Urban Design - Part 2

Come see Urbanized tonight at SPACE Gallery and continue the conversation...

PART 2: Mitchell Rasor spoke to Bruce Hyman, City of Portland Bicycle-Pedestrian Coordinator

MR: Is Portland going to see a noticeable increase in the number bike / ped accommodations or is there a “transportation glass ceiling” due to any of number of reasons – such as standards, policy or demographics?

Bruce Hyman: Related to bicycling, there is no per se 'ceiling' related to the vision, but some lag time will occur related to implementation due to funding and staffing capacity. We have essentially implemented about one fourth of the bikeway network on the city's arterial and collector streets where bike lanes, shared lanes and paved shoulders would typically be the bike facility provided. These cater to a smaller segment of the existing and potential biking market; most cyclists (or people most likely to become more frequent cyclists for transportation purposes) prefer streets with lower volumes of traffic and lower traffic speeds than arterial streets such as Forest Avenue or Brighton Avenue.

To address this potentially larger cycling 'market' we are piloting a new type of bikeway called (in other locales) a Bicycle Boulevard - a network of primarily local, residential streets that is prioritized for bicycle travel while still providing for motorist use. We are branding them as Neighborhood Byways here to encompass the much broader intended livability benefits to the neighborhood and pedestrians. These projects can incorporate traffic speed/volume management techniques, streetscaping, and pedestrian safety projects. A 4-mile pilot Neighborhood Byway/Bicycle Boulevard project is being implemented now in the Deering Center neighborhood. We have emerging plans for a city-wide implementation of a Neighborhood Byway/bicycle boulevard network as part of the Bicycle and Pedestrian Element of the Comprehensive Plan we're writing now.

On the pedestrian front, we are trying to more systematically address accessibility issues related to implementing the Americans with Disability Act (including new and rehabilitated curb ramps), safe street crossings of arterials (called for in the '93 Transportation Plan), adding new/enhancing existing crosswalks, expanding the shared use pathway network, improving the quality of streetscapes, working with schools/parents on Safe Routes to Schools projects, filling gaps in the sidewalk network/rehabilitating existing sidewalks in poor condition, and enhancing pedestrian access to the bus transit system (a big turnoff to attracting more riders is the safety in accessing bus stops/routes).

We are also working to adopt a Complete Streets Policy this spring which will make it city policy to formally incorporate the considerations of all users of the streets of all ages, abilities and modes of travel (motorists, cyclists, pedestrians, transit users and operators, freight providers, and the young and old) into the planning, design, construction, maintenance and operation of the city's streets and street network.

Mitchell spoke to Roger Conover, Executive Editor of The MIT Press

MR: As the publisher of some of the most important books on  art, architecture and urbanism published in the last 30 some years, and as a resident of Maine, you must have a unique and maybe even privileged view of many aspects of Portland, especially its arts and design culture. I know you are also a writer, and wrote  architectural criticism for the Portland Press Herald for a period of time.  How was that experience? Do you think a full-time architecture / design critic – not just a blogger – could have a positive impact on Portland?

Roger Conover: There is no architecture without criticism, and no criticism without architecture. Architecture is a language, and to read it requires a literacy that goes beyond an immediate, subjective, personalized response to buildings. Buildings exist within social, political, economic, temporal, and cultural contexts. It is the function of criticism not just to look at how buildings are made, but to make their meanings and values visible. My experiment with the Portland Press Herald did not continue beyond a certain point because I was not in the praise business, and it became apparent after a while that what was desired, both by the paper and its readers, was someone saying what a great city Portland is, and how wonderful its buildings are. My last column was going to be a polemic about the threat that historic preservation poses to the future of architecture in Portland. It probably won't surprise you that it wasn't printed, and that I didn't submit any columns after that.

Whatever the game, there is no doubt that rigorous observation and constructive criticism raises the level of play. Portland wouldn't have so many good restaurants if it didn't have demanding diners. But those diners' tastes are not just enabled by chefs. They have been fed by one of the country's most discerning food-discourse providers, aka as the bookstore Rabelais. This combination of access--to food and food criticism--has contributed enormously to the culinary literacy of Portland. Portland is not lacking buildings, but would the buildings be different--dare I say better-- if there was more critical exchange around them? I think so.

Mitchell spoke to Charles Colgan, Chair/Professor, Community Planning & Development Program / Public Policy Policy and Management - Muskie School of Government

MR: Your research is in the areas of regional growth and development, economic forecasting and transportation policy.  While there is an apparent trend to mass urbanization on a global level – last year in China the number of people in cities surpassed the rural population as people migrated to seek employment – there are also numerous "shrinking cities" such as Detroit, Flint and St. Louis. What are the general socio / economic demographic trends for Portland? Is there a critical mass Portland needs to achieve to become more sustainable from an economic and transportation perspective?

Charles Colgan: Portland and all of Maine's other major cities saw population growth from 2000-2010, which is a reversal of trends away from the cities that have been going on since 1970. The shift reflects an increase in residential real estate development in Portland, particularly on the Peninsula, the growing international migrant population, and a trend among older people to re-locate nearer to urban services. Whether these trends will continue in this decade is an open question given the disruptions in the real estate markets and the economy, but in general Portland is well position to emerge with both a growing economy and a growing population. Most of the jobs that Maine will add over the next decade are jobs that tend to be centered in our urban areas, and Portland still has room for denser housing development in many parts of the city. Portland is a city that is well-sized for sustainability- neither too small to lack key urban assets nor too large to suffer the worst of urban disamenities like traffic congestion.

What do you think? Let us know in the comments.

Mitchell Rasor is a musician, writer, and artist. He is also the Principal and founder of MRLD Landscape Architecture + Urbanism, an interdisciplinary design studio. Mitchell holds degrees from Oberlin College and the Harvard University Graduate School of Design.

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