Sandy James Images
Michael Greenberg’s lengthy article in the New York Review of Books is available (maybe just briefly) without the paywall. A few quotes to give the flavour:
What makes the crisis especially startling is that New York has the most progressive housing laws in the country and a mayor who has made tenants’ rights and affordable housing a central focus of his administration. The tide of homelessness is only the most visible symptom. There are at least 61,000 people whose shelter is provided, on any given day, by New York’s Department of Homeless Services…
New York is the only city in the United States to have taken on the legal obligation of providing a bed for anybody who asks for one and has nowhere else to sleep. This came about after advocates for the homeless argued, in a series of lawsuits in the 1970s, that shelter was a fundamental right, not just a social service…
In fact, 75 percent of New York’s homeless are families with children, and at least a third of the adults in these families have jobs…
The system of rent stabilization is another development peculiar to New York, with its history of overpopulated slums, tenant activism, and crusaders for social reform. No other American city provides legal protection to tenants at anywhere near New York’s level. Housing shortages after World Wars I and II, protests (and sometimes riots) against price gouging and substandard conditions, and a huge voting bloc of renters with shared interests have led, over the past hundred years, to an evolving series of state-enforced regulations….
Currently almost half of the rental apartments in New York City are stabilized—about 990,000 units, with 2.6 million people living in them.1 Three quarters of these units were built before 1947. They are found in late-nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century tenements, pre-war towers, and U-shaped apartment blocks, and they are among the city’s most precious resources, as critical to its well-being, I would argue, as its transit system and public parks. In view of this extraordinary level of regulation, it may seem surprising that New York faces a crisis in affordable housing. But rent-stabilized apartments are disappearing at an alarming rate: since 2007, at least 172,000 apartments have been deregulated. To give an example of how quickly affordable housing can vanish, between 2007 and 2014, 25 percent of the rent-stabilized apartments on the Upper West Side of Manhattan were deregulated…
A major reason for this is that once the monthly rent of an apartment exceeds $2,700, the owner may charge a new tenant whatever the market will bear—which, because of the exceptional pressures on New York real estate, may be thousands of dollars more. Not long ago a rent-stabilized building would sell for ten or at most twelve times its rent roll—the amount of money, before expenses, that it generates in a year. Today, it sells for perhaps thirty or forty times that amount, or ten times what the rent roll would be after regulated tenants have been dislodged. The clearing out of rent-stabilized tenants has become such a common real estate practice that it is added to a building’s value even before the fact. Landlords have found enough loopholes in tenant protection laws to make widespread displacement a viable financial strategy…
When a landlord embarks on a campaign to “unlock value” in his building, it becomes a consuming psychological torment for renters. “Landlord harassment is practically all anyone I know talks about,” a beleaguered tenant named Nefertiti Macaulay told me. “When it comes, it’s like a bomb’s gone off in your living room.”…
Mayor de Blasio is keenly aware of the pressures bearing down on what, as a candidate in 2013, he called “the other New York”—that vast sector of the city’s population that lost considerable economic ground during the twelve-year mayoralty of his predecessor, Michael Bloomberg. De Blasio has tried to blunt the hardships, but he also concedes that the forces responsible for the city’s housing emergency are beyond his control…
The core of de Blasio’s housing plan, announced in 2014, is to “build or preserve” 200,000 affordable rental units throughout the five boroughs by 2024. The preservation part of the plan aims to keep 120,000 units that are already affordable from passing into the unregulated market. Often the administration’s efforts involve buildings that landlords allowed to fall into decrepitude and then forfeited, on account of unpaid taxes in the 1970s and 1980s. The city arranged financing for builders to renovate them and either keep existing tenants or, if the properties had become uninhabitable, give affordable leases to new ones. These arrangements usually last for twenty to thirty years—the time it takes the builders to repay their loans—at which point the affordability requirement expires, and they have the right to assume full control over the properties. The de Blasio administration has been stepping in, negotiating an extension with these owners to keep their buildings affordable…
The “build” part of de Blasio’s build-or-preserve housing plan gives private developers tax breaks to include a total of 80,000 affordable rental units in newly constructed market-rate buildings. The tax break, known by its legislative code number, 421-a, dates back to 1971…
Today, the tax break’s main purpose is to encourage large developers to build. Under 421-a, owners are exempt from paying the increase in property taxes that would normally result from new construction: if a building worth $200 million is erected on a lot valued at $10 million, the owner will not be taxed for the $200 million enhancement. In exchange, developers must set aside 20–30 percent of the units at below-market rates for tenants who are chosen by city officials in an income-based lottery. The apartments remain affordable for the duration of the tax exemption period, which in April was extended from twenty-five to thirty-five years….
The 421-a exemptions cost New York $1.4 billion in uncollected property tax in 2016, and de Blasio’s housing plan is now expected to cost at least $10 billion in exemptions by 2024. The city appears to be getting relatively little affordable housing for the money.
I have just returned from New York City where I spent a day with Mitchell Silver the Park Commissioner for New York City, and Julie Grimson, City Conversations Manager for the City of Sydney Australia. Mitchell is a renown city planner who was the planning director for the City of Raleigh and was formerly the head of the American Planning Association. He has a wonderful office in the historic Arsenal in Central Park. Robert Moses’ old office adjacent to Mitchell’s is now the board room for staff meetings.
Famed City Master Builder Robert Moses in his office in the Arsenal, Central Park, 1940’s
Mitchell Silver and Julie Grimson in what was Robert Moses’ “closet” in the Arsenal
One of the prime drivers of public space in New York City in Central Park and on the High Line has been the creation of conservancies or public “trusts” that bring in massive donations and bequests to fund the maintenance and improvement of public space. As Christopher Nolan who is the Chief Landscape Architect for Central Park notes, the challenge was incentivizing public space as something that people would leave money to, and to have people see it as important as endowing a building. Today 75 per cent of the funding for Central Parks’s 65 million dollar annual budget comes directly from the conservancy. The conservancy also undertakes all the basic care in the 845 acre park.
Chris Nolan, Chief Landscape Architect, Central Park Conservancy
The same approach in forming a conservancy has been taken by the “Friends of the High Line” originally formed by Joshua David and Robert Hammond. This group raised over 150 million dollars in private and public funds. The High Line was an old abandoned elevated train track that connected several warehouse buildings in the old meatpacking district. Today with an annual operating budget of $11.5 million, the Friends of the High Line maintain and run the daily operations at a cost of $5 million dollars a year.
The High Line is a surprise-it is an elevated wonderland of plants in a pastiche carefully designed and placed by master plantsman Piet Oudolf. The plants themselves are in soil that is only 16 inches deep. There are elevators that go up to the High Line for disabled access, and many volunteers gardening and counting plants along its 2.33 kilometer length. There is an amphitheatre, a water feature for children to play in, lots of public art discoveries, and plenty of people enjoying it. It is already one of the top attractions of things to do in New York City, with over seven million annual visits. Locals plan their own visits to the High Line around “peak times” on this elevated greenway. As Mitchell Silver notes, the amount of pedestrian traffic suggests that the walkway should have been wider. Cyclists and skateboarders are banned, and there are refreshment locations, benches, and lots of good people watching.
Mitchell Silver describes the High Line as the incubator for the rejuvenation and revitalization of the meatpacking district. The Google Corporation purchased the former Port Authority Building, a massive fifteen story building in this area in 2010 for their headquarters. The Google building has 2.9 million square feet (the size of two Tsawwassen Mills Malls) in its interior. There is now a hotel and the new Whitney Museum of American Art abutting the High Line. There is no doubt that the renewal of this elevated space has instigated new interest in the area.
Public Art installation on High Line by British Columbia Artist Sascha Braunig
NYC Park Commissioner Mitchell Silver, Julie Grimson, City of Sydney Australia, and Robert Hammond, Founder of the High Line. Robert is also one of the producers of “Citizen Jane”, the acclaimed documentary on Jane Jacobs.
Alex Washburn who was the Chief Urban Designer for New York City used to say candidly that if projects could be implemented in New York City with the tangle and complexity of public interests and municipal by-laws, that those projects could be considered in any other North American place too. And maybe with the experience of the New York City High Line and the new High Line like project in Seoul Korea called “Seoullo 7017” (which is reusing an old 1970’s elevated highway as a greenway to make the city more pedestrian friendly) we should be rethinking the potential use of the Vancouver Georgia Viaducts.
Perhaps reusing and readapting these urban engineering artifacts is a way to creatively rebirth new people places. New York has proven that their conservancy model works, not only in traditional landscaped parks, but in elevated engineering remnants of another urban age.
We haven’t had a good time-lapse video recently – so what better than New York City, faster than ever.
This was taken in September last year. Don’t miss the taxi montage at 1:10.
Stephen Wilkinson, still keeping up with change in NYC even though relocated to YVR, sends along this:
Times Square Redesign
Snøhetta redesigns Times Square, doubling the amount of public space. The new plaza on Broadway radically carves out 2.5 acres of pedestrian-only space at Manhattan’s core, transforming a congested vehicular district into a world-class civic space.
This is not the part of Times Square to the north that was previously pedestrianized – the location of the red-stepped TKTS booth. It’s the southern part of the bow-tie. And if you need an explanation, go this Price Tags on Times Square, published in 2009, when the above was all asphalt.
Global news describes the end of a demonstration project in New York City that installed garbage bins at subway stations. Commenced in 2011, the program expanded to have garbage containers at track level in 39 stations. The problem? The program was too successful. While the whole point was to reduce littering in subway stations, the city found that having the containers contributed to more litter, and to rats.
Of course reducing rubbish bins sounds wrong. “The notion that you’re going to be more efficient by taking away the trash cans, so therefore you won’t generate so many bags of trash to haul away — like the trash was going to magically disappear — I think that probably wasn’t the smartest judgment,” quoted State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli.” Indeed New York City found that the containers led to a higher incidence in trash fires, and depositing of trash on the tracks. And to get rid of trash on tracks? New York City has a “vacuum train”.
The anticipated solution is that everyone will carry their trash out of the station and properly deposit it on the street. With the majority of commuters in New York City used to disposable conveniences, they are used to carrying everything in their hands or buying on the go. On city streets there are lots of trash cans, just not below the ground.
To give you an idea of the size of the subway system, it has 469 stations and moves about 1.76 billion people annually.
Doug Clarke picked up on this item from Streetsblog:
People riding bicycles — both conventional and electric — are responsible for a vanishing trace of pedestrian fatalities in NYC. Drivers who speed and fail to yield remain the biggest causes of death. Yet the Midtown North precinct, which only issued 37 speeding tickets in the month of February [PDF], confiscated 38 bikes on Wednesday. …
The sting appears to be part of a citywide crackdown in the name of traffic safety.
So the couple did what countless other city dwellers with growing families and a hankering for more space or different lifestyles often do: They moved to the suburbs. Some, like the Simons, may have been priced out; others looked to cash out and take advantage of the steady run-up in property prices. …
“It’s less about the home you want to buy and more about what you’re looking for in terms of the lifestyle,” said Kathy Braddock, a managing director of William Raveis Real Estate, which recently created the Raveis Escapes website to match buyers with towns that best reflect their desired lifestyles. …
For many city residents, the decision to leave is difficult, and often fraught with a whole new set of compromises. You may be happily trading an overcrowded co-op for a commodious colonial, but you may have less time to enjoy it because of the long train ride home from work. And you’re responsible for maintaining it, rather than relying on a super. Forget, too, about hailing a cab to get you around town. …
Another important consideration: where your extended family and close friends reside. “Are they going to be part of your life? This can anchor you to an area,” Ms. Bernstein said. …
Let’s start with the tangibles. Some characteristics of a community will obviously remain constant, like the geographic composition. Others are slow to change, like the population and demographic makeup, along with the infrastructure and housing stock. …
Something to keep in mind: Communities tend to transform every 15 years or so as residents come and go, or local ordinances change. “You have to look at the young migrants,” Ms. Bernstein said. …
Now for the less tangible: discerning a community’s personality. While Ms. White was exploring Bedford, she said, she took note of interactions with the residents there. “Do they say hello on the sidewalks? What does it feel like in the grocery store?” …
“All the data is out there,” Ms. Bernstein said. “But it’s not the data that you necessarily need. Go and see the people who are sitting in the local Starbucks. Go to the preschool you’re thinking of sending your children to and see who’s picking up and dropping off.” The latter can reveal whether the community is made up of families with stay-at-home mothers or commuting couples. …
You can typically afford a lot more square footage in the suburbs, which is one of the reasons city dwellers decide to leave. The median sale price for a home in Westchester, for instance, was $438,000 at the end of last year, compared with $1.050 million for co-ops and condominiums in Manhattan and $750,000 in Brooklyn, according to the appraiser Jonathan J. Miller of Miller Samuel. …
Then there are the hidden costs buyers might not have considered before their move. “Some people may not be getting much more when you look at the longer commute, higher property taxes and additional upkeep on their property,” Ms. Bernstein said. “It’s not necessarily always cheaper living in the suburbs.”
The Simons, who paid $1.05 million for their Upper Montclair house, had to buy two cars after their move. Other unanticipated costs included the need to replace the hot water heater, fix a gas leak and buy a new stove, washing machine and dryer. …
Technology has changed the way some people evaluate commuting times. Because more people’s jobs allow them to telecommute, it may not be as crucial to live near a transit hub, which can open up more purchasing possibilities. Mr. Peschiera, for one, regularly works from home part of the week.
For those with less flexibility, having a good commute — one that is an hour or less each way and with more than one transportation option — can be invaluable. Agents, though, recommend that buyers try out the commute during peak hours to get a better gauge.
Adam Van Fossen, 30, a marketing director for a tech start-up, said that having a reasonable commute was a major factor in his decision … “I’ll really miss the fast commute that I have now,” he said. “It was only a 15-minute subway ride.”
Conclusion: In some ways, good frequent transit is more important to the lifestyle of the suburban commuter – and hence housing prices – than the city dweller who has choices. Odd that the debate seems to often assume the opposite.
In my TEDx Talk on the Transformative Power of Walking I noted the importance of benches in making places for people to be sociable, feel accepted on the street, and to people watch, a very important human activity. I also cited a study completed by New York City’s Department of Transportation that showed that placing benches outside retail stores increased sales volumes by 14 per cent at the adjacent storefronts.
BBC’s Katie Shepherd examines an encouraging trend in North America where municipalities are now encouraging the placement of benches as a welcoming gesture outside of stores. Such actions by individual shop keepers often is the first step (no pun intended) to how to create a more coherent and customer friendly commercial area.
“American cities have an excess of roadway space,” says Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris, an urban planning professor at the University of California, Los Angeles. The street seats movement aims to reclaim some of that road for the pedestrian” by making public space active and vibrant.
“In Washington, DC, the annual Park(ing) Day celebration, in which businesses and community organisers build temporary parks in metered parking spots, inspired a program to allow permanent parklets to be installed in approved spots along the District’s streets. Inside these new parklets, businesses put out benches and chairs for their customers and the public to use whenever tired feet need a rest.” New York City has two established programs encouraging public seating for transit riders and pedestrians, especially the elderly. In a program called “CityBench” the Department of Transportation reimburses businesses for public bench installation. Over 1,500 benches have been added by storekeepers so far. And, as in the case of New York City, taking out a parking lane of City Street for benches improves businesses’ bottom line.
“Portland runs a “street seat” programme that has inspired eclectic designs – from benches that look like giant lawn chairs to seats that double as planters reminiscent of grassy hillsides. “Community engagement, that’s what made them really popular and really fun,” said Leah Treat, director for the Portland Bureau of Transportation.”
Where is Vancouver’s program supportive of increased seating in commercial areas? Is this something that can be themed or provide a whimsical gesture to the street? Seniors say we don’t have enough benches for the elderly in the commercial areas. Would this be a good place to start?
So what happens if there is a pedestrian “bridge” placed over a street between two buildings and those buildings have a change of use or are demolished? The New York Times explores this in the little bridge built in 1989 that connected Trinity Church at Broadway and Wall to a 25 storey parish house across the street at 74 Trinity Place. That parish house was demolished last year leaving this-rather significantly-as the bridge to nowhere.
Because the nearest crosswalk was over 200 feet away, it was decided that a bridge was needed to help parishioners cross. The bridge is made of steel but takes its reference from “the design of a cast-iron pedestrian footbridge that was constructed in 1866 outside St. Paul’s Chapel, a few blocks north of Trinity Church but within its parish.” Because the bridge was historically informed it has been treated as a significant item by the Landmarks Commission and will be reintegrated with the rebuilding of a new $300 million, 26-story parish building designed by Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects.
“Scripture tells us that faith is the evidence of things not seen,” the Rev. Dr. William Lupfer, Trinity’s rector, said. “The new Trinity parish hall will soon serve this community, neighborhood, and the City of New York for a fourth century.”
… there is one problem autonomous driving is unlikely to solve: the columns of rush-hour gridlock that clog city streets and freeways. If decades of urban planning and economic research are any guide, the solution is unlikely to come from technology but from something similar to Uber’s surge pricing: charging people more to use driverless cars at rush hour.
Not that technology companies aren’t trying to find other solutions to congestion. Traffic is one of the few problems that fabulously wealthy people can’t buy their way out of. …
These various technologies share a common theme. One way or another, they promise to expand the nation’s roads ….
Decades’ worth of studies show that whenever cities add roads, new drivers simply fill them up. This isn’t because of new development or population growth — although that’s part of the story — but because of a vicious cycle in which new roads bring new demand that no amount of further roads can satisfy.
This has been studied at rush hour, studied on individual freeway projects and studied with large data sets that encompass nearly every road in the United States. With remarkable consistency, the research finds the same thing: Whenever a road is built or an older road is widened, more people decide to drive more. Build more or widen further, and even more people decide to drive. Repeat to infinity.
Economists call this latent demand, which is a fancy way of saying there are always more people who want to drive somewhere than there is space for them to do it. So far anyway, nothing cities have done to increase capacity has ever sped things up.
The extent of this failure was chronicled in a 2011 paper called “The Fundamental Law of Road Congestion,” by the economists Gilles Duranton, from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, and Matthew Turner, from Brown University. …
That’s where charging people during busy times comes in. “Maybe autonomous cars will be different from other capacity expansions,” Mr. Turner said. “But of the things we have observed so far, the only thing that really drives down travel times is pricing.” …
Architecture critic Martin Filler eviscerates the World Trade Centre development in NYC in this long and worthwhile article from the New York Review of Books; readers who care only somewhat about Manhattan will still enjoy the Battle Royal between architects, developers, politicians and, indeed, critics.
Filler reviews three books on the subject, and at one point quotes Lynne Sagalyn: “This was not city building. Architecture may be art and city building calls for art-like understanding of the fabric of a place, but a city is not a blank canvas to paint at will…”
Filler has never been a fan of Santiago Calatrava: “The most architecturally ambitious portion of the ensemble, Santiago Calatrava’s World Trade Center Transportation Hub (commonly called the Oculus), opened to the public in March 2016, though with no fanfare whatever, doubtless to avoid drawing further attention to this stupendous waste of public funds. The job took twelve years to finish instead of the five originally promised, and part of its exorbitant $4 billion price will be paid by commuters in the form of higher transit fares. The fortune spent on this kitschy jeu d’esprit—nearly twice its already unconscionable initial estimate of $2.2 billion—is even more outrageous for a facility that serves only 40,000 commuters on an average weekday, as opposed to the 750,000 who pass through Grand Central Terminal daily. Astoundingly, the Transportation Hub wound up costing $1 billion more than One World Trade Center itself.”
Is there a cautionary tale here for Vancouver and the nascent plan to redo the downtown waterfront, including expanding Waterfront Station into a larger, more effective transit hub?
“Millennials of New York” Hilariously Parodies the Melodramas of Generation Y
“My therapist told me it was important to start being nicer to myself. I realized she was right. Now I make sure to like all my Instagram posts the second they hit 11.”
“There is no such thing as white privilege. Look, I’ve had more than a few run-ins with the police, and they’re not very nice to me either. I mean just last weekend I drunkenly grabbed a cop’s gun, and even though I was obviously joking, he called me ‘incredibly irresponsible,’ and was, like, super stern and passive aggressive the entire time he was giving me a ride home.”
“The Internet has had a profound effect on our way of life, and our laws should keep pace with the rapid changes in culture and technology. For example, you should be allowed to press charges against anyone who tries to hold your phone when you go to show them something on it. Like, I’m just trying to share this picture of Joe Biden eating ice cream, not explain why I have 183 toilet selfies saved to my camera roll.”
“The Trump campaign has a lot in common with the tattoo of Tila Tequila I got in college – at first it was supposed to be ironic, but everyone stopped finding it funny after a couple of weeks, and now there is nothing I can do to get rid of it.”
Back in January 2002, Clarence Eckerson (now of Streetfilms) recorded his commute and what it was like to ride in Brooklyn and Manhattan on the very best existing – but mostly troubled – bike lanes in NYC. Highlight timing here.
As first reported in the Boston Globe you can almost hear what Donald Trump said about the 22 foot long public bench that sits below the elevators in the corridor of New York City’s Fifth Avenue Trump Tower.
In 1979 New York City granted Trump the right to build 200,000 square feet beyond what was allowed under the zoning with the proviso that he also provided “an 8,000-square-foot public atrium on street and lower levels, two outdoor landscaped terraces totaling 7,000 square feet, a passageway to public space in the adjacent IBM building, and extra retail. Under this deal, the atrium had to be open to the public seven days a week, from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. ” Trump also had to agree to movable tables and chairs, bathrooms, landscaping, a waterfall-and the 22 foot long bench.
But there was a problem-the public sat on the bench.
“We have had tremendous difficulties with respect to the bench,” he wrote. “Drug addicts, vagrants, et cetera have come to the Atrium in large numbers to sit and, in fact, to sleep on this bench. . . . Therefore, we have placed beautiful seasonal flowers and plantings around this area and have since had no problems.”
What Donald Trump didn’t say is that the “beautiful seasonal flowers and plantings” were placed ON the bench, meaning that no one could sit on the bench. When complaints meant that the plants had to be removed, the public could use the bench again. But then the bench disappeared replaced by a booth selling Trump memorabilia. City inspections and a $14,000 fine brought the bench back in July of last year, now metal instead of the original marble.
And now, the bench has a purpose. “Each morning, the bench fills with journalists and their cameras as they record who rides up and down the elevators to meet with Trump or his transition team. Many of these visitors come over to the bench and chat about the latest developments. The ubiquitous television shot of the elevator doors opening and closing comes from a camera placed above the bench…Now, the little bench that could is serving the public interest in ways never imagined by those who sketched it on the plan so many years ago.”
Dna info reports that the New York City Police Department is finding it challenging to have a President-elect living in New York City. “The massive NYPD presence around Trump Tower is costing the city millions of dollars, which has yet to be reimbursed by the federal government, to the alarm of Mayor Bill de Blasio and local elected officials.”
But Janette Sadik-Khan has an elegant solution which she shared with the New York Times. Donald Trump lives at Trump Tower at Fifth Avenue and 56th Street, the same five lane Fifth Avenue “that joins the New York Public Library, the Empire State Building and Rockefeller Center, as well as numerous cathedrals of commerce, tourism and high-end retail. Because the avenue is such a popular destination, retail floor space there rents for $3,000 per square foot a year, the highest price in the world, more than double the cost of similar space along the Champs Élysées. It seems appropriate that gold is a popular color for building facades on Fifth.”
As people flow through this area of Fifth Avenue in their day-to-day activities, the street and sidewalk movement has been challenging due to the required police officers and secret service agents near the Trump Tower. And New Yorkers are unhappy “The motorcades and security restrictions that will result will permanently paralyze the city’s streets. The swearing-in hasn’t even happened, but the swearing has already started: New Yorkers want their Fifth Avenue back.”
Ms. Sadik-Khan sees this as an opportunity to not close Fifth Avenue but to “reclaim” Fifth as a “pedestrian street, free of private vehicular traffic but shared with mass transit. The change, which should span the stretch of the avenue from Central Park to the Empire State Building at 34th Street, would create a truly American public space: an entirely new civic platform at the nation’s new center of political gravity.” Since commercial vehicles are already banned from Fifth Avenue, two lanes would be reserved for buses, and the other three lanes could be dedicated for pedestrians. New York has already proven that streets that accommodate more people are great for business bottom lines.
“New Yorkers get their street back, the federal government gets a zone that would make the job of protecting the president easier, and President Trump gets a public space he can call his own.“
It would be a win-win all around.
As reported in Streetsblog the State of New York’s Court of Appeals has made a landmark ruling that may have implications across the U.S.-“New York City and other municipalities can be held liable for failing to redesign streets with a history of traffic injuries and reckless driving.”
The ruling arises from the consideration of a crash where a vehicle being driven over 50 miles per hour in a 30 mile per hour zone crashed into a 12-year-old boy on a bicycle and the boy has been awarded 20 million dollars in damages. Here’s the interesting part –“The court held that departments of transportation (DOT) can be held liable for harm caused by speeding drivers, where the DOT fails to install traffic-calming measures even though it is aware of dangerous speeding, unless the DOT has specifically undertaken a study and determined that traffic calming is not required.”
It turns out that residents had asked the City several times to provide traffic calming measures on Gerritsen Street, which was locally known for speeding vehicles. DOT subsequently conducted studies at three intersections, according to court documents, and “notified police of the speeding problem after each study.” But DOT didn’t look at the incidence of speeding along Gerritsen Avenue as a whole, and failed to look at traffic calming measures to slow down vehicles.
The judge commented: It is known among traffic engineers that straight, wide roads with little interference from pedestrians and other vehicles, such as Gerritsen Avenue, encourage speeding because drivers feel more comfortable on roadways with those characteristics…traffic calming measures deter speeding because they cause drivers to be more cautious, and that such measures are known to reduce the overall speed on roadways.” The upshot? The jury could conclude that “negligence was a proximate cause of the accident”.
Such a ruling will mean that city budgets will include funding for street safety redesigns, and will mean that traffic safety improvements are no longer “subject to debate and contingent on unanimous local opinion.” It also means that in New York State when traffic calming is recommended in studies to reduce road violence,that the municipality is encumbered to install the infrastructure. This is truly a game changer.
If you hit the above link, you can watch a 360 degree video of the artist walking through the park, explaining why it is “the best park on this planet”. He also describes those aspects of urbanism that makes parks special for him-“People here are great. They are smart, friendly, and they read books”.
Besides the High Line in New York City, this report from Wired describes the “Low Line” , the initiative from former Google and NASA employees to build a 450 square meter underground park in an abandoned underground trolley terminal. Expanding on their indoor Lowline Lab which has had nearly 75000 visitors, the new initiative proposes the world’s first underground park, complete with a forest, water features, and plants.
“The Lowline’s skylight system uses external Sun-tracking parabolic dishes to gather and concentrate sunlight to 30 times its regular intensity. Internal optics filter out the hot rays, and the incoming sunlight is then distributed in a modulated way, to suit the vegetation – including exotic plants, mosses and hops. “Tropical species do best, but flowering varieties have also done very well,” says Barasch, one of the founders.
If approved, ten million dollars is needed for the investment and city approval. The goal for opening the world’s first underground park is 2021.
This article from Next City shows what happens when you have a very successful walking city like New York City. Those sidewalks get full and people spill onto the streets, which is not a good thing with traffic in the way.
Recently a city councillor introduced a bill that would require NYC DOT to study 10 locations with heavy pedestrian traffic and come up with a plan to alleviate the overcrowding. New York’s pedestrian fatalities sound staggering-over 85 pedestrians killed out of a population of 8.5 million and 7,000 injured since the start of the year-or one fatality for every 100,0000 population. (Just a quick note that Vancouver has a worse record with 11 pedestrian deaths this year and with a population of 603,000 has had one fatality for every 54,800 population) .
With Vision Zero in New York City Council is talking about a new era where pedestrian (and of course tourism by foot) gets priority. “Streets and sidewalks are 80 percent of public space in the city,” says Caroline Samponaro, deputy director for Transportation Alternatives. “This bill really gets at the importance of really making the most equitable, sane use of that public space. Many of our streets and sidewalks haven’t changed in more than 50 years even as travel habits and patterns have changed. We need to be able to do more than just stay alive while walking and biking,” she explains. “I think this bill calls that out in a good way. It forces the city to keep doing what they’re doing with pedestrian safety, but also push beyond that and think about what we are doing to make really dynamic public spaces.”
So it’s not just about using the street as transport whether you are on bike or foot, but actually using the space as public space to go to and linger in. Widening pedestrian spaces, providing places to sit in, and making a high quality pedestrian environment that everyone wants to use.
There’s still no date for when this bill will be going forward to New York City Council, but you can be sure it will be actively followed by many across North America, looking for groundbreaking ways to enact Vision Zero and enhanced walkability in our cities and spaces.