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Beneath the High Line

Today, the New York Times had a great opinion piece by Jeremiah Moss titled Disney World on the Hudson: In the Shadows of the High Line.

The High Line is a public park built on top of a former elevated train line and currently runs through The Meatpacking District, West Chelsea and Clinton/Hell’s Kitchen neighborhoods of Manhattan. The elevated track was built in the 1930’s carrying meat and other goods into The Meatpacking District but the last train powered through in 1980. After sitting abandoned and overgrown for decades, the track was slated for demolition but two community residents had greater ambitions for the space  and they started the Friends of the High Line organization garnering support for the reuse of the space as a public park. The High Line park, which opened in 2009, is often looked at as a model reuse project and has been equally adored and despised residents, urban planners and national and international visitors.
The High Line. Photo by Anna Peccianti

The High Line. Photo by Anna Peccianti

The High Line. Photo by Anna Peccianti

The High Line. Photo by Anna Peccianti

The High Line. Photo by Anna Peccianti

The High Line. Photo by Anna Peccianti

For me, the High Line is an innovative and unique reuse project, but one that also embodies exclusivity. The 1.45-mile-long park is located in a mostly swanky area of Manhattan, surrounded by chic shops and restaurants, expensive food trucks and sits literally high above the street (which can be an issue when elevated spaces can feel unwelcoming and exclusive). The park is accessible to some visitors by mulitiple stairways and less-abled visitors (or those encumbered with strollers for example) can access the long and winding park by select elevators. But those with any impairment or any sort of carriage must be careful not to trip over raised concrete design features that surround the planted areas embedded in the concrete surface of the park.

The Friends of High Line board boasts a few high-profile celebrities who live or work near the park (the website features a history of the High Line video narrated by the actor Ethan Hawke) and had managed to create such a buzz about the space that on opening day there was a line of people wrapped around the block, waiting (after they obtained an official wrist band) to explore this new “public” space, a handful at a time.

The High Line. Photo by Anna Peccianti

Waiting in line for the High Line on opening weekend. Photo by Anna Peccianti

Many other cities around the country have looked to the High Line as a model of an innovative reuse project than can attract a lot of locals and tourists to a neighborhood but it may be important for them to take a closer look. Mr. Moss writes that the park “has become a tourist-clogged catwalk and a catalyst for some of the most rapid gentrification in the city’s history.”

 Mr. Moss points out that according to the Friends of the High Line website, 3.7 million people paid a visit to the High Line last year and only half of them were New Yorkers. He says that the appeal of a new tourist attraction is changing the neighborhood as high-rise apartment buildings are being constructed, local business like auto shops and small diners are losing their customers and being forced to close. According to Mr. Moss, property values near the structure have increased by 103% between 2003-2011.
 
As so often happens with gentrification, Mr. Moss fears that any remaining diversity of “regular New Yorkers” will soon vanish. He writes:”Within a few years, the ecosystem disrupted by the High Line will find a new equilibrium. The aquarium-like high rises will be for the elite, along with a few exclusive locals like the Standard Hotel. But the new locals will rarely be found at street level, where chain stores and tourist-friendly restaurants will cater to the crowds of passers-by and passers-through. Gone entirely will be regular New Yorkers, the people who used to call the neighborhood home. But then the High Line was never really about them.”

Advocate’s Video Helps Prioritize New Crosswalk

Last March, Adam Choit decided to make a video showing pedestrians trying to run across Sunset Boulevard in a particularly dangerous stretch where crosswalks loom far in the distance from one another. The video received a lot of attention from people who were alarmed by pedestrians taking such risks to cross the street – people like Los Angeles Walks founder and the city’s Pedestrian Advisory Committee Chair Deborah Murphy who sent the video to colleagues at the Los Angeles Department of Transportation.

In response, the Department of Transportation has added the intersection featured in this video to a list of new city crosswalks to be painted in the next fiscal year. Choit said that he thought this was a win for a more pedestrian-friendly Sunset Boulevard and says that he plans to make additional films that affect change in the city. Choit says: It’s definitely rewarding to know that hard work and having a vision can pay off, and one person really can make a difference.”

Designing Cities and Transit for Seniors

Active Living For All Ages: Creating Neighborhoods Around Transit from Streetfilms on Vimeo.

The AARP Public Policy Institute (AARPPPI) is studying how seniors get from one destination to another. Do they walk, do they ride public transportation, can they travel independently, how far away do they live from their destinations and how long does it take them to get there?

AARPPPI partnered with Streetfilms to highlight work that is being done in Arlington, Virginia to create a more walkable, accessible community where you can spend the entirety of your life. AARPPPI says that when you are “planning for older adults, you’re planning for an entire community.”

Planners and policy makers in Arlington have tried to create residential and commercial development that is oriented around access to public transportation (also knows as Transit Oriented Development) and to incorporate urban design improvements that address issues important to seniors including smooth and connected sidewalks, perceptions of safety at public transit stations and bus stops, and the connectivity of and distances between the residential and commercial neighborhoods.

AARPPPI found that Arlington seniors (75 in older) make 22% of their trips on foot and that their number of trips taken on public transportation was four times higher than seniors living in other suburban communities. They also found that when public transportation wasn’t accessible, seniors didn’t use it. This conclusion may seem obvious, but it is still important to acknowledge and is always helpful to think about when making policy, planning and design decisions that impact our communities.

Bronx Teens Win Fight for Safer Streets

E. 172nd Street and Townsend Avenue. Photo by the Bronx Helpers via Streetsblog

A New York-based group of teenagers called the Bronx Helpers who work to enhance the quality of life in their community have recently successfully lobbied the City of New York to improve the safety of E 172nd Street and Townsend Avenue by removing some parking spaces near the intersection to increase visibility of pedestrians and vehicles. The Bronx Helpers convinced the city of the necessary safety improvements after three years of advocacy.

After the city rejected a plea from the Bronx Helpers for a stop sign at the dangerous intersection (for which the activists had collected over 1,000 signatures of support), they convinced city officials to come and tour the neighborhood in hopes of finding another solution. This tour convinced the city that something should be done.

Congratulations to this passionate group of activists who worked hard to make their voices be heard and in doing so, succeeded in improving the safety of their neighborhood.

Ovarian-Psycos Bicycle Brigade

Xela de la X shows the Ova’s signature sign. Photo by Rafael Cardenas via EastsiderWriter.com

While studying urban planning in graduate school I became fascinated with the sociology of public space. Why were some paces used more than others and why were some spaces perceived to be inclusive or exclusive by certain populations. During an internship in the New York City Department of Transportations innovative Office of Public Spaces, I began to understand that our streets were actually our largest public spaces and through public plazas for example, they had the ability to be transformed in to spaces that prioritized pedestrians instead of cars.

For my master’s thesis, I merged my interest in public space analysis, transportation planning and women’s studies by looking at what deters women to ride bicycles in New York City. Not unsurprisingly, motorist aggression and fear of personal safety were the greatest deterring factors for women but what surprised me were the limited opportunities encouraging those unfamiliar with riding a bicycle and the lack of attention to the needs of a wide variety of users in the design of our cycling infrastructure and facilities.

In spite of the ground that women have gained in the fight for equal rights, studies have show that women are more likely to run household errands and transport children and elderly family members. For some women, this can make their travel behavior and willingness to take risks different from that of a single rider traveling from Point A to Point B. Often, I look for examples of thoughtful cycling infrastructure  and the encouragement of bicycling to a wide variety of users (specifically women) so today I was ecstatic to read about the Ovarian-Pyscos, an East Los Angeles bicycle collective, in Los Angeles Streetsblog.

The Ovarian-Psycos Bicycle Brigade, an all-women bicycle collective from East Los Angeles, is not only supporting one another in cycling through the city and raising awareness about cyclists, they have become a powerful collective supporting women’s rights, social justice and each other.

The Ova’s gather before their Take Back the Night Ride. Photo by GLoTography via Streetsblog

From Los Angeles Streetsblog:

“Two months ago, when 22-year-old Bree’Anna Guzman was murdered in Lincoln Heights, the all-women bike group Ovarian-Pscyos Bicycle Brigade scrapped their previously planned ride to ride instead through the neighborhood to protest the killing.

‘Whose Streets,’ one woman called out.

‘Our Streets’ the more than 30 women riding answered.”

“Many of the women say they feel they are not taken seriously in the biking community because their rides aren’t as long as traditional rides, there are usually many first-time riders, and the ride will stop and wait for one person. But, these limitations, Ova member Natalie Fraire said, can be a positive.

‘We are encouraging a lot more riders and that’s more important, said Fraire.”

The Ova’s excel at inclusion. If you have any interest in learning how to ride, they will be there to support without judgement. This collective is strong, supportive, and has changed the lives of the women involved. Most importantly, it has given the Ova’s a sense of empowerment which all women richly deserve, cycling on the streets and beyond.