Oculus - Winter 2011/2012 - (Page 30)

feature Complete Streets: If Only Mumford Had Lived to See This As Complete Streets gains institutional traction, three key nodes in NYC’s transit network illustrate how the right-of-way can be more than a thoroughfare BY BILL MILLA RD ewis Mumford probably said it best in My Works and Days (1979): “Forget the damned motor car and build the cities for lovers and friends.” Through the 20th century most of the U.S. ignored him, building for motorists and letting everyone else be...well, maybe not damned, but choked, run down, intimidated, and excluded. Wherever the historical pendulum has swung too far toward automobility, lovers of walking and friends of urbanity have lamented the effects on the quality of life. It’s taken awhile, but cities are recognizing Mumford’s prescience and giving that pendulum a healthy shove in the other direction by means of built forms, spaces, design standards, and public policy. Complete Streets, a philosophy embedded in PlaNYC 2030 and written into New York State law last August, returns the public right-of-way to the whole public for movement, social life, informal commerce, and free expression. “All public spaces, especially ones that are plazas and don’t have cars driving through them, are a field for democratic activity, an expression of what is shared between us,” says WXY Architecture + Urban Design Principal Claire Weisz, AIA. New designs that reclaim civic space, notes Department of Transportation (DOT) Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan, also boost local economic development, strengthening a city’s workforce appeal. “Capital these days can go anywhere,” she says. “Jobs go anywhere. And so it really is a competitiveness strategy, an investment program that maximizes the quality of life in cities, and that means having a holistic approach to the streets.” This sensibility reflects a long-brewing convergence of ideas, interests, and discoveries (see sidebar, pg. 29). Despite noisy naysaying, the Complete Streets movement is more than a mayoral obsession or an upscale recreational indulgence. It has earned its momentum. L It’s for everybody Since 2006, the DOT has created 280 miles of bike lanes, which also benefit pedestrians by slowing vehicles down. A 2010 DOT study credited the bike lanes with a 40% reduction in “KSI crashes” (indicating accidents in which pedestrians were killed or severely injured). A coalition of medical professionals cosigned a letter commending the administration for programs that reduce accidents, obesity, and asthma: pedestrian plazas, Safe Routes to School, Safe Streets for Seniors, Summer Streets, greenways, and car-free hours in parks. “The city’s policies are 30 Oculus Winter 2011 saving lives,” says Kate Slevin, executive director of the Tri-State Transportation Council (TSTC). “And that should be taken very seriously by everyone critiquing the agency.” Complete Streets originated among cycling supporters, but it has expanded far beyond bikes. It conceives the public right-ofway as a space that welcomes all users – pedestrians, cyclists, seniors, children, transit riders, and the differently abled – not just motorists. It means optimizing diverse street functions: stormwater drainage, thermal control, public gatherings. The most complete streets incorporate green infrastructure, multimodal transport, and pedestrian space. In some sites, inexpensive tweaks with paint, signage, seating, pedestrian islands, bus-boarder bulbouts, and traffic-calming bumps or chicanes bring beneficial changes. These adjustments shift space-use patterns away from favoritism toward the cars and respect occupants who aren’t interested in speed. “Seating is a very important part of active design,” notes Weisz, whose firm’s flexibly contoured “zipper” benches appear at downtown’s New Amsterdam Plein and Pavilion and will soon be installed at Astor Place. “People will go outdoors if they have a target.” The full expression of Complete Streets, however, goes beyond right-of-way and reflects planning on a communitywide, regional, or higher level. “The underlying philosophy is managing mobility in all its forms,” says Rob Lane, senior fellow for urban design at the Regional Planning Association. “You can’t separate what happens in the street from larger land-use patterns.” The critical points for encouraging density and green design are the mode-transfer sites, he says, “a whole nested series of connections, from high-speed rail to regional rail to subways and buses to express buses to biking.” Much of Lane’s work focuses on the outer boroughs and suburbs, sites of high population and employment growth over the past decade. “Tri-State gets some credit for this,” he notes: Complete Streets thinking “has filtered into the culture at the county- and townplanning levels.” Times Square: function and flash in the big bowtie At the “Crossroads of the World” between 42nd and 47th Streets, design changes have translated the slogan “think globally, act locally” into tangible forms. Pedestrianization, SadikKhan observes, not only created a safe space but stimulated commerce. “When we put Complete Streets down, it is good Up, Down, and Sideways http://www.naylornetwork.com/arc-nxt

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Oculus - Winter 2011/2012

First Words
A Word from the Editor
Center for Architecture
One Block Over
Rezoning NYC:
Complete Streets: If Only Mumford Had Lived to See This
Regional Transit: The Next Generation
In Print
102-Year Watch
Last Words
Index to Advertisers

Oculus - Winter 2011/2012