How people get to work...

Image from Transportation Alternatives

...during a transit strike. There was so much coverage about the transit strike in New York City that I didn't bother covering it, and I'm too ignorant to partake in a discussion about labor rights. However, we started a discussion on PPS about how people got to work and there are some good comments there.

I like to see how the everyday plays out in the city, so how people got to work interests me, and the event had varied results. We had one intrepid staffer who took 4 modes of transportation to get here: walking, car, water taxi, then taxi. Then we had other people who didn't want to come in because their bike tires were flat and they couldn't face 45 minutes of riding in the cold. Having no subways running is highly inconvenient, to be sure, but it seemed that city travel is a lot about the state of mind, and whether one is up for it...or not.

Honestly, I thought that NYC, given a transit strike, was much better off than most American places in that the structure of the city offered many options for commuting, even if the subway was down. Biking wasn't happening along fast 4 to 6 lane highways as it might in other sprawl-ridden communities - from Brooklyn and Queens to Manhattan, it happened on city streets and across bridges, many of them with bike paths. The city was able to open up major thoroughfares in Manhattan to bikes with little effect on traffic. It was a great chance to view our city under a different light. What would happen if we made our bike paths wider? If there were fewer cars? If more people walked?

Perhaps this is too positive a perspective to take, and I certainly wouldn't want another transit strike -- we were lucky that it lasted only a few days -- but I thought overall it was great to see all the activity in the street throughout the day.

And, please treat the transit workers with respect. They are people like you and me who have to commute to work too. That they make our commute so much easier deserves credit.


"Old-style" shopping

To me, it's no surprise that traditional malls are facing a backlash of sorts. If it's not the trouble it takes to get to a mall that's preventing people from going to malls, it's also the increasing demand for unique services and goods from places that come from mom-and-pop-run stores. Those are the types of stores that have the freedom to make their own imprint on a consumer's experience.

I just loved this Cinncinnati story about old-style downtowns. What I especially liked was this:

"We don't do malls," declared Aurelia Rice of Fort Mitchell. "We come here and kind of make a day of it."
The "lifestyle centers" that are popping up in regions of fastest growth (California, Florida, Southwest) are a reflection of this demand for old-fashioned downtowns. I read signs in other small ways. The trendiest shops in the East Village offer what seems to be cutting edge nostalgia, the latest in consumer contradiction. They're selling icons and signs from old-fashioned stores...just take a walk through the neighborhood and check out the old being sold as the newest new.


Affording and living the daily life

I loved this NYTimes article (by Polis) about the innovative ways San Mateo County (Silicon Valley region) community is trying to provide housing for its teachers. How about applying similar solutions for firefighters, policement, and other people who provide priceless services in other communities?

I especially like that there are also affordable home ownership programs for the teachers, so they are encouraged to buy and can settle into the school district and not leave once they outgrow the apartment.

And, to boot, one teacher mentioned off-handedly that she likes that she can walk to the grocery store. So, it's not enough to provide housing - how about providing housing in places that don't require so much driving. Another good Sunday Times article, "In the Exurbs, Life Framed by Hours Spent in the Car", outlines the cycle of exurb development.

That phrase neatly captures my belief that all this extra driving doesn't only impact commuting and traffic congestion, but it greatly influences quality of life. People are moving out to the exurbs looking for better places to raise their families, more house for their money, etc., yet they can't actually experience those benefits spending so much time getting to their jobs, which are increasingly farther away. I talked about this earlier in June about families that specialize in relocation.


Living within our environments

Madgeneral has an eloquent, thoughtful post about our natural and built environments, our habits as modern day humans and our shifting role in the ecological web. I can't get it all down here, so go read it!


"Together Alone"

I didn't get a chance to read all of the great ideas of the year, but I listened to a description of a new type of relationship, the "fleeting relationship," which reminded me why public spaces are great. The fleeting relationship is exactly why it is fun to hang out in a coffeeshop by yourself, sit on a park bench, smoosh into a crowded subway -- basically, live in our public spaces. The thing about fleeting relationships, as fleeting as they are, is that they need places to occur - the softball field, a bar, a gym - all grounded places.

I'm glad people are studying this. My architecture, landscape architecture, geography, etc friends have found it incredibly difficult to make headway in this field in the traditional academic disciplines. It reminds me to add Robert Putnam's "Bowling Alone" and "Better Together," with Lewis Feldstein, to my wish list. Places don't necessarily determine the interaction, but they really make those positive relationships so much easier to form.


Whose fault is it

In a mildly ironic twist, Charles Atherton, the former longtime secretary for the Commission of Fine Arts (he oversaw the design of major monuments and buildings) was struck by a motorist in DC and then issued a summons (with a $5 fine) for jaywalking before being whisked away to the hospital.

There was some speculation as to why the police offer was so adament about handing out the summons. The best explanation is that he was trying to assuage the distraught driver in pinpointing blame. Regardless,

"He was issued a ticket because he was at fault. That's all I can tell you," said Lt. John Kutniewski of the police department's major crash investigation unit.
What?! Pedestrians should have the right of way, even when they are crossing outside of the crosswalk. No one deserves to be hit by a car.

72nd street station during improvement construction in 2001

The design of streets sometimes make it harder to cross at crosswalks. A small example in point: I was looking out a 34th floor window at a friend's place at W. 70th Street, the intersection where Amsterdam and Broadway cross. A few of the crosswalks definitely favor cars, harboring more cars at the intersection but forcing pedestrians to cross at a long diagonal. Walking across the intersection would be tedious without the wide refuge of the 72nd street station, and at the south part of the intersection, where there is no refuge, you have to keep on trucking across four lanes. I think this crosswalk went through an "improvement" just a few years ago. Crossing mid-block would be the most reasonable place to cross from my 3mph speed. Given the millions of people who travel at that speed, don't they deserve "right of way" when compared to the mere thousands of cars in the city?

Update: Some sad news. Richard Layman of Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space just told me that Charles Atherton passed away today. So unnecessary...

On roadwitches

How about a "roadwitch" for some calm? BBC reports that Ted Dewan, a British children's author and traffic campaigner is spearheading "DIY-traffic calming." The purpose of his campaign, done through whole living room sets on the street, down to the carpet, is to challenge drivers' entitlement to speed and urban space.

"My daughter isn't allowed to throw snowballs at school, because it's considered too dangerous. But it's meant to be acceptable that she can walk home only inches away from cars driving at lethal speeds. There is something weird about this, a deep cultural bias."...

As the owner of two cars, Mr Dewan says he's far from being anti-motorist, but he wants "mutual respect" between drivers and pedestrians and to stop the "deluded, selfish" way that traffic has come to dominate urban spaces.
A similar campaign has been led by David Engwicht, who sits on a royal throne in the middle of the street to slow cars down. Check out Lesstraffic.com.


Not really a public Bryant park

There's a lot of coverage about this little fact - our beloved Bryant Park gets no public money.

The NYTimes article - the reporter did a great job dissecting the deal Bryant Park got in the mid-1980s
Gothamist opines, and so does Curbed.

PPS thinks Bryant Park is Great and a Shame. Read its entries as a Great Public Space and as a Hall of Shame. And finally, PPS's thoughts on the commercialization of public spaces here and here.

Belly by Lisa Selin Davis

I had the pleasure of meeting Lisa Selin Davis when I started here a couple years ago. Thanks to theboxtank, I was reminded of her new book, Belly. Read also the funky Gothamist interview with her, where she gets right down to business,

"If you drive along I-95, you see these carcasses of cities, all these disastrous urban renewal projects that tore out the architectural heart of cities -- "slum clearance" -- and replaced them with these uniformly ugly modernist towers, what I call the architecture of intolerance. And that's what I think they're doing to Brooklyn: making it look like Anywhere, USA."