2 Studies: SubUrban Sprawl Adds Pounds, Pollution

by Eric Pryne

Seattle Times

January 26, 2006

 

 

Residents of King County’s less-walkable neighborhoods – can you say sprawl? – are more likely to be overweight, a recently completed study concludes.

Another related study has found, perhaps not surprisingly, that people who live and work in those neighborhoods generate more auto-related air pollution, another potential threat to health.

The two studies’ findings are summarized in the winter edition of the peer-reviewed Journal of the American Planning Association. The authors, who collaborated in their research, say their work constitutes the most comprehensive look yet at the link between urban-development patterns and human health in a single metropolitan area.

Earlier research has raised the possibility of a connection between sprawl, obesity and other health problems. The King County results suggest “current laws and regulations are producing negative health outcomes,” the authors warn.

“None of this is saying suburbia is bad,” said Lawrence Frank, an urban-planning professor at the University of British Columbia and co-author of both studies. “It just says these are the relationships you get … and they should be taken into account.”

A top aide to King County Executive Ron Sims said the county already has adopted some changes as a result of the studies and is planning more.

The research isn’t likely to end the debate over sprawl and health.

“If you’re listing things that impact obesity, neighborhood design would be maybe 10th on my list,” said Tim Attebury, King County manager for the Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish Counties. “I would put McDonald’s and too much TV way in front of neighborhood design.”

But Frank and co-author James Sallis, a health psychologist at San Diego State University, said the two new studies go beyond previous work in showing that development patterns can have a significant impact on health even when taking into account other variables such as age, income, education and ethnicity.

The walkability factor

For both studies, researchers ranked neighborhoods using a “walkability index” that included such factors as residential density, the number of street connections, and the mix of homes, stores, parks and schools. All are believed to influence how much people walk.

In one study, funded by the National Institutes of Health, researchers surveyed and monitored about 75 adults in each of 16 King County neighborhoods. Eight neighborhoods, including Upper Queen Anne and White Center, scored high on the walkability index; the other eight, including Kent’s East Hill and part of Sammamish, scored low.

Each group of eight included four wealthier and four lower-income neighborhoods.

On average, researchers found, the Body Mass Index – a measure of height and weight – of residents of the more walkable neighborhoods was lower, and they were more likely to get the U.S. Surgeon General’s recommended 30 minutes of daily exercise.

In the second study, funded by the Federal Transit Administration, King County and other local governments, researchers estimated the auto-related pollution generated by about 6,000 King County residents who kept detailed records of their travel for two days in 1999 as part of another study.

Again, people who lived and worked in more walkable neighborhoods produced fewer pollutants associated with smog, the study found.

Surprising finding

After subjecting the data to statistical analysis, Frank said, researchers were surprised to learn that even small changes in neighborhood design can make a difference.

A 5 percent increase in a neighborhood’s walkability index, for instance, was associated with a 0.23-point drop in Body Mass Index. For someone 6 feet tall, that’s a difference of less than 2 pounds, but Frank said bigger changes in a neighborhood’s walkability would be expected to produce greater differences in weight.

The presence or absence of stores, parks, schools and other destinations within a quarter- to a half-mile of home appears to be the most important factor in how much people walk, he said.

Karen Wolf, a senior policy analyst in Sims’ office, said that as a result of the studies, the county already has amended the policies that guide its planning to make health a priority.

County officials also are working on a checklist to rate development projects’ impact on health, she said.

In White Center, one of three neighborhoods that Frank and other researchers studied in detail, Wolf said the county has rezoned property to encourage “mixed-use” development that allows both housing and shops, and is seeking a grant to develop an inviting walkway between a redeveloped housing project and the community’s business district.

“The whole idea is to make walking something you don’t even think about,” she said. “It’s part of your everyday life.”

 

A Realizable Smart Growth Vision

by Rick Cole

 

The Planning Report, Los Angeles CA, Dec/Jan 2005

Rick Cole, currently the City Manager of Ventura, has been for years a leading Southern California voice for good government and planning. Rick has been City Manager of Azusa, and before that served as Mayor of Pasadena. TPR is pleased to publish excerpts from a recent speech he delivered in November as part of the USC School of Policy, Planning, and Development’s Urban Growth Seminar lecture series, titled “Smart Growth in Southern California: How Pasadena Made It Happen; How Ventura Will Make It Happen.”

 

I want to start with a disclaimer. This is not about planning. This is not about architecture. This is about vision. I am in awe of the kind of people who understand the planning and the architectural elements that go into smart growth. But the reality is we’re not going to get smart growth in Southern California (or anywhere else) until there is an alternative vision of smart growth that is as compelling as the suburban vision that has animated public policy and popular imagination since World War II.

I am convinced that the places that offer that vision, that alternative model, will change the world. Because the stakes are not about Southern California. In Southern California, there are seven parking spaces for every car, and there are more cars than there are registered drivers. This is a problem. But in China, when they end up with more cars than registered drivers – if they follow our pattern of development and put seven parking spaces for every car, that’s eight billion parking spaces. That’s not a problem; that is an ecological and social catastrophe. If we cannot fix the way we live and build in Southern California, the mother of sprawl, we will be responsible for a worldwide economic meltdown. So we have an opportunity and a responsibility. And I think we can change the world one city at a time.

…What happened [when Pasadena collaborated on a new General Plan in 1992] was little short of miraculous, because we stopped asking the question, “Should we grow?” which is a question that bedevils all of Southern California. It turns out that “Should we grow?” is a really stupid question, because we’ve been growing for 100 years and no one has figured out how to stop growth. Instead, when we shifted the question from whether we should grow to “How we should grow?” and “Where we should grow?” two things happened. One, a lot of the polarizations literally melted like snow in the spring. Second, a lot of the people who had been ready to strangle each other suddenly found themselves fast friends. The people all agreed that growth ought to happen in the places where growth would benefit neighborhoods that were either worn out through disinvestment or neighborhoods that had infrastructure capacity and vacant land, and not in low-density, healthy, intact neighborhoods. Once we figured out the “where,” then the “how” was something we now call “smart growth.”

…You can’t beat sprawl without an alternative vision. In Pasadena, the alternative vision was called “Imagine a Greater City.” The seven principles were written specifically so that people could understand them. Literally these 85 words that articulate the seven principles were the words that people voted on. The ballot said: “Shall the voters of the City of Pasadena adopt a new General Plan, based upon the following seven principles?” The majority of the citizens of Pasadena checked “yes” to these seven principles at the November 1992 election – the highest voter turnout until this last November.

…The lessons from Pasadena that apply to Ventura and other communities begin with asking the right questions. It’s not copying Pasadena’s plan, nor even the seven principles. Not every place wants to have a downtown like Old Pasadena. Some places want to be towns, some places want to be cities, and some places need to be metropolises. This is something about New Urbanism that gets really mangled by proponents and opponents alike. Opponents particularly seize on the claim: “New Urbanism is all about higher density!” “It’s all about one way of doing things!” It’s not. Smart growth is about choices. It’s about appropriate choices. There’s a place in the polycentric fabric of Southern California for a variety of places – for towns, for regional centers, and for the metropolitan center of Los Angeles. And Pasadena knows its place. It is to be the Paris of the West San Gabriel Valley.

…Here’s the problem: We keep trying to do smart growth projects in a “dumb growth” landscape. And we wonder why they don’t work. It’s like trying to run Microsoft Word on an Apple computer. We get all these error messages, and it’s really frustrating. And yet, we keep trying to do smart growth projects. Instead, we have to establish a new operating system…New Urbanism. It’s an integrated approach to landscape. It’s made up, not of projects, but of streets and corridors and neighborhoods and districts. It’s a comprehensive alternative to the suburban sprawl model. It works. But you can’t just take pieces of it and make it work. You have to replace the auto-oriented suburban model we have now with a new operating system.

…What are the key elements of smart growth in Ventura? The battle is over when it comes to deciding whether we’re going to pave over the farmlands, pave over the hillsides, or pave over the greenbelts. The voters have decided: we’re not going to do it. That means, we either grow smart or we don’t grow at all. It’s that simple. And “where” we’re going to grow smart is on our Westside and in Midtown and Downtown. The Westside is an older urban area that cries out for revitalization. Midtown has a strong urban grid of stable neighborhoods, but with really ugly strip corridors. Downtown has come back strongly in recent years. Everyone agrees these are the right places to grow.

There is beginning to be consensus that says we’ve got these corridors, these long strip streets that have an old Burger King, and a used car lot, and a vacant lot, and a little tiny office building, and a strip of one-story retail stores. That all needs to be replaced with handsome boulevard housing. There’s a crying need for workforce housing. That will be tough at first, because there are neighbors to those corridors, and they will think that it’s more dumb growth. But if we show it can be done right and we do it right a few times, it will actually spread very rapidly.

In Ventura, an essential element of smart growth is “green” building. It’s not enough to just do growth in the right place, but to do growth that is environmentally sustainable. That’s particularly true in existing suburban areas. The real battleground at the moment is traditional neighborhood design. Again, as in Pasadena, it’s critically important to respect the history of what’s already there. We learned how to build cities for 4000 years of human history, and then in 1945 we forgot, and we went through 50 years of amnesia, and listening to false prophets. We have got to relearn some of the basic ways in which cities were built. That does not mean that there’s no place for modern architecture, or for new design. But it simply means that human beings still need doors, they still like windows, they still walk.

…A critical piece of New Urbanism is that there’s no such thing as “one size fits all.” You don’t want to put a skyscraper next to low-density residential. You don’t want to put low-density residential in the middle of a downtown. There’s a place for everything, and everything in its place. And that has all kinds of beneficent outcomes… Again, you can’t just do projects that are called “smart growth” where you paint a bike lane and proclaim: “You have the opportunity to ride a bike.” You have to make neighborhoods and cities bike-friendly again, and people-friendly again, and transit-friendly again.

For those of us who advocate smart growth, the most important problem is that everything we believe in is illegal in 50 states. I want to make this clear: It’s illegal to do smart growth. It’s illegal in every city in California except Azusa, which last year unanimously passed a smart growth General Plan. All this stuff has to be jammed through by exception, by variance, by creativity, by pounding on developers, by incredibly brilliant and tenacious developers who try to move things through. It’s illegal. And the only way to fix that is to repeal the laws that make it illegal.

I know I sometimes sound like sort of a desperate guy in the 12th hour of a filibuster. “You’re talking about repealing zoning? What planet are you from?” I’m from the planet Earth. And for the last 50 years we’ve been taken over by aliens: people who don’t understand how to build for people. The idea that instead of walking a block to get a loaf of bread, you should have to drive three miles to get a loaf of bread is a fundamentally alien idea. We have to change the codes. We have to abolish the zoning strictures that make it illegal to put natural human activities in close proximity.

You know, we have this weird new phrase, “mixed use.” It’s like “horseless carriage.” Remember when cars first got started, nobody had a word for cars, so they called them “horseless carriages.” Well, it’s the same with “mixed-use development.” Do any of you live in a house or an apartment? Those would be called “mixed-room development.” But in the world of zoning, the bathroom would be six blocks away. The bedroom would be on the other side of the freeway, because you wouldn’t want the bedroom close to the kitchen, because they might rub off on each other. And you wouldn’t want to have high-income bedrooms next to low-income bedrooms. So the kids would have to sleep somewhere else, because they don’t make as much money as you do.

The phrase “mixed use” is an exotic, weird thing – yet that’s the way human beings have lived since we started building cities. “Mixed use” is redundant. “Segregated use” is the problem. But that’s what is legal, what’s required, in 50 states. Instead of legalizing mixed use, we need to abolish the zoning codes that make mixed use the exception. It should be the rule.

Now, there are a number of developers here. And my message is very simple: it is the responsibility of the local community to set quality rules. We need to figure out what we want, and offer developers a clear code on what that looks like. There ought to be one door to City Hall, and there ought to be a sign next to the door: “This is what is allowed.” If you look at our code and you want to build it, then by all means, come on in and we’ll give you a permit. It shouldn’t take years. It should take six months. If you want to build quality, you should get a permit promptly. If you aren’t interested in quality, you should have to wait forever. You should never get a permit. Even if you lobby or go to lunch with people or make campaign contributions or schmooze with neighbors, you will never get a cruddy project through, because cruddy projects should be against the law.

…2500 years ago, the original people who invented democracy and built pretty cool cities understood that making great places is everybody’s job. It’s not a planner’s job or a politician’s job or an administrator’s job or an architect’s job. It’s a citizen’s job to build great places. It’s everybody’s job. And when you became a citizen of Athens, you had to swear that you were going to leave the place better and more beautiful than you found it. I think that’s the basis of democracy. I think that’s the basis of building cool cities. And I think that’s the basis of saving China from building 8 billion parking spaces.

 

The High Costs of Sprawl

Sacramento Business Journal – Nov. 14, 2005

 

Study: Sprawl costs billions; Sacramento area pays high price Residents of the area centered on Sacramento will pay $57,093 per person by 2025 to cover the additional costs caused by sprawling development, second only to Las Vegas among U.S. economic centers that face the sprawl problem, a new book asserts.

The Sacramento “economic area,” made up of the traditional metro area plus neighboring rural counties, is No. 14 in the U.S. when ranked by sprawl costs, the authors say. The markets facing the highest costs are Los Angeles, Washington/Baltimore and the San Francisco Bay area, with costs associated with sprawl estimated at $535 billion, $384 billion and $378 billion respectively for the period from 2000 through 2025.

But while the total cost for Sacramento is $129.8 billion over that same span, the cost per person is much higher. Only Las Vegas — No. 15 in overall sprawl costs at $109.2 billion — had a higher per-capita cost, at $72,697 per person.

The authors of “Sprawl Costs: Economic Impacts of Unchecked Development” tapped the results of 10 years of research to conclude that shifting to more compact forms of development could save billions of dollars over time.

“Sprawl has direct and quantifiable costs to our economy and in our individual lives,” said Robert Burchell, co-author of the book and co-director of the Center for Urban Policy Research at Rutgers University.

“We are all paying a staggering price for sprawling development in this country, and that price will only go up as gas prices increase,” Burchell said. “Sprawling communities need longer public roads, increase the cost of new water and sewer hookups by 20 percent to 40 percent, impose higher costs on police and fire departments and schools, and more. These costs are passed on to businesses and residents through higher taxes and fees and sometimes through fewer public services. And in most cases, sprawling developments do not generate enough property taxes to cover these added costs.”

The additional costs amount to some $84 million a day nationwide, the authors concluded.

But shifting 25 percent of the anticipated low-density growth to more compact forms would save billions in the years ahead, the book said. Such a shift in the Sacramento area would translate to savings of $8.2 billion, or more than $3,600 per person, by the study’s calculation.

Planners in this region have been working to encourage more compact and transit-oriented development through a variety of means, including the Blueprint Project coordinated by the Sacramento Area Council of Governments .

Along with Burchell, the authors are Anthony Downs, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution; Barbara McCann, a transportation and land use policy writer; and Sahan Mukherji, research associate at the Rutgers center.

 

Auto Apartheid

by Joel Hirschhorn

Grist Magazine

October 2005

 

 

Analyses of the failure of all levels of government to prevent or effectively manage the Katrina calamity in New Orleans have generally missed a crucial point. Alongside bias against poor people and African-Americans is automobile apartheid, born of fifty years of suburban sprawl. First-class citizens drive motor vehicles, second-class Americans walk, cycle, or ride public transit. Certainly many of the latter are poor, but millions more are middle-class Americans.

When emergency response largely ignores the plight of second-class citizens, no one should be surprised.

Automobile apartheid means anyone who wants mobility through walking, cycling, or public transportation suffers discrimination in a built environment designed for automobiles. In the past 20 years, as automobile addiction has increased, sprawl has run rampant, the number of trips people take by walking has decreased by more than 42 percent, and obesity has skyrocketed.

Personal freedom and independence should mean more than the ability to go wherever one wants, whenever one wants. Americans should also have the freedom to travel how they want. When cars are the only option, freedom is diminished.

Government has largely ignored public safety for second-class citizens. In the past 25 years some 175,000 pedestrians have been killed on America’s roadways. Though Americans make less than 5 percent of their trips on foot, 12 percent of all traffic fatalities are pedestrians. Some 60 percent of those deaths occur in places where no crosswalk is available.

Though few students walk to school, in 1999 nearly 900 children ages 14 and under were killed and 25,000 injured in pedestrian accidents with vehicles. Each year about 175 children are killed by vehicles in between school and home.

And there is bad news at the other end of the age spectrum: Americans 70 and over suffer the highest rate of pedestrian fatalities.

Sprawl-intense Sunbelt areas are the most dangerous for pedestrians. Atlanta’s pedestrian fatality rate increased 13 percent from 1994 to 1998, and the 1998 rate was over twice that in Portland, Ore., New York City, and Philadelphia.

Automobile apartheid also has a social-justice dimension. The Atlanta pedestrian-death rate was 4 per 100,000 for African-Americans, 10 for Hispanics, and less than 2 for Caucasians.

While New Orleans’ illustration of automobile apartheid stands out, government officials have long enforced it in more subtle ways. The traffic-studies chief of Prince George’s County, Maryland once said: “The street should be strictly for cars.” New York City’s Department of Transportation deactivated 77 percent of the pedestrian walk-push buttons at intersections and left the signs telling pedestrians to use them. For 25 years cars whizzed by hapless pedestrians waiting for a useless walk button to stop traffic.

In early 2003, Georgia’s Department of Transportation disclosed it was against having trees between sidewalks and streets because sidewalks are “auto recovery zones.” The commissioner said “the protection of intermittent foot traffic should not come at the expense of a motorist’s life.” Apparently air bags and seat belts are not good enough for first-class citizens.

Though we know how to make safer streets for pedestrians through traffic-calming techniques, most governments spend a paltry sum on this compared to road maintenance and expansion. A five-year study in Oakland, Calif. found that > children living within one block of a speed hump are 50 to 60 percent less likely to be injured by a car than those whose streets lacked humps. Oakland installed 1,600 speed humps and child-pedestrian deaths and injuries dropped 15 percent from 1995 to 2003.

Reducing vehicle speeds is nearly always a low priority relative to moving traffic. Yet the probability of a pedestrian being killed when struck by a vehicle traveling at 15 mph is just 3.5 percent. It rises to 37 percent at 31 mph and 83 percent at 44 mph. If streets are to serve people, car speeds must be reliably reduced.

Long before the recent spike in gasoline prices, millions of Americans abandoned sprawl and sought homes near transit stations, closer to work, and in pedestrian-friendly communities. Now we need government to fairly serve all citizens: Reduce subsidies for automobiles and focus more on public transit.

The Victoria Transport Policy Institute analyzed rail transit in the U.S. and found that its economic benefits ($53 billion) were roughly four times higher than the total cost of national subsidies ($12.5 billion). In Portland, Ore., 75 percent of light-rail riders say they could drive but choose transit. In Salt Lake City, 45 percent of light-rail riders were new to public transit; in Denver it was 39 percent.

Americans are smarter than their elected representatives. A 2004 national survey by Associated Press found that 51 percent of respondents judged public transportation a higher priority for government than building roads; 46 percent favored roads. In the congested Atlanta region, a survey found 61 percent think the long-term cure for traffic congestion is expanding mass transit and creating communities that allow for shorter trips; just 22 percent supported new road building.

Let those Americans who choose to stick to heavy-vehicle use deal with traffic congestion and high costs. Give others an opportunity to break their automobile addiction.

 

Context-Sensitive Street Design Literature

By Dom Nozzi, AICP

Too often, traffic engineering guidelines for a community takes a “one size fits all” approach. Such an approach nearly always adopts suburban, car-happy design as the default approach. Unfortunately, this severe restriction on freedom of travel and lifestyle choice means, to paraphrase Henry Ford, that you can choose any form of travel and lifestyle as long as it is suburban and car-dependent.

Since there will always be a meaningful number of citizens in our communities who seek not the suburban choice but the walkable, urban lifestyle (or neighborhoods that are safe for children, seniors and pets), it is essential that the traffic design manual contain tools sufficient to provide for the street design needed to create walkable, human-scaled places.

In recent years, the emerging term used to refer to this customize-able approach is the “context-sensitive” street design. Such design recognizes that once a high-speed suburban or highway design enters a community, a neighborhood, or a special, walkable district, it needs to transition into a more human-scaled design that obligates cars to drive in a slower, safer, more courteous and aware manner. The following are recommended citations for context-sensitive design for streets.

1. “Traffic Engineering for Neo-Traditional Neighborhood Design,” Feb. 1994. An Informational Report of the Institute of Transportation Engineers.

2. “Street Connectivity in Practice”, Planners Advisory Service Report #515 from the American Planning Association.

3. “Pedestrian Facilities User Guide” by FHA of the USDOT, March 2002.

4. “Street Standards” by Southworth & Ben-Joseph. APA Journal Winter 1995.

5. “The Design of Traditional Neighborhood Streets” by Rick Chellman, 9/98, from the Seaside Institute.

6. “Traditional Neighborhood Development — street design guidelines” by ITE, June 1997.

7. “AASHTO (2001) and the Urban Arterial” by Peter Swift. 2003. From Swift and Associates, Longmont CO.

8. “Traditional Neighborhood Development — street design guidelines.” NCDOT Div. of Hwys. TND Guidelines. 8/00. Raleigh NC.

8. “Street-type matrix” Portland OR. 10/02.

9. “Changing the Residential Street Scene” by Eran Ben-Joseph. APA Journal Autumn 1995.

10. “Neighborhood Street Design Guidelines” Vancouver WA SE Neighborhood Traffic Mgmt Plan. 10/03.

11. “Mobility-Friendly Street Standards for Delaware” by Reid Ewing. Urban Street Symposium Conference Proceedings: Dallas. 12/00.

12. “Urban Design Guidelines.” City of Raleigh NC. Draft 6.6.01

13. “Central Florida Mobility Design Manual.” Prepared for Lynx by Glattening, Jackson. 1994/1995 edition.

14. “The Hidden Design in Land Use Ordinances.” Edited by Paula M. Craighead. March 1991.

15. “Twelve Steps Toward Community Walkability” by FDOT Safety Office. Pedestrian Facilities Planning and Design Training Course. Undated.

16. “Design Highlights: Traditional Neighborhood Development District” by Tunnel-Spangler & Associates for the City of Oak Ridge TN. 11/01.

 

The Merits of New Urbanism

By Dom Nozzi, AICP

The standards and principles of new urbanism are designed to make areas more livable, more vibrant, and more people-oriented, and to build community pride in the city and the work of its developers.

The people-oriented, traditional areas of the city share a number of desirable characteristics that provide us with many benefits. We should strive to preserve, celebrate, encourage and emulate how these areas are designed because of such benefits. For example, a traditionally designed city provides the following benefits:

Gives people without access to a car, such as children, the elderly, and the disabled, more safety and independence in their world.

Enhances urban livability, which reduces the desire to flee to the suburbs, which, in turn, reduces the pressure for costly sprawl and strip commercial development.

Substantially reduces government and household costs — especially because of the enormous savings in the building and maintaining of road infrastructure, and the purchase and maintenance of cars.

Reduces the need for travel.

Helps retain historic structures instead of replacing them with parking or large suburban retail “boxes””

Features streets designed to slow traffic. It increases travel choices and reduces the length and number of vehicle trips.

Makes neighborhoods more memorable and dignified.

Contains structures built for permanence, instead of structures designed, as too many contemporary structures are, for a short-term “throw-away” life.

Integrates income groups by mixing housing types and providing a public realm available to all incomes.

Makes walking feel more enjoyable.

Is not characterized as much by strip commercial visual blight.

Increases citizen access to culture.

Creates a good environment for smaller, locally-owned businesses to become established and to operate in.

Puts “eyes on the street” and promotes “citizen surveillance” of public places where citizens watch over their collective security, crime is reduced, as are public law enforcement costs.

Stabilizes, reinforces the identity of, and improves the value of nearby older neighborhoods.

Preserves and promotes community character.

Promotes neighborhood and community self-sufficiency and, therefore, sustainabilty.

Reduces per capita gasoline consumption and air pollution.

Coupled with regulations that are designed to promote and preserve its features, restores the traditional citizen hope and expectation for a better future with each new development in the city, and, in so doing, reduces the extreme polarization between developers and neighborhoods.

Provides affordable housing options.

Creates a sense of place, a sense of community, a sense of belonging and restores civic pride and place-based loyalty.

Strikes a balance between the needs of the car and the needs of the pedestrian. It creates a pedestrian ambiance and interesting pedestrian features, and makes the pedestrian feel safe, convenienced, and comfortable.

Creates a good environment for smaller, locally-owned businesses to become established and to operate in.

Increases transit viability, primarily through density, access, traffic calming, community-serving facilities, compactness, mixed use and pedestrian amenities.

Currently, developers are often reviled and their developments feared. This is manifested in the contemporary epidemic of NIMBYs (not in my backyard), NIMTOOs (not in my term of office), BANANAs (build absolutely nothing anywhere near anything), and NOPEs (not on planet earth). Largely, these attitudes have emerged because since WWII, developers and cities have sought to make cars instead of people happy.

Typically, American suburbs are characterized by this design. Suburban design features:

Large setbacks that are inconvenient for pedestrians and fail to define a comfortable public realm

Large parking lots in front of buildings

Large street blocks with no cross access or connecting streets

Buildings with their backs or sides turned toward the street. Instead of an entrance or windows, the pedestrian is confronted with blank walls, air compressors, dumpsters, and long walks to the building

Pedestrian-hostile features that are designed to promote car use, such as drive-throughs, single-use zoning, segregation of land uses, and “armoring” with fences and walls

To make Gainesville a safer, more livable place, and to increase citizen pride in its developments, the new urbanist standards are designed to primarily promote the health, safety, and welfare of pedestrians, while still accommodating the needs of the car. More specifically, the design is intended to make the pedestrian feel:

Safe and secure

Convenienced

Pleasant and comfortable

With enhanced safety, livability, civic pride, and visual appeal in these older parts of the city, the city will establish an important engine in job recruitment and a strengthened tax base. A downtown that adheres to these standards will be a city that provides an important incubator for new, entrepreneurial, locally-owned small businesses and entry-level job opportunities. A healthy downtown also protects the property values of surrounding residential areas.

Some Principles of New Urbanism

Build-To Line

Overly large setbacks are inconvenient and unpleasant for pedestrians. They are inconvenient because they can significantly increase walking distances from the public sidewalk. They are unpleasant because they prevent the pedestrian on the public sidewalk from enjoying the building details and the activity within the building. In addition, they prevent the building from contributing to an intimate, pleasant, comfortable street wall, which harms the sense of place and makes the pedestrian feel as if she or he is in “no man’s land.” Buildings pulled up to the street sidewalk have more of a human scale. The intent of a build-to line is to pull the building facade up to the street to abut the streetside sidewalk. By doing so, building facades along a block face will be aligned to form a street wall that frames the public realm, while retaining sufficient width for people to walk, and sufficient space to provide a formal landscape created by the shade of street trees. The street wall shapes the public realm to provide a sense of comfort and security for the public space.

Building Height of At Least Two Stories

“Low-slung” one-story buildings are more appropriate in low-density residential areas designed for motor vehicle travel. They reduce the density and intensity needed to make transit, walking, and bicycling viable, and typically are too low in profile to form a desirable, intimate, comfortable public realm with facing buildings across the street. They also reduce the opportunity to create mixed-use buildings containing, typically, both commercial and residential uses. Low-rise multi-story buildings two to five stories in height are an important component of the compact, walkable city. The building profile forms the desired street wall and the additional stories allow the establishment of the number of residents needed for a viable urban neighborhood.

Parking Located at the Rear or Side of Building Instead of in Front

Parking areas located in front of buildings are inconvenient and unpleasant for pedestrians. They are inconvenient because they significantly increase walking distances from the public sidewalk. They are unpleasant because they often make for hot expanses of areas to walk in, prevent the pedestrian on the public sidewalk from enjoying the building details and the activity within the building, and increase safety problems since pedestrians must dodge cars in the parking area. In addition, they prevent the building from contributing to an intimate, pleasant, comfortable street wall, which harms the sense of place and makes the pedestrian feel as if she or he is in “no man’s land.” Buildings pulled up to the street without intervening motor vehicle parking have more of a human scale.

Hidden Trash and Recycling Receptacles and Loading Docks

Trash and recycling receptacles and loading docks typically provide an unsightly appearance and an odor problem for pedestrians. In addition, improperly located and improperly screened receptacles and docks can cause noise problems for nearby land uses when the receptacles and packages are being loaded or unloaded. Therefore, they should be located as far from public sidewalks as possible and screened from view.

Sidewalks Sufficiently Wide and Aligned for Convenience

Sidewalks, when properly dimensioned and maintained, can provide the pedestrian with a pleasant, safe, and convenient place to walk. Sidewalks that are too narrow are inconvenient, especially in areas with large volumes of pedestrians, pedestrians walking side-by-side (which requires a minimum sidewalk width of five feet unobstructed), and people using wheelchairs. In addition, sidewalks that must wrap around large block faces are a serious impediment to pedestrian convenience.

Building Oriented to the Street, Instead of Turning Its Back to It

A successful commercial establishment is designed to provide convenience for customers by minimizing walking distances from public sidewalks and nearby buildings. Rear or side entrances, or entrances oriented toward a parking lot, make travel highly inconvenient for pedestrians and transit users. Such a design also cuts the building off from street life. In addition, a building with its main entrance directed away from the primary sidewalk and street “turns its back” to the public realm, reduces urban vibrancy, and is harmful to promoting street life. When a building is located at an intersection, the most convenient entrance is usually abutting the public sidewalks at the corner of the intersection. Often, the most convenient sidewalk is formally aligned diagonally and aligned straight to minimize walking distance.

Facade Treatment Creates Interest for Pedestrians

All building shall be designed to provide interest for pedestrians. Long expanses of blank walls tend to be boring and unattractive for the pedestrian. In addition, windows attract pedestrians, which act as a security system for the business. Buildings without such relief and interest tend to create a “massive scale”, and makes the public realm impersonal. Such an appearance is inconsistent with the “human-scaled” and pedestrian-oriented character of the a traditional area of a city, and inconsistent with a city intent to restore such character to the traditional city area.

Hidden Outdoor Mechanical Equipment

Outdoor mechanical equipment, such as heating or AC units, when improperly located on a site or improperly screened, can contribute to noise problems and create visual blight.

Formal Landscaping

In the traditional, pedestrian-oriented areas of a city, landscaping should be used both to soften the “hardness” of the urban area for the pedestrian, and make the pedestrian feel more comfortable by providing cooling, reducing glare and helping to form public spaces, “outdoor rooms,” and street corridor edges. Such formality of landscaping adds dignity to the traditional area of a city, instead of a chaotic one, thereby inspiring a sense of civic pride.

Properly Scaled Lighting

Lighting can often detract from the intimate, pleasant, romantic character a city seeks to promote in the traditional, pedestrian-oriented areas of a city. But lighting designed for cars tends to be not human-scaled. Lights on tall fixtures cause light pollution by casting light into areas not needed by pedestrians. In addition, the lights present a poor, bleached out atmosphere as the pedestrian views an area from afar, and hides the nighttime sky completely. A new urbanist, pedestrian-oriented street lighting design features shorter and more numerous light fixtures and structures.

Prohibited Auto-Oriented Uses

Certain uses are oriented toward or designed to attract motor vehicles, and therefore contribute to danger, visual blight, inconvenience, and lack of human scale for pedestrians. Therefore, such uses are not compatible with the a people-friendly downtown area.

Alleys

Alleys allow the developer to place garages, driveways, waste receptacles, and overhead utilities in a less conspicuous location away from the public street and therefore less likely to detract from the pedestrian ambiance of the neighborhood. Alleys also provide an additional location for emergency vehicles to gain access to a building, and a relatively safe place for children to play.

Front Porches

When they are set back a modest (“conversational”) distance from the sidewalk, porches allow persons to sit on their porch and interact and socialize with their neighbors. They therefore add safety (by putting “eyes on the street”) and friendliness to the street. As a result, porches contribute to an enjoyable walk by pedestrians in the neighborhood.

Narrow Streets

Narrow streets force cars and trucks to travel slowly through the neighborhood, which significantly contributes to neighborhood safety, low noise levels, low traffic volumes and, therefore neighborhood livability.

Mixed Housing Types

Mixed housing types provide the neighborhood with a mixed income environment, since the mixed types provide a range of housing affordability. Mixed housing types enable lower income workers to live within walking distance of their jobs, instead of creating traffic problems by being forced to commute by car to their jobs.

Transit Links

When a neighborhood contains — or is near — safe, pleasant, and convenient bus stops, a larger number of trips are made by bus, which reduces excessive neighborhood trips to and from the neighborhood by car. This provides more transportation choice, enhances neighborliness, and reduces household transportation costs (every car a household can shed saves the household the equivalent of the monthly home mortgage payment on a $51,000 house, at 10 percent interest).

On-Street Parking

Buffers pedestrians from vehicle travel. Narrows the street in order to slow traffic to a safer, more livable speed. Provides convenient parking locations for nearby businesses. Allows businesses and residences to reduce the amount of off-street, on-site parking, which reduces the “heat island” effect and enhances urban vibrancy by improving the public realm.

Mixed Use

Reduces trip distances to the point where walking, bicycling, and bus trips are much more feasible for a number of different types of trips. Adds to neighborhood and urban vibrancy by increasing the number of places people can meet — such as a pub, on the way to work or a civic event, a grocery store, a fitness center, etc. Provides children with more of an awareness of community land uses other than parks, residences, and schools.

Resessed Garages

Enhances the neighborhood walking environment for the pedestrian. Houses appear people-oriented and interesting to walk along, instead of sending a strong message that “a car lives here.”

Narrow, Smaller Lots

Provides a more compact, walkable arrangement of houses. Provides a more pleasing alignment of houses along the streetside sidewalk, which enhances civic pride in the neighborhood and makes the residential street seem more “cozy.” Blocks are reduced in size, which makes the neighborhood more walkable. Narrower lots increase the frequency of front doors along the street, which greatly enhances the vibrancy of the street. Houses appear to be associated in a neighborly way, instead of isolated and cocooned from the neighborhood. Smaller lots also make home ownership in such a subdivision more affordable. In addition, the higher, yet livable, density that smaller lots provide makes transit more viable.

Connected Streets

Makes walking, bicycling, and using the bus more feasible by significantly reducing trip distances and increasing the number of safe and pleasant routes for such travellers. Provides motorists and emergency service vehicles with more “real time” route choices. A route that is impeded or blocked can be avoided in favor of a clear route, which is not possible on a cul-de-sac. In combination with the fact that connected streets distribute vehicle trips more evenly, real time route choices on connected streets reduce congestion on collector or arterial roads. As a result of this distribution, there is little or no need for neighborhood-hostile collectors or arterials, which, because of the volume and speed of vehicle trips they carry, are unpleasant for residences to locate along.

Terminated Vistas

A concept in which a prominent building is placed at the “visual termination” of a street. Provides dignity and prominence to important civic buildings, such as post offices, libraries, city halls, churches, convention centers and performing arts centers. Sends the message that the building is an important place for the community. In addition, terminated vistas make walking more pleasant by giving the pedestrian a “goal” to walk toward. The walk therefore does not seem endless. It also provides an impressive view to strive to reach. Such vistas also make trips more memorable by helping to orient a person as to their location in the community.

Livable, higher densities

The conventional way in which we address land use conflicts is to put distance between conflicting activities, and minimize the number of dwelling units per acre. But this does little to encourage land users to reduce the damage they do to the environment. Also, by segregating uses, we increase the amount people have to travel by car, which itself reduces the quality of the urban and natural environment.

By contrast, the more compact, higher density “new urbanist” development reduces trip length; and makes bicycling, transit, and walking more viable. For these reasons, compact development generates about half as much vehicle travel as does sprawl development, making such a land use strategy one of the most effective in reducing auto dependence.

Minimum densities necessary for a viable bus system are approximately eight dwelling units per acre. Newman and Kenworthy indicate that only when densities exceed 7,000 to 8,000 persons per square mile (Gainesville’s density is currently 2,000 per square mile) do mixed land uses and shorter travel distances become predominant enough to significantly reduce auto dependence. These researchers note that a dramatic reduction in per capita gasoline consumption occurs when population density reaches 12 to 16 persons per acre. “Low density land use ensures almost total dependence on automobiles, enormous travel distances, no effective public transit, and little possibility of walking or [bi]cycling. Below five or six people per acre, a city almost ceases to exist, and requires enormous transportation energy to hold the scattered parts together.”

A recent study found that distance is the most widely cited reason for not walking more often, thereby showing the importance of compact development as a strategy to encourage walking. People living in high-density areas are much more likely to walk than those living in low-density suburbs, even when suburban trips are less than one mile (note that higher population densities seem to be more strongly correlated with higher walking rates than does a compact land use pattern). There also seems to be a correlation between the shorter commute distances associated with compact cities and higher bicycling rates. Compact, mixed-use development has been cited as much more likely than improved bicycle facilities, congestion fees, or fuel price increases to recruit motorists to bicycling.

Residential development that averages 14 dwelling units per acre requires half as much road mileage to serve vehicle trips than development at 3.5 dwelling units per acre. Another study found that for each doubling of residential density, vehicle miles traveled is reduced 30 percent. Thus, if the population of an area doubled due to infill development, vehicle miles traveled would probably increase by only 40 to 60 percent, rather than the 100 percent it would increase if the population increase occurred in dispersed suburbs.

A recent study has confirmed that the shift from car trips to transit and walking does not occur until certain job and housing densities are achieved. For work trips, the thresholds are 50 to 75 employees per gross acre, or 12 dwellings per net acre. For shopping trips, it is 75 employees per gross acre and 20 dwellings per acre.

One way to increase development densities is to remove land development policies that reduce development densities, such as minimum lot size zoning and minimum parking requirements.

Public service vehicles scaled small enough so that they do not dictate unsafe, wide streets

New urbanism encourages the use of public service and emergency vehicles (such as fire trucks) that are scaled to be compatible with neighborhoods. Increasingly, such vehicles are quite large, and their size often dictates rather wide streets and unsafe turning radii. Yet studies show that the dangers of such street design typically far outweigh the safety benefits that larger streets and turns will provide for emergency vehicles. In general, this is because the probability of traffic injury or death due to over-sized streets is much higher than the chance that injury or death would be averted because the emergency vehicle can shave a few seconds off of a trip. Therefore, smaller service vehicles can help a City keep average neighborhood vehicle speeds lower, make the streets safer and less noisy, make the neighborhood more walkable and, in general, more livable and sociable.

Streets and sidewalks straight, not curvilinear

Streets are more memorable and less disorienting when they are straight. They are more dignified, and can be terminated with a prominent vista. It is important that sidewalks be straight, since pedestrians have a strong desire to walk the distance that provides the minimum trip length. Curving sidewalks promote the creation of “cow paths,” as pedestrians take short cuts along their route. In general, curvilinear sidewalks are only appropriate when needed to avoid a large tree or other important physical feature, or in an area in which most pedestrians are walking strictly for optional recreation or exercise. This is generally not the case in an urban area, where almost all trips are utilitarian. Mostly, curving sidewalks are intended to improve the view of motorists driving along a road, and provide no important benefits for the pedestrian.

One-quarter mile walking distance

It is generally recognized that the convenient walking distance ranges up to one-quarter mile, or roughly a five- to ten minute walk. It is therefore important that for a neighborhood to be walkable, most homes should be within one-quarter mile of public parks, schools, civic buildings, retail, office, and various forms of culture. The one-quarter mile design yardstick also enhances the viability of transit.

Short, walkable block faces

In general, a neighborhood or commercial block face length should not exceed approximately 500 feet. Longer blocks tend to create inconvenient walking distances. When long blocks must be created, they should be shorted with cross-access walkways.

Ground-floor retail. Offices and residential above.

This form of mixed use enhances vibrancy and provides more affordable housing choices. It reduces the need for trips by car, since employees of the retail establishment can live above the shop. It is important that such “vertical mixing” of uses not place residential on the first floor, since it is disruptive for the residence when users of the office or retail must walk through the residence. It is also important that such mixed use include retail on the first floor so that more energy and interest is at the street level – -thereby benefiting pedestrians.

Eyes on the street. Citizen surveillance

Law enforcement agencies increasingly see the merits of citizen policing, in which citizens are able to watch out for their collective security. Such “eyes on the street” are promoted when buildings, windows, entrances and porches are near the street and sidewalk. Citizen surveillance is also promoted when the neighborhood or commercial areas are designed for regular, frequent pedestrian activity. Areas without pedestrian activity are areas where illegal, inappropriate, or unsafe behavior can occur more easily since there is no one to observe the deed and report it or intervene.

Diagonal usually the shortest walking distance

In general, the shortest walking distance is a diagonal route. Frequently, sidewalks are designed with right angle turns, which increases the walking distance and increases the likelihood of “cow path” shortcuts.

Centrally-located schools, parks, squares, civic w/in walking distance of most homes

When schools, parks, squares, and civic buildings are within easy walking distance of most residents, a sense of community and neighborliness is promoted, and vehicle trips are greatly reduced. If children are able to walk to school or a park, such areas can become social and recreational gathering places for students, because they are able to go to the school or return home on their own, as opposed to being required to leave when the bus leaves at the end of the class day.

Parks, squares and civic uses are more frequently used when residents have easy, non-vehicular access to them. When centrally located, they become the focal point of the neighborhood, and maximize the number of residences that are within walking distance.

Square street curbs

Square street curbs provide more safety for pedestrians, and provide a more attractive, urban appearance for the neighborhood.

Modest curb radius

A larger curb turning radius at an intersection or a parking area ingress and egress point allows vehicles to negotiate a turn rapidly, whereas a smaller radius forces a vehicle to slow down. Conventional traffic engineers often prefer a larger radius for vehicle convenience and curb protection, but such a radius makes life more inconvenient and dangerous for pedestrians. A larger radius also significantly increases the distance for crossing the street, which exposes the pedestrian to more danger from moving vehicles.

Note that large garbage trucks or delivery trucks or buses or fire trucks should not dictate the design of neighborhood curb radii. To do so is equivalent to obligating an architect to increase the size of the front door opening so that an overly large TV set can be brought into the house. No, the correct solution is to request that service and emergency vehicles be scaled for neighborhoods…

 

Enrique Penalosa on How to Design Cities

Former Bogotà mayor Enrique Peñalosa interviewed by Susan Ives (U.S.A.)

If you could wave a magic wand and create the perfect city, what would that city be like?

We really have to admit that over the past hundred years we have been building cities much more for mobility than for people’s well-being. Every year thousands of children are killed by cars. Isn’t it time we build cities that are more child-friendly? Over the last 30 years, we’ve been able to magnify environmental consciousness all over the world. As a result, we know a lot about the ideal environment for a happy whale or a happy mountain gorilla. We’re far less clear about what constitutes an ideal environment for a happy human being. One common measure for how clean a mountain stream is is to look for trout. If you find the trout, the habitat is healthy. It’s the same way with children in a city. Children are a kind of indicator species. If we can build a successful city for children we will have a successful city for all people.

Given the rapid growth of Third World cities, is this possible?

Many Third World cities today are really only half built. Many are still surrounded by undeveloped land that will be overtaken by the city very soon. We still have the opportunity to learn from the successes and mistakes of other cities around the world. We need to think about how to create cities that produce more convivial, creative, and happy human beings. Where is the urban expert who decided that cities had to be structured around cars? Why not begin to think differently? Why not dream of a city where half the streets would be for pedestrians, where the heart of the city would be a giant avenue lined with benches and trees, a meeting place for the community, where people go to jog, ride bicycles, talk, kiss, eat in cafes? A city doesn’t have to be a bunch of roads for cars with some buildings around them.

As mayor, you made it your platform to transform the city’s transportation system.

When I got to city hall, I was a handed a transportation study that said the most important thing the city could do was to build an elevated highway at a cost of $600 million. Instead, we installed a bus system that carries 700,000 people a day at a cost of $300 million. We created hundreds of pedestrian-only streets, parks, plazas, and bike paths, planted trees, and got rid of cluttering commercial signs. We constructed the longest pedestrian-only street in the world. It may seem crazy, because this street goes through some of the poorest neighborhoods in Bogotá, and many of the surrounding streets aren’t even paved. But we chose not to improve the streets for the sake of cars, but instead to have wonderful spaces for pedestrians. All this pedestrian infrastructure shows respect for human dignity. We’re telling people, “You are important–not because you’re rich or because you have a Ph.D., but because you are human.” If people are treated as special, as sacred even, they behave that way. This creates a different kind of society.

How was your idea of putting pedestrians needs ahead of cars received?

I was nearly impeached when I said that cars shouldn’t be allowed to park on the sidewalks. My opponents were business owners who said there was enough space on the sidewalks for cars to park and for people to still walk by. In Bogotá only 25 to 30 percent of the households have cars.

Yet we use public money to build roads for the cars that so few people can afford, while the majority walk or use public transit. Democracy isn’t just about casting a vote. It’s about public good over private. If we can ban cars, isn’t the majority better off?

What steps were you able to take?

We began to experiment by instituting a car-free day on a weekday. In a city of about 7 million people, just about everybody managed to get to work by walking, bicycling, bus, even on horseback– and everybody was better off. There was less air pollution, less time sitting in traffic, more time for people to be productive and enjoy themselves. Every Sunday we close 120 kilometers of roads to motor vehicles for seven hours. A million and a half people of all ages and incomes come out to ride bicycles, jog, and simply gather with others in community. We took a vote, and 83 percent of the public told us they wanted to have car-free days more often. Getting people out of their cars is a means of social integration. You have the upper-income person sitting next to the cleaning lady on the bus. This may be something you take for granted in your country. But in the Third World, society isn’t so integrated. This is extremely powerful and revolutionary.

 

Source: CHILD- AND YOUTH-FRIENDLY LAND-USE AND TRANSPORT PLANNING GUIDELINES FOR BRITISH COLUMBIA by Richard Gilbert and Catherine O’Brien, April 30, 2005