Ahwahnee Principles

 

The Ahwahnee Principles for Resource-Efficient Communities, written in 1991 by the Local Government Commission, paved the way for the Smart Growth movement and New Urbanism. These principles provide a blueprint for elected officials to create compact, mixed-use, walkable, transit-oriented developments in their local communities. Cities and counties across the nation have adopted them to break the cycle of sprawl. If you like the newly emerging downtowns across the nation – full of people, activities and great public spaces – that’s the Ahwahnee Principles in action.


Ahwahnee Principles:

Existing patterns of urban and suburban development seriously impair our quality of life. The symptoms are: more congestion and air pollution resulting from our increased dependence on automobiles, the loss of precious open space, the need for costly improvements to roads and public services, the inequitable distribution of economic resources, and the loss of a sense of community. By drawing upon the best from the past and the present, we can plan communities that will more successfully serve the needs of those who live and work within them. Such planning should adhere to certain fundamental principles.

Community Principles

  1. All planning should be in the form of complete and integrated communities containing housing, shops, work places, schools, parks and civic facilities essential to the daily life of the residents.
  2. Community size should be designed so that housing, jobs, daily needs and other activities are within easy walking distance of each other.
  3. As many activities as possible should be located within easy walking distance of transit stops.
  4. A community should contain a diversity of housing types to enable citizens from a wide range of economic levels and age groups to live within its boundaries.
  5. Businesses within the community should provide a range of job types for the community’s residents.
  6. The location and character of the community should be consistent with a larger transit network.
  7. The community should have a center focus that combines commercial, civic, cultural and recreational uses.
  8. The community should contain an ample supply of specialized open space in the form of squares, greens and parks whose frequent use is encouraged through placement and design.
  9. Public spaces should be designed to encourage the attention and presence of people at all hours of the day and night.
  10. Each community or cluster of communities should have a well-defined edge, such as agricultural greenbelts or wildlife corridors, permanently protected from development.
  11. Streets, pedestrian paths and bike paths should contribute to a system of fully-connected and interesting routes to all destinations. Their design should encourage pedestrian and bicycle use by being small and spatially defined by buildings, trees and lighting; and by discouraging high speed traffic.
  12. Wherever possible, the natural terrain, drainage and vegetation of the community should be preserved with superior examples contained within parks or greenbelts.
  13. The community design should help conserve resources and minimize waste.
  14. Communities should provide for the efficient use of water through the use of natural drainage, drought tolerant landscaping and recycling.
  15. The street orientation, the placement of buildings and the use of shading should contribute to the energy efficiency of the community.

Regional Principles

  1. The regional land-use planning structure should be integrated within a larger transportation network built around transit rather than freeways.
  2. Regions should be bounded by and provide a continuous system of greenbelt/wildlife corridors to be determined by natural conditions.
  3. Regional institutions and services (government, stadiums, museums, etc.) should be located in the urban core.
  4. Materials and methods of construction should be specific to the region, exhibiting a continuity of history and culture and compatibility with the climate to encourage the development of local character and community identity.

Implementation Principles

  1. The general plan should be updated to incorporate the above principles.
  2. Rather than allowing developer-initiated, piecemeal development, local governments should take charge of the planning process. General plans should designate where new growth, infill or redevelopment will be allowed to occur.
  3. Prior to any development, a specific plan should be prepared based on these planning principles.
  4. Plans should be developed through an open process and participants in the process should be provided visual models of all planning proposals.

Authors: Peter Calthorpe, Michael Corbett, Andres Duany, Elizabeth Moule, Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, and Stefanos Polyzoides
Editor: Peter Katz, Judy Corbett, and Steve Weissman

(Adopted in 1991)

Original article.

About the Ahwahnee Principals

 

Cities everywhere are facing similar problems – increasing traffic congestion and worsening air pollution, the continuing loss of open space, the need for costly improvements to road and public services, the inequitable distribution of economic resources, and the loss of a sense of community. The problems seem overwhelming and we suffer from their consequences every day. City character is blurred until every place becomes like every other place and all adding up to No Place.

Many of our social, economic and environmental problems can be traced to land use practices adopted since World War II. In the late 1940’s we began to adopt a notion that life would be better and we would all have more freedom if we planned and built our communities around the automobile. Gradually, rather than increasing our freedom, auto-oriented land use planning has reduced our options. Now, it takes much more time than it used to carry out our daily activities. We must go everywhere by car – there is no other option. We must take a car to the store for a gallon of milk, drive the children to Little League practice, even spend part of the lunch hour driving to a place to eat. And as roads become increasingly clogged and services further from our home, we spend our time as anonymous individuals waiting for the traffic light to change rather than chatting with friends at the corner store or playing ball on the lawn with the neighborhood kids.

Pedestrian oriented street, Santa MonicaRather than designing towns so that we could walk to work or to the store, we have separated uses into homogeneous, single-use enclaves, spreading out these uses on ever-increasing acres of land. Housing of similar types for similar income levels were grouped together. Retail stores were clustered into huge structures called malls, surrounded by endless acres of parking slots. Businesses imitated the mall – creating “business parks”, usually without a park in sight, and with people working in clusters of similar buildings and parking spaces. At the same time, public squares, the corner store, main street, and all the places where people could meet and a sense of community could happen were replaced by the abyss of asphalt.

Even people are segregated by age and income level. And those who cannot drive or who cannot afford a car face an enormous disadvantage. In the words of Pasadena’s Mayor Rick Cole, “there’s a loss of place, a loss of hope, and it’s killing our souls.”

The effects of single- use, sprawling development patterns are becoming increasing clear. And, with that has evolved arealization that there is a better way. Towns of the type built earlier in this century – those compact, walkable communities where you could walk to the store and kids could walk to school, where there was a variety of housing types from housing over stores to single-family units with front porches facing tree-lined, narrow streets -these towns provided a life style that now seems far preferable to today’s neighborhoods. Thus we have seen an increasing interest in a number of concepts that would bring us back to a more traditional style of development and a style of planning that would be more in tune with nature including “neotraditional planning”, “sustainable development”, “transit-oriented design”, the “new urbanism”, and the concept of “livable” communities.

In 1991, at the instigation of Local Government Commission staff-member Peter Katz, author of the New Urbanism, the commission brought together a group of architects who have been leaders in developing new notions of land use planning: Andres Duany and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, Stefanos Polyzoides and Elizabeth Moule, Peter Calthorpe, and Michael Corbett. These innovators were asked to come to agreement about what it is that the new planning ideas – from neotraditional planning to sustainable design- have in common and from there, to develop a set of community principles. They were then asked how each community should relate to the region, and to develop a set of regional principles. Finally, they were charged with defining how these ideas might be implemented by cities and counties. The architects’ ideas were drafted by attorney Steve Weissman into a form which would be useful to local elected officials and provide a vision for an alternative to urban sprawl. A preamble, topics of specific ideas, community principles, regional principles and implementation of the principles was presented in the fall of 1991 to about 100 local elected officials at a conference at the Ahwahnee Hotel in Yosemite. There they received both a highly enthusiastic response and their title- the Ahwahnee Principles.

Community Principles 

The community principles define a community where housing and all the things needed to meet the daily needs of residents are located within walking distance of one another. They call for returning to historic population densities around transit stops to provide the critical mass of people and activities in these areas needed to make transit economically viable. They call for housing which provides places to live for a variety of people within a single neighborhood instead of separating people by income level, age or family situation.

The Ahwahnee Principles state that development should be compact but with open space provided in the form of squares or parks. Urban designer Michael Freedman describes this as space-making rather than space-occupying development. Rather than surrounding buildings in the center of unusable landscaped areas (space-occupying development), Freedman says we should use buildings to frame public space (place-making design).

Freedman holds that to plan for more livable communities, local government officials must understand the human scale – that is, the basic relationship of people to the environment in which they live. In neighborhoods, for example, we must recognize the relationship of the house to the front door to the street. In doing so, we will create the sorts of places which bring people together and create a vitality, a sense of community. By framing open space with buildings which open onto it, there are more eyes to look upon the area and that creates places that feel more safe. And with that design solution comes more compact development – development which has less costly infrastructure requirements, and development which is more walkable and more easily served by transit.

Further, the principles call for an end to the monotony of contiguous, look-alike building by separating each community with a well defined edge, such as an agricultural greenbelt or wildlife corridor, so that we can actually see where one community ends and another begins. From a transportation standpoint, one of the most important principles is that all parts of the community should be connected by streets or paths – no more dead end cul de sacs, fences, or walls which prevent us from going directly from one point to another. Narrow streets, rather than wide streets, are recommended because they help slow traffic and make it safer for pedestrians and bicycles. Narrow streets also create more attractive, more people-friendly neighborhoods and shopping districts.

Finally, the community principles call for more resource-efficient land use planning – the preservation of the natural terrain, drainage and vegetation; and the use of natural drainage systems and drought tolerant landscaping and recycling. They ask that buildings be oriented properly, (as required by the California solar rights act) so that they can take advantage of the sun for heating and natural breezes for cooling.

Regional Principles 

The regional principles call for the land-use planning structure to be integrated within a larger network built around transit rather than freeways, with regional institutions and services located in the urban core. A perfect example of this can be found in the City of San Jose where city planners chose to locate a new sports stadium in the downtown area, close to several rail stops rather than off a freeway. The surrounding restaurants and shops are benefiting from the increased number of passers-by before and after games, and freeway travel is not as clogged as it otherwise would have been.

Santa BarbaraThe architects noted that regions should be distinct from one another rather than fading into one another as they largely do today. Each region should be surrounded by a wildlife corridor or greenbelt and the materials and methods of construction should be specific to the region. Santa Barbara and Santa Fe come forward as two excellent examples of communities who have followed these principles and who have realized that there are economic as well as aesthetic advantages of doing so. Both of these cities have implemented strict design guidelines for their downtowns which preserve the historical architectural styles of their regions. Because these cities have retained a very special and distinct sense of place, they have become highly popular both as places to live and as tourist destinations.

Implementation Principles 

The implementation strategy forwarded by the planners is fairly straightforward and simple. First, the general plan should be updated to incorporate the Ahwahnee Principles. Next, local governments should take charge of the planning process rather than simply continuing to react to piecemeal proposals.

Prior to any development, a specific plan or a precise plan should be prepared based on the planning principles. With the adoption of specific plans, complying projects can then proceed with minimal delay. The developer will know exactly what the community wants. There should be no more costly, time-consuming, guessing games.

Finally, the architects put forth the most critical principle of all, “Plans should be developed through an open process and participants in the process should be provided visual models of all planning proposals.” Without involving citizens from every sector of the community, including developers, the political viability of a new plan may be limited. Citizens must be getting what they want and care enough to be vigilant about it so that the plan cannot be changed by a single property owner with a self interest.

But the stability of planning policies is not the only advantage of citizen participation. Bringing together citizens to create a common vision for the community has more benefits than just the creation of a good plan that will be upheld through time. The process itself can create a sense of community and an understanding between previously warring factions.

However, it is difficult for citizens to visualize what a new planning scheme is going to look like after it is built if they see only a one-dimensional sketch or read about the plan in a six-inch thick planning document. There are a number of techniques which have been developed to address this problem. The visual preference survey, where participants are provided an opportunity to express their likes and dislikes through judging slides, allows citizens to actually see concrete examples of their options. Another useful technique is computer simulation where the visual results of a physical plan can be created on the computer. Another method involves taking participants on a walk through their own town to determine which portions of the community look good and function well and which do not.

Implementing the Ahwahnee Principles 

The concepts embodied in the Ahwahnee Principles are being implemented by cities and counties throughout the nation, with most of the activity occurring on the east and west coasts. In Pasadena, the participation of 3,000 residents from all sectors of the community resulted in a general plan with a guiding principle which states, “Pasadena will be a city where people can circulate without cars.” The plan lays out where growth should occur – primarily along light rail stations and in neighborhood commercial areas within walking distance of residences. The city is now preparing specific plans to guide what that growth should look like. One of the projects, a mixed-use housing development near a downtown rail stop, is already complete.

In San Jose, the City has produced, under the guidance of citizen advisory groups, a total of four specific plans for infill sites in various parts of the City covering a total of almost 1,000 acres. Their goal is to assure that new development will occur as compact, mixed use neighborhoods located near transit stops. The City of San Diego has adopted “Transit-Oriented Development Design Guidelines” for the purpose of redirecting existing patterns of building within the City and helping reduce the community’s dependence on the automobile. The planning staff has completed the first public review draft of a comprehensive zoning code update that will create zoning designations to implement the guidelines.

Horton Plaza, San DiegoIn Sacramento, Walnut Creek, Santa Barbara and San Diego, city officials have broken new ground by siting new shopping malls downtown, near transit, rather than off a freeway. The benefits include both a new surge of economic activity for downtown businesses and a reduction in auto use and the associated negative air quality impacts. The California Air Resources Board has noted that over 60% of the people arriving at San Diego’s downtown mall, Horton Plaza, arrive via transit or walking.

Developer-proposed, large-scale, new development is also reflecting the influence of the Ahwahnee Principles. The one-thousand acre, Playa Vista infill project in Los Angeles will include the preservation of 300 acres of wetlands. As it is designed now, the development will feature moderately-dense housing built small neighborhood parks. Large offices, small retail stores, restaurants, grocery stores and small telecommuting offices will be integrated, allowing residents to walk when they go to work, shop, or go out to dinner. A bicycle and pedestrian esplanade will link the town with the beach. Rialto’s Mayor John Longville is working with the developer of a 3,000 acre development near the Ontario airport to incorporate the concepts of the Ahwahnee Principles in that project.

With the assistance of urban designer Michael Freedman, the City of Cathedral City is no longer focusing solely on density and the control of uses as a means of guiding their future growth. At a joint meeting of the city council, planning commission, and architectural review committee, Freedman presented the Ahwahnee Principles and the key role of local government in future planning and general plan development. Cathedral City adopted the Ahwahnee Principles by resolution and has started to incorporate them into their general plan. With only 50% of the city built out and development plans on the table, the city council acknowledged the importance of having planning guidelines. An innovative city in the desert region, Cathedral City understands that the best way to deliver good planning principles is to work both with the community and the building industry to develop a comprehensive strategy of planning more livable neighborhoods

Even the US government has embraced the Ahwahnee Principles. Architect Peter Calthorpe reports that the planning concepts outlined by the Ahwahnee Principles have been written into a guidance document recently published the federal government. Calthorpe was a coauthor of the document, Vision/Reality produced by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development for local government officials interested in applying for Community Development Block Grant program and other funds.

Seasside, FloridaA number of city planners believe that if they can just solve the problem of traffic, they can solve the major problems of their cities. Yet the simple needs of the automobile are far more easily understood and accommodated that the complex needs of people. The Ahwahnee Principles outline a set of ideas for planning more livable communities built for people, not just cars, and provide a vision for an alternative to urban sprawl. This new vision will lead to neighborhoods where people no longer live in a house with an isolated rear yard. They will live in a home with a comfortable relationship to the street which is part of a neighborhood. Tree-lined sidewalks with narrow streets will induce cars to drive more slowly. Children will be more safe when they play in the neighborhood and the sense of community will add a feeling of security. When they need to go to school, to the store, or to baseball practice, children will be able to walk or ride a bike rather than being dependent on someone driving them there.

The top down, traditional planning of yesterday is no longer an acceptable means of making cities. The people served must be involved. When people come together and openly discuss their visions for the future, a sense of community will result. Bringing citizens into the process of developing and revising the general plan will also result in new development which both serves the needs of the community and is used and respected by the residents it serves. To make better, more livable cities, local governments must take charge of the process of planning while involving and utilizing its bet asset, the people who work, live and play in our communities.

About the Architects 

The architects who gathered in 1991 to develop the Ahwahnee Principles are all internationally known for their inspirational work and innovative ideas. Peter Calthorpe, is one of the leaders of the “New Urbanism” movement and was cited by Newsweek Magazine as “one of 25 innovators on the cutting edge.” Michael Corbett, a former Mayor of the City of Davis, has received international recognition for his design of the resource-efficient Village Homes development in Davis, a project often cited as the best existing example of sustainable development in the world. The husband-wife team of Andres Duany and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, made headlines with their wildly successful Seaside development in Florida and have become highly acclaimed architects and planners of neotraditional communities. Stefanos Polyzoides is an associate professor of architecture at the University of Southern California. He and his partner, Elizabeth Moule, are the architects of Playa Vista in Los Angeles, a model application of the Ahwahnee Principles.

The Ahwahnee Principles

Authors/Editors: Peter Calthorpe, Peter Katz, Michael Corbett, Judy Corbett, Andres Duany, Steve Weissman, Elizabeth Moule, Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, Stefanos Polyzoides.

Dec 062015
 

Mission 

The Oxnard Community Planning Group advocates for visionary practices in planning, design, and development that will lead to a more livable and prosperous city.

Vision 

The Oxnard Community Planning Group envisions a city that grows wisely, preserves farmland and open space, drives smart economic development, welcomes vertical density, cherishes our past, and boldly anticipates our future.

Core Values 

The Oxnard Community Planning Group believes in a city that works to meet the needs of all our residents: young, old, people with disabilities, pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists; even people who don’t go anywhere. We strive to be open-minded, welcome thoughtful discussion, and are willing to invest our time and efforts towards bringing these beliefs into being.

Nov 252015
 

The OCPG has come to realize that the difficulty with density and parking and other issues relating to a walkable Oxnard Boulevard in our downtown and corridor areas is that our current zoning does not allow true urban placemaking.

For instance, current Oxnard zoning in the downtown allows 39 units per acre…which means that the living units must be 3 and 4 bedrooms. We need higher density to accommodate the empty-nesters, Millennials and others who are interested in living an urban lifestyle and want singles or 1 bedroom units. Form Based codes allow a broader range of options in specific overlay areas.

Zoning in Oxnard’s residential areas will not change. Form based codes are generally applied in very specific overlay areas do not replace existing zoning.

Below is a copy of the Form Based Code section of our Resources page – click the Resources tab above to view all our great place-making and urban design links.

Form Based Codes

“Why form-based codes? Because our current laws tend to separate where we live from where we work, learn, and shop, and insist on big, fast roads to connect them all. Roads that are unfriendly to pedestrians, cyclists, and transit. As a result, North Americans spend more hours in their cars than anyone on earth, and a growing number of communities are working to do something about it.” [ PlaceMakers.com ]

More on Form Based Codes from the Form-Based SmartCode website:

The SmartCode is a model, form-based unified land development ordinance designed to create walkable neighborhoods, towns and cities across the full spectrum of human settlement, from the most rural to the most urban, and incorporating a transect of character and intensity within each. The SmartCode was originally developed by Duany Plater-Zyberk & Company. It now exists as shareware and typically serves as a foundation from which it is then customized to address specific municipal goals. It can be leveraged as a tool towards both aspirational and preservationist ambitions.

[The long version:]

The SmartCode is a unified land development ordinance for planning and urban design. It folds zoning, subdivision regulations, urban design, and optional architectural standards into one compact document.

Because the SmartCode enables community vision by coding specific outcomes that are desired in particular places, it is meant to be locally customized (also known as “calibrated”) by professional planners, architects, and attorneys.

The SmartCode is not a building code. Building codes address life/safety issues such as fire and storm protection. Examples of building codes include the IBC, IRC, and ICC documents.

The SmartCode supports these outcomes: community vision, local character, conservation of open lands, transit options, and walkable and mixed-use neighborhoods. It prevents these outcomes: wasteful sprawl development, automobile-dominated streets, empty downtowns, and a hostile public realm. It allows different approaches in different areas within the community, unlike a one-size-fits-all conventional zoning code. This gives the SmartCode unusual political power, as it permits buy-in from stakeholders of diverse interests and concerns.

The SmartCode is considered a “form-based code” because it strongly addresses the physical form of building and development. Conventional zoning codes are based primarily on use and density. They have caused systemic problems over the past sixty years by separating uses, making mixed-use and walkable neighborhoods essentially illegal.

The SmartCode is also a transect-based code. A “transect” is usually seen as a continuous cross-section of natural habitats for plants and animals, ranging from shorelines to wetlands to uplands. The specific transect that the SmartCode uses is based on the human habitat, ranging from the most rural environments to the most urban environments. This transect is divided into a range of “Transect Zones,” each with its own complex character. It ensures that a community offers a full diversity of building types, thoroughfare types, and civic space types, and that each has appropriate characteristics for its location.

The six T-Zones are: T-1 Natural, T-2 Rural, T-3 Sub-Urban, T-4 General Urban, T-5 Urban Center, and T-6 Urban Core.

The Transect is a powerful tool because its standards can be coordinated across many other disciplines and documents, including ITE (transportation), and LEED (environmental performance). Thus the SmartCode integrates the design protocols of a variety of specialties, including traffic engineering, public works, town planning, architecture, landscape architecture, and ecology.

The SmartCode addresses development patterns at three scales of planning (thus it may replace a number of other documents):
> The Sector (Regional) Scale
> The Community Scale
> The Block and Building Scale

If stronger architectural guidelines are desired, a community may further adopt supplemental regulations or a pattern book.

Nov 202015
 

Urbanism is an old idea with new recognition about how cities worked before the auto became the dominant planning idea for the way cities have been designed since about 1945.

Here are a few links to help us understand what this new Urbanism is and how to achieve a people and place oriented city instead of car dominated cities:

A General Theory of Urbanism
by Duany et all. PDF

Urbanism Making Places for People
An urbanism oriented presentation for Ventura County  at a recent VCOG meeting by Sargent Town Planning out of LA. PDF

Nov 192015
 

Oxnard’s little leftover flyover (East Channel Islands Blvd) can become a wonderful South Oxnard park and civic amenity.

The OCCTIP consultants are suggesting that the city demolish the East Channel Islands Blvd bridge. The Oxnard Community Planning Group would like to see the flyover bridge become a South Oxnard park. Different from but not unlike the amazing High Line in NYC.

Our little leftover flyover can become a great South Oxnard civic amenity. Go Oxnard.

Of course it won’t look like the High Line but with excellent local landscape design it can be a winner. Let’s have a competition for the design of the park. When the city is a bit more flush – it might consider a small stipend to offset costs to several world class landscape architectural and urban design firms to design us a little world class city park. Wouldn’t that be sweet?

With a little imagination and quality design we can have our own version of the High Line. A park for bicycling and walking connecting neighborhoods – A New Vision for Oxnard.

Here is some info on New York Cities High Line park:
Friends of the High Line

A link to the current map depicting the bridge

Oct 132015
 
Robert Steuteville, Better! Cities & Towns – post by Robert Steuteville on 13 Oct 2015

A major barrier to human-scale, complete streets appears ready to fall. The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) is proposing to drop 11 of 13 mandatory standards for streets under 50 miles per hour, which will help in the design of federally owned urban streets.

“It is definitely a step in the right direction that FHWA is finally responding to the overwhelming amount of research showing little safety benefit to most of their controlling criteria,” says Wes Marshall, associate professor in the Department of Civil Engineering at the University of Colorado.

Wider lane width is one of the crucial criteria for urban streets that has been shown to have no safety benefit. A series of studies (link, link) have shown that in urban places 12-foot lanes—which have been used on arterial streets since the middle of the 20th century, are less safe than narrower lanes because they encourage speeding. For comparison, Interstate lanes are 12 feet wide.

“We have made great strides in recognizing that urban conditions require more flexibility in design guidance, and the ITE/CNU manual as well as the NACTO guides have certainly given engineers the ability to design for context and walkability,” says Wade Walker, an engineer with Alta Planning + Design. “This proposal by FHWA can make the process much simpler by eliminating the need for design exceptions on many design proposals for these type streets.”

New urbanist engineers have long argued for “decision-making that encourages engineered solutions rather than relying on minimum, maximum, or limiting values found in design criteria,” notes Peter Swift, an engineer in Gold Hill, Colorado. “This, in itself, is a remarkable admission that competent engineers are finally taken seriously!”

But dropping these standards is no panacea. “It is also worth pointing out that they still expect design speed to be a controlling criterion for streets under 50 mph,” says Marshall. “Given that the selection of a design speed is often left to the discretion of an engineer, you could still theoretically end up with streets signed for 25 mph being designed for 45 mph design speeds.”

State DOTs, which determine design on key arterials, and local DOTs and engineers, will not be directly affected by this proposal. “Until the direction is embraced by not only the state DOT’s and local staffs we will continue to run into resistance for creating truly walkable urban streets,” Walker says. Yet state and local engineers may take their cues for the federal authorities. “I can definitely envision these benefits eventually extending to state DOT and local guidelines,” says Marshall.

This proposal is part of a culture shift that is taking place at FHWA, which long supported highway standards applied to urban places. A little over a year ago, the administration gave the seal of approval for engineers to use the National Association of City Transportation Officials’ Urban Street Design Guide, which shows dimensions and standards for tighter urban streets with bike lanes and pedestrian facilities. The proposed changes can be thought of as another domino that is falling.

As of yet, the changes are just a proposal. They must go through a comment period that ends December 7. Supporters of complete streets can read the details of the changes here and support them with a comment here.

Robert Steuteville is editor of Better Cities & Towns and senior communications advisor for the Congress for the New Urbanism.

Original article.

Oct 082015
 

Oxnard has a railroad problem. Oxnard Boulevard north of the downtown has a railroad track on the east side of the street thus ruining any sense of place for this part of our main street. Also 5th Street just east of downtown suffers from the same malady.

Oxnard Boulevard also has a public transportation problem. The OCPG learned from a Gold Coast Transit (GCT) planner (Oct 27, 2015) that people are crossing the railroad tracks, at random locations, from the new multi-use path to access Oxnard Boulevard. The planner stated that a barrier must be created that would prevent people from crossing the tracks before they (GCT) would place bus stops on this section of Oxnard Boulevard because it is a liability issue for them.

Liner buildings may be the solution.

Because we propose that Oxnard Boulevard in the downtown be one lane each way – then Oxnard Boulevard between Gonzales and downtown will begin to funnel down to meet the slower downtown traffic this allows for area to build along the east side of the boulevard between the railroad ROW and the new ROW created for Oxnard Boulevard. This is found property which the city can sell or develop according to it’s needs and vision.

Liner buildings along Oxnard Boulevard north of downtown would completely change the way the boulevard works and looks – for the betterment of Oxnard in general and the boulevard specifically. This is one of those win-win situations for Oxnard.


 

morning sun streams across the face of shops lining the sides of the Pulteney Bridge in Bath, England

Liner buildings on either side of the Pulteney Bridge in Bath, England are only 10’ deep

There’s nothing that jump-starts a place people will love to walk like liner buildings. It doesn’t matter whether you’re helping a place recover from sprawl or building a new neighborhood center; liner buildings get far more bang for the buck and make things possible today that would be completely impossible until years in the future using conventional mixed-use building types.

Liner buildings are very thin buildings that line the edge of a street, plaza, square, or other public space. They can be as little as 8-10 feet deep for retail uses and 12-14 feet deep if they include residential uses. They may be a single story high, or they may be several stories tall. Liner buildings have several key advantages over other building types:

Florence's Ponte Vecchio bridge glows in the warm Tuscan sun as the green river slips by below

Shops lining the Ponte Vecchio in Florence are likely the world’s most famous liner buildings

Spatial enclosure

One of the top requirements of a great place is “spatial enclosure,” which is design-speak for “feels more like a room than a highway.” No building type encloses more space for less dollars than a liner building. Yes, you can enclose a space with a freestanding wall, but walls are usually much less interesting than buildings because buildings have people, windows, and other interesting things.

Storefront-floor area ratio

A liner building with retail on the street level displays the shop’s wares more effectively than any other shop. The reason is simple: if two shops each have storefront windows across their entire street frontage and one (the liner building) is ten feet deep and the other one (the conventional Main Street shop) is a hundred feet deep, then the liner building has ten times as much storefront per square foot of floor space as the conventional shop. Simply put, there is no other configuration of store that displays more of the store’s goods to people walking by.

Single-crew workplaces

The Single-Crew Workplace is a place of business small enough to be run by a single crew. For a retail shop, that’s one shopkeeper. For a restaurant, it’s a cook and a server. For a barber or hairstylist, that’s a single person. For a B&B, that could either be one inkeeper/cook and one housekeeper for an 8-room B&B, or a single person that does everything for a 4-room B&B. For a bar, that’s one bartender. For a grocery store, that’s a single grocer.

Beaufort, South Carolina grocery sits clad in white clapboard and green shutters, with American flag flying from a porch column

Here’s that grocery so small it can be run by one grocer – more on it in an upcoming post

Mixed-use buildings have a problem today: the retail experts who set impossibly high thresholds for supporting them. For example, the accepted wisdom is that you need 500 “rooftops” (that’s retail-speak for homes) to support a single corner store. If a neighborhood is building 50 homes per year, it would be a decade before that neighborhood could support just that first corner store. And that grocery store? Not too long ago, a 10,000 square foot neighborhood grocery store was common, but today 40,000 is considered the minimum size, and that requires a catchment area much bigger than a neighborhood. But I’ll blog soon about something quite the opposite: that single-grocer store which is considered completely impossible today. Here’s the bottom line: single-crew workplaces make all sorts of neighborhood businesses possible today that would be completely impossible using bigger-box standards, and no building type is so perfectly suited to single-crew workplaces as the liner building.

Front, Back, and Side

Liner buildings are used most commonly today to enclose a public space, shielding it from something less desirable behind such as a parking deck or parking lot. I would even go so far as to say that every parking deck built from this point forward should be buffered from streets or squares by liner buildings. Why build any buildings that degrade the public realm? And the fact that the part that makes them palatable from the street also earns rent is a bonus. This building looks like a 5-story office building from the street, but it’s really a 7-story parking deck with an 18 foot office liner and 12 foot gallery on the street. But lining a parking deck is only one of the uses of a liner building. What’s behind the liner building doesn’t have to be something undesirable… enclosing the public space is worthwhile even if there’s nature behind.

The reverse can also be true. The liner building can be used to protect a quiet courtyard area from the noise of a busy street. A cloister is a classic ancient liner building type used for this purpose for centuries. Here’s a three-story classical stone liner building that’s nearly a block long which shields a courtyard inside the block from a mundane street.

There’s a third type of liner building that’s less common: the “end cap liner.” An end cap liner building is a thin building built on the end of a block of attached mixed-use buildings.

Main Street buildings typically have blank side walls because they are attached to their neighbors on either side. Far too often, Main Street designers and builders forgot that the end buildings on Main Street blocks can have storefronts and windows above, and built them with blank walls like their neighbors. These blank walls fronting onto the side streets have a terrible effect on Walk Appeal, significantly reducing the number of customers who will walk down those side streets to get to the shops. This little modern metal end cap liner building transforms (with the help of the billboard above) a really boring blank side of its brick neighbor into a corner everyone wants to turn, increasing the prospects for success of every merchant on that street.

Fitting into parking lots

One of the first steps in sprawl recovery is reclaiming the frontages, and liner buildings are a key tool, especially in or near neighborhood centers. In many cases, they’ll be reclaiming space from parking lots because surface parking is one of the greatest blights of sprawl. Interestingly, a bay of parking is typically 18 feet deep, which is perfect for a liner building. Build a sidewalk on the inner 3 feet of the parking space (toward the rest of the parking lot) and build the liner building on the remaining 15 feet. This is wide enough for apartments or condominium units above, even if the parking lot ran right to the property line. If not, then you have even more space to work with. And yes, once the place has reached enough intensity that not everyone needs to drive, those parking lots can be cannibalized for building expansion.

Daylight & ventilation

Because liner buildings are unusually thin, they are almost always one room deep. They are therefore no-brainers to daylight and cross-ventilate, meaning that they’re much easier to condition naturally for most of the year than conventional Main Street buildings. It is widely known that the most beautiful light in a room is achieved with daylight on two or three sides of the room, yet designers and builders struggle to achieve this on most buildings. Not so with liner buildings… there, it’s the easiest thing to do.

What else should we be discussing on liner buildings? Have you noticed any in your neighborhood, or nearby? What other uses and types of liner buildings should we be talking about? I have a few in mind, but am curious what you think?

Steve Mouzon is principal of Mouzon Design, an architecture and urban design firm, based in Miami Beach, Florida, and author of The Original Green, book and blog.

Original article.

Sep 272015
 

We have many NEW resources on our Resources Page.

For instance we recently added four links about infill housing, with several great Myths vs Facts articles plus a Infill Design Tool Kit.

There are several new articles about Economic Development and City Planning and Urban Design.

This website is becoming the go-to venue for planning issues and education in Oxnard, CA.

Aug 062015
 

The vice president of design and marketing at Landscape Forms calls on the outdoor-furniture industry to build the collaborations that will shape the metropolitan experiences of tomorrow.

The MultipliCITY collection designed by Yves Behar and fuseproject

Images courtesy Landscape Forms

All of us treasure our time in outdoor spaces. So why do we devote so little of our attention to their design?

As a designer in the site-furniture industry, I am always curious about the value people place on the outdoors. I like to ask people I meet to describe a great city like New York, Chicago, or Paris and what they most remember about being there. Or I ask them, if they won $25,000 to spend on a dream vacation, where they would go and what they would do. Their fond memories of a celebrated city or an escape into the wild often have little in common, except for one thing: Their most memorable and meaningful experiences almost always revolve around the outdoors.

We have studies showing that people tend to be healthier and happier, and can enjoy longer lives, in areas where they have access to nature, including green urban spaces. Outdoor spaces are some of the least expensive to create and can pay some of the highest returns on investment—in terms of community life, health and wellness, and the generation of economic activity in surrounding areas. As more people—from young professionals to retirees—move back into cities, green public spaces and vibrant streetscapes are often cited as key factors for attracting residents and businesses.

Despite this, we do not give outdoor spaces the same value and financial support that we give to buildings and interiors. We calculate the square-foot dollar value of buildings and interiors but don’t do the same for a square foot outdoors. We have not made a strong business case for designed outdoor spaces—we can and should be making this case. I also believe that design and innovation in public and privately owned outdoor space is lagging—and the first step to address that challenge is to better leverage the skills and talents of landscape architects, the professionals best prepared to design them.

In collaboration with landscape architects and other design professionals, all of us in the site-furniture industry can elevate awareness and promote greater investment in outdoor spaces that create memory and meaning.

This is a time in human history when landscape architecture has something really important to say. We should listen. Landscape architects practice a discipline rooted in holistic thinking. They understand the natural environment, the built environment, and the interface between them. And they are ideally prepared to take leadership in shaping outdoor spaces and framing public awareness about them.

Recent high-profile projects such as the High Line and Millennium Park have achieved placemaking of the highest order, and the star landscape architects responsible for them have captured public attention. But there is a whole legion of talented, inspired landscape architects out there who should also be at the center of envisioning and designing outdoor space.

Central Park Conservancy Recycling System designed by Landor Associates

This is also a time when industry can play a constructive role. Those of us who provide the site elements that help shape and activate these spaces need to do our part, and I’m excited about taking on that challenge, researching methods to make the case for the return on investment for well-designed outdoor spaces measured in terms of community, identity, well-being, environment, and dollars spent. I am focused on driving innovation with new types of scalable solutions that go beyond the standard litter bin, bike rack, and bench, to help people enjoy great outdoor experiences. The outdoors starts only a half-inch outside the door, so we need new ideas for spaces adjacent to buildings. We also need to integrate technology in public spaces, but in ways that respect the special qualities of the environment.

I am excited by the work and believe that, in collaboration with landscape architects and other design professionals, all of us in the site-furniture industry can elevate awareness and promote greater investment in outdoor spaces that create memory and meaning. We can make a real difference in the urban landscape that is our future.


Kirt Martin is the vice president of design and marketing at Landscape Forms, leading the company’s creative teams for product development, marketing, and marketing communications. Martin is an award-winning industrial designer, and previously directed design activities at Turnstone, a division of Steelcase.

Original Article.

Jul 182015
 

Cities are greatly in need of slimming down their roads, says architect Michael Bohn. A recent project in Long Beach, California shows how curb extensions and street furniture can have a huge impact on the economics of downtowns.

Humans are not the only ones needing a diet these days. More and more cities are putting their streets on a diet – reducing vehicle lanes to add pedestrian space and calm traffic. New York City’s recent success in closing an entire section of Times Square to traffic is the most famous example. But the real news is how quickly and effectively it can happen even on a fairly small scale in any city or town.

The other news is that, besides the benefits road diets give to pedestrians and business that thrive on foot traffic, in some cases even traffic congestion is – surprise – improved as well.
Photo: People seated at cafe tables on the new bulbouts.

Long Beach, California is implementing a series of road diets that prove just how well they can work. Among these is a project unveiled in late 2009 at First Street and Linden Avenue in the East Village Arts District. Studio One Eleven, my firm, worked with the city to design curb extensions at this intersection. These “bulb-out” extensions of the sidewalk reduce the curb-to-curb distance – originally over 50 feet – between 40 and 60 percent, significantly lowering the exposure pedestrians face with vehicles, bringing them out past the obstructions of parked cars, street trees and street furniture. The narrower right of way on First Street has also calmed traffic, adding to pedestrian and bicycle safety and giving businesses better visibility.

Today, these bulb-outs are fully integrated into the street infrastructure, but a prototype plan was able to test the idea temporarily, turning the experiment into a community event. The city placed large, potted plants in the street to define the pedestrian zone. An adjacent restaurant expanded its outdoor seating into this new area of the “sidewalk” (at this point it was actually still part of the street). And an information kiosk was installed to explain the concept of the curb extensions.

Illustration: the curb cut designs.

It is taken for granted among some planners that enhancing pedestrian mobility can also enhance business activity, but the results in this case were dramatic: The restaurant achieved the highest receipt sales in its 10-year history.

The new, permanent curb extensions at First Street and Linden Avenue expand the pedestrian realm over 3,000 square feet, the size of two average coffee shops or a medium-sized restaurant. Besides outdoor dining, there is now room for landscaping (using drought-tolerant plants), street furniture such as benches, sidewalk paving patterns, and trash receptacles. Businesses use the expanded sidewalk for additional bike racks and outdoor sales displays. The extra space has cleared existing sidewalk area for thorough movement while expanding and making prominent the outdoor activity at these businesses.

This human-scaled design is perhaps the most important advantage of a well-planned road diet: The First and Linden curb extensions have contributed to the increased vitality of Long Beach’s East Village Arts District, with business owners, customers and local residents enjoying a sense of place that harmonizes with the energetic vibe of retail and community destinations. More than ever, the neighborhood is a civilized place where pedestrians and bicyclists are easy to spot, coffee drinkers can people watch, and shoppers are inclined to linger.

But what about the ability of curb extensions to actually facilitate traffic flow? It seems counter-intuitive, as bulb-outs purposefully slow down cars and often eliminate right-turn lanes. Those who advocate traffic diets believe it is more important for pedestrians to cross safely than for cars to get through an intersection. However, the shorter distance that results from curb extensions on each side of a street means the average pedestrian spends at least four seconds less time when crossing the street (based on the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices average walking speed of 4 feet per second). The irony is that the reduced time necessary for walkers to cross the street can provide more time for cars to pass, partially compensating for the loss of a right-turn lane. In other words, everybody wins: Cars get maintained traffic flow and pedestrians get safer crossings.

Other road diet plans also carry this double benefit. For example, car lanes can be reduced without necessarily reducing the number of cars they move. To maximize traffic capacity, engineers typically fit as many automobile lanes as possible, leaving a relatively narrow border on each side for sidewalks and (in some cases) on-street parking. This sometimes results in an even number of lanes, eliminating a dedicated left-turn lane. This means there must be restrictions placed on left-turn movement, as the left-most lane must do double duty as a left-turn lane and a throughway lane. Because the shared lane is obstructed whenever a left-turning car is waiting for an opening to cross traffic, left turns are often limited to non-peak hours.

When a road diet is applied to a road with at least four lanes overall, it often removes one lane in each direction. The space made available by eliminating these two lanes can be used for creating a dedicated left-turn lane, as well as sidewalks, parkways, bike lanes, or a dedicated right-turn lane. Surprisingly, eliminating one through-lane in each direction does not result in a proportional loss of car-carrying capacity, and the addition of a dedicated left-turn lane (and sometimes a dedicated right-turn lane as well) helps reduce congestion. Adding turn lanes in this manner can also decrease accidents, because it results in fewer lane changes and better visibility for on-coming traffic. All of these benefits are useful in explaining road diets to skeptical traffic engineers, or reluctant business or community members.

My firm is working with Long Beach to add curb extensions and other road diets throughout the city. These include narrowing streets adding curbside parking and bike lanes, and creating protected bike roadways between car parking and the sidewalk.

The addition of curbside parking is important particularly in parking-impacted areas. At a cost of $8-12k per stall when a new surface parking lot is built, curbside parking is almost a freebie. For example, another Long Beach road-diet project (on Livingston Drive) will add 32 parking stalls in a mid-density residential neighborhood, with the only cost for these stalls being paint to restripe the street. From a retail perspective having curbside parking in front of a shop can increase retail sales by thousands of dollars while at the same time serve as a buffer to pedestrians using the sidewalk from moving vehicles.

Many of these changes are the result of Long Beach’s Livable Community agenda, which enjoys broad support from Long Beach’s City Council and is a top priority for its city manager. In 2009 the city hired Mobility Coordinator Charlie Gandy – a nationally prominent bicycling proponent – to implement many of these plans.

According to Streetsblog Los Angeles, which closely follows pedestrian, public transit, bicycle and related issues, the city is concerned about the health of its residents, and for the environment. “But this is also an economic-development strategy,” says writer Joe Linton. “If Long Beach is to attract and retain companies and workers, then it needs to be able to compete. The city has decided that livability will make it competitive.”

In the instance of the First Street and Linden Avenue curb-extensions and the other road diets underway, that strategy is successful.

Original article.

Jun 282015
 

Would you use a rototiller to get rid of weeds in a flowerbed? Of course not. You might solve your immediate goal of uprooting the weeds — but oh, my, the collateral damage that you would do.

Yet when we try to eliminate congestion from our urban areas by using decades-old traffic engineering measures and models, we are essentially using a rototiller in a flowerbed. And it’s time to acknowledge that the collateral damage has been too great.

First, an explanation of what I call the “deadly duo”: travel projection models and Levels of Service (LOS) performance metrics. Travel projection models are computer programs that use assumptions about future growth in population, employment, and recreation to estimate how many new cars will be on roads 20 or 30 years into the future.

Models range from quite simplistic to incredibly complex and expensive. Simple models deal primarily with coarse movements of vehicles between cities, while complex models deal with the intricacies of what happens on the fine grid of urban areas. To be truly accurate, growth projection modeling can be expensive. Therefore, absent compelling reason to do otherwise, most growth projections tend to be done using less expensive techniques, which usually lead to overestimates.

Levels of Service (LOS) is a performance metric which flourished during the interstate- and freeway-building era that went from the 1950s to the 1990s. Using a scale of A to F, LOS attempts to create an objective formula to answer a subjective question: How much congestion are we willing to tolerate? As in grade school, “F” is a failing grade and “A” is perfect.

Engineers decided that LOS “C” was a good balance between overinvestment in perfection and underinvestment leading to congestion. In urban areas, a concession was made to accept LOS D, representing slightly more restricted but still free-flowing traffic. LOS is commonly (actually, almost always) calculated using travel projections for 20 to 30 years into the future.

Using basic traffic models and LOS C/D to plan and design the interstate system was a no-brainer in the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s. When deciding how many lanes to build on a freeway connecting major cities, a sensitivity of plus or minus 10,000 trips a day could be tolerated, and the incremental difference in cost to plow through undeveloped land was relatively insignificant.

Good approach, wrong setting

I’m not going to look back and quibble with the general philosophy of how the interstates and the associated high-speed freeways were planned and designed. On many levels, the approach made sense.

But it became increasingly less persuasive when applied to the rest of our road network. Unlike interstates and freeways, most roads exist not just to move traffic through the area, but also to serve the homes, businesses, and people along them. Yet in search of high LOS rankings, transportation professionals have widened streets, added lanes, removed on-street parking, limited crosswalks, and deployed other inappropriate strategies. In ridding our communities of the weeds of congestion, we have also pulled out the very plants that made our “gardens” worthwhile in the first place.

It’s worth remembering, too, that not all congestion is bad. John Norquist, former Mayor of Milwaukee and current CEO and President of the Congress for New Urbanism, suggests that congestion is like cholesterol: there is a good kind and a bad kind.

What makes the prevailing situation even more troubling is that there are no comprehensive requirements dictating the use of either LOS or travel modeling in transportation planning and project design. The “Green Book” from the Association of American State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) (more formally known as “A Policy on Geometric Design of Highways and Streets”) clearly states that these are guidelines to be applied with judgment — not mandates. So does the Federal Highway Administration’s “Highway Capacity Manual.”

The idea that we must rid our roads of  any and all traffic congestion is, in fact, a self-imposed requirement. As Eric Jaffe wrote in an article for Atlantic Cities in December, 2011:

Although cities aren’t required to abide LOS measures by law, over the years the measure hardened into convention. By the time cities recognized the need for balanced transportation systems, LOS was entrenched in the street engineering canon.

Worse yet, many designers size a road or intersection to be free-flowing for the worst hour of the day. Sized to accommodate cars during the highest peak hour, such streets will be “overdesigned” for the other 23 hours of the day and will always function poorly for the surrounding community.

If that isn’t troubling enough, LOS is often calculated using traffic predicted 20 years into the future, even in urban settings. Until the forecasted growth materializes, the roadway will be overdesigned, even during the peak hour. Overdesigned roadways encourage motorists to drive at higher speeds, making them difficult to cross and unpleasant to walk along. This degrades public spaces between the edges of the road and the adjacent buildings, encourages people to drive short distances, and generally unravels a community’s social fabric.

Let me repeat: Contrary to what you may hear, there is no national requirement or mandate to apply LOS standards and targets 20 years into the future for urban streets. This thinking is a remnant from 1960s era policy for the interstate system, and has erroneously been passed down from generation to generation.

So what are the right approaches?

Asking the simple question, “Do you want congestion reduced at a particular location?” is a question out of context. It’s like asking you whether you want to never be stung by a bee again. Of course, the answer will be yes. But what if I told you that to in order to never suffer a sting again, every plant within a several mile radius would have to be destroyed — and that you could never leave the area of destruction?

You would have a completely different answer, I’m sure.

The question that needs to be asked in urban settings is not whether you ever want to sit in congestion again. Who does? The question is whether you want to eliminate congestion on your Main Street 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year — knowing that the consequence would be a community with decimated economic and social value, increased reliance on car use, increased crashes, and, ultimately, more congestion.

Recognizing the need for balance, a number of entities are beginning to promote approaches sensitive to the context.

I was the New Jersey Department of Transportation’ s project manager for  the “Smart Transportation Guide” (STG), adopted jointly by the state DOTs in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.   The STG directs DOT designers to consider the tradeoffs between vehicular LOS and “local service.” It goes on to say that if the street in question is not critical to regional movement, that LOS E or F could be acceptable — and that designers may actually need to design to slow down cars.

The Institute of Transportation Engineers, an “international association of transportation professionals responsible for meeting mobility and safety needs” also promoted this concept in its landmark “Context Sensitive Solutions Guidelines for Urban Thoroughfares.” Florida DOT has adopted multimodal LOS standards, and cities like Charlotte, N.C., have elevated pedestrian and bicycle LOS to the level of that for automobiles. We have a long way to go, but the door is opening.

Creating balanced standards for roadway design will benefit transportation as well. In the Netherlands, the “Livable Streets” policy led to a remarkable improvement in safety on their roadways. They started in the 1970s with a crash rate 15 percent higher than in the U.S., and now have a crash rate 60 percent lower.

Design with the community in mind

It’s time for communities and transportation professionals alike to accept that we have been using the wrong tools for the wrong job. LOS and travel modeling may be effective when sizing and locating high-speed freeways, but are totally inappropriate in every other setting. If travel modeling with high rates of growth is used to make street decisions, your community may be doomed to a series of roadway widenings or intersection expansions. If vehicular LOS C or D performance measures are adopted as non-negotiable targets, major road construction will be heading your way.

Village, suburban and city streets need to be designed with the community in mind using the PPS principle of Streets as Places to create a vision for a great community and then plan your streets to support that vision.

Lets not be fooled by the appearance of science behind Levels of Service and Traffic Modeling. As I pointed out in an interview with Wayne Senville that was published in the November 2010 “Planning Commissioner’s Journal,” LOS standards are easy to understand — and that’s exactly what makes them so dangerous.

All images by Andy Singer.

Original Article.

Jun 282015
 

If you prefer listening, or want to learn more, check out this Urban Solutions podcast. Jeff Tumlin of Nelson Nygaard, Chris Ganson of the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research and I connect the dots between California’s climate change laws AB32, SB375, and the possibility that one fix could change transportation and land use planning around the country.

I think it’s important to remember—as we slap each other on the back about this year’s legislative victories—that getting a bill passed is just the beginning of making change happen. Fortunately, we have some great progress to report on one of the bills that made it through in the waning hours of last year’s legislative session—a bill that could fundamentally change the way we think about development and traffic in California.

As I’ve written in the past, the crux of this issue comes down to three little letters: L.O.S.  It stands for Level of Service, which is essentially just a measure of how much a project will slow down cars, and it’s the way the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) has evaluated new projects for decades. Until now.

Last year the Legislature—in their infinite wisdom—decided that in fact, in California in the year 2014, transportation is about a whole lot more than moving cars quickly. In fact we have much more important goals, and volumes have been written about the deep flaws of the LOS paradigm: it makes road widening look good for the environment, discourages infill, encourages traffic engineers to remove pedestrian crosswalks and slows transit projects. Through Senate Bill 743, they directed the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research (OPR) to kick Level of Service (LOS) to the curb, and find a replacement that can better help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and create transportation choices.

So here’s the good news: they’ve done it. OPR has just released their draft guidelines recommending Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) as the much more appropriate metric. Let’s think about this for a second. Under the old system, a proposed bike lane had to analyze its transportation impacts and if it was found to slow down cars (by, say substituting a bike lane for a car lane) then our environmental statute would have said let’s either not build this project, or pay a lot of money to find some other way to speed up cars. Pretty backwards, eh? Considering the whole point of bike lanes is to encourage one of the cleanest, healthiest and most sustainable ways of getting around we know. Now, instead, the same project would be asked a simple question: will this project result in any more vehicle miles of travel? Even a four year old can figure this one out. NO! Abundantly clear that the answer is no. So these bike projects—not to mention transit projects, safe pedestrian crosswalks, and other livable communities projects—will get built faster, cheaper, with less headache. We all win.

We love OPR’s proposed new metric because it just makes sense. It’s worth pointing out that California is the first state in the nation to try to tackle the insidious LOS problem and OPR should be praised for setting the precedent. Comments are due October 10th, and we feel that certain elements of their draft guidelines need revision—such as the proposed threshold and which types of projects are presumed to be less than significant—and we will blog again with more information on these details.

But we can’t forget the bigger picture: we and a whole host of other livable, sustainable communities advocates have wanted to see the end of LOS for decades, and we say it’s about time. RIP LOS.

Original Article.

May 012015
 

Portland_5-37

Portland2_5-37

Portland, OR

Myhre Group Architects propose to build a 5-story, 37,000 square-foot residential and commercial space near the historic Hollywood Theater in Portland, OR.


 

8445270628_50f5fa598e

Seattle, WA

Construction on a six-story mixed-use residential and retail building at Broadway and Jefferson is scheduled to start in August. Portland-based Gerding Edlen purchased the property from Valencia Capital Management of Dallas for $5.6 million earlier this month, according to the Seattle Times. Valencia paid $3.14 million for the property in 2007.

Central District News reported in December that owners of the property at 412 Broadway had put the land up for sale months after the City Council authorized a rezone for up to 70 feet in height.

The building, designed by Ankron Moisan Associated Architects, will have 118 residential units and 6,500 ft of retail space. Twenty percent of the residential units will be “designated affordable,” according to Gerding Edlen’s press release. They anticipate a LEED Gold certification on the project.

The planned rail projects in the area seem to have played a part in the firm’s decision to purchase the property, according to the press release:

Municipal plans for an extended light rail system from downtown to the Capital [sic] Hill, as well as a streetcar line that will connect this light rail to Union Station in the International District/Pioneer Square will offer direct access to a multi-modal transportation system for the residents of 412 Broadway.

Gerding Edlen will start holding public meetings this summer to engage the community to better fit into the neighborhood, said Ann Hudner, spokesperson for the firm.

“Gerding Edlen has a really wonderful approach to wanting to integrate and engage the community in their projects,” she said. Other projects have included site-specific art by local artists.

Permits have not yet been issued for construction of the project described by the previous developers as a 6-story building containing 100 market-rate apartments targeted towards employees in the nearby medical facilities, and the first-floor retail with room for five to eight new businesses.

This project will be the first Seattle-area development for the company since their 43/42-story Bellevue Towers highrise condo project was completed in 2009. After selling just 118 of the 539 units, the firm handed the buildings over to lenders earlier this year to avoid foreclosure, according to the Seattle Times.

The lot previously held a 4-unit house that has since been demolished. You can still view the old home (for now, at least) in Google Street View.

Summer 2011 is shaping up to be a busy time for construction on Capitol Hill – especially at its southern edge along Madison — and now down Broadway.


 

Seattle2

Seattle, WA

A 7-story residential/retail/commercial building at 4502 42nd SW (map).


 

Chicago

Chicago, IL

Way back in April 2007, we caught wind of a proposed development in Grand Boulevard called the Shops and Lofts at 47. The mixed-use project at 47th Street and Cottage Grove Avenue was to have 167 condos, 45,000 square feet of retail space, and 15,000 square feet of office space. It never moved forward, but apparently its developer, Mahogany Ventures, and the Quad Communities Development Corporation never gave up on the idea.

LISC/Chicago’s New Communities Program reports that the project should break ground later this year or in 2011 with one significant change in place — instead of condos, it will feature apartments. According to LISC’s article, the project’s first phase will have 70 residential units and about 28,000 square feet of retail, while a second phase will have another 70 units and 20,000 square feet of retail. A parking level on the second floor of each building will buffer the ground-level retail from the upper-level residences.


 

Berlin
Berlin, Germany

5-story Residential – and office building – Kurfürstenstraße, Berlin / Germany


 

Denver1

Denver2

Denver, CO

Infill 5 story retail and residential in Denver, CO.


 

Virginia 

Merrifield – OCR – Fairfax County, Virginia

Merrifield Revitalization Area

Santa Monica
Santa Monica, CA
Rendering of proposed apartment building at 401 Broadway. Image from City of Santa Monica Staff Report.

Decatur, Georgia
Decatur, Georgia
 Construction has started on Trinity Triangle, a 5-story mixed-use project located in the downtown district of Decatur, Georgia.  The development will have 210 residential units including 6 Live/Work units, as well as 6,000+ SF of street-level retail.  Construction completion is scheduled for June 2016 adding to an active and vibrant urban atmosphere.  ColeJenest & Stone is providing civil engineering and landscape architecture; the developer is Centro Development.

Denver3
Denver, CO

A large residential developer will be bringing 336 apartment units in a five-story building into the West Highland neighborhood at 38th Avenue and Lowell Boulevard.

The Alexan West Highlands development will likely break ground early next year after Trammell Crow Residential closes on the property. Full buildout is expected to take about two years and the project will also include 33,000 square feet of retail on the ground floor.

Eugene Lucero of the Lucero Financial Group owns the property and is under contract with Trammell Crow. Lucero will buy back the retail portion of the site and said he might move his business office back to the property after the construction is finished.

“I’m excited about the proposed development. It’s the type that is envisioned in a corridor such as 38th,” Lucero said.

Lucero’s current office is on the site, as is a Bank of the West building and 21,000 square-foot parking lot. He said a grocery store is a possibility for one of the new retail sites.

The $80-million project is one of two large projects Trammell Crow is working on in west Denver. The group is also involved with the Sloan’s development at the old St. Anthony’s site.

Matt Schildt, managing director of the mountain states division of Trammell Crow, said the appeal of building in West Highland is obvious with the good views, proximity to downtown and other amenities close by.

Both Lucero and Trammell Crow met with the West Highland Neighborhood Association and got mixed comments from residents. Some people along West Clyde Place mentioned their view would be obstructed by the structure that will be five stories in some areas and four in others.

Also the density in the area will greatly increase with this development along with another a few blocks away that will have about 150 units.

“That seems like a heavy burden at that intersection,” said Steve Kite, zoning chair for the West Highland Neighborhood Association.

No rezoning request is needed for the site as it was modified to allow for this type of development when the city updated its zoning guidelines in 2010.

The intersection of 38th and Lowell is also viewed as more of a commercial area compared to 32nd and Lowell, which has seen controversy over builders wanting to build taller structures in that location.

“The city wanted to see — and everyone agreed — increased density. This is the realization of that plan,” Kite added.

Lucero said he welcomes any comments from the community about the project and is excited to see it come to fruition.

“The time is right for it, the location is good and it does not contain the characteristics that other proposed developments (in the area) have contained,” he said.

Apr 292015
 

A provocative new video featuring Alain de Botton says beauty in urban settings must be objective—and to argue otherwise is a danger to our quality of life.

Image The School of Life
The School of Life

Most of us would probably be content to say that beauty is subjective. There may be a measure of symmetry or scale in what makes a person, object, or landscape attractive, but ultimately, beauty’s not inherent to the thing. It’s in the eye of the beholder.

But in the case of cities, beauty is objective, argues Alain de Botton in a provocative new video—and saying that it’s not is a danger to the quality of urban life.


“Cities are a big deal,” narrates de Botton. “We pretty much all have to live in them. We should try hard to get them right”—in part, by a more “scientific” approach to what makes cities pretty or ugly.

The philosopher, author, and founder of London’s The School of Life lays out six qualities of attractive cities:
  1. Order (buildings should be uniform in appearance and layout—to a degree);
  2. Visible life (it’s nice to see people walking the streets and working in shop windows);
  3. Compactness (don’t sprawl);
  4. Orientation and mystery (a balance of large and small streets should allow for efficient travel… and for getting lost, on occasion);
  5. Scale (a building should be five stories max, unless what it stands for is really worth more air space);
  6. A sense of the local (Melbourne should look a little different from Barcelona, because its cultural and geographic qualities are different).

De Botton has no problem pointing out which cities meet these standards (Paris, New York, Barcelona) and which ones don’t (Phoenix, Munich, but also, “most cities,” all over the world).

What’s the problem in those ug-urban places? Lack of political willpower, and behind that, an intellectual confusion about what beauty is. “We think beauty is subjective, and so no one should say anything about it,” he says. “It’s a very understandable qualm, but it’s also horribly useful to greedy property developers”—the ones who erect hideous, poorly placed skyscrapers and apartment complexes.

There is such a thing as objective beauty, says de Botton. The proof? Tourism statistics. The places people go for leisure, he argues, is a measure of how beautiful we find those places.

Now, that’s a troubling metric, by de Botton’s own standards; Dubai, Lima, Miami and Los Angeles have all recently topped rankings of the world’s urban tourist destinations, cities that, in their global appearance, stretch even the most generous definitions of beauty.

But beauty is an essential quality to live-ability. Multiple studies have shown that the perception of living in a beautiful place is strongly correlated with happiness—more strongly than even things like safety and cleanliness. “Character,” or aesthetic distinctiveness has also proven itself key to economic vitality.

De Botton might not quite get tourism stats right, but his message is on point: We—or really, planners—should get more scientific about measuring the beauty of our cities, and that requires less shyness around staking an aesthetic opinion. It’s been a long time since looks carried much weight in city planning, and de Botton’s manifesto is a clever (and good-looking) push to relight that interest.

Original article.

Apr 282015
 

The New Urbanist neighborhood of Stapleton, Colorado, suffers from compromised planning standards.

Via Journal of Urbanism

The above picture shows an example of citizen-led, “tactical” urbanism on a street in Stapleton, Colorado, a neighborhood just outside downtown Denver. A local resident has parked a truck on one side of Beeler Street and a trailer on the other, effectively reducing the road from 38 feet down to 24 feet, in an effort to get cars to slow down. On the back of the trailer is a sign that reads: “Drive like your kids live here.”

You might think Stapleton would be immune to stunts that call attention to car-first street design. It was, after all, envisioned as a New Urbanist neighborhood that emphasized compact development and alternative transportation. But the area undermined its planning ideals in the face of conventional traffic standards, says civil engineer Wesley Marshall of the University of Colorado at Denver, and the result has been an unfortunate case study in the hazards of design compromise.

“You don’t want to look at a case like Stapleton and say New Urbanism is a failure, because it isn’t really quite New Urbanism,” says Marshall, who not only studies Stapleton but lives there with his family. “In terms of the architecture and a lot of that stuff, it looks the part. But it doesn’t function that way. And a lot of the reasons it doesn’t function that way are specifically transportation related.”

Marshall recently outlined a number of Stapleton’s street design flaws, and the unintended problems they’ve created for the community, in the Journal of Urbanism.

A Planning-Implementation Divide

Stapleton was the primary airport for metropolitan Denver for most of the 20th century. When Denver International Airport emerged in the 1990s, Stapleton made a push to redevelop itself in a New Urbanist style, complete with the famed Peter Calthorpe as master planner. Initial plans for Stapleton explicitly called for a “variety of mobility options beyond the automobile” writes Marshall, as well as a reduction in vehicle miles traveled.

But after analyzing the street network and street designs that Stapleton ultimately did implement, Marshall found a number of inconsistencies with respect to New Urbanist thinking. Here are some of the biggest (our emphasis):

  • The street network is good at the neighborhood level, but it doesn’t connect very well to the larger city grid. That’s good for pedestrians and cyclists, but also means cars have to navigate a tricky maze of streets to leave or cross the area.
  • The two main streets in Stapleton, Martin Luther King and Central Park boulevards, run right through the center of town. Ideally, major streets in New Urbanist developments would run on the periphery, to reduce traffic conflicts with non-drivers.
  • Central Park Boulevard carries 12,000 vehicles a day, but it’s designed to hold 30,000 in anticipation of future growth. As a result, the road has way more space than it needs right now, which encourages faster traffic.
  • Since most Stapleton dwellings have at least one off-street parking space, many streets (including Beeler) have lots more on-street parking than necessary, which has the effect of widening roads. Research has linked unused street parking with higher car speeds and crash rates.
  • In accordance with Denver regulations, some major intersections (including those on Central Park Boulevard) have a curb radius of 30 feet—a “vehicle-oriented” value that’s generally considered by the standards of New Urbanism to be too large for walkable areas, since it facilitates faster turns.

“You get this intermingling of problems,” says Marshall. “If you have good connectivity and a dense compact connected network, it doesn’t work as well when you have wide roads where people can drive fast through them. You have to combine that with narrow streets and things that slow cars down.”

Faster Traffic, And More of It

The problems with these street designs are already showing up in the local transportation measures. Marshall reports that vehicle speeds on the streets of Stapleton are “higher-than-desired.” Drivers on Martin Luther King and Central Park go an average of 18 percent and 22 percent over the posted speed limits, respectively, according to Marshall’s study. And on Beeler Street, with its glut of unused parking, more than 63 percent of drivers exceeded the 25 mph speed limit—some going twice that.

A speed study of Stapleton shows where cars exceed the limit. (Journal of Urbanism)

A travel mode choice analysis proved equally grim. For all trips, 92 percent of residents drive (with 98 percent commuting to work by car), 3 percent take the bus, 2 percent walk, and 2 percent ride bikes (this despite the fact that Stapleton residents own three bikes per household). Car reliance in Stapleton is notably worse than that of three nearby traditional urban neighborhoods: Highlands (77 percent of all trips by car), East Colfax (66 percent), and Cherry Creek (72 percent).

A travel survey of metro Denver shows that Stapleton is more car-reliant than other nearby neighborhoods. (Journal of Urbanism)

Transit use in Stapleton should increase once commuter rail reaches the area, and Stapleton residents do travel slightly farther to reach the Denver central business district than people who live in these traditional neighborhoods. But the high driving shares “are still somewhat unexpected,” writes Marshall. In addition to the street design flaws, he suspects part of the reason locals drive so much is that Stapleton’s mixed-use areas aren’t as spread out as they should be.

None of this is to call Stapleton a failure. The neighborhood might have “room for improvement,” writes Marshall, but it’s still an improvement on traditional suburban development.

Rather, it’s a cautionary tale about conforming to regional planning and traffic engineering standards that run counter to neighborhood goals. Marshall says it’s understandable that developers don’t want to fight city regulations every step of the way, and that cities themselves bear some responsibility in encouraging developers to reduce car reliance. Still, these decisions carry consequences that are difficult to overcome once a development is underway.

“New Urbanism has always been looked at as an architecture field, and transportation was a minor part of it,” says Marshall. “In reality I think transportation is the key to getting New Urbanism right. If you don’t get the transportation right, it’s not going to work.”

Original article.

Apr 132015
 

In many areas, trees are under siege. But our cities need them, for all sorts of reasons.

Image LeahI00/Flickr
LeahI00/Flickr

I am lucky enough to live in a neighborhood with many large, mature trees. Our bit of urban forest is one of our community’s greatest assets, if you ask me. But, loved though they are, trees are getting to be a little controversial in and around D.C., and that worries me. I’ll get to that a bit later in the post, but first I want to share some of things I have learned about city trees in the last few days.

In particular, last week I spoke at a forum hosted by the California Center for Sustainable Energy, and after the program I was approached by someone from an initiative called San Diego County Trees. The initiative is the urban forestry project of the Energy Center, and they have all sorts of information extolling the benefits of urban trees along with a crowd-sourced inventory of street trees in San Diego.

I just spent time on the website, where the coolest feature is an interactive map of the whole county showing very specific tree locations and information, including quantified benefits to the region stemming (pun unintended but acknowledged) from its trees. As you can see in the image, these include carbon sequestration, water retention, energy saved, and air pollutants reduced.

You can even click on a specific tree and get detailed information on its species, size, and annual economic benefit to the community. San Diego County Trees invites its readers to add to the inventory with information on additional trees not presently counted.

If you’re interested in the subject of the community benefits of trees, you can get additional information from the websites of the National Arbor Day Foundation and the US Forest Service. Among the tidbits I learned on one or the other of those two sites are these:

  • The net cooling effect of a young, healthy tree is equivalent to ten room-size air conditioners operating 20 hours a day.
  • If you plant a tree today on the west side of your home, in 5 years your energy bills should be 3 percent less. In 15 years the savings will be nearly 12 percent.
  • One acre of forest absorbs six tons of carbon dioxide and puts out four tons of oxygen.
  • A number of studies have shown that real estate agents and home buyers assign between 10 and 23 percent of the value of a residence to the trees on the property.
  • Surgery patients who could see a grove of deciduous trees recuperated faster and required less pain-killing medicine than matched patients who viewed only brick walls.
  • In one study, stands of trees reduced particulates by 9 to 13 percent, and the amount of dust reaching the ground was 27 to 42 percent less under a stand of trees than in an open area.
Photo by Kaid Benfield

Several years ago, walkability guru Dan Burden wrote a detailed monograph titled 22 Benefits of Urban Street Trees. Among other things, he calculated that “for a planting cost of $250-600 (includes first 3 years of maintenance) a single street tree returns over $90,000 of direct benefits (not including aesthetic, social and natural) in the lifetime of the tree.” Burden cites data finding that street trees create slower and more appropriate urban traffic speeds, increase customer traffic to businesses, and obviate increments of costly drainage infrastructure. In at least one recent study (reported after Burden’s analysis), trees were even found to be associated with reduced crime.

I think some of the most important benefits, though, are felt emotionally. Burden puts it this way:

Urban street trees provide a canopy, root structure and setting for important insect and bacterial life below the surface; at grade for pets and romantic people to pause for what pets and romantic people pause for; they act as essential lofty environments for song birds, seeds, nuts, squirrels and other urban life. Indeed, street trees so well establish natural and comfortable urban life it is unlikely we will ever see any advertisement for any marketed urban product, including cars, to be featured without street trees making the ultimate dominant, bold visual statement about place.

That is extremely well said.

The DC area also has an extensive tree inventory hosted by the nonprofit Casey Trees, which has done much praiseworthy work to increase both plantings and awareness in our area. Among the several informative maps on the organization’s website is one marking trees recently planted in the city directly by the foundation. There’s also a map showing trees recently planted by the city. As with the San Diego maps, you can zoom in and click on a particular tree and bring up a popup window (see below) of tree characteristics.

Casey also publishes an annual Tree Report Card evaluating how the area is doing with respect to such performance measures as tree coverage, health, planting and protection. For 2011, for example, the organization found that tree planting has been robust and that the health of the city’s forest is strong. But the organization expressed concern about weak enforcement of the city’s tree protection law and urged both legislative and administrative changes to strengthen the city’s aggregate tree canopy, which has remained constant for several years at 35 percent coverage of the city, short of the goal of 40 percent.

Which brings me to the controversy. The Washington region, like many others in the U.S., has many neighborhoods (including my own) with above-ground utility lines strung overhead along our streets. We also have a lot of thunderstorms, which in some years cause significant treefall and power interruptions, most recently for the better part of a week during a severe heat wave. Utility workers strive heroically to restore service, but there are not-entirely-unfounded complaints that some of the local utilities lack sufficient preparation and have cut budgets in the wrong divisions of the company. This became a major news story, as some electricity providers performed significantly better than others in restoring electricity.

To try to shorten what could become a long story, some defensive utility executives have pointed to the trees when customers complain (“At the hearing, Pepco officials blamed trees for much of the damage to about 2,400 Pepco power lines, 200 transformers and 240 utility poles that fell during the storm”). This has been refuted by analysis, however (“By far, Pepco equipment failures, not trees, caused the most sustained power interruptions last year, records show”).

But it’s not just utilities, unfortunately. As reported by Justin Jouvenal in The Washington Post, a “massive and iconic oak that stood in the heart” of a northern Virginia suburb fell two weeks ago and crushed a car and driver underneath, killing the driver. This has prompted at least one local businessman to ask the authorities to immediately take down two nearby large, mature trees and to “deal more aggressively with aging trees” in the community. Some community members are now claiming that tree lovers “have blood on their hands,” while others believe that some of the area’s grandest trees could be casualties of an emotional rush to judgment in the wake of a tragic accident.

Photo courtesy of Junichi Ishito/Flickr

Personally, I am unqualified to evaluate risks and benefits in these situations. But one resident quoted in the article appears to be a voice of reason, asserting that it is important that trees be evaluated but that weight should be given to professional arborists as to their health and safety. If a tree is healthy and not posing a hazard, it should stay. I would add that, if some should indeed come down, the affected property should be replanted as soon as possible. And, as for the power lines, let’s put them underground where they belong.

Original Article

editor: Urban Street Trees – 22 Benefits

Mar 242015
 

More than $1 trillion, according to a new report.

Image Flickr/lindenbaum
Flickr/lindenbaum

More and more young people are moving to urban centers because they prefer to live in walkable areas with lots of public transportation options. Still, developers are reluctant to build compact housing using this smart growth approach. But perhaps a new economic case against sprawl can convince these developers to think twice.

Sprawl costs America over $1 trillion a year, according to a new report by LSE Cities and the Victoria Transport Policy Institute, because it can increase per capita land consumption up to 80 percent and car use by up to 60 percent. Together these outcomes create social costs that amount to $626 billion a year for people living in sprawling areas and $400 billion for those outside of them, the report estimates.

Economic outcomes from increased land development and automobile use. (LSE Cities/Victoria Transport Policy Institute)

The report argues that sprawl-related land consumption displaces economically-beneficial agricultural lands, and therefore, reduces local agriculture-based business activity. Because people are spread out, governments spend more money to construct longer roads, as well as sewage and power lines, to make sure all residents are covered.

Sprawl also tends to require more driving, and more people in cars means more people spending thousands of dollars on maintenance and gas (first chart below). Obviously, more cars on the road also means more traffic accidents (second chart) and pollution (third):

Internal fixed costs are costs of ownership, internal variable costs are operating costs, and external costs are the costs imposed on other people. Together, they can amount anywhere between $2,000-$4,000 per vehicle annually.  (LSE Cities/Victoria Transport Policy Institute).

That’s not to say sprawl has no benefits. Big single-family home in the suburbs definitely provide more space, more privacy, and less noise and air pollution. These areas tend to have less crime and better schools. Developers know this well, as Alana Samuels recently wrote:

Americans want space, they say, and they want backyards and private patios and big closets and places to park their big cars.

But compact urban development doesn’t necessarily exclude the construction of single-family homes. The report makes clear that single-family homes and spacious townhouses fit within the confines of a city smart growth plan, too. And although these single-family homes can be expensive to buy, the report also argues that “smart growth” offers a variety of affordable housing types overall, and cuts down on infrastructure and transportation costs.

Developers, are you listening?

Original article.

Jan 082015
 

DOT_forecasts

“The new vision of the future suggests that driving per capita will essentially remain flat in the future. The benchmark is important because excessively high estimates of future driving volume get used to justify wasteful spending on new and wider highways. In the face of scarce transportation funds, overestimates of future driving translate into too little attention paid to repairing the roads we already have and too little investment in other modes of travel.”

“For U.S. DOT to embrace a future less dominated by driving, it first must recognize when change has occurred and that a different trajectory is possible. Quiet and incremental as the current changes may be, they represent a profound step in the right direction.”

Original Article

Nov 062014
 

The point is most younger people today do not want to be bound by the auto bug – and they do not want to live in suburbia. If we want a vibrant downtown Oxnard we will work to eliminate sprawl and make our downtown a vibrant place to live and work.

“Millennials are relatively averse to driving, and especially concerned about the costs of doing so. If you have to drive a car to get around, that can cancel out savings from living in an area with cheaper housing. The average cost of owning, insuring, maintaining, and gassing up a car is more than $9,000 a year, according to AAA. Beyond cost of living, there’s quality of life. The average commuter in Houston wastes 58 hours a year stuck in traffic, and that wasted time has an economic value too — $1,322, according to the Texas A&M Transportation Institute. (Of course, the dense, transit-rich cities also have bad traffic, but they have better options for non-drivers.)”

Read the entire grist article.