New York’s “Hometown Newspaper” shows true New York Values:
- Any new building in New York City taller than the Empire State Building must be more beautiful than the Empire State Building.
- Any buildings receiving public subsidy, tax benefits, or increased FAR must be approved by the local Community Board, after public hearings sufficient for gathering local opinion.
- The old Penn Station shall be rebuilt, unless something better is proposed. In this case,”better” means mean functionally better and more beautiful, not more “of our time,” because in our time that seems to mean whatever was taught in architecture schools fifty years ago.
November 13th—Friday the 13th—marked the 13th day in a row that a pedestrian died on a New York City Street, all killed by cars or buses going too fast. They were among the 19 pedestrian deaths in the city last month—basically, one person lost for every business day. These fatalities occurred because despite all the progress New York has made since Mayor de Blasio and his DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg signed the Vision Zero Pledge in December 2013 (more on this below), most of our city streets are still seen primarily as transportation corridors for cars and trucks.
Until we prioritize pedestrian safety over traffic flow, we will never get to zero deaths for pedestrians, cyclists, drivers, or their passengers. But the good news is that when we do make streets that are safe for pedestrians, traffic still flows—and it becomes easy to design streets where people can want to get out of their cars and walk, enjoying public life. Which, after all, is what city life is all about. We don’t have to choose between pedestrian plazas in Times Square and suburban-style arterials. We can have our cake and eat it too.
A little history is relevant here: for decades, our city streets have been controlled by the DOT—the Department of Transportation— which employs traffic engineers and transportation planners who have traditionally seen their job as making traffic flow quickly and safely. They use a federal grading system that grades street quality according to the “Level of Service” (LOS)—a measurement of how well traffic moves.
Anything that impeded traffic flow was a problem to be identified and eliminated. Trees became known as Fixed Hazardous Objects (FHOs), because they damage cars that hit them. Standard practice in traffic engineering is therefore to confine trees to a Vegetative Containment Zone kept away from the vehicles.
People are called MHOs—Moving Hazardous Objects. They also slow down and damage cars that hit them, and so they’re kept away from the cars too.
It doesn’t get much better than this:
High Perpendicular English Gothic, Renaissance woodwork, a Rubens altarpiece, and this:
I’m working on a project in Connecticut where the team is proposing a “Slow Zone” in the center of town. An engineer on a project is a little worried about some of the details I’ve proposed. He wrote, “I think we all agree that architects and planners dream, and I am a dreamer, but engineers work out the details—that’s where the devil is!”
Any designer works out the details. Architects and urban designers use design to solve problems. That’s very different than applying rules.
So for architects, as Mies Van Der Rohe said, “God is in the details.”
Where the devil lies is in the criteria for judging the details. The criteria for the DOT’s Level of Service get in the way of pedestrian safety, walkability, and beautiful streets. That’s why NACTO and the CNU / ITE transportation committee are in the process of revising the criteria—to open possibilities for more variety in the details.
DOT’s have been telling us for years that wider streets are safer. But we now have statistics that show that means “safer for the car to go fast—in the context of 33,000 deaths a year.”Wider is more dangerous for pedestrians, and all we have to do to stop killing ourselves is to slow cars down to 20 mph when there are pedestrians around.
In Street Design we used a traffic engineer’s Walkability Index and renamed it the Walkable Index Number. So we had WIN versus LOS for walkability and placemaking.
If the Connecticut DOT is unable to be flexible enough to allow the making of great places where both cars and pedestrians will be safe (and I don’t know that they’re not), that’s when the town should consider taking over a few blocks of Main Street.
In the meantime, of course, NACTO and CNU / ITE are in the process of revising DOT standards, and eleven American cities have now adopted Vision Zero. [X] could be the first town to adopt it. Vision Zero simultaneously saves lives and gives the legal justification for not always following DOT standards.
Whether or not the town wants to do this is up to the town. But support is obviously very strong.
MY COMMENT ON BIKE PORTLAND’s Bike-friendliness and walk-friendliness are actually pretty different, study says
I’ve only been to Portland twice, mainly downtown. There was no bike share then, so I’ve never ridden a bike in Portland. In other words, I’m not claiming to be an expert on the state of cycling in Portland.
What I do know, as an urban designer and street designer, is that a lot of work on bike lanes around the country has been about adding bicycle lanes to transportation corridors. Transportation corridors are first and foremost about traffic flow.
Many of the transportation corridors where bike lanes have been added are no better for pedestrians after the changes than they were before. Pedestrians want places where people get out of their cars and walk, not non-places where cars flow through, taking most of the space and creating danger. We had 33,000 traffic deaths last year. I don’t know how many of those killed were on bicycles, but obviously if a speeding car hits a cyclist, the cyclist loses.
The safest streets are streets with no cars. The second safest streets are streets where cars are going under 20 mph. And streets where cars go under 20 mph are also streets where it’s easy to make places where people want to get out of their cars and walk.
Santa Fe, New Mexico is the most beautiful city of the 20th century. This simple statement requires some explanation.
WITH 100 NEW PHOTOS
Greenwich Street on a hot summer day
ARCHITECTS would describe these as “original,” and perhaps even as “unprecedented reality”…
WHEN I SHOWED A TRANSFORMATION FOR QUEENS BOULEVARD that included trees over the subway beneath the wide street, some people naturally had some doubts about how well the trees would grow. But look at these trees above the similar “cut and cover” subway at Broadway and 86th Street in Manhattan. “Cut and cover” is a construction process in which the street is dug up, the tracks are laid, and then the street is put back like a roof. I haven’t examined the drawings for either Queens Boulevard or Broadway, but the details should be similar.
Imagine how much better Broadway would look if the trees chosen had come from one of the great street tree species that form majestic canopies (they weren’t), or if the trees had been properly planted for healthy and mature growth (ditto). That means not only giving the roots enough room to spread out, but also planting trees like sycamores in conditions that allows their roots to intermingle, because we know now that many of the great street species share disease resistance through their roots. And today we have systems like Silva Cells for conditions where we know soil compaction and root spread can be a problem.
Now imagine how much worse Broadway would look without any trees…
Made in the shade at the corner of Broadway and West 86th Street, perfect for a hot August afternoon.
“A new House of Lords report has called for a moratorium on any new ‘frightening and intimidating’ shared space schemes”
WE GAVE Exhibition Road a mixed review in Street Design. I visited Exhibition Road a few times and found it over-designed, a frequent problem for 21st century streets. I agreed with our friend and colleague Hank Dittmar, whom we quoted on the subject of Exhibition Road: “Only the parked cars look comfortable.”
It’s in the news this week, because it may be the most famous Shared Space in Britain, at a time when “Shared Space” is the buzzword of the moment for High Streets (Main Streets) around the country. Most local politicians in the UK seem to know about Shared Space, and now a member of the House of Lords has come out with a report that labels them “dangerous”—and in fact many UK Shared Spaces do seem dangerous, for at least two reasons: cars driving on them routinely go faster than is safe for spaces where pedestrians, cyclists, and cars are sharing the road; and they are frequently unsafe for the blind.
For a couple of years now,I have been … well, I don’t know what the best word is, but it is somewhere between bored and irritated, by the current course of architecture forcing people to be extravagant even if they don’t want or need that. I think there is a fatigue with “originality” now and an interest in the modesty of an artist.
I think there is a fatigue with “originality” now & an interest in the modesty of an artist.”
THERE’S STILL no resolution to the war in Washington over Frank Gehry’s design for a memorial to General Dwight D. Eisenhower. Many who love Gehry’s work hate the memorial design,* which the Eisenhower family rejected. But Kansas Senator Bob Dole and Kansas Congressman Pat Roberts (What’s The Matter With Kansas?) are calling in favors and pushing to build the monument while there are veterans of the war alive to see the monument.
The most “innovative” and “inventive”—both favorite words in architecture today—of these is called Remembrance and Honor. An empty sarcophagus is lifted high and ringed by a crown of honor held aloft by Classical columns. The tower turns from the Washington grid to face the rising sun on Armistice Day:
POSTSCRIPT: When the highest profits in a market like New York’s come from 1) converting affordable rental housing into housing for sale that buyers use for investment and speculation, and from 2) building housing for the rich and the super-rich, there is no logical reason to say deregulating the market will bring affordable housing.
In a market that does not have a sudden imbalance of wealth and a large new group of buyers, the libertarian supply and demand argument might apply. But when a tiny group of people who own half the wealth in the world suddenly focus on a market that is already booming without them, the traditional supply and demand is no longer the problem. Every year, more and more affordable rentals are removed from the market, while building costs and land prices become too high to create new affordable rentals without subsidies, regardless of demand.
IN RESPONSE TO:
Gabriel Metcalf, Jul 23, 2015, 184 Comments
Like some other commenters here, I think there is a fatal flaw in this argument. I have to qualify that by saying that I’m not familiar with the current housing market in San Francisco, but I am familiar with the market in New York City, where I live, and London, where my brother lives.
The fatal flaw is in thinking that the market will build housing for the middle class and blue collar workers and families if government just gets out of the way. New York and London show a different history, and I suspect there are similar factors at play in San Francisco.
The problem in New York actually started not with global capitalism, which distorts the local market in “global cities,” but with the widespread conversion of rental apartments to condominiums and co-ops, which began back in the 1970s. At that time, when the New York market was weak, there was no price difference most of the time between rent-stabilized prices and market-rate prices (of course there were exceptions, created by people who had occupied rent controlled apartments for decades, but they were the exceptions).