Monday, December 13, 2010

Guiding Bellevue Towards Walkability

I was scouring the internet recently in search of well-written ordinances for buffering and screening (what, you don't spend all day hunting down esoteric bits of code language for your job?), when I came across the two great sets of design guidelines created by the City of Bellevue, Washington.

Turns out Bellevue had some pretty forward thinkers who, back in the early 1980s, decided that it would be a good idea to stop devoting so much space and energy to the car. They adopted a whole new code to guide development in their central business district, and eventually created some lovely design guidelines to help implement it.

The two that I found particularly interesting from a pedestrian perspective were the guidelines for Building/Sidewalk Relationships and Pedestrian Corridors and Major Open Space. The first devotes about 25 pages to delineating the precise relationship between the sidewalk and building frontage for each of a half-dozen street types. It might seem like a lot of attention to pay to a slim slice of the downtown space, but creating a dynamic interaction between the sidewalk and adjacent buildings actually accomplishes a number of important goals--which the document handily identifies-- such as creating a pedestrian environment with activity, enclosure and protection (important in the rainy northwest).

The second set of guidelines is an even longer tome, and includes an astounding level of detail. I was particularly impressed by the fact that it devoted a full 21 pages to "design details" ranging from streetlights and bollards to planters, decorative paving, benches, and signs. It's these details that create memorable, exciting pedestrian space--and it's these details that are often left out of urban design entirely. I can think of any number of sidewalks here in Southern California that are perfectly serviceable...but mind-numbingly boring because they lack the pedestrian details that give them interest and character.

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