Currently viewing the tag: "Pedestrian"
Vienna and its’ surroundings are covered in a vast web of efficient public transportation. Four rail options make life in the Austrian capital a breeze for residents and visitors alike. Like Miami, Vienna lacks a definite central district where workers travel to and from daily. The inner stadt, encircled by a one-way ring street and streetcar is about as close as it gets to becoming the center of Viennese activity, but major business hubs such as the UN complex are located far outside of the center.
The streetcars or Strassenbahns are a marvelous form of transportation, easily accessible by locals and visitors alike due to the vast network they create across the entire city (There are over 30 different routes and it is the third largest network of streetcars in the world.) To understand how vast this system really is, please click on the map here, you won’t be disappointed. Nearly every street contains tracks for the streetcar, which often shares the limited roadway with vehicles on narrow 2 way streets. The streetcars are prompt, clean, and effective forms of traversing the city.

The U-Bahn (Subway) is a relatively new form of transportation in Vienna; it opened in its modern form in 1976 and has since grown to incorporate six different lines (although parts of the U-Bahn date back to the 1890’s.) Click here, for an animation depicting the growth of the U-Bahn over the years including the upcoming extensions of the U2 line due to open in 2008 (to the stadium) and 2010, in time for the UEFA Cup which the city will be hosting in 2008. The U-bahn provides a faster mode of transportation and links some of the major hubs including: Stephansplatz, Vienna International Center, and train stations (Westbanhof, Franz-Joseph Banhof, Wien Nord.) Like most modern transit stations, most stations feature newsstands, bakeries, and all other sorts of convenient amenities foreign to the Miami-Dade Transit System.

The city and its immediate surroundings also contain over 380 kilometers of track for the Schnellbahn, a suburban commuter rail train similar to our tri-rail, only its efficient, vast, reliable, and electrically powered. As I mentioned previously, we used the schnellbahn to connect from the airport to the U-Bahn. There is also a small light rail transit system located within city limits (I know these people are so lucky to have all different forms of rail transit) known as the Lokalbahnen. I’m not familiar with the Lokalbahnen, seeing that we never had the opportunity to use it, but I often saw its trams arriving at the Karlsplatz station, where passengers could connect with U-Bahn, Schnellbahn, or bus transit options along the Ringstrasse. Notice how every site I’ve linked contains maps, schedules, routes, tickets, etc. in English in an easy to find format…

The city is also covered by over 80 different bus routes some of which operate 24 hours a day. The Nighlines provide service once the metro systems close for the night, at 1 am and run until they reopen at 5:30. The Nighline runs every 30 minutes and is just as prompt and easy to use as the Strassenbahns and no less popular among the locals or even us visitors. Using the bus system was no less of a breeze to connect us with the nearest U-Bahn station. The buses also lack the stop signal system found on most U.S. buses, instead a button near the exits serves as a dual use button to trigger doors to open and to signal the bus driver to stop. All buses (thanks to GPS devices) also announce upcoming stops and Strassenbahn and U-Bahn connections.

After experiencing yet another efficient and effective public transportation system, I am forced to realize that Miami has far to go before it too can become a very accessible city to all. Below are a series of photos I took while in Vienna for the purposes of depicting some of the most fascinating elements of their public transit system on this site:

Notice anything conspicuous about this entrance to the U-Bahn platforms? The absence of any turnstiles should jump right out at you, especially if you are familiar with the heavily armored nature of most American subway entrances. In parts of Europe however, subway entrances like this are the norm because the entire metro system operates on the honor system- Gasp! Yet, it works, because people know what the law is. Enforcement is done completely at random on bus, streetcar, and U-Bahn routes. Throughout our week long visit we were checked a whole zero times! While I’m on the fare subject: we were able to purchase an eight day coupon using our credit cards at an ATM like machine at the subway stations. The eight day card (24 Euros) enabled us to eight full days (not necessarily consecutive) of transit use (all forms) provided that we stamped our tickets daily at anyone of the punch card boxes located on every vehicle or station entrance. This marvelous system eliminates the foolish token or cash system and enables passengers to board the trolleys or buses through any door at any stop. The Honor system and punch card system is far too advanced of a thought for any U.S. Transit system. With heavily fortified entrances and armed station guards, many of our transit systems still suffer from delinquent fare box evaders. Part of the reason why Miami’s Metromover system is free rather than 25 cents is that the cost to add security to every platform would cost more than the income gained and more than cutting back security and making the whole system free. In any case, imagine at least if we could add machines which allow users to buy extended day metropasses with credit cards at every station. Maybe our next transit director will bring our transit system into the 20th century, let alone the 21st…After passing through the faux turnstiles, you emerge on a subway platform which is far cleaner than any public space you’ve ever experienced. Though even I admit this station was cleaner than most, it was interesting to look down at the tracks and not see the usual litter, sewage, and congregation of rodents which is typical of any subway system in the United States. Like the honor system, citizens here know to deposit trash in the appropriate receptacles rather than all along the station platform or tracks. It was rather stunning to encounter such an immaculate station in any case. The trains themselves are very well kept, with clean comfortable seats and handles. The absence of graffiti or window etchings was a plus and I even witnessed residents asking fellow passengers to remove their feet from the seats… Some of the busier stations featured the wall advertising typical of most subways along with maps depicting the upcoming routes (way too advance for Miami, but more common elsewhere.) Some of the busier stations also feature projectors and screens displaying top news headlines and local information.
Most of the subway cars are extremely modern, like the one pictured above. The trains are surprisingly smooth and quiet, making the impact on the surrounding neighborhoods minimal in the areas where the trains travel above ground. The Strassenbahns (Aka. Streetcars or Trolleys) are an eclectic mix of old and modern technology. The new cars, designed by Porsche Design Group, feature the lowest ground to floor clearance of any similar vehicle. Every station features covered waiting areas with benches and route maps. They also contain real time data LCD screens which depict upcoming trains and expected waiting times which are frighteningly accurate. As I mentioned above, the streetcars share the roadways with vehicles and rarely travel along their own dedicated right of way. Often times, the only lane in either direction is shared while the shoulders are reserved for on street parallel parking spaces. The streetcars operate under different signals than cars and usually have dedicated space in the “medians” for the stations . The overhead power cables are strung from the surrounding buildings, eliminating excessive poles along the side of the roads. The streetcars enhance the pedestrian activity along every street and do not detract from the vehicular traffic flow at all. The electrical wires are not unsightly and share dual use with the overhead streetlight system. What I always find impressive when touring European cities is the amount of young children (typically 5 years and older) wandering around alone on the public transit systems. I took the picture above to emphasize the benefits a good transit system would have on our education systems. See, in Vienna, like many other cities, their is no school bus system. Kids use public buses and trains to get to and from school. When field trips are scheduled, school groups take public transit like the group pictured above; on its way to the Museum of Natural History. Sensational. Imagine how much money we’d save if we didn’t have to fun an independent cheese wagon transit system just to transport kids to class daily? I took the above picture while waiting for the Nightline bus. After a long night of Karaoke and drinking, the minimal wait for the bus ride home was pleasant as street cleaners buzzed by routine maintenance was conducted on the streetcar power cable systems. Oh, and yes, at night the LCD screens display the wait times for the buses as well…
Nearly all the intersections in Vienna are dotted with Siemens sound sensors to aide blind pedestrians cross the streets. Gas stations such as this one above and below emphasize the idea that cars are secondary forms of transportation in the Austrian capital because well, they are. This particular gas station is located outside the opera house and does little to take away from the imperial surroundings. The one below was built into the side wall of a building.

The picture below depicts the middle level of one of my favorite transfer stations in Vienna, Schottentor. This station is a major transfer point for at least 10 different Strassenbahn lines, including the 1 and 2 trams which traverse the inner stadt. Trams arrive on the ground and mid level of the station, one level below ground. From the mid level the Votivkirche (church) provides a beautiful backdrop for the arriving trams. One level below, passengers can access the U2 line of the U-Bahn. Note: None of the stations feature parking, parking garages, or anything to accommodate ridiculous vehicular usage.

The regional transit options are no less spectacular than those of the city or of other parts of Europe. The OBB, a train I could liken to tri-rail, only dependable, transported us to a town called Melk, 85km west of Vienna in about one hours time. The OBB trains are powered by overhead electrical wires and make stops in various stations along the way. It was amazing to be outside of the city and traveling through woodlands and pastures in the matter of a few minutes, emphasizing the compact nature of Viennese life and making such marvelous transit feasible in the first place. Melk, a small unassuming town along the Danube River even boasts a local bus circulator and is so compact we had crossed the town by foot in a matter of minutes. Stay tuned for Part 3…

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  • Mayor Michael Bloomberg of NYC was in Miami yesterday to experience our Bus Rapid Transit system. Our is nothing like what NYC is looking to build, with dedicated ROW’s and ridiculous fragmentation from local development, but I hope Mayor Bloomber was able to see what can be accomplished alongside expansive roadways which don’t exist in NYC. In any case, I see this as something kind of momentous for MDT and yet none of our news outlets covered the story…
  • No surprises here: Miami came in ranked at 98th for the Nation’s 100 most walkable cities. As CNN likes point out: Madison — 1,300 miles north of Sunny Miami came in first place. “Number of beaches versus frozen lakes apparently was not a factor. Crime rate, unfortunately for Miami, was.” Those Time Warner Companies are really out to do us in, aren’t they?
  • The FDOT has received three proposals to construct the Tunnel which would link watson Island/I-395 with the Port of Miami. The $1.2 Billion project is essential for improving the truck traffic connection between our highways and the port, not to mention should also make our downtown a more pleasant place to walk around. Without the tunnel, our port will choke on its own success, making the movement of goods in and out the biggest port in the state virtually impossible…
  • Oh, whoops we’re you trying to ride Tr-rail to get to work in a timely manner? CSX plans to disrupt Tri-rail for the next month. It’s things like this that makes people think that transit can’t work down here.
  • Miami City Commissioners voted to endorse the Marlins’ stadium plan within the city. Like their inept fellow commissioners in the County, they too decided to endorse the Orange Bowl Venue instead. I guess protecting out surface lots in downtown really is a priority for everyone around here, otherwise there is no logical reason to not place this this in downtown. “Criticisms of the downtown site have included its relatively small size…” but, nonetheless it fits, so, how is this a valid argument again?
  • MVB reports on Miami 21. Apparently the new building codes will be unveiled on March 24th.
  • GreenerMiami is working on Eathfest: WaterFest Gone Green…
  • BOB Reports on Rail Volution coming to Miami next Fall…

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I attended the Cocoanut Grove Village Council meeting at City Hall last night, and was pleasantly surprised by the county’s renderings for the beautification of SW 27th Avenue in the Grove. Although it is only in the 30% completion phase, it appears to be moving in a positive direction. Unfortunately, I do not currently have pictures of the proposal, but I’ll share a few of the major tenets of the project:

  1. Sidewalks: It appears that after years of embarrassing pedestrian-infrastructure, the county is planning on implementing sidewalks on both sides of 27th avenue in a uniform manner along the entire stretch of road south of US-1. It’s sad that I have to even mention sidewalks, given that they are as fundamental a part of a city as any piece of infrastructure, but in Miami this is never a given. I am a little disappointed that the new sidewalks are only proposed to be six feet wide; I would like to see 10-12 feet sidewalks throughout the avenue.
  2. Bike Lanes: Groveites, as well as any Miamian who frequents the neighborhood, should be very happy to learn that bike lanes are proposed for both sides of 27th Avenue south of US-1. This will be one of the first avenues anywhere in Miami or Miami Beach to get real bike lanes, which is quite a mystery given the fantastic riding conditions year-round. Now bicyclists who ride transit will have dedicated lanes to get to and from Grove Station and the neighborhood’s business district.
  3. Traffic Circle: One of the most contentious aspects of the plan is the proposed traffic circle at 27th, Tigertail, and Day Ave. The county is proposing an irregularly shaped traffic circle for this intersection, which would allow for the removal of traffic lights. Predictably, Day Avenue residents were concerned that traffic would increase significantly on their street. However, the county is planning on changing Day Avenue from one-way westbound to one-way eastbound, meaning one cannot enter Day Avenue from the 27th Avenue traffic circle. This will be ensured by a continuous portion of curb that will jut out just enough to make the turning angle onto Day Ave from the the circle impossible without going over the curb. I like this idea, because it will force cars to slow down considerably at this awkward and dangerous intersection. It will eliminate the need to wait for red lights to cross, as well as also making pedestrian crossings shorter.
  4. On-Street Parking: It looks like 27th Avenue will finally get on-street parking. The county plans on implementing 90 on-street spaces along this segment of the avenue, which would look similar to the set-up on Grand Avenue. The plan would have called for more on-street parking, but it wasn’t possible due to the ridiculously large number of driveways on the avenue. These on-street spaces are of the “cut-out” variety, meaning no current capacity will be taken by parking as the spaces are “carved” out of the sidewalk.
  5. Right-of-Way-Acquisition: Perhaps my favorite part of the plan was the proposed elimination of many parking swales (or parking lagoons) that line the avenue on both sides. These swales equate to such bad urban design for so many reasons, hence my appreciation for their removal. For one, they are just ugly to look at. A high quality pedestrian environment is certainly not define by any space flanked by automobiles. Also, these spots are small, so often times cars are parked on segments of the sidewalk, forcing pedestrians to slalom the cars (sometimes requiring movement into the road) to traverse the swales. Also, this provides way too many free parking spaces along what should be a transit-oriented thoroughfare. As long as an abundance of free parking is available throughout the city, especially in close proximity to transit stations, induced automobile demand will remain high and transit ridership will not realize its ultimate potential. Moreover, these swales are just dangerous. They often require backing into the road, or other maneuvering within the swale that breaches the sidewalk. Lastly, these swales have always been located within the county’s right-of-way, and therefore people were parking for free within illegal zones. Therefore, the county is only retaking what is already theirs.
Those are the major portions of the project that were discussed at the meeting. Other factors such as landscaping and shade/sidewalk trees will certainly be implemented, but the specifics are still under consideration. So in conclusion, this project exceeded my expectations for the avenue. I’ll continued to post any updates on this project as I learn of them.

The above photograph came from the airplane mounted camera of local photographer James Good. Although certainly not one of his most creative pictures, this picture gives us an excellent aerial view of the realignment of Biscayne Boulevard along Bicentennial (Museum) Park. The beautiful design in the median with new wider sidewalks on either side, will allow the new residents of the condos emerging behind to easily access the Carnival Center and all destinations along the Boulevard easily by foot. The initial conceptual drawings included images of sidewalk cafes, tree canopies, and streetcars running along the new more pedestrian friendly corridor. Of particular interest is the small building in the bottom center; a water treatment pumping facility which emits a foul odor and isn’t planned to move elsewhere anytime soon…

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Some of you may have read about the recent debacle caused by the FDOT and Biscayne Boulevard preservationists over the removal of nearly all of the Royal Palms along the streetscape. Here’s the abridged version of the recent events:
  • FDOT planned to remove most of the palms on Biscayne Boulevard to replace them with shade trees such as Oaks, in order to enhance the pedestrian experience along the boulevard and to improve “safety” along the corridor in a new ROW acquisition.
  • The FDOT plan was met by stiff activist resistance, opposing the removal of any trees and opposing the plans by the FDOT.
  • To date, 135 palms have been removed, approximately 2/3 of the palms along the corridor which were planted over 80 years ago to commemorate the Veterans of all Wars.
  • Trees continued to fall, as recently as February 6.
  • On February 7th, the FDOT agreed to stop further destruction of the Royal palms, claiming that the trees removed the day before were either sick or part of the ROW acquisition.
  • Today, after the lobbying of Commissioner Sarnoff and Mary Conway, the FDOT has finally agreed to end the destruction. The Biscayne Boulevard corridor will now feature much more foliage than had been previously planned, including more Royal Palms and various other shade trees.

It’s difficult to swallow the “pedestrian enhancement” bull the FDOT is throwing at us when the trees are being removed to further enhance the traffic flow along the corridor. As the herald article noted, Miami’s tree canopy is an abysmal 10% (compared to 30-40% in other denser, pedestrian-minded cities) and yet, the solution to improve our tree canopy dysfunction involved the removal of existing trees. I guess we’re trying to maintain it at 10%, rather than improve upon it.

The bigger picture I’d like to point out is while one local agency works to make our streets more pedestrian friendly, our city commission is out approving a monstrous structure with 1,700 parking spaces in the immediate area. Note above: the pedestrian friendly streets of yesteryear featured not only pedestrian friendly foliage but streetcars as well. The approval of 2222 Biscayne is a dark reminder of how far we still have to go to improve the urban culture of our city. Any structure on an existing or planned public transit route should feature far less parking than the city code currently calls for and certainly far less than the 1 space/250 square feet offered by this eyesore…

Fortunately for Grove residents as well as other Miamians, 27th Avenue between US-1 and Bayshore Drive will soon be getting a long overdue makeover. This important stretch of avenue that links the neighborhood center with Coconut Grove Station has long been in shameful condition for pedestrians.

The plan to beautify 27th Avenue is to include expanded sidewalks, tree landscaping, and a mini traffic circle at the intersection of Tigertail, Day, and 27th. Predictably, some Grove NIMBYs are voicing concerns about parking. Apparently, they’re worried that the project right-of-way on both sides of the avenue will eliminate hideous lagoon parking in front of buildings in favor of widening sidewalks. God forbid anyone takes away “reserved” parking spots to add/widen sidewalks.

Below are some pictures showing what it looks like to take a walk from the southern part of the avenue to US-1:

The first leg of the walk does not even have a sidewalk, just a series of ugly, windswept sand and gravel parking lagoons for several apartment buildings.

The sidewalk first appears awkwardly (I’m not sure that word does justice here) about 20-25 yards from the street behind another parking lagoon. If this doesn’t symbolize walking as an afterthought in this community I don’t know what does.
More discontinuity that ruins the street. The sidewalk reappears in the middle of this parking lagoon flanked by what else, cars.
Another awkward stretch of sidewalk flanked by a gas station and huge swath of asphalt, which serves one main function: allows cars an excessively wide turning radius from Bird Rd.
This enormous chunk of asphalt adjacent to EZ Kwik is such an eyesore it makes me sick to look at. The city recently put in a speed bump on the corner of Bird just keep cars from using this space to evade traffic at the light. Talk about putting a band-aid on a stab wound.
Just past EZ Kwik, the sidewalk suddenly disappears again, forcing pedestrians to walk across a sand and gravel wasteland.
After getting back on the sidewalk again, one comes to this mini office park that warns pedestrians to watch for cars. Shouldn’t it be the other way around?
More discontinuity. After being steered into a jungle-like setting, the sidewalk is again fragmented by a parking strip – far from the street by the way.
After reappearing, the walk finally terminates at US-1. The trash isn’t always there, but a greater pedestrian presence would require sidewalk cleaning to be more consistent.

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A few months ago, while covering the opening of the Carnival Center, Alesh of Critical Miami led me to an interesting article on the concept of second generation traffic calming. The basic concept behind second generation traffic calming is that alternative traffic calming devices are implemented within a given street years after it was originally built. Such alternatives include the adaptation of a pedestrian zone along the street (as Alesh pointed out on Biscayne Boulevard), removing the strict order of the lanes which separate traffic, lax traffic laws, etc.

Reversing decades of conventional wisdom on traffic engineering, Hamilton-Baillie argues that the key to improving both safety and vehicular capacity is to remove traffic lights and other controls, such as stop signs and the white and yellow lines dividing streets into lanes. Without any clear right-of-way, he says, motorists are forced to slow down to safer speeds, make eye contact with pedestrians, cyclists and other drivers, and decide among themselves when it is safe to proceed.

The article cites several cities where the traffic rules are: “There are no rules.” Drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians are essentially free to do as they please along some of the most congested cities of the world. It forces drivers to be more aware of their surroundings rather than on an autopilot mode, attempting to stay between the guidelines. It’s definitely an interesting concept and is apparently pretty effective in cities where such practice is considered the norm. In fact, many of these cities have lower pedestrian fatality rates than cities with extremely rigid streets and driving laws. Now, I’m not advocating switching Miami streets into this wild free-for-all (although at times I feel like we already have), but, I do believe we must begin to look at new concepts to minimize the almost daily pedestrian fatalities which appear in the news headlines nightly.

I came across the above video to demonstrate how traffic flows when there aren’t stringent traffic laws, signals, or markings along the street. It’s extremely chaotic, but, notice how seamlessly traffic flows through the intersection in India

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Coral Way has the greatest potential in Miami to become one of the best pedestrian oriented and truly urban streetscapes in the area. With the beautiful shade provided by the banyan trees and abundant on-street parking, the thoroughfare is just pleading for the appropriate development to create a new vibrant neighborhood. Coral Way was once considered the major link between the downtown areas of Miami and Coral Gables. Up until a hurricane struck in November of 1935 (Technology has changed considerably since, Marc), a streetcar (operated by Coral Gables Municipal Transit) used to service the route through the street median.

Today, the area is begging for the type of development that would turn the street into one of the best pedestrian neighborhoods, similar to the vibrant activity on La Gran Via (Madrid), Champs Elysees (Paris), or even Newbury St. (Boston). Miami is notably missing a major pedestrian center, a real urban avenue if you will, where people can actually live, work, and take care of their daily needs within a reasonable walking distance and all under the cover of the shade provided by banyan trees and some properly designed porticos.

There has been a hint of new activity along Coral Way in the recent construction boom. Most notably: Blue on Coral Way, Gables Marquis, and The Emerald Plaza. A recent drive along the street though, led me to a condominium which was constructed recently. This particular building happened to have the most hideous tenant parking entrance occupying the majority of the usable ground level area of the building. The city needs to desperately curtail such terrible development and needs to steer growth to include ground level retail, covered porticos, on street parking, and easy access to public transit. We need to integrate the existing ground level tenants (supermarkets, pharmacies, medical offices, restaurants) with the new construction in order to improve the activity which will soon follow. The area parks also need to be expanded and restored to seamlessly integrate with the activity along the boulevard. Otherwise, the area restaurants are already teeming with nightime activity along with the cultural events and varied religious centers.

The city should also seriously evaluate a streetcar option (similar to the Miami Streetcar Initiative) through this neighborhood, in order to once again link the two city centers and provide a much needed alternative to an area with incredible potential. Image of my proposed route:

Images from: eniomart, Snarky Dork, and Prezzi’s Flickr…

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