Friday, June 12, 2009

Lessons from Times Square

If progressive urban leaders want to transform their cities from smoggy, car-choked clichés to green exemplars of Copenhagen Chic, they've got to co-opt the powers that be with razor-sharp, targetted PR.

This is my capsule summary of an insightful news analysis, by landscape designer Kristin Faurest of Artemisia Design, of what Budapest can learn from New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg's stunning coup in turning Times Square into a pedestrian mall. Download the full text of the original English-language article here.

Appropriately enough, the article takes a laser-beam focus on Bloomberg's sales job, an aspect conspicuously missing from Budapest City Hall's recent attempt to green the capital's thoroughfares. Here, the plan was packaged in a slapdash manner after word about the idea was leaked to the press. Proponents pitched it as an experiment with "artificial traffic jams," and the public greeted it with predictable scorn.

By contrast, the project in Times Square was preceded by months of meticulous planning and lobbying. When the plan went public, a coordinated sales effort focused on winning over key stakeholders, including retailers and motorists. Significantly, the PR campaign was given the upbeat name of "Green Light." As Faurest writes:
Green Light’s information campaign was characterized by transparency, openness, well-supported arguments, realistic timelines and detailed practical information for taxis, delivery trucks, and theatergoers. It was heavily planned, controlled and targeted. Central to the information campaign was a list of benefits the changes would provide:
  • Traffic lights with up to 66% more green time
  • Significant travel time improvements on Sixth and Seventh Avenues
  • Safer and simpler crossings for pedestrians
  • Faster bus speeds for 70,000 daily riders
Although Budapest City Hall's most recent attempt at greening the city's main arteries went down in a monsoon of rotten fruit, the idea of a quieter, safer more humane transport system still beckons. Those of us who want to bring it to fruition can learn valuable lessons from the miracle at Times Square.

The article appears in Hungarian in two online publications, the architecture and new-urbanist blog and the general daily news site

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

EU Funds Sought for Bike Sharing

The city administration has officially applied for EU subsidies for a planned bike-sharing system along the lines of Paris's Velib (which uses Hungarian-made bicycles -- pictured) and Barcelona's Bicing systems.

According to the post in, the system will include 1,009 bicycles parked at 73 automated racks and cover a seven-square-kilometre section of downtown. Users would be able to ride the public bikes free of charge for the first half hour, and then have to pay the price of a BKV ticket for the second half hour.

According to the earlier decision by the City Council, the system would at first be confined to the central districts of Pest, and gradually expand outward and across the Danube to Buda. The system would not debut before 2011.