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Planning Commission

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Jul 07

Learning a Thing or Two from the Big Apple

Posted on July 7, 2017 at 4:39 PM by Michael Stokes

Being a planner means that you spend your vacation examining in detail all of the places that you visit to extract new ideas that you can use when you return to work.  On a recent short trip to New York City, I got several new ideas while watching all of the bikers traversing the busy streets and strolling the full length of the High Line. The bike infrastructure and High Line are interesting new dimensions that greatly enliven Manhattan.

The ideas gained from the bike infrastructure were more focused on how the bicycle network was established, since most of the New York City bicycle system involves design elements that are essentially urban and not directly suitable Montgomery County.  What was more interesting was the immediate and subtle way many of the bike facilities and many new public pedestrian and bicycle places were established without additional pavement.  They were built by simple adding some large rocks, planters and fencing to delineate the pedestrian and bicycle spaces from the remainder of the roadways.  These quick solutions seemed to work well.  Where they didn’t work, they could be easily changed.  In creating this bicycle system, New York City employed an innovative; let’s just try this approach, which is unfortunately rare in local government. 

Watching the thousands of people experiencing the High Line was also interesting.  What makes the High Line great is not necessarily the fact that you are elevated above the streets or that it is a re-purposed freight rail line through interesting neighborhoods on the west side of Manhattan. Those are factors.  But the High Line is a great and exciting space because it was carefully designed to be a dynamic and multiple dimension space that reflects the surrounding areas while inviting the curiosity and interests of those who use it.  In the hands of less skilled designers, it would have ended up as simply as an elevated trail system. What has been created instead is an engaging social space, elevated garden, promenade, discovery space for children, historical experience and great viewscape among other dimensions.  I don’t know that we will ever build a High Line here in Montgomery County, but the multi-dimensional and creative approach used on the High Line should remind any good designer to think outside of the box.
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Why not use a row of parked cars to protect bikers?

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Add a few fences and planters to a street to create a bike lane

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People enjoy the green High Line

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The High Line is a great hangout space

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There are things for children to discover on the High Line

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