This past October, Spin joined forces with the 34th Avenue Open Streets Coalition and Street Lab to bring family-friendly, socially-distanced outdoor activities to a stretch of the 34th Avenue in Queens that the community had closed to cars and opened to their neighbors.
Since the community had closed 34th Avenue to cars earlier in the pandemic, volunteers had been programming activities, such as family bike rides, yoga classes, and Sapo (a popular South American game) matches. A visit to 34th Avenue by Street Lab and Spin in late October elevated the street programming to another level, bringing with it street furniture on which kids were able to do supervised art projects, a no-touch obstacle course, and other activities.
This collaboration rounded out an unpredictable year for our Streets team at Spin, one that demanded flexibility in the face of tremendous uncertainty. Though 2020 did not turn out the way we had planned, our Streets team, through meaningful collaborations, a commitment to equity in the work we do, remaining flexible and responsive to the needs of the communities we serve, and striving for lasting, systemic changes that make our streets safer for all people, rose to the challenge.
As we plan for 2021, our Streets team is looking to cultivate relationships with community organizations and city officials to continue working for safer streets for everyone. That means giving people the tools they need for more effective activism, improving infrastructure, and empowering communities to create the streets reflect their needs.
Empowering communities to take charge of their streets
We believe that the people who live in a community know best how to make it more livable and safer. Sometimes, they just need the right tools or a small influx of resources to make it happen.
That’s what guided our collaboration with Street Lab. With a little extra support, Street Lab was able to work with their community partners and turn city streets into much-needed active open space for children during the city’s lockdown.
“Spin has been a fantastic partner — supporting us with seed funding which is critical to launching new ideas, and also helping us make connections, having conversations, and being game for experimentation,” Street Lab co-founder Leslie Davol said in an interview with Spin. “We are so well aligned in the way that we both value public space and the civic importance of shared streets and a goal of supporting communities with the greatest needs. We’re grateful to have been able to work with Spin, and hope to be able to do more great things together in the future!”
This event on 34th Avenue was the culmination of a months-long collaboration between Spin and Street Lab that brought outdoor activities and programs to open streets in eight different places, the majority of which were near New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) buildings, throughout the city.
“It was terrific,” said Jim Burke, a founding member of the 34th Avenue Open Streets Coalition. “We always get people, but we got a tremendous amount of people because they could see the play street from blocks away.”
Burke said, “we didn’t have the resources to do all we wanted to do. To have someone like Spin and Street Lab come in and help, it was really great. It enabled us to deliver cultural programming and bring joy to a dark time in our neighborhood’s history.”
In the early days of the lockdowns, Kansas City Public Works department repurposed the city’s block party permit process to allow residents to get a new type of permit that would let them close low-traffic streets to through traffic. But the Public Works department was directing the bulk of its resources to the four major street closures just didn’t have enough material to provide every neighborhood with signage or barriers to really make it clear that the streets were closed to through traffic.
From our partners on the ground, we learned about what residents needed and how we could help. Our Streets team started to work with the Better Block Foundation to provide barriers, stencils, cones, and other physical materials needed to redirect non-local car traffic off of the neighborhood streets and show people where they can ride bikes, walk, and run safely. Residents were also able to request materials from BikeWalkKC to help facilitate their open street.
The partnership with Spin and Better Block Foundation partnership has “really allowed us to close that resource gap,” Maggie Green, public information officer for Kansas City’s Department of Public Works, told Spin. She was excited to see the project get off the ground. “We really wanted people to be able to go right outside their house for exercise or fresh air, rather than drive to a park,” she said.
Roller skaters enjoying the Alki Point Stay Healthy Street after one of many chalk night art parties in which community members decorated their street. Photo courtesy of Seattle Neighborhood Greenways.
The result was that people were put in charge of reimagining their own streets as places for more than just moving cars. While this was a response to the very specific reality of Covid-19 related lockdowns, the lasting impact has been that people got to experience how easily they themselves can transform their neighborhoods.
And the idea is spreading. At the end of 2020 we provided funding to Seattle Neighborhood Greenways, who has been working to implement a similar idea as part of the Seattle Department of Transportation’s Stay Healthy Streets program.
After an outreach process which prioritized the city’s lower-income communities and communities of color, Seattle Neighborhood Greenways created street art that serves as visual markers along designated routes to help mark these streets culturally as places that people are allowed to be. They also distributed signs and a-frames to community members who wanted to create Stay Healthy Blocks in their neighborhoods.
Volunteers construct A-frame signs to close neighborhood streets to thru-traffic. These signs were distributed across the city to neighborhoods where community members applied for the City of Seattle’s new Stay Healthy Blocks permits. Photo courtesy of Seattle Neighborhood Greenways.
Giving people the tools for creating safer streets
In a broader sense, this is what drove our thinking around our Mobility Data for Safer Streets (MDSS) initiative that we launched at the end of 2019. We gave six transportation advocacy organizations tools — data sources, software, and physical equipment to gather, analyze, understand, and present data to help them advocate for safe streets.
In a few months, we will share more about how each of these groups are using the tools, but already we’ve gotten some previews of the great work that they have championed.
In May, the Denver Streets Partnership, one of the six MDSS advocacy organizations, seized the moment. With the City creating open streets as part of its pandemic response, DSP immediately saw how popular these open streets had become. So, the group set out to gather quantitative and qualitative data about just how people were using the new open space.
“Having these data collection tools at our disposal really helps us be nimble. We wouldn’t have been able to do that as effectively without these data tools,” Jill Locantore, executive director of Denver Street Partnership told Spin when we spoke to her last spring.
At a press conference last spring, the Denver Streets Partnerships presented their findings based on the data they collected with the MDSS tools.
Locantore and her team were able to demonstrate to city leaders just how many people were really using open streets and for what reasons. This helped DSP make the case for making open streets a more permanent feature of the Denver landscape.
And, Bike Utah, another organization we are working with through the MDSS initiative, partnered with BikeWalk Provo to use the data tools to see where people were riding bikes in the city. With the city of Provo creating a new transportation master plan, these groups are using the data they’ve gathered to advocate for investment in safer streets where people — especially those who rely on biking and walking as their primary means of transportation — are already biking.
“Getting staff and people to look exclusively at bike data and active transportation concerns is a big issue. In Utah, there’s maybe a handful of people working on active transportation issues state wide,” Chris Wiltsie, Bike Utah’s program director, said. “The fact that we have access to these data tools has really upped the advocacy game. We’re able to look at things from an advocate’s perspective in a highly technical manner.”
He added: “We’ve had people completely change the way they’re approaching their transportation master plans because we’re looking at things with an equity lens and they haven’t been able to due to bandwidth constraints.
“We’ve been building [infrastructure] for recreation for so long, but the MDSS tools have really let us take a peek into how people are actually moving themselves around and its predominantly low-income communities riding out of necessity,” Wiltsie said.
At Spin, we believe that the design of our streets should reflect the needs of our communities. This past year, we were lucky to work with some amazing folks to help them reshape the physical environment into more accessible, safer, and equitable spaces.
We started off 2020 by holding our Build a Better Barrier competition, through which we challenged anyone who wanted to participate to rethink how to create protected bike lanes. The idea was that infrastructure that makes us safer doesn’t have to be prohibitively expensive nor uninvitingly utilitarian.
The competition took on another significance as lockdowns began happening across the US and people began looking to streets as open space for people. The winning design, “WeCLAIM,” was submitted by Caressa Givens, a long-time transportation advocate, and Arthur Talayko, a designer.
A rendering of the Build a Better Barrier competition winning design, “WeCLAIM.”
Givens emphasized the desire to make something that was both attractive and easy for communities to install themselves. To those ends, they designed a barrier made partly with repurposed car tires — durable and affordable.
“Everybody deserves good design,” Givens said.
This project was about building infrastructure, but also about building capacity for communities to take the lead in making their streets safer. We wanted to find designs that would be easily — and affordably — replicated. We’re currently working with the designers and D-Ford to build a prototype of the “WeCLAIM” barrier to demonstrate it. And we awarded the winning team $1,000 for their effort.
Building safer streets together
Another way we work with our partners is to help them build the physical infrastructure necessary to make streets more accessible and equitable.
In 2020, Spin became an international company — and we brought our commitment to safer streets for all with us.
Our first partnership outside the US was with Yes Make — a community-focused urban design shop — and an upcycling furniture shop called InUse-ReUse, to use old wooden pallets to expand the sidewalk and create more vibrant street space for people along Atlantic Road in the famous Brixton Market. This project came out of a need for more space for people in Brixton Market so people could still do their shopping while maintaining safe physical distancing protocols.
By using upcycled pallets that had been discarded by the stores after they had received their shipments of goods on them, the idea was to demonstrate how infrastructure improvement doesn’t have to be an overly-lengthy and bureaucratic process. It can, in fact, be community driven and affordable.
The Brixton Market laid the groundwork for our second collaboration in the UK. Once again partnering with Yes Make, we funded the construction of a parklet in Lewisham. The project, called The Arc, took nine car parking spaces that had been closed off for people to use for seating and transformed those spaces into a partially covered seating area where people would be able to bring food and drinks from nearby restaurants and enjoy them outdoors. The project included an herb garden and little games for children to play.
Sometimes, a community coming together to put a little paint on the ground can go a long way to helping envision a safer future.
That’s what happened on a sunny October day in Salt Lake City. In partnership with Spin, the City, and the Rose Park and Fairpark Community Councils, residents were able to test out first hand some of the street designs that officials want to implement as part of a plan to make the 600 N corridor a safer street.
“This is like a really awesome billboard,” Kyle Cook, a transportation engineer with the City, told Spin this past fall. “a live, interactive billboard that introduces people” to what could be.
“In some ways this was less about the installation itself and more about getting people energized and enthusiastic around the corridor plan,” he said.
The residents of the two neighborhoods built out the demonstration project and got to live with the benefits from the temporary improvements for several weeks, giving them a chance to really experience the impact of a street designed for people first could have on their day-to-day lives.
And the following month, in November, we built on that momentum and joined forces again with the City, residents, and the Capitol Hill Neighborhood Council to improve a crosswalk in their neighborhood. Residents came out and painted their footprints, fittingly, as part of a project that let them test out some fun sidewalk art projects designed to reflect the community and make the crossing safer by improving visibility.
It is the first of several improvements with more planned for the spring.
On Martin Luther King, Jr. Day 2020, Spin sponsored a clean-up of Oakland’s 90th Avenue Scraper Bikeway project. We provided scooters and helmets for volunteers and pitched in with cleaning up the community bikeway. The community wanted help here not necessarily with the construction of new infrastructure but with maintenance of a heavily used community bike lane. We were glad to support the community coming together around a clean-up like this, removing debris from an important piece of sustainable streets infrastructure.
This year also expanded the idea of what safe streets and safe community infrastructure looks like. In Portland, we joined forces with Ride Report to fund Figure Plant, a local design firm, to support local small businesses owned by BIPOC residents as part of the Portland Bureau of Transportation’s (PBOT) healthy business permit program.
Figure Plant worked to create an outdoor takeout and safe eating space for KISS Coffee, a small cafe in North Portland owned by a young couple. The new outdoor space transformed the cafe into a community hub, allowing visitors to stop and chat with neighbors — rather than take their coffee or pastry and go — in a physically-distanced environment. We funded Figure Plant to create a similar outdoor space for the local restaurant, Po’ Shines.
Outdoor dining at Po’ Shines in Portland.
KISS Coffee’s outdoor space where customers can enjoy their coffee or pastry.
We’ll talk in more detail about this project in an upcoming blog post, but Figure Plant is also working with Clary Sage Herbarium and Derby as well.
With many local businesses struggling to stay afloat during the pandemic, we wanted to support Portland’s efforts to support the businesses that help make their communities unique.
For a PDF version of this image, click here.
Looking ahead to 2021
We want to start off this year by asking you: What kind of support are you looking for? How can we help you? Whether it’s funding or capacity building, we want to work with you. The first step is to get in touch so send us your thoughts here.
We’re already excited for a few upcoming projects. Soon, we’ll have a comprehensive look at all the great work done by the organizations participating in the MDSS initiative. And we’ll get a chance to look at and test the prototype of the WeCLAIM Build a Better Barrier design.
Making streets safe for everyone to use is an essential step to getting people out of their cars and into more sustainable modes of transportation like bikes, scooters, walking, or rolling. Let’s work together to make our streets safer for everyone.
Spin’s Streets initiatives are powered by Kay Cheng, director of Streets + Equity and Ellen Gottschling, Streets Program manager.
Cheng leads Spin’s Streets and Equity Team, where she helps cities provide safer experiences for our riders, and for all people walking, biking, and rolling on the street. A trained Urban Planner and Designer with 10 years of experience working on safe and sustainable streets planning, Cheng received her MS in Urban Planning from Columbia University. Before Spin, she spent her career designing safer streets and creating vibrant public spaces while at the San Francisco Planning Department and New York City Planning Transportation Planning Division.
Gottschling joined Spin in 2019, bringing with her experience in transportation planning, design, and advocacy from Sam Schwartz Consulting, Bike New York, and Street Plans Collaborative. Ellen works to make streets and micromobility more accessible to all. She has a Masters in Urban Planning and Policy from the University of Illinois at Chicago and a BS in Environmental Management from Indiana University.