29 April 2010

Cycling and Walking and all that Jazz-Funk

I know that my legions of followers are probably wondering why I've been slacking on the posts lately, and the fact is that I've just been a slacker. Combined with other facts of life getting in the way of being able to sit down and create something reasonable that people might actually want to read. But I've had some things on my mind lately that I figured I would share.

First, bikes. A subject usually on my mind, especially when I am riding around on mine. Tom Vanderbilt and others often cite a study by the public health advocate Peter L. Jacobsen (link opens a pdf) which posits that the more pedestrians and cyclists on the streets, the more the rate of serious injuries declines. The theory is that when motorists are exposed to other users of the street more often they become more aware of them as a regular part of traffic. This explains why Manhattan, for example, has relatively few pedestrian fatalities even with a higher-than-average volume of pedestrians, or why Amsterdam has hardly any bicycle fatalities even though nobody wears helmets. Various subsequent studies seem to have reinforced this, and it's not too surprising to me. During my GIS internship at the Active Transportation Alliance last year, I made dozens of maps of the city plotting crashes between 2005 and 2008. Without strong data on the number of people cycling to draw from, I could only make some inferences based on the observation that more bikes were on the road each year, but the number of fatalities and serious injuries declined each year and I suspect that trend has continued.

Here in Chicago, just a short time into the mass-cycling season (I ride throughout most of the winter, but can understand why some folks wouldn't want to) I've been surprised not only by the number of bikes on the road, but by the people riding them. It's not just for pasty hipsters and dudes in spandex anymore! I mean, it never was, but there's a visible shift taking place. In my purely unscientific study of observing people on bikes in the neighborhoods that I am usually in, I have noticed a greater diversity of ethnicities, gender and ages on the streets. Often a problem for bicycle advocacy among immigrant and minority communities has been the assumption that riding a bike is for people who can't afford a car, that here in America people drive cars, and once you buy a car, you have arrived. The presence of more people of color and women on bikes is a very encouraging sign to me...but once transportation cycling finally goes mainstream, expect the hipsters to ditch their fixies in favor of SUVs.

Speaking of the Active Transportation Alliance, some kudos are in order. The Illinois State Senate passed a must-stop for pedestrians ordinance. I played a VERY small role in their efforts during last year's legislative session before the bill stalled, so I'm very glad to hear this news.

And finally, to round this post out and make it fit the random title I assigned it, some pedestrian-themed jazz-funk...

...and hey, some shameless self-promotion, why not? Man does not live by transportation planning and urban design alone. To hear some similar-type jams (though not this particular one, since I don't have the record), walk or bike down to Logan Square's Burlington Bar on Tuesday May 4, for the latest installment of my DJ night Listen Here!

22 April 2010

Walgreens Revisited

About a month ago, I did a post about a case study for the Walgreens located at the intersection of Milwaukee and Wood in Wicker Park. It got a pretty good reception, but was only meant as a rough outline. Yesterday, I was visiting the same friend's apartment and looking down at the store. I would now like to give you some revisions. These are still working with the existing structure, but this option would be significantly more expensive since some renovations to the store would be necessary.

Here is an overview. If you look at the previous post, in this version I have moved the streetside wall of the building in a few feet to widen the sidewalk. I have also widened the pedestrian plaza at the northwest end (lower right corner in this image). This would take another couple of parking spaces away from the lot. (Before anybody complains about the loss of parking, I should note that the metered spaces along Milwaukee adjacent to the building are rarely used.) I have added a bus shelter for the stop that currently exists here, and several amenities to make the space more inviting. And since it's Earth Day, I went ahead and threw a green roof on there.

First, the section southeast of the store entrance. This posed the biggest problem before, because it's such a long blank wall. Here I have moved the wall back about five feet but left the display windows jutting out to the sidewalk.The triangular shape next to the window is a translucent glass-block atrium window, beside that is a walk-up window serving as a coffee & news kiosk. Above is an LED news ticker displaying headlines. I have added some cafe tables and landscaping to break up the monotony, along with pedestrian-level streetlights. Out of frame to the left (but not included in the model anyhow), I thought that perhaps the last window could serve as a walk-up pharmacy counter.

Now to the northwest. Right outside the entrance, a flier kiosk where neighborhood residents can post notices. More cafe tables, and a group of outdoor chessboard tables. Elotes cart still in tow.

And finally, the view from the northwest. Here we see a small fountain surrounded by benches, a new covered bus shelter (not CTA-standard, but a lot nicer-looking) and more pedestrian-level lighting.

And that's what I've got, any comments are greatly appreciated.

05 April 2010

Where I Come From

In geography, everything is about place. I once wrote a paper about how the political geography of the Franco-Prussian War influenced the philosophies of both Nietzsche & Sartre. To understand why I feel the way I do about pedestrian/transit/bicycling issues, you need to know about where I spent my formative years.

Mira Loma, California. You've probably never heard of it unless you live nearby. If you do, you probably know it as the place with all the dairy cows. The dairies are mostly gone now, but as a kid I dreaded shifts in the wind. Mira Loma is an unincorporated town in northwestern Riverside County. The most notable event to ever happen there would be the once-infamous "Wineville Chicken Coop Murders" that inspired the recent film Changeling. In 1930, this brought so much unwanted attention that the residents changed the name of the town to Mira Loma.

I grew up in a pretty typical Southern California subdivision of late-70s-vintage ranch-styles, with the rather atypical features of a.) all the streets being named after planets and constellations (I grew up on Big Dipper Drive) and b.) being zoned for horse ownership. As a result of this, sidewalks were forsaken in preference for dirt bridle trails. Here's my house, sans sidewalk. (Hi, mom & dad!)

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So yeah, no sidewalks. Also, it's very windy. Combine that with the dirt trails and you get a lot of dust in the air. Oh, and the temperature often pushes 100 degrees in mid-summer. Nonetheless, I walked or biked to school almost every day from second to tenth grades (except during junior high when I lived far enough away to ride the school bus). Activities for teenagers were few and far between. The closest anything to walk to is a strip mall a mile away. Supermarket, Jack in the Box, pizza place...you have to walk down this street, one of the town's two main thoroughfares, to get there...

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Four lanes of traffic, fifty mph speed limit. Still no sidewalks, and a big empty lot. Fun.

The last two years of high school were spent at a private school in Riverside, to which I carpooled. Upon graduation, I began attending community college in Riverside. I was sixteen, but I still didn't have a car or even a license (I failed the behind-the-wheel test the first time out). I had graduated to the world of the Riverside Transit Agency. The bus to downtown Riverside left once an hour, which led to many afternoons waiting alongside a very busy street on a very hot day for a very long time. After a fifteen minute walk to the bus stop, and an unknown waiting period, I had a ten-mile bus ride (plus a transfer) to look forward to. And somehow, I didn't really mind...I learned fairly quickly that I could use that time to read, write, listen to music, you name it. I found myself with more personal time than I knew what to do with.

Then one day, everything changed. Family issues arose which found me moving to a small town on the Oregon coast. Here, taking a bus, even the most inconvenient one imaginable, was not an option. I had to get a license to go to school and work thirty miles away. I adapted, such is the human way...it's a beautiful part of the country, and I found the weather to be a lot more agreeable to my disposition. A year goes by, and I found the rural life a bit too slow and the rural poverty a bit too depressing for a sensitive 19 year old kid interested in the outside world. I moved to Portland in 1996 (in the days long before it was well-known for high levels of bike commuting and smugness) and fell in love with public transit that worked. I got rid of my car, I didn't miss it, and I haven't owned one since. I didn't realize it at the time, but I was on my way.

Mira Loma has changed since my days there, but not for the better. The housing boom of the '00s ate up all the dairies and truck farms and replaced them with tract housing by the bushel. The newer subdivisions have sidewalks at least, but
traffic is worse than ever, and there's still nowhere to walk to.