Curb connoisseur

My sometimes traveling companion Brandon makes fun of me thinking I only travel to check out the curbs in every city. It started when we visited Portland together and yes, my camera was often aimed towards the ground. Here is a roundup of what curbs look like in other cities – I could only find these five photos that really focus on the kerb. 🙂

Starting in Chicago, Illinois

A curb and ADA-accessible ramp in Pilsen neighborhood of Chicago, Illinois. The City of Chicago, as part of a lawsuit, agreed to renovate thousands of curb cuts across town that did not meet the standards of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1993. This particular location was more involved than others because of the real brick crosswalk. It had to be removed and then replaced after the level of the street was raised.

Moving west to Portland, Oregon

In a long walking tour of Portland, Oregon, with PBOT worker Greg Raisman, we came across my first ever mountable curb. It’s a raised part of the street and motorists in small vehicles will probably avoid driving on it. It was installed because this is part of a truck route and it’s easy for truck drivers to roll on top of it without driving on the sidewalk.

Jumping south to Tucson, Arizona

A typical bumpout or curb extension, as seen in Tucson, Arizona. This design is not unique to Tucson, but I point it out because this one comes with accompanying signage telling people bicycling and driving that they must stop when they see a person trying to cross the street.

Taking the train over to San Francisco, California

An atypical situation in San Francisco, California, (not the tracks, but the way the tracks terminate in a mound of danger) that I hope gets corrected right away. In downtown San Francisco, there are very wide crosswalks made with colored stone that sets it apart from the rest of the roadway. But the sidewalk ramps are still very narrow. Also, granite curbs are more slippery than concrete. This all just seems like a bad situation, but it looks pretty.

Flying the long way to Milan, Italy

I have it on good authority that Julius Caesar was at the curb dedication ceremony here in Milan, Italy, and saw far into the future people chatting about bicycles on the sidewalk.

Crawling a little north to Amsterdam, Netherlands

Curbs in Amsterdam, Netherlands, play a vital role in a calm and managed all-mode transportation system. Here the curb is a ramp up onto the sidewalk and separated bike lane that leads into a neighborhood street. Mounting the curb should signal to the driver that they are entering a different space that has different rules and responsibilities.

Benefits of bike parking

I’m working on my master’s project about bike parking distribution and equity in Chicago and while working on a section in the paper, I decided to get some help from readers. Many transportation projects are measured on predicted changes like trip travel time savings or trip cost savings (I give two examples below the photo).

My question is this: What are a bike parking installation’s measurable benefits to a traveler or a community?

Photo: Portland has installed 40 on-street bike parking “corrals” since 2004. What does a traveler or community gain from this bike rack installation? Photo by Kyle Gradinger.

To figure equity (fairness) for these project types, you measure these impacts for different groups (often high, medium, and low income), either in the alternatives analysis, or project selection phases. So, converting a lane on a highway to charge tolls for the lane’s users will have a certain benefit for many trips: a lower trip time. A new bus route may be convenient enough for some travelers to switch from driving to taking the bus, possibly reducing their trip cost.

Suburbia wayfinding

An unfortunate part of living in the suburbs and only ever traveling to major points of interests in the region by auto is that you never actually learn how to navigate the region, or the areas surrounding those points of interests. What you do you learn is the location’s position to the nearest highway. The result is that you don’t know where anything is, just how to get there from one origin.

The same holds true for large cities, like Chicago, when it comes to traveling to new places – you learn how to travel to your destination, but you don’t know your destination. You won’t know what’s in between here and there, and you won’t see the changes and history that brought social groups from here to there, spatially and chronologically. 

A method to encourage visitors – this doesn’t mean tourists – to know their destination, and spread out “their feelers” to get a real understanding of a neighborhood’s substance is by pointing out significant spaces and places. This technique is popularly known as wayfinding. It can be quite simple, like adding signs that show the direction and distance to a well-defined community or major park, or it can be complex by involving residents and asking what are the important points of interest that they would like to promote.

Wayfinding signage is only one way to correct the original statement in this article: that the motor vehicle hides local values and decreases our knowledge of the space in between and around our origin and destination. We travel too fast, and we take bypassing highways. 

There are other approaches cities can take to help people slow down and experience more interesting places.

  1. Make it accessible. This doesn’t mean complying with Americans with Disabilities Act. It means increasing the options on how people can get there, or informing them of their options. This could mean identifying nearby roads suitable for bicycling, or promoting existing transit service nearby, but also making sure that locals and visitors don’t compete for auto parking space.
  2. Market the place. Use traditional marketing and advertising to tell people why they should spend a little more time exploring and getting to know the place. Perhaps your community has a bistro bustling during lunch, and a few blocks away is a farmer’s market where business has plateaued because only the locals are buying. Some low-cost graphics and a good relationship with the restaurant now has 5% of its customers venturing out to the market. 

I wrote a paper on the residential and economic dynamics between two adjacent neighborhoods in Chicago’s Lower West Side, University Village and Pilsen. University Village is a neighborhood created from scratch – designed to be “perfect” you could say. It houses a few thousand university students who come and go on different daily and weekly schedules, as well as permanent homeowners population. Sprinkle in some restaurants, local and national retail firms, and essential services like dry cleaning and hair salons along two major and intersecting bus routes and you have a “perfect” neighborhood.

University Village, because of its newness and designed quality, lacks character, history, and can seem a bit sterile. That’s where Pilsen can support the new neighborhood; Pilsen is over 100 years old, has seen major demographic, spatial, and physical changes, and heavily influenced by its majority Mexican population that it more than makes up for what University Village lacks. The problem is that neither neighborhood knows about the other aside from a bus, bike, or car ride through. There’s also a railroad viaduct separating the two. These barriers can be overcome, and each neighborhood can require the services of the other. Students usually need cheap food – you can get that in Pilsen. And long-time residents want new retail choices – University Village can provide that.

Read the entire paper, titled Economic and residential dynamics between University Village and Pilsen.

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