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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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Breathtaking Bike Infrastructure: Minnesota’s Martin Olav Sabo Bridge

In 2007, in order to route cyclists away from a challenging 7-lane crossing on busy Hiawatha Avenue, Minneapolis built the Martin Olav Sabo Bridge.

The first cable-stayed bridge of any kind in the state, it’s breathtaking, even to the people who have been riding it for years. It provides a safe, continuous crossing and offers up a glorious view of the downtown skyline (especially at sunset!). The sleek Hiawatha light rail line runs beneath it, and there are benches to sit on and take everything in.

Used by an average of 2,500 riders a day, peak use can hit 5,000 to 6,000 per day on some gorgeous summer weekends, according to Shaun Murphy of the Minneapolis Department of Public Works.

The bridge was named in honor of Minneapolis' Martin Olav Sabo, a former U.S. Representative from the 5th District who helped secure much of the $5 million needed to build it. Thanks to the Bikes Belong Foundation for enabling us to feature this majestic piece of bike architecture and to show that investing in cycling and walking is well worth every penny for our communities.

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Complete Streets: It’s About More Than Bike Lanes

Over the last four years, New York City has seen a transportation renaissance on its streets, striking a better balance by providing more space for walking, biking, and transit.

As with any departure from the status quo, it can take a while for everyone to grow accustomed to the changes. So Streetfilms decided to look at three of NYC’s most recent re-designs — Columbus Avenue, First and Second Avenues, and Prospect Park West — and show how pedestrians, cyclists, and drivers benefit from safer, calmer streets. We talked to transportation engineers with decades of experience, elected leaders, community board members, people on the street, and business owners to get their take on the new configurations.

The truth is, no matter how hard some media outlets try to spin it otherwise, these new street safety projects have broad community support. And while the story of these changes often gets simplified in the press, the fact is that the benefits of the redesigns go far beyond cycling. A street with a protected bike lane also has less speeding, shorter pedestrian crossings, less lane-shifting and more predictable movements for drivers, and the opportunity to add more trees and plantings. Injuries to pedestrians, cyclists, drivers, and car passengers drop wherever the new designs go in. And on the East Side, these improvements have been paired with dedicated bus-only lanes with camera enforcement, making service more convenient and attractive for thousands of bus riders.

At 11 minutes, this is one of our longest Streetfilms. We cover a lot of ground here, and we hope it’s illuminating no matter what side of the issue you fall on.

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Cycling Copenhagen, Through North American Eyes

While Streetfilms was in Copenhagen for the Velo-City 2010 conference, of course we wanted to showcase its biking greatness.  But we were also looking to take a different perspective then all the myriad other videos out there.  Since there were an abundance of advocates, planners, and city transportation officials attending from the U.S. and Canada, we thought it'd be awesome to get their reactions to the city's built environment and compare to bicycling conditions in their own cities.

If you've never seen footage of the Copenhagen people riding bikes during rush hour - get ready - it's quite a site, as nearly 38% of all transportation trips in Copenhagen are done by bike.  With plenty of safe, bicycle infrastructure (including hundreds of miles of physically separated cycletracks) its no wonder that you see all kinds of people on bikes everywhere.  55% of all riders are female, and you see kids as young as 3 or 4 riding with packs of adults.

Much thanks to the nearly two dozen folks who talked to us for this piece.  You'll hear astute reflections from folks like Jeff Mapes (author of "Pedaling Revolution"), Martha Roskowski (Program Manager, GO Boulder), Andy Clarke (President, League of American Bicyclists), Andy Thornley (Program Director, San Francisco Bike Coalition) and Tim Blumenthal (President, Bikes Belong) and Yvonne Bambrick (Executive Director, Toronto's Cyclists Union) just to name drop a few of the megastars.

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The Search for the Zozo

In the early part of the 1900s, Zozos - large, furry, innocent, purple creatures - once freely roamed New York City's streets, and were seen frequently mingling among its denizens and enjoying the public realm. But with the advent of the automobile their numbers slowly dwindled, until the 1930s when sightings became rare and they were thought to go extinct.

But now thanks to a burgeoning livable streets movement and a marked improvement in public spaces in NYC, Zozo sightings have been reported. World-renowned crypto-zoologist Donald Druthers has convinced us to document the facts - and yes, it looks like Zozos could be making a comeback! See the evidence for yourself.

Presenting our long-awaited mockumentary "The Search for the Zozo," featuring many of New York's greatest citizens. You'll hear NYC urban expert Professor Kenneth T. Jackson from Columbia University talk about the history of the Zozo. But in addition, you'll hear accounts of sightings and Zozo-inspired stories from Colin "No Impact Man" Beavan, restaurateur (and cyclist) Florent Morellet, livable streets advocate Mary Beth Kelly, author Tom Vanderbilt, and a slew of advocates working to make safer streets a reality for pedestrians, cyclists, and the general public.

And if you see a Zozo? Let us know in the comments section, or dial 555-ZOZO. You can also check out our website WhereistheZozo? for the latest in sightings and news.

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Hudson River Crossings: Improving Bus Capacity

Over 315,000 bus riders cross the Hudson River each weekday. More than half of these bus riders travel through the Lincoln Tunnel but the exclusive bus lane that only operates during the morning rush hour is at capacity.

Check out our latest production to find out more information about these crossings and what the Tri-state Transportation Campaign recommends for improving these bus crossings. You can download their full report here (pdf). Animation by Hugh Gran and design by Carly Clark.

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Meet Veronica Moss, A.U.T.O. Lobbyist

Ever wonder what folks working for sustainable transportation at the federal level are up against on K Street? For this Streetfilms exclusive event, we were granted unfettered access to Veronica Moss, lobbyist for Automobile Users Trade Organization (AUTO). Veronica gave us a few precious moments inside her SUV to talk about roads, traffic, cyclists, and big cities. After instructing us on proper honking techniques for "old people" and children, she also offered up some choice bons mots. Here's a sample:

"People need to be able to drive their cars - that's an American right!"

"Bikers are a pimple on the butt of any city."

If you love Veronica, make sure to check out our mockumentary on The Search for the Zozo, where she also makes an appearance.

UPDATE:  3/29/2012  And congratulations to Kate McKinnon for being added to the cast of SNL!  She was so good as Veronica Moss.  SNL could not have picked a funnier gal!

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Seattle’s Bus Chick on the Rewards of the Riding Life

Carla Saulter pens a very eclectic blog called Bus Chick, Transit Authority, which you can find on the Seattle Post Intelligencer's website.

Carla, who lives car-free with her husband and young daughter, is all about riding transit and inspiring others to do the same. The bus has indeed figured prominently in her life: she met her husband on the bus; riding has provided her with a creative outlet for stories and interesting anecdotes; and she named her first child for the most renowned bus rider in history.

I was bowled over when I heard that Carla actually went by bus to give birth at the hospital (not to mention to also come home afterward). I knew then and there that I needed to profile her. I just wish I lived closer to the Bus Chick family so I could ride the bus with them more often.

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Bike vs. Car vs. Transit

Transportation Alternatives held its 7th annual Commuter Challenge pitting cyclist, driver, and bus/subway rider in the ultimate showdown of which mode of travel can be quickest (and cheapest!)

In the end, the bike proved swiftest over the 4.5 mile course which began in Brooklyn's Fort Greene and ended in Manhattan's Union Square. Jamie Favaro rolled up in just over 16 minutes and took home the gold and a bouquet of flowers for her efforts. Driver, Emmanuel Fuentebella (22 minutes) parked his car and sprinted to a surprise second place finish. Shortly after, disappointed MTA rider April Greene came in last at 29 minutes. But, as Wiley Norvell noted at the finish line, Transportation Alternatives also measured the carbon footprint of all the the riders and Greene came in a close second behind the cyclist.

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Melbourne: A Pedestrian Paradise

Finally cajoled into taking the long trip to Melbourne, I was told to expect a city where walking abounded, where the streets were flowing with energy, where the quality of public space would blow my mind. Little did I know my already high expectations would be pleasantly exceeded.

Melbourne is simply wonderful. You can get lost in the nooks and crannies that permeate the city. As you walk you feel like free-flowing air with no impediments to your enjoyment. For a city with nearly 4 million people, the streets feel much like the hustle and bustle of New York City but without omnipresent danger and stress cars cause.

Read more...

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Ciclovia: Bogotá, Colombia

Recently, I had the opportunity to travel with comrades Karla Quintero (Transportation Alternatives) and Aaron Naparstek (Streetsblog) to Bogotá, Colombia to document some of the amazing advances going on in the livable streets movement there. On Sunday we spent the entire day - from 5 AM 'til nearly 5 PM - riding bicycles around the city courtesy of the Ciclovia, a weekly event in which over 70 miles of city streets are closed to traffic where residents come out to walk, bike, run, skate, recreate, picnic, and talk with family, neighbors & strangers...it is simply one of the most moving experiences I have had in my entire life. Read more...

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Intersection Repair

Ever dreamed of making the streets outside your abode more livable, pedestrian-friendly, and community-oriented?City Repair in Portland, Oregon hosts an annual Village Building Convergence where hundreds of people come together to build diverse projects for the benefit of their communites and to take back their streets via a process known as the Intersection Repair.This involves painting streets with a high-visiblity mural that creates a public square for residents to gather and one which gently encourages drivers to slow down when approaching these spaces. Over time the neighbors further enhance the transformation by adding amenities like benches, community bulletin boards, and introducing gardens & art. As you'll see, the possibilites are endless.StreetFilms visited three of the Intersection Repairs and spoke with Mark Lakeman co-founder of City Repair, Greg Raisman, the Portland DOT Liason, and scores of residents & volunteers about why they were doing it.