Thursday, August 26, 2010

Two-ways and a Two-way Ticket

I'll be visiting friends in Seattle on the weekend and taking a day trip to Vancouver, BC, a place I have never stepped foot in before despite many many many google earth trips. My hope is to put together a field trip post next week. However, due to the busy schedule that has limited content on this site recently, I will have to see how much time I will have.

On the other hand, the city of Richmond, VA is planning a shift from one-way streets to two-ways:

It's happening on North Second Street -- "2 Street" in the lore of Jackson Ward's jazz-inflected history -- where developer Ronald Stallings is restoring the Hippodrome Theater and an adjacent building in what he sees as a revived entertainment district.

Ettamae's Café, a cozy restaurant owned by brother and sister Matthew Morand and Laura Morand Bailey and their father, Paul, opened last month in one of Stallings' buildings two doors from the historic theater.

Stallings, president of Walker Row Partnership, has developed 55 projects in Jackson Ward, a neighborhood with a storied history as the birthplace of African-American capitalism. "I'd like to see Jackson Ward emerge as a walking history like Williamsburg, where you experience it, you don't just drive through it," he said.

The return of two-way streets is critical in making that happen, he said. "Visitors get so turned around with all the one-way streets. They have to make three right turns to go left."

Second Street, for example, travels one way north until it makes a sharp left to reach North First Street, which extends one way south and connects northward to a bridge across Interstate 95 to Gilpin Court and North Jackson Ward. Fifth Street travels one-way south from Interstate 64 across I-95 and Broad to Cary Street, where it becomes two-way to the James River and the American Civil War Center.

People using valet parking at the Richmond Marriott leave their cars at the hotel entrance, across from the convention center at Fifth and East Broad. The valets drive the cars two blocks west along Broad to Third Street, turn right and proceed one block to East Marshall Street. They turn right again and travel back to a parking garage a half-block from where the journey began.

'That half-block alone would be huge," said Jack Berry, president and CEO of the convention center and visitors bureau.

So would making Fifth Street a two-way street all the way to the river, said the city's architects. They envision a bike path along the street that would allow people easy access to the James, as well as the hotels and businesses that beckon on the other side of Broad Street from the convention center.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Monday Morning Linkages

More on NOLA potentially removing I-10 through the City, this time by former Milwaukee mayor John Norquist (who removed a freeway himself) and New Orleans architect Clifton James:
Despite protests from predominately African-American neighborhood residents and business owners, construction of Interstate 10 erased the oak-lined avenue that had been a strolling route for Louis Armstrong and other famed New Orleanians. The 132 businesses the street supported in 1960 shrank to 35 by 2000. Restoring the boulevard offers an opportunity to fix an oppressive mistake and create rich soil for growing diverse, locally owned businesses, as well as creating jobs for people native to this community. It is the best way to make the corridor a prized asset that brings hope to Tremé and lower Mid-City and works for all of New Orleans.
Enough press and these things become runaway trains and that is a good thing.
Take this for what it is worth, but a new Gallup poll shows that the longer your commute is, the lower your physical and mental well-being:
The results imply that many employers may need to reevaluate their options for helping workers manage those effects, particularly in light of the costs associated with low wellbeing. Those who are hesitant to allow telecommuting, for example, may need to consider balancing the physical and emotional toll of long commutes against the social benefits of having employees together in the workplace. Employers should also recognize that it's not just the time lost in commuting that may have adverse effects. Particularly in tough economic times, commuting expenses -- whether they go to gas and parking or mass transit fees -- may contribute to elevated worry levels. Helping defray those costs may help employees make the long trek to and from work with greater peace of mind.
I tend to ignore polls like these, and prefer reality based statistics such as measurable incidents. When people are polled and know they are being polled, their answers are often consciously adjusted to what they think the inquisitor wants to hear.

With that said, I do generally agree with their conclusions. Although with very little housing supply in and around downtown areas, lack of supply inflates housing price. Of course, if we were to individually measure Housing + Transportation costs accurately and consciously, we would probably see smarter decisions on where to live.
Yours truly gets reviewed by a local blogger Metroplexian in a post called Loser Cruiser. I'm not sure if I'm the loser:
My only real criticism of Mr. Kennedy's blog is that he lives in downtown. He works in downtown...Most of us can't swing living and working in downtown Dallas. We have to live where most of the Metroplex lives, in the goddamn suburbs!
The rest of the blog gets into a personal account of the travails riding DART and its many limitations. It is worth the read.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Back...But Not With My Own Words

Truthfully, I'm a little spent from having written about 5,000 words for the Dallas Morning News, 3,000 for a Magazine column, and another 6,000 for the parking paper in the past 2-3 weeks that I need a bit of a break (and those are all outside of my day job!). So don't mind me if I take the time to quote a passage from Tom Vanderbilt's excellent book on driving, cars, and us, Traffic: Why We Drive and What It Says About Us:
"When the city of Copenhagen was looking to reduce the number of cars entering the central city in favor of bicycles and other modes of transportation, it had a very crafty strategy, according to Steffen Rasmussen of the city's Traffic and Planning Office: Get rid of parking, but without anyone noticing. From 1994 to 2005, Copenhagen cut parking spaces in the city center from 14,000 to 11,500, replacing the spaces with things like parks and bicycle lanes.
As I stated in the parking paper, parking itself is merely a substitution for mobility. If other, perhaps safer, faster, or more enjoyable means of transportation are provided including proximity, then choice will allow a reduction of congestion.

An underpriced commodity, such as parking does two things: 1) it means there is too much parking making for an unpleasant human experience. If I am to invent a word it is anthropofugal. It flings people away. No one wants to be near a parking lot, particularly in Dallas summer heat. They also feel unsafe which is why Baylor floodlights the bejesus out of their surface lots. And 2) it encourages more driving, when we are trying to encourage more DART ridership and implement a new Bike Plan.

Copenhagen understood that parking itself was a resource and that its cheap, easy, or free supply created negative externalities such as increased car congestion, obesity, pollution, and increased citizen expenditures for gas, cars, maintenance, etc. They reduced the supply of parking to increase its value more appropriate to the costs it imposes upon the City.
Over that same time, not accidentally bicycle traffic rose by some 40 percent - a third of people commuting to work now go by bike...
People adapt. Copenhagen was smart. They didn't talk about what they are doing because they learned from earlier battles to remove car traffic from streets. People fret change. Businesses flipped out that they planned on removing traffic from their streets. Now central Copenhagen is as lively and safe a business district as their is in the world.

That number of bicycle commuters is estimated to be pushing 60% of commuters now.

Friday, August 13, 2010

A Tight Black T-Shirt Coming to a Neighborhood Near You

I just caught word that Anderson Cooper wants to do a story on Oak Cliff and the Better Block project. See what happens when clustered creatives reach critical mass? They organize and use the City as their canvas for focusing their creative energies.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Full Parking Paper (LONG)

I have my hands full with various real and side projects that have kept my attention away from home base here, including a full feature article for Columns Magazine on the New Parkland Hospital. Last week, I was posting snippets of a draft on parking issues within the City of Dallas. Well, for the next week while I'm off handling other bidnass, chew on the full shebang (footnotes and endnotes excluded in the copy/paste):

Policy Paper for the Revision of Parking Code for City of Dallas
By: Patrick Kennedy AICP, CNU
August 10, 2010

Disclosure: I was not paid to do this. I was only motivated by my civic duty as a Dallas citizen and the sense that nobody had yet come to the fore presenting a real understanding of the what, why, and how various parts of the City are affected by parking, either too much or too little. Meanwhile many parts of the City work just fine. My intention is to arrive at a solution that is incremental, that is contextual, that is sophisticated, and is understanding of and appropriately calibrated to the subtleties and nuance of local dynamics of place.

Also: Special thanks to all that assisted in taking a review of this.

“The car is like your mother-in-law. You must have good relationship with her, but she shouldn’t control your life.” Jaime Lerner

Because of antiquated and arcane formulas, parking, as the result of formalized inertia, has become a problem in cities throughout the country, one that has yet to be fully solved because it is not fully understood. It is too often treated with blunt tools when delicacy, as defined by place, should determine the appropriate approach. In order to create timeless, lovable, and livable cities, our underlying codes that define place must be aware of the place they are trying to create. The following is a position paper outlining the specific and broader issues imposed by parking and its various permutations and suggesting an additional implementation component be added as an addendum to the Dallas Comprehensive Plan and the Vision North Texas 2050 Regional Plan that calls out problem areas and outlines them as either Regional or Neighborhood Centers with specific policy directions for each. By doing so, the City of Dallas will become a leader in applying forward thinking principles for urban development, will stimulate investment in areas, and create more successful, appropriately-scaled centers of activity.


A common solution to parking problems affecting American cities is to convert to a market-based pricing approach. While this is appropriate in some locations, a strictly market-based approach works only when curb parking is underpriced and when overcrowded; however, there is plentiful off-street parking, the problem is the very code demanding excessive spaces. Cities can therefore eliminate cruising by either charging market prices for curb parking or by requiring enough off-street spaces to reduce the price of off-street parking to zero. The price of curb parking is one of the few policy variables that cities control directly, but almost all American cities have chosen the wrong policy: requiring plentiful off-street parking rather than charge fair market prices for scarce curb parking.

For Dallas, however, the problem is not that simple. Simply switching all parking to market-based pricing is not enough. Expecting different results by following past policies or principles is the definition of folly. This paper intends to point out the multitude of negative outcomes for the city that are produced by the current parking ordinances as well as suggest a road map for guiding future development in the City of Dallas based on more context-sensitive parking solutions.

Currently, there are two general parking scenarios emerging in Dallas. Using Jan Gehl’s terminology , these are the Invaded City and the Abandoned City. An invaded area is one where the demand to be there remains high enough that visitors often search endlessly for free parking and crowd into residential neighborhood streets. In Dallas, some of these areas include the neighborhoods of West Village, Lower Greenville, and Bishop Arts.

Abandoned places are areas where walking and public life has become almost nonexistent due to excessive parking. Downtown Dallas was first invaded by automobiles in the 1950s, only to eventually be abandoned by reactionary measures. Today, much of downtown remains abandoned (that the Main Street area of downtown is in the process of oscillating back from abandoned to being an invaded place, underscores the need for a parking code that is finely tuned to the intricacies of place).

A new parking code creatively and strategically amended, will solve both problems. Ultimately, this report suggests that regional and local centers be differentiated from the rest of the development code. By doing so, this would create special provisions to these overlays for parking and transportation provisions associated with the goals and principles of the area as outlined in the Comprehensive Plan.

Planning for the Future by Addressing Now, Flexibly

In ten years, what will the City of Dallas look like? How about in twenty? Fifty? One hundred? The truth is that no one knows. One hundred years ago, the dire urban planning issue of the day was accumulation of horse excrement. The near-term answers are far easier to imagine than future ones. . The unpredictability ought to give us some insight into the process of zoning and coding for the City of Dallas.

The United Nations defines sustainability as taking care of the needs of present generations without compromising the ability of future generations to meet theirs as well. In many ways, our building and zoning codes should represent a similar logic to be more accommodating for our needs of today while being more adaptable for the future. The codes must achieve the goals set forth by the city, yet be adaptable to prevent the institutionalization (and inertia) of one generation’s preferences at the expense of another’s.

In a period of economic (and general) transition for people and their cities, now is the time to revisit codes cemented in place and mold the underlying “genetic” codes of cities for the functional urban form we desire. Geographer Richard Florida similarly refers to the present version of these periods of varying degree of trauma as the Great Reset where the economy and its primary facility, the City, are recalibrated and repurposed for long-term prosperity.

Urban Genetics, the underlying code and resultant physical form

Howard Bloom, popular science author and neurobiologist , calls these recessionary lulls the growing pains of shedding a no longer useful form of living for another (a new, and often yet to be determined one). If our cities are the physical manifestation of our economies (which are constructed in service to human emotion: wants and needs) our “urban phenotype” or the physical form of the city is directly produced by its genotype, or underlying genetic code. To get the cities we want, we must alter the genetic code of cities.

Our current challenge is unpredictability: what if we rewire the City’s code incorrectly? The worst thing to do is the obvious: to stick with the status quo. If Bloom is to be believed, we do not yet know what the future city will be because it is yet to emerge from the competition to replace the failing version of the existing. However, it is equally pernicious to code a potentially incorrect prediction. We need to allow for flexibility and the determination of potential new urban phenotypes to battle it out and determine the optimal direction for our City. The lesson: Do not code to specifics.

The need to “overwrite” prescription with proscription.

The majority of contemporary zoning codes in the U.S. are overly prescriptive in that they predetermine what the result will be as well as the process to achieve it. While a prescription is a rule that defines in detail what to do in a given situation, a proscription is a template for defining prescriptive rules, a pattern for a rule. This means that it is in favor of things, but how to get to that result is up to the determination of the designers, builders, and owners in direct response to variable site issues, opportunities, and constraints.

Most of the cities we love from around the world were and continue to be defined by simple patterns. For example, Portofino, Italy had no more complex building codes than certain established priorities such as views of the water. Siena, Italy was defined and arranged by physical capabilities of movement at the time of its development, on two- or four-legs. This led to winding and curving forms in response to geography. Another example is Washington, D.C., which was designed to preserve the prominence of the governmental and cultural institutions housed there. The resulting form is of streets and view corridors organized around the primary monuments and seats of government, as well as height limitations that maintain a pedestrian scale.

While we must allow for flexibility during changing times, needs, and technologies, which drive a future city form that we cannot comprehend or predict with any accuracy, in any living system, complexity is necessary to ensure survival. More heterogeneity equates to increased resilience. Cities are no different. In many ways, we squelched complexity in favor of uniformity, which was merely a direct response to codes that ensured uniformity and lack of innovation. Overly complex codes have produced overly homogenous places. Our cities must be responsive to our desire for different types of experiences and neighborhoods. We are now feeling the pain of those decisions as some parts of the city are overwhelmed by an influx of cars, others by too much parking.

In order to climb out of recessionary lulls, like any business, our City needs to best embody the spirit of the times. As the Better Block Project in Oak Cliff has shown, the Citizens are rejecting the uniformity of place and beginning to shape their neighborhoods. We need to unleash the creativity of the millions of Dallas residents in order to shape the future of the city toward one common goal of a more livable, a more vital, and a more empowering city for all.

The Need for Complexity through Simplification

A blanket code cannot effectively adapt to site conditions effectively. In response to this shortcoming, Dallas has created over one-thousand Planned Development Ordinances, meaning each zoning case becomes a lengthy and expensive negotiation for both the private entity and the city. This represents a desire by the market for less uniformity, but the result is administratively difficult.

The zoning code for our City must be FOR shared principles towards an improved City and AGAINST things such as mandatory parking minimums that interrupt the natural fabric of a City with wasteful surface parking space. The eventual patterns would be the basic principles and goals through which all more detailed decisions would be filtered. There are currently no basic principles in Dallas’s code that limit the destructive effect of parking on urban fabric and economies or guide our city towards increased lovability and vitality.

None of us lives in the future; therefore, we cannot dictate the rules of the City to citizens of Dallas 2050 as many of our antiquated zoning rules have done to us. Our goal should be a new code that shapes the City in a way that (in one hundred years) the City form will be so lovable and useful to the citizens that they will want to protect what we, the Dallas citizens of today, have created. Furthermore, the code should be flexible and adaptable enough to still apply or be malleable enough to respond to the needs of their time adequately.

It is no longer the 1980s. City building strictly for cars is no longer considered a futuristic utopia. It is expensive both individually and collectively. Our parking standards, in effect, require car ownership and the personal cost that goes with it. Dallas continues to be one of the fastest growing cities in the country. In order to accommodate the influx of people, the City must evolve in a sustainable fashion, and that means making infill development attractive and profitable for investment.

Accommodate sustainable and creative development forms.

Dallas and its densifying areas cannot compete with suburbia and should not have similar codes. Nor can it compete with the great cities of the world, as Dallas often aspires, with 20th century models, but rather by best representing the 21st century. This does not call for otherworldly futurism, but for appropriate guidance of the market and allowing the new city to represent the outgrowth of the desires and personalities therein. Great cities are defined by their authenticity and this must be the underlying logic for cultivating Dallas.

In other words, we must begin framing policy to allow for natural demand-oriented corrections to the market, which would ensure maximum flexibility and eschew the tendency for cemented policy that is resistant to the natural change all cities perpetually undergo.

Now is the time to be proactive rather than reactive and to guide what we want our city to be, how we want it to look, how we want it to function, and how we interact within it. Dallas’s parking code is an outdated, formative coding mechanism that has had a profound effect on eventual urban form and needs to change. However, unwieldy the process might seem, it can be refined with a thorough understanding of the issues and a few simple directives (overlays).


Any city can be understood as a spectrum representing the various and sometimes competing needs, wants, and desires of all its citizens, businesses, and stakeholders. Any building, zoning, or parking code must understand and accommodate this spectrum. Effective cities and urban economies offer a range of experiences, densities, and types of places, and the code must reflect that.

Only through creative market-oriented solutions can the city stir competitive progress, guided by (not dictated) by code. The code should be contextually-based on location, related to proposed or desired density, and limited to guiding principles or patterns, wherever possible, allowing for a flexible and adaptable city.

This paper is not presenting definitive solutions, but a detailed account of the relevant issues from the perspective of a professional urban designer and interviewed local developers. Only through true understanding of the issues, purposes, and function of such codes can we successfully tailor it towards an urban form that we desire, that is effective, sustainable, and contextually- and time-responsive.

Background and History of Parking Minimums

The current iteration of zoning (although amended over decades) was largely created more than fifty years ago in order to protect human health, public interest, and property values. Parking is only one portion of the zoning code, but a tremendously influential one in terms of resultant urban form and function as well as financial dynamics of real estate development.

Historically, new drivers began parking cars much as they would tether horses: anywhere they could on the side of the street because there was no infrastructure to house this motorized newcomer in the cities of the day. In response, cities began imposing mandatory requirements on private development to limit the competition and crowding of public streets.

Parking minimums on private development were enacted because of the excess demand on the limited public street space. Furthermore, because the pre-automobile cities were built around the mobility of the pedestrian (or train, or horse) and therefore were dense places, the introduction of the automobile meant excessive congestion, particularly as drivers circled endlessly for an available parking space.

The result was an overreaction that created mandatory, inflexible parking minimums to ensure that new developments would provide for the necessary mobility in a world where the only way to get around was by car. This implies that all must move around by car. Therefore, there must be a parking space waiting at the end of all trips. This has created many, previously unforeseen, negative outcomes, which will be described in the remainder of this document.

Parking as a poor substitute for mobility

Fortunately, our understanding of mobility has broadened and necessarily so. Dallas has added an extensive light rail system, has connected to Fort Worth via the TRE, and has a burgeoning bicycle culture to go with an on-going street bicycle plan. It also has some of the most successfully walkable urban developments in the country and federal funding for a new modern streetcar. With new transportation alternatives, the definition of mobility has changed; this means our requirements to ensure mobility must change as well.

Axiomatic transportation and parking formulae still assume a car-dominated world as the optimal end-state of cities and must also adapt. As Lewis Mumford states in The City in History, “An effective transportation network requires the largest number of alternative modes of transportation, at varying speeds and volumes, for different functions and purposes.”

New transportation alternatives (Dallas Area Rapid Transit, streetcar systems, and bikes) are adding overall capacity while reducing car use, meaning an increasingly lessened demand for parking. Parking codes written today (or yesterday) should not prohibit these necessary reductions. In fact, they arguably should be steering the market towards providing less parking within a City where it is less necessary.

Now one size fits all - zoning and parking code currently creates for a monoculture…

Car-oriented development has stretched cities beyond their ability to maintain their infrastructure. In a fast growing area with more growth expected, we simply cannot sustain “more of the same” development. The trouble is that because sprawling development was defined by policies such as the current parking code (favoring cheap land over efficient and best use of it) it was and is not indicative of natural, demand-oriented growth. Instead, sprawl cannibalized from the core of the City leaving behind untended areas that are important to us culturally, historically, and economically, and replaced them with a relentless sameness of place and experience.

Parking formulae --along with things like the way we count and predict traffic, zoning, etc-- are generative: forming a self-reinforcing feedback loop. Code an area for a certain development prototype, all you will get is that prototype. Furthermore, there is no distinction between uses based on context, location, or transportation (particularly with regard to choice). An office building must be parked at X spaces per 1000 sq ft regardless if it is on a DART line or has a residential base within short proximity. We have achieved a homogeny of place that works for only one segment of the market yet attempts to cram everybody in, like square pegs into round holes.

Furthermore, strictly car-oriented development ensures the mandatory car ownership and maintenance by the working poor, who often pay as much as 30 or 40% of their income on transportation. Often these cars are older models that are polluters, potentially unsafe, or in need of extra maintenance. This means there is potential for isolation and exclusion from participating in the local economy and increased self-sufficiency. We need parking codes that allow for development types (and ultimately neighborhoods) that provide transportation alternatives and options for a variety of affordability levels and personal preferences.

The transect shows a city can and should be made up of a variety of scales and densities, offering choice in the housing marketplace. The parking code must be tailored to specific densities and organized around land use and mobility choice in order for investors, developers, and designers to be responsive to the needs of place, the market, and the goals we have set forth as a City. The goal should be a resultant parking code that is malleable, contextually focused, market-oriented and site appropriate.

Lack of empiricism to the “Science” of Parking Standards – has no basis or responsiveness

Parking expert Professor Donald Shoup cites Connecticut zoning administrator Carol Gould’s writing in the journal Transportation Planning, “Parking requirements in most zoning regulations are not founded on an empirical analysis of what any land use will require to meet patrons’ needs, but appear to have been “handed down” from one community to another.” The result is standardized parking minimums that have no basis in reality or in how cities and people actually function. By standardizing parking requirements, particularly as minimums, the codes ensure a self-reinforcing feedback loop where parking begets road capacity and road capacity begets more parking.

Mandatory minimums lead to a situation where supply always vastly exceeds demand except for rare or special occasions. During off-peak hours, days, weeks, or months, there are vast surpluses of parking that reduce property value, land use, and the public’s perception of safety. Parking, as a necessary resource because of transportation policy, either becomes scarce in those peak times or incredibly abundant during off-peak times and therefore devalued. Neither of which is ideal.

The challenge is that even if studies were commissioned to determine actual parking need by use, the resulting code would still reflect the car-oriented city we want and need to leave behind.

Establishing Goals for the Future and Modeling in Support

Traffic volume modeling is slowly but surely migrating towards a smarter system (like the one San Diego recently implemented) that makes distinctions based on the character of area. From now on projected vehicular trip generations by land use dichotomizes between conventional suburban and urban mixed use categories of development and the load each puts on the transportation network.

While San Diego has at least identified two, there is certainly a greater range of possible development categories and related impacts on transportation and modal share. We know here in Dallas (from working with private developers) that at least three exist for daily trips produced by use. They are Conventional Suburban as the baseline of 100%, Walkable Suburban Mixed-Use (such as Legacy Town Center in Plano) which reduces trips by approximately 20% or 80% of conventional standards, and Walkable Urban Mixed-Use allows for approximately 40% trip reduction or 60% of conventional standards.

As we get smarter with our other data and formulae and as distinctions are drawn for road capacity and layout, we must also do the same to create a parking code that is smart and context-based.

Understanding the Market, meeting the market, and shaping the market

We often fall into the trap of following various dogmas. One of which is the infallible magic of the invisible hand of the market. We have a representative democracy where governments create markets and the infrastructure for them to exist freely and fairly. Government is the invisible arm leading that hand.

Markets generate immense amounts of directional inertia that becomes difficult to reverse if not properly guided. As previously stated, because of faulty policies towards automobile hegemony of the transportation system (the byproduct of relative monoculture of development), the market as it stands today, chooses standards similar to what has already been coded. The market has been conditioned to want exactly what it was coded to have.

It is necessary to clarify the distinction between merely responding to the market and preventing the creation of a plurality of new markets to exist – new ways of living, new ways of being, and new ways for the city to exist, representative of the diversity of the people living within it.

In development, parking ratios are wielded as a necessary response to market realities. They are often of today, if not yesterday, but clearly not of tomorrow. Government policy, including the parking code, for nearly a century has favored car-oriented, unsustainable development leading to a place where the market has no choice but to adhere to the status quo rather than being responsive to changes in the market. Policy prevents progress.

It is critical to know that markets are constructed on demographics, as are representative governments. The response to one tautologically constructed market prevents delivery to the larger, broader market – that of walkable urbanism.

Economist Christopher Leinberger, in research for his book The Option of Urbanism, found pent-up demand, where 40% would like to but only 3% of the population actually do live in walkable urban environments. If we desire private investment in Dallas, we must overcome the barriers created by rigid, inflexible, and antiquated parking requirements.

Government’s role

With increasing mobility thru a variety of alternative transportation modes, only through the allowance of creativity, can Dallas, its citizens, and its creative agents, in the market lead the way into the 21st century and become a national and global leader for how cities can be more livable, more sustainable, more responsive, and more representative of their citizenry.

Government can also play a guiding role by creating overlays around transit areas, limiting parking to maximum ratios, reducing the burden on developers to provide parking, and allowing for flexible and creative solutions to providing the same mobility that parking requirements were intended to ensure in a strictly car-oriented environment.

The Forward Dallas Comprehensive Plan provides a starting point by defining how we want our city to be and not how it is. The new parking code should allow for guided, incremental change towards the general defined goals in Forward Dallas. However, after participating in and reviewing the process, there are not enough classifications in strategic land use areas for the range and flexibility the market would actually deliver.

However, from a geographic and mapping standpoint, with new streetcar and bike initiatives, it is already an old document. To evolve incrementally the Dallas Parking Code, we should establish transit-oriented, form-based overlay zones with new, flexible parking requirements (possibly even maximums) within a 15-minute walking shed around transit hubs, stations, and corridors.

Costs vs. Returns?

One of the challenges Dallas faces in becoming a ‘smarter’ city is the availability of data and information regarding how people live and operate within the City, including measurements of preference over practice, i.e. pent-up demand. One such data vacuum is the proper valuation of externalities. Simply put, many things just cannot be objectively assigned dollar-amount values. However, slowly but surely, we are learning of the negative costs associated with the current, antiquated parking policies on the urban fabric of our City.

The over-abundance of parking reduces property value and instills a perception of lack of safety, while the spatial requirement for cars and their auxiliary infrastructure undermines interconnected nature of successful urban economies.

As stated in the Market Section above, the commonly accepted market-requirements for parking are often very similar to code. In today’s economic environment without creative solutions, mandatory parking minimums become a barrier to investment. This particularly effects potential investment in difficult urban infill development sites, the places where we want it in order to catalyze urban revitalization.

Specifically, there are the literal, objective costs to parking and its infrastructure. Costs can reach upwards of 20% of hard costs for what is generally non-productive space. A single structured parking space costs a minimum of $10,000. Usually in the central city, this figure is much higher – $20,000, $25,000, or more. Parking costs often make-up the negative “gap” between land and development costs and return on investment. This is often made up for by public subsidy in order to attract the kind of development we want, urban infill.

The spatial requirements for parking also take up valuable floor area, which hinders necessary qualitative infill growth and delivering sustainable, affordable housing in a safe, walkable environment. Often the incremental difference in parking costs ends up being all subsidies when it could be profit, increased amenities, or reduced prices for consumers.

As mentioned before, there are also the external costs of overly abundant parking instilled by the logic of increasing supply rather than reducing demand. These include flash flooding due to rainwater runoff from excessive impervious surfaced parking lots, a perceived lack of safety, and perhaps most importantly from a zoning standpoint, a negative effect on neighboring property values.

A History of Subsidized Parking

Parking has long been accepted to be a free commodity; thereby skewing the real estate market and city form. Free parking encourages increased car usage, meaning more congestion, traffic collisions, pollution, and the incentive to circle for that hard-to-find, close, and free parking space. More drivers also mean more stress on a road system already in need of maintenance dollars.

In addition, more drivers on the road mean that private parking lots and garages (essentially non-productive space from an urban standpoint) become the highest and best use for many properties, particularly in areas of high demand, thus reducing the quality and character of those places. Effectively, this is market rate parking, but it is corrosive to the fragile bonds of the urban economy. Therefore, the solution is not as simple as just converting to it market-rate as many advocate.

The conventional solution has been to continually add more supply to road capacity by widening roads, but now we are arriving at the reality that we can no longer afford maintenance and further road expansion. Furthermore, a study by the RAND Corporation concluded that expanding supply only temporarily reduces congestion due to induced traffic. The only proven solution is to reduce demand, and one way is to de-incentivize parking.

Shifting modal share

Transportation policies must reflect the demographic and political shift towards a hierarchical system of overlapping transportation modes. A functional city allows for choice of mode, route, and speed, all appropriate to the purpose and function of the trip. The rise of bikes, transit, streetcars, and livable density means less car travel in the future and thus less need for parking, yet also the inevitability of more traffic. Except to accommodate the increased traffic, transportation policies should acknowledge and balance a variety of transportation modes, particularly of those with less negative externalities, in order to maximize capacity, efficiency, and safety.

While DART represents an extensive rail and bus system, it is still inefficient in relation to the City’s auto-oriented, sparse land use, and overall lack of density. A transportation network represents the bones of a City and the people and uses represent the body. The City needs time, perhaps even generations, to adapt incrementally to its new bones. In order to do so, it needs a genetic code that is responsive to changing dynamics.

Furthermore, traffic congestion wastes many millions of dollars in productivity each day and DART is in need of ridership. To succeed and operate effectively and efficiently, it needs livable, walkable, safe density around its stations. In order to support DART’s goals, increase ridership, and catalyze the eventual shift to a city organized not just around the car but also around transit, Dallas must make driving (and parking) less easy, less subsidized, and pay its full costs on the City and its networks.

Oft-cited example of what is wrong today – Lower Greenville – misappropriating blame.

People often think about parking and urban places the wrong way. State Thomas/Uptown Dallas is one such place that is often skewered for not having enough parking. By conventional standards this is true, parking at .88 spaces per bedroom. It is also very walkable. In not many places worth going can parking be found ubiquitous and plentiful.

Lower Greenville is another case where lack of parking incites a reactionary response of either “more parking” or “close the generators of traffic.” The real issue is the various nodes along Lower Greenville are built at a scale and density of a neighborhood center. The lack of supply of similar activity centers within walking distance from an adjacent neighborhood elevates Lower Greenville to the status of regional destination, drawing people from all over the Metroplex. The real response should be creating more places like Lower Greenville, so people from all over the Metroplex are no longer parking in the front yards along the various residential streets perpendicular to Lower Greenville.

Instead, they can leave their car parked at home and walk a few blocks to their own neighborhood store or restaurant. We need more similarly walkable centers of activity embedded within and scaled to their neighborhoods in order to not draw from all over the city but allow residents to walk more often to their own center or (on special occasions) to others. This will improve real estate values at the various centers, the neighborhoods nearby, and reduce citywide VMTs (vehicle miles traveled).

Actual regional destinations need to be served by the regional transportation network, so that the infrastructure of movement and parking accommodates a regional magnet. This means DART, particularly where nightlife (alcohol) is concerned. There must be alternative forms of travel to reduce incidents of drinking and driving. DART service means reduced parking loads for those types of businesses that currently (and shockingly) have minimum parking requirements encouraging driving under the influence.

Regional and Neighborhood Centers

City Hall should be taking a guiding approach, not a defining one, in order to allow the market and context-based approach to adapt to the City’s new bones of transportation hierarchy and choice. However, it should establish areas so that the transportation infrastructure is appropriate for different types of urban areas rather than defined for specific individual uses. It is the opinion of this paper’s authors that the City needs to outline and define Regional and Neighborhood centers throughout the City as an addendum to the Comprehensive Plan and Regional 2050 Plan.

By definition, the regional destination is that which draws attraction from the entire region. In order to do so, it must have the facilities to handle high numbers of people and be served by a variety of transportation modes. The Green Line to Fair Park might be an example of an initial implementation of this idea. Neighborhood centers should be walkable, drawing predominantly from the immediately surrounding neighborhoods. Regional centers should be dense and walkable, but density, in and of itself, should not be the goal. Rather density should be the market oriented response to overall desirability of the regional center.

Both Regional and Neighborhood Centers should have associated codes and parking standards for their designed purpose. In neighborhood centers, parking should be limited in order to prevent neighborhood-scaled centers from becoming Invaded. Nearby residents should determine the policies for how to address parking in their neighborhood. Within regional centers parking management districts should be established to handle large volumes of cars while preventing parking facilities from negatively affecting the pedestrianization of the regional center.

Understanding the Fluid Nature of Parking and Recommendations

The last and perhaps most complex challenge to the parking puzzle is its fluid nature of peak periods of demand and supply. Those rare times and specialized uses of high demand create a perpetual over-supply of parking.

Parking formulas create a built-in over-supply to the point where there may be at least four empty parking spaces for every car owned in the country. A better system would narrow the gap between supply and demand considerably and an ideal system would never have excess parking. Even if that ideal is impossible, is it possible to limit empty parking so that it never corrodes the character of a place?

With that said, this paper wishes to offer some other general thoughts and potential creative solutions to address the problem of parking:
  • Creative coding including reductions for transit, sharing spaces by land use, substitutions with bike/compact/vespa/motorcycle parking, or allowing for overlap of counting street spaces towards requirements.
  • Allow multiple buildings or lots to count the same street spaces for their usage. This limits supply and increases demand for these spots, thus allowing the city to charge an acceptable, flexible market-rate for these spaces, which are at a premium (being close to their destination). Furthermore, there is often high turnover in these spaces, but multiple uses can’t count spaces that are typically needed only for short periods of time. Spaces within a certain distance from the lot can be double- or triple-counted to accommodate the fluid nature of the spaces.
  • • Make on-street parking market-based and reduce parking requirements (if not also set maximums) to create more demand and therefore revenue for street spaces. Revenue which should be dedicated to localized public improvements in that particular district or block. The choice is to pay for close parking, get the exercise, or ride DART.
  • Can a code be adaptive? Regenerative? Flexible? One of the great challenges of codes is the difficulty in replacing them when a new model comes along. Redoing this study is the primary case in point. Why entrench or institutionalize the needs of one generation at the expense of future citizens’ ability to shape the city to their needs? A city is a never-ending adaptive process, which is impossible to formalize. The code should be more about guiding principles and less about prescriptive rules.
  • Allow for neighborhood by neighborhood determination (with some parameters). Would the neighborhood like to allow visitor parking? Should it be priced? Do residents get free passes? Where should that revenue go?
  • • If maximums do not replace minimums in certain districts, allow for distance-based reductions for transit, i.e. X% for less than .5 miles to DART, streetcar, or bike lanes and steadily increase reduction rate for closer proximity. A formula could be developed based on proximity to alternative transportation.
  • Create incentive policies for increased allowable FAR for sharing by use, substitutions by bike parking/compact spaces, or reductions for transit.
  • The codes absolutely MUST be written according to the proposed character and density of neighborhoods and districts rather than blanket parking rate by land use. A multi-family building in a transit-oriented development or within a half mile of a range/mix of uses shouldn’t park at the same rate as conventional suburban development. Other possibilities include thresholds based on walkscore ratings for reductions or thresholds associated with LEED-ND ratings. These, however, seem reactive and ultimately not as influential.

Because of the inherent difficulties in completely overhauling and rewriting parking codes, an ideal intermediate solution would propose incremental changes to specific problematic areas of the city. As noted in the paper, these areas are often mixed-use (or similar) developments that are urban in form and in high demand. However, they range in scales of density, some being much more intensively developed than others that remain embedded in their single-family residential neighborhood, such as Lower Greenville.

Therefore, two distinct overlay zones should be defined as part of an implementation component to previous city-wide or regional plans. These two overlay categories would be called Regional Nodes and Village Centers, which would have some similarities and differences.

The two categories are similar in that both ought to be walkable, mixed-use developments. Both create directed infill opportunities by eliminating barriers to investment such as mandatory minimum parking requirements. Also, they are both destinations for bus and streetcar (long-term) destinations.

Where they differ is largely in scale and density. Regional nodes should be more dense in response to the increased demand, desirability, and intensity of activity happening there. Furthermore, because of these reasons, there should be a more robust variety and scale of transportation modes supporting Regional Nodes. Regional nodes should also have a parking management authority that presumably could include parking garages that can be shared between transit centers and private development.

On the other hand, to preserve the scale of walkable neighborhood centers and their surrounding residential context, parking should be capped in maximums rather than minimus requirements. While there may be overflow parking into the neighborhoods, the policies for such treatments can be locally determined such as having meters with local permits where the revenue is directed towards local public improvements.

As mentioned the study would outline recommended areas for each type of development zone through workshops with local stakeholders to determine the consensus-approved direction for the neighborhood in question. The study should then outline case studies for both zones with a variety of typical found throughout the City, with specific suggestions that may vary from the policies of the more general Regional or Neighborhood categorization.

Ultimately, the distinctions of these areas from the rest of the city would include new parking policies directed specifically for their role within the City, would mitigate issues of invasion and abandonment, as well as provide a hierarchy for directing public transportation investments and public-private partnership investment opportunities.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Not Spending the Money that Doesn't Have to Be Spent

Bicycle commuting in European capital cities, from the Financial Times:

Chart: People cycling to work as a percentage of those who travel to work (or place of education) in Europe's capital cities in 2009

Imagine how much money Copenhagen saves for its people and the City itself with that extraordinary number of nearly 60% commuters on bikes. The same daily economic connections are being made, generating wealth, but at a fraction of the cost for infrastructure and energy due to less intensive means. If you were running a city like a business, wouldn't you want the same revenue at a fraction of the costs?

Friday, August 6, 2010

Last Book Club Posting

Here is my Friday column for the Dallas Morning News book club blog. The theme for the day is "anything goes" so I might have gone too out there. I don't think any regular readers here will be too surprised by anything there as it is mostly repackaged thoughts that have found a home on this blog before. I guess if this blog is an extension of what is on my mind, that seems inevitable.

Looking back on the week that was, I quite enjoyed exploring new topics even if I framed them all towards a purview I was more comfortable with, ie urbanism. We were told to keep posts to 350-words, but when given the go ahead by the editors, most of mine ended up pushing 1,000 just behind a "read more" jump. Who can possibly express a thought coherently in a couple hundred words?! More concise, better writers than me, I suppose. But if all writing is at least somewhat self-indulgent, as with all indulgences, oh I indulge. Let the several million words on this here blog be exhibit A.

An excerpt:

In City (re)building, as soon as the lenders figure out how to evaluate land potential properly, which is directly related to the key element of urbanity: connectivity and all of its various permutations, we can once again be off and running economically. My hope is that we can get to a world where growth means something more than just getting fatter. It means getting smarter, getting better, as a people and a City. Where it improves everything around it, does not diminish quality of life for others, the character of a neighborhood or the City, the environment, but rather is additive. Only then can we fully unleash the true power of capitalism, where growth is profitable economically, environmentally, aesthetically, and socially.

Imagine a form of wealth generation with auxiliary profits where buildings function as trees and produce their own energy, if not more. Or, where a factory acts like the soil where its processes result not just in intended product but also in clean, potable water as an output. That is the kind of world I want to live in, in 2050.

Urban Elements

I'm still digesting this fully, but it is an interesting idea that I found at a Des Moines urbanist's website:

Urban Elements Graph

I haven't ran this through any kind of rigorous analysis to determine if there are categories that ought to be included or removed. I mentioned at the site that I am glad he didn't include density, as the others are constructed factors which then become amenities that are then revealed through demand --> cost --> density. This is something that will continue to occupy my brain for sometime in thinking how to make it useful as an analytical tool.

This also might have just been a happy accident, but the ranges of density that become the color coded lines correlate pretty directly to T-zones from the transect, which would suggest the direct correlation between most dense T-zone with broadest shape produced. I don't know if he was applying local Des Moines neighborhoods here, but I would have downtown higher for population diversity, at least in the ideal sense.
I've been thinking about this while writing my last post for the Book Club. It struck me that if you think about it in 3-D with this graphic laying flat and arising to a point, this has some correlation to the Maslow-Urban pyramid I have created:

Not so much in terms of specifics, but rather that the greater volume of shape equates to the amount of people looking for those amenities (needs/wants/etc.). In the Maslow pyramid above, as humans we ALL have the primal needs for shelter, food, water, etc. These have to be met for the City to even be Viable.

However, with the pentagram above, the greatest volumes are formed by areas of the City that have all of the features listed. The bigger the shape/volume equals higher demand, which means real estate value, which then gets translated by the market into density. Then if density is lacking in certain areas that otherwise have the amenities, there are potentially identifiable reasons for that. Likewise, if increased density is desirable, the amenities such as connectivity or public realm must be identified and improved.

I should also add that diversity of population is still the one that I'm struggling with. It still strikes me as a resulting product, or output, rather than an input, which connectivity clearly is. In fact, all of these could stem in many ways with connectivity and its various scales, speeds, modes, distances, etc.
I just posted this comment over on the Des Moines site to keep the dialog going, because as I mention I think there is something profound here, especially with further distillation. I'll post it below as well, to get the dialogue going with readers here:
Sorry to keep pestering you, but I think there is something really profound here, but it just has to be elucidated a bit. You are right that density is relative. There are good forms of density and bad forms. In my opinion, the bad density is a product of a real estate delivery and city building system that has lost its way.

Where there should be a direct relationship between amenity and value/density, which is what your diagram shows, and how we know infrastructure and development at least SHOULD exist, there is not a direct relationship in what we might label as the 20th century city for shorthand. In fact, there is no relationship or guiding force. In many cases, it is delivering density where it doesn't want to be (and getting slums) or not correctly identifying the barriers to why density ISN'T happening in areas that have levels of amenity like high connectivity, etc.

I am still struggling with the two diversities, I guess. These strike me as outputs or resultant products of various forces rather than the inputs. I think this can get really strong if we're able to distill a similar diagram strictly to inputs. I guess the challenge with that is the feedback loops inherent in complex systems such as cities. I'm wondering, are there more elements to this equation? If so, what might they be? Or are there less, and they all revolve around connectivity and its various permutations?

Thursday, August 5, 2010

The City of the Millennial(s)

My Thursday post is up on the DMN book club blog. The theme for today is Generations, Religion, or Family Values. Or perhaps, I made that up kinda like eyewitness testimony is less factual and more influenced by "lowest personal culpability compatible with credibility" as Tom Vanderbilt cites in Traffic about interviews with those involved in car accidents. Enough rambling, an excerpt from today's entry entitled, "The City of the Millennial(s):"
The parents, now grandparents, are put into homes where their entire mobility is dependent upon their own diminishing driving capacity. They lose their independence and vigor and are effectively warehoused. The children, the latch key kids are bused to/from school, which increasingly look more and more like warehouses than prideful centers of community (with nothing to say about what busing does to school budgets), and thereby limited to where they can go within the reach of foot or bike in the gated community. They become dependent upon working mom and/or dad to get anywhere, stunting the growth of their own responsibility.

What if this trend line towards more broken homes does not reverse and thus extends toward infinity like the rest of his assumptions? Millennials, ever the social creatures, have found family by proxy. Not only are they willing to live in multi-generational households, but also they are also more willing to take on roommates. This possibly is partly due to a laggard economy. Another piece of the puzzle is their desire to extend their more collectivist college lifestyle into their new professional world. This also could possibly be indicative of their extended adolescence that some psychologists suggest now last into their early thirties, particularly for males (my sister had a term for these types, "boy babies" - I'm sure women frustrated with the immaturity of their dates, my girlfriend included, can commiserate). Remember their stunted maturation of personal responsibility from the "family-friendly" gated communities?

Sondor Boulevard - Road Diet

I once drank beer at the terminus of this road at Halmtorvet, here is proof:


Once upon a time Sondor Bou had 2 drive lanes on each side of a grass median with a third lane on each side that flexed between a parking lane and a turning lane at larger intersections. Here is the google earth satellite photo that shows this:

As you can see above, I have highlighted the two travel lanes in red with the flex lane in a softer pink. Below you can see how the road now exists:

The street section now goes:
sidewalk | bike lane | parking | drive lane | redesigned park

Traffic is calmed and people emerge from their hiding spots. See many more pictures of the redesigned park with playgrounds, basketball and bocce courts, low maintenance plantings, skateparks, etc. at this link.

I see two key lessons here. First, is that the boring, high maintenance, low usability grass median can easily become usable people space. We have plenty of these possibilities here. However, that leads me to the second lesson. A park/plaza can only be as strong as its context, its connections to the surroundings and roads have to be slowed to a point where people feel comfortable 1) crossing it to access the park, and 2) hanging out there.

Oh, and it helps to be beautiful. Land value around it has increased because quality of life has been increased.

Thirsty Thursday Linkages...Now with More Bicycle Terrorists

Los Angeles plans to revolutionize transportation funding as Mayor Villaraigosa intends to build 30 years worth of transit projects in 10 years. How you ask? By raising the sales tax .5% and then leveraging all thirty years worth of receipts against the first 10. Sounds good to me. LA voted for it, but they vote for everything. Ambition. I likes it [sic]:
Among the plan’s projects is the long-awaited Westside subway extension — the so-called “subway to the sea.” If the funding plan does not work, this subway could only be completed in 2032. Other projects include a regional connector linking three downtown rail lines, a light rail extension to Los Angeles International Airport and new bus-only lanes along various corridors. In all, the 30/10 would add 78 miles of rail and bus-only lanes — a 75 percent expansion of the current 102-mile system.-
Car/Road hegemony likes their transportation monopoly just the way it is, thank you very much and are willing to employ dopey wannabe (or existing) politicians in order to pedal (see what I did there?) the insane:

Mr. Maes accused the Democratic front-runner, Mayor John Hickenlooper of Denver, of instituting bicycle policies that turn the city into “a United Nations community.”

“This is all very well disguised, but it will be exposed,” Mr. Maes told supporters, and The Denver Post reported. Denver recently began a large-scale bicycle share program, known as B-Cycle; it is one of several cities around the country to do so in the last year. (New York’s own program remains in the planning stages.)

“These aren’t just warm, fuzzy ideas from the mayor,” Mr. Maes said. “These are very specific strategies that are dictated to us by this United Nations program that mayors have signed on to,” he said, referring to Denver’s membership in the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives.

“Phase 1: collect underpants,” posted Matthew Hill, a Seattle cyclist.
OK, bicyclists. Everybody off your bikes and back into traffic where you can experience some real freedom. Now if you excuse me while I try to find freedom from the moronic by wrapping my mouth around a tailpipe.

Good ol' fashioned, unfiltered and unfettered hypocrisy just makes me weak in the knees. This does remind me of a very old post of mine, "Don't MAKE me walk:"

But, I will not link to it, because it is from an extreme right wing website (ya know, one of those hate filled ones so larded up with garish advertisements that it looks incredibly cheaply done), the words of a former congressman suggesting "why the automobile is the ultimate manifestation of freedom, mobility, and personal choice, and argues for a re-allocation of public spending away from mass transit and other alternatives."

Alternatives? You mean like choices? Yes, no other choices. So you can have the freedom to drive, and only drive "On the Great American Freedom Machine" (I kid you not):
It's time for drivers to stand up against efforts to demonize the automobile. Forcing people to use a particular mode of travel is not the American way. Life is better when you have the freedom to drive, not just find a ride or wait at bus stops.
Hell Yes! And you MUST live the way I say you must live. And, that includes spending all of your pay check to my good friends at Exxon Mobil. Damn Plebeians.
Freedom, the American way. My way AND the Highway.

Because, why spend tax dollars on mass transit? We don't spend tax dollars on Automobile infrastructure, ohhhhhhh wait.....
And here are those commies in Copenhagen, despite being considered the most free and fair capitalist city on the globe, has FORCED everybody into $20,000 vehicles with whips and chains...oh, what's that you say? Bikes can be had for a few dozen Kronor?

Copenhagen's Car-free streets & Slow-speed zones from Streetfilms on Vimeo.

Remember how I wrote about the void between the parallel geographies of the real and the virtual and the need to bridge those gaps to advance web 2.0's role in self-organizing clusters? Well, it turns out people are working on just that:
“Invisible Cities maps information from one realm—online social networks—to another: an immersive, three dimensional space. In doing so, the piece creates a parallel experience to the physical urban environment. The interplay between the aggregate and the real-time recreates the kind of dynamics present within the physical world, where the city is both a vessel for and a product of human activity. It is ultimately a parallel city of intersections, discovery, and memory, and a medium for experiencing the physical environment anew.”

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Decentralized Relocalization

My new post is up at the DMN blog and as you can see, it is entitled Decentralized Relocalization where I counter Kotkin's market-related reasons for decentralization with why those decentralizing forces actually project towards a renewed localism. An excerpt:

The most valuable places, those in greatest demand, have always and will always be those with the highest degree of interconnectivity. As Lewis Mumford states, transportation must be made for all distances and speeds, whether leisurely or hurried that we desire. In his stead, we could probably add real or digital, as there will also be a vast market for improving linkages not just between people but also between the parallel geography of places virtual and real.

Lastly as previously mentioned, is energy. While Kotkin suggests a correlation between decentralized energy and decentralized people, the decentralization here actually just means produced by the many rather than the few. This also benefits from clustering of people, locally- or neighborhood-based power producers benefit via lack of transmission loss as energy has much less distance to travel than from centralized power plants.

All of which points back to our cities and improving those which we already have. There will be no new pop-up cities like Ordos or giant mega-buildings like Burj Khalifa, both of which were entirely supply-side and remain empty. Rather we will focus on qualitative growth and incremental improvement

Is the Mayor Reading My Blog???

At the Belo Mansion last night his opening remarks on the Future of Dallas and how far it has come:
"I Knew Downtown Dallas Has Come So Far When I Saw People Walking Dogs and Baby Strollers."
Let's check the Livability Indicators, Shall we?

#3 - Babies!


#9 - Doggy DooDoo

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Dead Man's Curve - Cont'd - A Redesign

In the heat of the discussion of whether 175 should go transition from a dangerous highway that severed local connections to a 6-lane boulevard or a 4-lane boulevard, I decided to propose a compromise where the 5th and 6th lanes would be shared bike/car browsing lanes and at lower speeds than the 4-primary travel lanes, thus creating a calmer interface between LINK and PLACE:

Click graphic to mega-size

One of the key issues in planning these days is making sure buildings interface with the sidewalks, with permeable buildings made possible often through ground floor uses that are open to the street that are typically retail or small office, have plenty of clear glass to accentuate the visual permeability, and multiple entries along the building wall.

What we have still been very bad about is ensuring that street designs do the same, that they also interface with private development sites. Our arterials are the perfect spot for this kind of redesign, 1) because they are already very wide and 2) density of development WANTS to align with density of movement. However, this doesn't happen because our arterials are not designed in a way to promote density, to interact with the kind of mixed-use development that makes for great cities (and generates the most tax base).

European cities have been much better about doing this than we have. The above section is modeled after a typical European boulevard. You'll see the traffic with the highest rate of speed is towards the center and away from more vulnerable forms of movement such as bikes and pedestrians. The highest speed lane is the middle most, where the lane next to it incorporates a bus lane to be shared with traffic. Because the buses frequently stop, it is closer to the transition zone, which is then shown in yellow. The yellow zone is for medium speed to slow speed traffic (15- to 25-mph) and includes parallel parking as well as a shared travel lane between cars and bikes. Lastly, is the green zone, which is the pedestrian realm, for the slowest, most vulnerable of movement, but also where there is the most interaction between street space and access to private uses.

The one glaring Con with this scheme is the width of the Right-of-way. It doesn't recapture a great deal of land that can then be used to leverage private investment whereas the 4-lane scheme does. However, this scheme DOES create a better interface between traffic flow and potential development along it than would the 4-lane scheme.

[edit 2] Just checked out the highway section and it looks like the ROW is about 210' give or take. The street section above is 130' give or take which would leave 40' in depth on both sides to roll into potential private development.

Other little details: the new street could probably use a new name (edit: nevermind - just noticed that the Cesar Chavez renaming extends all the way to the curve) and the graphic doesn't include lighting in the center median. I think there is also a good opportunity to make this central street lighting a sculptural, iconic element for a great street that makes an emphatic statement for the City and South Dallas.

[edit 3] If you've been reading this blog for any period of time, you know that I like to draw analogies from various biological sciences to explain various elements of the urban puzzle and occasionally apply the principles to urban design. In many ways, the new section dictated by speed and comprehensively looking at all forms of traffic including bikes, pedestrians, buses, driving to park, and parking, operates in many ways like a stream section where the fastest flow is to the center:

Velocity in a straight river

The fastest flow in this stream section is in the area labeled 4. The slowest is in five, but depth doesn't really apply, unless you want to show a street section with a subway running below it, I suppose. As many fishermen can probably tell you, the areas just below the surface towards the bank, are the areas with highest degree of biodiversity. This is where life happens, where water eddies, gathers, spins, and dances along the banks and there is some interaction between bank soil and water, people and buildings.

Dead man's Curve

This is almost good news all around. DMN has the story of money intended for the completely unnecessary Trinity Toll Road to be shifted to de-highwaying 175 through South Dallas. Well, if we need to spend money on roads, might as well be to downgrade them rather than new capacity. As with many roads, new infrastructure (in this case 175) was thought to be the necessary investment for bringing jobs and investment to certain areas. When it is the wrong kind of infrastructure, the kind that severs community ties, local economies, and hinders real estate, that is hardly the formula for new investment.

Except apparently we can't get it all right. It looks like the arbitrary traffic formulas will win out and the road will be 6 lanes instead of the 4 that it should be.
"Traffic volumes and conformity dictate the need for six lanes versus four lanes," agency spokeswoman Cynthia White said. "The City of Dallas supports six lanes."
Conformity with what? TxDOT now has Context-Sensitive Design Manual. Dallas now has Complete Street Initiative in place. Why not conform to those? Actually leverage real investment in the part of town that needs it. After speaking with people involved with the bike plan, while doing field work, they reported that South Dallas is littered with 6-lane arterials that get maybe 5,000 cars a day. The formulas are above reproach.

Now if we wanted to make it 4 travel and 2 cycle tracks, to build expanding the burgeoning bike culture in Oak Cliff to South Dallas, than we'd be getting somewhere. If it goes to 6, I predict within ten years we end up taking it down to 4.

Design: FAIL

Infrastructurist has a new top ten list of the worst designs of the last 25 years including several personal favorite punching bags like the Ordos Ghost City in China, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, and the building that fell over in one piece in China. Also, making the list were CitiField, the Mets new stadium, which I had no idea had as many problems as it did post-construction and this:

Good ol' Frank. Littering the world with his crumplestiltskins.

New Book Club Blog Posting

Entitled the Co-opted American Dream and the Rise of Guerrilla Urbanism:

The intrinsic "wiring" he refers to had nothing to do with the current geographic landscape of our cities. Rather the urban (or anti-urban) genotype was written to produce nothing but suburbia. This is the myth of choice in the American marketplace. From generic and complex Euclidean zoning, to tax incentives for new home construction, to artificially low gas prices, to road construction that is only paid in half by gas taxes and user fees, the difference comprised of subsidies to ensure more "growth," more spending, rather than actual value creation.

It produces one general physical form, meaning one way of life, and we are reacting negatively to it. While it might be the preference of some, forcing everyone into that way of life distorts markets, ensures traumatic "bubbles," and is utterly unsustainable. As more and more households discover they are now "underwater," with transportation costs are eating up an increasingly large chunk of our paychecks, and massive infrastructural deficits, the result of the suburban experiment has been increased class stratification. His ideal is proving to be anti-democratic in practice, no matter how good it sounds in theory.

If this presupposed reality was actually market-driven, would we have to break the law to get walkable, sociable, people-friendly places as Go Oak Cliff and the Better Block project artfully showed by breaking almost a dozen city ordinances?

Meanwhile we are left with all this stuff, boatloads of household and public debt, and no place to go.

Monday, August 2, 2010

More Book Club Postings

My second posting is up over at the DMN book club blog, this one is entitled A Tale of Two Valencias, now with more self-referential linking!
Valencia, California is just one of those many centers orbiting around downtown L.A., perfectly blending rural character with urban amenity as he puts it. Because of this rural meets urban compromise, each person that moves there, marketed to about the rural ambience, degrades the very commodity they are marketing. On the other hand with traditional urban development, that which is about qualitative growth rather than quantitative, each new resident adds to the community thereby increasing its most marketable trait. After spending much of the book bashing European city form, the irony of a transplanted European developer attempting to recreate the familiar village clusters of his youth is apparently lost on the author.

Monday Morning Linkages

As I said last week, I'll be writing over at the Morning News this week for their yearly Book Club Blog. My first entry is now up:
It is one thing to discount peak oil. It is entirely another to misunderstand (or misrepresent) it and put it into print as a rational defense. About peak oil, he delights at those actual experts who seem to "think oil will run out." On the contrary, peak oil is not about running out of oil, as he would like you to believe. It is about the peak and eventual decline of production, that the cheap stuff is becoming increasingly difficult to locate, extract, and refine. Hear of any problems lately in the extraction of oil; say a mile beneath the surface of the Gulf?
Be sure to keep up with it throughout the week at the link above.
Author of Traffic, Tom Vanderbilt has a new post on Slate wondering why Hollywood portrays the car-less as losers. Japan disagrees.
Or perhaps it's the wider society that has trouble conceiving of life outside the omnipresent sphere of what sociologist John Urry calls "automobility," one tenet of which is "the dominant culture that organizes and legitimates socialities across different genders, classes, ages and so on; that sustains major discourses of what constitutes the good life and what is necessary for an appropriate citizenship of mobility; and that provides potent literary and artistic images and symbols.
My take, if anything the car is about as hollow of a status symbol as any. As we return to truth, choice, and meaning, there will be far more perceived value and admiration for those who are able to reject societal impositions for true freedom, in living the way you want.
The New Yorker has an extract of the print edition of an article on traffic in Moscow, a city truly invaded by the overshoot of automobility, in copying all of the things we did wrong in their shift towards a capitalism-like substance rather than what we do right. How do 6 hour traffic jams strike you?
Then came capitalism. By the end of the nineteen-nineties, there were more people in Moscow from all over the former Soviet Union than there had been when the Soviet Union was a single state. All of them wanted cars. The city’s plan with regard to this was not to have a plan at all. Writer interviews traffic expert Mikhail Blinkin, who tells him that the number of cars in Moscow went from sixty per thousand residents in 1991 to three hundred and fifty in 2009. Muscovites continue to buy more cars that Mayor Luzhkov can build roads to drive them on.
It will be interesting to watch which direction they head with in response.

And lastly, a Manifesto for the Present. How often do designers hide behind the "architecture must be of our time" mantra when their design is some futuristic nonsense that doesn't even begin to address the problems of our day. The first statement:
Nostalgia for our past and utopian dreams for our future prevent us from looking at our present.