World class cities, world class streets


Walking in at the end of the World Class Streets for a World Class City, Event I (there were three) sponsored by Transit for Livable Communities (TLC) and the Urban Land Institute, I felt like I’d missed the most “massively awesome” progressive transit summit of our time. Commissioner Janette Sadik-Kahn, New York City Department of Transportation emerges from Open Book’s Target Performance Hall like a Broadway star.

I arrived in time for the reception (Event II), which featured the highly heralded, sustainably specific NYC_DOT Commissioner Sadik-Khan, who is also President of the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO), Chair of the Transportation Research Board’s (TRB) Committee on Transportation Issues in Major U.S. Cities and Chair of Reconnecting America.  City Council Members from Minneapolis, Ramsey & Hennepin county professionals were in mid-swoon over what NYC accomplished in merging mixed-modal transportation for the nation’s biggest city: logically, inclusively and successfully in a short period of time.  Community advocates of many stripes (from AFSCME members, cycling enthusiasts, even a self-proclaimed avid walker) mingled among urban planners, civil servants, engineers and all shared an excitement for what they’d heard from Sadik-Kahn. ‘We can do this, I think!’ was often overheard by me as I circled my prey of hors d’oeuvres. Event III featured NACTO’s “Street Films“, which illustrated how communities tackle transportation concerns, and how they’re creatively dealing with and the spatial inequity of the way streets are divided. (side bar? Street Films Quick Facts)

“When we learned that Janette was going to be in town for the Urban Land Institute anyway, we saw an amazing opportunity in the making,” grinned Joan Pasiuk, Bicycling and Walking Program Director for Bike Walk Twin Cities. She and Program assistant, Jamez Smith both spoke excitedly about the presentation and how BWTC’s demonstration programs can have a measurable impact to the region’s health and welfare. “Okay, we are mandated (jump to side bar _BWTC quick facts & link) with trying to make the Twin Cities more pedestrian and bicycle friendly,” said Smith. “I support the people who are out there doing the work. They’re meeting with stakeholders, government officials. I’m a just a facilitator. (But) By encouraging people to get out of their cars, to go for a walk, to get on a bike and understand the whole carbon footprint connection and the health aspect of things, working with TLC is a way for me to do something, on some level that’s kind of impacting globally.” Smith ends his comments to go check that his 2nd floor reception is running smoothly. It is.

“Bike and Walk Twin Cities is a program of Transit for Livable Communities that is focusing on $20-30 M investment in increasing biking and walking and decreasing driving. It’s part of the last, big federal transportation bill (link to bill), it had this piece in it for 4 pilot communities, of which Minneapolis and surrounding communities is one,” explains Hillary Reeves, TLC Communications Manager. “And that’s just a fraction of the overall transportation programs (Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU)).” Reeves continues to explain the pilot plan over the din of event participants, projecting from her diaphragm.

“For instance, one interchange I-494 & truncated Highway 169: the work for that interchange is going to be $172M and that’s one project.” She went on to say that this is just $30M over five years, and has impact throughout our BWTC region, which ranges from Fridley in the North, St. Louis Park / Edina (W), Richfield/ Fort Snelling (S) and Roseville, St. Paul completes its east metro boundaries.  

“One of the things Janette Sadik-Kahn demonstrated about New York today was a NYC Bike Map, where they created ways where one can move up and down the burrow, across town,” Reeves said. “…when a lot of the projects funded with this $30M get on the ground people are going to have new options for getting across Minneapolis, north, south, east and west. BWTC is focused on building connections from existing paths/trails and new ones to transit, destinations so that people are thinking about biking and walking as a transportation component (interchangeably). The rest of TLC is working on bus service and light rail lines and access advocacy.” Reeves added, “The Federal Transportation Guidelines changed to allow a different suite of (transit) considerations in the funding. One administration makes a big difference.”

“The message we heard today,” said Dave Van Hattum, Policy and Advocacy Program Manager for TLC, “was the combinations of this with different factors, some people will not be able to bike but people with disabilities could be walking, using transit and what she showed us there (in NYC) was that there’s a lot of ways to make it easier. You know, it’s a shift from cars to a lot of other options. And that’s where the future is. She talked a lot about their adding 1M (transit, cycling, pedestrians and accommodating them.) We’re looking at adding million people in the Twin Cities Metro, over similar timelines (5 years). It’s a broader area. It’s about making a plan, making an investment to get it done for the people. Our bike/ped programs can do this.”

Steve Clark, Bicycling and Waling Program Manager shared, “Isn’t she great? (Sadik-Kahn’s) here because Minneapolis is joining NATCO. NYC has been on the forefront of this national street design movement. We’re delighted Minneapolis is joining that movement, because it allows for greater creativity, and flexibility in street design standards that accommodate for kids, seniors and cyclists. And one of the ways to do that, you have to challenge some of the current state standards: take away a lane of traffic, or reduce the width of the lane to allow for space (for cyclists, pedestrians). What Janette showed us is that you can do it with paint, and you do it quickly – call it a ‘test’ and the people love it! …And we can learn from that.”

“Engineering standard bearers can be intimidating for people. We’ve been bringing in leaders like (Sadik-Kahn) who can visually show the before and after effects of this type of work. These aren’t all engineering decisions these are political decisions. They had to start with a vision of how it can be better. Traditional engineering had been all about moving cars as quickly as possible, from point a to point b. What we’re trying to do now is introduce the concept of ‘complete streets’. How do we make it work for everybody? People on foot, bicycles, transit. And so, we can actually do more with less.” Like NYC’s DOT Sustainable Streets initiative, TLC has already completed stakeholder, as well as public meetings feedback and produced Minneapolis’ Pedestrian Plan. Look for their Seven Corners project to be completed this year, 2010 where University of Minnesota students, staff and commuters will co-mingle in slower, safer and more efficient designed streetscape.

“What we’re trying to advocate for is to fix our roads first,” offered TLC Board President Jennifer Munt, “before we build another beltway that encourages urban sprawl. We also want to start designing for people. So that people can walk, and bike and use transit when they choose to leave their cars in their garage. Some people call it social engineering. We call it: what people want.” Munt eschews bloated, top-down approaches from the last century and makes it her life’s work to help build healthy, sustainable communities that help everyone. And she does it with a power to the people, ‘viva la raza’ panache.

MY representative in city government, Ward 6’s Council Member Robert Lilligren is there. Like I’ve said before, people like Mr. Lilligren are earnest trailblazers and the reason why I choose to live, raise a family in the Twin Cities. CM Lilligren’s there as the reception’s MC, co-chair of Bike/Walk Twin Cities’ Advisory Council as well and on behalf of the numerous transit-focused advisory committees he serves throughout the region. Lilligren addressed the crowd, “It’s just great that the Commissioner is here to share her policies and hopefully we can absorb/ learn, and perhaps match the pace of that here (those assembled giggle nervously),” MY Council Member bikes and walks to work. (Don’t ya’ think that’s cool?) Perhaps not as fast CM Gary Schiff.

“It’s a celebration tonight of so many things. Its about the successes in New York City… about the movement and about Minneapolis’ commitment to that movement.” Pasiuk stated. “2010 is the critical measurement year. And we are diligently collecting on-going measurements this year because we owe congress a report on our program’s progress in 2011,” she said.

NYC’s 2009 Sustainable Streets Plan Progress Report is jaw dropping. In it, the Commisioner wrote, “I am very pleased to report that DOT is delivering on the promises of its plan, and is moving forward on every one of the 164 actions that we committed to undertake (SSP).” They’ve had numerous successes within the department, like garnering stimulus money to expand their Staten Island Ferry program to be more efficient (both in transiting passengers and alternative oil/energy use). Users across the boroughs of NYC profess high-satisfaction rates on every pilot transit program at Sadik-Kahn’s charge. 39% of all traffic fatalities there claimed the lives of senior citizens, who make up only 12% of the population. The report demonstrated a 62% decrease in all pedestrian fatalities. NYCDOT’s Safety Education unit works with senior centers, schools to explain safe use of streets as well as to gather feedback about street conditions. This mother of two loves their in-school traffic safety program. Youth are charged with exploring the traffic safety conditions around their schools. The students create signs urging drivers in the area to act safely around their school and NYCDOT fabricates the student-created signs and installs them. Heart-warmingly brilliant!

My eyes watered and my throat tightened as I read “After the Minneapolis bridge collapse, NYCDOT augmented its bridge inspection program with additional inspection personnel.” NYCDOT heightened bridge inspection capabilities: Forty fiber-optic sensors provide real time monitoring of the arches of the Manhattan and Fiber-optic sensors are in use monitoring the Williamsburg, Paedegat & Brooklyn bridges too. NYCDOT’s World Class Streets took actions to implement weekend pedestrian and bike corridors, showcasing alternative uses for public space and so their residents can ‘enjoy the city’.

I too, think we can do this.