Step by Step How Mexico City Became More Pedestrian-Friendly

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P1000521We love stories about people taking action to solve a city’s problems, and stories about the pedestrianization of cities. This story ticks both those boxes.

Thorsten Englert is a German architect who has been based in Mexico City for 10 years. He has a passion for designing sustainable buildings and, as he puts it, the “spaces between buildings”.

In addition to running his architectural practice in the Roma district of Mexico City, Thorsten teaches architecture and urban design at UNAM (Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico). The campus in the south of the city is also a UNESCO heritage site.

Like up to 100,000 other pedestrians, Englert’s daily journey to the university takes him by bus to the Doctor Galvez Metrobus Station, and by foot the rest of the way. Englert became fed up risking life and limb daily on this treachurous commute to class, and from the contiuous sore throat caused by the pollution. The walk simply isn’t designed for pedestrians.

Pedestrian crossings are unsafe, and pavements (side-walks) are narrow and usually blocked by street vendors, forcing pedestrians onto the busy streets. The traffic-congested roads act as barriers, rather than links between the university, the station, and the surrounding neighbourhood. There had to be a better way.

Englert and his team saw an opportunity for this part of Mexico City. They asked, why not create a secure pedestrian zone for pedestrians between the station and the university, that would also link a variety of urban spaces together, thus creating a new sequence of public spaces?

The area around UNAM is home to many office buildings, residential neighbourhoods, student housing and several parks. The project has the potential to create a new point of attraction for students, residents, office workers and commuters.

Englert’s approach to urban planning is to look holistically at the economic, social and environmental aspects of a project. In this project the economic aspect includes giving economic opportunity to the local community, such a street vendors; the social – creating attractive public spaces for all users; and the environmental – greening the area, cleaning up the air and reducing traffic.

The plan would provide prime locations for local vendors to cater to the large flow of pedestrian traffic. New squares and a community centre would provide public spaces. Transport-wise, the plan would offer better access to the Metrobus station for passengers, therefore increasing its use, and gives Ecobici, Mexico City’s bike-share network, a launch-pad to expand to the south of the city.

America Could Have Been Building Protected Bike Lanes for the Last 40 Years

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The latest in bikeway design? Nope, these intersection treatments are from early American bikeway planning documents. Sources: Fisher, 1972; City of Davis, 1972; Smith, Jr. 1974

Salt Lake City is on track to implement the nation’s first “protected intersection” — a Dutch-inspired design to minimize conflicts between cyclists and drivers at crossings. For American cities, this treatment feels like the cutting edge, but a look back at the history of bike planning in the United States reveals that even here, this idea is far from new. In fact, the protected intersection concept appeared in every foundational document for bike planning in the early 1970s. But no American city ever installed one until now — here’s why.

First, some background. The first modern on-street bike lanes in the United States were installed in Davis, California, in the fall of 1967. Of these three bike lanes, one was a parking-protected bikeway on Sycamore Drive. That’s right: The first on-street bike lane in the United States was a parking-protected bikeway.

As word of the Davis bike lanes spread across the country, cities all over the United States began improvising their own designs. In response, the Federal Highway Administration funded the publication of four key planning documents between 1972 and 1976 that provided diagrams and guidelines to help cities (and ultimately the FHWA) create a uniform design for bikeways. There are many similarities in all of these documents, but it is clear that with each subsequent report, the design of on-street bike lanes slowly drifted toward designs that treated the cyclist more like a motor vehicle than a human.

Just as the bikeways movement was gaining steam and formalization was taking shape, physically separated bikeways were challenged by a new movement of vehicular cycling advocates — many of whom still challenge bikeways today. Throughout the 1970s, these fit men who self-identified as “cyclists” attended meeting after meeting to decry the designs that engineers were supposedly building for them. Quibbles in the wording of laws or details of a design became arguments and headaches for city staff. Anyone who was not already riding a bicycle on busy car-dominated streets was drowned out by the vehicular cyclists who claimed to speak for all bicycle riders.

Read full article here.

Importance of Sustainable Communities in Smart Cities

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As there is a great number of people living in cities it is important to keep improving the places they live. The issues in most cities today are protection of clean air and water, energy independence, affordable housing, transportation choices and job growth. This can all be achieved if cities would focus more on sustainable community growth.

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In USA there’s a Partnership for Sustainable Communities which allows Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Housing and Urban Development, and Department of Transportation to work together while improving access to affordable housing, increasing transportation options and lowering transportation costs while having a focus on environment. Talking about cities, San Francisco has the Precautionary Principle. This principle is like a framework which helps while making laws to make the city healthier and more just.  The Precautionary Principle also gives more power to the communities as the companies have to prove to them that their actions are harmless and not the other way around.

The demand for this type of communities’ right not is higher than the supply and that is why it is important to keep improving it. These communities can help provide economic momentum and help cities compete for jobs as they become more attractive for businesses to locate there or for people to move to. If the business is located in areas where people live it helps reducing transportation cost and promoting other healthier ways of commuting to work – such as walking or using a bike. Walkable neighborhoods are the most interesting for two biggest generations: baby boomers and millennials, as these areas not only offer access to work but also have different housing and transportation choices, leisure and cultural variety.

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These communities can help the government while planning, and giving grants for economic development, housing, transportation choices or community planning. Communities are efficient as they reduce resource consumption and pollution per person. By making neighborhoods livable and efficient, it is possible to protect natural systems and improve quality of life. In these communities it is important that different people would get the benefits equally: such as common shared public spaces, most of places can be reached within a 20 minute walk or transit ride. To ensure health there might even be public fruit garden for everyone to pick their fruit.

There are two important key factors in sustainable communities: good health and high quality of life. The neighborhoods that are sustainable are walkable, have choices for housing and transportation, provide access to different areas like shops, schools, parks and more. Such issues like economic, environmental and social are worked out together so that all citizens could get higher quality of life.

 

Closing Streets to Cars for Walkers and Cyclists Is Getting More Popular by the Minute

More U.S. cities adopt Vision Zero plans and adapt to become more bike and pedestrian friendly, so are they closing down their streets to cars.

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While the country might have a long way to go to get to the car-free center city Dublin is planning, walkability and cycling advocates continue to score wins for a more balanced use of our urban streets. With worries about traffic congestion and safety on the increase, perhaps the “war on cars” really is winnable.

This fall, the City of San Jose and Silicon Valley Bike Coalition will close off six miles of streets from cars — leaving the road open for biking, walking, playing and skating. The inaugural “Viva CalleSJ,” announced this week, will take place on October 11th.

San Jose is joining a number of other cities that havealready hosted open streets events, including Los Angeles, Guadalajara, Mexico, and Bogota, Colombia.

“These events promote and encourage people to replace daily car trips with bicycling, walking and public transportation, which is an integral part of our mission,” said Shiloh Ballard, executive director for the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition, in a press release.

With street vendors and performers on the scene, the open roads will also give people an opportunity to better explore neighborhoods and local businesses.

“Viva CalleSJ will convert San José’s streets into a vibrant paved park where families can bike, walk or skate in areas they would normally drive through,” said San José Mayor Sam Liccardo. “They will be given the chance to explore these wonderful neighborhoods and discover local businesses while improving their mental and physical health.”

On the East Coast, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio announced this week that he will close large parts of Prospect Park and Central Park to vehicles on weekdays. (The sections are already closed to cars on the weekends.) The New York Times reports:

“We’re creating safe zones for kids to play in, for bikers, for joggers, for everyone to know that they will be safer and they can enjoy the park in peace,” de Blasio said in a press conference.

For the full article can be found here.

Atlanta High School Students Find Crumbling Side Walks

A group of high school students are working with Georgia State University to bring attention to crumbling sidewalks near Ponce De Leon Avenue near the Ponce City Market.

“We’re mapping the sidewalks on Ponce De Leon and we have a baby stroller and a GoPro and we’re pushing the baby in the video to show what it’s like to push a stroller and how the baby will react,” said Anya Lomsadze, a high school student.

Walkability is a big factor because people who live in the area walk to nearby businesses.

CBS46 spoke to pedestrians who said people in wheelchairs have a hard time maneuvering across the crumbling sidewalks.

The information the students compiled will now be taken to city and state leaders to have changes made.

Read more here.

A Case Study in Bike-Friendly Suburban Planning

Original article publish by City Lab.

What the misguided war between cars and bikes often misses is that it’s perfectly possible for both to coexist in peace—even in the suburbs. Such inter-modal harmony is happening right now in a Dutch town called Houten.

Located about five miles from the city of Utrecht, Houten and its adjacent sister town of South Houten are home to nearly 50,000 residents. In some ways Houten is a typical suburb. The neighborhoods are filled with low-density homes, a fair number of residents own cars (415 autos per 1,000 locals, with 36 percent of households having at least two cars), and on average there’s even more than one parking space per person.

But in many more ways, Houten is anything but typical. Car traffic is primarily resigned to a “ring road” that encircles the area. Within that ring is a network of low-speed streets meant primarily for people traveling on foot or by bike (there are 80 miles of bicycle paths alone) that connect to two main intercity train stations and most of the area’s schools and shops. As a result, car trips are the minority in Houten, with an estimated 66 percent made by alternative modes.

Cars keep to the perimeter, not the core

In the late 1960s, Dutch officials recognized Houten—then a tiny village of a few thousand—as a potential area for major population growth. An architect named Rob Derks came up with a town plan that prioritized pedestrians and cyclists over cars. Construction began in 1978 and was finished a few years later, and when more growth was predicted in the 1990s, the area replicated itself into South Houten.

(These and other Houten details come courtesy of a fantastic 2014 summary report of the area by Nicole Foletta of ITDP Europe.)

Houten’s local mixed-use street network has a low speed limit (~18 mph) and gives travel priority to walkers and cyclists. Plenty of streets and paths are off-limits to cars—some are physically blocked by bollards. The bike paths in the extensive cycling network have their own brick red coloring. Where bike routes do cross the ring roads, underpasses separate bike and car traffic. On average, Houten residents own more than three bikes per household.

Map of HoutenA March 2014 map of Houten shows the ring roads encircling the main residential and commercial areas. (Wiki Commons/Janwillemvanaalst)
In addition to homes, the core areas are loaded with shops, plazas, and jobs—many of them adjacent to one of the two train stations. No one lives more than a mile and a quarter from a train, and a majority of Houten residents live within a mile of a grocery store. That makes it easy to do most of life’s daily chores without a car. The biggest transportation problems that locals face are bike parking, speeding mopeds, and “uncollected dog poop.”

The mobility breakdown validates the design. Plenty of people still drive; the car commute share is over 50 percent in Houten and South Houten alike. But the vast majority of shopping or social trips are made without a car. And cycling and walking together account for 55 percent of total Houten travel, with public transit making up another 11 percent.

“Houten—it is a suburb,” says Furth. “This is what’s incredible. It is a suburb. Where you’d expect a really high car share.”
A major of non-work trips in Houten are made without a car. (ITDP Europe)
Could Houten ever work in America?

Urban Planning for Healthy Living

Public health is no longer solely the business of health professionals. Planners and engineers also play a vital role in a community’s health.

If we are what we eat, it can also be said we are what we build. Look around Orlando, Tampa and Jacksonville. What do these cities and suburbs reveal about their planners, real estate investors and residents? A simple observation: cars rule.

They are all prime examples of what resulted from the increase in automobile ownership in the 1950s and 1960s. Subsequent zoning laws encouraged low-density, disconnected street networks and the replacement of sidewalks with extra lanes for more cars. More than a half century later, the only way to get from one place to another continues to be by car, not by foot.

The consequences are being felt today with the rise in obesity, diabetes and depression negatively impacting our economy, as well as our health. Good news: there’s a way to fix it. Better news: experts and local officials are already working on it.

The Parramore Comprehensive Neighborhood Plan is the first local plan of its type to incorporate healthy community principles in a program to revitalize an inner city community.

The Parramore Comprehensive Neighborhood Plan is the first local plan of its type to incorporate healthy community principles in a program to revitalize an inner city community.

In Orlando, the Parramore Comprehensive Neighborhood Plan — the first local plan of its type to incorporate healthy community principles in a program to revitalize an inner city community — serves as a blueprint for the healthy community concept. In January, the Orlando City Council accepted the plan created through collaboration with the community, the City of Orlando’s planning staff, and VHB to be the “next great Orlando neighborhood.” Jackson, who worked at the CDC for 15 years and has chaired the American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Environmental Health, contributed to the plan.

It’s built around existing city assets, such as the local shuttle line and SunRail, and upcoming new investments, including a K-8 community school, Orlando Magic entertainment complex, Orlando Lions’ soccer stadium and further development of Orlando’s Creative Village. The plan also recommends major public safety changes, including surveillance cameras and community policing; a community school and higher education hub within Creative Village; new mixed-income infill housing in the K-8 school renaissance zone; the establishment of a Parramore Avenue historic corridor; and creating an Orange Blossom Trail/Church Street Gateway anchored by a grocery store.

“The bottom line for Parramore is the school,” Sellen says. “When you look at healthy community design, a school is really the heart of the neighborhood.”

The Parramore school will be pre-K through eighth grade. “Research shows education at the pre-kindergarten level is critical to a child’s success in not only school, but in life,” Sellen emphasizes.

Read full article here.

Cities Where People Walk and Cycle are Healthier

Read full article here.

Cities with more physically active residents are financially healthier too, a study has found, with benefits being higher property values, economic productivity levels and school performance.

commuter pan_1Where walking, cycling and public transport are prevalent, the University of California studyhas found, there is a return of £13 for every £1 invested in these projects.

Benefits for the cities include more trade for local shops, less traffic congestion and reduced pollution. Workers are more productive too, taking on average a week less off work per year.

Chad Spoon, from the University of California’s Active Living research unit, said: “A city’s ability to compete depends on an active population. The research is clear on this – it shows how an active city can be a low-cost, high-return investment.”

The paper also suggests opening more parks and open spaces; providing bike lanes and public bike schemes; and helping ensure children live closer to their schools, the Guardian reports.

What to Do With a Dying Neighborhood

Read full article by Alana Semuels here.

Covington, Georgia, decided not to let a half-completed development sit empty. But the city’s solution has been both praised and vilified by observers.

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There are hundreds of stories of failed subdivisions left empty by the housing bust, where homeowners are stuck staring into vacant lots of PVC pipes and weeds.

There are very few stories where a half-finished development has been saved from ruin.

The rescue of one such development, by the city in which it is located, is being heralded as a potential solution to some of the worst mistakes of the housing crisis. The local newspaper, the Covington News, praised the project, writing that “a community has been brought back from the dead.”

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Overgrown weeds at the townhomes before rehab (Cradit: Covington Planning Department)

That Covington, a city 35 miles east of Atlanta, did anything at all is “unusual,” said Ellen Dunham-Jones, an architect and urban-design professor at Georgia Tech who has a chapter on the subdivision, Walker’s Bend, in a forthcoming book, Retrofitting Sprawl.

“I really applaud them tremendously, since it’s pretty unusual: cities just aren’t in the business of being developers,” she said. “In conservative districts, there’s a philosophical sense that the city as master developer smacks of socialism.”

But some residents say that the way the city intervened in this subdivision has just made life there worse—raising questions about whether or not government intervention in the housing market is a good thing, and about whether mixed-income housing can ever work.

Sales stalled in 2007 with only 50 homes sold and 79 built, though the roads and infrastructure had been installed for hundreds more. Developer Timber South went bankrupt, leaving eight different banks the titles to 160 empty lots and abandoned homes. A map of who owned what in Walker’s Bend at the time looks like a Monopoly board—there were lots owned by Bank of North Georgia, United Community Bank, The People’s Bank, and Enterprise Bank & Co.

Home values were in free fall. Banks started auctioning off the homes to investors, who in turn rented them out to anyone who would have them.

The crime problems started soon after that. Families who still lived in Walker’s Bend were victims of daytime burglaries. Many of the homes were isolated, and residents felt unsafe coming home late at night.

In many places, the city would have shrugged and hoped that eventually, the market would come back, and the subdivision would be completed. But city planning director Randy Vinson didn’t want to wait.

Vinson seems an anomaly in conservative Georgia—he drives a mini-Cooper, which he parks at the planning department in a sea of Ford pick-up trucks—and believes in the kind of walkable development that’s now becoming popular in many parts of the country. A compact-housing development he helped spearhead in Covington, called Clark’s Grove, looks like something out of a quaint New England village—not the sprawl of Atlanta. He’s been criticized by some locals—in a letter to the local newspaper, one Covington resident called him a leader of a “den of wolves,” though the writer acknowledged that Vinson is “thought by some to be God’s answer for everything and by others as the worst thing that ever happened to Newton County.”

Vinson’s plan for Walker’s Bend was unusual—he wanted the city of Covington to spend $1 million to buy up the empty lots there. They’d create more green space and parks, and work with developers to put in some affordable housing, a senior center, and perhaps a business incubator. Rather than allow landlords who don’t screen tenants, or who fail to evict bad tenants, to run the development, the city figured it could control who owned property in a time of rampant speculation.

“We thought, we’re going to have rental in here, its obvious, but we can’t let the vultures come in and pick it apart,” Vinson told me.

At the time, many cities just left similar projects to rot, said Dunham-Jones. Some didn’t have the money Covington had—the city has generally had balanced budgets, even during the recession—others didn’t have the expertise to get involved in buying and selling real estate. No one had any idea of how to do this type of intervention, and there was no guarantee the city would earn back any of the money it might invest in the area.

“It was a controversial idea—the city becoming master developer,” Dunham-Jones said. “But I thought the planning director just did a really extraordinary job.”