Dec 232016
 

Photos by Steve Mouzon

Trees should be planted either in swales (on primarily residential streets) or in tree wells (on Main Streets). Do not listen to “urban foresters,” who insist that trees must be planted in landscape beds large enough for their mature drip lines.
   Street trees are essential for strong Walk Appeal almost anywhere in the US, which makes them a fundamental part of the public frontage, which extends from the property line to the edge of the street. We’ll talk about other public frontage parts later, but street trees are so important that they warrant their own discussion. Two things will be apparent when we look at street trees and other public frontage parts: First, none of this is rocket science; simple rules of thumb cover most of these parts. On the other hand, it’s shocking how often a city, a Department of Transportation, or a developer gets them wrong… so do what you can to get people informed in your city or town.

Why should we plant street trees?

There are many reasons to plant street trees (most of which will be in a later post), but the two most obvious ones are closely intertwined: Walk Appeal and sustainability. In most of the US, a street without trees is a street where people rarely walk, and therefore almost always drive. This is bad for our towns, our wallets, and our waistlines.

Street tree types

If you’re not in a US state with a Canadian border, you really need street trees to shade the sidewalk. And if you’re North of New Orleans, those street trees should be be deciduous so they drop their leaves in winter so you can walk in the relative warmth of a winter sun. From New Orleans southward, shade is helpful throughout the year because it can be warm throughout most days of the year.

Spectacular street trees along Meridian Avenue create one of the best sidewalks on South Beach

   The type of street tree varies according to where you are in town. Along a Main Street, trees should be taller and more vertically-proportioned, so that when they’re mature, their lowest branches are 12-16 feet above the sidewalk so they don’t block business signs. Also, Main Street buildings typically pull right up to the street, so trees that are more vertically-proportioned don’t grow so hard up against the upper levels of the Main Street buildings. On a primarily residential street, the trees can be lower and spread more broadly because the buildings (mostly houses) are set further back from the street. The lowest branches only need to be a bit above the head height of a tall person.

Street tree spacing

Street trees should be planted roughly every 15-30 feet along a Main Street and every 25-50 feet along a primarily residential street. Start by planting a street tree at every property line. If the Main Street shops are really narrow (less than 15 feet wide) plant the trees on every other property line. If they’re really wide (more than 30 feet wide), plant the trees every 20 feet or so, but don’t plant them in front of the shops’ front doors. If you do, some shop-owners will sneak out at night and poison the trees.

This Alton Road street tree hasn’t been poisoned by the shop-owner… yet

   The Florida DOT had no clue about this basic rule when they rebuilt Alton Road on South Beach, so this is exactly what happened again and again. It’s a lose-lose deal for the business owners, because while killing the trees keeps their signs more visible, the sunburned sidewalks are not a place most people want to walk for most of the year. That’s why Alton Road today is by far the least-walked commercial street on South Beach. And this is in a place where 45% of the people don’t even own a car (because they don’t need them) and most of the tourists don’t rent cars as well. In other words, the Florida DOT through their ignorance killed a lot of real estate value on Alton Road. And yes, Alton has several glaring flaws that will take a lot of work to fix, but the street trees could have been done correctly, and at no additional cost.

Residential street trees planted every 25-50 feet along a street require only one tree on every property line on most residential streets in traditional neighborhoods. If the street is populated with narrow townhouses, it may require only one tree on every other property line whereas parts of the neighborhood with large lots (more than 50 feet wide) require two trees per lot.

Planting street trees

According to urban foresters, these magnificent trees (captured on an early spring morning just as they were budding out with new leaves) should never have lived because their tree wells are scarcely larger than their trunks, but they have shaded this Charleston street for centuries.

   Trees should be planted either in swales (on primarily residentail streets) or in tree wells (on Main Streets). Do not listen to “urban foresters,” who insist that trees must be planted in landscape beds large enough for their mature drip lines. Their grand lie is legendary… if what they said were true, canopy streets like Meridian Avenue on South Beach would be impossible. They are terribly wrong about this, and need to be called out on it. These are street trees, after all, not forest trees. Primarily residential streets may have swales up to 5 feet wide and of indefinite length, whereas primarily commercial streets may have tree wells 5 feet square or smaller.

YES, “urban foresters” can specify trees that are unsuitable as street trees and will die on an urban street. Yes, they can specify planting conditions that will cause their self-fulfilling prophecies to occur. But hopefully, you live in a town where at least one good landscape architect knows which tree to plant and how to plant it so that it thrives for centuries. Go to Charleston, South Carolina… this isn’t just possible, but is commonplace.

Original article.

Oct 102016
 

Last week, the City of Oxnard received the Helen Putman award from the League of Calif Cities at their 2016 Expo. (Read about it here: https://www.oxnard.org/city-of-oxnard-wins-2016-helen-putnam-award-for-excellence-for-city-corps-youth-partnership/)

The City Manager and his leadership team were there and received the award. Apparently, they were all very taken with the keynote speaker, Jason Roberts of the Better Block Foundation. This is a group that is a leading practitioner of guerrilla Tactical Urbanism in Dallas, TX. They’ve got a wild story.  Click here to explore: http://betterblock.org/

Here are some YouTube vids of Jason rapping about Better Blocks:

From Feb 21, 2012:

From Jun 29, 2016:

You will find more like the above here.

Let’s do a Better Block project here in Oxnard – If you want to participate contact the OCPG by clicking here Contact and join the effort!

May 242016
 

The Downtown Oxnard Vision Plan Charrette – Administrative Draft – May 23, 2016 –  is available for download.

Click the link above to view.

The Downtown Oxnard Vision Plan Charrette was held in Oxnard between January 29th and February 2nd 2016. The Charrette was organized by the City of Oxnard, the Oxnard Community Planning Group (OCPG), and the Congress for the new Urbanism – California Chapter (CNU-CA). The Charrette, lead and created for Oxnard by the CNU-CA, was a resounding success – bringing together many stakeholders from the Oxnard community.

The Administrative Draft report is the culmination of 5 days of community input and dedicated and creative work by the more than 20 distinguished planning professionals of the CNU-CA.

May 212016
 

This is a brilliant article on Placemaking by CNU-CA’s Howard Blackson. It’s a short easy read if you skim it – it’s a deep tretis on Placemaking if you think about each of the C’s and how it applies to your daily civic meanderings and our city. How does Oxnard compare to the 5 C’s – does it work? And where does it not work and what would it take to make it work? – OCPG


I live in a city that is currently updating its Community Plans. This is an historically difficult planning job because Community Plans transcend both broad policy statements (such as the amorphous “New development should be in harmony with surrounding development…”) and specific development regulations (“Front yard setbacks shall be 25 feet deep from property line…”). An issue with updating Community-scaled plans is the personal sentiment people feel for their homes and the difficulty we have in expressing such emotion within conventional 2D planning documents. The source of most conflicts and confusion I see occurring during these updates is due to the confusion over the scale and size difference of a ‘Community’ versus a ‘Neighborhood’ unit.

A community is defined as, “a group of people living in the same place or having a particular characteristic in common.” Many places have different communities inhabiting them, such as an elderly, or arts, or ethnic community living and/or working in close proximity to one another. Even the internet can be considered a place inhabited by many diverse communities. So the scale, parameters, and character of a community-scaled planning effort is difficult to define.

Usually, community planning areas are defined by political boundaries, or historic development plats and, in some deplorable cases, old insurance red-lining practices that gave a city its initial zoning districts. This being the case, I contend that the neighborhood unit is a better tool to define, plan, and express policies and regulations necessary to preserve, enhance and, yes, build great places.

The neighborhood is a physical place — varied in intensity from more rural to more urban — that many different communities inhabit. At its essence, whether downtown, midtown or out-of-town, its health and viability (in terms of both resilience and quality of life) is defined by certain basic characteristics. Easily observable in neighborhoods that work, these characteristics have been articulated a variety of ways over the years — most notably for me by Andrés Duany and Mike Stepnor. Combined, they form what I like to call the 5 Cs:

1. Complete

Great neighborhoods host a mix of uses in order to provide for our daily need to live, work, play, worship, dine, shop, and talk to each other. Each neighborhood has a center, a general middle area, and an edge. The reason suburban sprawl sprawls is because it has no defined centers and therefore no defined edge. Civic spaces generally (though not always) define a neighborhood’s center while commerce tends to happen on the edges, on more highly traffic-ed streets and intersections easily accessible by two or more neighborhoods. The more connected a neighborhood is, the more variety of commercial goods and services can be offered, as not every neighborhood needs a tuxedo shop or a class ‘A’ office building.

Photo by Liz Griffen

2. Compact

The 5-minute walk from center to edge, a basic rule-of-thumb for walkability, equates to approximately 80 to 160 acres, or 9 to 18 city blocks. This general area includes public streets, parks, and natural lands, as well as private blocks, spaces and private buildings. This scale may constrict in the dead of winter and/or heat of summer, and expand during more temperate months. Compactness comes in a range of intensities that are dependent upon local context. Therefore, more urban neighborhoods, such as those found in Brooklyn, are significantly more compact than a new neighborhood located, for example, outside Taos, New Mexico. Remember, the ped-shed is a general guide for identifying the center and edge of a neighborhood. Each neighborhood must be defined by its local context, meaning shapes can, and absolutely do, vary. Edges may be delineated by high speed thoroughfares (such as within Chicago’s vast grid), steep slopes and natural corridors (as found in Los Angeles), or other physical barriers.

3. Connected

Great neighborhoods are walkable, drivable, and bike-able with or without transit access. But, these are just modes of transportation. To be socially connected, neighborhoods should also be linger-able, sit-able, and hang out-able.

4.Complex

Great neighborhoods have a variety of civic spaces, such as plazas, greens, recreational parks, and natural parks. They have civic buildings, such a libraries, post offices, churches, community centers and assembly halls. They should also have a variety of thoroughfare types, such as cross-town boulevards, Main Streets, residential avenues, streets, alleys, bike lanes and paths. Due to their inherent need for a variety of land uses, they provide many different types of private buildings such as residences, offices, commercial buildings and mixed-use buildings. This complexity of having both public and private buildings and places provides the elements that define a neighborhood’s character.

5. Convivial

The livability and social aspect of a neighborhood is driven by the many and varied communities that not only inhabit, but meet, get together, and socialize within a neighborhood. Meaning “friendly, lively and enjoyable,” convivial neighborhoods provide the gathering places — the coffee shops, pubs, ice creme shops, churches, clubhouses, parks, front yards, street fairs, block parties, living rooms, back yards, stoops, dog parks, restaurants and plazas — that connect people. How we’re able to socially connect physically is what defines our ability to endure and thrive culturally. It’s these connections that ultimately build a sense of place, a sense of safety, and opportunities for enjoyment… which is hard to maintain when trying to update a community plan without utilizing the Neighborhood Unit as the key planning tool.

–Howard Blackson

Original article.

Apr 232016
 

22 Benefits of Urban Street Trees by Dan Burden

U.S Forest Service facts and figures and new traffic safety studies detail many urban street tree benefits. Once seen as highly problematic for many reasons, street trees are proving to be a great value to people living, working, shopping, sharing, walking and motoring in and through urban places.

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. Street trees (generally planted from 4 feet to 8 feet from curbs) provide many benefits to those streets they occupy. These trees provide so many benefits that they should always be considered as an urban area default street making feature.

With new attentions being paid to global warming causes and impacts more is becoming known about negative environmental impacts of treeless urban streets. We are well on the way to recognizing the need for urban street trees to be preferred urban design, rather than luxury items tolerated by traffic engineering and budget conscious city administrators.

The many identified problems of street trees are overcome with care by designers. Generally street trees are placed each 15- 30 feet. These trees are carefully positioned to allow adequate sight triangles at intersections and driveways, to not block street luminaries, not impact utility lines above or below ground. Street trees of various varieties are used in all climates, including high altitude, semi-arid and even arid urban places.

The science of street tree placement and maintenance is well known and observed in a growing number of communities (i.e. Chicago, Illinois; Sacramento, Davis, California; Eugene, Oregon; Seattle, Redmond, Olympia and Issaquah, Washington; Charlotte, N.C.; Keene, New Hampshire and Cambridge, Mass). Although care and maintenance of trees in urban places is a costly task, the value in returned benefits is so great that a sustainable community cannot be imagined without these important green features.

Properly placed and spaced urban street trees provide these benefits:

Increased motorized traffic and pedestrian safety (contrary to engineering myths). See below article for details on mode safety enhancements. See especially the compilation of safety benefits detailed in, Safe Streets, Livable Streets, by Eric Dumbaugh Journal of the American Planning Association, Vol. 71, No. 3, Summer 2005. One such indication of increased safety with urban street trees is quoted from this document:

“…Indeed, there is a growing body of evidence suggesting that the inclusion of trees and other streetscape features in the roadside environment may actually reduce crashes and injuries on urban roadways. Naderi (2003) examined the safety impacts of aesthetic streetscape enhancements placed along the roadside and medians of five arterial roadways in downtown Toronto. Using a quasiexperimental design, the author found that the inclusion of features such as trees and concrete planters along the roadside resulted in statistically significant reductions in the number of mid-block crashes along all five roadways, with the number of crashes decreasing from between 5 and 20% as a result of the streetscape improvements. While the cause for these reductions is not clear, the author suggests that the presence of a well defined roadside edge may be leading drivers to exercise greater caution.”

22 Benefits of Urban Street Trees by Dan Burden

Apr 232016
 

Meet the U.S. Forest Service scientist putting a dollar value on urban forests.

Image REUTERS/Carlos Barria
A man rides his bicycle in Rock Creek Park in Washington D.C. (REUTERS/Carlos Barria)

David Nowak whittles down 30 years of studying the economic value of forests to this advice: If you can only plant one tree, plant it in a city.

After all, in an era of overwhelming need for urban infrastructure improvements, trees offer cities some of the best bang for their buck. Trees remove carbon dioxide, filter air pollution, and produce oxygen. They absorb rainwater, UV radiation, and noise. They slow down traffic, improve property values, and reduce human stress and mental fatigue. And they provide shade, which means we have to use less energy to cool down.

“Trees help us avoid emissions in the first place, in addition to taking out carbon,” says Nowak, a lead researcher at the U.S. Forest Service’s Northern Research Station in Syracuse, New York. “It’s a big problem that they help us solve.”

Nowak is one of the founding developers of the Forest Service’s free software program i-Tree. Using GIS and a complex set of algorithms, it allows communities and researchers to produce detailed inventories of their urban canopies, and calculate their dollar value. A recent i-Tree analysis of Austin, Texas, led by Nowak, estimated that trees save that city nearly $19 million annually in reduced building-energy use, some $5 million in reduced carbon emissions, and account for about $16 billion as standalone physical assets. Past that, they’re worth $3 million per year in their reduction of air pollution (based on avoided respiratory health problems), and nearly $12 million per year in the amount of carbon they sequester.

Since it launched in 2006, i-Tree has grown to include all of these different ways of assessing arboreal worth. But there are still more proven benefits yet to be translated into cold, hard numbers. Right now, some of Nowak’s work is focused on calculating the dollar value of the reduced air temperatures and absorbed UV radiation that trees provide. “We have the math to show how temperature reductions are based on tree cover,” he says. But the next step, converting that into value, is really difficult. “You have to look at how how overall temperature changes, and peak temperature changes, have different impacts on human mortality,” says Nowak, “which depends on where your body is physiologically adapted from.”

If that sounds challenging, it’s a cake-walk compared to another tree-driven phenomenon Nowak is trying to quantify: Reduced stress. “Lower cortisol is given off when you see green,” he says. Using satellite imagery and i-Tree’s analytical tools, “we want to develop an index of how much green you can see from any given point in a city, how your body reacts to it, and what the economic value is,” he says. Nowak dubs this index the “green force potential,” and adds that it’s very challenging to separate out trees’ effects from other social forces that play into urban stress. “This is going to take some time,” he says. “But we think this is the next frontier of our work.”

(U.S. Forest Service)

That work matters. Tools like i-Tree and others that have followed have helped cities around the world to think more strategically about the health and sustainability of their canopies. In the U.S., Culver City, Santa Monica, Pittsburgh, San Francisco, and Tampa are all in the process of developing urban forest master plans that make use of such quantified values.

But all of that isn’t enough. Recent Forest Service research (also led by Nowak) has found that urban tree cover in the U.S. is declining at a rate of roughly four million trees per year. (That’s about 150 times the number of trees in Central Park.) Canopies are giving way to buildings and parking lots. Insects, diseases, and severe weather events are destroying their trunks and leaves—forces that climate change will compound. In many cities, tree-maintenance budgets have been stripped. Often, humans don’t easily recognize all that trees provide us.

Putting a price on urban canopies seems to be helping, though. “Money drives decisions,” Nowak says. “It’s the necessary evil of the game.”

Considering all their benefits, it seems money really does grow on trees. But given all the forces against them, trees also grow on money.

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.

THE TRANSECT

 

“A town is saved, not more by the righteous men in it than by the woods and swamps that surround it.”        — Henry David Thoreau

A transect is a cut or path through part of the environment showing a range of different habitats. Biologists and ecologists use transects to study the many symbiotic elements that contribute to habitats where certain plants and animals thrive.

natural transect

Human beings also thrive in different habitats. Some people prefer urban centers and would suffer in a rural place, while others thrive in the rural or sub-urban zones. Before the automobile, American development patterns were walkable, and transects within towns and city neighborhoods revealed areas that were less urban and more urban in character. This urbanism could be analyzed as natural transects are analyzed.

To systemize the analysis and coding of traditional patterns, a prototypical American rural-to-urban transect has been divided into six Transect Zones, or T-zones, for application on zoning maps. Standards were written for the first transect-based codes, eventually to become the SmartCode, which was released in 2003 by Duany Plater-Zyberk & Company.

transect

This zoning system replaces conventional separated-use zoning systems that have encouraged a car-dependent culture and land-consuming sprawl. The six Transect Zones instead provide the basis for real neighborhood structure, which requires walkable streets, mixed use, transportation options, and housing diversity. The T‑zones vary by the ratio and level of intensity of their natural, built, and social components. They may be coordinated to all scales of planning, from the region through the community scale down to the individual lot and building, but the new zoning itself is applied at the community (municipal) scale.

The T-zones are intended to be balanced within a neighborhood structure based on pedestrian sheds (walksheds), so that even T-3 residents may walk to different habitats, such as a main street, civic space, or agrarian land. The following table lays out the relationship of the region and community to the Transect Zones in the model SmartCode.

The table to the left explains the nesting relationship of the scales of planning addressed in the SmartCode. Note that the six normative Transect Zones are not applied at the regional scale, as they are used for municipal zoning or to achieve balance in private developments.

 | pdf

 

 

 

 

As a shorthand, New Urbanist practitioners refer to the framework of the rural-to-urban transect used in this way simply as “the Transect.” The benefits of using the Transect include

  • a common language for a new zoning paradigm
  • the ability to plug into transect-based codes and supplementary Modulescreated by different experts in the design, engineering, and environmental fields
  • successional potential for communities to evolve gracefully and sustainably over generations.

Codes and architectural pattern books based on the Transect must be calibrated for each place, to reflect local character and form. Depending on the place, there may be fewer or more T-zones determined by analysis. For example, most towns do not have a T-6 Urban Core Zone.

Although the model T-zone diagram is based on exemplary American urbanism, there have been numerous successes adapting the Transect methodology to the traditional patterns of other countries, including England, Scotland, Mexico, the Bahamas, Spain, Russia, and Romania. This is possible because nearly every town has some rural-to-urban gradient or distinctions, and code calibrators, like scientists in the field, analyze the components of the local transects to extract their DNA for coding for the future. The components include the disposition, configuration, and function of buildings, thoroughfares and civic space, which are coordinated by T-zone number to ensure “immersive environments,” i.e., human habitats with distinctive character.

Because they are based on the physical form of the built and natural environment, all transect-based codes are form-based codes. The SmartCode, released in 2003, is the pioneering transect-based model code. The most up-to-date version is available free to municipalities and planning firms and may be downloaded here.

Practitioners are also studying regional transects for use in comprehensive plans and future inter-jurisdictional planning. The Regional Sector Plans of the SmartCode are based on natural regional transects, along with infrastructure such as existing or planned rail lines and thoroughfares.

Illustrative examples of regional and community-scale transects are available for download at our Image Library.

Original document.

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 252015
 

Let’s talk about dollars spent. Millions of dollars. 7.2 million dollars specifically, of which 5.5 million came directly from the local economy. The goal? At least according to local leadership, it was to increase quality of life via improved walkability.

First, a caveat: This isn’t going to be one of those pieces denouncing government spending as inherently bad. But neither will it be one that suggests all is well when spending gets characterized as an investmentrather than a mere expenditure.

After all, investment itself is a neutral term. There are good investments and bad ones. Smart investments and, well, not so smart ones.

So let’s look at some specifics.

A fairly typical context

South Dekalb County, Georgia, is not all that different from a lot of places. Originally rural and agricultural, it began developing after World War II in the typical suburban pattern of the day — separated uses, subdivisions and strip commercial, and dendritic networks of local, collector, and arterial roads.

Then, in the 60s and 70s, it suffered the scourge of white flight and has been dealing with the challenges of disinvestment — and commensurate efforts to turn it all around — ever since.

Many of these efforts have been rooted in infrastructure improvement. Local leadership calls them investments in the future, which makes for a nice sound bite but also invites the question: How good of an investment is it?

One particular instance

Let’s look at one example, a 3.7 mile stretch of GA-155, also known as Candler Road, that’s ripe for a renaissance local officials have been courting for years. Like in 1999, when adjacent property owners were offered grants of up to $55,000 to construct new buildings or renovate existing ones.

But still, the area has struggled. So when the prospect is raised to spend 7.2 million dollars to spruce it up and make it more walkable, it sounds like a win. The suggestion is that nicer pedestrian infrastructure will make the corridor more inviting, renewed interest will lead to new investment, and new investment will pay off in the form of an improved tax base.

But the devil, at least in my experience, is absolutely in the details. Because investing in pedestrian infrastructure and making a place more walkable are not necessarily the same thing.

Let’s take a look

The investment took the form of new sidewalks, road striping and repaving, landscaping for medians, decorative hardscape, and street lamps.

Click for larger view.

Local leadership has specifically stated that the money was being spent to improve quality of life by making the corridor more walkable so it makes sense that the results be evaluated according to that ambition. It’s not particularly difficult. Fairly easy, actually, because encouraging walkability is not an arbitrary endeavor. It’s been studied for some time now and the contextual characteristics that contribute to it are well known.

Perhaps the definitive text on the matter is Walkable City by Jeff Speck. My colleague, Kaid Benfield, summarized Jeff’s 10 steps of walkability on his blog a few years ago. Let’s consider the example at hand through that lens:

1. Put cars in their place. This endeavor contains no reconfiguration of traffic lanes to reduce width and, with it, speed. It does nothing to remove or redistribute lanes either. In fact, the width of public right of way devoted to automotive throughput is identical to what it was before the $7.2 million was spent.

2. Mix the uses. The county’s physical overhaul of the corridor did not include any modifications to the surrounding zoning. It remains single use, auto-dependent commercial.

3. Get the parking right. The Candler corridor has always been over-parked and new development remains subject to a development code whose default outcome is set back strip or pad retail with parking in the front.

4. Let transit work. As a primary corridor, Candler features a MARTA bus route. But none of this pedestrian upgrade, as best I can tell, included bus stop infrastructure or other means of improving the transit experience.

5. Protect the pedestrian. These infrastructure investments do include some features that draw attention to pedestrians, such as crosswalks, but they include no changes that actually privilege pedestrians over surrounding vehicles.

6. Welcome bikes. As mentioned previously, Candler’s lane configuration remains the same. No bicycle facilities have been added.

7. Shape the spaces. Outside of a few spots dating back to the 40s, the present conventional zoning ensures that any future development will include parking setbacks. There is no expectation that street-fronting retail or other space shaping arrangements will materialize.

8. Plant trees. The Candler corridor upgrade includes some ground level median plantings but nothing in the pedestrian realm.

9. Make friendly and unique [building] faces. This is kind of a moot point because there is no expectation of street facing development. With no pedestrian oriented buildings there are no contributing details to consider.

10. Pick your winners. Speck is known for advocating a triage approach to pedestrian infrastructure, wherein ped-related investment is directed specifically to walkable or potentially walkable places where the most good can be done. The Candler corridor fails to meet this standard.

So what’s the point?

When political leadership justifies an expenditure of $7.2 million by saying it will make a place more walkable and yet the completed project, even generously assessed, fails to meet even one of the ten steps towards achieving walkability, it deserves scrutiny.

If I were to ask, I’m sure I’d hear all kinds of reasons why — reasons I acknowledge constitute very real and very common obstacles. It’s a state route and the DOT strong-armed the design (while covering just 24% of the cost). Long term changes to zoning are a separate initiative that may or may not come to pass. Etc. Etc.

Yet ultimately, these enhancements were intended to leverage walkable quality of life to secure new investment and an increased tax base. When that doesn’t come to pass, will leadership answer by saying, “Well, the important thing is that we tried. We had no way of knowing it wouldn’t work”?

I hope not. Because if they do, I’ll feel obliged to point them to this study from Wei Li and Kenneth Joh that explored the financial returns of walkability investments in different scenarios. Consider this:

We found that the highest premiums for walkability are in the most walkable neighborhoods: a 1 percent increase in walkability yielded a $1,329 increase in property values; a 1 percent increase in sidewalk density generated a $785 increase in property values. Homes in neighborhoods that are at least somewhat walkable and very walkable also experienced premium increases, although correspondingly less. In contrast, increasing walkability and sidewalks in car-dependent neighborhoods did not have any significant impact on property values. (emphasis mine)

D’oh! That’s awkward.

So, if we’re not going to pursue walkability in a meaningful, systemic way based on the principles that actually deliver results, and we have the data available showing that pedestrian lip service in car dependent places has no appreciable impact on property values, then exactly why are we — or any of the countless places around the country doing similar projects — spending millions of dollars anyways?

Your guess is as good as mine.

Original article.

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

Oct 202015
 
“If you plan cities for cars and traffic, you get cars and traffic.
If you plan for people and places, you get people and places.”

– Fred Kent, Project for Public Spaces

OK, now get up, go out, and walk Oxnard Boulevard from 4th Street to Wooley Road – cross the street – and walk back to 4th. It’s just 12 blocks and you know you need the exercize.

Just do it – get up and walk your main street.

How does it feel? This is your main street – do you like it? Maybe a little spiffing up that allows for more traffic – is that what you want your main street to be like – a highway through our downtown?

Once you get back watch the video once again – then read the next post – A Livable Oxnard, just below.

Oct 062015
 

A new–and very old–approach to designing a city.

Complete Streets, Walkable Community, Mixed-Use Urban Corridor

As you may know, Oxnard now has the opportunity to transform Oxnard Boulevard with new life as an attractive, customer-friendly downtown business destination as Caltrans has reassigned Highway 1, with its heavy truck traffic, to Rice Ave.

A group of concerned community members wants to contribute to this transformation process. Our goal is to promote more active civic life along Oxnard Boulevard, to be more than just a traffic conduit based on conventional traffic engineering.

We believe the City should remake its main street and downtown according to a Complete Streets model— directing the future of Oxnard’s development. The Complete Streets model incentivizes investment, economic development, and housing…three major planning issues facing Oxnard today. Cities are recognizing the many benefits of the Complete Streets concept as it brings new vitality to an area, providing a boon to business. To do so, we must consider how people lived in cities before cars took over.

Complete Streets are streets for everyone. They are designed and operated to enable safe access for all users, including pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists, and transit riders of all ages and abilities. Complete Streets make it easy to cross the street, walk to shops, and bicycle to work. They allow buses to run on time and make it safe for people to walk to and from train stations.

Walkable communities are desirable places to live, work, learn, worship, and play; they are a key component of smart growth. Their desirability comes from two factors. First, goods (such as housing, offices, and retail) and services (such as transportation, schools, libraries) are located within an easy and safe walk. Second, walkable communities make pedestrian activity possible, thus expanding transportation options, and creating a streetscape for a range of users—pedestrians, bicyclists, transit riders, and drivers. To foster walkability, communities must support mixed-use development and build compactly, with safe, inviting pedestrian spaces.

Mixed-use urban corridor development is a combination of low-income and market- rate housing above a row of commercial enterprises along the street edge at specifically chosen locations along the Oxnard Boulevard corridor to make a more populated street that has an urban look and functions as an urban street.

We envision Oxnard Blvd as a Mixed-Use urban corridor with a strong emphasis on the residential infill element. There remains considerable pressure for more housing, especially affordable housing, in Oxnard, which historically has led to sprawl. Increasing evidence reveals that sprawl bankrupts cities; kills city centers, and requires infrastructure improvements that are better applied to a city’s center.

Great public spaces don’t happen by accident—they have been and are created by communities with visionary leaders who understand city planning and work hard to bring the vision of a beautiful thriving small city into reality.

If Oxnard is going to have a great downtown and no sprawl, Oxnard has to change, and that change can only come from the City Council. The City Council must adopt a Complete Streets and mixed-use urban corridor policy—to assure the change Oxnard needs. The beauty, or lack thereof, of a city lies within a city’s governing body’s ability to connect and work together with residents. As stewards, the governing council sets the policy and tone—so that a city may flourish.

It will not happen overnight. But with proper vision, guidance, and fortitude, Oxnard will thrive block-by-block and neighborhood-by-neighborhood.

Remaking Oxnard Boulevard into a Complete Street and walkable Mixed-Use Urban Corridor will require support from, and policy changes by, the Oxnard City Council. We invite you to step up and make it so!

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.

Sep 222015
 

Central London Streets Transformed: A Walking Tour with Iain Simmons from STREETFILMS on Vimeo.

Iam Simmons: “When you do anything bold, changing the status quo, It’ll be chaos – it’ll be pandemonium, it’ll be gridlock, and everything will start to fall apart – and the reality is that it never ever does.”

Aug 252015
 

“We had to create a new kind of Place” 1:30

“No local tax dollars” 1:50

“We knew the City did not have the money, and that if we had to wait for the City to come up with the money – this project would never happen” 2:10

“We were able to raise money because we did not talk about this as an infrastructure project, we talked about it as a Quality of Life and Economic Development project” 2:20

The Indianapolis Cultural Trail: The Next-Gen in U.S. Protected Bike Lanes from STREETFILMS on Vimeo.

In May (2013), the Indianapolis Cultural Trail, a protected bike & pedestrian trail connecting some of Indy’s most popular cultural institutions, had it’s long-awaited public coming out with a ribbon cutting and celebration. It could be the biggest bicycling infrastructure achievement in North America and yet it’s still practically a secret. Hopefully after experiencing our Streetfilm, that will change.

As you’ll see it runs eight fantastic miles through the heart of the downtown and features beautiful stone work, green landscaping and bioswales for containing stormwater runoff. There is great signage and design with an eye for maximum safety. In many places along the trail, parking and/or a car travel lane was converted to fit the lanes in. But most importantly, the trail features ample room for both cyclists and pedestrians (most of the time in separate environments) to move about in a major city whether they are commuting, exercising, running errands or just going for a afternoon jaunt.
It’s fun and very safe and people of all ages using it. It’s the kind of thing Gil Penalosa’s 8-80 Cities organization preaches to the world.

Across the U.S. we have cities such as NYC, Chicago and San Francisco doing tremendous work installing many innovative miles of protected lanes with inexpensive materials. Although the Cultural Trail cost quite a bit, it’s nice to imagine that in the near future we’ll want to make these lanes more permanent and rideable. And for that we need not look to Europe, we can go check out Indianapolis.

Note: Please don’t miss our associated Streetfilm on Indy Mayor Greg Ballard AND a short looking more in-depth at the bioswales and storm water management system along the Cultural Trail.

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.

Images of the Future of Oxnard Boulevard and Downtown

 

The following images are of a potential future Oxnard Boulevard – a future with infill, multi-story, mixed-use buildings with housing and retail at the street level along designated parts of our main street. The Oxnard Community Planning Group strongly believes that with a Complete Streets and moderate, appropriate density policy our main street and downtown will thrive. These ideas are shared by many in our community.

These images are pre-charrette and thus show a street configuration that has changed in view but not in intent. The post charrette configuration is curb-side parking on both sides and both a slow and fast lane in each direction with a median for left turns. The current tank barrier medians and other raised medians are suggested to be removed.

We are interested in your thoughts, ideas and suggestions regarding what you see below. Send us an email using the contact button above – or complete the questionnaire by clicking the Community Input tab.

The image above is looking south-east at the intersection of Oxnard Blvd and 5th. Notice that our proposals respect our landmark buildings and businesses by keeping them in our vision. There are curb extensions at each corner making it a shorter walk across the street, and the curb extensions allow for public transportation to be out of the traffic lane. The curb extensions support on street parking. Look for the left arrow/right arrow with the vertical bar and click and drag the vertical bar to see the before and after versions.

You are now looking north along Oxnard Boulevard. With wider sidewalks and canopy trees adding to the ambiance. On street activities will generate more business for local stores. The protected bike lanes are also good for business. Look for the left arrow/right arrow with the vertical bar and click and drag the vertical bar to see the before and after versions.

Here you are looking north along Oxnard Boulevard at 7th Street towards the Asahi Market. Wider sidewalks, canopy trees and curb extensions slow and calm traffic allowing the ambiance and street activities that will generate more business for local stores. Look for the left arrow/right arrow with the vertical bar and click and drag the vertical bar to see the before and after versions.

Oxnard Boulevard showing the protected bike lanes and the center divider creating a left turn lane to be used during non heavy use times. Look for the left arrow/right arrow with the vertical bar and click and drag the vertical bar to see the before and after versions.

Jul 122015
 

In a city the street must be supreme. It is the first institution of the city. The street is a room by agreement, a community room, the walls of which belong to the donors, dedicated to the city for common use. Its ceiling is the sky. Today, streets are disinterested movements not at all belonging to the houses that front them. So you have no streets. You have roads, but you have no streets.
– Louis Kahn, The Street

Streets are our most fundamental shared public spaces, but they are also one of the most contested and overlooked. Today, and for most of the last century, we have taken for granted the idea that our streets are primarily zones for cars, parking, and the transporting of goods. This has not been the case, however, throughout most of history. Across many cultures and times – since the beginning of civilization, in fact – the street has held vast social, commercial, and political significance as a powerful symbol of the public realm.

The street was “the first institution of the city,” as architect Louis Kahn once wrote, and even if we don’t always recognize it, streets are still a powerful force in shaping our physical and mental landscapes. We name them after our idols and fallen heroes—in remembrance of presidents or literary figures, civil rights leaders or old Hollywood stars. In many of our own lives and experiences, they are sites for both celebration and rebellion: Stages for summer block parties and holiday parades, they are also the place we gather to express public dissent—as with recent demonstrations following the grand jury decisions in St. Louis and New York, where millions took to the street in protest of widespread police brutality and racial injustice. When streets function well on the level of everyday experience, they provide opportunities for people to connect in a way that no other public space can.

Despite the central role they continue to play in each of our lives and memories, today’s streets are failing us on multiple scales. Our streets once functioned as multiple-use town centers, as places where children could play and where neighbors and strangers would stop for conversation, today they have become the primary and near-exclusive domain of cars.

Beyond traffic and safety issues, many of our generation’s most pressing challenges are bound in some way to our relationship with streets and the built environment: Reduced physical activity is a leading culprit of our current epidemics of obesity and chronic disease; lack of access to good places has led to widespread social isolation and depression (particularly amongst older populations); increased vehicle emissions have degraded air quality and contributed to the greenhouse gases causing climate change; and a lack of transportation options for many communities has caused uneven access to jobs, social services,  healthy food options, and community interaction.

Clearly, we need to start thinking seriously about how we can reverse these trends and begin turning streets back into places—into destinations for culture, creativity, and community. If streets have “lost their importance in terms of their share of land,” and their “prominent role in shaping the culture and history of cities,” as indicated in a 2013 UNHabitat report, then how did we move so far away from this ideal?

Making Room for Cars: A Brief History of the Motor-Centric City

When we build our landscape around places to go, we lose places to be.
– Rick Cole

Traffic and road capacity are not just inevitable fallouts of progress and growth. Rather, they are the results of deliberate plans to design and organize communities around the private automobile. When modernist architect Le Corbusier envisioned the urban street as a “machine for producing traffic” in 1924, congestion had already begun to cause serious problems in major cities like Paris and New York. “The congestion is so complete,” he wrote, “that in New York businessmen leave their automobiles in the outskirts and take the subway to the office. An amazing paradox!” His solution? Design streets solely around the car—eliminate pedestrians, wide boulevards, and sidewalk cafés altogether. Not only would this alleviate unwanted congestion, so his theory went, but it would also reduce social ills such as crime and public revolt.

In the United States, similar concerns about increasing traffic congestion in cities, which reached a climax after World War II, led to a mass expansion of national road systems. Plans for a high-speed freeway system would culminate a decade later with the 1956 Interstate Highway Act, which would erect a 42,500-mile network of high-speed, limited-access highways that linked cities from coast to coast.

As history has shown, the “freeway rush” of the following two decades would leave lasting, sometimes devastating, marks on the physical and social landscapes of the nation. Not only would highway construction actually increase traffic in residential and commercial areas, but it would also drive development away from cities. In the process, established residential neighborhoods would be divided, often destroyed in the name of “slum clearing,” and the availability and value of urban housing would decline as much of the middle-class population migrated to the suburbs. These shifts, along with the de-concentration of economic activity as it moved to the suburban periphery, worked to further disenfranchise poor and largely nonwhite inner-city communities.

In short, because of single-minded assumptions that the car was and always would be king in America, for most of the past century cities and communities have been designed to meet mobility needs rather than human needs like social interaction, physical activity, or a connection to place. We still need highways, of course. Roads that facilitate efficient travel from point A to point B are essential for the national economy, for our mobility, and for modern life writ large. But some of our streets—especially those in our cities, neighborhoods, and downtowns—need to become more multifunctional to accommodate a greater variety of activities and users.

Even though our values and demographics have shifted dramatically over the past 70 years, the planning and engineering principles we are using to design and regulate our streets and cities, by and large, have not. Unless we make some significant changes, we will continue to get the same results: a few isolated great places linked by car-dominated streets, placeless sprawl, poor physical health, social isolation, and disinvested low-income communities.

That’s the bad news.

The good news? It doesn’t have to be this way! Streets can once again become thriving, livable environments for people, not just cars. Downtown streets can become cultural destinations, not just monotonous routes to and from the workplace. Neighborhood streets can become safe play zones for children, and commercial areas can become grand boulevards that welcome pedestrians, vendors, cyclists, and drivers alike. How? By focusing on creating great places, and centralizing this process in our policy and planning frameworks. This is where Streets as Places comes in.

The Placemaking Movement Starts With Streets

When the revolution starts, there should be no question of where to go.
– Charles Moore

Streets as Places—as both an organizing concept and a strategy—can help make way for these transformations. Taking an integrative approach to the planning, design, and management of our shared public spaces, the growing Streets as Places movement is helping people begin to see streets in their entirety: not just their function in transporting people and goods, but the vital role they play in animating the social and economic life of communities. It’s not a streetscape design, it’s a process – it’s about communities owning and reclaiming their streets, participating in civic life, and having a direct impact on how their public spaces look, function, and feel.

In the last two decades, with the mobilization of numerous alliances and coalitions, we have made great strides towards improving our streets. The Smart Growth, Complete Streets, and Active Transportation movements have been instrumental in moving transportation policy to better encourage multi-modal street designs that safely accommodate a range of users. Because of the efforts of these and other groups, nearly 700 communities in the U.S. have passed Complete Streets policies and the U.S. Department of Transportation has made it a major priority to create safer streets for bicyclists and pedestrians.

This is a huge step in the right direction! Making streets safe for all modes of transport—automobile, public transit, bicycle, pedestrian—is the first step in turning streets into destinations in their own right. But for streets to truly function as public places, they have to do more than allowing people to safely walk or bike through them. When streets are great places, they encourage people to linger, to socialize, and to truly experience the unique culture and character of a particular street.

With a growing number of examples from around the globe, more and more people and institutions are realizing that access to good places is a right, not an option or privilege that only a fortunate few can enjoy. Whether it’s through the adoption of transportation initiatives (such as road diets and rightsizing, Vision Zero, or the Shared Space concept), through efforts to boost the local economy by revitalizing Main Streets and experimenting with block makeovers, or through creative Placemaking projects involving public art and community programming (like City Repair and “Paint the Pavement” projects), cities everywhere are beginning to move away from a narrow perception of streets as mere conduits for cars. On local and national levels, designers and planners, government agencies, nonprofits, community organizations, and ordinary citizens are thinking of the potential of streets to once again be livable and productive places—for bicycles, for markets, for businesses, for people.

Even in our own backyard, out the window of our Manhattan office, we at PPS watched in excitement over the past year as Lafayette Street underwent some significant transformations. A block away, one of our favorite lunch spots has just applied with the NYCDOT for a Street Seat—a 6’x25’ platform that replaces several parking spots to enable seasonal public open spaces where sidewalk seating isn’t available. We can’t wait for spring, when, if all goes according to plan, we can stroll down our street to share a meal with co-workers and neighbors, lingering together on our impromptu island as we watch the vibrant life of the street on either side of us.

As the energy surrounding Placemaking continues to gain momentum, the time is ideal for rallying around the Streets as Places movement! Together, we can turn our streets—our most vital public resources—into interactive, functional, and fulfilling places for everyone. Here are some ways you can get involved:

1. Make your own street a place. Think about ways you can improve the block where you live or work. Small measures, like planting a tree or flowers, putting out a Little Free Library in your front yard, or organizing a block party are great ways to start. Remember, if your house or building faces out onto the street, it’s part of the street and people’s experience as they pass by it.

2. Organize an Open Streets Dozens of cities across the country now regularly close their streets to cars for special events, allowing people to take advantage of the whole right-of-way. It’s a great way to help people see streets in a new light, and to open a conversation about how our streets should be used.

3. Consider “Lighter, Quicker, Cheaper” strategies to improve and activate your streets. There are many relatively low-cost, quick ways to transform your streets, from layering in public art or benches, building street seats or parklets, rightsizing projects that prioritize pedestrians, holding special events or concerts on the street, to lighting displays. For more inspiration, check out the Better Block and Tactical Urbanism projects.

4. Support small businesses that activate streets. Local shops, like hardware stores, bakeries, and coffee shops are vital places in our communities. When they’re located along a Main Street, they help encourage people to walk, enhance the local economy, and encourage neighborly interaction. Shop local, and encourage these businesses to think about how they can help enhance the street to benefit their bottom line and the neighborhood through creative window or outdoor merchandise displays, a bench or seating on the sidewalk, attractive landscaping, hosting local events, or getting involved in the local Main Street or merchant’s association.

5. Advocate for safe streets. To make people feel comfortable walking and spending time on a street, it needs first and foremost to be a safe place. Too many Americans, particularly seniors and children, are killed and injured on our streets every year. Reducing vehicle speeds and safe infrastructure for those walking and biking – sidewalks, protected bike lanes, crosswalks, and medians – are critical to making a street a place for people. Learn about the role of local transportation agencies in street design and how you can effectively impact these processes by downloading PPS’s “Citizen’s Guide to Better Streets” here. It’s free!

6. Ask your local transportation departments and elected officials to support measures that recognize streets as places for people. Streets should be safe for people to walk and to bike; they can have places to gather together; they should highlight local talent and can close to vehicles during special celebrations or for market days. Check out PPS’s ‘What Makes a Great Place?’ to help diagnose how your community’s streets stack up.

7. Think Beyond the Station. Bring life to local transit stops! People waiting for the bus or metro deserve better than standing next to a pole without any seat or shelter. With some basic amenities and creative design, transit stops can be places where people actually want to spend time.

8. Get involved in local projects and groups. There are efforts in every community across the country already working to create better streets for people, including biking and walking organizations, smart growth groups, and Main Street associations. Join one and ask how you can help.

9. Celebrate success! Nominate a “Great Street” to our updated Great Public Spaces web resource. Is there a street in your community, or that you’ve encountered in your travels, that deserves recognition? Let us know! Help us in generating an ongoing conversation about the important role of Streets as Places in communities across the world. Submit your story and image(s) here!

10. Join PPS this spring for our Streets as Places training event. Learn more and register for the April session here!

The exciting Streets as Places movement is still a work-in-progress, and it is always being redefined and reimagined. Help keep the conversation going by sending us your feedback and ideas! What do streets mean to you, and what are the features that make a street truly great? By taking small steps to activate the streets in our own cities and neighborhoods, together we can affect real change in reclaiming our right to this dynamic public space.

To the streets, everyone!


Written by Annah MacKenzie.

Original article.