Showing posts with label Design. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Design. Show all posts

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Beyond Transit Oriented Development


No, it's not just an Apple product.

POD stands for Pedestrian Oriented Development, the topic of a recent speech by author and professor Reid Ewing (described in this recent article in the Planning Commissioners Journal). Ewing explained that effective POD requires higher density (8-12 dwelling units per acre), diverse land uses, and of course "good design" (e.g. short blocks, public spaces). Unfortunately, antiquated development codes and a continuing focus on auto-oriented development currently stand in the way POD. Nonetheless, Ewing estimates that roughly 3-5 percent of development in the US could be classified as POD, a number that will hopefully increase as cities begin to revamp their municipal codes to promote more walkable communities.

While planners have long touted the benefits of Transit-Oriented Development (TOD), which promotes higher-density, mixed-use development around transit hubs, Ewing argues that in fact pedestrian-oriented development has more potential in many US cities, where there simply aren't enough people to support effective transit service.

Hopefully the transit folks won't hate me for saying this, but personally I agree. It's not that I have anything against transit per se. (Well, actually I do--not enough bang for the buck, too much focus on commute trips, biased towards expensive rail projects that primarily benefit rich, white people--but that's not really the point of this post.) It's just that I spend almost all of my time in places (Ventura County, Woodland Hills) that don't have the kind of density/population/job centers to support the frequent transit service that makes for good TOD. So no, transit and transit-oriented development don't excite me much.

On the other hand, I'm lucky enough to live in a community that's so walkable that I can literally go days without getting in my car (don't snicker, that's impressive for a LA suburb). I see the difference having sidewalks and places to walk to can make in travel patterns--imagine if my neighborhood also had short blocks, street furniture, and some of the other POD features that Ewing talks about. Moreover, I'd be willing to bet that implementing POD is cheaper--and maybe even more effective at reducing vehicle trips--than a lot of the transit projects out there.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Street Summit 2010

In true--ironic--LA fashion, I drove for 2.5 hours yesterday to learn more about how I could spend less time in my car. Yes, yesterday was the 2010 Los Angeles Street Summit, and I wanted to share some info about what I learned in the afternoon's workshops.


MoProject is a multi-media contest that allows young people in California to enter their videos, posters, or spoken-word pieces about the health issues they deal with every day. Last year the contest focused on challenges to health in California, such as dangerous sidewalks. This year's asks California teens, how do you "own your health"? Sponsored by CANFIT, MoProject provides a venue for young people to become active participants in their community's health and development.

Greenfield Walking Group

Recently recognized by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation for its success in promoting community health, the Greenfield Walking Group started in 2006 with a few moms who simply wanted to get some exercise by walking in their local Bakersfield park. Unfortunately, they were thwarted by nasty dogs and even nastier trash, not to mention a language barrier. Enter the walkability assessment. Working with California Walks, the ladies were able to assess the walking conditions in their park and identify key problems. Once armed with actual data, they were able to communicate effectively with city leaders about the lack of walkability in their park and develop real solutions for the area (lights, playground equipment, a jogging trail). Now 150 strong, the group has begun to branch out to other communities, teaching them how to advocate for improvements within their neighborhoods.

Trainings and Resources

Those of you who are interested in transforming your community the way that Greenfield ladies did can get some free help from folks at state and federal level. In California, the Office of Traffic Safety in partnership with UC Berkeley provides four-hour Community Pedestrian Safety Trainings in numerous cities throughout the state each year, as well as Pedestrian Safety Assessments for California communities.

The Federal Highway Administration also offers several programs related to walkability and pedestrian safety, including free technical assistance and bi-monthly webinars. The FHWA also recently revised its handbook on creating a Pedestrian Safety Action Plan.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Cool Ped Stuff #6: Skinny Streets

Who could resist a story (from Grist) that starts with a headline like that? It led me to the blog of photographer and self-proclaimed urban planning geek David Yoon, who passes the time creating pictures of what LA streets might look like on a road diet. Here's one example from Santa Monica, which shows how narrowing a street can transform it from pedestrian acquaintance to pedestrian friend. You can see more at Narrow Streets Los Angeles.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Sidewalk Materials: What Are You Walking On?

Not only did this recent post from the Infrastructurist make me realize that there are blogs about absolutely everything out there, it got me thinking about what we use to build our sidewalks.

Concrete is the most common choice, as it meets several key criteria for sidewalk design: it's cheap, durable, and slip-resistant. On the other hand, it's pretty boring to look at and--a factor that's becoming increasingly important as stormwater runoff regulations become more stringent--it's impervious.

In the past bricks and similar decorative pavers have been used to spice up the look of sidwalks, but cobbled surfaces can be difficult to navigate for folks with disabilities (not to mention those of us who wear high heels). As an alternative, the FHWA recommends stamped concrete or concrete pathways with brick trim. WALKArlington has been working with that Virginia city on a similar "field and border" design concept that relies entirely on textured concrete slabs with a smooth concrete border.

Then there's the issue of permeability. With pavement covering so much of our urban surfaces, it's important to finds materials that allow water to drain directly into the ground. The City of Olympia in Washington state has been installing pervious pavement in projects throughout the city since 1999. Although pervious concrete sidewalks are more expensive than traditional sidewalks, they can significantly reduce overall construction costs by eliminating the need for expensive "stormawater controls" adjacent to roadways (see the full report on Olympia's pervious sidewalks here).

The uber-green may opt for rubber sidewalks, another porous option, made entirely recycled tires. My knees are particularly intrigued by the proponents' claim that the flexible rubber surface is more comfortable to walk on. Sounds cushy to me.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Safe Routes to School Travel Data Report

In its recently released report Safe Routes to School Travel Data: A Look at Baseline Results from Parent Surveys and Student Travel Tallies the National Center for Safe Routes to School summarizes two years of travel data from the national safe routes to school program. Some of the key findings:
  • Most children travel to school by car or school bus, although walking does make up a fairly significant portion of school trips (11 percent in the morning and 15 percent in the afternoon)
  • Walking peaks in fifth grade, when nearly a quarter of kids walk or bike to school, then drops when children enter middle school (possibly due to middle schools being further from home than elementary schools)
  • Distance is the biggest factor in parents' decision to allow their kids to walk to school, and makes a dramatic difference in walking rates. Over 40 percent of children who live less than a quarter-mile from school walk to school. However, the percentage of walkers drops to nine percent for children living between 1/2 and one mile from school--and to two percent or less for children who live more than a mile away from school.
  • Although distance was important, traffic speed, traffic volume, and intersection crossing safety were also major factors in whether or not parents allowed their children to walk to school. Weather also made a difference to parents, but not as much as has been shown in previous studies.

Based on this data, the National Center for Safe Routes to School suggests that in the short term safe routes to school programs focus efforts particularly on areas within a mile of schools, where many children already walk. Since safety concerns are a major reason that parents don't allow their children to walk to school, identifying strategies to lower traffic around schools, reduce traffic speeds, and provide children with safe crossings could have a strong influence on the number of kids who walk to school.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Pedestrian-Oriented Parking

A new year, a new parking ordinance.

Okay, technically the ordinance became law in November. Still, I hope you’ll forgive me for dawdling on writing this up (and for tooting my own horn), because I couldn’t resist bragging about Ventura County's new parking ordinance.

This isn’t the same old motor-centric set of regulations that linger on in many jurisdictions’ codes; the purpose statement is full of phrases like “reduce the adverse effects of motor vehicle parking areas,” “create pleasant neighborhoods designed at a human-scale for human needs,” and even “encourage reduced driving.” Yes, this is a parking ordinance that wants you to drive less.

The ordinance works towards creating a more walkable environment in many different ways, but rather than subjecting you to all 30+ pages of code (available in legalese for the truly motivated here, Section 8108, --or in layman's terms in the companion Parking and Loading Design Guidelines), here are a few highlights:

Safe Pedestrian Access: the new code mandates that pedestrians have safe and convenient access from the street to building entrances. Among other things this means direct pathways to the front door, including pathways through parking lots where necessary, and no drive-through lanes or vehicles impeding the pedestrian path. This is particularly important because many pedestrian crashes actually happen within parking lots and not out on the roads.

Urban Design: the ordinance encourages sites designed with buildings in front and parking the back to create more pedestrian-friendly streets. When parking lots are located between the sidewalk and the building, extra landscaping is required to soften the impact of parking spaces.

Parking Space Reductions: new regulations allow reduced parking rates for uses that provide sidewalks, crosswalks, and other enhancements to the pedestrian environment. Considering how expensive even a single parking space is ($5,000 to $10,000 for a surface space, not including maintenance), this should motivate developers to substitute cheaper pedestrian amenities for pricey parking spaces.

Landscaping: updated landscaping requirements increase the amount of greenery required in parking lots, lessening the effect of all that asphalt on the streetscape. The code even allows some required parking spaces to be maintained in a landscaping “reserve” (kept as landscaping unless future demand warrants their conversion to parking). Result? More green space for pedestrians.

Since this is a pedestrian blog I won’t go into the new section on bicycle parking, but I assure the bike advocates out there that it’s equally extensive.

Let’s remember that we’re not talking downtown San Francisco here, where high densities and extensive transit systems provide ample opportunities to get creative with parking policy. This is unincorporated Ventura County, where a lot of serious regulatory issues revolve around roosters. If we can adopt (unanimously, I might add) an ordinance like this in Ventura, shouldn’t the rest of the region (yes LA, I’m talking to you) be able to follow suit?

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Walking in Ecuador (the Good)

Okay, we've established that Ecuador has some challenges when it comes to the pedestrian environment. But what about its successes? As I observed in my jaunts through cities large and small, in many places Ecuador has really done things right.

Consider this street in Quito's New Town:
Note the street furniture, large trees, and narrow roadway. The bricks are a nice touch also, though I wonder if they present any type of maintenance or accessibility problems.

Even better is this street in Banos: What I loved the most about this street (aside from the fact that cars are allowed only half of the space the pedestrians enjoy--take that Ventura Boulevard with your seven travel lanes and narrow sidewalks) was the perfectly proportioned mixed-use buildings on either side. With shops below (that blend so well with residences above that my husband didn't even realize the housing was there, and kept asking where people actually lived in Banos), this street shows us density as it should be done.

But perhaps most exciting to me were the pedestrian streets like this one that littered the roadway network in Quito's Old Town:
About half the streets in this part of town were limited to walkers only, or opened only occasionally to vehicle traffic. Add to this numerous plazas, colonial architecture, and narrow one-way streets, and you can understand why--even with Quito's fancy BRT system--we usually opted to travel on foot.

And this was only in the cities. In many of the rural areas we visited vehicles were so rare that the question of who the roadways belonged to (vehicles or people) was moot. Pedestrians (and sheep, and chickens, and horses) embraced the streets and footpaths as their own, only rarely interrupted by the passage of a motorcyle or an inter-city bus. If only Angelenos had it so good.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Walking in Ecuador Part 1 (the Bad)

Nothing gives you a better sense of a country's transportation system than trying to navigate it while dragging around a bunch of luggage. I say this as a person who has sprinted through the Paris subway system with a rolling suitcase, juggled two loaded duffel bags on Madrid's airport bus route, and, now, teetered along Quito's sidewalks with a hefty backback.

The good news is that people in Ecuador walk a lot. The bad news is that in many places they're forced to do so along sidewalks so narrow that a tall person walking along them risks decapitation from the mirrors of passing trucks. I was especially aware of the emaciated sidewalks as my bulky backpack and I shimmied our way through the streets during rush hour, knocking people from the curb left and right (see above).

Add to this the heavy cloud of diesel fumes permeating the cities, crumbling street furniture, and poor signage, and you end up with a pedestrian environment that is barely tolerable for the able-bodied, not to mention the challenges that a person with disabilities might face.

Still, either by design or by luck Ecuador manages to get a lot right. Next up: Walking in Ecuador Part 2 (the Good).

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Space Wars

I don't like to get to down on the City of Ventura too much, because the city does sport some lovely pedestrian amenities like countdown pedestrian signals at major intersections and a very walkable downtown. Still...take a look at the sidewalk-bike-lane combo above.

Now, I concede that by providing sidewalks and striping bike lanes at all, the city clearly acknowledges the fact that bicyclists and pedestrians might (imagine it!) actually want to use the roadway network. This is more than many cities do.

However, lurking there in the background you'll see not two, not three, but four travel lanes for vehicles, and that's only in one direction. In fact, vehicles on this road (Victoria Avenue, in case you were wondering) luxuriate in a full 100 feet of roadway width compared to the 20 feet of sidewalk space that bikes and peds--and landscaping--must share.

Maybe I'm greedy, but it seems to me that the cars might be able to sacrifice a few of those feet for a bike lane and leave the sidewalk for the walkers. Oh, I know the argument: the cars NEED that roadway space to keep traffic flowing freely (nevermind that, despite driving that road at rush hour nearly every day, I have yet to see even the mildest traffic jam).

Ventura claims that its goal is to provide residents with, "more transportation choices by strengthening and balancing bicycle, pedestrian and transit connections in the City and surrounding region." Let's not sugarcoat things: a bike lane on a sidewalk next to an eight-lane road is not balance. It's putting vehicle travel ahead of other modes, and putting it so far ahead that the other modes don't have a chance to catch up. If Ventura--and any other city--wants to acheive balance, it needs to make real changes in the allocation of roadway space. I think Victoria Avenue would be a great place to start.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Just the Essentials

Final Score: Pedestrian-friendly references - 85, References to "cars" or "driving" - 10.

In its newly released draft report highlighting the Essential Smart Growth Fixes for Urban and Suburban Zoning Codes, the EPA sends a clear message that the car has been booted off the throne (presumably by the foot of an irritated walker).

The report identifies 11 policy areas in which local governments can change their zoning codes to promote what the EPA calls "complete neighborhoods—places where residents can walk to jobs and services, where choices exist for housing and transportation, where open space is preserved, and where climate change mitigation goals can be realized." Nearly every chapter includes modifications to improve walkability, such as revising street standards to add "narrow local streets" categories or reducing block lengths to improve pedestrian connections.

While I'm not sure I agreee with how the EPA characterizes all of the suggested changes (is requiring sidewalks on both sides of the street really a "wholesale change" in the regulatory framework, or a "thing we obviously should have been doing for years and ought to put in the code starting tomorrow"?), I'm encouraged to see walking featured so prominently in a national-level policy document.

I wonder if our Board of Supervisors would notice if I slipped some of these into our next ordinance update?

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Where the Sidewalk Really Started

London, in case you were wondering.

It all began with a 1764 survey of the local infrastructure by the Commission of Sewers and Pavements (one can only imagine the sins a bureaucrat had to commit to end up on the sewer commission). The commission found that London roads were “defective, even in the principal streets.”

Apparently 18th century Londoners hated walking on cracked pavement and muddy roadway shoulders as much as we do today, because a year later concerns over the commission's findings prompted the creation of the city's first curbed sidewalk. Other cities followed suit, and by 1823 Paris had even enacted a law requiring property owners to install sidewalks adjacent to their buildings. (No one paid much attention to it, as these were the days before binding developer agreements.)

Of course, pedestrians had been on the minds of city leaders long before the apperance of sidewalks. Heavy traffic congestion led Julius Caesar to ban the use of cars and chariots between sunrise and sunset on the roads of ancient Rome--though (no big surpise) he reneged on an earlier promise to grant pedestrians the right of way over other road users. Nor did other pledged improvements, such as road paving, ever materialize.

In fact, it wasn't until 1,000 years after Caesar's reign that paving began in earnest throughout Europe (Paris began the trend in the late 1100s). Paved roadways made walking easier for pedestrians in medieval cities...but it also made walking easier for horses, oxen, and other types of "heavy vehicle" traffic.

The increasing chaos on city streets got architects thinking about how to design city transportation networks that served everyone. Leonardo da Vinci recommended that the problem be addressed by separating pedestrians from other forms of traffic. Here is one of his drawings from the late 1400s, showing how the concept might look:

Although his designs weren’t adopted at the time, da Vinci's vision of pedestrian-only spaces was prescient-- today you can find "pedestrianized" streets everywhere from New York to Costa Rica.