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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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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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Right of Way Installs 2014 Memorial Wall to 264 Victims of NYC Traffic Violence

On Saturday, Right of Way posted silhouettes along a Kent Avenue construction fence representing all 264 people known to have lost their lives to traffic violence in NYC in 2014. Each image was identical, save for victims’ names and crash dates. Smaller silhouettes were posted to represent children killed by drivers.

It was a very emotional scene as members of Families For Safe Streets came by to assist and passersby took in the power of the visual.

At one point during the installation, a truck driver hit the mural wall, and after about 15 minutes trying to make a turn, proceeded to drive up the Kent Avenue protected bike lane, one of the busiest bike routes in the city.

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Adventures in Montreal: Bikes, Bike Cafes & Riding Musical Swings in a Public Space

I was honored this weekend to be a guest of Vélo Québec to ride in the 30th annual Tour de l'Île, a 50km group ride I did way back in 2001 & 2003. It's really a great way to experience the city on car-free roads with 25,000 other people. In fact, I find Montreal to be one of the most fun places on the planet.  The entire city is so beautiful, relaxed and interactive from a visitor's standpoint.  And everything is accessible by bike.

Additionally, I was invited to take part in Friday night's Tour la Nuit, which is the companion night ride to Sunday's big event. As you can see from the above video montage, it was a celebration of people and joy, sort of like an official critical mass with closed streets. I really don't know why more cities don't try the night ride concept. I hope you enjoy the music I used. It's a little happenin'.

While there I got to learn more of Vélo Québec's mission including taking in a scrumptious meal at their cafe La Maison des Cyclistes which is on the ground floor of their staff headquarters. I got to talk to Vélo Québec's CEO Suzanne Lareau about what their organization does and why they created the cafe at its location, which is at the intersection of two of Montreal's most used cycle tracks.

Every time I visit Montreal I can't wait until the next time I come back. The quality and tranquility of its many pedestrianized areas I have documented before. It's a city that is constantly utilizing its public space for the health of citizens and visitors in unique ways. Art is everywhere.

Which brings me to the "21 Swings" interactive musical installation. The video says about it all, but to say I felt like a kid again (with plenty of other adults!) would not be doing the exhibit its due magnificence. There's more info on "21 Balançoires" here on the Daily Tous Les Jours site. I was fortunate to catch it on its final working day of 2014.

My coverage will continue later this week with a Streetfilm of my ride on the Tour de l'Île and what it has meant for cycling in Montreal.

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My 24 Hour Trip to DC is all about Togas, Bike Share & Tiny Bike Messages of Love!

When I boarded an Amtrak Wednesday morning for Washington, DC to go shoot some interviews for a great ciclovia project I am working on, I stuck around to grab some extra b-roll of D.C. cyclists at rush hour. Little did I know with that decision an adventure began.

I'll start off with this 1 minute montage of inspirational bike phrases someone (some group?) stenciled along the 15th Street protected bike lane. You could call it graffiti, sure. But when they are this tiny and scattered amongst the hundreds of other marks on a block of asphalt, it certainly doesn't feel much like that. And frankly, when you were riding uphill, I found them extraordinarily motivating. Sweet.

As you know, we very rarely feature bike culture events on Streetfilms because we are usually busy doing lots of policy and best practice films around the world.  But every so often the stars align like they did for me in the Nation's Capital for the monthly DC Bike Party Ride. Friends alerted me it was happening, so I moseyed on over.

The theme was "Toga Toga Toga" and of course that means some participants were wearing togas. So we had to ask folks just WHAT or WHO they were wearing. The DC denizens didn't disappoint with plenty of humorous answers. The ride was plenty 'o fun, featuring many hundreds and crusied past many landmarks, but of course everything in the Downtown is practaclly a landmark.  But I digress. Just enjoy.

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Amazing Art in the Public Realm (Chicago, Milwaukee, NYC)

Streetfilms Shortie - Fantastic Art in the Public Realm (Chicago, Milwaukee, NYC) from Streetfilms on Vimeo.

Here's a quick Streetfilms shortie I just thew together that I shot with a point & shoot on vacation in Chicago and Milwaukee.  I hope you enjoy, with these shorts you never know whether a couple dozen people or thousands will watch.

First, in Chicago's Daley Plaza, I stumbled upon one of the coolest art installations I've ever seen in a public space: interactive, human-size letters that spelled out the name P-I-C-A-S-S-O (which were helping advertise the current exhibit at the nearby Art Institute Chicago.) The energy in the plaza was magic. People were having so much fun posing and climbing all over the letters. Later on a short trip to Milwaukee I stumbled upon these some great flip-books downtown bolted onto light posts  featuring residents of the city in amusing interactions. Very cool, would love to see those in many other cities.

When I got home I had to add in a few seconds of my current favorite NYC MTA art project - "Hive" which went live last year when the opening of a new entrance to the Broadway/Lafayette (Bleecker Station) that happened late last year.