Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Pedestrian Scale Land Use Mix

If you want pedestrian interaction, your land use mix has to balance at the scale of the pedestrian. 
Obvious?  Yes. 
Ignored?  Absolutely. 

This does not bode well for the suburbs I love.

Areas that have succeeded in their bicycle and pedestrian systems (i.e. people use them) have land uses that are mixed within 1/4 to 1/2 mile scale, because that is all the casual user will casually walk.  Add in a bag or two of groceries and a stroller or a toddler and even 1/4 mile seems like a long way.  Employment mixing might stretch a bit farther but not much.  Recreation walks have been known to stretch to as much as a mile, but you're pushing it.  And, by the way, this means walk distance, not crow's fly distance--which can be a problem in the land of  subdivision walls and gates. 

Many communities prescribe land use mix in their LDR's and Comp Plans and then wonder why people don't walk.  Good land use mix can substantially reduce the length of your vehicle trip (not bad), but you won't get people out of their cars without draconian parking limitations combined with genuine proximity. 

As I was mulling this over, what came to mind is that although I live within 2/3 of a mile of a thriving downtown area that is connected to me through a true, traditional neighborhood, I almost never bike to it, much less walk to it.  Occasionally, on a warm spring day I might pull out the bike for a fun trip with the kids to the ice cream shop, but that's really only once or twice a year despite the fact that my area has some of the nicest bikable streets, paths and sidewalks anywhere.

How about you?  Do you walk any farther?  When?  How do you design for this?  I'd love to get some insights...

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Pedestrian detail to love!!

One of the most difficult issues with suburban walking is the dreaded subdivision wall.  It makes any walking task a real chore.  The answer is to add pedestrian walkways through the wall at a walkable scale, but that means setting up walkways between houses--which is not likely to go over well for buyer or owner.  As I was driving around the other day, I saw one such walkway and I love the way the homeowners handled it. Here's the view from the residential side:

From the community side it's just as cool--inviting, yet subtle:

The trees add some shade and point the way to the walkway.  I might have preferred the trees on both sides of the sidewalk, but it's hard to be picky when someone finally gets it right. 

I don't know the history of this connection, but it appears that both fences were constructed by the homeowners for their individual lot, though at first I wasn't sure whether those were private fences or communty fences.  That brings up an important point:  This is easy to do for a developer.  All he would need to do is extend the community fence along both sides of the walkway.  This is an area that is close to a walkable downtown area and within the local school's walk-zone.  I'm sure this pathway gets used regularly by more than just school children walking to school. 

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Great Blog Post on Wise Growth--grow natives...

I just came across this great blog post on economic development.  In it, Delia Rucker talks about attempting to grow and nurture businesses like growing plants that are native to your area and climate. 

I would add that the transportation systems that we put in place should have the same mind-set.  There are areas that are conducive to growing high-density, high intensity land uses, along with all of the alternate mode support that is feasible there.  Some places just aren't made for that.  Here in Central Florida, it's wet, windy and often sandy.  Building a second story on most buildings is prohibitively expensive--One retail developer recently told me that he can't build the second story for a price he can reasonably expect to get back in the lease. He can do facade's, but the wind load ratings on a second story make the building far more expensive.  Basements and extensive foundations are rare because the sand will collapse on you as you build it.  There are lakes in the way everywhere--street continuity is an adventure.  Water retention requirements add space to each project, also impeding density.  Cost-effective transit will always be a challenge except in the tourist areas where single destinations and clustered origins make highway style transit ideal. 

We've made mistakes, but they can be improved with solutions that follow the "right plant, right place" principle.  Euclidian residential zoning can be augmented with complementary commercial or institutional uses within walking distance.  For the most part we have fairly flat land so there's no excuse for not having a sidewalk or bike path everywhere.  There are few hills to get in the way of a digital environment.  We have a history of welcoming people into our communities that makes front porch relationships a natural thing--we need to build more porches and encourage people to add them to existing homes.  We may not be New York or Long Island, but we can be who we are and that will be good enough. 

Thursday, August 4, 2011

We are live!

Hallelujah!! The website is up and live!!!  I need to swap out a few pictures, but I'm pretty happy with it, all things considered. 

I'll be getting real content here early next week and I'm going to work toward getting useful content on both the blog and the website each week.    It has been suggestted that I get an intervew from a decision maker in transportation planning every week as well.  It's a good suggestion and I'll do my best. 

I hope this site serves you all well!

Saturday, May 28, 2011

OK, Wow!!!...vision implementation...update

The last blog post (Complete Communities) just came out and it ended up being the cover for the FLITE magazine!!! 

A slightly revised version will be coming out as part of the summer issue of the ITE planning newsletter!!


I've had the chance to help edit the national ITE planning newsletter this time and I'm so pleased with how it's coming out.  We've got some really great articles about implementation strategies that help get communities to their vision in incremental steps they can start right now.  The changes may not happen fast, but they're happening and it's been wonderful to see people actively putting these ideas into practice. 

I have my site visit with the state uniform compliance program office this Tuesday--My DBE status should be around the corner any minute. 

I'll provide more helpful content in a week or two.  I've got some thoughts percolating about performance measures...

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Complete Communities--preprint from FLITE Magazine

Much has been said in the recent past about complete streets.  I want to extend this concept to discuss a "complete community".  A complete street attempts to provide an adequate facility to serve all available modes that may use that street.  Similarly, a complete community will attempt to provide an adequate land use mix and connectivity for its residents so that most, if not all, of the day to day needs of the people in that community can be met within as short a travel distance as possible with viable mode options for the trips.  This will optimize mode split, reduce trip lengths, reduce congestion and set the stage for a successful transit system. 
Most communities that are a part of a larger region cannot reasonably expect to serve all of the employment needs of its residents.  These are regional uses.  However, they can attempt to meet many of their residents’ other needs through land use mix, connectivity and proximity.  The goal of a complete community is to make all available mode choices viable options to their residents both from a physical standpoint and a utility standpoint.  After all, a bicycle path provides little mobility benefit if it doesn’t connect to anything useful. 
A crucial component of a complete community is that connectivity is provided at a resolution that is appropriate to the mode—pedestrian connections located at a pedestrian scale, bicycle connections at a bicycle scale and so on.    Complete streets are as widely available as the context dictates.  Neighborhood shopping and support services are common and clustered at approximately one mile intervals. 
There may be much to be gained from this strategy from a congestion standpoint, at least within the local network.  To determine how much of an area’s traffic a community has direct control over, an analysis was made of the National Highway Travel Survey data during a typical Tuesday-Thursday PM peak hour.  Of the trips that occurred during that time frame, only 35% were completely outside a community’s local control.  These were trips that were either directly work related (26.5%), vacation related (1.3%)  or associated with visiting family or friends (7.1%).  It could be argued that some shopping trips are regional and therefore not within a local community’s control, but shopping only accounts for another 23% of the PM peak hour trips, and at least half of those trips could be satisfied locally.  Another 14% could be supported locally with the addition of support facilities within the community like public meeting spaces for business, community gathering places for family events like weddings and social gatherings, or more extensive bike and pedestrian systems to reduce the need for pickups and drop-offs, particularly for older children.  Therefore roughly 1/3 of the trips are within the community’s control through land use decisions.  Any trip within the community is likely to be shorter than a trip outside of that community, which reduces VMT and congestion.  If services can be matched to residential uses within a mile, then bicycle becomes a truly viable option over time.
A Complete Community strategy should be structured as incremental changes over several years.  Euclidian zoning and vehicular orientation have been patterns throughout most of America for many decades.  To begin, communities should work toward improving pedestrian and bicycle connections, especially around schools.  Parents and students should be encouraged to use these modes through school education, PTA’s and through community events.  A parent who can learn to trust their child to bike to school can learn to trust them to go to the local market on the corner for an immediate shopping need, and will eventually go themselves.  Furthermore, as children grow up accustomed to the freedom that a bicycle can bring them, they will continue to enjoy that freedom and exercise as they grow.  Communities that have few pedestrian and bicycle connections due to subdivision walls will begin to consider and ultimately request additional pedestrian connections.  Communities can respond wholeheartedly with incentives like property tax waivers for the dedication of pedestrian easements in appropriate places along with the construction of bicycle paths in those locations. 
While communities begin to encourage walking and biking, they should begin to review their residential zoning ordinances to encourage mixed use and address “orphan parcels.”  These parcels are 1 to 5 acre parcels, within Euclidian residential zones that are too small for a residential use.  These parcels often occur at transportation nodes like intersections, which makes them better suited to mixed land uses.  These parcels can be rezoned with a mixed use category and targeted for providing neighborhood scale goods and services, possibly with first floor commercial/services and second floor residences.  This converts “throw-away” land into a valuable commodity.  Communities should explore the potential of telecommuting service centers in these locations as well as an economic development initiative.  These centers can help incubate small business startups by providing business meeting space, printing capabilities and/or shipping services. 
Ultimately, as residents become more comfortable walking and biking, they can begin to extend those trips through local transit services.  Transit service has traditionally been provided to those who are transit dependent.  As communities become more connected, transit should be considered in areas where bicycling and walking have firmly taken hold as a part of the local culture as well. 
This paper has only scratched the surface of the policies that could be incrementally implemented to create a Complete Community.  ITE has had extensive discussions regarding community capture, but this concept goes beyond merely tailoring land uses to match trip ends.  Matching trip ends helps, but it is the physical details of the connections and the social details of the culture that truly make community capture viable.  The communities with the highest internal capture in the ITE Trip Generation Handbook are the communities for which there was no significant need to travel outside that community.  It is the transportation community that holds the key to the implementation of this strategy.  The dependence on vehicular travel has been supported by the transportation community for many decades and will continue to be a strong component of our overall mobility.  We have the opportunity to encourage a more robust system that creates better connections between people within a community and more efficient resource utilization through multiple generations.  This strategy begins with our children because they will be the ones that will benefit from this approach for many decades and for their sake we have a choice to move in a different direction.