Posted: March 2nd, 2009 | Author: Rob Goodspeed | Filed under: Boston, Pedestrian Space, Urban Development | 1 Comment »
A cover story in yesterday’s Boston Globe asked “Would car traffic bring back the crowds?” for Boston’s historic retail district Downtown Crossing. A partial pedestrian mall since 1978 (commercial traffic is allowed), the Globe pondered whether the “solution” to the neighborhood’s woes would be a return of automobile traffic. The story quotes business owners who recall busier days in the 60s and 70s:
“There was a constant flow of cars, stopping and going; it was very active, very busy, like a typical city street,” said Steve Centamore, co-owner since 1965 of Bromfield Camera Co., on Bromfield Street, part of which is open only to commercial traffic. “There were people coming and going. It didn’t seem to impede any pedestrians. It was a lot busier. People could just pull up and get what they needed. Now, it takes an act of Congress to even get through here.”
Formerly the home to two large department stores (Filene’s and Jordan Marsh, today Macy’s remains at the Jordan Marsh site) the neighborhood has long been a major retail hub, home to hundreds of retail stores. However the district has lost its historic luster. The redevelopment of the huge old Filene’s building fell through last fall, leaving a literal gaping hole in the neighborhood after construction work stopped abruptly. A number of storefronts are vacant, and a stabbing and shooting last fall remains fresh in people’s minds. Nevertheless the area remains busy by day with thousands of people crowding city streets.
The problem with the Globe’s proposal is that it completely ignores the massive transformation in the region that explain the changes in Downtown Crossing. In 1970, 23% of the metropolitan area’s population lived in the City of Boston. Today, barely 10% of the region’s population live within the city limits. Since 1976 dozens of shopping centers, malls, and other retail space has opened outside of downtown Boston. As an example, just across the Charles River and several T Stops from Downtown Crossing the Cambridgeside Galleria opened in 1990. Its 120 stores include a 44,837 square foot Best Buy, 23,767 square foot Borders, 122,445 square foot Macy’s, 22,419 square foot Macy’s Home Store, and 120,570 square foot Sears. The point is that the city’s population has dispersed and there has been an explosion in competition for Downtown Crossing, even within the city itself.
The Filene’s building should be rehabbed, storefronts should be filled, and the area can and should be spruced up. However, Downtown Crossing will never again regain its historic role as a regional shopping hub. With or without re-opening the streets to cars.
> Boston Globe: Would Car Traffic Bring Back the Crowds?
|| Change, 2007-1970
|Metro Area (MSA)
|Boston population as percent of MSA
Data sources: 1970 Census, Census 2007 Population Estimates
Flickr photos by Wallyg, and deafredbear.
Posted: January 3rd, 2009 | Author: Rob Goodspeed | Filed under: Boston, District of Columbia, Pedestrian Space, Urban Development | 12 Comments »
I was in Harvard Square one evening last fall when I light rain began falling. A girl dashed out of a convenience store doorway, hurrying for an unknown reason. Turning the corner she abruptly slipped and fell on the brick sidewalk. No quicker than she had fallen she jumped up, unhurt, to continue on her way. Yesterday in Downtown Crossing, a man using crutches slipped on wet and snowy brick just as I left my office. These incident are repeated thousands of times in Boston and around the nation, at times resulting in injury. Sidewalk slips are commonplace, yet illustrates the complex ethics of contemporary urban planning. The material that contributed to these falls, brick, has many well-known flaws including a low friction coefficient when wet. However in the convoluted calculus of sidewalk materials, the grip of material surface inevitably falls behind a host of other factors.
From the point of view of pedestrians, there’s not much to like about brick sidewalks. When wet they’re often slippery. Bricks easily become uneven or loose due to tree roots or uneven soil, complicating shoveling and leading to tripping. The uneven surface can be treacherous for bikers, strollers, or the impaired. Some even point out they can easily become projectiles in the hands of miscreants. Yet brick remains a common material throughout many cities. Boston’s tourist meccas, Faneuil Hall’s plazas, Downtown Crossing’s streets, and even the Freedom Trail itself are made from brick. In Washington, D.C., miles of new brick sidewalks have been installed in the past few years in some of the city’s busiest pedestrian corridors.
Not everyone agrees with the brick critics. Commenting on a neighborhood newspaper’s story, titled “bricks bring worries for some pedestrians,” the Washington City Paper‘s sharp-tongued editor Erik Wemple rejects the complaints of a scooter-bound disability rights advocate quoted in the story and declares, “Brick sidewalks are one of the greatest ever streetscape accomplishments of the District government.” He neglects to mention that for recent streetscape projects, city contractors lay bricks on top of a solid pored slab of concrete, essentially building two complete sidewalk surfaces on top of each other. This approach combines the stability of cement with the aesthetics of brick, perhaps by sacrificing cost. (Government waste is another City Paper favorite topic)
Arguing they save money, trees, help recycle automobile tires, and create a superior walking surface, one California company is marketing rubber sidewalks. (Illustrated above) Despite a flurry of interest in 2006 (including here in Boston), the concept doesn’t have seemed to catch on in a big way, with local installations limited to a smattering across the country. The company’s own comparison chart may suggest the reason: it costs over $19 a square foot, versus an estimated $15 for concrete or $5-$8 for asphalt. I suspect other reasons are to blame, including the slow pace of change by municipal officials that make material decisions. The perceived pertinence and durability of cement may trump the actual durability, to say nothing about the demand for bricks based solely on aesthetics. Just the term “rubber sidewalk” conjures up images of a tactile, bouncy surface inappropriate for a city street.
The Federal Highway Administration’s report on designing sidewalks and trails orders sidewalk surfaces should be slip resistant under dry conditions (illustrated by this diagram), concluding “most asphalt and concrete surfaces are fairly slip resistant.” A Canadian report (Federation of Canadian Municipalities, Sidewalk Design, Construction and Maintenance) advises municipalities:
In choosing the material for the sidewalk, consideration should also be given to materials that are non-slip and provide adequate drainage, as well as the requirements of users with strollers, inline skates and also the visually and mobility impaired.
The report doesn’t even mention brick, but includes this list of factors for material selection conspicuously omitting safety: life cycle cost (initial construction cost, maintenance cost), durability, service life, location, maintenance, color (concrete reflects more light), vandalism during curing (pre-cast pavers), runoff potential. Just about the only people I can find considering safety in a serious way is the website of a odd advocacy group based in Arlington, Virginia, who complain about the rough surfaces create by bricks, cobblestones, course aggregate, and other materials.
Slippery sidewalks have become a problem, sparking legal action in that very pedestrian city, New York. A 1981 story in the New York Times describes how “new” materials like travertine and terazzo were slippery and resulting in lawsuits from people who fell on them breaking bones and suffering other serious injuries. According to the story, lawyers “in negligence suits, such cases are on the rise as a result of the wider use of a variety of materials for sidewalks to obtain a more esthetic effect than concrete provides.” A “noted” negligence attorney quoted in the story describes how he usually sues the property owner, not the architect or city, for putting down a defective sidewalk, noting adding the city to lawsuits “complicates” them.
With so many complex factors influencing sidewalk materials floating around, we should add the factor of local control. During a walking tour of Washington, D.C.’s H Street neighborhood last year, our guide told us how the most important factor in sidewalk materials was how well it resisted unsightly stains caused by chewing gum. They opted for a cement aggregate, rather than a plain concrete face or brick. Like in many issues, given the uncertain ethical calculus for sidewalks (how should professionals weigh aesthetics, cost, safety, vandalism potential, tree health effects, etc?) city planners defer to the preferences of active local residents. And if those who prefer a higher friction coefficient on wet days aren’t present, so be it.
In Harvard Square near where I witnessed the fall this fall, another person fell in October and was transported to the hospital for stitches. Maryan Amaral, a wheelchair user who frequents the area and witnessed the accident, convinced the City of Cambridge to re-build the sidewalk and crosswalk on the street after collecting 125 signatures on a petition. Happy with the new crosswalk ramps, she’s concerned about the material the city chose, however, pointing out that brick sidewalks often come loose. A lone comment on the online version of the news article about the case begs, “Please, let’s get rid of the brick sidewalks. I know some like their historic charm, but they’re just terrible in the ice and snow, both because they’re difficult to clear and because they tend ice over more readily than concrete. They’re also terrible for the handicapped.” Maybe the next petition will take up the issue.
> Federal Highway Administration: Designing Sidewalks and Trails for Access
> Cambridge Chronicle: Complaint Triggers Appian Way Rehab
> Book: Slip and Fall Prevention
Thanks to my friend Katie Mencarini with the Toole Design Group for help doing research for this post. Photos from Flickr users Lodigs and Supergiball
Posted: July 17th, 2008 | Author: Rob Goodspeed | Filed under: Pedestrian Space | 6 Comments »
About a month ago I was walking around the city on a Saturday with my girlfriend Libby. We were walking east on P Street and approached the intersection with 22nd. Traffic was light, and the street is one way. We stopped, and looked to the right — no cars were coming. I looked to the left, only several seconds remained on the other timed crosswalk. We began to cross. A hitherto unnoticed police officer previously parked in the gas station reacted with impressive speed. He flipped on his siren and roared onto the street. We backed up several steps back to the curb. He rolled up, window down.
I can’t remember what followed verbatim, but the gist was this: the officer said we better “watch out” or we’ll “end up in jail.” I said, thank you and we continued on our way. Needless to say I regret not risking the ticket to point out jaywalking was a civil infraction, punishable usually by a ticket and fine. If it’s possible to end up in jail for jaywalking, that would be news to me. In fact, the offense is not even in the city code, only the city’s regulations, Title 18 of which specifies the following fines:
2603 PEDESTRIAN INFRACTIONS
2603.1 The following civil infractions and their respective fines set forth in this section refer to pedestrians:
INFRACTION (DCMR Citation) – FINE
“DON’T WALK” or “WAIT” Signal Walking against (§ 2302.3) Intersection – $ 20.00
Crossing diagonally (no signal) (§ 2303.3) – 20.00
Crossing between (§ 2304.1) – 20.00
Lawful order or direction of Police Officer [Repealed] D.C. Law 11-157, 43 DCR 3699, 3700
(July 19, 1996)
Parading without a permit (§ 2218) – 50.00
Path of a vehicle
Walk suddenly into (§ 2303.2) – 10.00
Red light, crossing against (§ 2301.4) – 20.00
Fail to yield to an emergency vehicle (§2305.6) – 10.00
Cross at other than right angle (§ 2304.3) – 10.00
Cross where prohibited (§ 2304) – 10.00
Obstructing traffic in – 20.00
Walking in (sidewalk provided) (§ 2305.2) – 10.00
Walking on wrong side (no sidewalk) (§ 2305.3) – 10.00
Soliciting rides while standing in roadway (§2305.4) – 10.00
The practice of ticketing pedestrians in Washington ruffled feathers during a previous crackdown in 2005, and in that same year the police issued a $5 ticket to a 73-year-old urban design expert who suffered serious injuries after being hit by a car. More recently, Nicholas Stephanopoulos argued his way out of a jaywalking ticket by arguing the infraction was by only seconds, and also by noting the D.C. ordinance speaks of a “WALK,” “DON’T WALK,” and “WAIT,” signs, instead of the icons displayed on the city’s new crosswalks.
As we walked home that day, we observed jaywalking at practically every intersection we crossed. Perhaps it’s time to amend city law, to provide pedestrians the right-of-way in marked intersections if no traffic is oncoming.
Posted: May 29th, 2008 | Author: Rob Goodspeed | Filed under: District of Columbia, Pedestrian Space | 2 Comments »
Last week the Post had a big story on the District’s new pedestrian plan. The only problem, as DCist pointed out, was that the actual plan was not yet available online. This week the actual plan was posted to the project website. The website also includes detailed maps of their pedestrian crash analysis, the sidewalk gap analysis, and maps and recommendations for the plan’s priority corridors. The crash map is particularly interesting – this detail of the full map shows police-reported pedestrian crashes between 2000 and 2005, with blue icons indicating one accident to red indicating over 10. Although they seem dangerous, according to this map there were no reported accidents on either Dupont or Logan Circles, underscoring the difference between perceived and actual danger.
The Draft Pedestrian Master Plan found that 18% of D.C. blocks have incomplete or missing sidewalks on one or both sides of the street. It also included these statistics regarding accidents: An average of 670 pedestrians were injured each year from 2000 to 2006, and in 2004 pedestrian fatalities accounted for 22% of all traffic fatalities in the city.
Reviewing the report, the following recommendations caught my eye:
- Complete the sidewalk network
- Locate bus stops at the far side of intersections (after the bus crosses through the intersection) to improve safety
- Increase ticket fine for motorists who refuse to yield to a pedestrian (It’s $50 now in D.C., Arlington charges $500)
- Expand the photo radar speeding reduction program
- Develop walking information on DDOT and Washington.org tourist website
- Reduce the minimum driveway width for residential uses from 12-feet to 10-feet, and establish a 14-foot maximum width … For commercial uses, the District should reduce the minimum width for two-way traffic from 24-foot to 22-foot to reflect best practices. (Appendix C)
- Leading Pedestrian Intervals: “A large proportion of vehicle/pedestrian collisions at signalized intersections involve left- and right-turning vehicles. One phasing strategy to improve pedestrian safety in locations with heavy volumes of turning traffic and frequent pedestrian crossings is to provide an LPI. During the leading interval, all motor vehicle flows are stopped for 2-4 seconds while pedestrians are given the WALK signal.”
- Develop guidelines and standard details for utilizing advanced stop lines at all multi-lane uncontrolled crossings.
- Adopt policies that encouraging medians, minimum width of 6 ft (currently 4 ft)
The consultants preparing the report, Toole Design Group, will accept comments until June 20th before revising it to issue their final plan.
> W. Post: D.C. Pedestrian Safety Strategy to Target High-Crash Intersections
> District of Columbia Pedestrian Master Plan
Posted: October 16th, 2007 | Author: Rob Goodspeed | Filed under: District of Columbia, Pedestrian Space, Transportation, Urban Development | 9 Comments »
With over 250 city blocks totally rebuilt by work crews over the past five years, Washington, D.C. is in the middle of a major urban facelift.
Without fanfare and below the radar of many urban observers, Washington is in the middle of a period of significant street reconstruction and enhancement. In neighborhoods across the city, city officials are repaving streets, rebuilding sidewalks, and installing new lamp posts, parking meters, plazas and streetlights.
Street improvements are an unloved necessity of urban life. Inconvenient and messy, these so-called “streetscaping” improvements are as unglamorous as they are important to the creation of a pleasant public realm. This photo from a project on P Street in Dupont Circle taken last August illustrates just how disruptive the work can be – note the haze was caused by dust in the air.
Some brief statistics from D.C. Department of Transportation’s online street construction project database suggests the scope of the work. City contractors have totally reconstructed 255 blocks in the past five years, 45 blocks are currently under construction, and 21 more are already in the pipeline for the next year.
Other improvements are also being made. Some 1,500 crosswalks are now equipped with countdown timers, more than any other U.S. city we are told. Newly constructed bike lanes crisscross Midcity neighborhoods and Capitol Hill, with plans for more in the works. (Proposed routes and lanes are shown to the right.) New parking meters have appeared in Georgetown and new streetlights in Dupont Circle. Such improvements caused the DC Sidewalk Blog to declare “state of our sidewalks is strong” at the start of the year.
In just a few years, city residents can look forward to much needed improvements in several high-visibility neighborhoods. Dupont Circle’s P Street was rebuilt over the summer, causing some complaints by local businesses. Planning is well underway for a comprehensive streetscaping project for U Street NW and H Street NE, with re-designed intersections, widened sidewalks, and new streetlights. At South Capitol Street, the city spent $27 million last summer to lower an elevated freeway to make other improvements near the new baseball stadium.
A civic plaza with an interactive fountain and public art is planned for a space near the Tivoli Theatre in Columbia Heights.
In addition to physical improvements, the city has hired a consultant to prepare a first-ever pedestrian master plan, which includes detailed analysis of pedestrian injuries, missing sidewalks, and interviews with residents walking the streets along key corridors. Hopefully this document will help set the agenda for future improvements.
The missing element in all of this is the sad state of many of the city’s public parks, epitomized by the neglected Carter G. Woodson Park near my house. (With the possible exception of the new Georgetown Park under construction.) The recently launched CapitalSpace initiative seeks to improve and connect the city’s parks to create a true citywide system. The group’s work is cut out for them. This part of the public realm presents many challenges: coordinating between bureaucracies, managing eclectic neighborhoods, navigating conflicting citizen needs, and confronting the problem of homelessness. Tackling those problems are much harder — and potentially more important — than hiring a construction crew to lay down new bricks and tree boxes.
Quite a few online loans are available from various banks. They may be secured or unsecured loans, depending upon the subject’s statistics. One often needs banking and finance reference before allowing processing of such loans. Most of the banks also offer a loan guaranty service. The ones that get processed most easily are the home equity loans.
Posted: April 23rd, 2007 | Author: Rob Goodspeed | Filed under: District of Columbia, Mount Vernon Square, Parks, Pedestrian Space, Urban Development | 6 Comments »
This post is adapted from a class project I completed recently
In the film Enemy of the State, two characters decide to rendezvous in Washington, D.C.’s Mount Vernon Square. However, instead of using Washington’s square, the filmmakers opted to shoot the scene in a square of the same name located in Baltimore. While I don’t know the actual reason for this decision, I think it could have been caused by the architectural form of the square.
While both are similar in size and share the presence of a church building, we will see that Baltimore’s square is much more clearly defined in space, and would certainly have made a more visually satisfying backdrop to an urban rendezvous. Before turning to the topic of how Mount Vernon Square could be improved, let’s take a look at a three dimensional analysis.
I will analyze the square and its surrounding blocks through two approaches: creating a three dimensional model of the buildings present that give the square its form, and a second model to show the negative spaces or voids.
Now let’s take a look at Baltimore’s Mount Vernon Square.
A variety of architectural styles itself does not prevent the creation of a unified urban fabric. However, when these styles speak in a different language in their dialogue with their neighbors and the street, the result can be an intelligible cacophony. This is the case for Mount Vernon Square, where as a result of the highly contrasting forms and styles, each building speaks as an individual. Let us take a walk around the square, examining the architecture of what we find.
This early 20th Century building (left) was built to serve as the central office for a labor union. The zero setback from the street creates a sharply defined street wall and understated architectural style. While this style of architecture works well in context with similar buildings, here it stands alone on a nearly empty block, facing blocks with quite different forms and architectural styles. Instead of “reading” as a contributor to a larger street or block, this building comes across as an awkward anachronism, a solitary reminder of a previous urban logic.
The Carnegie Library is designed in the Beaux-Arts style, echoing other monuments to City Beautiful Elsewhere in the city. However, it is a proud civic building without a civic use, as it has not housed the library since the 1960s.
Today the building is used as offices for cultural organizations and for special events. Like an old man all dressed up and nowhere to go, the building’s elegant architecture has been stripped of both visitors and its functional meaning.
The Washington Convention Center is probably the must-discussed building on the square. Its design was the result of a contentious public process. The original massing caused one member of the National Capital Planning Commission to characterize the design as a “battleship” plowing into Shaw, and in response to neighborhood concerns the design was modified to minimize the overwhelming height and size through both architectural techniques, sinking it into the ground, and including retail space at the street level. While the high perforated façade may create visual interest, the multiple indentations and projections do not clearly define the square. Instead of serving pedestrians and public space, the structure seems scaled to the tour buses and tractor trailers that deliver goods and visitors to the cavernous convention floor.
If Mount Vernon Square is underutilized, thanks in part to a poor sense of urban space, how might it be improved?
1. Improve the physical definition of square. At the core of it, Mount Vernon Square is not clearly defined as architectural space. While this is the most important flaw, it is potentially the most difficult to fix. New construction at the northwest corner should match the existing building in setback and scale, and serve to define the streets. New construction at the northeast corner, where today there is a small parking lot, should both define the streets and also clearly articulate reflect the overall square shape of the space, including a generous flat face facing the square. The small parks at the east and west sides should be re-designed to be better integrated with the central green space
2. Improve design to accommodate and encourage pedestrian use. Although located near heavily trafficked pedestrian destinations, the square does a poor job of serving their needs and attracting and retaining pedestrian users. 8th Street should be opened to automobile traffic, and changes made to the ground floor retail to make it more visible to passing pedestrians. The pathways and paved spaces around the library building could be re-designed to create a shaded plaza and convenient walkways reflecting current pedestrian patterns. The traffic pattern could even be evaluated to see if additional on-street parking could be allowed to create a buffer between the heavy flows of traffic and plaza.
3. Create programming to better utilize square space. Like some of the city’s other public spaces, the square could host public events, particularly at times when there is less commuter traffic on neighboring streets like weekends or evenings.
Here’s what kind of buildings could enhance the square.
The neglect of public open space is by no means limited to Mount Vernon Square. I have previously written about the widely varied fate of the city’s multitute of small triangle parks, which are split up between various city and federal agencies. There are two initiatives underway to improve the quality of public spaces in the city. The National Park Service has launched an effort to create a plan for the National Mall to enhance the visitor experience and plan for future growth. Another effort called CapitalSpace was recently announced to oversee all of the city’s parks and public open space. This long-overdue initiative is a joint project between the D.C. Office of Planning, D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation, National Park Service and National Capital Planning Commission, and together the groups hope to create an action agenda to “establish a coordinated, connected citywide system of parks” that serve all neighborhoods. I hope these two programs result in increased attention to the city’s many public spaces.
Posted: April 3rd, 2007 | Author: Rob Goodspeed | Filed under: District of Columbia, Dupont Circle, Georgetown, Pedestrian Space, Urban Development | 10 Comments »
My friend John pointed me towards a grassroots campaign advocating 17th Street NW between Massachusetts and New Hampshire Avenue be converted into a pedestrian-only street. While I am not generally an advocate of such streets and think there’s a whole host of measures that can be taken short of completely closing streets to traffic (medians, wider sidewalks, bulb-outs, etc), they seem to work in some intensely pedestrian places. Successful pedestrian streets I’ve seen in the U.S. have a high density of businesses and contain cross streets open to autos for easy access, two things certainly present at 17th Street. Whether or not the proposal is politically feasible, it is certainly worth discussing. Unsurprisingly, the promenade has been covered by the newly launched DC sidewalk blog.
The proposal reminds me of some ideas put together for a magazine called DCenter, edited by architect Julian Hunt. Sadly, we must rely on Marc Fisher’s summary since Julian has chosen not to publish the contents online. According to Fisher, the articles include a proposal by Hunt to cover over the ramps to the Dupont Circle underpass to create public space for the famer’s market and other uses, and another by Catholic University professor Iris Miller, who advocates re-using the Whitehurst Freeway as pedestrian promenade, perhaps not unlike plans for New York City’s High Line. DCenter is available through Amazon, at the National Building Museum Book Shop, and the Franz Bader Bookstore at 1911 I Street NW.
> 17th Street Campaign
> Marc Fisher: “The Whale Has No Famous Author”
The photo of the Carrol Creek Promenade in Frederick, MD was taken by Flickr user TopTechWriter