How to Make This Great Place Greater

Can you make a great place better? The East End is a truly great place. So, every time a change of some sort is contemplated, we have to ask ourselves if the result of that change will in some way detract from the special character of our area. That potential is always there. On the other hand, the opportunity to make a great place even better does not come along that often. The Southampton Transportation Commission recently proposed that the Town Board adopt a “complete streets” policy. This is one of those rare opportunities to make a great place even greater.

Complete streets are streets that are designed for safe travel by all users, not just automobiles. This includes pedestrians, bicyclists, people with disabilities, mass transit vehicles (buses), emergency vehicles and anything else that moves along or across the street. A complete streets policy simply says that the local (or state) government endorses the idea of including a review of all proposed new or reconstructed roads to ensure that they include appropriate features to make them usable by all likely users.

Charlotte Complete Streets-Stonewall Street 3

Imagine how much easier it would be to cross County Road 39 on foot if it had raised crosswalks and medians like this.

I’ve been concerned with transportation land use and public space design issues for several years now. I’ve served as Sag Harbor Village’s representative to the East End Transportation Council, and subsequently as a member of Southampton’s Transportation Commission. As a member of the Sag Harbor CAC I was deeply involved in the effort to create a Gateway to Sag Harbor on the Bridgehampton-Sag Harbor Turnpike that eventually led to a study of the area by the Town’s Department of Land Management and subsequently to the rezoning of several parcels in the gateway area. Last year I was privileged to attend a three-day training program called “Streets as Places” offered by the Project for Public Spaces, a non-profit organization located in New York City, whose focus is on creating and preserving great livable communities.
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This work has led me to understand that transportation policy cannot be addressed in a vacuum. It is integrally linked to many other areas of government concern including, health, aging, education, public safety, land use, planning and more. So, when setting out to design a plan to address transportation issues, it is imperative that the designers of the plan give those other areas of concern due consideration. By design, the idea of complete streets addresses multiple areas of concern; an effectively designed complete streets policy will have an impact far beyond the realm of transportation.

Complete Streets are streets for everyone.1 They are designed and operated to enable safe access for all users. Pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists and transit riders of all ages and abilities are able to safely move along and across a complete street. Complete Streets make it easy to cross the street, walk to shops, and bicycle to work. They allow buses to run on time and make it safe for people to walk to and from bus stops. When people are given more convenient, attractive, and safe travel choices they are more likely to not rely solely on automobiles. They can replace congestion-clogged trips in their cars with bus rides or heart-healthy walks or bicycle trips.

On the other hand, incomplete streets – those designed with only cars in mind – limit transportation choices by making walking, bicycling, and taking public transportation inconvenient, unattractive, and, too often, dangerous. Unfortunately, right now most of the streets in Southampton Town are, in one way or another, incomplete. So the opportunity for improvement is great.

There is no singular design prescription for complete streets; each one is unique and responds to its community context. A complete street may include: sidewalks, bike lanes (or wide paved shoulders), special bus lanes, comfortable and accessible public transportation stops, frequent and safe crossing opportunities, median islands, accessible pedestrian signals, curb extensions, narrower travel lanes, roundabouts, and more. A complete street in a rural area will look quite different from a complete street in an urban area, but both are designed to balance safety and convenience for everyone using the road.

Implementing a complete streets policy in Southampton can be a win for the community in many ways:

It makes economic sense. A balanced transportation system that includes complete streets can bolster economic growth by providing accessible and efficient connections between residences, schools, parks, public transportation, offices, and retail destinations. Integrating sidewalks, bike lanes, transit amenities, and safe crossings into the initial design of a project spares the expense of retrofits later. Safer roads also lower police and emergency services costs.

It improves safety by reducing crashes through infrastructure improvements. One study found that designing for pedestrian travel by installing raised medians and redesigning intersections and sidewalks reduced pedestrian risk by 28%.

It encourages more walking and bicycling. Public health experts are encouraging walking and bicycling as a response to the obesity epidemic, and complete streets can help. One study found that 43% of people with safe places to walk within 10 minutes of home met recommended activity levels, while just 27% of those without safe places to walk were active enough. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently named adoption of complete streets policies as a recommended strategy to prevent obesity.

It can help ease transportation woes. Streets that provide travel choices can give people the option to avoid traffic jams by offering them other transportation options, and increase the overall capacity of the transportation network. Several smaller cities have adopted complete streets policies as one strategy to increase the overall capacity of their transportation network and reduce congestion.

It helps children. Streets that provide room for bicycling and walking help children get physical activity and gain independence. More children walk to school where there are sidewalks, and children who have and use safe walking and bicycling routes have a more positive view of their neighborhood. Safe Routes to School programs benefit from complete streets policies that help turn all routes into safe routes.

It’s good for air quality. Fewer car trips translate directly into lower carbon dioxide emissions.

Finally, complete streets foster strong communities. Complete Streets play an important role in livable communities, where all people – regardless of age, ability or mode of transportation – feel safe and welcome on the roadways. A safe walking and bicycling environment is an essential part of creating friendly, walkable communities.

Road congestion and safety are two of the biggest quality-of-life issues confronting Southampton Town. By adopting a complete streets policy, Southampton will have indeed found a way to make a great place even greater.

1 Thanks to the National Coalition for Complete Streets for most of the information, and some of the text in this post.

Posted in Safety, Transportation | Tagged , | 1 Comment

King of the Road

I love my car. Not necessarily the specific car I drive now — more accurately, I love having a car available to me (two, in fact). They’re great for a quick trip to the supermarket. I also love day trips with my wife. We travel well together. And, when you have to go somewhere “with stuff,” like helping your child move into a college dorm, cars are just about indispensable. Life would be soooo inconvenient without them.

All this is a rather lengthy way of saying, I’m just like you. I’m totally hooked on owning a car and using it to get wherever I need to go. Based on the number of cars on our roads, I have to assume that most of you feel this way too.

Yes, we love our cars, but we sacrifice a lot in the name of love.

Almost 34,000 people were killed in automobile accidents in the United States in 2009, and over 2,000,000 people were injured during the same period.1

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC) “The current U.S. transportation infrastructure focuses on motor vehicle travel and provides limited support for other transportation options for most Americans. [As a result] Physical activity and active transportation have declined compared to previous generations. The lack of physical activity is a major contributor to the steady rise in rates of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, stroke and other chronic health conditions in the United States.”

Again, according to the CDC: “Transportation accounts for approximately one-third of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions contributing to climate change.”2

The United States has the largest network of roadways of any country at 3,995,644 miles (2005). On average over 20% of developed land in a typical U.S. community is devoted to the automobile in the form of roads, parking lots, gas stations and garages. In some cities, such as New York, it exceeds 30%.

Streets in our communities have been redefined by the automobile from places with various uses to channels for moving the most vehicular traffic as quickly as possible, bringing new dangers, and degrading the qualities that make our communities attractive: spontaneity, locality, and human interaction.3

And cars can be just plain annoying — when you’re stuck in traffic, when you’re trying to cross a busy street, or when car horns or alarms destroy the peace of a residential neighborhood.

Are the sacrifices worth it? Maybe some are for the short term, but I suspect that the short term — from the dawn of the automobile age to the present — is rapidly coming to an end. The combined impacts of the automobile on our planet, our communities and our health have now become unsustainable.

Fortunately, strategies for making alternative forms of transit more available and more desirable already exist. Implementation of these strategies however, requires both public and private will. Government on all levels has to be willing to abandon old habits in the areas of  planning and funding. At the same time, individuals — that’s you and me — will have to be willing to sacrifice some convenience.

And, we all must be prepared to challenge some very fundamental assumptions underlying our responses to questions about the future of transportation. Must congested roads always be “improved” to promote better traffic flow? How do we determine an appropriate level of service for a new road? Is it determined by traffic flow alone, or also by the needs of the pedestrians, bicyclists and shop owners along the road? In other words, is the car still king of the road, or are we ready to acknowledge that roads must be shared, and that streets are places for walkers, joggers, bicyclists, and mass transit vehicles as well?

Strategies such as complete streets, smart growth, shared spaces, healthy communities, placemaking, and more offer a variety of ways in which communities can adapt in order to make it easier for individuals to regularly use more varied modes of transportation, including active choices such as walking and biking. This is part two of a multi-part series on our “car-centric” culture. In future posts I’ll talk more about these strategies and how some of them might work here in Sag Hampton.

What are your thoughts and feelings about your cars? Is the era of “Car as King” over? Are you ready to embrace mass transit, walking, biking? If not, what will it take to get you out of your car? Share you thoughts on these questions, or other concerns you may have in the comments below.

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References

(1) Motor Vehicle Accidents–Number and Deaths
http://www.census.gov/compendia/statab/cats/transportation/motor_vehicle_accidents_and_fatalities.html
(2) CDC Transportation Recommendations
http://www.cdc.gov/transportation/recommendation.htm
(3) The Traffic Guru by Tom Vanderbilt. The Wilson Quarterly http://www.wilsonquarterly.com/article.cfm?aid=1234

Posted in Transportation | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments

The Antidote

This post is a cross-posting from my other blog, Learn, Laugh, Love, and my Facebook page. I apologize to those who may have already read it. It is also off-topic, not being directly related to any goings-on here in Sag Hampton. I do not apologize for that, as I believe this issue is of overriding importance to all citizens of our country, including those in the Sag Hampton area.

It seems that intolerance, hatred and even violence are on the rise in our country. Minds are closed, tempers flare, angry words are spoken, leading to angry actions. Verbal attacks on those with whom one disagrees are on the rise, physical attcks are threatened, and carried out with ever greater frequency.

Sixteen people were shot yesterday in Tuscon, Arizona. Five died. The apparent target of the attack was U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords who was critically wounded. Here’s a quote from the Associated Press’ coverage of this horrific incident:

“During his campaign effort to unseat Giffords in November, Republican challenger Jesse Kelly held fundraisers where he urged supporters to help remove Giffords from office by joining him to shoot a fully loaded M-16 rifle. Kelly is a former Marine who served in Iraq and was pictured on his website in military gear holding his automatic weapon and promoting the event.

‘I don’t see the connection, between the fundraisers featuring weapons and Saturday’s shooting,’ said John Ellinwood, Kelly’s spokesman. ‘I don’t know this person, we cannot find any records that he was associated with the campaign in any way. I just don’t see the connection.’ “

He doesn’t see the connection…how is it possible that something that is so obvious on its face to me, would completely elude this man. It makes me wonder if I could even have a conversation with him wherein we would find a place of mutual understanding. Right now, I tend to doubt that it would be possible.

Please don’t misunderstand; I’m not angry at him. I am just perplexed and saddened. Perplexed at a set of values that put a dubious principle — the right to own guns — above the very lives of people. And saddened that I cannot understand Mr. Ellinwood, Mr. Kelly, and all the others who subscribe to this belief, and that they, most likely, cannot understand me.

While a dialog on this topic needs to happen, I’m fairly certain the country is not ready to have an open and productive conversation on this matter. Before that can happen, leaders must emerge on both sides of the issue; leaders with cool heads and open minds, who are capable of setting a tone of respect and of leading by example. Only then will a productive debate be possible.

Until then, I think those of us who abhor violence, who believe that violent words lead to violent deeds, and who refuse to fetishize guns and violent behavior, must commit ourselves to radical nonviolence. By that I mean that even when we are most frustrated by events and the reactions of others to those events, we must refrain from anger. We must not vent our frustration, but rather set an example of peace, love and understanding in all our words and deeds. Be the change. It is the only way.

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EcoWalk Exceeds Its Goal!

This is a great community story. I just love the way we come together when there’s a worthwhile opportunity to do so.

EcoWalk is a project with the “goal [of] … tak[ing] an underused area of the [Sag Harbor Elementary] school and transform[ing] it into a beautiful, usable, educational area for the children and community to use, as well as educate them about the origins and importance of various ecosystems.” EcoWorks, Ltd., the non-profit behind EcoWalk, has been raising money for phase II of the project over at kickstarter.com for the past few months. The goal was to raise $10,000 by January 5th. As of 9:00 p.m. on January 4th, that goal had been surpassed by over $1,000.

When I checked the Kickstarter site a few days ago, EcoWalk was still about $3,000 short. But, a last-minute e-mail blast from EcoWorks rallied support, and the Sag Harbor community came through for this worthwhile project.

That’s very good news, because the way Kickstarter works is that a project lists itself on their website, sets a financial goal and a deadline, and then Kickstarter starts accepting pledges. If the goal is met by the deadline, Kickstarter collects the money pledged and turns it over to the project organizers. If the goal is not met, no money is collected, and the organizers get nothing. It’s just Kickstarter’s way of making sure that the money people pledge will go to a viable project. It makes sense, but, can be stressful when the deadline is approaching and the goal still hasn’t been met.  It sure is a relief to see that EcoWalk has reached its goal, and not lost out on everything by falling a few dollars short.

If you’re not familiar with EcoWalk, you can visit their Facebook page to find out more. There’s a very nice video there that shows the work that was done during the initial phase of the project.

When completed, it is hoped that EcoWalk will link the campus of the Elementary School to that of Pierson Middle/High School. I’m particularly excited about this part of the plan as it provides an opportunity to calm a very busy intersection adjacent to the two schools, and will hopefully allow the schools and the community to engage in a bit of creative “placemaking.” (I’ll be writing more about placemaking in future blog posts. Stay tuned.)

And a thank you from Sag Hampton, to all who donated.

What do you think about EcoWalk? Leave a reply below.

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Parking as Priority

Main Street, Sag HarborAre You Looking for a Place to Park? No, neither am I. There always seems to be one in Sag Harbor when I need it, even though it may not be  right out front of the place I’m going.

On the other hand there’s this guy in Sag Harbor who keeps jumping up at public meetings and proclaiming loudly that the Sag Harbor library’s plan to expand is fatally flawed  because it does not include a parking lot.

Whenever he repeats this mantra, I want to ask him, “which of the million-dollar-plus historic homes that surround the library should be purchased with taxpayer dollars and torn down to make room for a parking lot?”

If you’ve been to the library in Sag Harbor, you know that it is never a problem finding a parking space within a few blocks of the building. So, why is this guy obsessed with parking? And, is he the only one, or only the most extreme?

Actually, I think it’s fair to say that just about everyone who drives a car (and that’s just about everyone) is concerned, if not obsessed, about parking — not just at the library, but about parking in general. Most of us who drive tend to think that there’s never enough parking, and that what parking there is is rarely close enough to the place to which we want to go. In that regard, I’ve heard a local restaurateur quoted as saying that his customers would “park in my kitchen, if they could.”

So, is it true that we need more places to park in Sag Harbor? For me, the answer to that question depends on when you ask it. If I happen to be behind the wheel, looking for a place to park outside Conca D’oro so I can pick up a pizza on a rainy Saturday night in summer, then my answer would probably be “damn straight we do.”

But, in less stressful moments, my response would be a bit more thoughtful. Most of the time, I tend to think that more parking might be nice, but at what cost? As with the library, we’re not likely to come up with a “free” parking solution anywhere else either. The simple truth is that whether or not you pay a fee to park, parking is never free. Every parking space requires a bit of land on which to live, and as we know, land is a very expensive commodity.

Who pays for that land? You do…it’s always you. It doesn’t make any difference if it’s a private parking lot, like the one outside K-Mart in Bridgehampton, or if it’s the space on the street in front of your house. You pay.  In the case of K-Mart, and every other business that must buy or rent extra land to provide parking, the prices you pay for the goods and services you purchase include the cost of of that land. It’s one of the merchant’s overhead costs, and any business that wants to stay in business has to cover their overhead.

As for “on street” parking, you pay many times and in many ways for this luxury. First and foremost, every parking space represents land that is not on the tax roles. Therefore, your taxes are higher because no one is paying taxes on the land used for all that parking. Second, each of those spaces has to be paved, striped, maintained and policed. All of these services are provided by various government departments, and all are paid for by your taxes.

Finally, we often pay a very high aesthetic price. Sag Harbor is a lovely scenic village, yet if you try to take a photo of our historic Main Street, what you end up with is a picture of parked cars. We know it’s a picturesque street, but we never get to appreciate its beauty in full because so much of it is obscured by parked cars. The net result is a reduction in our community’s quality-of-life.

Unfortunately the aesthetic effects of our parking problem are not confined to Main Street, but severely impact many adjacent parts of the community, including what is arguably the most scenic spot in the village: Long Wharf. Think about it — the most scenic spot in Sag Harbor Village is…a parking lot.

This is part one of a multi-part series on our “car-centric” culture. I’ll have more to say about cars, parking, streets, and other forms of transportation in future posts. In the meantime, I’d love to hear what you have to say about the parking situation in your community, whether it be Sag Harbor or any place else. Please let me know what you’re thinking by leaving a comment below.

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