Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Budapest Car-Free Day / European Mobility Week 2016

This past weekend, my wife and I took our sons to Budapest's annual "Autómentes Napot" or "Car-Free Day" festival:

The centerpiece of the festival occurred Budapest's grand Andrassy Boulevard, which for the weekend is closed to cars and converted to a pedestrian and bicycle thoroughfare:

For almost 2 1/2 kilometers, the beautiful street is filled with food, drink and fun and engaging activities and displays for the public that focus on methods for reducing energy consumption, emissions, and carbon footprint:

The event was a hit, with thousands in attendance:

In the month leading up to the festival, I had the opportunity to volunteer some time and help one of the main organizers, Zsolt Kovács of A-Z Produkció, to help design the arrangement of the exhibits and other facilities for the central area of the event:

Nemzeti Vágta:

Budapest's Car-Free Day coincides with the "Nemzeti Vágta" or "National Gallop" which occurs in the stunning Hero's Square at the termination of Andrassy Boulevard:

The square is closed to traffic and converted for the weekend with into a truly grand horse racing track featuring riders in traditional garb.  It is a spectacular example of how flexibly a well-designed public space can be used:

Budapest's Car Free Day was just one event that was part of the much larger annual "European Mobility Week".   Over 2,000 cities and towns across Europe participated this year.  Hungary was one of the countries with the greatest level of participation, with 214 cities and towns taking part.

As described on the event's website, each European Mobility Week focuses on a particular topic related to sustainable mobility.  Local authorities are required to organize activities for their citizens based on this theme. They are also encouraged to launch and promote permanent measures that support the theme.

This year's theme is "Smart and sustainable mobility – an investment for Europe" and focuses on the connection between smart mobility and a strong economy. 

Interesting observations by the event's organizers include:

  • Strengthening local economies is a universally popular goal, but one that many feel lies outside of our control as individuals or communities. Research shows, however, that by making smarter mobility choices we can notably boost public finances.
  • Studies indicate that cities that promote sustainable transport are at a significant economic advantage over those that favor traditionally fueled cars. People who travel by active transport modes, such as walking and cycling, are not only more productive at work, they also take fewer sick days and spend less time on average in the doctor’s office.
  • And the benefits go far beyond better health. Property values in cities with good cycling facilities and efficient public transport tend to be higher, while children who walk or cycle to school perform better in class.
  • Prioritising sustainable transport also benefits the private sector. Reports reveal an increase in trading of up to 40 percent in areas where walking and cycling become the norm. In Copenhagen (Denmark), customers who travel to cities by bicycle spend €2 billion per year - more than those who travel by private vehicle.
  • From a governmental standpoint, investing in infrastructure for active travel, encouraging public transport use to reduce traffic congestion, and supporting bike-to-work schemes can save public money and boost local commerce.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Don't "Gold Plate" the Alleys!

I was recently spending time in Cape Charles, VA, a quaint beach town on the Eastern Shore of the Chesapeake Bay.  Founded in 1884, this master-planned railroad and ferry company town has today a great combination of proud historic architecture and a wonderfully laid back vibe:

Cape Charles, VA

The lovely streetscapes of Cape Charles are made possible in part by a system of mid-block alleys which accommodate messy back of house services like trash collection, parking access and utility poles.

One of the great traditional details that can be seen in Cape Charles is the modest treatment of the alleys:

Cape Charles, VA

Detailed like ribbon driveways, they are usually just grass with a pair of gravel stripes for vehicle wheels.  This simple way of making alleys has several benefits:
  • Less impervious surface means significantly less water runoff.
  • The additional greenery is quite attractive and looks less car-dominant, particularly when looking straight down the alley.
  • Lower cost of construction.
I happened upon one alley just as trash collection was occurring and yes, these modest alleys can in fact accommodate normal garbage trucks:

Cape Charles, VA

For comparison...

Take a look at one of today's best-designed new traditional neighborhoods, Celebration, FL which was designed in the 1990s.  The intensity of Celebration's urbanism is comparable to that of Cape Charles:

Celebration, FL

Yet Celebration's alleys are far more elaborate:

Celebration, FL

They are detailed much more like streets, with wide paving and full driveway aprons.  

The alleys of Celebration, like those of Cape Charles, do the very important task of handling messy back of house services so that the streetscapes can be more beautiful and pedestrian-friendly.  

But - these elaborate alleys have several negatives:
  • The significantly greater paved area means much more water runoff during storms.
  • Views down the alley are dominated by asphalt rather than greenery.
  • The added expense of constructing such elaborate alleys makes them less likely to occur.  Expensive alleys can weigh very heavily on a developer's pro-forma and can even sometimes lead to a decision to abandon a pedestrian-friendly traditional neighborhood format altogether.

So remember - alleys needn't be elaborate to be highly effective!

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Small Urban Maintenance Vehicles

Cities designed at the scale of the human, rather than the scale of the automobile, often feature compact street dimensions.

But - normal city functions like street maintenance and cleaning must still take place!

This can effectively be accomplished with small urban maintenance vehicles.  Modern compact urban maintenance and cleaning vehicles are effective at their jobs and are often even small enough to share sidewalks with pedestrians.   A variety of manufacturers produce these vehicles today.

Here are some great examples recently seen in action in the public spaces of Budapest:

Dulevo 850 Mini:

This first example is one of the real work horses of urban street cleaning in Budapest.  The Dulevo 850 Mini, available worldwide, is produced by the Dulevo International company in their facility near Parma, Italy.

The machine is small enough that it is used for sidewalk cleaning in Budapest.

The very compact street flushing vehicle seen in these photos appears to be a slightly older variation of RCM's current compact street cleaning product, the Patrol Suction Street Sweeper.  The RCM company is located in Modena, Italy and distributes their machines quite widely around the world.

This small municipal utility vehicle is seen used flexibly for a variety of tasks in Budapest, from hauling landscaping materials to collecting trash.  The rear load bed is able to tip to the back or to the sides.  The Grillo Agrigarden Machines company is located in Cesena, Italy and distributes its machines in 55 countries across 5 continents. 

While not exactly a maintenance vehicle, it's worth noting that Budapest has begun incorporating Smart cars into its fleet of police vehicles.  The tiny "fortwo" model is particularly well-suited to winding, narrow, pedestrian-heavy streets such as those of the medieval Castle District.  With no back seat, these cars are intended primarily to support tasks such as traffic enforcement.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Outdoor Bus Stop Cycle Gym

A cool idea seen here recently in Budapest: 

At a downtown Pest bus stop near our apartment, a small outdoor built-in cycle gym was installed so people waiting for their bus can pedal and get a bit of exercise!

The sign on the bus stop translates roughly to "You missed your bus...while you wait, give the pedals a push!"

The customized bus stop was interestingly installed by the Coca Cola company, who have an ongoing public health campaign in Hungary titled "Testébresztő" or "Wake Up Your Body!"  They're encouraging healthy lifestyles that incorporate greater levels of physical activity.

Click here for a link to the Coca Cola company's health campaign website - which features a short video about the bus stop installation among their other projects.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

"We have bad weather - people won't walk here!"

This is one of the familiar refrains I often hear in car-oriented places where plans for the development of new walkable urbanism are being proposed.

It can often really be hard for people living in places designed around automobile dominance to imagine that, with the right built environment, traveling on foot could be possible (even pleasant!) in challenging weather.  

I want to share a reassuring typical winter snapshot from last week here in Budapest: 

This is the Szent István körút, one of Budapest's large ring avenues.  (4 lanes of traffic, plus dedicated center tram lines and outer bus / bike lanes).  

The temperature is 18 degrees Fahrenheit (-7 degrees Celsius), and the sidewalk is covered with a layer of ice and snow:

Though the temperature is quite cold, all that is required for comfort are a few layers of winter clothing.  People (including my 4-year old son Benji in the red hat) are going about their normal daily routines and enjoying their stroll along the broad sidewalk.

The key is a built environment that is specifically designed to be comfortable for people on foot.  

The relatively simple but powerful ingredients are time-tested:  

  • The street space is well-shaped by buildings to form an embracing "outdoor room".
  • Plentiful front doors and windows face the street to add liveliness.
  • Sidewalks are generous in width.
  • Well-placed trees and bollards protect people on foot from moving cars.
  • There are interesting shops, signs, architectural details and people to look at.
  • A rich mix of uses helps provide places to occasionally step in out of the cold.

BTW: If you're interested in learning more about the design details of great streets, I highly recommend the book Street Design: The Secret to Great Cities and Towns by Dover, Kohl & Partners' own Victor Dover and his co-author John Massengale:

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Ice Skating Pavilion as Civic Architecture

The best new traditional neighborhood developments (TNDs) feature a sprinkling of extraordinary focal architecture amid a setting of more ordinary background buildings.  Focal architecture provides visual spice to the physical design of a neighborhood and results in landmarks that make a place more memorable and legible.

This can be seen in the image I drew below of the civic meeting hall in Dover, Kohl & Partners' Lowcountry project Kerr Village:

It is often a challenge, though, to find uses to inhabit these focal sites.

Here is a beautiful historic example for consideration, that provides warmth and joy during the colder months of the year.  The Pavilion of the City Park Ice Rink (Városligeti Műjégpálya) in Budapest:

The gorgeous Neo-Baroque Pavilion building was designed by Imre Francsek in 1895 for Hungary's Millennium Celebrations marking the 1000th anniversary of the Magyar conquest of 895.

The Pavilion features a grand tripartite central mass crowned by elaborate compound domes with finials.  This central mass is flanked by two smaller octagonal domed masses connected by long linking arms.  The resulting focal yet broad composition embraces the ice skating ring and imbues the large space with a sense of charm, intimacy and warmth.  (To see a more in depth discussion of the articulation of architectural massing types click here). 

A historic image of the Pavilion can be seen in this 1895 commemorative etching of the grounds of the Hungarian Millennium Celebrations.  The Pavilion is at the bottom center of the image just to the right of the exedra of the Heroes' Square monument and the bridge marking the grand entrance to the Exposition grounds:

The ice skating rink and Pavilion were so popular during the Millennium Celebrations, they were afterward made into permanent fixtures of the City Park.  

Today, the Pavilion building still houses ice skating equipment rentals and changing facilities, as well as a restaurant, cultural center and an events hall.  While it continues to serve one of Europe's largest ice skating rinks in the winter time, the Pavilion is now also used for a wide variety of cultural programs throughout the entire year.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

The Most Beautiful McDonald's in the World

When one thinks of sensitive rehabilitation and reuse of historic structures, McDonald's is not usually a company name that immediately comes to mind.  The American fast food company, however, deserves a great deal of credit for its elegantly-implemented restaurant in the historic Nyugati Train Station (Nyugati Pályaudvar) in Budapest:

The beautiful iron and brick Beaux-Arts train station was originally designed by August de Serres and built by the Eiffel Company.  The station first opened on August 28th, 1877 (12 years before Gustave Eiffel would go on to build his famous Tower in Paris for the 1889 Exposition Universelle).  The train station features a soaring, airy iron-ribbed central hall and a series of majestic and well-organized passenger ticketing and waiting spaces:

The station is embedded seamlessly into Budapest's urban fabric and fronts directly onto the sidewalk of the Grand Ring Boulevard (Nagykörút).  For this reason, the station is very convenient for passengers to access by foot, street car (Villamos), and bicycle.  As with many well-designed urban train stations, the vast majority of passengers arrive by these means, rather than by automobile:

During Hungary's post-WWII decades behind the Iron Curtain the Nyugati train station, like many structures in Budapest, grew in need of renovation.  The McDonald's corporation was one of the very first Western companies to establish itself in Budapest during Hungary's transition away from Communism upon its declaration as a Republic on October 23rd, 1989.  McDonalds' very visible location in one of the main train stations in Budapest was a potent symbol of the country's re-connection with the West:

The McDonald's corporation deserves accolades for the careful manner in which it painstakingly restored the architecture of the Nyugati Train Station's former dining hall, preserving the gorgeously-detailed original exterior as well as virtually the entire elegantly vaulted and ornamented interior.  This respect of the train station's magnificent historic architecture has earned the restaurant the affectionate moniker among locals as "The most beautiful McDonald's in the world".

Note: Click here to see my post on: The Most Beautiful Home Depot in the World!