Friday, May 29, 2009

rebuilding america

Good things are starting to happen on the streets (and bridges, and railways) of America.

A few weeks ago I attended a lively panel discussion at the Municipal Arts Society called "Transportation and New York's future." The panelists, who represented various levels of governance of the metro area's infrastructure, fed us with insights into the development of some long-awaited road, subway, and train improvements in and around the city. With President Obama pledging significant funds to repair and upgrade our crumbling infrastructure, the sense of excitement at the possibility of pipe-dream projects actually seeing the light of day was palpable.

For example, one of the city's new ventures, which was unveiled this week when parts of Broadway were officially closed off to vehicular traffic, has pedestrians—not cars—ruling Times Square for the first time. So far the move, which aims to emulate programs in other major cities, has been hailed mostly as a success. But that's just one of many projects around the country aimed at improving the landscape of our roadways and railways, so that they can more efficiently—and cleanly—serve not only cars but buses, cyclists, train commuters, and pedestrians.

A glance at the current issue of GOOD magazine is all you'll need to get your wheels spinning (so to speak) on the topic of rebuilding America. It contains an almost mouth-watering feast of articles and infographics focusing on the future of transportation and—there's that ugly word again—infrastructure around the U.S. If you don't get GOOD (and I suggest that you do if you're interested in science, environment, design, society, and the public good), you can power through the online version of many of the articles from the issue.

In particular, I recommend checking out their "livable streets" contest posting, which features interactive graphics depicting the revitalization of various American cityscapes. Some of the designs may at a glance seem prohibitively expensive, especially for cities that are already reeling from the current economic downturn. But the ideas are there to grow on, and could be implemented slowly, or with some creative, cheaper solutions. One example is the idea of making crosswalks built out of brick, which gives intersections more of a sense of pedestrian right-of-way. Of course, ripping up roads to put bricks in is expensive. But that hasn't stopped Providence, Rhode Island, from painting fake bricks onto their crosswalks to get the same effect (pictured)—but for much less cash.

Anyway, keep your eye out for more on this hot topic. I long to see the day when cars and buses and bikes and trains and our own two feet can get us where we need to go without causing a fuss and completely wrecking the environment in the process. It may take some doing, but I think we're on a promising new track.


  1. Excellent post! For the past two years, I've been a proud, card-carrying member of the Municipal Arts Society. It's a terrific organization with lots of good people!

    I honestly feel there are just too many cars on the road these days. Hybrid, bio-diesel, and fuel-cell automobiles can definitely help the environment and wean Americans off our addiction to oil; but they won't help with traffic, congestion, and gridlock. If we really want to solve all of these problems, we need to move more people with fewer cars on the road.

  2. re: closing off B'way. Great idea, in theory. In practice, though, it seems to have turned the street into a giant outdoor smoking lounge. Plus those cheap lawn chairs are completely redneck: it makes the whole thing look half-assed.


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