Monday, October 16, 2017

No need to pave paradise with these bike parking lots

Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Tarah Hodgkinson

Making streets safer means activating them with all kinds of tactics, including intensified bicycle usage. In 2012 the SafeGrowth blog How the Dutch Saved Their City, described how the Dutch transformed their cities by dramatically changing their road infrastructure and supporting cycling culture. Today, there are almost 900,000 bikes in Amsterdam alone, making it the country with the highest rate of bike ownership in the world.

Lately, however, Amsterdam is dealing with an interesting issue. With over 50% of Amsterdam residents using bikes as part of their daily commute, they are running out of space to park their bikes. In fact, the city is now planning on creating 40,000 new parking spots. This issue not only speaks to the significant commitment the Dutch have made to make their city streets safer and more bike friendly but has sparked an opportunity for architectural creativity.

PARKING ALTERNATIVES

Unlike many cities in North America, with their sprawling, car-dominated cultures, space is a significant commodity in much of Europe. Some suggestions for bike parking alternatives include underwater garages and floating barges.

However, these alternatives could pose cost and space restrictions. Therefore, bike parking in Amsterdam has begun to move upwards, rather than outwards. Impressively, architects are building vertical bike parking structures. These mimic many of the new designs for vertical car parking in countries across the world, but with an eco-friendly and street safety twist.

With limited space, the Dutch innovate
There is a lot of hesitation among cities to switch to create large-scale bike paths and alternative transportation. Many fear that bike paths will impede the flow of car traffic and increase congestion.

This notion is counterintuitive. In Vancouver the bike path network is constantly expanding, and with it, so too are the number of bike trips replacing car trips.

That reduces congestion, not the opposite. The attempt to build new and creative ways to park bikes in Amsterdam demonstrates that the bike culture in that city, and other cities in the Netherlands, is going strong. It offers excellent ideas for helping other cities to start rethinking their systems.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Pumptracks and pro-social potentials

by Mateja Mihinjac

On this blog, we’ve written about the importance of giving youth a voice and engaging them in public life. When they can participate, or even drive, the development of services for their use, they feel especially empowered.

EXPLORING LOCAL POTENTIALS

I like to explore hidden potentials in cities and one recent discovery in my hometown emerged as I enjoyed an autumn walk. It was a "Pumptrack", a continuous loop track intended for cyclists and skateboarders. Even more exciting for me was recognizing that track was situated adjacent to public housing thus providing youth with opportunities for prosocial activities, in this case, a recreational service.

Pumptracks are continuous loop tracks for bikes and boarders

The American National Recreation and Park Association stress that parks and recreation represent essential public services.

Apart from economic value, health and environmental benefits, the Association recognized that access to such infrastructure reduces crime and juvenile delinquency. From criminology, we also know that providing recreational and healthy activities for youth builds resilience and provides a protective factor against delinquency.

Siting the track adjacent to public housing ensures usage

POSITIVE YOUTH DEVELOPMENT

When communities invest in their assets to assist with the development of youth and their potential, they communicate to young people that they care for them. Reciprocally, the youth develop an attachment to the community and contribute to its wellbeing. Thus, according to one report, “youth are valuable resources to invest in and not problems to be solved”.

Recreational infrastructures in cities are not extras! They offer an ideal platform for engaging and developing youth. Any future vision of the city must include them.

Integrating Pumptracks into urban park infrastructure

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Providence - breathing life into a bus stop

Trinity Square neighborhood, Providence, R.I. - photo Google Earth 
by Gregory Saville

Providence, Rhode Island, an hour drive from Boston, is among the oldest cities in the U.S. and one of the first to industrialize. Today it confronts post-industrial poverty and associated crime. Yet it retains a lively cultural life and, with considerable urban reinvestment and 5 colleges and universities, it is working to breathe new life into ethnically diverse neighborhoods.

Residents from Providence participated in the recent Chicago SafeGrowth training to learn concepts from 1st and 2nd Generation CPTED and apply them to a small-scale trouble spot. By mastering the concepts at one location they can more easily apply them to others. They chose Trinity Square, an area that suffered 15 violence crimes, 10 property-related crimes, and over 200 police calls for service in the 6 months leading up to the class.

Google Streetview of the Trinity Square bus stop prior to the SafeGrowth project - screenshot Google Earth

TRINITY SQUARE

As the Providence SafeGrowth team describe in their report “most of the activity on that site is negative in nature and works against the progress of positive growth with high levels of drug activity, panhandling, homelessness, and abandoned property.”

Providence SafeGrowth team launches first Game Off at the cleaned bus stop
The team knew their first step was to work with local stakeholders and break down fear of crime and activate spaces with a series of organized activities. They started getting locals involved in positive social events. They chose a Trinity Square bus stop to install some board games and then launch a promotional program for regularly scheduled events.

Providence police are partners on the SafeGrowth team
Last week, on the inauspicious date of 9/11, the team ran their first weekly Game Off event, with residents from around the area. It was a smashing success as shown in the photos.

They plan to run this regularly. They are committed to establishing a more positive environment at this location and re-establishing the Trinity Square area as a neighborhood asset.

Congratulations to the Providence SafeGrowth team.

Friendly competition in Trinity Square's first Game Off event


Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Tackling the opioid crisis - Safe Injection Sites

Each year 30,000 people in the U.S. die from overdoses
By Tarah Hodgkinson

Safe injection sites have been a point of contention for several years around the world. Some claim drug use is a public health concern needing harm reduction strategies, while others claim drug use is immoral and should remain criminalized.

Over the last few months, I have spoken to public safety organizations and police across Canada. These organizations cover everything from domestic violence to traffic safety, but the topic persistently arising remains illicit drug overdoses. For example, British Columbia recently announced a health crisis resulting from increases in overdose deaths, a situation experts believe results from lacing heroin or meth with intense potency additives like fentanyl.

ALTERNATIVE APPROACHES

Thousands die each year from these overdose deaths, almost 30,000 in the U.S. alone, and the numbers are getting worse. While illicit drug use is not new, public response to it seems to be changing. Communities are shifting away from punishment and looking towards harm reduction techniques.

In Canada, none is more famous than Insite, North America’s first supervised, and legally protected, injection location where clients are given clean needles to use in a safe environment. Furthermore, they are given access to a myriad of health services such as nurses and substance abuse counselors.

In spite of a raft of political attacks by anti-drug organizations, and claims of imperfect science, the overwhelming preponderance of research results to date on the Vancouver drug injection site are positive. This includes a comprehensive 2011 study in the prestigious UK medical journal, The Lancet.

HARM REDUCTION DOESN'T REPLACE COMMUNITY-BUILDING

Other harm reduction models are also emerging across the country. In Ottawa, a managed alcohol program helps chronically homeless and alcoholic individuals seek stability and avoid binge drinking. Harm reduction is an important community-building step to address drug overdoses in Canada.

However, community-building also means better investment in prevention and drug use alternatives. There is still very little investment in long term solutions such as detox and recovery services, job opportunities, community supports and wrap-around models – all demonstrated to have a significant impact.

Hundreds of drug addicts shoot up at, and around, this rail line in Philadelphia
A well-known example is Portugal. Over 15 years ago, Portugal decriminalized all drugs. Since doing so, drug use has declined and overdoses have plummeted. Portugal invested in health care, job creation and other social supports. These alternatives had a dramatic impact on drug-seeking behaviour.

The claim that there are not enough resources for this kind of harm reduction investment collapses when faced with contrary logic or evidence. The fact is it is far more expensive for the criminal justice system to tackle drug crime. Community reinvestment - the basic premise of SafeGrowth - is well worth the effort in dollars and lives.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Streets for hire

Cities are leasing parking spots to restaurants for rental fees

by Greg Saville

Years ago I spent an afternoon with the exceptional urban designer Richard Gardiner. Anyone reading encyclopedia references about the beginning of CPTED will recognize Richard Gardiner’s name, especially his 1978 book Design for Safe Neighborhoods, the first attempt to transform CPTED into a comprehensive planning system.

In our chats, Richard described how he had moved away from CPTED and began focusing on the serious congestion problem of street parking. He had developed an ingenious parking management program to tackle the assumption that “free parking is actually costing governments and institutions millions of dollars each year without their actually being aware of it. Public parking in cities constitutes the third-highest hidden cost that U.S. cities face each year.”

A "waiting area" where patrons stand in line for food and entertainment inside the bar 
I'm embarrassed to admit I just didn't get it. Urban land economics wasn't my thing back then; it seemed unimportant. But in the years since then, I came to see the huge impact on both safety and urban finance. This was especially the case when I observed the Portland Intersection Repair program where residents reclaimed their neighborhood by reclaiming their local intersection.

PARKING SPACES FOR LEASE

Lately, I’ve seen a fascinating variation on this theme: Municipalities that lease the street parking areas in front of restaurants and bars. The bars turn this area into outside sitting areas, eating areas or other uses for their patrons.

Landscaping to beautify former parking spots - Is this a proper use of public land?
Does this help make sidewalks and streets safer by putting more eyes on those streets? Does it make those streets less safe at night if those same bars have poor management and thereby trigger drunken street brawls and drunk driving?

Obviously, funds from leased parking spaces will feed city coffers and that might help recover the hidden costs of free parking (costs barely recovered by meter parking). Those funds might help cash starved municipalities reinvest into their cities.

But what, I wonder, does this rented use of public space mean for other types of transportation, such as bicycle riders who still have inadequate and safe parking spots for their bikes? Most cities still refuse to provide space for homeless tiny home villages. What about them?

Monday, August 21, 2017

Cycling the Big Apple - I want to ride my bike!

Biking Manhattan - A scary proposition without proper design

by Mateja Mihinjac


During my recent visit to New York City, I was thrilled to witness the upsurge in cycling in this iconic city. As an avid cyclist, I love when cities provide infrastructure for bipedal commute.

Promoting physical and social connections through design, such as increased bike usage, fosters interaction and establishment of social ties. In SafeGrowth we know that this also influences safety and perception of safety.

New York City, the metropolis well known for its traffic congestion and yellow cabs, has followed the lead of several European and Australian cities and in the past decade expanded its cycling infrastructure. Cycling in the city has since 2005 increased by an astounding 260%, currently amounting to 450,000 daily trips.

In 2013, the city also introduced the nation’s largest bike sharing program Citi Bike, which currently offers 603 bike stations and 10.000 bikes across the city’s five boroughs. These bikes are extensively used by city dwellers and tourists alike.

Exploring Manhattan on a bike

CYCLING FOR HAPPINESS?

Replacing motorised commute with biking impacts health and social connectedness, two of the three most important contributors to happiness in urban environments.

Moreover, planning for environmentally sustainable cities that prioritize cycling and walking is intrinsically linked to socially cohesive communities.

603 bike stations and 450,000 daily bike trips across New York City

IMPROVING CYCLING INFRASTRUCTURE

Talking to locals revealed that despite great progress, cycling infrastructure could benefit from several improvements. The first was more bike lanes and Citi Bike stations outside downtown and affluent areas, a common need in other cities.

Ironically, those living on the peripheries of the cities and those less prosperous are the ones who would most benefit from biking connectivity.

The second issue concerns safety. A 2015 article reported 90% of bike lanes in New York City were unprotected, meaning the majority were lanes without a safety buffer between cyclists and cars. This is surprising knowing that protected bike lanes can reduce the risk of injury by 90% and also increase ridership.

Buffered bike lanes are a necessity for safety

CYCLING FOR CITIES OF TOMORROW

Promoting cycling in progressive cities like New York is an excellent avenue for developing environmentally and socially sustainable cities. Planners should encourage future expansions of bike infrastructure in less affluent areas and designers must follow guidelines for safety and buffered lanes.

Designing future cities around cycling will contribute to overall healthier and happier cities.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Purge the scourge of blank walls

Downtown telecom company bricks in windows and leaves us with a blank wall
by Greg Saville

Walking downtown a few days ago I came across a large telecommunications center that dominated an entire city block with blank walls. It is a sight that appears with increasing regularity in cities everywhere. The telecoms want to keep their innards secure, but they choose to locate downtown.

When meeting someone new we generally say hello, shake hands, and exchange pleasantries. The pleasantries are often meaningless. “Nice to meet you”! Perhaps. Perhaps, not.

But it is polite to greet someone well. It sets a tone for a civil relationship. There are consequences if you present an obnoxious face in public, or worse if you ignore them. It makes you look like a rube. You may think laws keep chaos at bay, but that is a legal conceit. In fact, sociologists, anthropologists, and well-trained criminologists will tell you it is everyday civil behavior - norms - that keep us civil and safe.

Shopping malls are the worst blank wall offenders

HOW TO ADDRESS THE STREET

It is no different for architecture in public places, especially downtown streets. Walking to downtown shops, waiting at bus stops, or simply enjoying a stroll are activities that make places hospitable and civil and mitigate uncivil behavior. We are embraced, or assailed, by how buildings address the street with their architecture. If they ignore the street with blank walls, they assault us. If they address the street in a civil way, they welcome us.

This is called streetscaping. Architects have many tools to do this well; building massing, permeable designs, paying attention to the pedestrian experience. Some call it placemaking. New York blogger Andrew Manshell has a great blog on this topic.

Community owned food co-op gets it right

Streetscaping does not mean addressing the street with blank walls, walls that ignore the street and the people on it. Blank walls on public streets are obnoxious, like the obnoxious rube. They tell us we don’t matter. Blank wall owners might benefit from our public utilities, public streets, and our fire, police and other services, but they could not care less how they address us on our streets. So their massive blank walls make our streets inhospitable... so what!

Sound familiar? That is the behavior of the sociopath. No consequence!

Green walls are in

DESIGN SOCIOPATHY

Blank walls are the architectual version of design sociopathy.

Back in the 1980s, William Whyte wrote about the poisonous effect that large blank walls had on city life. Boring convention centers, government buildings, megastructures, and parking garages with large blank walls on public streets all fell under his wrath. But in City: Rediscovering the Center it was telephone companies that offended most, especially a 55-storey blank wall in New York. Since then it seems the telecoms have not changed.

Sociopathic blank walls kill sidewalks and suck the energy out of urban life.

If there is anything contemporary planners (and CPTED practitioners) must do it is to kill blank walls in downtown architecture. There are many ways that can be done creatively - green walls, murals, tasteful windows placement.

We need to purge the scourge of architecture’s sociopath.

Creative paint schemes are an easy fix to blandness