Skip to content

Posts from the "Streetsblog.net" Category

Streetsblog USA No Comments

Fixing a Blank Wall Streetscape With Storefront Retrofits

Every city has places where the buildings present a blank face to the sidewalk. A dark, recessed arcade deadening the pedestrian environment or a soulless concrete wall fronting a windswept plaza.

Consultant Brent Toderian, formerly the planning director for the city of Vancouver, pointed out a cheap and easy solution to this problem. He calls them “blank wall retrofits,” storefronts that can be inserted over blank walls to add sidewalk-facing retail. He tweeted this great example in Calgary, Alberta: 

This retrofit fits between the lobby and plaza of the brutalist Westin Calgary and the sidewalk.

“It’s a great technique for dealing with fundamentally flawed architecture that presents blank walls to streets and public places,” Toderian says. ”Unlike ‘make-up on a pig’ — e.g. murals — this fundamentally changes the street edge condition. The pig is no longer a pig. It potentially changes un-urban to urban.”

We reached out to our readers to find more success stories. Here’s what they sent us.

Read more…

Streetsblog.net No Comments

Can Columbus Get Its Sprawl Under Control?

The green area will all be filled in with sprawl by 2050 if current patterns don’t change — more than tripling the land area of Columbus. Map: MORPC, Columbus 2020 and Columbus ULI via Architect’s Newspaper

There’s a new study out examining the future of Columbus, Ohio, and the results are a little scary. This growing city in central Ohio has an Atlanta-like geography — no physical barriers on any side. And if current development patterns continue, Chris Bentley at the Architect’s Newspaper reports, the region’s physical footprint is expected to more than triple by 2050 as population grows by 500,000:

The Mid Ohio Regional Planning Commission (MORPC), Columbus 2020 and ULI Columbus hired the planning firm Calthorpe Associates to assess the development impact of current trends and make recommendations aimed at curbing patterns that could balloon the region’s environmental problems and its residents transportation budgets.

From the current city land area of 223 square miles, said the study, Columbus and its suburban jurisdictions could swallow up an additional 480 square miles by 2050 if current trends continue. The culprits include large lots for single-family homes and traditional suburban-style development…

Read more…

Streetsblog.net No Comments

Two Keys to Livability in Sweden — Good Suburban Buses and Slow Cars

In a lot of ways, Sweden isn’t that different from the Midwestern United States, says Bill Lindeke at Streets.mn. Lindeke recently returned from a trip to his ancestral homeland in Scandinavia, and he reports that cars are just about as common in Sweden as they are in Minnesota, where he lives.

The very pedestrian-friendly main drag of Växjö, Sweden, a small city of 60,000 residents. Photo: Bill Lindeke

But there are a few things about cities and towns in Sweden that make them much better places to ride transit or cross a street. For one thing, riding the bus is much more convenient, comfortable, and practical there, he writes:

The buses in Sweden are as nice as any I’ve ever seen, and to me they prove that having a good transit system doesn’t need to be linked to rail. For example, the city buses in Växjö were all very new, mostly double-length, low-floor Mercedes buses with very wide front entrances that accepted cash, credit cards, and (of course) automatic transit cards. They had video screens inside that showed the next stops.

Most importantly, they came relatively frequently. Our hostel illustrated how far the bus system would go… the ride from the city center to a low-density part of the resort town named Evedal takes about a half-hour to go about seven miles, with half-hour frequency from 10:00 am until 7:00 pm.

The great bus system means it’s quite possible to get by without a car even in low density areas. That’s a big difference from the US.

Swedes are also much more assertive about creating a walkable environment:

Read more…

Streetsblog.net No Comments

There Is No Right to Unimpeded Fast Driving

How come you don't see drivers raging about this? Photo: Washington Bikes

How come you don’t hear more drivers raging about this? Photo: Washington Bikes

How do you explain the outrage some drivers feel when they have to slow down for a few seconds for a cyclist or a passing pedestrian? There seems to be an ingrained sense that people outside of cars violate the natural order of things, and the natural order of things is motorists sailing uninhibited to their destinations at high speeds.

As kids go back to school this week, dangerous driving is on the mind of Barb Chamberlain at Washington Bikes. She says it’s time for a reality check:

There is nothing guaranteeing any street user anything like “unimpeded speedy passage with no need to slow down, ever.” There just isn’t. Get over it.

– let me point out that typical street traffic includes all of the following, every single day (well, except maybe for item #1, which probably doesn’t happen every day):

Read more…

Streetsblog.net No Comments

The Problem With “Infrastructurism”

Have you ever heard someone say that building a new transit line will increase ridership by so many thousands of riders?

An ad for DC’s new Silver Line shows riders dancing into the train. Photo: WMATA

Jarrett Walker at Human Transit calls folks who subscribe to that idea “infrastructurists,” and he says it’s a mistake to attribute too much importance to physical infrastructure. In the end, it’s service — which can be facilitated by new infrastructure — that influences ridership.

The “infrastructurist” mentality was on display, Walker says, in a recent study published by the Transportation Research Board, which Streetsblog covered in July. The authors examined why some transit lines attract more riders than others.

Based on the transit lines they studied, the authors did not find that speed, frequency, and reliability “individually had a statistically significant effect on ridership.” But Walker says there’s plenty of evidence demonstrating the effect of service quality on ridership:

While this dataset of new infrastructure projects is too small and noisy to capture the relationship of speed, frequency, and reliability to ridership, the vastly larger dataset of the experience of transit service knows these factors to be overwhelming. What’s more, we can describe the mechanism of the relationship, instead of just observing correlations: Speed, frequency, and reliability are the main measures of whether you reach your destination on time. Given this, the burden of proof should certainly be on those who suggest that ridership is possibly unrelated to whether a service is useful for that purpose.

Read more…

Streetsblog.net No Comments

The Small Indiana City That’s Embracing Livable Streets

Kokomo, Indiana, has put resources and energy into developing streetscape features to calm traffic and provide more space for walking and biking, Aaron Renn reports. Photo: Urbanophile

With a population of about 60,000 and a formerly industrial economy, Kokomo, Indiana, is not the type of city that recent economic trends have favored.

But Aaron Renn at the Urbanophile says the city has embraced some tenets of urbanism as an economic and quality-of-life strategy, thanks in large part to the leadership of Mayor Greg Goodnight. When Renn visited recently, he was impressed with the new downtown bike trail and pedestrian infrastructure. And thanks to careful budgeting and prioritization, the city is making these improvements without taking on any debt. Renn says:

They’ve deconverted every one way street downtown back to two way, removed every stop light and parking meter in the core of downtown, are building a mixed-use downtown parking garage with a new YMCA across the street, have a pretty extensive program of pedestrian friendly street treatments like bumpouts, as well as landscaping and beautification, a new baseball stadium under construction, a few apartment developments in the works, and even a more urban feel to its public housing.

I think they’ve done a number of good things, and I especially appreciate the attention to detail that went into them. You clearly get the feel of them walking downtown streets. I would say the commercial and residential development lags the infrastructure, however. That’s to be expected. They do have an Irish Pub, a coffee shop, a few restaurants, and other assorted downtown type of businesses. This will be an area to watch as some of these investments mature.

When you look at the downward trajectory of most small Indiana industrial cities, the status quo is not a viable option. Kokomo deserves a lot credit for trying something different. And regardless of any development payoffs, things like trails and safer and more welcoming streets are already paying a quality of life dividend to the people who live there right now. It’s an improvement anyone can experience today just by walking around.

It’s hard to tell from Renn’s post if the city’s parking policies are aligned with the improvements to street designs, but it looks like an admirable effort. You can get a better sense of what’s happening (and of Mayor Goodnight’s urbanist library) by checking out the many pictures on the Urbanophile.

Elsewhere on the Network today: The Bike League shares a post from a woman whose life was transformed by her introduction to bicycling and the dramatic weight loss she achieved. And Pedestrian Observations says hoping people will just move out of productive cities with high housing costs isn’t a reasonable affordability strategy.

Streetsblog.net No Comments

Boosting Transit Ridership With New Stations, Not New Track

Boston's new Orange Line station in Somerville is a great example of how older cities can boost transit ridership inexpensively with new stations in strategic locations. Image: MBTA

Assembly Station in Somerville, outside Boston, is a great example of how older transit systems can draw more riders with new stations in strategic locations. Image: MBTA

Yonah Freemark at the Transport Politic calls them infill stations: new transit stops built in gaps along existing rail lines. Current examples include Assembly Station just outside Boston in Somerville, DC’s NoMa Station, and the West Dublin/Pleasanton BART station.

Infill stations are a pretty brilliant method to get the most out of older rail systems without spending very much, Freemark says. He’d like to see more cities adopt the strategy:

The advantages of infill stations result from the fact that people are simply more likely to use transit when they’re closer to it — and from the fact that the older transit systems in many cities have widely spaced stations that are underserving potentially significant markets. Erick Guerra and Robert Cervero, affiliated with the University of California-Berkeley, have demonstrated that people living or working within a quarter mile of a transit station produce about twice as many transit rides as people living or working more than half a mile away. In other words, with fewer stations on a line, the number of people willing to use public transportation as a whole is likely reduced.

Assembly Station, which has been in the works for several years, promises significant benefits — 5,000 future daily riders taking advantage of a 10-minute ride to the region’s central business district, at a construction cost of about $30 million. The station fits in the 1.3-mile gap between two existing stations and is the first new stop built along Boston’s T rapid transit network in 26 years. When combined with the $1.7 billion Green Line light rail extension planned for opening later this decade, 85 percent of Somerville’s residents will live within walking distance of rapid transit, up from just 15 percent today.

The cost-per-rider comparison between the two Somerville projects is indicative of the value offered by infill stations: While Assembly Station cost about $6,000 per rider served, the Green Line Extension will cost $38,000 per rider served — six times more. Both projects will provide benefits, but the cost-effectiveness of infill stations in terms of attracting riders is clear. While infill stations will reduce transit speeds to some extent, within reason the number of new riders they attract will more than make up for the change.

Elsewhere on the Network today: Strong Towns comments on perverse transportation engineering standards that create dangerous streets in the name of “safety.” Systemic Failure says Caltrain will have to choose between bikes and bathrooms in its new electrified trains, and it should go with the former. And Beyond DC shares a quote that gets to the heart of the reason protected bike infrastructure is so important.

Streetsblog.net No Comments

Downtown Houston Will Get Its First Protected Bike Lane

Houston’s protected bike lane should look a lot like this one in Seattle. Photo: Seattle DOT/Flickr

A piece of top-notch bike infrastructure is coming to the largest city in Texas.

That’s the word today from Kevin McNally at Houston Tomorrow, who relays the news that a two-way protected bike lane is on tap for downtown:

The City of Houston will install the City’s first on-street protected bike lane along Lamar Street in Downtown, possibly as early as October, according to the Houston Chronicle’s Mike Morris. The two-way protected bike lane will help to connect Downtown to both the Buffalo Bayou trails and the Columbia Tap Trail.

The bike lane will be three-quarters of a mile long and will be painted green, the Houston Chronicle reports. It will be separated from car traffic by “armadillos,” or hard, low-lying plastic bumps. McNally says:

Based on the description from the article, the bike lane should look similar to the above photo of a two-way protected bike lane in Seattle, with the exception being that the white plastic bollards will be replaced by plastic “armadillos” or “zebras” (see examples of those here).

Bike Houston Executive Director Michael Payne said the objective is to make “people feel comfortable” about biking and getting “out of their cars.”

Elsewhere on the Network today: Washington Bikes shares a poll showing overwhelming support for Safe Routes to School among the state’s residents. And Bike Portland reports that advocates in that region are trying to ensure that every school district has a Safe Routes to School program.

Streetsblog.net No Comments

New Parking in Seattle Comes With a Side of Mixed-Use Development

This new mixed-use development on a light rail line in Seattle will have 505 units, 523 parking spaces. Image: The Urbanist

This new mixed-use development by a light rail station in Seattle will have 505 housing units and 523 parking spaces. Image: The Urbanist

Part of the promise of Seattle’s Link light rail was its potential to create walkable places in the sprawling Rainier Valley. And that’s starting to happen, locals report, but developers are getting some important things wrong.

The proposed mixed-use development at MLK Way and Othello Street, for example, calls for way more parking than appropriate for an urban location near light rail. Will Green at The Urbanist explains:

The Seattle Housing Authority has found a developer for its 3.2 acre site at the corner of MLK Way and Othello Street, right next to Sound Transit’s Othello Link Station. The plans are impressive: 505 market-rate apartments spread over three buildings, 17,800 sq. ft. of retail space, and a 10,000 sq. ft. of public plaza intended to provide space for a farmer’s market and community events. But the developer, Everett’s Path America, has fallen into the same trap many have when planning TOD by forgetting the “Transit” and focusing on the parking. Instead, Path America is proposing a whopping 523 surface and underground parking stalls for those 505 apartments.

It’s a serious and well known problem: A recent report from the Sightline Institute found that 21 of the 23 recent multifamily developments studied had more occupied units than occupied parking stalls, with an average overnight parking vacancy rate of 37%. Those empty stalls do more than waste space; they cost developers a lot of money, costs that ultimately get passed on to tenants.

One study cited by Green estimated that parking costs add about $246 to monthly apartment rents in Seattle. Green continues:

 

It’s exciting to see development in the Rainier Valley take off. Seattle needs more affordable housing, and converting low-density (or vacant) land uses to medium- and high-density housing is a great way to meet that need. Likewise, taking advantage of major regional investments in transit is critical for ensuring affordability by freeing tenants from the burdensome cost of owning and maintaining car. Considering such realities, it boggles the mind that a major developer is planning to put more parking stalls than actual apartment units next to three frequent transit lines (Central Link Light Rail and King County Metro Transit Routes 8 and 36) in one of the poorest parts of Seattle. Not only is it a wasted opportunity, but it denies affordable housing in an area that desperately needs it.

Elsewhere on the Network today: The Architect’s Newspaper reports that Michigan is getting its first bus rapid transit route, Grand Rapid’s Silver Line. And Urban Milwaukee explains Wisconsin’s history with the “wheel tax” — a local tax on vehicle registration that’s being explored as a way to boost funds for road maintenance.

Streetsblog.net No Comments

It’s Time to Rethink Old Stereotypes About Renters

Is the growth in renting in Philadelphia a cause for concern or celebration? Image: Pew via Plan Philly

Homeownership rates in Philadelphia aren’t as high as they used to be, and that’s not a bad thing. Map: Pew via Plan Philly. Click to enlarge

For a long time, renters have been thought of as a destabilizing force in urban areas. Federal housing policy encourages people to make the jump to homeownership in part because officials believe it will give people a larger stake in their neighborhoods and reduce crime. By subsidizing home purchases, these policies encourage people to “buy more house” and promote sprawl.

Now the spectacular housing market crash and crushing debt burdens carried by younger people are helping to upend these assumptions. Kellie Patrick Gates at Plan Philly reports on a recent survey of Philadelphia renters that flies in the face of some of the oldest stereotypes. For one, the survey found that in many neighborhoods, most renters are, in fact, engaged in their communities:

In Center City, 43 percent of surveyed renters said they knew their neighbors and 29 percent were involved in neighborhood maintenance or upkeep activities, Howell said. Outside the city center, 56 percent knew their neighbors and 51 percent were involved with efforts to keep the community looking good…

Howell said that she and some other city planners had a hunch that renters are more active in their communities than they generally get credit for, but even so, “the percentages were surprising.”

Plan Philly interviewed city officials who said they think it’s a positive sign that homeownership is declining and the share of renters is increasing. “People are coming from outside to see what’s going on here,” said Philadelphia City Planning Commission Chairman Alan Greenberger, who noted that some of the world’s most desirable cities, like New York, London, and Tokyo, have high shares of renters.

Elsewhere on the Network today: Biking Toronto shows the city’s solution for cyclists during construction on an important bridge –everyone is thrilled about it. Car Free Austin analyzes the city’s proposal for a $1.4 billion new rail line. And Exit133 reports that Tacoma is trying to work out a set of regulations that will help level the playing field between traditional taxi companies and firms like Uber and Lyft.