Monday, April 7, 2014

Patriot Crossing

Hooray!  I'm going to write a quick little ditty on something other than 345.  Today, it's the presumptive dead deal that is Patriot Crossing, a proposed affordable housing/mixed-use project on Lancaster Boulevard across from the VA Hospital.  What I'm not going to write about is what everybody else is writing about, the details of the financials that are murky, mysterious, and ultimately doomed the project (which I presume was HUD's concern).  Instead, I'm going to write about the design of the proposed development and how that plays into the economics of the deal.


Also, I'm going to judge everything from this singular conceptual rendering.  Because it seems there were several ways to save money.  Based on this rendering, it seems costs might have been unnecessarily inflated.
The first and most obvious thing that jumps out is the sky bridge.  Based on the depth of the hospital from the right-of-way and the depth to which it extends into the Patriot Crossing site (then cants to link directly to both projects), there might be 500 to 600 feet of span.  Obviously, spanning such distances is exceptionally expensive.  The first question however isn't whether the span is necessary, but instead is the sky bridge necessary.  That answer gets a bit murkier because often hospitals need that universal accessibility.  However, when I see them I can't help but see them as a clumsy necessity borne out of our inability to design a halfway decent street, let alone transit boulevard.  We end up with a rube-goldberg style urbanism that is high on cost and low on elegance AND accessibility.

Second, is the structured parking for what is affordable housing on a transit line.  Not only is there one garage, but two garages.  Having two separate garages is expensive enough, let alone having the structure in the first place.  This is a low density area that can't support structure parked building at market rates let alone at affordable rates.  In low density projects, we should be designing urban projects without structure parking in order to keep costs under control.

On the other hand, for affordable housing projects in higher density areas (and with transit access), we very well might need to use structure parking.  The market-rated apartment components can help pay for that extra cost for structure parking, however we should also be looking to drastically reduce the parking minimums because 1) high density areas have less need for car trips 2) transit and 3) low-income people have less ability to own and maintain a car (provided they still have access to jobs and transit, which is half the point of high density areas.  Availability and access).

The last thing I mean to point out is the curb cuts.  All those curb cuts.  I think I count 8 curb cuts on Lancaster alone, serving the garage (from every conceivable angle possible), the off-street parking bays in front of the retail (which appears to only be single loaded parking - meaning it's better off just being on-street parking), some catastrophically over scaled porte cochere/turn-around/drop-off thing with a giant presumed fountain in the middle (more cost), and then repeat all of that again for the mirrored phase.

Rather than 8 curb cuts and a tray of parking off Lancaster, the site should've been broken up into two sites with a mid-block street or alley with access off the alley and side streets.  All of those curb cuts create unnecessary, pedestrian-unfriendly breaks in the sidewalk and too many conflict points on Lancaster itself, reducing its efficiency.

Not only has this project failed from a deal/partnership/financing standpoint, perhaps that's for the best, because it also fails miserably from a walkable urbanistic standpoint as well.