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Political will and courage is necessary to step Miami’s bicycle network up a notch.

Sharrows. Chevrons. Shared lane markings. Little painted bicycles on the street.

Like fungi after a spring rainfall, Miami has seen a rapid proliferation of these markings on her streets, designed to remind motorists to be aware of cyclists and their right to the lane. While the markings are a welcomed improvement to our otherwise naked, auto-dominated streetscape, the sharrow boom is raising some concerns in Miami’s cycling community and beyond.

Has the the sharrow obsession come at the expense of more substantial bicycling infrastructure?

Sam Ollinger at Bike San Diego argues that her city has fallen into this trap, using sharrows as copout to real change.

“In the last year, San Diegans have seen the increasing number of shared-lane markings, also called “sharrows.” Sharrows are appearing everywhere: Adams Avenue, Park Boulevard, Broadway, El Cajon Boulevard, Grand Avenue, Voltaire Street, Chatsworth Boulevard, Hotel Circle South, Pacific Highway and more. However, these sharrows are being used as a cheap band-aid instead of implementing real change on our roadways that would increase the number of people riding their bicycle for transportation or recreation.

10 year old girl riding to school on Voltaire Street with drivers passing at over 30 mph. Are we prioritizing free vehicle curbside parking over child safety and health? Is this the best we can do? via Bike San Diego

For starters, San Diego’s Bicycle Master Plan recommends sharrows on roadways that are too narrow for bike lanes. Sharrows are recommended on roads that have a minimum width of 14 feet. Bike lanes are recommended on roads that have a minimum of 15-17 feet. El Cajon Boulevard, for example, has three travel lanes in each direction – it has more than enough room for a bike lane.”

The same argument can be made for Miami. When I take a look at our current bicycle lanes, I cannot imagine a single one that required the removal of a vehicle travel lane or parking. It seems that Miami’s current bicycle lane striping, like on S. Miami Avenue in Brickell, NW 1st Avenue in Overtown, on Coral Way through the Roads for example, was the “low-hanging fruit”, meaning that the existing pavement was wide enough to add bicycle lanes without a significant alteration of the existing street configuration, save perhaps narrowing the travel lanes a foot or two. It’s a commendable feat, but what needs to come next are the “hard miles” of lanes to achieve connectivity and encourage ridership.

What are “hard miles”? New York City DOT commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan used the term in a November article for the New York Times. Hard miles, Ms. Sadik-Khan puts it, are bicycle lanes in the densest, most contested parts of town to achieve connectivity with the lanes that were easier to complete. Many of the 280 miles of bicycle lanes NYC has built in the last four years have been of the “hard mile” variety.

NYC's bike lanes did not come easy. A protected bike lane and pedestrian plaza cuts right through the heart of Times Square. It required political will to remove space for cars and reclaim space for people.

Miami’s answer for the “hard miles” seems to be the cheap sharrow. And it ‘aint cutting it anymore.

One of the loudest gripes with Miami’s current bicycle infrastructure is the lack of connectivity, where lanes seemingly begin and end at random, forming an incongruous network. It’s obvious that the sharrow seems to be the answer du jour. But how effective is this treatment and are they coming at the expense of better, safer facilities?

A recent study of the sharrows on Washington Avenue (.pdf) in Miami Beach showed that before sharrow implantation, 55% of bicycle riders were on the sidewalk. After the sharrows, that number reduced to 45%. Clearly, many riders still feel safer on the sidewalk, despite the painted bicycle in the middle of the road. The sharrows are probably doing very little, if anything, to encourage would-be riders to take to the streets.

From the Bike San Diego piece:

A recent report from the Mineta Transportation Institute, an institute that was established by Congress to research “multimodal surface transportation policy and management issues”, concluded that in order to attract a wide segment of the population, a bicycle network’s most fundamental attribute should be low-stress connectivity, that is, providing routes between people’s origins and destinations that do not require cyclists to use links that exceed their tolerance for traffic stress, and that do not involve an undue level of detour.

Conventional sharrows are not accomplishing the “low-stress connectivity” emphasized in the report. The infographic above is from a study in Portland, OR that found 60 percent of people surveyed were interested in cycling, but concerned for their safety. The “1% strong & fearless” and the “7% enthused & confident” are the ones most likely to appreciate the sharrow. But what about about the biggest chunk of prospective riders? To encourage more people on bikes, we need safe, dedicated infrastructure. And that almost always requires some sacrifice at the altar of the automobile.

Miami should consider implementing ‘enhanced sharrows’ like these as the conventional markings expire and need replacement.

In early 2012, I wrote a piece called The Year in Bicycles where I wondered if this would be the year Miami saw it’s first protected bicycle lane. As we approach the annual halfway mark, that question still remains unanswered.

North Miami Avenue through downtown Miami is practically begging for a two-way, protected bicycle lane. Here it is, desolate as usual, during the height of the work day at 3pm yesterday. A three lane tarmac of pavement with parking on both sides. This street could be transformed overnight with a few cans of paint.

The real question is, when will we see the “hard miles” of bicycle lanes in Miami to enhance and connect our network? Because conventional sharrows aren’t cutting it.

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A rendering of the proposed "34th Street Transitway"

The New York City Department of Transportation’s newest project brings the successful concept of Bus Rapid Transit to an important cross town bus route and showcases, once again, what a progressive DOT is capable of doing to improve quality of life and transportation options for its residents and visitors. As you can see in the rendering above, the idea is not only to improve an existing roadway and speed up bus service, but to also improve the pedestrian experience along the corridor.

Famously successful in cities like Bogota and Curitiba, the idea of dedicating lanes to buses has been successful here in Miami, as well. The South Miami-Dade Busway acts as a low-cost extension of the Metrorail for thousands of county residents. TransitMiami.com remains a strong proponent of Light Rail (or LRT over BRT), but as Miami looks to expand its transportation options, our leaders could learn a great deal from NYC – where they understand the importance of land-use in transportation planning.

The South Miami-Dade Busway

Look at the two pictures. What is missing on our Busway?

GOOD Magazine has published an interactive graphic comparing our country’s largest mass transit systems (here). The abbreviated study looks at Chicago, San Francisco, New York City, Boston and Washington, DC. It’s an interesting visual study of what ‘works’ and reminds us that if you build it, maintain it and keep it convenience, the masses will come. What do you think?

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Christophe Le Canne’s memorial continues to garner attention on an ever increasing scale and the NYC-based environmental organization, Time’s Up, is organizing a “Tribute Ride for Miami” this Sunday in solidarity with local advocacy efforts.

If you are in New York City this weekend, we hope that you will let us know how it goes. There is some discussion at MiamiBikeScene to organize something here, as well. Stay tuned-

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Photo Courtesy of New York Times

Photo Courtesy of New York Times

Leave it to citizen advocates to be at the forefront of progressive city planning. A citizen advocacy group in New York City called Vision 42 is proposing to close 42 street to cars and construct an east/west light rail line, connecting one side of Manhattan with the other.

Vision 42 would like to turn the full length of 42nd Street into a pedestrian mall, while adding a light rail line that would connect the 39th Street ferry terminal on the Hudson River, near the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center on the West Side Highway, with the 36th Street ferry terminal on the East River, near the undeveloped Con Edison sites on the Franklin D. Roosevelt Drive.

The light rail system, which would cost an estimated $500 million, would run from terminal to terminal in about 20 minutes, half the time that the current bus system takes.

Sounds good to me. Why aren’t we doing to $200 million streetcar again? Seems that in New York, real estate developers are catching on to the idea that walkablility increases value.

“Real estate people should take a look at what’s happened with real estate values in other cities where there are these walking streets,” said Mr. Durst, who visits pedestrian-friendly Copenhagen frequently, as his wife is Danish. “They’ve increased tremendously.”

Vision 42 advocates said light rail lines in Dallas had stimulated more than $1 billion worth of development. In Portland, Ore., light rail has catalyzed about $1.2 billion worth of development. In Jersey City, about 33.3 million square feet of development is under way, Mr. Haikalis said.

An economic study commissioned by Vision 42 with grant money and done by the consulting firm Urbanomics of New York, projected that about 398 office properties along 42nd Street would have an average increase in lot value of $188 a square foot because of the time saved with a light rail line, a combined increase in value of 4 percent. Jeffrey Gural, the chairman of Newmark Knight Frank, a real estate company that manages office buildings along 42nd Street, said it would make sense to connect the Javits Center to the United Nations, which currently has no subway stop.

According to Urbanomics’ study, completely closing 42nd Street to cars and adding light rail would increase the pedestrian volume by about 35 percent, producing a proportional annual increase in sales of about $380 million for the street’s 126 retail outlets, Mr. Haikalis said.

It’s what I keep on saying: plan for the type of city you want. If you plan for pedestrians and transit, that is who will inhabit the city. If you plan for cars, well, we all know what happens when you plan for cars.

Miami-Dade County: where is your climate change adaptation plan?? Seems that New York City is aggressively pursuing a plan to protect its infrastructure from the threat of rising seas.

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World-wide, cities in 40 countries depend on dikes or seawalls. The seaside of the Netherlands is protected by storm surge barriers big enough to be seen from space. In Venice, Italy, engineers are completing a $7 billion barrier to block high tides that flood the city 100 times a year. In New Orleans, construction crews have started a $700 million barrier to help prevent hurricane floods. In California, it could cost $14 billion to protect 1,100 miles of vulnerable urban coastline with reinforced sea walls and $1.4 billion a year to maintain them, the Pacific Institute reported in March.

To be sure, the city that never sleeps is rarely dry even now. Every day, transit crews pump 14 million gallons of water from city subways. Authorities recently installed $400 million of more powerful pumps. Last year, they started installing higher sidewalk grates — disguised as street art, bike racks and benches — to help keep storm water away from subway rails. (WSJ)

Meanwhile, down here on the farm, in arguably one of the places most at risk of catastrophic damage from climate change, we still don’t even have a mitigation strategy, much less an adaptation plan. I attend the Miami-Dade Climate Change task force meetings, and some opinions are still mixed as to what the plan should say. Some are afraid that being honest about how in danger we really are will further exacerbate our real estate woes, and send people flocking away from the Magic City. I say, it is what it is. We are going to have to live with it, might as well let people know the truth. Our climate change map is much more sobering than New York’s, I can tell you that. At a 1 foot sea level rise, you can say goodbye to parts of South Miami Dade, Key Biscayne, and yes, Virginia Key.

I spent the better part of this long weekend wandering through the many parks of New York City.  The weekend weather was absolutely perfect to spend the whole day in a park and as you’ll see from the pictures below – I wasn’t the only one who thought so.  Now, I know I’ve said this before but, Miami could learn a lot from these cities.  New York’s ever growing park infrastructure is absolutely amazing.  Over the weekend, I wandered through Central, Union Square, Washington Square, and most importantly: the new Hudson River Parkway and Hoboken’s Pier A Park.  NYC and Hoboken have rejuvenated their waterfront with quality design and infrastructure, enabling access to the vast open space along the shores.  There certainly is not a valid reason why our Waterfront parks and river greenway shouldn’t be able to emulate the success of these great public spaces.  A brief walk through of either of these two linear riverside parks will reveal why they too will become great public spaces – accessible green space, limited concrete, varied structured and unstructured activity spaces, and multimodal connectivity…

We began the day Saturday with an obligatory trip into Central Park.  This was the scene pretty much throughout the park.  The park offered us a great escape from the crowds we had just walked through in Midtown – it seemed like the other half of the city had flocked to Central Park.

This was the scene at Hoboken’s Pier A, just across the Hudson River from NYC’s Hudson River Parkway.

This whole park is built upon a pier and provides some great open space in which to enjoy the panoramic views of Manhattan.  It reminded a lot of Brooklyn Bridge Park on the opposite side of Manhattan…

Like the Hudson River Parkway, New Jersey is working to connect their entire waterfront park system with bicycle paths – creating safe, healthy, and clean ways for residents to access the waterfront, transit, and Business Districts.

Shade.  If there had’t been a nice cool breeze, I’m sure we would have seen more people enjoying this area.

Being the transit junkie that I am, I just had to go for a ride on the Hudson Bergen Light Rail.  These trains are fast, efficient, quiet, and a wonderful way to commute through Jersey.

Summer Streets 2008 (NYC)

The above video link from StreetFilms displays what can happen when a city realizes that streets are for living, not just for moving automobiles.

Modeled after Bogota, Columbia’s Ciclovia, New York City’s Summer Streets program is closing 7 miles of major thoroughfares for three separate Saturday’s during the month of August. The first event was held last Saturday and exceeded all expectations. I imagine NYC will take this from an experiment to a regular weekend event in a short amount of time. Congrats to all who mad Summer Streets such a success.

Here in Miami, where we can have summer streets all year long, the Bicycle Advisory Committee is working with the Mayor’s office and government officials to produce something similar. Stay tuned.

Photo: New DeKalb Ave bike lane in

When it comes to adding bike lanes, a common roadblock (pun intended) is that the prospective street does not have enough horizontal space to accommodate them. For example, a typical striped bike lane should be at least four feet wide, but five feet is preferable. However, few streets have this kind of space between the parking lane and an adjacent traffic lane to make way for bike lanes without compromising legal lane widths. While taking away a traffic lane OR taking away a parking lane is an option, it can be like running up Everest trying to get the support of the community and its’ officials for this to happen, thanks to our powerful car/oil addiction. However there is one option that could serve as both a compromise and a win for the cycling/livable cities community: take away a traffic lane during off-peak hours.

To illustrate my point, I’m going to use a case from my Brooklyn neighborhood on DeKalb Avenue. As of about a month ago, DeKalb Ave was a one-way street with two traffic lanes and two on-street parking lanes. The avenue moves westbound moving out of Brooklyn toward the Manhattan Bridge, so cars regularly flew at speeds between 40-50 mph. As a result, the street was very dangerous for cyclists and pedestrians despite a high number of both being present on the street throughout the much of the day.

Picture: Existing conditions on DeKalb Ave (NYCDOT)

The solution? NYCDOT decided to take away a lane of traffic during off-peak hours and add a five foot bike lane plus a three foot buffer to protect cyclists from traffic, getting doored, and hopefully mitigate maddeningly frustrating bike lane parking. By narrowing the street to one traffic lane during off-peak hours, it serves to calm traffic from the wild, unnecessary speeding and lane changing for much of the day. However, to help accommodate more traffic during rush hours, a parking lane (on the opposite side of the bike lane, of course) becomes a traffic lane. Any car still parked during peak hours gets ticketed.

Graphic: Conceptual plan for DeKalb Ave (NYCDOT)

Some people may ask, what about the businesses on DeKalb getting hurt by the loss of parking, especially during peak periods? The answers are straight forward enough. First, NYCDOT is installing meters to encourage turnover instead of all-day parking squatting. This will actually help businesses by facilitating turnover as well as generate revenue for the usage of valuable urban street space. It will also redefine loading zone hours in order to combat double parking that clogs traffic and creates dangerous conflicts. Lastly, by calming the street and improving access for cyclists and pedestrians, the potential is there to enhance local business activity even further.

Of course this will not be a perfect scenario, but it should certainly make DeKalb Avenue more livable as it functions more like a complete street. For example, I’ve noticed that it’s actually a little more difficult for pedestrians to cross DeKalb at mid-block now, since there is a steady (albeit slower) flow of traffic along the single traffic lane. However, this can be expected in the short term, as drivers adapt to the roadway changes. Over time, studies have shown that such street changes should eventually lead to disappearing traffic, whereas drivers either choose other routes, other schedules, or not to drive. I’ve witnessed idiot drivers double-parking in the bike lane already, but so far the only way to really solve this problem is physically separated bike lanes.

So how does this tie into Miami? There are many streets with parking lanes that could sacrifice a lane of traffic during off peak hours in order to incorporate bike lanes. Some of the streets that come to mind are operated by FDOT, so it’s important that this is taken into consideration when advocating for this type of roadway reconfiguration. Many other streets in more urban areas of Miami, Miami Beach, and Coral Gables have the potential to utilize this configuration.

(Note: I know there will be at least a few haters reading this who will be eager to point out how different New York is from Miami and how this type of street space reallocation would never work in Miami/South Florida. Well let me tell you this — NYC may be quite different in many ways, but this kind of thing isn’t just being done there, it’s being done it cities all over the country, many of which are less densely developed than Miami.)

Photo: DeKalb Ave @ Washington Ave

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Below is an excerpt from an email I received this morning from my friend, an occasional bus commuter from Miami Beach to Downtown Miami.

Dude,

I took the bus this morning. Let me bore you with the details. Because my parking permit at Miami-Dade Community College expired (the court provides no parking for clerks), and I have to re-register for a summer class (that I do not need to take) to get access to the world’s crappiest parking lot, I took the bus. I missed the bus, waited 20 minutes, and finally caught the C.

When i got on the bus, i sat in the back, and guy with long hair covered in tattoos sitting on a bag of crushed cans began grooming his hair. He untied his ponytail and ran his fingers through his hair. It smelled like a barn. Hair went everywhere. Naturally, I moved to where a spot had opened up in the front row. As soon as I sat down I noticed the guy in front of me, a guy probably in his 30s who hadn’t paid to get on the bus (I heard the driver yelling at him when he got on, but she still let him on) took up 4 seats, lying sideways in handicap accessible row, with his legs and arms splayed. He had a crumpled 20 dollar bill in his hand, which he took out and put away in his pocket several times, and he smelled like Monday’s booze. He tried talking to me a few times. I ignored him for a while and eventually said, “I’m listening to my headphones, sorry” which was true, in a pissed off voice with my sunglasses still on. In response, or so it seemed, he took out a comb and began scrubbing his head like a brillo pad in front of everyone. The bus stopped every 30 seconds, and he never moved for anyone, and everyone accommodated him trying to pretend that all was normal because no one wanted to have to talk to him. The bus driver did nothing, naturally. Finally we got to the other side of the McCarthur Causeway and I’d had enough, so I got off right at the base of the exit ramp. I’ll walk 15 minutes to the office, I thought, just let me off. Also, I hate how the bus goes to the bus stop (Omni Station), which is a stupid mandatory detour for anyone commuting to downtown. Of course, my new friend decided to get off with me, then proceeded to follow me for about 5 blocks until he couldn’t keep up, at which point he fell behind and eventually out of my sight. I thought about turning and just popping him as hard as I could, but he was about 20 feet behind me the entire time so there was no need, and also, that’s not something I typically do.

I finally traverse my way through the streets of Miami, where cars zoom past me, where I see billboards and trucks but not one one coffee shop, restaurant, store, or habitable dwelling. Finally, as I get to the MDCC campus, which is right across the street from the courts, I see my same C bus pulling up. It’s the same speed as walking! Not on the causeway, but once you’re in Miami it moves at the same pace as a pedestrian (or at least, someone like me who walks rather fast).

The system is designed in such a way that people like me (i.e. employed, kind of a yuppie) give up because the mass transit is so inconvenient, slow, and disgusting. This is coming from someone who LOVED the subway system in NY and DC. In Miami, I’d rather wait in traffic, spend 20 minutes parking, and burn gas (btw, there’s no way it costs $3/day in gas to drive from SoBe to work and back – if they really wanted people to take the bus, they might want to make it cost effective), than have to deal with the bus situation each day.

OK, thanks for listening to my rant. I actually feel a bit better.

Yikes. Lucky for him, he won’t be enduring this much longer. He heads back to New York City towards the end of “summer.” I also suggested he try joining me in the bicycle commute sometimes soon. Unfortunately, his place of employment offers no showers and no reasonable place to change/store his clothes. Makes you wonder when that Bay Link might show up, huh?

Former Mayor of Bogota, Colombia, Enrique Penalosa, is internationally renowned for his progressive transit and bike-oriented urban planning policies that have helped transform the Colombia capital from a congested car-centric nightmare to a much more livable city in less than decade. Earlier this week, Penalosa came to New York to speak in support of Mayor Bloomberg’s congestion pricing proposal that holds the power to make NYC an even more livable city by forcing cars to pay $8 to enter Manhattan anywhere below 60th St from 6am-6pm. Thanks to our friends over at Streetsblog, who created this video, we can see that from Copenhagen to New York, Vancouver to Bogota, the livable cities movement is in full gear.

To see the video above in its entirety, click here.

To see the video of Penalosa’s recent NYC speech supporting congestion pricing and transport equity, click here.

Great news, Miami — we’re getting an old gem of a park back in the heart of downtown! That’s right, the former Paul Walker Park, which was hairbrainishly allowed to be taken over by a restaurant back in the 90′s, will be completely transformed into a 4,200 square ft. pocket park at 46 W. Flagler St (W. Flagler & NW Miami Ct).

The park will be designed as a passive open space for downtown workers or other residents to enjoy a moment of relaxation while in the area. According to Commissioner Sarnoff, who has championed this project both vocally and with special commission financing, the park will resemble Paley Park in Manhattan, which is a lovely pocket park lauded by William Whyte in the Social Life of Small Urban Spaces. It is set to have a waterfall, walkways, picnic tables, and seating areas, potentially with a wireless hot spot on sight.

The park project will be funded by the Miami Downtown Development Authority and money from Commissioner Sarnoff’s “quality of life” bond. According to Capital Improvement Projects director Ola Aluko, construction on the park could begin as early as this March.

If you picked up the Herald this morning, there’s a good chance you read this article.

I think my jaw literally hit the floor when I read it. It appears the Miami-Dade Expressway Authority is using the Reason Foundation and their misguided, obsolete, and flawed road-based transportation planning schemes to “craft a vision” for 30-year expansion of MDX expressways. For the vast majority of urban planners, particularly those with any understanding of best practice in growth management, transportation planning, and sustainability, this little “road party” is laughable. It’s almost like a bunch of insurance agents, smokers, and Big Tobacco lobbyists in a room together trying to envision a future of less lung disease without any real doctors present in the room. If this is what politics and planning have come to in Miami-Dade County, I see little hope for an improved, sustainable future.

Oh yeah, and $8 billion dollars? Everyone is always talking about how hard it is to fund transit projects, especially with the deplorable amount of federal aid and massive national demand. Yet it’s funny how it always seems like billions are quickly and easily available for the (road) projects that make the least sense. Eight billion would certainly go along way toward improving transit in the county. Instead, it seems like those in power are either still living in the “the vacuum” themselves, completely oblivious to consensus best practice planning and sustainability, or they’re sprawl industry insiders/backers, or they’re NIMBYs in power suits…or perhaps a combination of all three.

So, while Miami-Dade wastes its time snuggling up with the Reason Foundation and all but ensuring a self-fulfilling prophecy of congestion, pollution and sprawl into perpetuity, New York has recently hired international urban planner extraordinaire Jan Gehl as a consultant. This is a man who is primarily responsible for turning Copenhagen around from a congested, auto-centric city into one of the world’s most livable, pedestrian-oriented, and bike-friendly cities — in just 40 years. In just a short period of time since being hired by the City, plans have already been unveiled for NYC’s first Euro-style physically separated bike lane right on a busy avenue in Manhattan. Mayor Bloomberg is touring Europe as of this moment discussing environmentally-friendly solutions to urban traffic, such as Paris’ Velib bike-sharing program and London’s Congestion Pricing.

It’s simple — Miami-Dade can easily choose this path and begin to move in a new and vastly improved direction. However, if we continue down the current path, it will soon be too late.

* Correction: The original posting wrongly mentioned the MPO instead of MDX as the conductor of the 30-year road plan. However, the MDX 30-year road plan will be submitted to the MPO for inclusion in the 2035 Long-Range Plan.

Photo courtesy of http://www.pritchettcartoons.com

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