Archive for the ‘urban design’ tag
Here’s the view from the alleyway near Veranda restaurant looking east. The juxtaposition of the old temple and the modern, glass Blue Sky building is a bit cliche. Plus, this framing creates an overly stylized (and romanticized) depiction of the city’s grimy and chaotic urban transformation.
Still, the truth is there always seems to be some new structure under construction in Ulaanbaatar. And this time of year there’s a big rush to get as much work done as possible before the bitterly cold (-40 degree) winter weather sets in and outdoor building becomes impossible.
Possibly due to this haste, the nearly completed, $500 million Shangrai-la Hotel, recently suffered a major inferno just as the finishing touches were being applied.
Thankfully, no one was hurt.
The massive square in downtown Ulaanbaatar was re-named Chinggis Khaan Square, but like many other people I’m still in the habit of calling it Sukhbaatar Square. One local said to me, “We don’t have to name every place after Chinggis Khaan. There are other important people in Mongolian history“.
The square needs to be broken up and softened with trees and other organic design elements, in my opinion. The Brutalist, Stalinist-style architecture is cold and uninviting. And why, in Mongolia of all places, does the central square so thoroughly seek to obliterate any relationship to the beauty of the natural landscape?
But as with so many things, beauty and ugliness are two-sides of the same coin.
Walking through the space, it is easy to become disconnected from your surroundings and fellow citizens — and maybe this was the goal of communist architecture. The weight of the nation state feels heavy on one’s psyche…and a feeling (bordering on melancholy) arises upon the realization that mankind’s desire to produce something grand and transcendent has fallen short.
Yet there are other times I walk this square and its Cartesian vectors, carved from the dense and chaotic urban environment of Ulaanbaatar (itself carved from the eurasian steppe’s montane grassland and scrubland ecozone), place the human mind, and it’s role in the evolution of the universe, into sharp resolution.
And for that I am grateful.
A couple more examples of Seoul’s pedestrian-friendly (and green) urban design:
Dual direction pedestrian crosswalks.
Oversized sidewalk-tree planter boxes (allowing water to soak the soil around the complete drip line of the tree’s canopy).
Seoul is so full of energy and life — it is a fantastic city!
I stayed less than 24 hours, and it rained most of the time, but I really enjoyed it here. I took an early morning walk around the city center, on a long loop that took me from The Plaza Hotel to Gyeongbokgung Palace and back.
In the city center, I didn’t see many bicyclists or much bicycling infrastructure. The one or two cyclists I saw, like the man below, rode on the large pedestrian sidewalks.
Most impressive is how the city center is brimming with greenery and arboriculture. American cities could learn a lot about bringing bits of biodiversity into the city from the urban planners in Seoul.
The photograph at the top of the page and those below are good examples:
Steps from Cady’s Alley and a little pocket park named after Francis Scott Key, there’s access to the C & O canal bike path.
The picture above is the view east standing on the pedestrian bridge connecting the two sides. Below is the view toward the west.
The C & O towpath is a 184 mile trail connecting DC to Cumberland, MD. The towpath is one and the same as the Capital Crescent Trail (CCT) for the first few miles. Then the CCT veers east toward Silver Spring, MD.
I want to explore these bike ways while I’m still here!
Wherever I go alleys draw me in. I’m not talking about creepy, dirty alleys.
No, the visceral appeal of certain alleys or small streets comes from their aesthetically correct, pedestrian-friendly, human-scale. The lack of powerful gasoline motors constantly churning is a big part of it.
Cady’s Alley is a little street in DC that I love from an architectural and urban design perspective. The emphasis is because I’m not sure how I feel about it from a community development perspective.
The space feels geared to a very exclusive, corporate, brand name, retail shopping experience. Urban revitalization and planning can expose many thorny issues relating to social equity and civic participation. So I want to be clear that what I’m singling out for praise about Cady’s Alley is something very particular: the actual feeling of the physical space.
In short, if we compare the feeling of Cady’s Alley to that of M Street (running parallel one block away) it passes the Mirror-of-the-Self Test outlined by the visionary architect, Christopher Alexander in his book The Phenomenon of Life:
“Comparing A and B, which one makes me feel the most wholeness in myself, which allows me to come closest to my own life, which makes me experience life most deeply?”. That is, when architecture is functioning properly “its space is awakened to a very high degree. It becomes alive. The space itself becomes alive.”
Note: DC recently released a comprehensive survey that maps all the historic alley ways in the city. Click on The DC Historic Alley Buildings Survey if you’re curious.
The DMV region has a truly excellent network of dedicated bike paths, particularly Arlington.
Thank goodness. Because driving an automobile around the Northern Virginia suburbs reminds me of one of Dante Alighieri‘s hell realms.
But hidden in plain sight is a surprisingly robust matrix of bike lanes and pathways.
From Arlington to Falls Church (including the Metro stops from Rosalyn to West Falls Church) it is quite convenient to go by bicycle from point A to point B.
Many of the paths — like the Curtis Trail shown in these images — traverse wooded areas that are only yards from utterly congested roadways such as Interstate 66.
Above a pair of ducks are enjoying a hidden pond.
The paths are heavily used. In fact, they are busier than most bike paths and lanes I traveled on in California.
Another big part of this region’s bicycling culture is the Capital Bikeshare system.
DC can boast that it had a bike share system in place before New York City and San Francisco. And I can boast that I once worked with the transportation design and planning firm (Alta Planning/Alta Bicycle Share) that built DC’s system.
To check out some of my earlier blog posts on Capital Bikeshare click here.
The DC, Maryland, and Virgina (DMV) region has a pretty robust bicycling culture from what I’ve witnessed.
Urban planners have converted the middle of Pennsylvania Avenue into a rather complex set of bicycle lanes.
The view above is looking east toward the Capitol. The image below is looking west.
Finally, finally, finally, part of Sir Francis Drake Blvd. heading out to Pt. Reyes Station and Tomales Bay has been resurfaced.
This was one of the most scarred, chipped, and potholed roads in Marin. I always pedaled on the Lagunitas bike path because it’s more scenic, but a road in this condition (even without bike lanes) is tempting!
Note: the resurfacing isn’t complete. There’s still several miles of really bad, beat-up road that resumes just before Devil’s Gulch if you’re traveling west.
I pass this scene almost every morning riding from the Ferry Building to work.
On this morning, there was a feeling of intense presence infusing the whole cityscape created by the arrangement of the sculpture, the bridge, the plaza, the water, the sky, and the light!
Christopher Alexander‘s writings come to mind:
Centers are those particular identified sets, or systems, which appear within the larger whole as distinct and noticeable parts. They appear because they have noticeable distinctness, which makes them separate out from their surroundings and makes them cohere, and it is from the arrangements of these coherent parts that other coherent parts appear. The life or intensity of one center is increased or decreased according to the position and intensity of other nearby centers. Above all, centers become most intense when the centers which they are made of help each other. (From Volume I, The Nature of Order)
My Brompton bicycle is finally fulfilling it’s raison d’etre: bridging the gaps in my urban commute.
If I don’t feel like walking .75 miles to the Sausalito Ferry, I unfold the Brompton and cover this distance in less than 5 minutes. After a 25-minute ferry ride to downtown SF I have another .75 miles to my office in SOMA. The Brompton covers these little gaps with ease.
Plus, while wearing shorts and sneakers and then changing (and maybe even showering) on the way to work is one way to go. I like just wearing professional business attire (including leather lace-up shoes) for commuting.
Interestingly, the first time I tried to enter my building with the Brompton the guards said that bikes must be parked in the auto garage. So I made the fold, picked it up in one hand as if I was carrying a briefcase, and asked, “How about this?”
They smiled and waved me through.
So now I always fold the Brompton, walk right past the guards, and stow the bike under my desk!
Most cyclists are eager to get further north as quickly as possible and tend to avoid this bikeway; they take Camino Alto instead. That route is more scenic and more efficient. Still, riding so close to Hwy 101 (and its speeding freeway traffic) needs to be experienced at least once. Plus, on the Horse Hill path, there are no cars to contend with like there are on Camino Alto, which doesn’t have shoulders or bike lanes.
My friend Steve is one of the most mild-mannered people you’ll meet, but for some reason he looks angry and badass in this picture.
Local bicycle advocates have been working for years to re-open the Camino Alto tunnel, which would then provide a truly safe and easy bike-ped connection between Corte Madera and Mill Valley. As of now, the Horse Hill and Camino Alto routes both filter out causal cyclists who would otherwise happily stroll or pedal back and forth between these two communities. Check the Walk Bike Marin site for the latest news on this project.
Staying with the theme from my previous post here’s another image from the world mecca of bicycle-friendliness — Copenhagen.
I heart good public transportation options (especially when coupled with wonderful graphic design like this).
Staying with the Italian theme from yesterday’s post, I bring you this architectural wonder currently under construction in Milan.
According to the Financial Times, it is “the most exciting new tower in the world“. Read more at Stefano Boeri Architetti.
The Capital Bikeshare scheme works like this:
- Swipe your credit card at a Bikeshare kiosk to initiate a membership (in my case a 24 hour membership at a cost of $5)
- Agree to 120 pages of contract terms by clicking “I agree”
- Collect the printed ticket (see above) and enter the code into the docking station to release the bike
- Return the bike to any of the 110 stations around the city (if you return the bike within 30 minutes it’s free)
Note: finding a nearby docking station is best accomplished on your smartphone with the remarkably practical Bixou App.
I took a nasty spill this past week-end when my front wheel got lodged in a curved section of Tucson’s downtown street car tracks.
I went down hard with my left shoulder and elbow absorbing the initial impact, leaving some raw, painful road rash. Both my knees and the tip of my right thumb were also bloodied. My head had nothing except a cotton riding cap protecting it, but luckily it survived unscathed.
Frankly, I’m surprised there aren’t some warnings about these trolley tracks (although maybe there are and I missed them!).
The accident occurred just as I was finishing a 30-mile ride to the San Javier Mission, about 3 miles from home.
I was a great day for a ride. The mission is beautiful! I hope to post some pictures soon.
Nogales Highway, I-10 overpass, September 11, 2011
In the early evening, right before a rain, this small garden-park had a palpable feeling of serenity and harmony. Lingering here, I felt calm and more connected to nature — the plants, the stones, and the slight breeze.
I’m sure Tucson is full of little parks like this; I just happened to stumble upon this one (which was completely empty for some reason).
A zen rock garden — Tucson’s own Ryoan-ji?
Many professionals would object to the word “zen” in describing a traditional Japanese dry rock garden. The publisher of this delightful, bi-monthly journal is especially disdainful of the term.
Either way, the journal (I am a subscriber) is probably the best source of practical information on Japanese gardens and architecture around. Plus, it’s very easy to read!
Let the wind speak. That is Paradise. — Ezra Pound, Canto CXX
I ran into two issues while using the system:
- persistent shortages of open docks at the 21st and C St. station.
I would often snag the last remaining dock, then observe other riders pedaling away to look for another station to return their bike. I also observed an abandoned bike on the sidewalk because there were no spaces to dock it. Clearly, CaBi needs to add another docking module at this location.
- the kiosk’s touch screen failed me when I needed it most.
It was critical to be at work by 9am Friday morning. I finished my breakfast at Le Pain Quotidien in Dupont Circle (oatmeal, with fresh berries, OJ, and a cappuccino). I left myself 15-20 minutes to get down to C Street. I was a bit worried about the destination (since the Bixou app was telling me there were no docks available). But when I attempted to check-out a bike, the touch screen at the Dupont kiosk would not respond. Nothing. I was locked out…….TAXI!
The upshot: A great system, with some implementation issues. I unnecessarily spent $9 on taxi fare — not a big deal — but it did raise the cost of relying on CaBi by more than 50% (a 5-day CaBi membership is $15).
I spent five days using the CaBi system to make a simple, 3-mile, round trip commute while working in DC this past week. It was great. I loved not having to ride the metro or take the bus (or have to travel with my own bike).
As much as I enjoyed the system, I did experience a couple snafus that caused me to lose some confidence in the system (more on that in Part 2).
But I had no major complaints about the bike itself. I’m a big, big fan of the front rack and bungee cord. The system worked great for holding my satchel securely in place. The quibbles below are all relatively minor and somewhat subjective:
- the fenders are too short (as Dave pointed out in the previous post’s comments);
- the high gear (on the 3-speed hub) could be spaced a tad higher; and,
- the shift lag — on the bikes I rode — was quite noticeable.
There’s also an amazing (and in my opinion, indispensable) mobile phone app, Bixou, which lets you locate nearby stations and display live updates of both the number of bicycles and the number of open docks at any location.
Minneapolis shares something with my beloved Marin County.
Each is one of the four select communities chosen to be part of the NTPP (Non-motorized Transportation Pilot Project), a $100 million federal program to test how infrastructure improvements can increase rates of bicycling and walking.
I was in Minneapolis just briefly, but I still picked up a strong bicycle culture (Bicycling Magazine named it the most bike-friendly city in the country).
I was a bit confused, however, by some of the signage and rules. The bike path circling the Lake is one-way (note the picture above)!
This is great for recreational use, but for transportation purposes it makes it less useful as a bike boulevard or arterial.
Is European-style bike sharing coming to the Bay Area?
The company I’ve been working with Alta Planning + Design has spun-off a new company (Alta Bike Share) that helps cities design and operate these systems. Together with Bixi, we installed an on-street demo for a bike-savvy San Francisco audience at last week’s Sunday Streets.
Closing down streets to auto traffic began with Bogota’s Ciclovia. Here’s some of the history from SF Sunday Street’s website:
Ciclovía, literally “bike path” in Spanish, is a ground-breaking event that started in Bogotá, Colombia. This weekly event draws more than 1.5 million people to walk, bike, skate and enjoy more than 70 miles of streets opened to people – and closed to automobile traffic – every week.
Nearly 20% of this city’s population turns out every Sunday and holiday to participate in the 7 am to 2 pm event, which includes unparalleled free recreation and social opportunities, including dance and yoga lessons in the city’s streets and local parks.
“A quality city is not one that has great roads but one where a child can safely go anywhere on a bicycle.” Enrique Peñalosa, Former Mayor of Bogotá, Colombia.
John (navy-blue uniform and shades) is the Bixi installation wizard from Montreal. Brodie (light green shirt on the right) manages operations for Alta Bike Share. Sylvia (cap and light green shirt) was, like me, helping out for the day with public information and outreach.
The bikes themselves have lots of useful features: built-in generator hubs to power front and rear lights; internal frame-routed cables; height adjustable seats (yet non-removeable, and thus theft-proof); chain and skirt guards; three-speed internal gear-hubs; and, a front basket-like purse/brief case carrier with bungee cord.
The company I’m working with this summer, Alta Planning + Design, is deeply involved as a consultant in a $25 million federal pilot project to test the effectiveness of using federal funds to increase the modal share of bicycling and walking. The mechanism to accomplish these goals is infrastructure improvements and public education.
So I spent a day at the Marin County Fair sharing information about the program with fair goers.
- The Netherlands invests about $39/resident on bicycling and walking compared to $1.50/resident for the U.S.
- Their share of bicycling trips is 27%; ours is 1%.
Being a camera nerd, I’ve begun to notice a proliferation of videos featuring a distinctive photo processing technique using implied tilt-shift camera movements and time lapse photography. The results are videos like these which appear to show itty-bitty scale models of cities. Here’s a tilt-shift tutorial for the uber tech-savvy and the website of Ken Loutit, who helped popularize the genre with his bathtub series.
For the first time in my life, I was pulled over by the police while riding a bicycle (during my morning commute).
I’ll explain in a moment, but first a short digression:
- I usually go out of my way to ride conservatively because I see so many bicyclists riding recklessly, which only invites motorists’ anger. (Of course, it’s equally true that many, if not most, motorists drive irrationally, impatiently, and aggressively in terms of how they interact with bicyclists).
- I like to think I see the folly of both sides and so whether I’m piloting a car or a bike, I try to keep the other in mind and set a good example.
Nonetheless, on this day, I rolled through a stop sign fairly quickly after seeing no on-coming cars. Local law enforcement was hiding on a nearby side street. I didn’t see the squad car, but I heard the siren from behind a few blocks later and knew I was busted.
I gave my best Idaho Stop defense and after producing my driver’s license was mercifully only given a short lecture and let go with a warning.
If you’ve never heard of the Idaho Stop law here’s an elegant little video.
Another bicycle commuting video I enjoyed. It’s a 12km daily commute through an urban and, what looks like, a semi-rural Japanese landscape.
What’s the nature of your commute? Have a look at this poll.
I believe this fellow is actually quite mad. Check out his website 14degrees.org. He holds the Guinness long distance skateboarding record, traveling over 12,000km across Europe, N. America, and China (Here’s some video highlights).
A quiet, relaxed, exhaust-free commute, and no signs of stress or road rage on the streets of Utrecht (The Netherlands).
- Take home message: The importance of quality bike paths cannot be underestimated.
NOTE: I find the Dutch language inscrutable. For instance here’s the proper pronunciation of Utrecht (listen).
Over the week-end the city painted all the bike lanes on Market Street (the same street featured in the 1906 historical film posted here a few days ago).
Much better than mere road stencils, these green colored lanes offer a bold and unmistakable visual cue to drivers that bicycles have a place on the street too.
I’m hoping these colored bike lanes are game-changers — a Caesar-crossing-the-Rubicon, no going back moment in the continuing evolution of the bicycle’s acceptance as a mainstream form of transportation.
A hundred years ago, we had an abundance of transit options with high multi-modal connectivity: streetcars and trolleys running continuously (no waiting for a bus to arrive); automobiles; bicycles; ferries plying the bay; railroads; even climate-friendly horse-drawn carriages.
If you have seven minutes to spare watch the whole video; it’s rather amazing and with the soundtrack quite mesmerizing (click on the button with all the arrows to fill the screen).
Among other things, look for the progenitors of today’s fixed-gear riding San Francisco hipsters (at the 1:05 mark) and horses galloping and trotting down Market Street (at the 3:25 and 4:05 marks).