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Archive for the ‘public spaces’ 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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It’s been five months since my last public confession 🙂  After five insanely busy months, I have the time to breathe and update those on what I’ve been consumed with.

For almost three years, I had been persistently and patiently working on two dream projects of mine:  to bring the first ‘Open Streets’ to Columbus as well as piloting Columbus’ first ‘parklet.’  For those reading this that don’t know, ‘Open Streets’ is a free initiative that temporarily closes streets down to autos and opens them up for people to engage in fun, healthy activities like yoga, biking, breakdancing, and more.  It’s all about experiencing streets as public spaces.  When I was a kid, I played in the streets ALL the time.  I rode my bike with my best friends and that’s just what we did.  These days, streets are too dangerous.  Playgrounds are built far away from the streets because the dangers of motor vehicle speeds and distracted drivers have reigned supremacy.

The ‘parklet.’  A ‘parklet’ is when you convert on-street parking spaces into ‘people’ spaces.  I remember having this conversation with my friend Liz over two years ago.  We met for coffee and I said, ‘Liz, I wanna pilot a parklet and I want to use one of your places.’  Without hesitation, she said, ‘absolutely.’

As one of my favorite people says, ‘Sometimes you have to turn things upside down to get them right-side up’ (Fred Kent).  I whole-heartedly believe this with every ounce of my being.  My two dreams projects did just that, turned things upside down.   When it comes to parking and road space we’ve given too much to the vehicle that when we try to do what’s right and step in and change it, people go cray!  The idea of closing downtown streets to cars to let people of all ages and abilities ‘play’ in them raised eyebrows.  No matter if I came to them showing them the data of other cities putting on ‘Open Streets’ and how ridiculously successful it was/is.  Successful from a public health angle.  Successful from a business economics angle.  Successful from a community engagement angle.  Successful from a broader encouragement of multi-modal transportation.  ‘Open Streets’ has transformed cities across the U.S.  Aside from the hard data, I had the privilege of experiencing Los Angeles’ ‘CicLAvia’ last April.  When you think Los Angeles, you think of boxtox and traffic; ‘carmaggedon.’  Los Angeles’ CicLAvia / Open Streets has been such a raging success that they put on 3 / year and close anywhere between 6-12 miles of Los Angeles streets.  That is not a typo people.  The one I experienced last April, tens of THOUSANDS of people came out and participated in playing and owning their streets – free from motor vehicle danger.  What resonated with me, as I stood in the middle of Wilshire Blvd was that so many families and people of all ages and backgrounds wanted to come and have a safe place to ride or play.  There aren’t enough safe places to ride and we just don’t slow down enough to appreciate our environment.  We have the ability to change our built environment when we realize the TRUE potential.  That’s why Open Streets has been so important to me.  I’ve seen what it does to people and cities.

After almost three years, organizations such as People For Bikes, Transit Columbus, Jeni’s, New Belgium Brewing, Capital Crossroads SID, Columbus Public Health , CD 102.5, Mt. Carmel East, Eccolyfe Designs, CDDC, Skreened, ID2014, and the Great Photobooth; stepped up to the plate and said, ‘we get it and they all invested.’  On Sunday, September 21st, Columbus joined the long list of other Open Streets cities.  We closed 0.8 miles of downtown Rich St.  I have to say it was a fantastic FIRST Open Streets for this city.  Columbus still has a long way to go in order to be a contending ‘bike-friendly’ city.  We’re making great progress but we have a long way to go.  We’ve heard nothing but positive feedback about Open Streets Columbus.  Our goal is to aim for ‘2’ Open Streets next year.  Success with an initiative like this cannot come overnight.  It must be recurring so people understand the concept and purpose.  With all the people and kids that came out and enjoyed the day, they now understand why Open Streets is so effective and successful.  All of those people will be future cheerleaders- spreading the Open Streets Columbus love as we put on future events.

I loved seeing how many kids were there.  I loved watching the parents not have any fear b/c that fear had been removed.  People laying a blanket out in the middle of the street b/c they could.  Getting people to look at their streets differently; seeing their streets as public spaces instead of only cars and parking is why Open Streets is so effective.

Here are some fun photos from Sept. 21st:

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We had about 18 high school students from the Mosiac school volunteer.  They loved it and we loved having them!

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Early on jenga users

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Headstand challenge at the intersection of High and Rich.  I can bet  this is something you don’t see everyday!
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So many people loved having the Rich St. bridge all to themselves.  Headstands, hangtime, biking, breakdancing, ska

teboarding and more. photo 3

POGA Columbus held their last ‘pop-up’ yoga for the summer at Open Streets.  What a great crowdphoto 4

Our ‘Scioto Beach’ was one of the biggest successes of Open Streets.  Yep, we built a small beach on the Rich St. Bridge.  Kid approved!zeke open streets

 

The comment above is the reason I have fought for Open Streets for so long.  This is exactly how we want people to feel.

Switch gears to the ‘Columbus Parklet Project.’  We had the great opportunity to unveil Columbus’ first parklet at the great Independents’ 2014.  Getting more eyes and butts in the parklet would only help generate more buzz for the 30 day pilot over at Dirty Franks downtown.  It sure did. It just so happened that unveiling the parklet at ID2014, was the same weekend as Open Streets Columbus.  Needless to say, I was stressed, excited, anxious, and hopeful.  No NEW project would be complete without its obstacles and we sure had some of those.  But, you push through and you take every moment as a teaching moment which I did.

The parklet was a great success at ID2014.  The following week it was moved outside of Dirty Franks Hot Dog Palace where it’ll be there for one month for the public to embrace (hopefully).  Again, this is a concept happening in other cities that are getting people and businesses to re-imagine the potential within our city streets.  Over 82% of drivers are single occupancy.  You drive your car to Dirty Franks, you park right out front and its YOU…one person.  You remove that parking space, convert it to ‘people space’ allowing people to sit, eat their lunch, converse, and just be visible to other drivers passing by, you automatically create buzz.  If you’re a business owner giving people a place to sit and stay for while, chances are they’ll spend money.  The idea of the one month pilot is to introduce the concept to both the people of Columbus and business owners.  The sky won’t fall if you remove one parking space usually taken up by ONE person and you convert it to where 12+ people can share and enjoy it.  We’ll collect data over the month during different times of the day as well as public feedback.  Thus far, its been super successful (minus a few haters and there always will be).  The Columbus Parklet Project had great support from businesses such as: MKSK Designs, Dirty Franks, Kaufman Development, Creath Landscape Design, Drift Industry, DRAC, Eccolyfe Designs, Columbus Eye, Square One Salon & Spa, and Wolf’s Ridge Brewing.  What really catches my eye is that every one of these businesses has nothing to do with the other.  They all come from different backgrounds yet they all see the Columbus Parklet Project as a great, fresh concept and are willing to invest.  Our goal is to get buy-in from this 30 day pilot to where we are able to expand and build new parklets with new designs in different parts of Columbus.  These small ‘interventions’ within our streets can become ‘destinations’ for people.  Parklets are part of the ‘lighter, quicker, cheaper’ strategy that many cities are embracing.  When people can be a part of a project from beginning to end there’s more personal investment that happens and a sense of ownership and pride.

I had some incredible people step up to help make this first parklet a reality: Ryan, Michael, Carey, Jess, Jerry, and Sarah.

Here are couple photos.  I encourage you to take a jaunt over to Dirty Franks within the next month.  Purchase a dog and have a seat in the parklet.

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The beginning stages.parklet progress

 

Setting up before the big ID2014 weekend.

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Lots of traffic during Independents’ weekend.  first parklet DF

Ryan and Michael finishing up moving the parklet from Franklinton to downtown
safe_imageThe Columbus Dispatch published a piece on the parklet this past weekend.

And those are two of the projects I’ve been up to:)  These two projects have meant so much to me and I believe that with time and iterations of both, the people of Columbus will embrace.  I look forward to both Open Streets Columbus and the Columbus Parklet Project expanding and becoming initiatives that people support and want to be a part of.

 

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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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Walking herephoto 4 (10)

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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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.

bbp downtown bikeways

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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This is going to be my one and only blog written about helmets.  This topic, in my personal opinion is a waste of my time but I feel the need to balance current statements that have been made regarding a recent photo that was taken and published in the Dispatch:

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As many of you know, the three of us just recently executed our first and very successful statewide ‘Ohio Women’s Bicycling Summit.’  This was the photo published  in the Dispatch and you can imagine the comments and judgments that took place once this photo was released.

Only in America does it seem like there’s this war regarding helmets so let’s stop and figure out why.  Why do we wear helmets?  We wear helmets for ‘protection,’ right?  Who are we protecting ourselves from:  drivers and our cities that have been built to solely accommodate the automobile.  If you wear a helmet – you’re a safe bike rider.  If you don’t – you’re reckless.   I’m as safe of a bike rider as they come.   I wear a helmet about 98% of the time I’m on my bike so when I make that CHOICE to not wear a helmet, why do you take it upon yourself to judge me and reduce my safe bike riding; because I don’t conform to your standards?  Just because I don’t wear a helmet, that doesn’t make me more reckless of a bike rider or less credible of a bicycling advocate.

The staunch opponents out there need not be so quick to judge and think about a few things:

  1. Helmets help save lives, however, they do NOT prevent crashes from happening.
  2. We need to stop wasting time on the ‘blame game’ of who is and who isn’t wearing helmets and move forward to trying to change our infrastructure and slow down our streets.   The only way to change behavior is to change the infrastructure.   When you slow down a street with traffic calming elements, road diets, bicycle infrastructure, and pedestrian infrastructure – it not only increases livability within the street, it increases more walkers and bikers which in result increases safety and decreases crashes.
  3. Steve Barbour, Michelle Kazlausky,  Dr. Deborah Ehrlich and William Crowley are just four folks that come to mind whom all except Dr. Ehrlich were fatally hit AND were wearing helmets.  Dr. Ehrlich barely survived.  She was right hooked by a semi.  Again, infrastructure.

The focus must be moved to redesigning and changing our infrastructure which slows down cars and safely allows all users to move about.  Are you going to stigmatize me and anyone else who hops certain lights b/c they don’t detect us?  Do you know that if an intersection goes through two cycles w/out detecting a bike rider, we are legally allowed to hop the light or are you going to immediately make the judgment like most ppl do that I am a reckless rider and not take into consideration that our infrastructure has been built solely for the auto?   If you’re unwilling to see that ‘we’ a car-centric country has created these dangerous cities in which people die and that it is the way our cities have been built and not whether someone is wearing a helmet or not then I’m happy to be your scapegoat.

I’d like to also insert that in 2008, 4,387 pedestrians were killed in traffic and nobody is suggesting for them to wear helmets.  Where is the outrage in pedestrians being killed by motor vehicles?  It’s an increasing epidemic and yet there has been no public outrage.   Bicycling needs to be seen as both safe and fun and that everyone can do without special clothing or gear or feeling the need to ‘armor’ up (perfect example here – a national bicycling webpage:  http://www.peopleforbikes.org/blog/entry/send_a_pro-bike_letter_to_your_local_newspaper).   Over the age of 18, we as adults have the ‘choice’ to either wear a helmet or not.  I don’t need to feel looked down upon or targeted should I choose on rare occasions to not wear my helmet.

Before you continue to waste both my time and yours judging me on the basis of my not wearing a helmet during a photo shoot, use that energy and write a letter to your local representatives advocating for safer bicycling infrastructure and enforcement of lowering our traffic speeds within our cities.

From 1997-2006, there have been 424, 840 motor traffic fatalities (NHTSA), maybe drivers should start wearing driving helmets:

driver helmet

This is in fact an actual helmet for driving.  When a bicyclist is fatally hit or seriously injured, the first question asked shouldn’t be, ‘was she/he wearing a helmet?’  It should be about the environment of where the accident took place.  Did you know that the majority of accidents happen in urban main arterials of cities? (NHTSA)  This leads me to once again acknowledge infrastructure.  Our inner- city streets are nothing short of inner-city freeways; five lanes across, no less than 12ft lane width, infinite sight distance, and let’s not forget the timed traffic lights working as an accomplice to speeding and safety concerns.

Our society has become fat and lazy when it comes to putting cars in their place.  Tailgating on freeways going 75mph is the new ‘black.’  Complete stops have become ‘rolling stops.’  ‘Stop bars’ aren’t paid attention to and if a crosswalk is more than six feet deep, that apparently gives a car permission to stop INSIDE the crosswalk and we continue to let this happen.

We need to move beyond whether a person on a bike was armored up with a helmet or not.  Once you understand that it’s not about the helmet – that it’s about our unsafe infrastructure then maybe you’ll put forth your efforts to creating a more ‘people-friendly’ city.  Hopefully soon, our cities’ infrastructure will be balanced enough to where you may walk out of your house, hop on your bike and in mid-riding say to yourself, ‘I forgot my helmet.’  We need to encourage, not discourage.  Our cities need the voices of people who ride bikes to unify and fight as allies, not judgmental enemies.  Again, this post is written based upon my personal opinion, on my personal blog and nothing more.

Be safe and keep riding.

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I’ve been sexually harassed, I’ve had a water bottle thrown at me, I’ve been driven off the road, I’ve been hit, I’ve been door’d, I’ve been cut off and this past weekend, I can add that my life was threatened-verbally.  I was riding east on Gay St. with a friend.  Gay St. is a two-way street; one travel lane in each direction and I maintained my lane.  A pick-up truck behind me was revving his engine; speeding up and slowing down to get my attention and probably to get me to move to the right but I had no intention b/c I had every right to maintain the lane.  At the red light, he sped up beside me, proceeded to spit on me and said I should ‘share the fucking road.’  I said, ‘how do I do that, I am legally allowed to take this ONLY lane?!’  He continued to be antagonistic, wanting me to ‘hit’ him.  I said, ‘I’m not going to hit you.’  He said, ‘I’ll end your life, you white bitch.’

A few more words were exchanged, the light turned green and since he was finally ahead of me, he was able to again maintain his driving cadence of 25 mph as oppose to my 15 mph.

I got home and couldn’t shake this particular instance.  I’ve had ppl intimidate me with their cars and I’ve never had anyone verbally threaten that they’d end my life.’  I rang a friend of mine who really helped me put this situation into perspective.  I could have handled the situation differently and I was beating myself up for it.  But, my friend told me that that person was my teacher – teaching me how I can improve myself the next time b/c there WILL,  inevitably be a next time.  Thank you, JLa.

I’ve written a ‘Will’ in case I die and its b/c I ride a bike.  How many drivers have written a ‘Will’ b/c they drive a car?  I bet I could gamble and say ‘not a whole lot.’  I constantly think and obsess over WHY, we are in such hurries that when we are slowed down, it infuriates us.  Why, as drivers, when we are slowed down, we have such anger and violence within us that we want to kill, intimidate, drive off the road, spit and harass.  How did we become so disconnected with each other and we don’t see the ‘human being’ component.

I am a daughter, a twin sister, an aunt, a cousin, a best friend, a human being.  When did we as human beings become so transparent that our destinations became more important than the safety of human life?  You’re wanting to END MY LIFE b/c I slowed you down for less than two minutes?  Let’s take a moment and really digest that sentence b/c that’s what I deal with on a regular basis.

Why is it drivers have more patience for school buses or public transportation buses when they make frequent stops yet they are ready to cut off and /or harass a person on a bicycle?  What is the difference?  The operator in any of these mode of transport is still a human being so why the fortitude with one and not the other?

Our streets began with people owning the streets – not cars.  Now, driving has become such a part of our DNA that this sense of entitlement and ownership has taken over our streets and our neighborhoods to where people will kill over it.

I’m willing to die in order to change this mentality.  I have been brought up to be a leader, not a follower.  Streets are suppose to be mini theaters- acting out life experiences and this can’t happen when cars control streets.  Families should want to take their kids on walks after dinner.  Families should want to sit on their front porch or stoop and talk to neighbors about how ridiculous ‘Honey Boo-Boo’ really is.  Nobody wants to do this when their front yards are three lanes wide and cars speeding at 40 mph.

I look forward to the day when we realize that some congestion isn’t always a bad thing and that life WILL NOT END if you have to slow down.  I look forward to the day when more people see change as a good thing and not fear it and react recklessly.

 

 

 

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This past week, my program Girls in Gear moved into Urban Design, something I am very passionate about.  Opening up people’s eyes at how our streets have been designed and how they can be so much more.

These girls, like the majority of our citizens have only viewed streets for one purpose – to get cars from point A to point B.  Next time you take a walk, be conscious of if you even have sidewalks to walk on.  So many of our neighborhoods especially the lower income neighborhoods, sidewalks have been eradicated to make more room for travel lanes.

Opening up these girls eyes and minds showing them how much more a street can be is critical.  They should know that they deserve simple infrastructure such as a sidewalk when walking to school.  They shouldn’t be ‘immune’ to gun-shells and used syringes in their playgrounds.  The design of a neighborhood creates the tone in how a community will use that neighborhood.  If you’re neighborhood is destroyed by four lane wide streets with cars moving at 4o mph, chances are there will be very little social interactions and enjoyment on these streets.

Aside from the aesthetics of a street, the people behind the scenes creating these streets are predominantly men.  I want these girls to know and believe that if they want to become planners, architects, or engineers when they grow up, they have just as good of a chance as men.  Have you ever stepped outside your house and taken a walk or a bike ride and stopped to collect the way that you ‘feel’ on a particular street?  Do you feel safe?  Intimidated?  Is the street pleasant to be on?  Is it soft with textures of trees, lights, benches, few travel lanes,gardens, etc.  or is cold and isolated with a slab of concrete serving one purpose – to get you to your destination?

The majority of our streets have been designed by men.  Imagine what our streets would look and feel like if the majority of them were designed by women?   The majority of our streets built today are not women and children friendly in my opinion.  This is one of the reasons I’m introducing Urban Design to these young girls.  When a street is designed with women and children in mind, everyone will feel safer experiencing that street.

Enjoy the pics.

Be safe and keep riding.

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Took the girls on a walk audit to score two streets.

 

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Group discussion as we wait to cross the street.

 

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The girls discussing what they saw and felt on the two streets we scored.

 

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Abby Downs discussing streets more than just places for cars.

 

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The girls beginning their designs of their ideal bikeable / walkable streets.

 

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