Friday, June 29, 2012

Jeffrey Harharwood Offers his Gum and a Proposal

Or how to use a Seinfeld reference with no connection whatsoever to the actual post.  That is, beyond the name Harwood.

The latest downtown news is that a few streets are to undergo one-way to two-way conversions.  Also, the Deck Park is about to open.

It's important to note, that as part of the Klyde Warren deck park design, Harwood was closed through the park for cars, though the connection will exist as a pedestrian promenade/plaza.  When the design was first unveiled, I fretted, rightfully, that this would kill Harwood through downtown (not that there were a lot of ground floor businesses thriving as it is on Harwood, but still).

There were already too few connections between downtown and immediate surroundings that it's damn impossible to get anywhere.  As I've joked, it's easier to get to Plano from downtown than to uptown.  I make the trip every day.  And I worried that this was a dangerous compromise.  It makes the park better, but it could hurt much of downtown.

And a compromise between the two would be a street that can close for events, but is otherwise calmed with pavers as a plaza, much as it was designed.  During events retractable bollards could rise from the ground to close it off for pedestrians.  Otherwise, downtown could use the traffic flow from uptown.  Traffic count data on Harwood is only available for 1990 and 2009, where it dropped from 5,951 per day to 1,700 after the park's groundbreaking.

Today, you can walk down the middle of Harwood at just about any time of day without fear of coming into contact with a car.  Some traffic is better than no traffic.  As I mentioned in the piece earlier today about the deck park, a park's design is only ever as good as its physical, outward connections. How many people can get to it, ideally without driving?

Certain types of ground floor businesses that activate the street need more traffic than others, both foot and vehicular.  Neighborhood service goods (like a 7-11) need only 5,000 vehicles per day, but also need 5,000 people living within 1/4-mile.  Most of their business comes from foot traffic.

Restaurants and bars, look for a minimum of 7,500 vehicles per day and soft goods look for 15,000, as they're catchment area is larger, the population doesn't have to be immediately nearby as with neighborhood service goods, but it still helps to be close.  The downtown workforce population that covers that gaps between these really only supports the restaurant and bar commercial segment.

The traffic counts on Harwood are still too low for really much of anything to work.  The workforce population is headed underground or to Main Street.  So we have to generate traffic another way.

Even though we're well down the path of some two-way conversions, Harwood being one-way for half of its length through downtown is an obvious opportunity.  Making it two-way will increase the traffic counts while calming the traffic that a wide one-way typically is ineffective.  Calmer street, theoretically there will be more pedestrians as well.

While calming and making it go two-way might not double the vehicular traffic, but with the increased pedestrian traffic, we might double the traffic overall.  But that is still short of what we need for ground floor businesses to succeed.  How else can we increase traffic?  I know, bikes!

With the push for complete streets, bike lanes, and improved connections to the park, there is the opportunity for cycle tracks linking Old City Park, the Farmers Market, Main Street Garden, to the new deck park.  While we'll likely never move the 36,000 bikes per day that some cycle tracks in Copenhagen move, if we can do a tenth of that, we'll be sniffing the 5,000 trips per day we need as a baseline to revitalize the street.

Much of Harwood seems to be 44' curb-to-curb with four 11' lanes with some variation for pedestrian bulb-outs at DART and extra turn lanes here and there which bump it up to 54'.  If we were to convert it to two-way with bike lanes it could lay out as above within a 44' section, with the occasional increases going to on-street parking or increased sidewalk cafe space as determined by the buildings/context/opportunity therein.

Bike lane | Buffer | South Travel | North Travel | Buffer | Bike Lane is just one possible solution.

Another would be to put the bike lanes together as a two-way cycle track on one side, a bicycle super-highway so to speak, in order to differentiate it and emphasize its role as a prominent and improved north-south link between the three parks.

In section that would look something like this:

8' parallel parking | Travel lane | Travel lane | 2' buffer | 12' two-way cycle track

And if you're confused by the ominous floating thing in the graphic, that's just a recycled concept from a street section design for another hot sunny climate in Las Vegas, where we were really just recycling from the streets radiating out from Plaza del Sol in yet another hot, sunny climate: Madrid.