A Recent History of Bike Lanes in the U.S.

May 13, 2014

As frustratingly slow as Ecocity change seems to be at times, good people are working on good projects all the time. Look no further than the streets of San Francisco at the astounding development of bike infrastructure there. In the past 5 years designated bike lanes, bulb-outs and the like have exploded. Riding “The Wiggle”–a winding path that avoids the steepest hills between downtown and the Panhandle–has gone from a terrifying race through speeding traffic on Market, Oak and Fell streets, to a much saner and more accessible protected bike lane route. The signature green paint and share-os of bike lanes seem to multiply every week.

San Francisco’s rapid development of cycling infrastructure is no accident, and is not simply the work of Bicycle Coalition lobbying. The Fog City is part of a network of cities organized by the Department of Transportation called PeopleForBikes Green Lane Project. The Green Lane Project creates a bridge (and funding opportunities) for bike advocacy groups and city governments to work together to improve urban biking conditions. Selected cities receive up to $250,000 of financial, strategic and technical assistance from the project for building protected bike lanes.

In cities across America, investing in bicycle transportation is transitioning from an add-on catering to few cyclist hobbyists to an essential component of citizen transportation. In the last two years, the number of protected lane projects in the country has nearly doubled, reports Streetsblog. According to the Green Lane Project, 48% of all trips in the U.S. are 4 miles or less–a perfectly acceptable cycling distance for most riders. Protected bike lanes not only protect riders, but shave been shown to reduce traffic crashes for all street users by 34%. Dividers, bulb-outs, and other road development “help to make drivers more aware of their surroundings and more cautious.”

The payoff on cycling investment continues beyond the safety and enjoyment of the cycling experience to addressing pressing needs for urban transportation in the coming years.

“When you have a swelling population like the USA has and will have for the next 35 years, one of the most cost-effective ways to better fit that population is to better use the existing grid,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx at a recent Green Lane Project gathering. Bikes are part of the solution to a highway trust fund that is “teetering toward insolvency” by August or September, he said.

Six U.S. cities–Austin, Chicago, Memphis, Portland, San Francisco and Washington, DC–began the Green Lane Project in 2012. This April the partner cities expanded to include Atlanta,  Boston, Denver, Indianapolis, Pittsburgh and Seattle.

To celebrate the new city partners, the Green Lane Project has released a short film highlighting the advances in cycling infrastructure of the last few years. Enjoy!

The Rise of Protected Bike Lanes in the U.S. from Green Lane Project on Vimeo.


Active Design Awards: 7 projects keeping people (and the environment) healthy

April 22, 2014

Partially reblogged from http://centerforactivedesign.org/2014awardwinners

Center for Active Design: Excellence

Recognizing design that can make people healthier and happier is the goal of a recent awards by The Center for Active Design, an organization launched in New York City in 2013 by the Bloomberg Administration’s Obesity Task Force. This week the Center announced the first every winners of the Excellence in Active Design award competition. The competition intends to publicize and recognize the role of design in addressing preventable disease by encouraging physical activity through the design of buildings and public space.

A jury of design and health professionals selected four winning projects and two honorable mentions for the Center for Active Design Excellence award according to the checklists found in the Active Design Guidelines, published in 2010. Preference was given to projects with research studies of proven impact. The jury also acknowledged the extent to which cross-sector and community collaboration were required in order to realize the results achieved. The Leadership in Active Design Excellence award recognizes an early adopter of Active Design with an established track record of Active Design implementation. All winning projects exemplify innovation in the implementation of Active Design, the press release states.

The Center was pleased to see projects submitted for review came from regions well beyond its hometown of New York City, spanning the US from New Mexico to Washington, Virginia to Texas, and countries from Argentina to Denmark. This strong showing is evidence that Active Design is growing nationally and internationally as designers are more knowledgeable of the health affects of their work.

Award recipients will be recognized at “Celebrate Active Design”, to be held in New York City on May 19, 2014. The fundraising event is open to the public from 7pm – 9pm. For more information on purchasing tickets, please click here.

Read on to find out more about these projects! Read the rest of this entry »


Learning from the European Green Capitals

April 2, 2014

by Rick Pruetz, FAICP
A Planning Practice Special Feature — Practicing Planner — Spring 2014

American Planning Association logo

Anyone interested in planning sustainable communities can gain insight and inspiration from the first five cities to win the title of European Green Capital. For each of the past five years, the European Commission has named one city its Green Capital as a way of recognizing and promoting cities aiming to reduce their ecological footprint. To win this prize, cities submit applications and are judged by a panel of experts on accomplishments in 12 criteria: climate change mitigation and adaptation, local transport, green urban areas, nature and biodiversity, air quality, noise, waste management, water management, waste water treatment, eco innovations, energy, and integrated environmental management.

This article focuses on the diverse ways in which these five winners create networks of green space and nature. In addition to the inherent value of protecting habitat and ecosystems, success in these two criteria promote success in most if not all of the other criteria. For example, greenways and greenbelts benefit water management, reduce energy consumption by offering non-motorized transportation alternatives, and can be used to shape compact cities with efficient public transportation and other infrastructure. These five Green Capitals also illustrate the importance of using green areas and nature to help create inviting cities where people want to live.
Read the rest of this entry »


Ecocity Insights: Healthy Biodiversity

April 1, 2014

By Jennie Moore, Director Sustainable Development and Environment Stewardship
BCIT School of Construction and the Environment

 

Biodiversity refers to the vast array of species, both flora and fauna, that populate the Earth. Their interactions create the ecosystems upon which we depend, characterized by various biomes including: deserts, rainforests, grasslands, and coral reefs (Newman and Jennings 2008).

Healthy biodiversity needs intact nutrient cycles, no net loss of soils, and no accumulation of pollutants (in soil, air or water). Although approximately 12% of Earth’s wild places have been dedicated as natural reserves, global change processes, including climate change, mean that the systemic conditions needed for these places to thrive are being undermined. Biodiversity losses are being driven in part by urbanization processes that fragment natural habitats and nutrient cycles, deplete soils and aquifers, and increase pollution levels (Newman and Jennings 2008).

To achieve the “Ecocity: Level 1 Condition” requires that the geo-physical and socio-cultural features of a city are in harmony with its surrounding bioregion (www.ecocitystandards.org). This means that indigenous flora and fauna are allowed to flourish. Equally important, ecocities do not draw down the resources or increase pollution levels in areas outside the bioregion either. This could happen through trade imbalances and/or taking advantage of global common resources, such as the waste sink capacities of oceans and atmosphere. Therefore, ecocities are concerned both with preserving and enabling healthy biodiversity in their bioregion as well as in the world generally.

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The ecocity vision includes tightly clustered development immediately adjacent to naturally preserved areas (Register 2006). This allows people to experience nature at their doorstep despite living in high-density urban environments. Ecocities also utilize clean and renewable energy and responsible resources and materials that do not contribute to the destruction of natural habitat in their extraction nor the accumulation of toxics in their manufacture, use and disposal. Finally, by ensuring healthy and accessible food, ecocities also help to protect soils while keeping citizens well nourished.

References:

Newman, Peter and Isabella Jennings. 2008. Cities as Sustainable Ecosystems: Principles and Practices. Washington DC: Island Press.

Register, Richard. 2006. Ecocities: Redesigning Cities in Balance with Nature. Gabriola BC: New Society Publishers.

 

The British Colombia Institute of Technology School of Construction and the Environment is Lead Sponsor of the International Ecocity Framework and Standards Initiative.

 


A big step forward for Oakland

April 4, 2013

Growing up near downtown Oakland, Lake Merritt was never a destination for me. My family went to Fairyland once and a while, and I have hazy memories of paddle boating. I remember a lot of bird droppings and the fruity stench of stagnant, brackish water. I heard that they pulled a dead body out of there once.

Lake Merritt, surrounded by its string of pearl lights at night, is now one of my favorite destinations in the Bay Area, and I’m lucky to live right above it near the Grand Lake Theater. Oakland City Officials and residents recognized the wisdom in restoring this civic gem when they proposed measure DD, a $198.25 million bond measure that included waterfront improvements at Lake Merritt and the Estuary. In November 2002, over 80% of Oakland voters passed Measure DD and work began, slowly and haltingly, two years later.

The Lake Merritt Master Plan is an inspiringly ambitious civic vision that allocates money towards landscaping, habitat and stream restoration, improving water quality in Lake Merritt, widening pedestrian and cycling paths and building better roadways to calm traffic around the lake. Measure DD Program Manager Joel Peter calls it “the most wide-ranging and complex series of projects ever undertaken by the City of Oakland.” It’s been a long project. Over ten years later, work is still being done (and is overdue) on the Estuary connection and new 12th Street bypass. But so far it is an incredible success. Visit the lake any time of day and you’ll see a cross section of Oakland jogging, playing, walking, picnicking, and relaxing in the sun.

We take so much time to complain about what is wrong with our cities–it’s equally important to celebrate and give thanks when things are done right. These successes often fly under the radar, especially in cities with as many problems as Oakland.

Here are five reasons to be excited about the Lake Merritt Master plan:

1. Restored walking and jogging paths

The walk around Lake Merritt used to be plagued with potholes. Many parts of it have been repaved and girdled with native and drought-tolerant landscaping. Some completely new sections of the path include a packed-earth lane for joggers.

2. Bike paths

The entire lake can now be circumnavigated on bike paths. The East Bay Bicycle Coalition along with TransForm are also working on connecting other existing bike paths to the lake to serve as a bike transit hub.

4. Reduced car traffic

The four lane road around the lake has been reduced to two and complimented with generously landscaped medians. The South end of the lake used to be a 12 lane street. That’s right: practically a highway. Planners cut those lanes by half and put them on an elevated bridge, accompanied by bike lanes and an adjunct foot bridge. A small park now stands between the road and the lake.

5. Reconnecting the Estuary

Lake Merritt was originally part of a tidal flat that was cut off from the estuary to create a more aesthetically pleasing lake. The destruction of the 12 lane road at the South end has connected the lake with the neck of the Lake Merritt Channel, and in the next two years a few more culverts will be removed to finally reunite it with the Estuary. This will allow the natural tidal system to operate freely in the lake for the first time in over 140 years.

Mayor Jean Quan celebrates the opening of the Lake Merritt Channel.

“Lake” Merritt and Alameda “Island” area circa 1800.

3. Wetland restoration

Lake Merritt became America’s first wildlife sanctuary in 1870, which unfortunately coincided with the slow destruction of the wetlands that supported the wildlife. The estuary reconnection mentioned above includes plans for a park and wetland restoration. Additional landscaping around the lake is recreating marshy areas and serving as natural management systems for storm water runoff, called bioswales.

Bioswale (in the background) and living roof.

The Lake Merritt Master Plan is reuniting Oaklanders with nature and the ancient Bay environment, hopefully to the great benefit of both. Go check it out for yourself!

Read more:

Polishing Oakland’s Crown Jewel, KQED.com

Oakland Lake Merritt Master Plan

Gateway to the Bay reopened, SFgate.com


Good ideas: Three ways to rethink parking

February 25, 2013

Like it or not, cars have, are and will be an integral part of our urban experience for years yet. Making them more energy efficient and moving them more sustainably are important issues in urban design. At the same time, this is only half the story. Well, actually, only 5% of the story. UCLA professor Donald Shoup has calculated that our cars are in motion only 5% of the day, meaning they are parked 95% of the time.

Here are three ways in which parking is being transformed from the concrete wasteland of yesterday to functional, sustainable and more user-friendly spaces. Read the rest of this entry »


CityBuzz: The “Mushroom Garden” underground park

January 19, 2013

The High Line Park in Manhattan–an old elevated railway transformed into a snaking park trail–has officially sparked a frenzy of excitement about rehabilitating old transit areas into green space, even through the idea has actually been around for a while (Paris’s Promenade Plantée debuted in 1993). But what happens when you’ve got an out of commission rail line–underground?

The defunct “Mail Rail” tunnel — a narrow gauge railway used for transporting mail around London–closed in 2003 and UK’s Landscape Institute, in partnership with the Mayor of London and the Garden Museum, has run a design competition to decide what to do with it. The 170 entries included some wonderfully creative ideas, from public swimming area to rehabilitated wetlands and a floating park. The winner: London-based Fletcher Priest Architects created a plan to turn the tunnels into an urban mushroom farm and pedestrian stroll. The pedestrian walkway would be lit at street level by glass-fiber, mushroom-shaped sculptures and the ‘shroom crop could supply pop-up “Funghi” cafes at the tunnel’s entrance and exit.

Check out the plans for the “Pop Down” here: http://www.fletcherpriest.com/High-Line-for-London/competitions/. Fungi are truly wonderful and under-appreciated organisms. In addition to providing food and visual delight for the visitors, the colony can help clean toxins from the soil. This is a wonderfully creative concept for a public park and truly unique–hopefully it will will be built!


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