Best Ideas of the Week

Nate Berg's picture
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From public transit to public parks to public space, this past week brought a lot of interesting and innovative ideas in the world of urban planning.

El Paso on Fast Track to Transit

City officials in El Paso, Texas, have announced ambitiously-paced plans to build a citywide rapid transit system in less than three years. That's racecar speed for public transit projects, and a lot of people in town are skeptical that it can really happen. But Mayor John Cook is eager to face the challenge and prove wrong the naysayers. He's been meeting with some of the country's most experienced public transit experts, and city officials are looking closely at successful bus rapid transit projects from cities like Bogota, Mexico City, and Los Angeles.

Keeping Construction Projects From Blocking Sidewalks

Construction in Philadelphia typically spills into the sidewalk, taking walking space away from the city's residents. City councilman James F. Kenney is hoping to get some regulations passed so that construction projects are required to preserve their sites' walking areas during construction -- most likely through the use of scaffolding and "sidewalk" sheds commonly used in New York. Kenney's plan aims to benefit pedestrians as well as retailers and shop owners whose access points are routinely blocked during construction.

A New Era Of Urban Parks?

Cities across the country are creating huge urban parks -- many of them bigger than New York's Central Park. Cities like Irvine, Atlanta, Memphis, and Staten Island are moving ahead with plans to redevelop underused land as public space. Each of these new parks will spread more than 1,000 acres.

A Holistic Approach To Planning For Traffic Impacts

Foster City, California, has come up with a simple and smart way to perform the traffic studies required for new developments in the city. Instead of requiring each new project's developer to commission its own traffic study, officials in Foster City have gotten the developers to team up and perform one comprehensive traffic study for all of their projects. The city's contracted a consultant to perform the study, but they're passing the cost onto the developer. Teamwork, a comprehensive study, and no cost to the city: not bad.

Creating A Bicycle Commuter System

New York is a pretty transit-accessible place, but Brooklyn's Red Hook neighborhood is famously underserved. There's no subway service and only a few bus lines, giving the neighborhood an atypically auto-oriented character. In an effort to counteract the domination of the car, the Manhattan-based Forum for Urban Design has started a design competition aimed at planning out a network of dedicated bike lanes in the area in the hopes of transforming Red Hook into the city's most bicycle-friendly neighborhood.

Also, our friends at Streetsblog report on a cool idea in Manhattan to redesign 34th street into a "transitway" -- a street with dedicated bus lanes and pedestrian plazas.

Youngstown Plans For A Smaller Future

Population decline has kind of been an issue in Youngstown, Ohio. The eastern Ohio city has watched its population steadily drop for about 40 years straight. Not a very good streak, but a very good indicator of what's likely to keep happening. With this unfortunate pattern in mind, city officials have crafted a downsizing plan to clear out the thousands of buildings, blocks and entire neighborhoods that have been abandoned over the years. By bulldozing these abandoned areas, the city is contracting its footprint -- a move expected to dramatically reduce spending on infrastructure maintenance and public services. This un-growth strategy is being watched closely by other Rust Belt cities and former industrial towns that have seen similar losses in population over the last half a century.

Creating A New Vision For The Nation's Transportation System

This article from the Detroit Free Press calls for the creation of a comprehensive national transportation policy -- one focusing on public transportation. Enough said. Well, not enough said about the plan, but enough said about that being a good idea. Someone should really get cracking on that...

Nate Berg is a contributing editor for Planetizen and freelance journalist.

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