10 Techniques for Making Cities More Walkable – Design – The Atlantic Cities

From theatlanticcities.com.

Kaid Benfield, one of my favorites, recently posted this list of walkability ideas from Jeff Speck’s recent book, Walkable City. This list includes:

  1. Put cars in their place. Streets are public spaces for people, not conveyors for cars.
  2. Mix the uses. In particular create more affordable housing in growing neighborhoods prone to gentrification.
  3. Get the parking right. Consolidate it and make people pay for it.
  4. Let transit work. Plan transit in tandem with urban investment, make housing dense enough to support it, and make it an enjoyable experience (I’m looking at you, SEPTA).
  5. Protect the pedestrian. Cars go slower, and thus pedestrians are safer, when drivers are afraid of crashing into things. Speck, and some others, encourage getting rid of signage and road striping all together and forcing drivers to concentrate.
  6. Welcome bikes. Cycling allows people to have another choice beyond the car.
  7. Shape the spaces. Create outdoor rooms and a sense of enclosure.
  8. Plant trees. Trees improve auto safety, naturally cool cities, and contribute to stormwater retention.
  9. Make friendly and unique [building] faces. Interesting architecture will keep people entertained and encourage them to walk.
  10. Pick your winners. Focus initially on downtowns and transit corridors.

Benfield also has a few critiques for Speck. He criticizes the “cars suck” idea that he and many designers (I will admit, often myself included) have a habit of exhibiting. He also criticizes Speck’s dismissal of green space as important to the city, although Benfield does agree that it is important to make sure green spaces contribute to the urban nature of a place rather than making it feel more suburban or rural. He also agrees with John Norquist’s statement that there is good and bad congestion, and that small cities such as Pittsburgh shouldn’t try congestion pricing because it will give people just another reason to stay out of the city.


Spotlight on City Creek, Salt Lake City, Utah

City Creek is a recently completed, Mormon Church-funded development in the center of Salt Lake City. In some ways, it does a great job of bringing a facelift to parts of downtown Salt Lake City. In others, it really just feels like a big mall.

Uncharacteristically, I drove to City Creek, and my first experience with the development was the parking. The development has no surface parking; there are three levels of parking located directly under the three block development. In some locations the parking is accessed in the very center of the street. This actually does a great job of narrowing and calming Salt Lake’s infamously wide streets, and creates mid-block crossings on the long blocks of this city.

Part of what I thought was really interesting was how some parts of the development, especially along the outer edge, have not changed. Street improvements at West Temple and 100 South that predated the development are still there. A number of pre-existing buildings on Main Street are still there, and integrate fairly seamlessly with new construction. ZCMI, which was bought out by Macy’s a few years ago, has a great old building which has been lovingly restored and has a great street frontage.

Although there is plenty of parking, City Creek is very transit accessible. Salt Lake’s TRAX line comes north along Main Street and turns west along North Temple Street, with two stations adjacent to City Creek.

There have been significant improvements to the public realm. A small park has been installed at State Street and 100 South. Salt Lake’s wide streets give them the flexibility to create very wide sidewalks, and improvements range from simple trees and lights to significant seating areas with unique and beautiful seats, tables, and planters.

An interesting effect of the new development has been tangential street activity. I saw a handful of new food trucks in the area. On the other hand, there were more homeless people in the area than I was used to seeing in Salt Lake.

City Creek seems to have two sides: a street side, which has a real downtown major city feel; and an inner side, which despite a mix of uses really just feels like a mall. Between these areas are a series of transitional public spaces. These feature entrance markers that cleverly conceal ventilation for the underground parking and speakers that blast pop music, adding to the mall feel. The creek that the development is named for snakes throughout the area, with dramatic naturalistic features including rock outcroppings and native plants. Many of these areas feature fountains and sculptures, including my hated seagulls. There are many high-quality seating areas throughout.

What sort of puzzles me is that City Creek is not a single-use shopping area like a suburban mall; it features office uses and a whole lot of residential, including two new major residential towers. The central parts of two of the three blocks have nice squares built around public water features. But despite these features, it doesn’t feel like a mixed-use neighborhood; it feels like a mall.My favorite feature was a small corner of the development along Regent Street. As the street enters the development, it curves to the east and uphill, and becomes a shared use, curbless street, where bollards protect people from cars and lights cris-cross the right-of-way. The street is cozy, visually interesting, and generally very delightful.

City Creek is sort of two-faced: it does successfully contribute to a high-quality streetscape along the public rights-of-way of Salt Lake City, even calming traffic and activating pedestrian life; yet much of the development, especially on the block interiors, feels like just another mall. I had mixed feelings about it, but it could certainly be worse. And I thought it was funny that, despite the effort to make this a metropolitan development, things about it are still very Mormon:SIDENOTE: As I write this, the eye of Superstorm Sandy is passing near Philadelphia. I feel awful that I am here in Arizona while my friends, and especially my wife, are facing this storm back east. I just want to say to all my East Coast friends, family and readers, stay safe, and I look forward to rejoining you soon.

Spotlight on Belmar, Lakewood, Colorado

After leaving Topeka, I spent the night in Denver. The problem with Denver, however, is that it is just too big to be fully covered in an hour or so. So instead, I decided to focus on a specific part of metro Denver: Belmar, the New Urbanist development in neighboring Lakewood, Colorado.Belmar faces the same problem that many New Urbanist developments face: it’s an island of urbanism in a sea of suburbia. Belmar is particularly bad in this case, because it has a decidedly urban side and a decidedly suburban one. On two sides, it is surrounded by huge suburban arterials with no on-street parking which is fronted by enormous parking lots. Driving into the development, it doesn’t look any different than standard suburban power center schlock.

Probably the strongest part of the development was Alaska Drive, the main street of the development. It is pretty well put together. Although part of the street is lower in height, most of it is three stories, with retail on the ground and other uses above. Street lights are strung across the street, much like is seen in many parts of Scandinavia. There are some buildings that step back from the street to form small plazas and cafe areas. This should really be pursued on a rare basis, but it can be a great effect if used sparingly.

Another successful element is a pedestrian pathway. It is lined by retail and has higher buildings than in the rest of the area so that the path is framed better. It is a neat little public space, and I’m sure it’s pretty cool when it has some sort of an event drawing people there, but when I was there it was pretty dead.

The housing in the development is of an appropriate density and is architecturally interesting. You need the high density to support the retail along Alaska Drive. There are still large vacant lots waiting to be developed at Belmar, and hopefully it will be closer to complete in a few years.

Belmar, like many New Urbanist projects, is a step in the right direction, but isn’t quite there. While there is some nice stuff on the inside of the development, you wouldn’t notice it without looking because it looks so terrible from the road. To make it truly urban, line the parking lots with new buildings, calm the arterial streets with on-street parking and trees, and get some sort of transit connection. Belmar is further along than a lot of suburbs, but they’ve got a long way to go.


Density bonuses in the 3BLOCK1BLOCK program. From 3ada1ada.org.

3BLOCK1BLOCK is a proposed program in Istanbul which came about due to concerns about earthquake readiness. it proposes encouraging the private sector to redevelop blocks full of non-earthquake-proof buildings by offering density bonuses for doing certain things while redeveloping. Some of these make sense to me, while others don’t so much.

Merging bonus: This proposes taking as many as three blocks and merging them into one superblock. Now, especially in areas with informal developments, you can merge small blocks and still have something walkable. What I’m hoping is that there is some sort of guideline saying that “merged blocks shall be no longer than 200 meters on a side” or something like that, because otherwise, superblocks become unwalkable real fast. Many of the proposed projects on the website feature secondary pedestrian circulation within the blocks, but unless there are shops or really nice parks there, people won’t be encouraged to go there, and they could develop neglect or crime problems. Also, this sort of large-scale demolition threatens historically significant structures. There should be options for retrofit rather than demolition only.

Street widening bonus: Certain streets probably do need to be widened, both for emergency vehicle access and for evacuation routes, but I think the project, if it doesn’t have one, needs a master plan outlining which streets should be widened and not having a blanket bonus for wide streets. This is the best way to kill an area’s walkability. You need access roads every 400 feet or so that are wide enough for emergency vehicles, and then the evacuation routes should be highway capacity, and that’s it. If a small road is serving its community, leave it small.

Public space bonus: This is great. Many cities lack sufficient public space, and open spaces can help mitigate stormwater and pollution. Just make sure that there is some sort of revue mechanism to make sure that they are good public spaces, and not just grass.

Parking bonus: The website says that this is for both underground parking and surface parking. Leave it for underground or even structured parking, but take away the bonus for surface parking. Surface parking kills walkability and in a city as dense as Istanbul is and wants to be, it isn’t worth the land it takes up. Don’t make concessions for cars, unless they are going to help people.

This idea has a lot of merit, but it is walking a fine line. It needs to consider historic structures, short blocks, narrow roads, good public space, and limited parking. Otherwise, it could cause some real problems for the city.

Junction design the Dutch – cycle friendly – way – YouTube

I really like videos like this that create simple video examples of how to address urban design problems. This video talks about how to set up an intersection so that a driver doesn’t have to cross a bike path blind to turn right. My only question is, so where’s the parking? if Jan Gehl got his way, the bike lane would be closer to the sidewalk with the parking closer to the travel lanes and a buffer between, so that cyclists don’t get doored. This is great: but then how do you work in bulb-outs for the pedestrians? A lot of good questions about how to design a truly multi-use intersection.

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