Tag Archives: walkability

Finding a Place for Parking

Parking spaces usually diminish public spaces — but it doesn’t have to be that way.

By Ethan Kent, Project for Public Spaces

 

Despite what you may have heard, nobody goes to a place solely because it has parking. In fact, the current obsession with parking is one of the biggest obstacles to achieving livable cities and towns, because it usually runs counter to what should be our paramount concern: creating places where people enjoy spending time. As long as the myth persists that economic prosperity depends on parking, local governments will continue to waste public money and distort the public planning process.

The realization that creating a place where people want to come and spend time is more important than parking unfortunately eludes many municipalities. Worrying about and wasting public money on parking is taking over the public planning process and subsequently parking is taking over our communities. So how can we put parking in its place and draw people back to public spaces?

One big step forward is to assess the supply of parking in relation to what is actually needed. PPS often works with towns that have excess parking capacity, where the growing number of surface lots and parking structures has choked out the very reason people drove there in the first place. In Salt Lake City, for instance, PPS’s land-use map highlighted the excess parking spaces within 1/4 mile of downtown, showing that the real shortage was of places for people to go, not spaces to park.

The hang-up on parking is an indicator that a community has no broader vision for itself.

This state of affairs arises when businesses compete with each other to maximize their own parking spaces–to the detriment of the surrounding community and, inevitably, themselves. The hang-up on parking is an indicator that a community has no broader vision for itself. Get businesses and other parties to cooperate creatively with each other, and you can create the kind of parking infrastructure that supports public spaces. Here are some questions to get businesses and public officials talking about creative new ways to accommodate parking needs with the public’s desire for lively public places:

10 Questions to Help Us Get the Most Out of Parking

1. Is it a destination worth creating parking spaces for?

Public dollars are often spent on large parking areas that provide no tax revenue and serve businesses that either compete with existing downtown businesses or would better serve the community if located downtown. But why should municipalities use public funds to subsidize parking spaces for destinations that don’t enhance the community as a whole? Spending the same money to instead make development more attractive and connected to downtown means taxes better spent, space better used, and communities better served.

2. Do the parking spaces really make more people want to go there?

Think of the most popular district in your region – places like downtown Cambridge, MA, or the French Quarter of New Orleans. Is it easy to park there? No way! But do people go? You bet! They’ll walk six blocks from their car to a store, and LIKE it! Which is to say that people don’t come to an area for the parking, they come for what’s distinct and special about that place. Why should towns create excess parking spaces if all that asphalt detracts from the qualities that attracted people in the first place? Many communities that have parking shortages are actually thriving.

3. Are parking regulations being obeyed?

When there appears to be a parking shortage, the most likely explanation is that people are simply not obeying parking laws. In the business district of Poughkeepsie, NY, PPS found that more than half the on-street parking was illegal. Parking turnover studies are an easy, inexpensive way to show where violations are happening and suggest how to enforce existing regulations more effectively.

4. Are there opportunities to share business parking lots that have demands at different times of day or week?

Parking areas for churches, theaters, restaurants and bars often sit vacant during peak hours, when demand is highest. Can these businesses and institutions be encouraged to let go of their dedicated parking areas and take advantage of existing nearby parking which is available on evenings and weekends? Put another way: Would people be more likely to go to church or the theater or a restaurant if they saw their destination as simply “downtown” and could easily visit more than one place per trip?

5. Where do employees park? If they have the same shifts, can they carpool?

Merchants and their employees consistently take on-street spots early in the morning and feed the meters all day. They should be encouraged to instead park in municipal parking lots, carpool, or take transit. These alternatives can be made more attractive by designating off-street spots, creating employee incentive programs, or implementing shorter meter times.

6. Is the timing and pricing of meters optimized for each location?

Different sections of the same street may have varying parking needs. The meters in front of a post office, for instance, may provide two whole hours of parking time, but only require ten minutes. Some parking spaces should be more expensive to encourage high turnover. Again, parking turnover studies can inform more appropriate regulations that fit the context of the street.

7. Are there adequate sidewalks and pedestrian amenities connecting off-street parking areas to downtown streets?

The walk to downtown shopping areas from many municipal parking lots and garages is so abysmal that many people won’t park there. Though such lots may provide significant quantities of parking, they will be underutilized if the walk from the car is poorly lit, dull, uncomfortable, or outright hazardous.

8. Are there opportunities for angled parking?

Lane widths in downtowns and on commercial streets need only be 8-10 feet, rather than the standard 12-plus feet. This means that many commercial streets are wide enough to accommodate angled parking in some sections. Angled parking can fit almost 50 percent more cars than parallel parking, and it calms traffic, creating a safer environment that’s more conducive to pedestrian use.

9. Can curb cuts be consolidated and narrowed?

Frequently, parking lot entrances and exits can be combined, narrowed or made one-way to make room for more on-street parking and a safer, more pleasant pedestrian environment.

10. Are there opportunities to share business drop-offs that have demands at different times of day?

Some truck or passenger drop-off areas are only used for predictable early morning or weekday periods and can be used for parking the rest of the time.

Once you start asking the right questions, ingenuity and cooperation will follow. In Littleton, New Hampshire, for example, PPS worked with the town to address its nagging parking problem by making downtown streets more walkable. Following a series of small, inexpensive traffic-calming experiments, the town is now partnering with several business owners to improve the pedestrian environment, reduce lane widths (and therefore automobile speeds), and expand the pedestrian-friendly downtown area. The improvements will increase the availability of parking spots from which people will feel comfortable walking to downtown by at least threefold. How? By enabling people to consolidate their car trips and visit more places from the same parking spot.

Of course, the biggest benefit of this plan is that more people go out on the sidewalk, which creates the very streetlife that makes other people–and businesses–want to come downtown. But that doesn’t happen automatically. In order to create a more desirable street environment for pedestrians, businesses, and drivers, you need to take full advantage of the opportunities presented by rethinking parking. These opportunities include:

• Pedestrian amenities: Street corners with more sidewalk space, seating, and plantings can become the focal points necessary to bring back pedestrians and streetlife.

• Improved safety: Curb extensions make sidewalks and pedestrians more visible to drivers. Narrower lanes slow vehicles and reduce risk to pedestrians and bicyclists. Replacing parking lots with in-fill development eliminates space that is perceived as unsafe and makes possible anonymous criminal behavior.

• Shorter crossing distances: Curb extensions at intersections create shorter crossing distances for pedestrians, and therefore shorter wait times for automobiles.

• Retail kiosks and cafés: Temporary or permanent retail stalls can be placed at the street edge of parking lots or in reclaimed parking spaces.

• Programming and multiple-use spaces: Existing parking lots can be converted–whole or in part–into public squares with markets, performance spaces and seating areas.

• Transit compatibility: By reducing the supply of parking, demand for transit goes up and new destinations form around transit stops.

Spending money on such public amenities instead of parking may seem radical, but in fact it is a wise investment. Pedestrians feel more comfortable walking because of the slower vehicle speeds and reduced number of curb cuts. Businesses get more passersby and first-time walk-ins. Drivers make fewer trips, waste less time in the car, get more exercise walking, and even enjoy the experience of driving downtown more — because it is a pleasant place to be, not a parking lot.

Consider the city of Copenhagen, which has instituted a policy to reduce parking by two percent each year. The risk has paid off many times over by the number of people who now walk and bike to the city center–all of whom, you can be sure, feel at least 50 percent more devotion for their home city.

 

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David Sucher’s Three Rules for Urban Design

David Sucher is the author of City Comforts, a fantastic, easy-to-read, important book about the essential elements of designing a quality city. I strongly recommend the book.

Sucher has established what he believes are the Three Rules for quality urban design:

“The key decision in creating a walkable, pedestrian-oriented neighborhood, is the position of the building with respect to the sidewalk.

This decision determines whether you have a city or a suburb.”

1. Build to the sidewalk (i.e., property line).

2. Make the building front “permeable” (i.e., no blank walls).

3. Prohibit parking lots in front of the building.

 

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Many Cities Changing One-Way Streets Back

By Melanie Eversley, USA TODAY

12/20/06

More traffic will be coming to downtown Danville, Ill. — and that’s how Danville wants it. The city of 33,000 is converting some of its longtime one-way streets back to two-way thoroughfares. City officials hope the change will make it easier for customers to reach downtown stores and shop in them.

“The driving force behind it is economic development,” says city engineer David Schnelle, who expects to reprogram signals, change pavement markings and change signs by November 2007.

He says motorists tend to drive faster on one-way streets and go past their destinations, then lose time and patience backtracking.

Danville is one of hundreds of cities — from Berkeley, Calif., to Charleston, S.C. — switching one-way streets to two-way to improve commerce downtown, according to the American Planning Association in Chicago. The trend got rolling in the early 1990s and has expanded this year to bigger cities such as Miami, Dallas and Minneapolis. It’s part of the reinvention of former industrial cities, which are converting empty factories into loft housing and trying to convince suburbanites that downtowns are livable.

“There’s a lot of emphasis now on taming the automobile and emphasizing walking and biking. It’s all part of creating a place that people want to be,” says Marya Morris of the American Planning Association. “The bigger pieces are the major downtown housing booms and having things for people to do after 5.”

The boom in one-way streets began with the Cold War in the 1950s, when cities planned quick routes out of town for evacuation in case of nuclear attack, says John Norquist, one of the first vocal advocates of two-way-street conversion. Norquist was mayor of Milwaukee from 1988 to 2003 and now runs the Congress for the New Urbanism, which promotes the revitalization of cities.

The growth of the suburbs contributed, too, as cities smoothed the route home from work, says Neal Hawkins, associate director for traffic operations at the Iowa State University Center for Transportation Research and Education. Now, though, there are more jobs in the suburbs, more entertainment downtown, and drivers go in all directions.

They drive less efficiently on two-way streets, according to the Thoreau Institute, an environmental advocacy group in Oregon. The slower stop-and-go traffic means cars pollute more, the institute says.

In Danville, 170 miles south of Chicago, two-way streets are meant to speed an economic revival after 15 years of plant closings left downtown streets quiet. The city set up a small-business loan program to attract stores and restaurants.

Now Danville wants to make it easier for customers to find them, especially the shops on Vermilion Street.

Marie Pribble, co-owner of the Java Hut coffee shop and cafe, looks forward to the change. “The slower people go, the more likely they are to pay attention to your business or your storefront, and the more likely they are to stop in,” she says.

Norquist was one of the first mayors to promote more two-way streets. He led a campaign to convert several downtown Milwaukee streets back to two-way. He says the increased traffic means that neighborhoods flourish: “I think people started to realize that the city was more important than the road that runs through it.”

 

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Ingredients for a Walkable Street

By Dom Nozzi, AICP

How does a community create “walkable” streets? Streets that feels safe for all – particularly seniors and children? Streets that are sociable due to large numbers of pedestrian users? Streets that are richly interesting? Streets that provide comfort? Streets that breed a strong sense of civic pride?

There are a number of essential ingredients that a community must use to
craft and sustain a walkable street.

Convivial Concentration of Pedestrians

. First and foremost, a walkable street must contain relatively large numbers of (preferably friendly)
pedestrians. This obvious ingredient would go without saying, except for the fact that there are many who believe that various physical street design features are sufficient to create walkability. Actually, even the best-designed
streets are not truly walkable if few walk them. On the other hand, even a poorly-designed street (in the physical sense) can be memorably walkable if it contains large numbers of pedestrians. Very little is more attractive and
enjoyable to most humans-an inherently sociable species-than a vibrant, festive place filled with happy, friendly people.

This partly explains the overwhelming popularity of street festivals and public markets that are well known in their ability to create and sustain such gatherings.

Residential Densities

. In order for a street to draw large numbers of pedestrians, large concentrations of people must either live within walking
distance of the street, or the street needs to be a connecting conduit between two (or more) highly attractive destinations-destinations that are no more than, say, 3 to 5 blocks from each other. For example, a major university campus
linked by a Main Street to a healthy downtown.

Human-Scaled Dimensions

. People tend to feel most comfortable and safe when they are in “human-scaled” spaces. That is, spaces that do not dwarf them,
make them feel insignificant, or over-exposed. Crucially, this means that horizontal and vertical dimensions of the surrounding physical elements of a street are relatively modest in size. In general, this means that streets are no more than two or three lanes wide. In the more urban areas of a town, buildings are pulled up to and abutting street-side sidewalks, and front porches are
within “conversational distance” of sidewalks. Surface parking lots are tucked behind buildings and walls. Street lights are no more than 20 to 30 feet tall (modest street light structures effectively establish a romantic ambience).
The urban fabric is un-interrupted by gap-tooth parking lots. Instead, a continuous street wall is maintained. Buildings tend to be no greater than five stories, such as is found in Paris. Note, however, that buildings along a walkable street should generally be at least two stories in height in order to more effectively create the pleasing sense of enclosure. And to increase opportunities along the street for vertical mixed use buildings in which a first floor is occupied by an office or store, and above stories are occupied by a
residence.

Human-scaled streets create the overwhelmingly pleasant feeling of being within an “outdoor room.” And, as a result, creating that all-important “sense of place.”

Active and Diverse Retail

. An essential ingredient for a street to be walkable in the more urban area of a town is for the street to be lined with a rich collection of healthy, diverse, local retail establishments. Such an assemblage of enterprises ensures people that strolling down such a street will nearly always reward one with a fascinating cornucopia of sights, smells, sounds and potentially satisfying purchases-no matter how often the street is walked.

Traffic-Calming

. For retail establishments and residences along a street to be healthy, and for pedestrians to feel comfortable, a walkable street nearly always must contain relatively low-speed motor vehicle travel. The most important way to provide such modest, comfortable speeds is to provide ample on-street parking, which not only slows cars but creates an extremely healthy,
safe buffer between the pedestrian and moving motor vehicles. To calm motor vehicle speeds, it is also important that the street be no more than two or three lanes (ideally two travel lanes with “turn pockets”). Travel lanes should
be no more than 10 or 11 feet wide. A prominent canopy of street trees and buildings pulled up to the sidewalk also create a moderating influence on motor vehicle speeds. A common mistake is to assume that the ideal form of traffic
calming or creation of a walkable street is to create a “pedestrian mall,” a pedestrian-only street where motor vehicles are prohibited. However, such malls have nearly always failed in America. The lack of sufficient, nearby residential
densities and the cultural dis-inclination to walk or bicycle means that the well-intentioned effort to establish such car-free areas typically (but not always) creates a “ghost-town” atmosphere in which there is so little pedestrian activity that the mall seems abandoned and vacant. Often, such malls end up being so little used that retail along the mall quickly dies from lack of
patrons, and many cities that established car-free areas have converted them back to once again allow car travel.

The key is not to ban car travel on a street intended to be walkable, but to design the street in such a way as to obligate motorists to drive slowly and attentively.

24-Hour Activity

. A walkable street must be alive day and night, instead of closing down at 5 pm. 24-hour streets tend to be not only more interesting and fun, but also much safer due to the benefits of “citizen surveillance” and “eyes on the street.” Again, 24-hour   activity is promoted by the development of relatively high residential densities within the walkable catchment area of the
street. Residences provide after-hours pedestrian activity as residents will walk to stores, services, culture, parks, and the homes of friends and family throughout the day and night. Studies by the nation’s leading investment indicator firms have shown over and over again that “24-hour” cities harbor the most healthy, profitable investment opportunities. Businesses and residences
tend to thrive in such cities, which are seen as hip, cutting edge, exciting (yet safe) places to be for what Richard Florida calls the “Creative Class.” Some cities find it useful to control and restrict the percentage of buildings along a street intended to be walkable by limiting the number of offices along the street, since offices tend to be closed (and therefore deadening) after 5
pm.

Narrow Lots

. An important way to create a lively, exciting and interesting street life is to establish relatively narrow property widths along
the sidewalk. Doing so increases the frequency of energy-producing doors, windows and other elements essential to an enjoyable pedestrian experience.

Weather Protection

. For comfort in hot climates or rainy climates, it is important on more urban sidewalks to provide awnings or colonnades on the front facades of buildings along the sidewalk. Another extremely important element is  a canopy of tall, formally-aligned, same-species street trees overhanging the street and sidewalk (and limbed up so as not to obscure the view of retail
building facades).

Wide Sidewalks

. It goes without saying that a walkable street should provide sufficiently wide sidewalks. In general, such sidewalks should range
from 8 to 20 feet in width, depending on the pedestrian volumes expected. Note that there is too much of a good thing when it comes to sidewalks. Overly wide sidewalks can be just as undesirable as sidewalks that are too narrow, because
wide sidewalks that carry only a handful of pedestrians creates the undesirable sense that the area is not very active or alive, whereas a narrower sidewalk with the same modest number of pedestrians can seem “bustling with life.”
Therefore, it is important that sidewalks use a width that corresponds to expected pedestrian use along the street-striking a balance between pedestriancomfort and the need to create a lively ambience even when there are not enormous numbers of pedestrians.

Unobtrusive Equipment

. Trash dumpsters near (or on) sidewalks tend to create an unsightly and often smelly character for the sidewalk. For these reasons, a walkable street keeps dumpsters remote from public, streetside sidewalks, or has dumpsters use compatible, attractive screening. Similarly, outdoor mechanical equipment (such as heating and air conditioning equipment)
can create an unattractive, noisy ambience for a public sidewalk. Walkable streets keep this equipment on building roofs or on the side or rear of buildings so that they are remote from public sidewalks.

A powerful mechanism for keeping unsightly, obtrusive equipment away from the public sidewalk is the alley behind buildings, where garbage and utilities can be inconspicuously placed. Walkable streets therefore tend to feature
alleys.

Active Building Fronts

. Increasingly, streets are neglected and degraded by buildings that turn their back to the street. On a walkable street, the
fronts of buildings face the streetside sidewalk. Having doors and ample windows facing the street creates visual interest for the pedestrian, and energizes the street by providing a view of the inside of the building and having pedestrians enter and exit the building onto the sidewalk. Doors facing the street substantially reduce pedestrian walking distances.

Likewise, walkable streets feature residences with front porches, where porch occupants can interact with those on the sidewalk, and where pedestrians can enjoy seeing a home that sends a walkable, friendly character to the public realm, even when the porch is unoccupied. To be an active, interesting street, buildings along a walkable street have very little in the way of blank walls
(which creates monotony and reduces security). Garages on walkable streets are recessed to avoid conveying the unpleasant message that a car, not people, lives here.

Modest Turn Radii and Crossing Distances

. An important way to create safety and human-scaled dimensions is to create a street which has modest turn
radii at street and driveway intersections. Small “corner curves” slow down the speed of turning motor vehicles, and can substantially reduce pedestrian crossing distances. In addition to the value of small turn radii, features such as landscape islands, “bulb-outs” and landscaped street medians can provide a street with attractive features and significant safety increases for the
pedestrian crossing a street. Not only does such street landscaping improve the visual appeal of a street, but they also tend to slow down motor vehicles and provide a refuge area for the crossing pedestrian.

Proximity

. For a street to be truly walkable, destinations from residences to places of work, school, parks, and shopping need to be in close
proximity (no more than approximately one-quarter mile from homes). Note that a useful way to reduce walking distances is, when possible and appropriate, to align sidewalks diagonally. Proximity strongly promotes walking trips, which
tends to increase pedestrian volumes on sidewalks, thereby creating a safer, friendlier, more enjoyable sidewalk ambience.

Walkable streets also tend to contain what Ray Oldenberg calls “Third Places.” Third places are typically corner pubs, groceries, post offices or other facilities where neighborhood residents frequently run into each other and interactively chat or wave hello. They build neighborhood bonds and friendships, and their ability to act as “social condensers” promotes sociability,
familiarity and trust.

Short Block Lengths

. Block lengths on a street must be short to create modest walking distances. Generally, a block should be no more than 500 feet in
length-preferably 200 to 300 feet in length. Short block lengths are an effective way to reduce motor vehicle speeds. It is no coincidence that the most walkable cities have the shortest block lengths.

Vista Termination

. A powerful means of creating a memorable, picturesque street is to locate important civic buildings such as churches, city halls and libraries at the termination of a street vista. Such termination emphasizes the importance and visibility of buildings that are located in such places, which is precisely what should be done with the most important civic buildings in a community. By doing so, civic pride is cultivated, and those within the community are sent a strong message about what the community believes are the
most significant institutions in the community. Vista termination also creates the impression that the walk does not seem onerously “endless,” as a goal is in sight in front of the pedestrian. As Andres Duany has said, nothing is more
satisfying than a prominent civic building grandly terminating a street vista.

Appropriate Businesses

. Walkable streets tend to heavily regulate or prohibit the establishment of car-oriented businesses. Such businesses-because
they depend on attracting large volumes of motor vehicles-are typically create visual blight, and excessively scaled for large vehicles instead of pedestrians (for example, by incorporating large parking lots between the street and
building, or having an enormous building footprint that is difficult to negotiate on foot). Often, such businesses deploy glaring, flashing lighting, and can be the source of substantial levels of noise pollution. Walkable streets therefore commonly prohibit “Big Box” retail, drive-through’s, auto sales and service, stand-alone parking lots, car washes, and gas stations. By discouraging
pedestrian activity, such businesses drain vitality from public sidewalks.

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Suggestions for Use of [Downtown] Space

by Dom Nozzi, AICP

Published in Boulder Daily Camera

March 9, 2011

The redesign of the Daily Camera building on 1048 Pearl Street provides a spectacular opportunity for Boulder. I have a few humble suggestions.

Most importantly, the redesigned building must fit in with the context of its neighbors on Pearl Street. That context is walkable, compact, traditional and human-scaled. Given this, the crucial task is almost a no-brainer: the front facade of the building fronting Pearl Street must abut the sidewalk, as its neighbors properly do. The suburbanizing surface parking lot that has separated the building from Pearl Street creates an anti-walkable, gap-toothed dead zone along a critical stretch of Pearl Street. The town center already suffers from the deadening, dispersing influence of off-street surface parking lots along Walnut Street just west of 13th Street. Now is the chance-in-a-lifetime opportunity to correct this surface parking blunder in the walkable Boulder town center.

While removal of surface parking is essential, it is not even clear to me that “structured/stacked/garage” parking is a good idea, as a downtown needs “agglomeration economies” to be healthy. Even stacked parking acts as a powerful (and quite costly) dispersing agent that takes away extremely valuable floor area that the town center needs for vibrancy and economic health.

On the topic of vibrancy, a place intended to be walkable needs to “activate” the sidewalk 24/7 to the extent possible. That means the building should have, if possible, a strong residential, retail and cultural component.

Finally, I believe it is important that town center building design induce civic pride. That means that redesign should shy away from “modernist” architectural style, which tends to be disliked by most people (there is nothing more dated, or bizarre, than yesterday`s vision of tomorrow), and lean toward traditional, contextual, probably classical style, which tends to be more lovable.

More worthy of our affections, as my friend Jim Kunstler would say.

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Top Ten Urban Design Books

By Dom Nozzi, AICP

In no particular order, here are the ten best, most influential urban design books that I have ever read. Each of these books changed the course of my life and how I view city planning and the world at large. I would strongly recommend that each of these ten books be required reading for every local government elected official, planner and engineer in your community.

The High Cost of Free Parking.

By Donald Shoup (2005). My book, “Road to Ruin,” claims the key to quality communities is driven by how we build our roads. But in this groundbreaking work, the best planning book I’ve ever read in my 20 years as a city planner, Shoup persuasively shows that the excessive parking required throughout the nation is the primary factor for how our communities form, and plays a powerful role in how we travel. The parking we require new development to provide is scientifically unsound, economically irrational, counter to our community objectives, and thereby catastrophic for our cities and our quality of life. Shoup makes the overwhelming, disturbing case that how we manage our parking is the lynchpin to the future of our cities. Shoup’s book is exceptionally readable, witty and insightful. The book is thin with regard to urban design concepts, but as Shoup effectively points out, without the proper management of parking, quality urban design is not possible.

The Death and Life of Great American Cities.

By Jane Jacobs (1961). This book is universally and appropriately considered a classic in urban design, and is a pioneer in accurately describing what is necessary for a healthy city. Many of the timeless concepts used in urban design first gained prominence as a result of this book. It motivated (and continues to motivate) a great many professionals to become urbanists. As the author says, “Lowly, unpurposeful and random as they appear, sidewalk contacts are the small change from which a city’s wealth of public life must grow.”

Cities and Automobile Dependence.

By Jeff Kenworthy and Peter Newman (1989). The revolutionary, breakthrough book that changed my life as a planner. In its day, it turned conventional wisdom on its head with regard to traffic congestion, road widening and parking. Their international survey of cities shows that gas consumption and air pollution go DOWN as a result of congestion. That free-flowing traffic, big roads and excessive amounts of parking INCREASE gas consumption and air pollution (and also destroy community quality of life). This work also clearly shows the fundamental role that transportation plays in how a city forms. “The land use and urban form of cities are…fundamentally shaped by priorities in transportation…the essential character of a city’s land use comes down to how it manages its transport…higher average traffic speed appears to spread the city, creating lower density land use, a greater need for cars, longer travel distances and reduced use of other less polluting or pollution-free modes. The benefits gained in terms of less polluting traffic streams appear to be overwhelmed by the sheer amount of extra travel and the resulting bulk of emissions.”

Home From Nowhere.

By James Howard Kunstler (1996). The author combines an impressive understanding of quality urban design with hilarious, vitriolic, provocative observations about architecture in America. I have never laughed so hard in any book I have read. Or learned so much about the awful nature of buildings in the United States. Kunstler has made the point that, “what’s bad about sprawl is not its uniformity, but that it is so uniformly bad.”

Cities in Full.

By Steve Belmont (2002). The best case I’ve ever read about the merits of high residential densities in cities, and why such densities are essential for city health. A stupendous discussion about what ingredients are necessary for the wellbeing of a city. And why it is so important for a downtown to be the centralized community focus for jobs, housing and retail (instead of a polycentric city form). Excellent discussion about why the monocentric city is best for commuting.

The Great Good Place.

By Ray Oldenburg (1991). Oldenburg discusses the crucial importance of “The Third Place,” the place we would traditionally go to after the work day for socializing with friends and regularly finding a sense of community, the place where “everyone knows your name.” They are distinctive, informal gathering places, they make the citizen feel at home, they nourish relationships and a diversity of human contact, they help create a sense of place and community, they invoke a sense of civic pride, they provide numerous opportunities for serendipity, they promote companionship, they allow people to relax and unwind after a long day at work, they are socially binding, they encourage sociability instead of isolation, they make life more colorful, and they enrich public life and democracy. Their disappearance in our culture is unhealthy for our cities because, as Oldenburg points out, they are the bedrock of community life and all the benefits that come from such interaction.

Suburban Nation.

By Andres Duany, Jeff Speck, Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk (2000). A superb summary of the downfall of the American neighborhood and how it can be restored. “In [the traditional New England town], one can live above the store, next to the store, five minutes from the store or nowhere near the store, and it is easy to imagine the different age groups and personalities that would prefer each alternative. In this way and others, the traditional neighborhood provides for an array of lifestyles. In conventional suburbia, there is only one available lifestyle: to own a car and to need it for everything.”

Cultural Materialism.

By Marvin Harris (1979). This book is about anthropology, not urban design, but it transformed how I think about human behavior, and therefore plays an essential role in my understanding why humans behave the way they do. For us to be effective in our urban design, it is necessary to know that humans behave largely due to the material conditions they face in their everyday world, and how very little behavior is due to the exhortation of ideas, or educating citizens about how to properly behave.

Trees in Urban Design.

By Henry Arnold (1985). This should be a regularly consulted reference book on the shelves of all urban designers. An enormous wealth of information from an arborist who learned a great many things, in a long career, about the proper placement of trees to achieve better urbanism. How proper tree placement and selection can play a powerful role in creating a better city ambience. His prescriptions, while highly accurate and vitally important for a quality city, quite often run counter to what is frequently sought after by contemporary utility companies and other municipal engineers, which helps explain why most of our cities tend to be quite awful when it comes to their trees.

Stuck in Traffic.

By Anthony Downs (1992). Another landmark book that changed how I think about transportation and city planning. In this highly readable book—required reading, by the way, for elected officials—Downs popularizes the concept of induced travel—what he calls The Triple Convergence. Why it is impossible for us to build our way out of congestion. He writes in an extremely understandable way about topics that are complex, yet crucially important—given the hundreds of billions of public dollars we spend to try to ease congestion.

Once you have read the above, there are ten additional, magnificent books worth your time.

The Car and the City. By Alan Durning (1996).

Urban Sprawl and Public Health. By Howard Frumkin, Lawrence Frank, Richard Jackson (2004).

Getting There. By Stephen B.Goddard (1994).

Crabgrass Frontier. By Kenneth Jackson (1985).

How Cities Work. By Alex Marshall (2001).

The Wealth of Cities. By John Norquist (1998).

Visions for a New American Dream. By Anton C. Nelessen (1994).

Changing Places. By Richard Moe, Wilkie Carter Wilkie (1997).

A Better Place to Live. By Philip Langdon (1994).

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Walkable Streets: Why Do We Need a Quality Pedestrian Environment?

By Dom Nozzi, AICP

There is much well-deserved talk in recent years of the pressing importance of creating “Complete Streets” in communities. That is, streets designed not just for cars, but also for bicyclists, pedestrians, transit users, and the handicapped.

But if we were to select one form of travel to efficiently and effectively improve community quality of life, public health, civic pride, conviviality, happiness, safety and independence for seniors, young children and the handicapped, our local economy, as well as achieving a lower tax burden, that form of travel—that lynchpin—would be walking. Indeed, the pedestrian is the design imperative – particularly in town centers, but also in all other parts of a community.

A quality transit system is nearly impossible without a high-quality walking environment. Lovable building architecture
unavoidably slips away when a community is not walkable. Walkability inevitably delivers human-scaled design, which
town designers have long recommended as a recipe for place-making. For convenient, sustainable town design. It is no coincidence that nearly all of the greatest cities in the world boast a high quality pedestrian environment. One could go as far as
to say that the walkability of such cities is the fundamental reason why these cities are superb, and loved the world over.

It is no coincidence that studies have recently found that those societies which walk regularly are those societies whose citizens are the most long-lived on earth. It is no coincidence that the most walkable communities were those which best weathered the
recent housing and economic downturns. If you seek to make your city great, the first place to start is by making your city exceptionally walkable. Walkability creates communities we are compelled to cherish, celebrate and protect.

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Filed under New Urbanism: Timeless, Traditional, Walkable Design