NYC 2016: The background of a transforming streetscape

One of our themes for the month here in NYC is streetscape and the way it is being altered to meet the needs of the ever growing metropolis.Transforming streetscapes that have been designed to mainly meet the needs of car traffic to pedestrian-friendly environments is an ever-growing trend both internationally and in Finland. Numerous cities have made a clear (re)prioritization between different modes of transportation. After a long period of car-first thinking key priorities are now pedestrian – cycling – public transport – private cars. Attitude change is a good start, but we also need good design solutions to create functional and comfortable, pedestrian-friendly streets and squares also in busy locations.

Background research

For background research of the ideas behind these changes we’ve looked at Streetfight by Janette Sadik-Khan and Seth Solomon and Walkable City by Jeff Speck. The first is essential in telling the story behind the transformations of the changes in traffic planning in NYC. Janette Sadik-Khan was was the commissioner of the New York City Department of Transportation from 2007-2013. The book explains how the big transformations in NYC’s streets started to take shape during her time in the office. The latter, Jeff Speck’s bestseller is a good theoretical overview on why walkability should be a major concern among planners and how it could be achieved. Jeff Speck has been a popular lecturer since his book came out and he visited also Finland in 2015.

Since Jan Gehl is one of the important figures in reshaping the NYC’s streetscapes we also looked at his books Life Between Buildings and Cities for People. These two books give a good idea of Gehl’s design philosophy that has influenced planners around the world.

Lukemiset.jpgOur main reads for this trip – all of which are highly recommendable!

Expert meetings

In order to get a deeper understanding of the issues that the planners and designers are tackling here we are visiting some local colleagues here. We are going to visit the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO) who have published excellent manuals regarding streetscape design. Urban and Transit Street Design guides and Urban Bikeway Design Guide all give an excellent answers not only to the question what should be done to streets but also good explanation of why and how these changes should be made.

After NACTO, we are meeting planners at WSP-Parsons Brinckerhoff and New York City Planning Department. We hope that these meetings will give us a better understanding how designs are put into practice here in NYC.

NACTO-manuaali.jpg
Boulevard design from NACTO’s Urban Street Design Guide, 2013

The solutions

Besides the readings and discussions with the planners we are of course looking at the actual solutions in real life. We are trying to experience the streets on NYC in diverse ways and with different modes of transportation. In this field research part we are trying to investigate the streets in order  – as Jeff Speck says about his book – not to explain why or how cities work but what works in the cities. We are going to look at the more permanent and interim design solutions that have been made in the streets and try to evaluate how they work.

We have started our studies on the streetscape and we got a good start by running and cycling about 10km through Manhattan in the Summer Streets event which will be the topic of the next traffic post.

-Tomi

Action research.jpgHelsinki City Planner learning from New York in action

 

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