August 14, 2006

Austin May Zone Major Thoroughfares for Pedestrian Appeal

"Stores and eateries along those transit corridors will now have to hug the street (instead of having seas of parking up front) and have wide sidewalks with room for benches and trees. The rules will also require more awnings and front windows to create livelier, shaded spaces," the Austin American-Statesman reports.

"Those are components that make the street level pedestrian-friendly and functional," design commission member Girard Kinney told the Statesman.

The design standards received preliminary approval last week, although a final vote is still needed later this month.

Some up-front parking will be allowed at new retailers, but new zoning requires shorter blocks, more sidewalks and shading. "Loading docks and garbage areas will have to be hidden from view" - ah, how I wish that could be enforced at the mill buildings in Saxonville, where loading docks and trash bins face the heart of the neighborhood business district. That and the self-storage place design are the two major problems I see in terms of walkability around Saxonville. (The acres of parking in front of the Pinefield shopping center could be improved, but at least that's off the main roads.)

Also in the new Austin zoning: "Large lots must have plazas, patios, playgrounds or other open spaces. ... To tame sprawl and pack more density along well-traveled roads, the city would, for the first time, offer incentives for vertical mixed-use projects, known as VMU. Urban planners say those projects cut traffic and create neighborhood hubs where residents mingle as they live, work and shop."

Obviously, you can't turn miles of Rte. 9-like strip malls into pedestrian-pleasing environments overnight. But such streetscape rquirements are definitely a first step, even if it takes years for the new rules to have a significant impact. Had Framingham officials taken similar steps in the 1980s, nothing would have happened immediately either -- but when Shoppers World, the Lechmere mall, Caldor's and other areas along the Golden Triangle were rebuild, we could have ended up with an attractive, strollable retail boulevard along Rte. 30 instead of the typical car-centric sprawl there now.

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