly might make some a little queasy.)

I'm hoping as the community gears up to further debate this plan, this footage will come in handy. The most amazing thing is that I only recorded about 15 minutes before my battery died, now I've been thinking about what the footage would be like on a more busy, perilous day.  Based upon how the next CB4 meeting goes. I'm pondering making a full film on the dangers of 111th Street if the plan continues to be blocked. CB4 Residents deserve better.

Wherever you are, documentation is the irrefutable key to getting real change on your streets. Go out and make it happen!

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Watch 18 Years of Car-Free Parks Advocacy and Progress in NYC

The exciting news about the big expansion of car-free zones in Central Park and Prospect Park is a milestone in a very long campaign. The movement for car-free parks goes back nearly 50 years -- much farther than the videos I've posted here. But it wasn't that long ago that car-free hours in these parks were the exception, rather than the rule. These clips capture the spirit of the last 18 years of activism, which has yielded tremendous progress.

The above video is a small segment I taped of one of the first "traffic calming rides" that Transportation Alternatives used to do in Central Park back in 1997!

There was a lot of action going on in Prospect Park as well. I was the chair of the Brooklyn Transportation Alternatives committee for two years and my immediate successor was Streetsblog founding editor Aaron Naparstek, who brought new energy and came up with the brilliant idea to do some car-free theater. Transportation Alternatives' director Paul Steely White (who then worked for ITDP) can be seen among the advocates -- and if you keep watching you'll see a rookie City Council member named Bill de Blasio endorse a car-free park trial.

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Some neat Transportation videos I’m watching (and you should too!)

I get weekly asks to "please come visit my town/city/country" to make a Streetfilm on a new best practice or a struggle on an issue a group is having. If I had a staff of anyone other than myself, I knew I'd be able to keep them quite busy. Sadly, I do not.

This is why I am always encouraging people to make their own advocacy films. When I explain to them how much cheaper it will be, how they will not have to educate an outside production company to get up to speed, and how it is really not that hard to make something very watchable  (here are plenty of great tips to get started) and sometimes they do!

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Every so often I compile some of the things I have been watching. Here are some from the past month. The above is from Nick Kocharhook whom I met while in London at their first Open Streets event. We chatted over email about finding someone to make a film about the concerns over London's new plan for cycle routes called Quietways, but in the end I had success in having him give it a shot, and it came out quite good!

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The next film is actually from students from the University of Connecticut. I was an invited guest speaker & feedback specialist to Norman Garrick and Carol Atkinson-Palombro in a class they were teaching on Transportation Sustainability. One of the biggest parts of the student's grade was to make a film on a transportation topic. I really loved their films, particularly the one above on the new BRT called CTfastrack because they did a really good job and embraced the concept of Streetfilms. There were a half dozen total, including this one too.

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NYC’s High Bridge is open to Walkers & Cyclists for the first time in 45 years!

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I've been waiting for this day for a really long time. Some people I met today have been waiting 45 years!

The High Bridge which connects Washington Heights to the Highbridge neighborhood in the Bronx is now waiting for YOU to traverse it. I didn't bring my video gear, choosing to just soak up the event, since it had lots of press there already. But I did take some photos. IMG_9915

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And if you want a POV of what it feels like riding over it, here is a short snippet of iPhone magic.

I think it has been tastefully re-done. I am glad the designers went for simplicity. Only a few batches of benches. Nice brickwork. Even on days where this might get a little tight with people you'll be able to bike it, it will never be like the High Line.

Yes, there is now additional fencing. I am sure we would all rather not have it there. But it isn't distracting to me. And if it came to either having it, or keeping the High Bridge closed another 45 years, well....

It was nice to get to be one of the first cyclists on it since 1970. And look for me on the "network news" since the minute I showed up on my 52 pound Dutch bike, I got a lot of attention!

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And in case you haven't seen, nearly six years ago I got to go on a rare walking tour of the Bridge during the Walk21 conference. Watch it below and compare and contrast. History: I like to see cities continuing to get better. This new commuting/exercise/leisure option for those living in The  Bronx and Upper Manhattan is long overdue.

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Humans are conditioned to stay off streets, even when there are no cars!

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I'm sure there are plenty of you livable streets champions that have documented this phenomenon. I've seen it often. And yesterday was just another fine example of it.

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I was lucky enough to be invited to walk with Mayor de Blasio's entourage yesterday in the Queens Pride March in my neighborhood of Jackson Heights, which is always a festive & colorful event. But once the parade was over, even though the streets were still closed down to vehicles for roughly an hour afterwards, I noticed about 98% of people chose to walk on sidewalks instead of the roadway, even the edges.

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Watch some new videos from my UK trip to London & Cambridge!

I just got back from a whirlwind one week visit to see London and Cambridge. There was lots of cycling to be had and I had to get used to cycling on the opposite side of the road. But I was really not prepared for the numbers of bikes on the streets of London during rush hour, so I strung together a montage so you could see what I witnessed.

I had a number of missions during my first visit ever to the United Kingdom. The first was to check in with the folks at 20's Plenty for Us to see just how much success they have had in lowering speed limits across the city. The answer is...plenty! So sometime later in the month, check back here and you'll see a great Streetfilm on their progress and future goals. Much thanks to Rod King, Anna Semlyen, and especially Jeremy Leach, who was so kind with his time showing me around the city.

The short video above is one really cool cycle tack treatment Jeremy insisted I check out. I couldn't find any information for it online anywhere, but it is College Street NW, a one-way street in London which features a separated bike lane on one side and a contra-flow, parking-protected lane on the other. Both of them done much in the style of tactical urbanism that you would find from leaders Mike Lydon and Jason Roberts. The wonderful planters and armadillos bolted into the pavement remind drivers to stay out.

After a short stay it was off to see Cambridge via an invitation from the Cambridge Cycling Campaign. Cambridge is a wonderful bicycling city north of London. The vibe was wholly different with (mostly) slower streets and a comfortable pace, with cyclists buzzing about all over. The city's official bike mode share here is 22%, but easily admits it could be higher, quite possibly up to 50% in the city's core - which is off limits to cars thanks to a ring of strategically placed rising bollards. Only taxis, buses, and limited delivery vehicles are allowed to get thru with a special transponder.

As I was graciously shown about the city by Robin Heydon, Jim Chisholm, and Roxanne De Beaux, I shot ample amounts of video to assemble about a ten minute Streetfilm I am currently working on. It should be very inspirational and informative.  But there have been a few bits I have put together.  Above is something I never knew about, the Cambridge Guided Busway, a sort of BRT with bioswales, as there is no sewer drainage, just green between the tracks. As you will see there is also a wide bike and pedestrian trail which runs for almost all of its length!

While in Cambridge I was also able to do something you might find humorous, but it is something I have wanted to do at a bike counter since visiting Copenhagen in 2010 - be the first counted rider of the day! As you'll see I was successful.

On my return trip back to London for my final two days, I was able to jump on a "Boris Satander Bike" and see much more of the city. As a complete coincidence, who do I run into moments into cycling in Central London but Mayor Boris Johnson!  Yeah, there's proof!

I got to see much of the construction underway for London's segregated cycle superhighways and Quietways.  I even got to see some really short, completed sections (if you watch the top video again, you'll see a very short open superhighway segment - CB2). The ambitious plans look fabulous to this guy from "across the pond".  However, in talking to many riders and advocates there, they still need to do far more and some of the quietways need addiitonal improvements to really be successful in getting new riders out cycling. I will continue to investigate and monitor.

I have lots of footage to share, but did not get all the interviews I really needed to put out a successful video just yet of the plans. Perhaps I will need to return in 2016 when most of the infrastructure is planned to be in the ground. Or perhaps I can do some interviews remotely.  We shall see.

And finally, I will attach my streetfilm for London's first Open Streets event. Organizers were quite happy with their initial foray into the ciclovia world!

 

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May Streetfilms Shorties You May Have Missed

Often we make short Streetfilms that do not officially get posted on the main site for one reason or another. They may just be quickly edited videos not destined to be up for the long haul or short clips for Streetsblog. Or ones we just don't expected to have too much interest nationwide.

Here's a pretty inspiring video we posted a few days of the NYC Progressive Bike Caucus on Bike to Work Day. In all nearly ten council members showed up, and at least half of those rode bikes in the ride. It's pretty amazing to see that many out there as just five or ten years ago it would have been rare to see a NYC council member out there. We have made a lot of progress thanks to groups like Transportation Alternatives, Families for Safe Streets and StreetsPAC.

Speaking of the rise of bicycling in New York City, here's just a quick montage of bike congestition along Kent Avenue on the Williamsburg waterfront two weeks ago. On an average day there are just an immense number of people biking. It points to safe bike infrastructure, if you build it, people will use it.

And finally, here is just a PSA I threw together out of my frustration over Earth Day and unlike a good deal of the stuff on Streetfilms, it is highly negative. I needed to vent my frustration over what is happening in the world. I think we are in serious trouble. And in our country there's no urgency or concrete action coming from our federal government.

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CNU23: A Wrap Up of My Experience in Dallas & Ft. Worth

Had a great time at the Congress for New Urbanism Conference in Dallas. It's always great being around transportation & planning people for a few days. Dallas is a city with many challenges and hopefully many of the minds in attendance made an impact in helping the intrepid advocates there gain more momentum.

One of the first things I did (see above) was go out and ride the newly opened Dallas Streetcar from Union Station to Oak Cliff. For now it only has four open stations and 1.6 miles of track, but the cars are nice and the ride quick. I got to hear from Jason Roberts the funny story of how residents created a "fake agency" to get buzz started on resurrecting the streetcar. I suggest reading that linkage.

Another big name in Dallas is the indefatigable Patrick Kennedy who cajoled me into coming along and filming his "Freeways Without Futures", CNU23 edition. I was glad I did. Nothing is more dramatic then seeing the destructive power to a city neighborhood that the presence of a massive downtown highway from above, in this case the I-345. And now you can via the Streetfilm above.

The amount of parking in Dallas is freaking intimidating. And so are the expanses of concrete and basic lack of street-life after about 6:30 pm. Except for a few welcoming pockets here and there, like the wonderful Deep Ellum neighborhood and Klyde Warren Park (in the below short) there's not a whole lot of people energy in the core of the city. Cars and roads rule.

It's a shame. The walking environment is missing plenty of sidewalks in places. Curb cuts are haphazard,  making navigating around for the physically-challenged and older folks very troubling. I don't even recall a lot of painted crosswalks. It's basically a downtown for the car and the weekday commuter. I saw many tweets from fellow CNU attendees showing problems they encountered. This was typical:

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Host Your Own FREE Streetfilms Screening!

image3Earlier this week I was in Albany for a Streetfilms screening as a guest of the Albany Protected Bike Lanes Coalition, a group fighting for better bicycling in New York's capital. About 135 people attended and they did just about everything you can do right when it comes to holding a great rallying event for your community.

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Personal Note: I attended college at SUNY at Albany, and I loved seeing movies at The Madison. It's an honor they allowed us to screen Streetfilms!

Before I go any further let me say this: we've made it simple for anyone to host their own screening. Just go to our Streetfilms Vimeo account and use the download button to get a high quality copy of any Streetfilm. To advocacy groups and non-profits, it's FREE - you have our blessing to pick out a slate of nearly 700 shorts and tailor it towards what livable streets improvements your city needs. Better yet: include videos mixed in by local advocates in your playlist.

Back to Albany. Here's just some of what great they did that you should try to emulate. They were able to get a wonderful independent movie theater, The Madison, to host the event. They did a lot of PR, including many advance stories in newspapers and they papered the nabe with posters. They invited many local groups to table the event and there was great literature from the Green Lane Project. Many local elected officials were involved and Council Member Leah Golby went above & beyond.

But you don't need to have all the bells and whistles. Your group might be just as successful around a large screen television and a few dozen people in a big conference room. It's all about getting the dialogue started and having influential people educating the community. And most of all: creating momentum for change.

We do ask that you give Streetfilms a heads up and shout out. And even nicer to send or tweet us some photos of your event! More photos after the jump below...

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Me with Council Member Leah Golby (10th Ward ) & Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan who dropped by.

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Introducing “Streetfilms Snippets”, More Video Tools for You

Our digital entertainment is all about faster & quicker. The general public has an increasingly shorter attention span. I know I've watched since Youtube's debut in 2005 as the public's ability to watch an entire video - even a good, short one - has become challenged.

This is something I've been wrestling with as occassionally we have some Streetfilms that approach 10+ minutes in length that still perform very well, but are surely micro-segments or short lessons within them that might play better in the short-attention span world. So that's part of the rationale behind "Streetfilms Snippets" - a new Vimeo channel we've created where we've taken full length Streetfilms and tried to excerpt an idea within them that might prove useful to advocates if it was one minute or less.

And for the next few weeks, I'm taking requests! Yes, if there is a part of a particular Streetfilm you'd enjoy seeing boiled down or cut out as it's own useful snippet, let me know. This is your chance to bolster your personal powerpoint or presentation to an elected leader by making a concept bite size. See some examples below, or see them all here.