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Archive for the ‘league of american bicyclists’ Category

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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A handful of months ago, I was on the bus and my phone rings.  It’s my friend Ruth.  Here’s a summary of that convo:

Ruth:  Hey, what are you doing Oct.11th?

Me:   Volunteering for you, for Tedx.

Ruth:  How would like to be on the other side – speaking?

Me:  Don’t tease me.

Ruth:  I’m not.

Long story short, I spoke at this year’s 5 year anniversary TEDx Columbus on Oct. 11th.  My talk was exactly the subject line of this post.  Women and families are going to be the determining factor in how cities can really gauge if they are thriving bike-friendly cities.  If cities really want to know how bike-friendly they, they need to quit with the surveys and get out onto the corners and start counting how many women are riding bikes.  

Thank you, Ruth for believing in me to speak about my passion.  TEDx has been successfully accomplished.  Next:  TED Talk 🙂

Be safe and keep riding

Enjoy.

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I’ve heard Mayor Coleman speak dozens of times and there’s one sentence that has stuck with me for years.  Yes, years b/c I heard it years ago during one of his ‘Bikin’ Mike,’ ‘Bike to Work Week’ public appearances.  He said, ‘if we (as a city) remain status-quo, we’ll continue to get left behind.’  Obviously, this is in reference to bicycling within Columbus.

In 2009, Columbus received its first ‘Bronze Award’ for ‘Bike-Friendly Community.’  It’s an award given through the national bicycling organization – League of American Bicyclists.  You have to apply for it, give very detailed information regarding all the bicycle facilities that have been implemented and projects that are currently in progress.  In 2009, Columbus was awarded the Bronze.  It’s 2013, four years later and guess what…  we’re still a Bronze.  Bicycling Magazine named the Top 50 bike-friendly cities in the country and we have remained in the lower 1/3 on that list – 34.

The top cities as you can gather:  Minneapolis, Portland, San Francisco, D.C., Seattle, and Tucson to name a few.  These cities are designing their streets with ‘8-80’ in mind.  This means their planners and engineers are designing and inviting EVERYONE to ride and feel safe while they’re riding.  They are installing protected bike lanes, bike boxes at intersections, dedicated bike signals, and painting their bike lanes green so that these lanes are clearly visible to all users on the road.  They are clearly making biking a priority and they are showing with these types of infrastructure projects that there’s more to the 21st century transportation mix than just cars.  These cities are at top of the list b/c they have the political will, they aren’t afraid to upset people b/c are noticing that many more ppl WANT alternatives to move around their city.  And when you give them well-designed infrastructure to ride, they are going to ride.

We ARE being left behind b/c our political will is….lack luster when it comes to REAL bicycle infrastructure and the most recent / perfect example is South High St.

Yesterday, I was biking home, using South High and noticed something new.  Sharrows placed north and south on S. High St. from Livingston Ave. to Thurman Ave.  I was upset.  If you all know S. High St. it is yet another inner-city freeway – CLEARLY in need of being slowed.  I layed in bed last night tossing and turning b/c I know that S. High is yet another street we’ve lost an opportunity to redesign in the CORRECT way and I’m about to break it down for you all.

This morning, I went to S. High and I did some work.  I took some chalk and photos and I’m going to show you that this street HAD every capability to have bike lanes in both direction and if the city really wanted to ‘WOW’ us, they could have created the city’s first protected bike lanes.

Let’s proceed.

I took measurements in three different intersections of S. High to see if this street’s width altered at all.  It didn’t.

S.High St. width- in all three intersection measurements that I did – spanning from Livingston Ave to just before Thurman Ave = 66ft wide (from curb to curb)

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This is initial shot (image above) I took of where the parked cars are and one of the sharrows in the right travel lane

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This is the intersection of S. High St and Frankfort St.  As you can see from my chalk markings – the parking lane is 8ft wide (average parking width) however, from the blue chalk line to the boundary of the white-dotted lines that separate the travel lanes, the right travel lane is 15 ft wide.  Completely UNACCEPTABLE that a lane is 15ft wide!  When you have a lane 15ft wide, you are INVITING cars to speed!  The left travel lane is 10ft wide.  The same measurements going in the opposite direction.

A bike lane is usually 5 ft wide.  Clearly, what SHOULD have been done was to reduce that 15ft travel lane to 10ft in both directions.  This frees up 10ft (5ft in each direction) to be used to create bike lanes.  Now, here’s where political will and being bold comes in, the city could have bumped the cars out from the curb 5ft creating a protected bike lane and slowing the traffic.  The protected bike lane would essentially be protected from moving traffic due to the parked cars.  And, this type of facility creates an even bigger buffer for the pedestrians.  ‘Dooring?’ well, that issue / concern would be drastically reduced b/c the bike rider is traveling on the side -the passenger door and over 80% of drivers these days are ‘Single-Occupancy Vehicles, SOV’ – meaning driver only.

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Just a shot of moving traffic.  But this also shows the extreme width of this street.  S. High St. has pockets of mixed-use buildings however,  development is not increasing on this street and hasn’t b/c of the design of this street.  It is clearly a street to move cars north and south at a minimum of 40mph.  Let me also state that if bike lanes were installed and / or the protected bike lanes installed – there would have been no removal of parking nor the removal of any travel lanes.

Then there’ s this and I’m sorry its so small.

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This image is our city’s ‘Bicentennial Bikeways Plan’ which was approved in 2008.  The bottom of this page shows what the colors mean. ‘Existing and Proposed Bicycle Network Downtown Columbus’ and if you can see the dotted blue key means ‘bike lane.’  Scroll up to the image of the city streets and if you can read, S. High St. it shows ‘proposed bike lane.’  So, what has changed from 2008 to now??  The street width sure hasn’t.  Now, S. High St. wasn’t an ‘automatic’ for getting bike lanes but clearly the individuals in charge thought in 2008 that S. High St was wide enough to get bike lanes and once again we’ve resulted in lack luster infrastructure i.e. sharrows.  Our ‘Bicentennial Bikeways Plan’ is slowly turning into the ‘Bicentennial Sharrows Plan.’  Sharrows do not slow down traffic and they do not invite the mother who wants to hop on her bike with a trailor in tow with her kid to bike on a street this fast and this wide.

Why does Columbus continually remain in the lower 1/3 list of ‘bike-friendly cities,’ this is the a perfect example.  We had an opportunity and took the easy way out.  We’re keeping drivers happy with not changing the design of our street and we’re not doing anything to invite new bike riders to explore our city.

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What new rider (man or woman) is going to feel ‘safer’ now that sharrows are placed on this street?  It doesn’t change the fact that the right lane is STILL 15ft wide.

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The speed limit on this street is 35mph however, due to the nature of this poorly designed street, the cars easily go 45mph.

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Both of the images above are of the only real area where folks walk from the downtown buildings.  This area is also the only cluster of businesses and half of these business turn over.  I can guarantee that one of the main reasons there’s high turnover with these businesses is b/c of the street design.  When you’re going 40mph, you’re clearly driving to your destination and nothing more.  This area has every opportunity to develop.  You have three neighborhoods that are walking distance yet you hardly see walkers on S. High St. and it’s b/c of this street design.

Question:  Do you prefer to stroll down High St. in the Shorth North or Gay St.?  Or would you want to walk down S. High St?  Aside from this cluster of ever-changing bars/restaurants, there’s NOTHING to draw you, nothing to invite you to walk down S. High St.  It’s not comfortable.  And this will remain until the street scape is changed with all users in mind.

This post is about accountability.  The tireless bike advocates can continue to teach safety and educate people on bikes but the fact remains that perceived safety and traffic speed are two of the biggest barriers that keep more people from riding.  Our streets need to be changed and redesigned with an ‘8-80’ mentality.  Sharrows are ‘status-quo.’

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