Category Archives: design

Waterworks in Albuquerque

If I had sought counseling, I might have become a more mature, emotionally well-adjusted human being.  But I preferred becoming a writer.  —Viet Thanh Nguyen, “Don’t Call Me a Genius”, New York Times, April 14, 2018

I read a Robert Frost poem this morning, and it reminded me of my bicycle rides in Albuquerque.  The North Diversion Channel multi-use trail is a main cycling connection across town.  It runs along a big concrete ditch that’s been engineered to control the water shed from the Sandia Mountains.   Sometimes I close my eyes and try to imagine what this landscape looked like before we built up this city.  Water, which is often used by poets as a metaphor for memory and justice, is a primary shaping force in the landscape.  Water has a voice.

The situation, now and in the past, is that the minority and marginalized communities of this or any other country are often not voiceless.  They’re simply not heard.  –Viet Thanh Nguyen, NYTimes

On Saturday’s ride I made a point to stop by the Mill Pond Refuge at the Sawmill Community Land Trust.  Keshet, a local dance company, performed a water dance there at 2pm.  It was part of the 3rd biannual National Water Dance, where communities renew their connections to the life giving world of water.  In the arid Southwest, during this drought, it was especially poignant.  The Sawmill location represents our community’s changing relationship with water.  Below is the poem from Robert Frost, and then a few photos from the Water Dance that I saw Saturday.

A Brook in the City, by Robert Frost

The farmhouse lingers, though averse to square
With the new city street it has to wear
A number in.  But what about the brook
That held the house as in an elbow-crook?
I ask as one who knew the brook, its strength
And impulse, having dipped a finger length
And made it leap my knuckle, having tossed
A flower to try its currents where they crossed.
The meadow grass could be cemented down
From growing under pavements of a town;
The apple trees be sent to hearthstone flame.
Is water wood to serve a brook the same?
How else dispose of an immortal force
No longer needed? Staunch it at its source
With cinder loads dumped down? The brook was thrown
Deep in a sewer dungeon under stone
In fetid darkness still to live and run–
And all for nothing it had ever done,
Except forget to go in fear perhaps.
No one would know except for ancient maps
That such a brook ran water.  But I wonder
If from its being kept forever under,
The thoughts may not have risen that so keep
This new-built city from both work and sleep.
–1923

References:

http://keshetarts.org  “Founded in 1996, Keshet is an Albuquerque-based nonprofit which exists to inspire and unite community by fostering unlimited possibilities through dance, mentorship and a creative space for the arts. Uniting the arts, the artist and the audience, Keshet invites you to engage, experience and be inspired through bold explorations of movement and celebrations of community.”

Keshet’s Water Dance:  http://keshetarts.org/join-national-water-dance-2018_dancing-for-water-in-nm/

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The beautiful necessity of cycling

…human inventions are magical in that they give life to what heretofore had no existence. Our good working ideas have the capacity to direct our lives in a manner indistinguishable from any other reality.  —Cormac McCarthy, “Cormac McCarthy Returns to the Kekulé Problem” in Nautilus

The invention of cycling is a remarkable achievement.  Along with walking, cycling epitomizes sustainable transportation.  Human beings are designed to move under our own power. Walking is the most basic transportation.  A bicycle is the most basic vehicle.  By designing our cities and streets around the concept of serving walking and cycling well, we improve all types of human mobility. It is the long-term solution to our current transportation challenges.

This song by Rush, Subdivisions, reminds me of the world I grew up in.  It sometimes felt alien, partitioned, and anonymous spending so much time in automobiles.  A new degree of culture is emerging that commands our respect for the inalienable freedoms of human movement.  The culture that embraces an array of transportation opportunities dramatically improves our travel safety, and revs up our lives and economy.  Multimodal transportation–serving all travel modes–is the new helm.  This framework brings health, sustainability, and builds community.  It’s a saner world, one where we are not incessantly rushing, but spending time doing things that truly bring us joy, and listening more to what our bodies have to tell us.

An article in The Guardian today mentions “vehicles are now America’s biggest CO2 source”.  It discusses reducing emissions and improving efficiency, but not increasing walking and cycling.  It’s not an either/or proposition, it is about viewing walking and cycling as priorities, absolute necessities, basic public goods.  Without serving those choices, we are left with a conundrum.  We’ve learned structuring cities and streets around cars reduces choices.  Walking and cycling make healthier, happier people, and better places.  They’re good choices.  Everyone yearns for health, happiness and freedom.  Elevating the idea that streets are for people makes many transportation problems disappear, and creates a system that matches our human potential.

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We need to get more people experiencing cycling to open minds.  It is a key technology for sustainable development.  Cycling aligns with the beautiful necessity of our human nature.  We are an animal designed to move with our legs.  The bicycle unites that reality with an ingenious tool.  Cycling is magical, like having wings or discovering new superpowers.  It changes the way we experience and perceive the world. Cycling joins the power of wheeled locomotion with the sensitivities and keen pleasures of being human.  By designing our streets to serve walking and cycling first, we’ll give rise to a new form of built-environment that connects us through our activities and makes our spirits soar higher.  Once we obey the concept of designing cities for wellness, our culture can expand in new directions, giving our dreams real leg power.

Akemashite omedetō gozaimasu

明けましておめでとうございます

Happy New Year!

Homecoming with the birds

The Sandhill Cranes and other birds have returned to the Bosque del Apache for winter again. Visiting them there is amazing beyond imagination.  When we inhabit that place with them we are swept into the great sea of life.  One small moment in time becomes eternal.  Nature’s grace wins us over.  The first thing we saw was a huge flock of snow geese fly out from a shallow lake.

The geese are plentiful, but the cranes’s elegance stands out.  They seem to be messengers of peace, gliding elegantly in the sky.  We sense their grace, but there is something deeper here that flows into our being and integrates with our identity, a knowledge that lives in this place.

The way of the cranes mirrors our culture.  They sing, dance, play, and bond as a family unit.  But we have something different in terms of our curiosity.  We are looking for more to make our spirits soar.  By observing the cranes and appreciating this place, we receive an influx of nature’s strength, even more than we knew to look for.  With love and respect we belong here.

Resources–for more great photos, visit Mai’s instragram, and/or her website:
https://www.instagram.com/sansaistudio/
https://sansai.photoshelter.com

We also rode bikes there.  Check it out on Strava!
https://www.strava.com/activities/1301356130

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

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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