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I recently had the great opportunity to blog for one of my favorite organizations: Project for Public Spaces.  If you’re not familiar, you should be.  Project for Public Spaces is a non-profit dedicated to create and sustain public spaces that build stronger communities.  There are some cities doing wonderful projects that are putting life back into under-utilized streets.  While I love reading blog postings on this site, I was always frustrated because we’ve been doing some pretty cool things here and more people should about them.  So, here it is.

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I am one of the “zealous nuts.” I live in Columbus, Ohio and I think about Placemaking and Streets as Places all the time. You can easily catch me out in the neighborhood observing street-life behavior, or taking photos of things like benches (without backs) placed randomly on isolated and ridiculously over-sized slabs of concrete void of life and asking the question, “…Why?”

I don’t remember exactly when this passion (mixed with mild-obsession) began with wanting to re-create a city prioritizing people instead of autos. I’m sure the birth of it began while living in San Francisco in the late 90s/early 2000s. I had no need to own a car; I biked, bused, walked everywhere, and everywhere you went, people were around. Life was constantly happening in the streets. I remember I experienced my first diagonal crosswalk on New Montgomery Street and I thought it was the coolest concept, but also such an “A-HA!” moment: Convenience.

I moved back to Columbus in 2002 and quickly realized I wasn’t in “convenience, multi-modal-land” anymore. I bought a used car. My car did its job for a good six years. During that time, I would attempt to bike to certain destinations, but quickly learned first-hand how unfriendly our streets were. I also realized that when I was living in San Francisco, I used my bike as a mode of transportation – not merely as a recreational item when I merely felt like it. I didn’t fully grasp this until I moved back to Columbus and experienced how much harder it was. You see, in a city as dense as San Francisco, with its various integrated modes and speeds, drivers always have to be aware and drive more cautiously. In Columbus during that time, you rarely saw a person walking or biking; cars were the dominant mode and like the majority of cities and towns across the U.S., streets were designed to seduce you to speed. I’m all for being seduced but not while biking on an arterial road that I have to “share” with cars going 40 mph.

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As it turns out, history ALWAYS finds a way to repeat itself. Adult onesies are hotter than before, video arcades are the “in” place to hang out, and also revitalization – yes, revitalization – to resuscitate a space that’s lost its vigor, is having a comeback in a major way. In the past ten years, we’ve seen a boom in Downtown Revitalization Projects that are attracting people to once again move in instead of out. Columbus is one of those cities and we’ve made incredible strides in the past ten years. We have an amazing urban park in the center of our downtown that fills with life and concerts and various organized sports during the spring, summer, and fall months. We have a riverfront that has been transformed into a destination (and is currently being expanded) for residents and tourists with a cityscape view that’ll take your breath away. And in 2014 our downtown living soared from 4,000 residents to 7,000. People are coming back and I’ve loved watching our downtown find its heartbeat again.

So, where do I come in? Well, I love Columbus but one thing has constantly nagged me about this city:  One of the most repetitive adjectives I hear when people describe Columbus is, “potential” – including myself. “Columbus has such potential if only…” I want to stop being an awesome city IF and start being an awesome city that IS, and that means DOING. So, with a little talent, hustle, and guts, I’ve been DOING.

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The concept of Placemaking here in Columbus is only about four years new. One of the “primer” projects that opened up people’s eyes and minds to the possibilities of what could be was a 2013 project called CBUS FOTO. This collective engagement project organized through Columbus’ Center for Architecture and Design, and led by the vision of Michael and Sarah Bongiorno with a group of talented young designers, asked citizens of Columbus to photograph empty, overlooked spaces and buildings in the city and come up with creative ways on how to fill them. The hope was to inspire citizens to understand that we are surrounded by under-utilized public spaces. These “overlooked” public spaces that we walk through every day and bike past everyday are blank canvasses awaiting rejuvenation. The value of this ephemeral project activated people’s imagination to see public spaces differently, as more than meets the eye.

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2014 was a very fulfilling year for me as two of my passion projects were launched to the people of Columbus:  The Columbus Parklet Project and Open Streets Columbus. Our team piloted Columbus’ first parklet for one month in September, 2014 with the help of nine business supporters. The public and nearby businesses embraced the 4th St Parklet and in 2015, we plan on implementing two more. Fred Kent said it best, “when you give people an interesting place to gather, they’ll gather.”

I fell in love with parklets years ago. I remember when I was flying to San Francisco, one of my “to-do’s” was to “hangout” in a parklet. Let that marinate in your brains for a minute.I’m headed to another city and one of my destinations is a parking space. But, I was drawn to them and I knew people in Columbus would be drawn to them too. They were unique and exciting and I loved that people filled up the space in front of a business instead of one car.Life was added.  The Columbus Parklet Project creates small yet powerful actions that will continue to show people that streets have a “double-duty” responsibility – that they are necessary for getting us from point A to point B, AND they can be places.

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Another team I led was Open Streets Columbus. After three years of work and meetings and a lot of “no’s,” Columbus finally launched its first Open Streets event in September of 2014. We closed 0.8 miles of downtown streets and it became an urban playground for people of all ages (and wages). We’ve become submissive to the ‘Arrogance of Space.’ The Danish-coined term simply implies that there’s just too much space allocated to cars and drivers, and not enough for anything or anybody else. We’ve been told for so long that roads are made only to be driven on and outdated, myopic street design proves this. Open Streets initiatives turn the outdated thinking upside-down and gives the space back, allowing people to explore, connect, and realize on their own that equitable street design can happen.

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We had roughly 600 people come out and explore their city streets, free of all obstructions. It doesn’t sound like much but it was a great success, especially for a city that has a long way to go when it comes to bike/ped friendliness. The people who came out absolutely fell in love with Open Streets Columbus and in 2015, we’re planning to grow from one to two events. We are confident that with repetition and time, Open Streets Columbus will grow into a sustaining, thriving initiative every neighborhood embraces.

Years in the making and worth every moment.

I guess I wanted to write this blog for a couple reasons. I wanted to share some of our small successes here in Columbus because I’m proud of them and we’ve only just begun. I was tired of reading article after article about cities that are thriving, partially in part due to the presence of creative Placemaking projects and Columbus not being listed. Well, we now stand out, too, and I hope that can be an inspiration for other cities like ours. Lastly, Columbus has given me the support to take these risks. I say it’s a risk because for many people, especially decision-makers, as this is still uncharted territory. But, I believe these risks (and others) must be taken by everyone in order to not be a city that’s “status-quo.” I refuse to live in a city that’s “status-quo,” and I’m ‘all in’ to stand up to make the changes I want to see. We still have quite a ways to go but I think Columbus, and smaller and larger cities, are embracing the efforts of humanizing our streets again.

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Last week, I returned from a week long trip to Los Angeles.  I was awarded by the wonderful Alliance for Biking & Walking, a seat at their National ‘Open Streets’ Conference.  If any of you reading this don’t know what Open Streets is its an initiative where you temporarily close streets down to autos and open them up for the people.  During this time which is between 4-8hrs of street closure and usually on a Sunday, car traffic is replaced with people traffic.  People can bike, walk, skateboard, do yoga, dance, sit, and many other activities. Open Streets is an initiative I’ve been obsessed about for well over three years.  The first time I had heard about it and saw pictures, I immediately knew the benefits that a movement like this could produce for cities.

There have been well over 90 documented Open Streets here in the U.S. alone and global cities such Cape Town, Bogota, and Wellington hold ‘Open Streets’ initiatives of their own.  In Bogota, its such a way of life that ‘Ciclovia’ happens every Sunday.  What’ s so appealing about Open Streets?  Well, when we, as adults think of ‘playing’ in the streets, we think of only childhood memories.  We’ve become so engrained with streets ‘belonging’ to cars and that’s it.  WRONG.  Streets are under utilized.  They are so much more than parking and traffic.

How is an initiative like Open Streets different than say a festival or block party?   I’m glad you asked.  The core objectives are fundamentally different. Indeed, Open Streets are typically part of a broader city or organizational effort to encourage sustained physical activity, increase community engagement, and build support for the provision of broader transportation choices.

The National Open Streets Conference I attended brought experts from cities all over the U.S., Africa, and New Zealand to share experiences and best practices about their planning process of Open Streets.  Substanial data has been collected that shows how transformational holding an Open Streets in your city can be (feast yourself on delicious data here:  www.openstreetsproject.com)

I remember last week, Jeff Miller of the Alliance asked aloud, ‘raise your hand if this will be your first CicLAvia.’  A few of us (including myself) raised our hands.  Immediately, you heard the crowd make an ‘oooooooooooh’ remark meaning, you’re mind’s going to be blown.  My spunky response was, ‘no shit.’  I knew what I was prepared for.  CicLAvia is Los Angeles’ ‘Open Streets.’  The demand for CicLAvia is so high that L.A. now holds CicLAvia three times a year.  Their most recent route was six miles of street closure…. on the iconic Wilshire Blvd.  Let me repeat myself SIX MILES OF STREET CLOSURE… for six hours.

Los Angeles aka ‘Carmageddon’ / traffic sewer city of the U.S. has one of the most successful Open Streets movements in the world.  Over 100,000 people come and enjoy miles upon miles of car-free streets.  Being able to experience L.A.s CicLAvia was a dream for me.  My pictures didn’t do justice for the sights that I saw.  I think my favorite visions were of ALL of the families.  So many families out enjoying their city at a slow pace.   Nobody got angry.  No aggressive horns.  No cars intimidating you.  Strangers smiling and talking to one another.  Businesses along the route bolstering with people hopping off their bikes and supporting.  Music on corners, art being painted, and streets being alive.  

One of the most powerful acknowledgements happened.  My friend Marc said, ‘look around at all these families.  It’s not that there’s a deficiency of families not being able to afford bikes, its the fact that they don’t feel like there’s a safe place to ride.’  When he said that aloud, it slapped me in the face.  I saw families with four and five kids; all of them had bikes.  It was so true.  And I wonder, how that relates to here in Columbus.  There’s also a huge health undertone to this initiative.  Not only are these initiatives reimaging streets where people walk and bike as a form of transportation, but, there’s such an appeal to this ‘urban playground’ where people are out for hours being physically active.  I remember I thought I would be at CicLAvia for only 3-4 hours.  Nopers.  I was there from 830am -4p!  You take your time and stop along the route and engage in activities.  You talk to people.  You stop in the middle of the street and let the sun shine on your face, why?  Because you can!  

After my conference, I came back here and have been more dedicated than ever before of making Columbus Open Streets a reality in 2014.  I have the best momentum that I’ve had in all 2 1/2 years I’ve been trying to put this thing together.  I know that once Columbus gets a taste of the first Open Streets, the demand will be created and there WILL be more.  The beautiful thing about Open Streets is that it attracts such a wide variety of audiences coming from numerous neighborhoods where just like San Francisco’s ‘Sunday Streets’ this initiative can move from one community to another, showcasing the uniqueness of each neighborood.  This movement connects people.  

The city of Columbus has approved 1.4 miles of downtown street closure for the first Open Streets.  The tentative date; Sunday September 28th from 10a-2p.  While it’s not six miles, it’s a great first ‘Open Streets’ route.  Again, this first Open Streets will introduce both the people of this city and city staff to how effective and beneficial Open Streets are, and the subsequent ones to follow will be that much easier to organize.   I’ll keep y’all updated on Columbus’ progress.  Also, if any of you reading this have businessses that would be interested in supporting financially, message me.    

Enjoy the pics.

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Woman just cruisin’ down Wilshire.

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From left:  Erika, Misty, and Ryan.  My CicLAvia peepsphoto 3 (3)

 

Of course, dogs have a place in these kinds of initiatives!
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This was the cutest!  Father and daughter time.  My heart filled up seeing this sight time and time again.photo 3 (12)

 

So of course, I spoke to this dude.  He was awesome.  He comes to CicLAvia every time it happens.  He loves it and thinks it’s wonderful for the all the people.photo 4 (12)

One of the businesses filled up with people supporting local businessphoto 4 (18)

Right when CicLAvia started in the morning.  I caught this little guy.  photo 1 (12)

 

One of the many wonderful volunteers keeping order during the mandatory dismount zone.  photo 3 (9)

Just a bunch of people, waiting at the red light.  Wouldn’t you rather this than lines of cars?  Can’t get any more human than this!
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The dismount zone / pedestrian zone.  
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There’s me!  I was just so swoonie seeing all the kids having so much fun!  Growing up and being a part of this movement!photo 2 (7)

This image captures the essence of what streets can look like when you replace car traffic with beautiful people traffic.  photo 1 (6)

 

As far as the eye can see……  PEOPLE bringing the streets to life.

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First off, did you sing the subject line like Frank Sinatra’s, ‘I’m in the mood for love’ song because that’s where I was going with it 🙂

I’ve been given the privilege of reading top secret biking data recently.  Well, maybe not top secret but it hasn’t been published yet so I feel honored 🙂  Anywho, I noticed a picture in the reading that just made me swoon.  I think it was of Ninth Ave. in NYC.  It was the epitome of a ‘Complete Street’ – imo.  A dedicated lane for buses, a dedicated lane for cars, a dedicated lane for bike riders and enough walking space for pedestrians.  I tried to find it on Google to show ya’ll but I couldn’t 😦  But, it lead me to this post.  I absolutely LOVE dedicated/buffered bike lanes, one-way cycle tracks, two-way cycle tracks…  you name it – I love them.

I ride all year.  I donated my car and chose to be a car free woman in Columbus.  People think that I’m one of those ‘no fear’ bicycle rider when that’s totally not true.  Sometimes, I hate riding on the roads especially speeding wastelands like Broad, 3rd, 4th, and High st.- south of Livingston Ave.

People bitch about bike lanes and dedicated this and that.  Well, the reality is is that the majority of the people who ARE interested in riding will not UNTIL there is decent infrastructure like cycle tracks and buffered bike lanes.  When I commute to the West Side, my whole body feels a sense of relief once I hit those bike lanes.  Cars have their dance space and I have mine.  I have yet to have a car zoom passed me, cut me off, swear at me, etc. when I’m in those bike lanes and I can ride at MY speed not at the feeling of obligation to go as fast as I can so that I don’t hold up traffic too badly.

People bitch about the cleanliness of buffered bike lanes, cycle tracks saying that everything gets dumped and left in our lanes… well, there’s definite truth to that.  I’ve found myself calling/submitting 311 requests to clean the bike lanes on Broad on a few occasions but that’s what you do.  You take the time to report the issue.  If cycle tracks and buffered bike lanes DO come into downtown Columbus, sooner than later I’d like to confidently say that maintenance would be a priority.  And if you feel it slipping, stop being a lazy, complaining ass and submit the 311 request yourself.

That’s my five cents for today.  I added a few buffered bike lanes, cycle tracks for folks who may not have a clear vision of what they are, below:

Keep riding… IN THE ROADS 🙂

V St. Cycle Track in good ol’ D.C.

Ninth Ave in NYC.  How could you NOT like this view?  This ease.

Montreal.  Bike riders enjoying their safe space

Zebra painted intersection for a cycle track.  The paint helps with visibility and the sharrows help the bike riders maintain their path

Bogota cycle track.  You see, build it and people WILL use it

This is a snap shot of the video taken of me during my commute home – down 3rd.  Nice and disgusting, eh?  Rows of single occupant drivers in isolation around their 2000 steel box.  Then there’s me.

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