Friday, December 07, 2012

Reimagining streets, rethinking stereotypes.

Earlier this year while we were lugging some tables and chairs for a New Albany Public Art Project concert on Bank Street, the New Albanian and I were discussing the occasional but growing in number event-related street closings in the city. Beyond the usual learning curve items that come with such efforts, he made what I thought was a salient point: Not only were people perfectly willing to park some distance away and walk when merited, but sitting in the street itself was helping to expose more of them to urban public space, both conceptually and experientially. It was show and tell, an actual place for the names we so regularly attach to what for some had been a matter of pure imagination. It's a phenomenon being replicated across the country to good effect.
Reimagining America’s Streets, by Mike Samuelson, Orton Family Foundation

The Open Streets Project is leading this revolution in how we view and use streets. Also known as Ciclovias, Sunday Streets, Viva Streets (to name a few), Open Streets temporarily closes busy streets to automobiles so that people may use them for any activity but driving—walking, jogging, bicycling, dancing… name your physical activity—bringing thousands of people together to experience their city in a way that is normally forbidden. The number of Open Streets in North America has grown from just 11 in 2005 to more than 80 in 2012.

With those experiences come more learning, concepts, and misconceptions to be augmented and corrected. Luckily, in bike-friendly places like Portland, Oregon, people are taking up the task of asking and answering the questions tied to the necessary shift toward urban revitalization and alternative transportation modes.
Cyclists and Pedestrians Can End Up Spending More Each Month Than Drivers, by Emily Badger, the Atlantic Cities Place Matters

If you’re a shopkeeper with such suspicions, you’re probably not on board with any plan that would cut down on parking right outside your door. Cyclists are the ones with time to kill; drivers are the ones with money.

This perception is problematic in a place like Portland, where the bike-friendly city government is now looking to extend the reach of bike infrastructure – and the appeal of bikes themselves – to newer riders and neighborhoods farther afield from the urban core. "As we move out beyond those areas into more auto-oriented areas," Clifton says, "we start to see businesses say, ‘Hey, wait a minute. You’re taking away on-street parking to put in bike lanes, you’re taking away the one parking spot in front of my store to put in a bike corral. I don’t see many bikers around here. So what does this mean for me?"

Until now there hasn’t been much empirical evidence to allay such concerns. Clifton and several colleagues have attempted to fill that research gap in a project for the Oregon Transportation Research and Education Consortium (read a PDF of the draft report here). They surveyed 1,884 people walking out of area convenience stores, restaurants and bars, and another 19,653 who’d just done their supermarket shopping. Some of the results are unsurprising: Drivers still make up a plurality of customers to all of these businesses. And, with greater trunk capacity, they far outspend people who travel to the grocery store by foot, bike or transit.

But for all of the other business types examined, bikers actually out-consumed drivers over the course of a month. True, they often spent less per visit. But cyclists and pedestrians in particular made more frequent trips (by their own estimation) to these restaurants, bars and convenience stores, and those receipts added up. This finding is logical: It’s a lot easier to make an impulse pizza stop if you’re passing by an aromatic restaurant on foot or bike instead of in a passing car at 35 miles an hour. Such frequent visits are part of the walkable culture. Compare European communities – where it's common to hit the bakery, butcher and fish market on the way home from work – to U.S. communities where the weekly drive to Walmart’s supermarket requires an hour of dedicated planning.

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