Category Archives: design

Changing Perceptions of Our Streets

I found a good example of model language for a community wide vision for complete streets from Change Lab Solutions, “law and policy innovation for the common good”.   We are in the public comment phase now for the Albuquerque Bernalillo County Comprehensive Planning and Zoning update process.  Now is a good time to chime in.  Here’s an example of what kinds of changes citizens can ask for pertaining to the way we structure our city going forward:

Transportation Vision Statement: The community of Albuquerque envisions a transportation system that encourages healthy, active living, promotes transportation options and independent mobility, increases community safety and access to healthy food, reduces environmental impact, mitigates climate change, and supports greater social interaction and community identity by providing safe and convenient travel along and across streets through a comprehensive, integrated transportation network for pedestrians, bicyclists, public transportation riders and drivers, push scooters and skateboarders, and people of all ages and abilities, including children, youth, families, older adults, and individuals with disabilities.

The technical know how for designing complete streets is here.  We know how to empower the movement of people beyond private automobiles.  Here’s a good example of how we do that at a detailed level, from intersection design to lane widths and signal timing:
http://www.ite.org/css/online/DWUT10.html

We do that, we might be able to improve healthspan, a concept that combines longevity with quality of life.  Doug Seals is doing a talk at CU, Boulder on healthspan.   My work focuses on this intersection of health, transportation, and the opportunities to make improvements.  Supporting health in the environment and people is a mutual goal that takes care of our greatest economic assets, a healthy planet and a healthy happy empowered humankind.

piñon stand

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Walking UNM

I took a walk on the University of New Mexico’s main campus yesterday after a meeting.  I had planned to visit the library but it was a nice day to walk and look at that horizon where the landscape meets the sky.  The wooden trim and decorated beams adorning buildings and the places where adobe brushes celestial blue make for an abstract charm such as music imparts.

UNM blanca

UNM chapel wood

UNM double corners

The integration of the built and natural environment is exceptional in New Mexico.  Cultural traditions intertwine and inspire new creations.  Trees lend a rooted and organic flavor.

UNM colors

UNM Maxwell Adobe Wall

UNM chapel

UNM spikey desert plants

Everything in planning and design is about getting it down to human scale.  And making the big things like buildings approachable and inviting.  The vernacular architecture of UNM makes the mundane seem extraordinary and imbues an everyday walk with a special character.  The upclose environment is warm and stimulating.  Clouds roll and dissolve in the mile high sky against distant mountain drops.  The omnipresent sun.  Time has a way of vanishing here.

UNM opening

UNM turqoise courtyard

UNM spiral

UNM big office

UNM greetings

Bike Infrastructure 2.0

Since I’ve moved to Albuquerque I’ve really brushed up on my traffic skills.  In Flagstaff we had a few busy intersections, a few tricky places to navigate.  Albuquerque is much more complex.  Figuring out the safest way to proceed through town is not always clear.   I work hard at it.

Albuquerque has more linear miles of bicycle facilities than almost any city I know.  Many of the bike lanes in place are first generation bike lanes, and almost all of them are too narrow.  They guide bicyclists into a riskier position over at the far right edge of the road.  The good news is we are learning how to design better bike facilities.  Time for bicycle infrastructure 2.0 .

bike lane preferred safe design iamtraffic

I like the ‘best practice preferential use lane’ in the graphic above.  It guides bicycles to a position that is more advantageous and reduces conflict with motorists and pedestrian traffic.  The six foot bike lane integrated with a narrower general use lane and buffered from the edge makes bicyclists more visible, which is the number one concern for comfort and safety.  It makes bicyclist more predictable because they won’t have to maneuver as often to avoid debris, bad pavement, or a car pulling out from a driveway or side street, and bicyclists will have a better field of vision and improved sight lines.  Crash risks from cars turning right in front of bicyclists, or crossing left in front of bicyclists from the oncoming direction, will also be reduced.  With an integrated bike lane (integrated meaning flush with the pavement of the general travel lane, with a simple white stripe between them) bicyclists have maximum options and can change lanes to pass slower traffic, to turn left, or to avoid a hazard such as a dog on a long leash along the side of the road, or to give extra room to people walking or to protect playing children.

A six foot lane encourages bicyclists to ride two abreast.  Two abreast means bicyclists double their vision and are poised to communicate.  Riding two abreast makes bicyclists more visible.  Riding with a partner is the safest and most encouraging way to bicycle.  And yes it is fun!

Narrow, rough, edge bike lanes have caused a lot of undesirable outcomes.  Bicyclists are less visible, and motorists and bicyclists sometimes interpret this road configuration as meaning bicycles have less priority and are supposed to be out of the way.  That is the wrong orientation for safety, and quite frankly it can be very discouraging to ride in that environment.  The good news is we have knowledge and tools to make things better, and we know how to use them.   We know that increasing bike and pedestrian safety increases road safety for everyone.  We know that encouraging more people to feel they have the choice to ride when they want to is empowering, and can be a gateway to habits of lifelong health and positive social relationships.

The best infrastructure makes traffic principles intuitive and the rules of the road clear.  The Bike League’s Quick Guide has the basic rules of the road and principles of traffic law on p. 14, 15.  I see a lot of bike guides and maps that quote local traffic code, but that is not always easy to digest.  The Quick Guide distills the practices of safe cycling to essential components. The pathway to growing bicycle ridership is easier than we sometimes think.  If we simply focus on supporting the people already bicycling and treating them with respect and dignity, then it will be easy to see that this way of travel is something our society embraces and promotes.

Roadway Safety Culture Conference Nov. 5-6

I was browsing the FHWA’s Planning resources and found this upcoming conference.  Here’s the registration link.  When we get organized, partner up and decide we are going to do something about an issue, we make progress.  Here in New Mexico our Dept. of Transportation is working on “retooling” itself to “improve safety for all system users…provide multimodal access and connectivity for community prosperity and health…and respect New Mexico’s cultures, environment, history, and quality of life” to meet these goals set forward in the 2040 Transportation Plan.  By tapping into these national resources, learning about organization transformation, and building interdisciplinary and interagency networks, plus forging public private partnerships, we can accelerate progress on increasing roadway safety.  We’ll get immediate and much more satisfactory results by coming together and focusing.  Here’s more information on the conference:
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Road Diets and Safety Measures

We love our American streets but there are many planning and design devices to make them even better.  The Pedestrian Bicycle and Information Center is offering a free 12 part seminar series for improving walking safety.  Street designs for walking as a primary and dignified travel mode set the foundation for building a culturally rich and lively community environment.

Here’s a brief announcement highlighting the 12 part seminar series:
_______________________________________________________

pedbikeinfo pedestrian safety 12 part series Fall 2015

This series will provide participants with an in-depth exploration of some of the countermeasures and design strategies that can be implemented to improve pedestrian safety. Each of the 12 sessions will feature detailed information about countermeasures and design strategies, supporting research and guidance, as well as case studies highlighting examples of implementation from around the country.

  • Crossing Islands and Raised Medians
  • Road Diets
  • Marked Crosswalks
  • Curb Extensions, Bulb-Outs and Neckdowns
  • Rectangular Rapid Flashing Beacons
  • Pedestrian Hybrid Beacon
  • Leading Pedestrian Intervals
  • Pedestrian Safety at Interchanges
  • Lighting Strategies
  • Traffic Calming
  • Pedestrian Safety at Roundabouts
  • Transit Stop Improvements

Led by national experts in pedestrian safety countermeasures and design, this series of webinars will be highly valuable for engineers and public works staff who are involved in roadway design. Each presentation will be followed by a discussion period involving a question and answer session with the presenters.  Those who attend the live sessions will be provided with a certificate of attendance for 1.5 hours of instruction. The webinars will also be submitted to the American Planning Association to be considered for 1.5 CM credits.
_________________________________________________________________

Changing the culture around driving, walking and street use occurs simultaneously with upgrading road designs.  Making cultural adjustments can be one of the more challenging aspects of any street redesign project.  A basic part of the approach is providing facts to the public, elected officials, and transportation staff to address fears or misperceptions.

When a community meeting was held in Los Angeles to discuss traffic flow on a street with a new configuration, an 11 year old boy stood up to deliver comments that stunned the crowd.  He said, “I don’t understand why driving a car makes you think you’re more important than someone else.”  And he called out the behavior of adults for their horrifying words and violent actions harassing, intimidating and bullying fellow citizens on the road.  This young person expressed the incredible power of clear human wisdom, empathy and an egalitarian mindset.

Doing proactive community engagement, outreach and education helps people experience the power and excitement a good walking and biking network unleashes, and helps us open to the possibilities for improving health, social connectedness and economic growth.  We want to live in a world that recognizes, values and activates our inherent powers.  We want environments designed for health and mobility freedom.  Walking and biking are basic elements of human living, as important as clean air and water.  They are part of the basic constitution of human rights, required for people to survive and thrive and live together.  It makes sense that our everyday culture and environment is designed to support these beneficial activities.  Walking and biking are essential elements of the good life sustaining the American dream.

Resources:
Federal Highway Administration road diet guide:
http://safety.fhwa.dot.gov/road_diets/info_guide/index.cfm
Separated Bike Lane Planning and Design Guide
http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/environment/bicycle_pedestrian/publications/separated_bikelane_pdg/page00.cfm
Bicycle Safety Guide and Counter Measure Selection System
http://pedbikesafe.org/
Here’s the link again to the upcoming 12 part series on pedestrian safety by pedbikeinfo.org
http://www.pedbikeinfo.org/training/webinars_PSAP_countermeasurestrategies.cfm
The comments from the 11 year old person are here.  It is one of the most articulate statements I’ve heard on the frankness necessary to call out and eliminate barbaric behavior on roads.  I found this story from Steve Clark, from the Bicycle Friendly Community program.

The Mystery of Albuquerque’s Development

“Nobody would teach me anything!”
–Edward Van Halen on the impetus for developing his original guitar playing style

I saw some press in the Daily Lobo and ABQ Journal on the rapid transit project this morning.  This discussion is a leap for Albuquerque.  Though we can cite other city’s projects, we truly are learning how to do great transit in Albuquerque as we go along.  The Daily Lobo article shared this photo (below) of a rendering of a transit station.  And mentioned that the Federal funds would provide 80% of the project costs.  ABQ’s investment of 20 million could return about 2-3 billion in private investment along the Central Ave. corridor.  Private investors come to where the public sector is building a strong foundation for long term community improvement.

ABQ Rapit Transit station rendering 2015.9.18

It looks like a comfortable and relaxing streetscape.  I’ve heard different arguments based on fears about the shift in modes this change offers.  Because transit, walking and biking are many times more efficient than private motor coaches, the overall capacity for helping people enjoy Central Avenue will be enhanced with improved rapid transit service.  That’s why all world class cities have invested in superb transit.  A transportation CEO would see this is as easy executive decision to make.  It’s more efficient, safer and creates better options for everyone.  Rapid transit service spans the economic continuum and includes people that can’t afford spending $10,000/year on auto travel, or who want to invest their funds in education, family travel, or other enterprises.  It helps people save money, improves the environment, and it may come in handy for all of us to let a professional do the driving from time to time.

Competitive transit creates paradigm shifts in the transportation system.  With quicker, more user friendly and reliable transit service, it becomes possible for residents off of Coors on the West Mesa, and Tramway on the East, to ride bikes, walk, or take transit to the express line and commute in to their jobs, school, or for cultural activities throughout central Albuquerque using multi mode travel.   Since this type of project planning is new to Albuquerque I think it is natural there is a learning curve, and it is a process and investment to build up the public trust.  The framework should continually be refined and strengthened by public and private partnerships working together.  The re-creation of the heart of Albuquerque is an ongoing development.  Transportation is a powerful tool to align and structure cities and attract people.

This transit is a good opportunity for spreading the goodness of Nob Hill’s stimulating and vibrant action with new iterations driven by the local themes in diverse neighborhoods.  Same great service throughout the corridor, with variations in flavor and style.  This is the core ingredient for urban vitality.  Albuquerque has it.  If anything the new rapid transit proposal is not ambitious enough, but extending service or doing light rail is considerably more expensive.  And the transit authority is already talking about the next steps in expanding service and connectivity in the system along the airport hub and Paseo del Norte corridor, which is good.

Albuquerque Rapid Tranist represents a renewal of our whole city.  A big part of our identity and how we see things stems from how we move.  Being able to sit back and relax, talk to neighbors, and make travel time productive time whether for work, reading, or resting makes a huge difference in our capacity to enjoy the amenities living in this great city offers.  We don’t have to worry about being able to enjoy our driving.  We’ll always be able to do that.  Expanding mobility freedoms and welcoming diversity in America has been key to our success.  I would dare to say that leading edge transit is an integral aspect of the new American dream.

Resources:

Vancouver’s Greenest City Plan is forward thinking, inclusive and smart.  We still have more sun.  And we have genuine, great, diverse people who deserve improvements.
http://vancouver.ca/green-vancouver/greenest-city-action-plan.aspx

The Daily Lobo’s article Central Rapid Transit Improves Commuter Flow
http://www.dailylobo.com/article/2015/09/plans-for-new-rapid-transit-system

The Albuquerque Journal also had an article this morning that searches for a cohesive narrative on modern transit and how it supports economic and social mobility, and makes our transportation system more robust, flexible and accessible.

Reflecting Emerging Values in the Built Environment

“Non-partisan public works projects…begin the physical transformation required to attract future residents and jobs, but also catalyze a cultural shift in thinking about what kinds of policies and infrastructure we should be investing in.  This cultural shift will mean far more for global sustainability than any physical project ever could.”  Ryan Gravel, for CNN

“City is looking forward, not backward.”  –Steven Lit on Cleveland’s Euclid Avenue transformation organized around transit, walking and biking instigated by bus rapid transit service, which catalyzed billions in investment for highly livable development.

Albuquerque Rapid Transit, or ART

One thing that stands out when you visit Albuquerque is the variety you see along mainstreet, Central Avenue, which spans the entire city lengthwise on an east west axis.  It’s kind of a mixed bag with strong incongruities.  The Albuquerque Rapid Transit project could be a gamechanger in the way we approach this historic public space known for its vital connectivity.

Rapid Transit has been transformational in places such as Euclid Avenue in Cleveland.  It can provide a spine to tie together all the walkable, livable and thriving places on Central including downtown, the University of New Mexico, the community college, the Innovation District, Nobb Hill, health care facilities, Sandia Labs, Kirtland Air Force Base, as well as serving as a lifeline feeding emerging development.  When people have low cost and low stress transportation choices, behaviors change, and money and energy is freed up to invest in building up the economy and quality living.   Most of all it regenerates the quality of life along Central Avenue by enabling more mixed use development and human scale activities.  Quality of life is our economy, and we need to expand the quality so it flows up and down Central Ave.

Green development of the built environment along Central makes for a perfect analogue to the linear park the Rio Grande makes in its north south flow across the city.  Rapid transit helps us maintain our diverse neighborhoods and community centers but links the arts, science, culture and food that Albuquerque is so famous for together in a new way.  When we are traveling we’ll enjoy where we are at and give more attention to the people that matter to us.  We’ll have better access to outdoor amenities and adventure.  You could get on the transit to take a trip to Tingley Park and the river, or bring your bike along and go to either end of the line, and ride out into the wild open spaces of the West Mesa or foothills.  Excellent public spaces are there for us all to enjoy.  High tech businesses and small entrepreneurial endeavors can more easily intermingle.  Everyone will have better access to education and schools.  Government hubs and transportation centers such as Alvarado and the Airport can be more closely tied in.

We’ve got a lot of issues along Central right now, and how we deal with those determines our future.  Transit is a strong idea to put forward and see how it can compete with the other contenders to bring proactive solutions.  Cities are complex systems, at the intersection of health, environment, transportation, social and economic development.  It’s easy to envision rapid transit on Central providing a platform and network for positive change in Albuquerque.

Research shows rapid transit is not a speculative endeavor, but a proven generator of efficiency, creativity, and connectivity, and an attractor for private investment and talented people.  It’s a transportation fundamental that galvanizes business investment & lifts quality of life.  The chief determinant of success is leadership and people’s willingness to go for a new ride together.

References and notes:

Albuquerque’s polling results for “Where do you think the city should focus most of its future transportation investments” yielded high favorability for biking infrastructure, smart traffic management systems, and pedestrian-focused environments.  The bus rapid transit system includes a new traffic management system which can be programmed for higher performance.
http://abc-zone.com/document/survey-polling-results (page 14)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HealthLine
“The vehicles run on a diesel-electric hybrid motor system that produce 90% less emissions than regular buses.”

Turning Urban Sprawl into Sustainable Cities by Ryan Gravel, CNN
http://www.cnn.com/2012/06/23/opinion/beltline-sprawl-gravel-opinion/index.html
“This kind of change [the conversion of urban infrastructure] is critical to the region’s economic success — to any region struggling to reinvent itself so that it can thrive in the global marketplace.  Because while these new perspectives contrast sharply with previous generations who built our sprawling roadway network, they mirror national shifts in preferences about the built environment driven largely by a general disenchantment with car-dependent lifestyles and an increasing desire for cultural authenticity in the places we live and work.”

Euclid Corridor Project Helps Drive 4 Billion in Cleveland Development by Steven Lit
http://www.cleveland.com/arts/index.ssf/2008/02/euclid_corridor_project_helps.html
“Developers gravitate toward places where they see investment happening.  There’s no question it’s [the bus rapid transit investment] a catalyst.”  — Lillian Kuri, Cleveland Foundation quoted in Steven Lit’s article

Innovate ABQ + Innovation Corridor by Tim Trujillo
http://www.dpsdesign.org/how-we-work/knowledge-center/innovate-abq-innovation-corridor
I can see the innovation corridor that Tim describes extending to a third community activity center, Hiland Community, and a fourth node to Sandia Labs, Four Hills and Tramway.  Extending mixed use development and livable communities harbored on Central’s rapid transit helps everyone, and increases access to the colleges and downtown employment centers for residents of the Southeast Heights including the International District.

Right along Central now we have hidden gems such as Environmental Dynamics, Inc., which are poised to contribute to the making of the new sustainable, human scale and ecologically oriented built environment.  EDI-arch has many design and building projects pulling in the culture and heritage of New Mexico around their theme of regenerative design.
http://edi-arch.com/portfolio/on-the-boards/el-camino-real/el-camino-real-information

One of the things we might consider when envisioning the future is adding an anchor building to balance the Central Avenue corridor, expanding the breadth of the cultural shed lengthwise across the city, much like the Whitney Museum’s placement on the Highline did for NY City.  Or we can add two new buildings, one on either side of the river.