July 28, 2004

WALK From Box To Box

We're not alone here wrestling with how to combine big-box retailers like Target and Lowe's with creating a more walkable community with a sense of place.

In Lawrence, Kansas, planners from the Smart Growth Leadership Institute suggested that future development in the city's two commercial corridors "should include plazas, pocket parks and a lot of sidewalks," the Lawrence Journal-World reports. "'Big box' stores like SuperTarget, 3201 S. Iowa, should 'integrate pedestrian walkways with surrounding development to provide a sense of safety and comfort for pedestrians,' the experts said in their report, now available on the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Department's Web site, www.lawrenceplanning.org.

Sound familiar? As I posted earlier, the Framingham Planning Department is now considering a request from Lowe's to build a store on Rte. 30 at the Verizon site. Developers want it on the back of the property, like surrounding pedestrian-hostile retailers that create an unsightly, suburban sprawl district around Target, BJ's and Super Stop & Shop.

‘Bike Paths Are a Valuable Part Of The Seacoast Transportation System’

Officials and residents of Portsmouth, N.H. are working to make the area more bicycle and pedestrian friendly, with a new master plan that references "a citywide bicycle and pedestrian plan" and a $191,000 federal grant to build paths to "help connect outer neighborhoods with the downtown area," according to the Portsmouth Herald.

"We applaud the continued efforts of local individuals, nonprofits and the city to make Portsmouth and the Greater Seacoast area a bit more bicycle-friendly," the paper editorialized.

So do I!

July 24, 2004

Foresaking Sprawl For Walkable Living

AARP magazine calls it a "growing trend: 50-plus empty nesters are abandoning sprawling suburbs for pedestrian-friendly cities, towns, and planned communities. . . .

"Town centers ringed with housing are popping up in big-city business districts, close-in suburbs, and new-urbanist, master-planned communities."

The article includes a link to Walkable Communities Inc.'s 12 requirements for a walkable community, including "a lively, compact town center with a good mix of stores; tree-lined, low-speed streets; and public space (a park or plaza) within 700 feet of a home." Director Dan Burden told AARP: "Look for places that put people first, cars second."

July 22, 2004

How Cool Is This? Paris Turns 2-Mile Highway Into Summer Beach

"Put on by Paris City Hall for one month and with most of its two-million-euro (2.4-million-dollar) cost paid for by corporate sponsorship, the idea is to transform what is usually a busy two-lane riverside motorway into a sort of pedestrian-only French Riviera during the traditionally quiet vacation period," AFP reports.

The "Paris Plage," running right through the city center, features "an artificial 'beach' packed with sand, palm trees, lounge chairs and free family activities" along the Seine.

Within hours of opening, the man-made beach "was alive with people walking, cycling, playing on trampolines, cooling off under fine-spray sprinklers, and kicking back in the chairs and hammocks," AFP says. New addition this year: a swimming pool.

Bad for business, shutting down a highway for people's enjoyment on foot? The "plage" attracted 3 million visitors last year and is the city's most popular summer attraction.

July 21, 2004

Lowe’s Coming To Rte. 30, Framingham

Lowe's wants to open a store on Rte. 30 in Framingham, tearing down the former Verizon building for a 156,000 superstore, the MetroWest Daily News reported from a Planning Board meeting last night.

Alarmingly, the developer wants to build a big-box store set back from the street, offering a sea of asphalt as a streetscape -- EXACTLY the sort of hideous, pedestrian-hostile design that gives rise to suburban sprawl.

Vice Chairwoman Ann Welles said she'd rather see the building at the front of the property -- and we can only hope she sticks to her guns on this.

Lowe's will be one of the first major NEW retail construction projects on Rte. 30 of the 21st century. There are two choices: Start here trying to reshape Rte. 30 so it might eventually become an appealing, park-once-walk-to-multiple-stores destination; or continue the pattern of Target and Stop & Shop that makes it a car-only experience, to the point where shoppers feel the need to drive their car a quarter-mile from one to the other.

There are a lot of office workers as well as residents within walking distance of this shopping area. How about making it an esthetically pleasing place to walk and bike to instead of more suburban blight?

July 19, 2004

What NOT To Build Downtown: A ‘Darth Vader’ Building

Critics call an office in downtown Pasadena the Darth Vader building, "because it has shown through some freak of architecture an uncanny ability to choke off pedestrian traffic along the sidewalks of Colorado," writes the Pasadena Star-News.

"Built in 1980, at a time when the city's redevelopment agency was trying to bring corporate America back into the struggling downtown, little thought was given to 'pedestrian-oriented' design . . . said Richard Bruckner, the city's director of planning and development."

It's fine when viewed as a stand-alone office, but many now see it as a liability for the business district as a whole, because it "kills the connectivity between destination areas," said Maggie Campbell, president of the Old Pasadena Management District.

This is a crucial issue to consider when downtown Framingham looks at major redevelopment plans like the Arcade mixed-use project. We can't simply look at it as a stand-alone project, but how it affects the neighborhood. Does it integrate into the fabric of the business district? Does it create an inviting streetscape? Is it pedestrian-friendly?

July 18, 2004

Pedestrian-Friendly Montreal

My husband and I are just back from a few fun-filled days in Montréal, a city that offers a lot of useful lessons about livable communities.

I came near to weeping with envy at times at some of the more pedestrian-friendly areas of the city.

Rue Prince Arthur, Montreal    St. Louis Square

For example, off the lovely little St. Louis Square -- with neighborhood park featuring pretty fountain and a little stone building where you could buy ice cream and other snacks, and then sit outside at umbrella-shaded tables -- was Rue Prince Arthur, completely closed to vehicular traffic except for the cross streets (and all the cars had to stop for pedestrians; there were no traffic lights, just cars having to wait for a break in the foot traffic). Prince Arthur Street is lined on both sides with restaurants and cafes, all with LARGE outdoor seating areas -- several rows of tables each.

Imagine parts of Newbury Street in Boston or Harvard Square in Cambridge closed off to vehicles, and you approach the idea.

Montreal at night

July 16, 2004

Smart Growth Makes (Dollars And) Cents

Framingham is definitely not a city, but one could argue its downtown is a bit more urban than surrounding areas (although still not quite like communities such as Boston, Cambridge and Somerville in terms of urbanization).

So, when a report says that revitalizing core urban centers also benefits surrounding suburban communities, it leads one to imagine that revitalizing downtown Framingham can help all areas of the town, not simply one section of the South Side.

July 14, 2004

A ‘Smart Growth’ Pedestrian-Friendly Community

What does a 'smart-growth' pedestrian-friendly community look like? In Millcreek, Pa., it means "a general store that reduces the need to drive and it features behind-the-home garages, sidewalks, walking trails, homes with front porches and acres of usable open space. In addition, single-family detached homes and townhouses are located on the same streets," according to an article on the National Association of Homebuilders Web site.

It's not simply about dense development. Even communities with traditional densities can be "smarter" growth and more pedestrian friendly by the way they're designed. One key is not to have an endless row of large garage doors as major frontage to the street -- that's really offputting to walkers. Have inviting doorways fronting a pleasant sidewalk -- like the Victoria Gardens townhouses in Saxonville (thumbs up) and NOT like the latest prefab developments just down the street which are walled off from the streetscape and present an unappealing pedestrian vista (thumbs down).

It's a shame that builders of the new townhouses on Nicholas Road chose to have ENORMOUS garage doors as what most fronts the street (not only are the garages not tucked out of view; they're even closer to the road than the doorways) along with a lot of pavement but no sidewalk. Sigh. The larger apartment complex across the street is actually more pedestrian friendly.

July 13, 2004

Pedestrian Advocacy

Many communities now have groups that advocate for more pedestrian-friendly development and municipal policies. Framingham, for example, has the Bicycle & Pedestrian Advisory Committee -- which, by the way, meets tonight, Tuesday July 13, 7:30 p.m. in Town Hall (the public can attend).

In surfing around the Web, though, I was impressed with the site of one of our committee's West Coast counterparts, Pedestrian Friendly Alameda. It's an attractive, well-done site, for a group lobbying for making their community a safe and enjoyable place to walk.

Safety is only part of the equation. Simply creating sidewalks that meet certain width and curb-cut codes is not enough, as sidewalks currently along Rte. 9 and Speen Street in Framingham make all too clear. ENJOYABLE is really important, too! Wide enough, screened from traffic, attractive streetscape -- these are all vital for a community that is truly walkable.

July 12, 2004

Another Town Seeks Pedestrian-Friendly Downtown

The town of Malta, N.Y., hoping to emulate popular Saratoga Springs, has approved new zoning aimed at making its downtown more appealing to walkers.

"Lauded by Town Board members and county officials, the overlay [zoning district] calls for Malta's new downtown development to put parking in the back, encourage outside dining areas, line the streets with trees and add lamppost lighting," according to an article in the Saratogian.

Parking in the rear, encouraging outside dining, lining streets with trees and adding attractive lighting. All great ideas for Framingham to think about in its revitalization efforts!

"Retail uses will be on the ground floor with setbacks less than 35 feet from the edge of the pavement," the article notes. "And, like Saratoga Springs, owner-occupancy is encouraged."

July 10, 2004

Hawaiian Town Residents Want More Pedestrian-Friendly Living

"Residents of Kailua want better walkways, more bicycle routes and evening recreational activities for their town, according to survey results released by Kane'ohe Ranch this week," a Honolulu newspaper reports.

"Kane'ohe Ranch also hired an expert in transportation planning to help resolve issues with pedestrian circulation. James Charlier said people opt to walk because of subconscious decisions about comfort, safety and convenience. The environment shapes these perceptions, and if Kailua is to be more pedestrian-friendly, shade, wider sidewalks, protection from passing cars and eliminating long blank walls and overhead wires will help, he said."

The same things work up here in colder climates, too.

July 8, 2004

$4M Natick Mall Mitigation To Include Pedestrian Access

The Natick Mall will pay close to $4 million to improve area roads under a draft plan discussed by the Planning Board last night," the MetroWest Daily News reports. "More than $2.4 million will go to roadwork and pedestrian access on Speen Street...."

Woo-hoo! Some thought is indeed being given to pedestrians as part of the Natick Mall expansion plan. However, I hope that "pedestrian access" will mean a LOT more than sticking in sidewalks that no one would actually want to use. P-L-E-A-S-E, let's include sidewalks that have some kind of screening between walkers and traffic, and that are pleasant to be on, instead of feeling like you're drowning in a sea of concrete and barely separate from a river of speeding cars, trucks and SUVs.

July 7, 2004

A Field Guide To Sprawl

"I was struggling for words to describe places like Tysons Corner," Yale Professor Dolores Hayden told the New York Times, referring to the Virginia suburb's sprawl. "If you don't know what to call something, you don't know how to criticize it."

That, the Times explains, helped spark work on her new book to be published next month, A Field Guide To Sprawl.

"In addition to naming names, Hayden critiques a landscape based on unrestrained growth, one, she writes, championed by federal policies since the 1920s," according to the Times. "The idea for a field guide grew out of Hayden's own frustration as a scholar and a citizen. . . .[She] wound up serving on a citizens advisory committee examining encroaching development" in Guilford, Conn.

The town is "a very typical battleground for preserving the sense of place," she told the Times. Yet the town's zoning code "was so convoluted nobody could read it. After a while I got to see that a lot of it was designed to frustrate discussion rather than enable it."

July 5, 2004

Denver Face-Off: Smart Growth Vs. Dumb Growth

"In one of only three successful all-volunteer petition drives in the state's history, volunteers have turned in more than 52,000 valid signatures to ensure that the Regional Transportation District's FasTracks plan will be on the Nov. 2 ballot in the seven-county metro region," writes the Denver Post's Bob Ewegen. "That means this fall's election will produce the long-awaited confrontation between Smart Growth and its smog-fueled evil twin, Dumb Growth."

FasTracks would build half a dozen new rail lines into Denver. It is supported both by the local business community as well as environmentalists, as one way to deal with predicted booming growth -- 900,000 new residents and more than half a million jobs in the next 15 years.

Ewegen wisely points out that whether or not Colorado grows is not entirely in its own hands. "[W]hat we can control is whether that growth is channeled wisely or whether it overwhelms and obliterates the special qualities that attracted so many of us to Colorado in the first place. . . .

"The legacy of dumb growth will be with us until the next ice age, when the glaciers scrape off the sprawl and allow our descendants to start all over."

July 4, 2004

Who Owns The Streets?

"You either feel the pedestrian owns the street or the motorists own the street"
-- West Warwick Town Councilman Leo J. Costantino Jr, quoted in the Kent County Times after attending a Walkable Workshop.

Well said! When streets are designed only with automobiles in mind, even if sidewalks are installed as an afterthought (but with no effort to make the walking experience a pleasant one or even a safe one for people who are trying to cross the street), walking is a discouraged activity. And that means people end up taking their cars even from one strip mall to another, half a mile away or less -- distances that they wouldn't think twice about walking if they were on Commonweath Avenue or Newbury Street in Boston, Harvard Square in Cambridge and so on.

Costantino told the paper he expected to be "underwhelmed" by the event but "came away educated with a different awareness and a lot of ideas of different ways of accomplishing things."

We need better design and planning to liberate us from HAVING to use our cars to drive less than a mile!!!

July 2, 2004

Walkable? Zoning bill is the key

Current zoning encourages sprawl, argues this editorial in the San Jose Mercury News. But there's a solution!

People love places like downtown Willow Glen, Los Gatos and Mountain View. They stroll the streets and linger, with or without laptops, at coffee shops. People who work in stores or nearby offices rarely get in their cars at lunchtime because it's so easy to walk to Aqui or Kuleto's or The Cantankerous Fish.

It's no coincidence that these are older neighborhoods. Since the 1950s, zoning in the United States has discouraged building them. But a bill moving through the California Legislature this month would make it easier for communities to mix stores, offices and different kinds of homes in new, walkable neighborhoods that mimic popular older ones.

The editorial goes on to endorse the proposal by Assemblywoman Patricia Wiggins, AB1268. "It should be required reading for local officials all over the state," the newspaper says. "Cities that haven't been thinking about this kind of planning ought to be."

Towns, too!

Narrowing Streets To Improve Downtown Business District

Huntington, W. Va. is narrowing a major thoroughfare through its business district in order to make the area more appealing to shoppers.

"After decades as a high-speed, four-lane, one-way street, 3rd Avenue from 13th Street to 7th Street will become a slow-speed, two-way street shortly before Pullman Square opens. The idea behind Pullman Square is to make the entire downtown friendly to pedestrians, and people don’t like crossing streets as wide as 3rd Avenue is now," according to the Herald-Dispatch.