Michael Andersen, Green Lane Project staff writer
For most of the 20th century, cities answered transportation problems by adding more pavement.
More freeways. More lanes. More parking lots. More things that couldn’t be reversed or revised.
So it made sense, at the time, for the public process around civil engineering projects to focus, above all else, on not making mistakes. Generations of city workers embraced the value of “Do it once and do it right.”
But today’s transportation problems are different, and so are the projects that respond to them. Naturally enough, the process of planning and designing such projects has begun changing, too.
From the experimental lawn chairs scattered across New York’s redesigned Times Square on Memorial Day 2009 to the row of plastic posts on Denver’s Arapahoe Street after a bike lane retrofit last fall, city projects are tackling big problems with solutions that are small, cheap, fast and agile. But until now, no one has created a short, practical guide for cities that want to create a program to do things like these.
Today, we’re publishing that guide.
Tools that activate the constituency for change
Researched and co-written by Jon Orcutt, policy director of the New York City Department of Transportation from 2007 to 2014, it’s built on interviews with staff in eight leading cities — Austin, Chicago, Denver, Memphis, New York, Pittsburgh, San Francisco and Seattle — to create a practical list of nine things cities need for a program that completes what we’re calling “quick-build” projects.
The street design elements here aren’t truly new; you can already find flexposts and paint in any city’s maintenance yard. What’s truly new about these projects is the process. They represent a new project delivery model, in between the familiar categories of “operations” and “capital.”
Unlike projects that must be planned only on computer screens and paper posters, quick-build projects make urban design more public, accessible and transparent by putting it on the street, responding to its uses and adjusting it in real time. They free traffic engineers from guesswork.
They activate and excite citizens who want change, instead of only those who fear it.