The New Urban Interface: Hosted by DUSP Visiting Scholar Aaron Naparstek

MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning’s City Design and Development Forum presents six evenings stimulated by new directions in urban design and planning.

Monday, October 15, 6:00 pm, 10-485
Strong Towns: Rising From the Ashes of Suburbia
Charles Marohn
Executive Director, Strong Towns

 

Following World War II, the United States embarked on the great social and financial experiment of suburbanization. The development of suburbia created tremendous growth, opportunity and prosperity for a generation that had just lived through economic depression and war. But sprawling, automobile-dependent development would prove far too costly to sustain. Today, nearly every U.S. city is grappling with this harsh fiscal legacy. Charles Marohn joins DUSP Visiting Scholar Aaron Naparstek for a presentation and conversation on how America can get back to building Strong Towns.

Monday, October 29, 5:00 pm, 10-485
Sustainable Streets: New York City’s New Public Space Vision
Andrew Wiley-Schwartz
Assistant Commissioner, New York City Department of Transportation Public Plaza Program

Andy Wiley-Schwartz is an Assistant Commissioner for Planning and Sustainability at New York City Department of Transportation. He was hired by Commissioner Janette Sadik-Kahn in 2007 to develop a public space program at DOT and develop a complete street design and planning process for the department. In this capacity he developed and launched the NYC Plaza Program to create new public spaces out of existing streets in communities across New York City. Andy joins DUSP Visiting Scholar Aaron Naparstek in discussing the details of the groundbreaking approach to urban planning and design that has led to the construction of more than 50 new plazas and 21 acres of new public space in North America’s biggest, busiest, most politically complex urban environment.

Monday, November 5, 6:00 pm, MIT Media Lab, E14, Third Floor Atrium
Peer-to-Peer Politics: Moving Beyond Left and Right
An election eve conversation with
Steven Johnson, author of “Future Perfect: The Case for Progress in a Networked World”
and Harvard Law School’s Lawrence Lessig, Yochai Benkler & Susan Crawford

The market versus the state. Big capital versus big government. Just about everything we talk about in politics today revolves around those two poles. What if there’s a third option? Instead of those two, creaky old monoliths, imagine a web of collaboration that’s neither market nor state where no one is in charge because everyone is in charge. In his new book, “Future Perfect: The Case for Progress in a Networked World,” author Steven Johnson argues that the core principles that apply to the design and function of the Internet could be applied to solving many different kinds of problems, across dozens of sectors, including cities. What if the most powerful tool to advance the cause of social progress is the peer-to-peer network? Join hosts Aaron Naparstek of MIT’s Department of Urban Studies and Planning and Ethan Zuckerman of the MIT Media Lab for an election eve conversation with three leading thinkers on the Internet and society.

Monday, November 19, 6:00 pm, 10-485
Human Transit: Public Transportation for Personal Freedom
Jarrett Walker
Author and Transit Planner

Jarrett Walker is an international expert in public transit planning and policy and the author of the popular blog HumanTransit.org. He consults in North America through his own firm Jarrett Walker & Associates, and is also a Principal Consultant with MRCagney in Australia. In his new book, “Human Transit,” Walker provides planners, policy-makers and citizens with the basic tools, the critical questions and the means to make smarter decisions about designing and implementing transit services. Join MIT Visiting Scholar Aaron Naparstek for a conversation with Jarrett Walker, as he shares his vision of “abundant access,” in which public transit might be brought back to a core purpose of expanding every individual’s freedom to access the riches of their city.

Monday, November 26, 5:00 pm, Long Lounge, 7-429
Chicago Forward: Toward a User-Friendly City
Gabe Klein
Commissioner, Chicago Department of Transportation

What happens when a tech-minded entrepreneur is unexpectedly chosen to lead a big city government bureaucracy? Gabe Klein was an unconventional pick to head the District of Columbia’s Department of Transportation when he was hired back in 2008, by then-mayor Adrian Fenty. He’d been a Zipcar executive. He helped found a local boutique food-truck company. He grew up in a Virginia ashram called Yogaville. But he had never worked in government. Over the next 23 months Klein implemented a program of transformative innovation, rapidly rolling out bike-sharing, new bike lanes, streetcar plans and next-generation parking infrastructure. Now Klein is a year-and-a-half into his second unexpected job in government, as the head of Chicago’s Department of Transportation under Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Join MIT Visiting Scholar Aaron Naparstek in conversation with one of America’s most visionary and inspiring new urban leaders.

Monday, December 3, 6:00 pm, 10-485
No Accident: Urban Design and Motor Vehicle Violence
Aaron Naparstek
Streetsblog founder and MIT DUSP Visiting Scholar

If you ever want to kill someone New York or just about any other American city, use a car as your weapon. As long as you are sober, licensed and do not flee the scene of the “accident,” it is virtually guaranteed that you will get away with murder. Around the world, 1.3 million people die in road traffic crashes and 20 to 50 million more are injured each year. It is a massive global health crisis that, for the most part, we ignore. Streetsblog founder and DUSP Visiting Scholar Aaron Naparstek discusses emerging new perspectives on motor vehicle violence and the critical role that urban planners and designers must play in solving the problem.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Department of Urban Studies and Planning
City Design and Development
77 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge

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The New York City Bike Lane Backlash is Completely Irrational

The New Yorker's John Cassidy says the bike lanes on Brooklyn's 8-lane Fourth Avenue are causing intolerable traffic congestion. Except there are no bike lanes on Fourth Avenue.

We’re approaching a new level of anti-bike mania in New York City. Sentiment is so totally divorced from reality, not even the New Yorker’s vaunted fact-checking apparatus can rein in the mistruths and idiocies.

Exhibit A: John Cassidy’s “Battle of the Bike Lanes.” Here, Cassidy has done us the great favor of producing what may one day be regarded as a seminal document of New York City’s bike lane backlash era.

In the year 2025, when my teenaged children ask, “Why did New Yorkers fight so much about bike lanes when I was a baby?” I will tell them to read this. And since teenagers in the year 2025 will be biking all over the place but won’t be reading anything more than 140 character bursts of text, I’ve put together this paragraph-by-paragraph bullet-pointed interpretation of Cassidy’s first-person essay:

  • I know that the “bike lobby” will attack me for writing this — not because what I have written is imbecilic, uninformed and factually incorrect — but because they have no sense of humor.
  • All I know about the Neighbors for Better Bike Lanes law suit is what I read in Michael Grynbaum articles.
  • I don’t have anything against bikes. I just hate the infrastructure that makes biking possible.
  • Biking in New York City was more thrilling in the old days when cyclists were killed by taxis and other vehicles with greater frequency. Now cyclists seem to want it easy.
  • I support the movement to improve bike infrastructure. I just don’t like it when the movement succeeds in getting city government to build bike infrastructure.
  • I acknowledge that this is the rant of a bitter, angry motorist.
  • I have owned six, enormous cars in New York City. They’ve averaged somewhere around 11 miles per gallon.
  • Thanks to my cars, I’ve visited virtually every neighborhood in the city. I never could have done that via subway or bike, or… really? I could have?
  • Street space should not be set aside for bike lanes. It should be set aside for free parking for my Jaguar XJ6.
  • I will now take an utterly gratuitous swipe at the Park Slope Food Coop. Let’s gin up some pageviews.
  • I take great enjoyment in my driving, except for the 90% of the time that I am stuck in traffic, searching for parking and growing ever more bitter as cyclists whiz past my immobilized gas guzzler.
  • I acknowledge that this is all just an emotional reaction. What I am writing makes no sense whatsoever. I am an economist.
  • Now that the city has striped 200 miles of bike lanes on its 15,000+ miles of roadway, we have clearly reached the point of diminishing returns for bikes and bike lanes. As for cars and car lanes — sky’s the limit. As an economist, I see no end to the number of cars and car lanes we can cram in to New York City.
  • Every New Yorker should be able to drive his Jaguar into Greenwich Village for dinner, as is my pastime, and find convenient, free parking on a public street near the restaurant.
  • All of the snarled traffic on Hudson Street and Sixth Avenue near the Holland Tunnel is the fault of bike lanes and cyclists.
  • The horrible traffic congestion on Brooklyn’s Fourth Avenue is the fault of the bike lanes on Fourth Avenue. (Editor’s note: In fact, there are no bike lanes on Fourth Avenue.)
  • Let the movement to restore Iris Weinshall to the DOT throne start here. Like me, Iris Weinshall was a great friend to cyclists. It says so on her Wikipedia page. Forget the fact that her Bike Program Director quit his job in disgust and she is suing the city to get rid of the bike lane on the street where she lives with her husband U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer.
  • See how much more modest and humorous I am than those Bike Lobby Jacobins?
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What’s Really Behind New York City’s Bike Lane Backlash?

If you haven’t visited New York City in a few years, you might be surprised at how much the city’s streets have changed.

In Times Square, a five block stretch of Broadway is now a pedestrian-only zone packed with people lounging at tables in the middle of what was once a gridlocked street. Public plazas similar to the ones in Times Square are popping up across all across the five boroughs.

On Ninth Avenue in Lower Manhattan, the parked cars have been pushed away from the curb to make room for a bike path physically separated from traffic. Bike commuters now have safe passage on a street that once looked and felt like a four-lane highway. Since 2009, 200 miles of new bike lanes, including a number of separated bike paths, have been laid down throughout the city.

Meanwhile, up in the Bronx, Fordham Road has been redesigned to make way for the city’s new Select Bus Service. Crimson-colored dedicated bus lanes, off-board fare collection and automated traffic signals keep buses moving fast and running on-time. As New Yorkers continue their 80-year wait for construction of the Second Avenue Subway, Select Bus Service is also now up and running along Manhattan’s east side and planned for a number of other busy corridors.

Mean streets? Not so much.

Read More »

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The New York Post’s Third World Vision for New York City

Lincoln Tunnel traffic in Manhattan a.k.a. "Little Karachi."

Dear Pulitzer-Prize Winning Columnist Michael Goodwin,

I was impressed with the way you smuggled that anti-bike lane crack into your anti-union column the other day. That’s not easy to do. I see why they gave you a Pulitzer:

Our town spends millions to in stall bike lanes and pay workers to shovel the snow from them, even on a holiday weekend. But the same Department of Transportation lets streets and highways crumble until they resemble something from the Third World. Silly me, that’s the point! When the roads completely collapse, we’ll all have to get bicycles because only bike lanes will be passable. And then New York will be a Third World city, with First World taxes, of course

I just wanted to correct a couple of egregious errors you had in there:

1. The total amount that NYC DOT spends on bike infrastructure is miniscule. It barely merits a line item in the city budget. Most bike lanes are made of white Thermoplastic paint striped over asphalt. Most of this striping is done as part of regular street maintenance and repair and folded into existing contracts. Bang-for-the-buck, bike lanes are a tremendous value. DOT is, essentially, creating an infrastructure for an entirely new mode of transport on a shoe-string budget. And most of these costs are paid for by the federal government anyway. Over the next four months, DOT will spend more on emergency pothole repairs than it has spent on its entire bike program since 2007.

2. You say that bikes made NYC seem more like a Third World City. Have you recently visited a Third World city? Or a First World city? Take a look at the streets of London, Paris and Copenhagen — cities that I think we can safely call “First World.” You’ll find that these cities have made major efforts in the last ten years to increase bike transportation, to prioritize and improve buses and transit, and to reallocate street space away from private motor vehicles to pedestrians and public space. NYC is only now just playing catch-up to these First World competitors. Now go take a look at the traffic-choked, streets of Mumbai, Karachi, Bangkok or Mexico City. Breathe in the exhaust fumes. Listen to the honking. Try to cross the gridlocked streets. Or just watch this YouTube video.

You with me?

Now go stand near the Lincoln Tunnel entrance in Manhattan on a hot, sweaty, Friday afternoon in July. Does that really look “First World” to you?

Best,

–Aaron

Posted in Quality Journalism | Comments closed

Does Nicolai Ouroussoff understand that a city is more than just a skyline?

This was my stream of consciousness as I read New York Times architecture critic Nicolai Ouroussoff’s staggeringly obnoxious review of the new Frank Gehry tower in Lower Manhattan (I like the building, by the way. Ouroussoff, on the other hand, may very well be the most clueless high-profile journalist currently writing about cities) Nicolai’s text is in block quotes:

A more recent foray, the massive Atlantic Yards development in Brooklyn, drew the ire of local activists, who depicted him as an aging liberal in bed with the devil — a New York City real estate developer.

Um, yeah, right. Those uppity Brooklyn activists were merely angry that a “liberal” architect was working with a wealthy real estate developer. Thanks, Nicolai, for taking a complex and principled six-year battle over eminent domain, public investment and the nature of urban planning in New York City and boiling it down to an after-school special story line.

it seemed to epitomize the skyline’s transformation from a symbol of American commerce to a display of individual wealth.

Yay?… Oh, wait, he’s just reporting. Good observation, Nick!

Only now, as the building nears completion, is it possible to appreciate what Mr. Gehry has accomplished: the finest skyscraper to rise in New York since Eero Saarinen’s CBS building went up 46 years ago.

Oh, no, wait. The successful display of individual wealth is exactly what Ouroussoff thinks is great.

Mr. Gehry’s design is least successful at the bottom, where he was forced to plant his tower on top of a six-story base that will house a new public grammar school and one floor of hospital services — an odd coupling of private and public interests that was a result of political horse trading rather than any obvious benefit that would be gained from so close a relationship between the two.

Indeed! How odd that anyone in Lower Manhattan would want or need a school or hospital? What could possibly be the benefit? How strange that the communities around this 76-story, 900-unit luxury condo would ask for public education and health services as part of a multi-billion dollar deal in their neighborhood.

Read More »

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It saddens me that we have to spend time on this but…

You should take a minute today to write a letter to the Daily News in response to their deeply misinformed editorial attacking the New York City Department of Transportation’s bike program. Just send in two or three sentences. Let them feel some push-back. Send your letter to: voicers@edit.nydailynews.com. Here’s mine:

To the Editor:

Under the leadership of Janette Sadik-Khan, DOT’s public outreach and community responsiveness is vastly improved and so is the safety and inclusiveness of New York City’s streets. If some individuals believe their calls to eliminate bike lanes are falling on deaf ears, that is because most New Yorkers rightfully refuse to return to the bad old days of unsafe streets for pedestrians, cyclists and the city’s most vulnerable.

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The NYPD must end the secrecy and obstructionism on street safety data.

From Streetsblog’s comments section this morning:

Mayor Bloomberg should be publicly challenged to create a public health strategy to sharply reduce deaths and injuries from motor vehicles. This means telling the police department to climb out of their bunker of secrecy and obstructionism. The Health Department and the DOT are already deeply engaged in efforts to change things. The police are not. Not only do they refuse to engage in a public discussion about this street safety, they impede overall efforts by refusing to share crash records they have compiled at public expense.

The basis of public health is gathering information about the spread of disease and carefully analyzing ways to prevent it. During his time as mayor, Bloomberg’s public health department has become the best in the United States. Interestingly, Bloomberg has given millions to global efforts fight traffic deaths. Yet, Mayor Bloomberg has not ordered the police department to release up-to-date records on traffic crashes, or to work in a public process with the health department, DOT and experts outside government, to come up with a unified and public approach to further reducing the achingly high number of deaths and injuries from motor vehicles.

Posted in J. Edgar Kelly | Comments closed

Komanoff on NYC’s pathetic response to traffic violence

This passage from Charlie Komanoff’s Streetsblog piece today, really nails it:

…What links these deaths, beyond their human tragedy, is a traffic “safety” ideology that blames victims instead of perpetrators, fetishizes silver bullets like seat belts and bike helmets at the expense of promoting a genuine safety culture, and misdirects enforcement toward trivia and away from the actual sources of danger.

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