Thursday, January 18, 2007

Project for Public Spaces

Project for Public Spaces (PPS) has some excellent comments and advice for making transportation part of the

About the PPS Transportation Program

"If you plan cities for cars and traffic, you get cars and traffic.If you plan for people and places, you get people and places."

The power of this simple idea is that it reflects basic truths that are rarely acknowledged. One such truth is that more traffic and road capacity are not the inevitable result of growth. They are in fact the product of very deliberate choices that we have made to shape our communities around the private automobile. We as a society have the ability to make different choices--starting with the decision to design our streets as comfortable places for people.

Thankfully, over the past ten years, a growing number of neighborhood groups, cities, states, and even national transportation agencies in the United States and Canada have started to demand something better. PPS is showing them the way forward, helping communities realize how transportation can support their visions for their future, and helping agencies and engineers deliver on that vision.

Downtown streets can become destinations worth visiting, not just thruways to and from the workplace. Transit stops and stations can make commuting by rail or bus a pleasure. Neighborhood streets can be places where parents can feel safe letting their children play, and commercial strips can be redeveloped into grand boulevards, safe for walking and cycling, allowing for faster-moving through traffic as well as slower-paced local traffic.

For years we've helped this vision take shape around North America, by helping communities envision places, training transportation agencies in Placemaking and Context Sensitive Solutions, even helping develop policy and long-range plans integrating transportation and land use for State DOTs.

We also are constantly learning from the great cities and regions of the world. Barcelona has built boulevards and Ramblas that give pedestrians priority over the auto. Paris has developed a neighborhood traffic calming program to rival that of any city anywhere. London charges congestion fees for vehicles entering the city center, successfully reducing traffic levels and funding an aggressive program to improve transit. Bogotá now boasts a world-class bus rapid transit system and has established a mandate to eliminate private auto use during the morning rush hour by 2015.

North American communities are discovering new solutions to the problems of transportation.

Not so long ago, ideas like these were considered preposterous in most North American communities. Transit stops were simply places to wait. Streets had been surrendered to traffic for so long that we hardly considered them to be public spaces at all. But now we are
slowly getting away from this narrow perception of "transportation as conduit for cars" and beginning to think of "transportation as place."

PPS sees signs of this everywhere we go. North American communities are discovering new solutions to the problems of transportation, each in their own way. In Tucson, Arizona, it means revitalizing downtown by creating a network of walkable streets and alleys that connect major public destinations. In New Jersey, it means helping towns solve transportation problems by kicking the habit of sprawl-inducing land use. In New Hampshire's North Country, it means preserving the small town sense of place by calming traffic and reviving public spaces that have been overwhelmed by car-centric development.

PPS is helping California's San Mateo County relieve gridlock and increase transit ridership by transforming auto-dominated downtown streets into pedestrian-friendly public spaces.

These projects are evidence that we can redesign our transportation networks to reflect their true importance as public spaces and supporters of our vision for our towns and cities. We are poised to create a future where priority is given to the appropriate mode, whether pedestrian, bicycle, transit or automobile. To be sure, cars have their place, but the newfound ease of walking and "alternative transportation modes" can make driving less prevalent in most towns and cities. As a result, we will see significantly more people on the streets, which will turn into public forums where neighbors and friends can connect with each other. The street itself will fulfill the critical "town square" function that is missing in most communities today.

That may sound like a far cry from where we stand now, but at PPS, we are helping these ideas take root today. From suburban New Jersey to the high-tech corridor of California's San Mateo County, communities large and small all over the U.S. have stepped forward to say the old way of doing things isn't acceptable any more.

Three simple rules to make transportation a positive force in the public realm.

Project for Public Spaces has a radical idea--transportation can create great places, not destroy them. We see the vast amount of urban land dedicated to cars, traffic, and parking lots as a huge opportunity to create public spaces that serve community. Transportation can be the handmaiden of this transformation—by redeveloping facilities from highways to boulevards, from parking lots to mixed-use transit oriented development, and from nowhere to someplace. But we must follow some simple rules. These include:

Rule One: Stop Planning for Speed
Speed kills sense of place. Cities and town centers are destinations, not raceways. Commerce needs traffic--foot traffic. You can't buy a dress from a car. Even foot traffic speeds up in the presence of fast-moving cars. Access, not automobiles, should be the priority in city centers. Don't ban cars, but remove the presumption in their favor. People first!
Stop planning for speed by removing the presumption in favor of cars.

Rule Two: Start Planning for Public Outcomes
Cars were first introduced into cities as a public health measure--removing the dirt and filth of a transportation system based on raw horsepower, in the literal sense of the word. Cars also allowed us to separate people from the pollution of mills and factories, another public benefit. Great transportation facilities, such as Grand Central Terminal in New York City, grand boulevards, cozy side streets, rail-trails, the wide sidewalks of the Champs Elysées, are transportation "improvements" that actually improve the public realm. "Right-sizing" road projects in cities and suburbs can help increase developable land, create open space, and reconnect communities to their neighbors, a waterfront, or park. They can reduce household dependency on the automobile, allowing children to walk to school, connecting commercial districts to downtowns, and helping build healthier lifestyles by increasing the potential to walk or cycle. Think public benefit, not just private convenience.

The wide sidewalks and pedestrian-friendly crosswalks of the Champs Elysées in Paris are transportation improvements with a public benefit.

Rule Three: Think of Transportation as Public Space
The road, the parking lot, the transit terminal--these places can serve more than one mode (cars) and one purpose (movement). Sidewalks are the urban arterials of cities--make them wide, well lit, stylish and accommodating with benches, outdoor cafes and public art. Roads can be shared spaces with pedestrian refuges, bike lanes, on-street parking etc. Parking lots can become public markets on weekends. Even major urban arterials can be retrofitted to provide for dedicated bus lanes, well-designed bus stops that serve as gathering places, and multi-modal facilities for bus rapid transit or other forms of travel. Roads are places too!

Transportation is public space to be shared by pedestrians, bikes, transit, and cars.

Transportation--the process of going to a place--can be wonderful if we rethink the idea of transportation itself. If we remember that transportation is the journey, but community is always our goal.

As we begin again to contemplate how to connect the bayfront to downtown Sarasota, the ideas and advice given here should ne evaluated seriously. PPS has education and consulting services that may be of use here.

Save Our Sarasota has long looked at creating great public spaces as a key for our continued quality of life improvement. This is especially true as we see greater pressures for development.

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