The world’s best cities have lots of traffic congestion, and that’s a good thing

When discussing transportation, the difference between traffic and congestion is often lost. There is, however, a difference between the two and that often plays a significant role in the livability of a city. What we have learned over the years is that congestion is often a good thing, particularly in cities. More from Streetsblog USA:

The pattern that emerges is that the places with the most traffic and driving also have the least congestion…Swan notes that the most congested places are also the places where people have good travel options that don’t involve driving. His chart suggests that car congestion itself is not the problem that needs to be solved — as long as there are other ways to get around, in a congested city few people will actually have to sit in traffic.

Relive Last Weekend’s MidPoint Music Festival Through These 28 Photos

The thirteenth annual MidPoint Music Festival entertained thousands of spectators over the weekend, with 150 acts spread out over 14 stages at a dozen venues throughout Downtown and Over-the-Rhine.

As you might expect from an urban music festival like this, where some stages are literally set up in the middle of the street and open to the public, as was the MidPoint Midway on Twelfth Street, the three-day festival brought scores of people out onto the streets and crowded nearby restaurants and bars.

One of the interesting new elements for this year’s event, although not officially related, was the emergence of Cincy Red Bike. Its presence allowed many festival-goers, as was evidenced on the ground and via social media postings, to get around from venue-to-venue by using the public bike share system.

Washington Park served as the main stage each night of MidPoint, and played host to such headliners as Chromeo (Toronto), The Afghan Whigs (Cincinnati) and OK Go (Los Angeles) – all of which put on powerful and memorable performances.

Now that this year’s MidPoint is in the books, it leaves everyone wondering who and what will be on tap for 2015. The rising popularity of Over-the-Rhine makes securing venues difficult each year, and festival organizers say that they will also have to figure out where, if at all, to locate the MidPoint Midway in the future once the Cincinnati Streetcar begins operating on Twelfth Street.

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EDITORIAL NOTE: All 28 photos were taken by Jake Mecklenborg for UrbanCincy between Thursday, September 25 and Saturday, September 27.

How to Reimagine Our Streets Around the Concept of Shared Space

CNU22 featured speakers from all over the world, from Bogotá to Toronto to Brighton. One plenary speaker from Bristol moved the audience with an idea called Shared Space that was beautifully simple and innovative, yet entirely new to most of the crowd.

Ben Hamilton-Baillie is a British urban designer, “recovering” architect and self-taught in the area of transportation planning. His presentation focused on explaining Shared Space as an urban design technique that can alleviate the frequently problematic interface between pedestrians, cyclists, automobiles and the public realm.

As the name would suggest, Shared Space advances the idea that streets themselves can be a seamless part of public space that is shared by all users. The method came from the Netherlands, where Hamilton-Baillie studied under transportation engineer Hans Monderman and Joost Váhl, who developed the Dutch woonerfs where pedestrians and cyclists have priority on roadways.

The concept also integrates a thoughtful assessment of human psychology as it relates to driving. “It’s essential to understand the changing view of the nature of risk,” Hamilton-Baillie explained. “Hazards keep us aware of our environment and allow us to adapt our behavior.”

This seems counter-intuitive, but it was effectively explained through an example of two cities in the Tel Aviv region of Israel.

Bnei-Brak, located east of Tel Aviv, is composed of largely low-income, ultra-conservative Jews. Ramat-Gan, also located east of Tel Aviv, is home to a more moderate, middle-income Jewish population. Hamilton-Baillie explained that the people of Bnei-Brak are known throughout the region as being unruly pedestrians. Adults and children cross streets with disregard for traffic. Locals know that they must be vigilant when driving there.

Conversely, the residents of Ramat-Gan respect pedestrian rules, crosswalks, and jaywalk less frequently. Drivers are more at ease in Ramat-Gan.

Perhaps counter-intuitively, there is a higher instance of pedestrian fatality in Ramat-Gan. Drivers in Bnei-Brak tend to cautiously drive at lower speeds, aware that there is a greater risk of a pedestrian appearing in the road. One can see in this example that increased risk makes for more attentive drivers.

Shared Space utilizes risk in the form of mixing cyclists, pedestrians and motorists on streets, and relies on the idea that removing lines and signaling allows for social protocols to take over more strongly than signs. This, Hamilton-Baillie said, is called “friction”, or natural cues that guide a driver’s speed. There is already an increasing awareness in North America that things like narrow streets, street trees and buildings built to the right-of-way naturally induce drivers to reduce speed without a speed-limit.

One might think that this friction would create delays, but evidence from project implementation has found the opposite, as did Hans Monderman’s projects in the Netherlands. And post-project evaluations, like in Poynton, UK, have confirmed the efficacy of Shared Space designs.

Poynton is a city southeast of Manchester. It is a throughway for traffic between the two larger cities of Macclesfield and Stockport. In this instance, vehicles were found to be passing on the main thoroughfare at a rate of 26,000 per day, many of which were trucks. The initial approach to relieve congestion was the construction of additional lanes of traffic.

Shared Space, however, was applied as part of a regeneration scheme in Poynton. The first task for Hamilton-Baillie’s consultancy was to “remove every trace of traffic engineering.”

Three lanes of cars were reduced to one, signaling was removed, additional on-street parking was introduced, and sidewalks were widened. There was increased edge friction through vertical elements within the driver’s line of vision.

Even after the removal of two lanes and signals, traffic flow stayed the same and pedestrian traffic increased five-fold. Before the project, 16 of 32 shops in town were boarded up; but within one to two years after project completion, all shop spaces in the business district were occupied.

Streets were able to concurrently be part of Poynton public space and serve through traffic – the change in aesthetics was remarkable.

It is certain that freight and car movement is critical to the healthy functioning of any economy. This fact is not contested. But since civilizations started building cities, they have been venues for people to roam – sometimes at odds with our economic necessity to move people and goods through them quickly.

Fast big things and slow small things do not mix well.

Shared Space demonstrates that these seemingly incompatible users actually function better when mixed within the city fabric – cars move more fluidly when drivers are forced to react to their surroundings instead of their actions being dictated to them. People are safer, too.

The outcome is that streets become a different kind of public space, where mobility means interacting with one’s surroundings.

When asked if he thought famously impatient North American drivers could adapt to the concept, he paused for a moment and said, “Everywhere Shared Space has been applied, I was told that the drivers in the locale couldn’t adapt. In every case they did.”

CNU 22: Ken Greenberg Outlines Challenges to 21st Century Urbanism

The opening plenary of the 22nd annual Congress of the New Urbanism opened to an audience of over one thousand attendees. Keynote speaker Ken Greenberg, a Toronto based urban designer and author of the book Walking Home: the Life and Lessons of a City Builder addressed the audience. His message is that even though New Urbanists have accomplished much in the 22 years since the founding of CNU, there is much to do and that new urbanists need to change to meet the coming challenges of the 21st century.

Greenburg highlighted the many challenges facing urbanism today. The first is the oft cited decline in the use of automobiles. “We are seeing the back of cars,” he told the crowd. Total miles traveled is down and young people are delaying getting their drivers licenses at a significant rate compared to a generation earlier.

Second is the growing gap in income inequality between urban places and suburban places. In Toronto from 1970 to 2005 a majority of the city’s low-income population moved from the urban core to suburban communities while the core experiencing prosperity.

Greenberg CNU22Ken Greenberg addresses the CNU. Photo by Paul Knight.

This divide is happening in cities across North America as urban cores have become desirable, and suburban areas experience decline. These trends were reported by UrbanCincy last month in Atlanta.

Greenberg goes on to say that this growing divide is also resulting in a political divide where urban places are not politically strong enough to demand for better urbanism because in most cases political power is still held in the suburbs and rule areas. As money grows scarce, money for urban areas dwindle. Urban areas are increasingly competing against the suburbs for scarce national resources. This is a familiar issue in many cities, including Cincinnati.

“All things public are under intense stress,” Greenberg argues, “just when we need them the most.”

Greenberg’s message to political leaders is, “There can be no national vision without a vision for cities.” Politicians should eliminate the “perverse subsidies” that continue to encourage costly, difficult to adapt and non-resilient infrastructure.  He equates changing the direction of what he called the “sprawl industrial complex” to trying to turn an aircraft carrier: It will happen slowly.

The divide is allowing cities to both create good urbanism and bad urbanism because policy is so hard to change, good urbanism is often done by granting exceptions to policy.“We have plenty of examples of good urbanism. The challenge is to change that from being the exception to being the rule,” he told the crowd.

However the challenges remain tough.  Greenberg urges that urbanists need to stop operating in silos and unite to build good policy. The threats of climate change and an increasingly urbanized world mean that cities are a necessary part of the future. He argues that we should embrace them and build them right.

Upstart Garment Manufacturer Looking to Find Its Place in Cincinnati’s Economy

Noble Denim Co. started its garment operations in Cincinnati’s Camp Washington neighborhood in 2012. Since starting, the company has experienced growth and is taking a look at how their product manufacturing fits into the region’s economy.

The company operates out of the Anchor Building on Spring Grove Avenue, but much of its current manufacturing takes place in a small town in Tennessee. Noble Denim’s founder and creative director, Chris Sutton, and his colleagues made the decision to contract work out to a textiles company in Milledgeville, Tennessee that, despite employing 150 workers at its height, was on its last limb.

Those behind Noble Denim wanted to contribute to this struggling town in Tennessee and they were happy to bring jobs to this area. As Chris put it, “more jeans mean more jobs for the workers at that factory.” In addition to this, Sutton says that capacity and prior experience was more plentiful in the South.

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Expanding beyond solely making jeans, Noble Denim has recently contracted out work to make sweaters in Toronto and work shirts through a mom-and-pop textile company in New York City’s once-bustling Garment District. While enthusiastic about the return of Made in America, Sutton refuses to manufacture in the U.S. out of pure sentiment. Instead, he says his focus is on his products being of the utmost quality.

Sutton says that their two-person operation made 200 pairs of jeans in their first year – almost all of which were sold in the Cincinnati area.

Cincinnati, he says, is important due to its support of new businesses and its budding design industry, which make it the natural fit to be the brains of the Noble Denim operation. The manufacturing, meanwhile, will continue to be pursued elsewhere where there is a stronger history of garment-making and readily available labor.

While Cincinnati’s manufacturing history does not seem well-positioned to take advantage of an American textile boom currently dominated by the South, Massachusetts, New York City and Los Angeles, Cincinnati does seem suited for heavier industries. And Sutton believes that Cincinnati’s manufacturing neighborhoods, and many of those around the nation, can be revived.

Many view the incredible amount of manufacturing space in the city as an untapped asset. But in order to make manufacturing in the U.S. more attractive, Sutton suggests looking across the pond.

In the United Kingdom, for example, the first six months of rent are paid for by the government and there are generally fewer risks when it comes to starting a new business. In the United States, the risks tend to be much higher and business owners are, more or less, left to their own devices in order to survive.

Going forward, Sutton says he hopes to continue to grow Noble Denim, but does not want to sacrifice quality or care along the way. “I would be willing to be the next Levi’s, as long as we could maintain the quality.”

While the reshoring narrative continues from big manufacturers like General Electric, Masterlock or Ford, it is important to remember that a new generation of small businesses and manufacturing entrepreneurs are also making their mark on the American economy. Companies like Noble Denim are helping to revive industrial towns all across the country and take advantage of the many assets that cities like Cincinnati have.

One pair of jeans at a time, Noble Denim is creating good jobs for the middle class.

Anchor Building photographs by Jacob Fessler for UrbanCincy; Noble Denim workshop photographs provided.