The Omnibus Roundup – National infrastructure bank, embracing decline, street struggles and traffic lights

On Wednesday, President Obama addressed a friendly crowd at Cuyahoga Community College in Parma, Ohio. The speech was a follow-up to one he delivered on Labor Day to the Milwaukee Area Labor Council, where he outlined his vision for creating jobs and reinvesting in the nation’s transit infrastructure. Whether the plan is more accurately described as a new round of stimulus or a major piece of legislation in its own right is up for discussion. And there’s no shortage of opinion. But the inevitable politicization of the issue should not obscure an essential element of the plan: the establishment of a National Infrastructure Bank. Mayor Bloomberg and Governors Rendell and Schwarzenegger have been championing this approach, one they say “would spur innovation by allowing a panel of experts to approve projects on merit, rather than having lawmakers simply steer transportation money back home.” Robert Puentes at the Brookings Institution, who last year outlined how such a bank could work both efficiently and effectively, this week questions whether President Obama’s plan goes far enough. Bob Herbert, in his Times column, cheered the speech, and Christopher Leinberger on The Avenue calls it “a triple win.” Also on the New Republic’s blog roster, Alexander C. Hart analyzes the plan through comparison to the European Investment Bank, a similar institution founded in 1958.  And the Infrastructurist points us to a list compiled by the North American Strategic Infrastructure Leadership Forum of the 21 most strategic projects they think Obama should fund first.

Job loss, the housing crisis and various other economic woes have caused dramatic reductions in the populations of many US cities. What to do with these shrinking cities has been a challenging task for city officials, urban planners and residents of Detroit, Cleveland, and Flint, just to name a few. Recently, a new approach is gaining traction — embracing the decline. Mayor Dave Bing of Detroit has become the poster child of this controversial strategy, which its proponents see as an opportunity to radically reimagine the modern American city, and which its detractors consider an abandonment of residents most in need of support. But the problem extends far beyond Detroit and urban thinkers and planners are studying precedents, exploring new ideas, and taking action to reinvent their cities.

In local infrastructure, the Prospect Park West bike lane, a controversial street adaptation that took effect in June, has delivered on its promise to reduce speeding traffic and thus, it is fair to assume, improve safety for cyclists, pedestrians and drivers alike. And Broadway is back in the news, as the city this fall will gradually reduce the number of lanes dedicated to car traffic on Broadway between 17th and 33rd Streets to one. As the endless car vs. cyclist vs. pedestrian debates rage on, the media coverage of the issue itself is starting to be scrutinized. Reuters blogger Felix Salmon takes a detailed look at both the car-centric phraseology of Michael M. Grynbaum’s New York Times report and the color choice made for its accompanying graphic, which he sees as one example of a perpetual tendency to align cyclists with pedestrians rather than other wheeled vehicles in the struggle for legitimacy on the roads.

Traffic Light by Li Ming Hsing

The fun side of sidewalk and road safety made itself known on the shortlist for the recent Design for All competition hosted by Designboom and the 2010 Seoul Design Fair. FastCo.Design takes a look at Jae Min Lim’s Ergo Crosswalk, one selected competition entry, which provides safer conditions for pedestrian crossings based on observations of jaywalking patterns. Also on the shortlist is a whimsical traffic light designed by Li Ming Hsing that uses an animated figure to encourage stretching and exercise while waiting for the light to change. It turns out there is a lot of energy surrounding innovations in traffic light technology. Check out Flavorpill for a slideshow of other nifty designs, including a Virtual Wall with laser beam visualizations of pedestrians and the UNIsignal which improves signal usability for the colorblind.


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