Oculus - Winter 2011/2012 - (Page 21)
Architects “Do” Density: How Can They Tie It to Transportation?
B Y J A MES S . RU S S ELL, FA IA
f you want to know transportation’s future, take a stroll in Riverside Park. Its significance lies not just in its picturesque vignettes and stone-arched bridges. It’s also in the graceful and unobtrusive accommodation of a four-lane highway and the two-track railroad that runs in a tunnel underneath. Architectural engineer Clifton Lloyd, working for infrastructure tsar Robert Moses, designed the park and highway, and buried the rail line (1936). It immeasurably improved Frederick Law Olmsted’s 1880s Riverside Drive. Can this combination of amenity and value be imagined along any recently built highway? Today the idea that a park and a highway can share the same landscape is anathema in departments of transportation nationwide. Add a waterside bike path? A railroad? Impossible. Of course it’s impossible if we don’t look at what makes such an integration of multiple modes possible and total up the benefits. Architects are well positioned to visualize these possibilities. The time is right. Cities are succeeding and growing by layering different kinds of transportation – rails, bus rapid transit, streetcars, bike lanes. Here are openings for architects willing to master the intricacies and design such projects so that they fit communities, engaging people rather than alienating them. Connecting density with transportation should not be rocket science, but it’s surprisingly difficult to do in our region. Because of the way funding and bureaucracies work, projects continue to be conceived in isolation, no matter what the benefits sacrificed. The design of the ill-fated Trans-Hudson Tunnel, besides providing meager passenger accommodations at its Manhattan terminus, barely recognized the presence of Penn Station, a block away. The integrative nature of Complete Streets, for example, plays to architects’ strengths – not just their ability to weave together pedestrians, bikes, buses, and rails, but the fact that they can create amenity in the process. For all the talk, few truly
“complete” streets have been built in America, and too often they take the form of a painted bike lane and some scruffy shrubbery flopping into a crosswalk. I believe the widespread acceptance of bike lanes in New York – high-profile protests notwithstanding – comes as much from making the street a more civilized place as it does from making biking viable and safe. The Fordham Plaza Reconstruction featured in this issue moves those lessons learned to the bus-rapid-transit stage. The issue also shows how other infrastructure-building agencies have begun to see the potential of architectural design to melt resistance by wary neighborhoods. There’s another role for architects: lobbying for design leadership at the huge agencies that shape our region. The change in leadership at both the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and at the Metropolitan Transportation Authority opens up the opportunity to embed planning and design expertise at a more fundamental level. Former PANYNJ Executive Director Chris Ward helped build the Port Authority’s capacity to manage very complex projects after the traumatic and hapless post-9/11 years. With his departure, the agency must learn how to turn the expertise hard-won at the World Trade Center to the extraordinary challenges of the airports and the all-but-moribund Moynihan Station. Similarly, the MTA deserves a stable source of funds for operations and capital maintenance so it can get on with essential strategic planning and more effective use of design. Historically, architects have been shut out of transportation design. So people will question the role architects can play. When they do, just walk them through Riverside Park.
James S. Russell, FAIA, is the editorial advisor for Oculus. He is the architecture critic at Bloomberg News. His book, The Agile City: Building Wellbeing and Wealth in an Era of Climate Change, was recently published by Island Press.
Snøhetta/Mathews Nielsen/WXY Architecture + Urban Design: Times Square Reconstruction Project
22 Rezoning NYC: The Ultimate Challenge 26 From NIMBY to YIMBY 30 Complete Streets: If Only Mumford Had Lived to See This 34 Regional Transit: The Next Generation
Up, Down, and Sideways
Winter 2011 Oculus
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Oculus - Winter 2011/2012
A Word from the Editor
Center for Architecture
One Block Over
From NIMBY to YIMBY
Complete Streets: If Only Mumford Had Lived to See This
Regional Transit: The Next Generation
Index to Advertisers
Oculus - Winter 2011/2012