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Inside the Situation Room: The Making of the War on Cars

When my trio of friends Aaron Naparstek, Sarah Goodyear and Doug Gordon announced they were going to take on car culture in a podcast titled the "War on Cars" of course I was very intrigued. And after the first batch of episodes you know they had struck a nerve and it would be a success.

But as I talked to other people who were listeners, I was surprised that quite a few didn't even know much about the trio's pedigree in the transportation world. Many had never seen them in a photo or in person. So I decided we needed to remedy this situation. So Streetfilms put out the call.

Last week, I was invited to tape episode 17: Infiltrating the Auto Show and very briefly attend their pre-show meet up. As a person in media, it was not only great to get this first exclusive, but also being there to witness what makes a great podcast work, and how much time you need to put into it. I was actually surprised how it all works and how hard it is to balance being entertaining, funny and deadly serious.

So enjoy this very tiny look behind-the-scenes. As a personal note, this is my first time editing using Premiere Pro (after nearly 20 years on Final Cut Pro). So I am bound to look back on this with a more critical eye years from now. But I think everyone will love what they see!

You can sponsor the show on Patreon via www.thewaroncars.org

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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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Protected Bike Lanes Make NYC Greener

In 2014 I made a short called "The Green Benefits of NYC Protected Bike Lanes" (vimeo.com/109772951) which was a minor hit. I recorded a narration talking about my experience watching how on streets that had curbside bike lanes with tree pit protection that trees were healthier, grew taller & further into the roadway and that the concrete waiting areas provided nice spots to put additional greenery & flowers.

I've seen no evidence to prove my theory wrong now four years later and after looking thru some of the footage I have shot the past two years realized I have built up quite an archive of beautiful shots showcasing that. Thus I present you this wonderful montage (and sparing you the dull voice over) of some of the eclectic stuff going on and around protected bike lanes/greenways that wouldn't be if not for the reallocation of street space to humans and bicycling. Enjoy!

Now certainly every block of every bike lane in NYC doesn't look like this, but it has been fun to watch them become lush whether it be a gardening group taking over keeping plantings, a private residence doing the greening or rogue individuals doing their own thing. Of course, NYC Parks has a hand in making improvements wherever a bike project puts up longer medians or barriers that become ripe spots for trees, which flourish.

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There are now 100 Streetfilms featuring Protected Bike Lanes for your advocacy!

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"Protected Bike Lane Bonanza" Screenshot from Vimeo (Click to go there!)

Well congratulations to us! We've now posted our 100th Streetfilm that features elements, designs or pilots of protected bicycle lanes all over the world. But really it is congratulations to you, too, since you just have that much more evidence to show your elected leaders and cities that this type of safe design works.

Just go to this link on Vimeo where our programmed channel is neatly organized all 100+ films for your perusal. Here: https://vimeo.com/channels/protectedbikelanes

To celebrate, I thought I'd point you towards some of my personal favs and those with useful content. It's extremely hard to choose, but here are my Top Five. Please don't be limited by these!

1. Cycling Copenhagen, Through North American Eyes

I made this Streetfilm over 8 years ago and it still holds up smashingly well. I've lost count of the hundreds of messages I have gotten over the years (especially the first three years it was up) of advocates, politicians and neighborhood leaders who told me having this film to screen/share totally changed the game in their fight for better lanes for their city/town/state. And at nearly 350k plays (that I can count) it's the fifth most popular Streetfilm of all time.

Best story from this trip: Within minutes of arriving to my hotel I saw my first platoon of about 30 cyclists heading towards me. It's like I had seen a bike unicorn and I hurriedly raced to capture it on film, severely spraining my ankle in the process.  Of course the same scene of bikes continued over and over. All day. Dopey me. Thankfully, biking proved to be the easier method of getting around as I was walking was so badly I probably should have been on crutches the 5 days!

2. Cycling London’s Bicycle Super Highways

A few years ago London's first Bicycle Superhighway lanes opened to much fanfare and immediately were filled up during rush hours by thousands of commuters. In fact, the Central Business District now has almost equal numbers of bikes and cars entering daily. There were scores of photos and short clips of huge masses of cyclists dominating the Twitterverse but really almost no substantial video reports of the lanes. So I felt it was my duty to get there this past summer and talk to many London residents about them and see for myself these immensely wide, beautiful structures that admittedly can make you get jealous!

And a related Streetfilm that details how an advocacy group formed to organize business leaders to push for the lanes is also a great watch!

3. The Transformation of Queens Boulevard, Block By Block

This is a straight forward, nuts and bolts documentation of some of the work NYC DOT pulled off in what once seemed like an impossible task: to create a safe and working protected bike lane on Queens Blvd, once named "The Boulevard of Death".  This was following Mayor de Blasio's allocation of millions of dollars to reformat the roadway in the wake of his passionate support of Vision Zero. Then at NYC DOT (now the head of Oakland, CA's DOT) Ryan Russo detailed the how every-block-is-different design came about.

I really wanted to make this as a historical document and thought it would be a little dry, especially a 10 minute film with only one speaker.  But this ended up a pretty popular Streetfilm with scores of curious folks around the country watching and other city transportation departments and students studying it.

4. Groningen: The World’s Cycling City

Made in 2013, it is the third most popular Streetfilm of all-time! At this point in my life I had been to Copenhagen and Amsterdam, two cities that do bicycling right. But I absolutely fell in love with the silence and breathtaking beauty of Groningen in the north Netherlands. For one, I laughed while walking the mile from the train to check into my hotel. Why? I didn't see one car! People seemed so happy. It was like Disneyland for bikes.

Besides the excellently designed bike infra, there is also a traffic circulation plan built in to the city that forces cars to detour to longer routes making almost every trip you can do either faster by bike or competitive to the point that you might as well not own a car.

5. Prospect Park West Family Bike Ride/

Sunnyside Family Fun Bike Ride

Okay, the fifth one is actually a tie (yeah, I 'm cheating a bit). But both of these Streetfilms have been very important in the struggle for holding on to very important bike lanes implemented by NYC DOT that were under assault from local communities vehmently opposed to losing parking and road space. In both cases, families and groups in favor of the lanes wanted to provide a powerful visual of the lanes in use, so they both planned celebratory rides that put children out front.

The top is the Prospect Park West Family Bike Ride, which in April 2011 was under attack by a Brooklyn group called "Neighbors For Better Bike Lanes", who - shockingly - really weren't for better bike lanes at all!  They were suing the city for their removal (eventually they lost over and over) and had uncomfortable ties to former NYC DOT Commissioner Iris Weinshall. That's the skinny, but you can read all about it here in the Streetsblog archives.

The bottom is almost the nearly the same video but seven years later in the Sunnyside community of Queens where the struggle to initiate an integral pair of protected bike lanes on Skillman & 43rd Avenues went bonkers. It featured tons of Community Board drama - which still continues today - and a similarly themed "group" called "Queens Streets for All" which is really just about fighting for free car parking on the two streets.

Watch both videos and you'll see why if you have a bike lane in your neighborhood you should bring out families!

So those are my picks. Enjoy the list which gets automatically updated with each new protected bike lane Streetfilm we produce. As always these films are free to share or embed anywhere, used in their entirety in journalistic endevaours or even screen in your community (however, we do require permission if you choose to re-edit parts of video in other productions.)

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Sustainable Transport Superheroes Swap Notes

In the midst of a record number of pilots in Massachusetts showcasing how bus service can be improved to actually provide rapid transit, two advocates fighting to bring transport justice sit down to swap wisdom about what it takes to transform transportation. Rehana Moosajee, former City Councilor and Head of the Mayoral Committee for Transport from Johannesburg, who oversaw implementation of Africa's first BRT - Rea Vaya, and Michelle Wu, a progressive sustainable transport champion on the Boston City Council, join in a conversation. This interview between two sustainable transport superheros demonstrates how city leaders can galvanize change.
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Sunnyside Family Fun Bike Ride

Following the installation of protected bike lanes in the Sunnyside neighborhood of Queens, neighbors decided to hold a family bike ride to celebrate. Over 60 folks and many children came out to ride a three mile circuit on a very cold, blustery November Sunday.

As you can see from the footage it was a huge success and brought out many riders who hadn't ridden a bike before!

StreetFilms
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Los Angeles: The Great American Transit Experiment

Los Angeles is in the midst of building an unprecedented number of rail transit projects. Some are slated for potentially high ridership parts of LA’s urban core. Others are more dubious.

Today, transit use is down. Bus ridership is falling sharply. Rail use is flat despite strong ridership on the Expo Line, the city’s newest rail transit. L.A. is taking steps to reorganize its bus routes, but needs a variety of major street and service policy changes to make buses more attractive.

Also missing in L.A. are efforts make the city more walkable and more dense that correspond in scale to the massive rail building program. The city and region also still heavily cater to cars when decisions about transportation priorities need to be made.

“What we as a region have not yet done is have the sort of political fights that really make a transit system effective. Which are not fights over money but fights over space,” says UCLA professor Mike Manville.

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Jersey City Experiments with its first Protected Bike Lane

The Bergen Avenue protected bikeway is a temporary facility, implemented with removable materials to demonstrate to Jersey City residents and businesses how protected bike lanes could be implemented in Jersey City. The protected lane is Jersey City's first and is 75% wider than other lanes in Jersey City so that people cycling can travel side-by-side. The lane also welcomes people using scooters, skateboards, and rollerblades.

The 6-block, .4-mile project links Journal Square and McGinley Square and was built to last over the duration of JCAST 2018, the city's three-day, citywide arts festival. Not an isolated project, the demonstration project is part of the engagement process for the Let's Ride JC Bicycle Master Plan, an effort being lead by Street Plans with support from Arterial, Equitable Cities, Streetfilms, and many community groups and city departments who desire safer streets.

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Cycling London’s Bicycle Superhighways

After years of incremental but frustratingly slow progress, London is making huge strides on creating a safe, all-ages bike network. The big breakthrough was the city's launch of physically protected "bicycle superhighways" that separate cyclists from motor vehicle traffic over long, continuous routes. Two years after the first of these bicycle superhighways debuted, they are clearly making an enormous difference.

People are voting with their pedals. The number of bicyclists entering central London is now approaching the number of cars. At rush hour, people on bikes account for 70 percent of all trips over Blackfriars Bridge.

Under Mayor Sadiq Khan, London has budgeted £169 million per year to build out the bicycle superhighways and other elements of the bike network, according to the mayor's walking and cycling commissioner, Will Norman.

The bicycle superhighways are not perfect. The bike lanes, although impressively wide, already can't contain the numbers of cyclists at rush hour. The speed of bike traffic can be so brisk that it intimidates pedestrians and discourages some people from getting into the habit of cycling. And advocates say the city needs to pick up the pace of implementing the bike network so "the brave" aren't the only ones out there.

But there is no denying that the bicycle superhighways are succeeding. Video footage of cyclists streaming over the routes is breathtaking. I visited London in 2015 and at the time I thought the city had a healthy level of cycling, but the bike network was only getting started. Returning to London this June, the changes were truly impressive. Enjoy this Streetfilm and hear from local riders, researchers, advocates, and public officials about London's push to become a great city for cycling.

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Barcelona’s Superblocks: Change the Grid, Change Your Neighborhood

Two years ago, Barcelona announced it would transform chunks of its street grid to prioritize people over cars. The method: superblocks.

When American planners think of superblocks, they probably think of big parcels that disrupt the pedestrian network and discourage walking. Barcelona's superblocks are different. They only limit motor vehicle movement, which makes walking and biking easier and opens up streets for people to gather.

On Barcelona's superblocks, local access for motor vehicles is still permitted, but through traffic is not. The streets are designed to make drivers feel like they are visitors, with narrow rights-of-way for cars. Almost all car traffic is local residents or people with personal business on the block.

Without dangerous car traffic overrunning the streets, generating noise and pollution, superblocks are full of life. Children can play and explore. Seniors and people with limited mobility can relax and socialize. People -- including young kids -- can feel safe and confident riding bikes.

I visited Barcelona in June, when some of the initial, temporary superblock treatments were being made permanent in a nine-square-block section of the street grid with a lot of public housing in the Poblenou neighborhood. The drone of cars was gone, and you could hear sounds you normally can't in the center of a city. Street life ebbed and flowed through the course of the day and the week.

Barcelona has not installed many superblocks yet. In fact, until recently Poblenou was the only one. A second superblock officially opened in Sant Antoni just days before my arrival, a project tied to the redesign of a public market.

More superblocks are on the way, according to Barcelona officials, with roughly a dozen others in the pipeline. It will be exciting to see this experiment continue to transform Barcelona and show the rest of the world what cities can do when they tame car traffic and put people first.

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Clusterf*ck on Varick Street: The Case for Congestion Pricing

“If you’re looking for the place that shows the failure of New York City to have any sort of traffic management policy, this is the spot.”

That’s Doug Gordon, a.k.a. Brooklyn Spoke, who recently joined Streetfilms’ Clarence Eckerson Jr. in Lower Manhattan to document the lunacy at the intersection of Varick, Carmine, and Clarkson streets, where drivers converge to inch and honk their way toward the Holland Tunnel.

There’s a toll on the inbound Holland Tunnel, but driving outbound is free. The main distortion stems from the free rides across all the East River bridges, along the length of Manhattan, and the east-bound Verrazano Bridge.

Put it all together, and New York’s network of free roads and one-way tolls turns this neighborhood into a perpetual funnel for drivers who pay nothing to travel through the congested heart of the region. There are neighborhoods like it everywhere streets feed into free crossings into or out of the Manhattan core.

Says Doug: “This is what happens when you don’t charge people anything to drive through Manhattan.”

By putting a price on driving in the most crowded parts of the region, congestion pricing would thin out these car trips and divert a lot of this traffic to highways, where it belongs.

But after establishing his own panel to come up with a congestion pricing plan, Governor Cuomo chose not to put any muscle behind its recommendations this year. Assembly members like Lower Manhattan’s Deborah Glick, who represents this area, continued to sit on the fence as their constituents suffer from crushing gridlock.

Thanks to do-nothing state electeds, New Yorkers who drive and the car-free majority both continue to be subjected to chaotic, dangerous, stressful conditions like the clusterfuck on Varick Street.

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How Seville Got Its Bicycle Network

As recently as 2006, almost no one in Seville got around by bicycle. The city's bike network was nearly non-existent. When the leaders of this city of 700,000 in Andalusia decided to make bicycling a viable transportation option, they didn't mess around -- they built an 80-kilometer bike network in just 18 months -- and that was just the beginning.

Not long after the initial bike network was set in motion, a poll revealed that 80 percent of city residents approved of bike lanes. Most of the new bike lanes are bi-directional and placed at sidewalk grade to keep drivers out. Today, Seville has an expansive bike network and is approaching 10 percent bicycle mode share.

As you can see in this Streetfilm, few people wear helmets, and lots of older residents are out biking. The temperature approach 100 degrees while I was there, and it didn't discourage people from biking, even men in suits. The relatively large share of women who bike -- 35 percent of all bike trips -- is another testament to the success of the bike network.

Seville's bike infrastructure isn't perfect. Some of the new bike lanes are too narrow for the number people riding on them. There's a movement afoot to widen these sections and expand the bike network to more neighborhoods, as Seville aims to double the rate of cycling by 2022.

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How Seville Handles Where Bus Stops and Protected Bike Lanes Meet

If you're jonesing for more Seville on top of the full-length Streetfilm about the city's rapidly growing protected bike lane network, here's a segment for you.

For cities considering protected bike lanes on streets that also have bus routes, this short video shows how Seville thought through the problem of making bus riders and cyclists visible to each other at bus stops.

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Central London’s New Aldgate Square Opens

On assignment in London to cover bicycle superhighways, I once again had the pleasure of a tour with the charming and insightful Iain Simmons, assistant director of city transportation for the City of London. He took me around to several recent projects, including the brand new public space at Aldgate Square, which opened the day before.

London has embarked on an ongoing quest to remake its busiest districts with high-quality public space, taking real estate that used to belong to cars and designing areas where people come first and drivers behave accordingly. The Aldgate project is the latest example, repurposing several lanes of car traffic so people can enjoy themselves outside. What used to be a stressful traffic circle is now a place where people can congregate in central London.

Several areas in New York City are teeming with pedestrians and could use similar treatment -- think of Midtown and Lower Manhattan. The more room we devote to car-free public space, the less people will drive, which is better for everyone.

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A Street is a Terrible Thing to Waste: Boston’s Newest Bus Lane

Each weekday, half a dozen bus routes carrying 19,000 riders travel the 1.2-mile stretch of Washington Street to the Forest Hill Orange Line Station. Most people on the street at rush hour are riding in buses. Until May, the bus commute was usually slow and unreliable. When Mayor Walsh and the Boston Transportation Department converted a parking lane on Washington Street into a pilot bus lane during the morning rush hour, all of that changed. Bus travel time improvements were noticeable immediately.

Mayor Walsh announced on June 7th that the Washington Street bus lane would be made permanent, with the pilot lane marked by cones to be reinstated next week.

LivableStreets is working with the City to deploy more bus lane pilots like Washington Street throughout the city. To learn more visit www.livablestreets.info