Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Bicycle Subdivision in South Carolina and neighborhood-based bike planning ideas from the Baltimore County plan

A very interesting idea is the creation of a development outside of Columbia, SC where the "subdivision" will be developed in a manner that doesn't allow motor vehicles except for emergency transportation and moving in.

-Bicycle City (Architizer)
-Car-free community cropping up in rural Columbia suburb: Bikes in the driveway (Charleston City Paper)
- subdivision website, Bicycle City

From the City Paper article:

Mellett and Boykin have spent nearly $1 million on 140 acres about 15 miles south of Columbia. The first phase of the project will have 10 homes ranging from 800 to 1,600 square feet with prices starting in the $100,000s. ... "Right now, we're looking at 10 homes and about 4.5 miles of trails," he says.

Nagler employed bike trails extensively in earlier work like the Columbia's Three Rivers Greenway and Harbison development. He also played a significant role in creating bike-centric communities in South Korea and Burma in the 1960s and even formulated a plan to make his native New York City more bicycle-friendly in the early '70s.

According to Nagler, the biggest hurdle the development team will have to overcome in making Bicycle City a reality is psychological: Americans expect their car is going to be parked right outside their front doors.

The article says it's based on a development in Zermatt, Switzerland, but I have written about a similar community in Germany. See the past entries "Vauban, Germany and development at subway stations" from 2009 and "New German community models car-free living" from 2006.

I don't agree with the developers that not having a car in the driveway is the biggest hurdle. I think the biggest hurdle is that the location is 15 miles away from the city, and while that's within range for hard core bicyclists who tend to be willing to ride 10 miles in a trip, I think that's a bit too far for typical people willing to cycle.

People will walk and bike within the neighborhood, and drive most everywhere else -- just like in Kentlands, the new urban community in Gaithersburg, Maryland.

Ultimate success on increasing walking and biking and reducing vehicle miles traveled will be determined by the proximity of the major destinations for shopping, work, school, and entertainment. Given that the community ends up being pretty small--a few hundred households isn't enough to support much in the way of immediately-located retail--people will have to travel outside of the community for goods and services. How far I don't know, but how far away it is, and how safe it is to ride there, especially for women, children, and seniors, is the biggest issue influencing their willingness to ride.

(Much of the text below is drawn from prepublication draft sections of the Western Baltimore County Pedestrian and Bicycle Access Plan. These sections may differ significantly from the final draft that is on the web and is in the public comment phase. Text from the draft is in smaller type. Note that all the recommendations, baring one clause, are present in the final draft.)

According to the National Household Travel Survey conducted by the Bureau of Transportation Statistics:

  • Americans make 1.1 billion trips a day — four for every person in the U.S
  • U.S. daily travel averages 11 billion miles a day — almost 40 miles per person per day
  • 87 percent of daily trips take place in personal vehicles
  • 45 percent of daily trips are taken for shopping and errands
  • 27 percent of daily trips are social and recreational, such as visiting a friend
  • 15 percent of daily trips are taken for commuting
  • The typical driver spends 55 minutes a day behind the wheel and drives 29 miles a day
  • 50 percent of total daily trips are 3 miles or less
  • 28 percent of total daily trips are one mile or less
In the planning process for the creation of the Western Baltimore County Pedestrian and Bicycle Access Plan, I came to the realization that we were working to improve sustainable mobility (mostly walking and bicycling) on five different scales.


3 mile sustainable transportation zones around major town centers/conurbations in Baltimore County Maryland. Note that it is about 7.5 miles from Towson to Baltimore's Penn Station, and about 9 miles from Towson to the Inner Harbor in Baltimore City.

Within this framework, the study team focused on walking improvements over shorter distances and bicycling improvements over longer distances. For walking improvements, that meant looking at improvements in “feet” in one mile walking radii, in residential areas, around schools, transit centers and bus stops, and within commercial centers. Bicycling improvements were considered over longer distances, often three miles or further, within town centers, between town centers, and between the County and neighboring jurisdictions.

It turns out that findings from the National Survey of Pedestrian & Bicyclist Attitudes and Behaviors (2002), conducted by the US Department of Transportation, supports this focus. (As do the above cited data on distances people typically are willing to walk or bicycle, and the median distance traveled for various types of trips.)

The study was conducted during the summer, which is the time of year when people are most likely to walk or bicycle. The average length of a walking trip was 1.2 miles. More than one-fourth of trips were less than one-quarter mile. Walking trips for exercise or recreation averaged 1.9 miles, while trips for other purposes averaged 0.8 miles. The average length of a bicycling trip was 3.9 miles. Trips for exercise or recreation were longer, 5.6 miles, than trips for other purposes, 2.2 miles. About 38.6 percent of trips were less than one mile, while 7.3 percent of trips were greater than 10 miles. The data on trip length is presented in the figures below.

Walking and bicycling statistics

Ultimately, the best place to focus on creating the best bicycle city is in the center cities, in urban areas, the neighborhoods and urban villages already present in the city, because the distance between home and activity centers and primary destinations is relatively short, from less than 1 mile to 6 miles.

In my paper "Making Cycling Irresistible in DC," I proposed that neighborhood biking plans be created in order to leverage the short distances--a world within walking distance as the City of Hyattsville, Maryland says on banners posted on Route 1--and harvest the opportunities for shifting trips to biking from other modes.
Hyattsville, Maryland Banner: A world within walking distance

I extended this idea somewhat in the drafts for the Baltimore County plan. Conceptually, the original draft of the education, encouragement, and enforcement sections of the Western Baltimore County P&B Access Plan could be considered to be an update of the "Making Cycling Irresistible" paper. (except I got paid--not enough--for writing it, unlike the other)

By creating a network of support and encouragement programs, it is possible for people to be successful at adopting active transportation behaviors. And existing community and recreation organizations and programming can be leveraged to create this network, by replicating successful programming models and offering them through other organizations, reaching a variety of audiences across the county.

Neighborhoods, Schools, Parks and Trails. Many organizations sponsor fun runs, walks, and bicycle rides. The WalkArlington program in Arlington County, Virginia sponsors neighborhood and community walking tours—sometimes the tour guides are locally elected officials and other notable members of the community. The “Sunday Streets” pilot in Baltimore City, which closed part of Roland Avenue for 5 hours on Sunday October 25th, 2009, treating the street as a “public park” for walking, biking, running, etc., is an example of a community event focused on promoting fitness, active transportation, and sustainability. BikeArlington’s annual bicycle ride through Arlington and Alexandria (now expanded to and including DC, with co-sponsorship from the city), and the Baltimore City group rides “Tour dem Parks” and “Tour de Port” rides are examples of community cycling events.

Seattle’s “Feet First” group has some particularly interesting models for promoting walking. Through the “Neighborhood Walking Ambassadors” program, residents create and lead themed tours that bring neighbors together to explore their neighborhoods and close-by places such as parks and trails, perhaps at times, such as an moonlight walk, that people might not normally be out. As part of the extensive program in community mapping, Feet First produces neighborhood walking maps designed to encourage people to walk their neighborhoods by identifying points of interests, meeting places, key destination such as schools, parks, and libraries, and “pit stops” for rest and refreshment.

Some parks and trails units such as the Heritage Rail Trail in York County, Pennsylvania, have organized “trail ambassador” programs to engage volunteers to assist park visitors with information and serve as “eyes” and “ears” on multi-user trails, and some ambassadors are trained and certified to perform repairs and provide first aid services. Minneapolis trains youth ambassadors to work with younger children to promote walking and biking. The Washington Area Bicycle Association and the Chicago Bicycle Federation, among others, have volunteer ambassadors who provide mentoring and advice for taking up bicycle commuting.

Worksites and institutions. Some regional shopping centers offer indoor walking and fitness opportunities, at various times, including some times when the center might not be normally open. These programs could be systematically identified and approached to participate in a developing pedestrian and bicycle program initiative. Many worksite employee assistance and commuting programs also provide assistance to employees consider alternative ways of commuting to work.

Programming Recommendations

1. Elsewhere in the plan it is recommended that community plans include sustainable transportation elements. In addition to facilities recommendations, work within this process to include walking and bicycle programming plans for communities, neighborhoods, and districts.

2. Work with community organizations, Recreation and Parks Councils, County Councilmembers, Senior Centers, and other stakeholders to organize walk and bicycle rides in neighborhoods, parks, and trails as a way for people to explore their communities and to experiment with active transportation.

3. Using examples such as BikeArlington and Alexandria, develop cross-community walking-bicycling events, covering areas larger than neighborhoods.

4. Consider organizing park and trail events around National Trails Day (first Saturday in June). More than 100 people regularly participate in National Trails Day events at Patapsco Valley State Park. Events can be used to generate publicity and fundraising for Baltimore County trails efforts.

5. Develop neighborhood, youth, and park/trail ambassador programs to deliver programming that supports walking and bicycling. Ambassadors, mentors, and buddies can assist people in moving along a ladder of active transportation, from experimentation to regular walking and riding.

6. Work with local schools and PTAs to provide walk to school/bike to school programs. Consider providing support to events and programs organized around international walk to school day (the first week of October).

7. Work with campuses and business organizations so that they can support sustainable transportation by providing walking and bicycling encouragement programs to their staff and students.

8. Work with local gyms and fitness facilities to develop reduced-cost memberships for bicycle commuters by providing showers, lockers, and secured bicycle parking.

9. Encourage major employment centers in the county to participate in Bike-to-Work programs, including the regional Bike-to-Work Day. (Currently, Towson is the only location in the county for Bike-to-Work Day participants.)

10. A college-based bicycle shop could be linked to a campus-based recreation center as a kind of combined bicycle station, providing showers, lockers, secured parking, and repair facilities for bicyclists.

11. Provide an information system for students (and faculty and staff) on sustainable transportation options, with material available in the college library, student union, student bookstores, and other key facilities on campuses. (E.g., the Portland State University Library, University of Washington Student Bookstore have extensive kiosks with local transit information.)

12. Develop a program of education and encouragement programming to support a student bike to school initiative.

I may not ever get the chance to produce a neighborhood sustainable transportation plan, focused on improving take up of walking, biking, and transit, but it is something I'd like to take a crack at some time.

The draft plan on the web also has the recommendations about creating neighborhood plan elements on sustainable transportation:

5. Develop sustainable transportation protocols for walking, bicycling, and transit for use in the evaluation of projects and site plan approvals by various government agencies. Ensure that sign-off for pedestrian and bicycle improvements are incorporated into the review checklist for street improvement, widening and resurfacing projects.

6. Modify the process for creating community plans to include a “sustainable transportation” element as a standard section, covering walking,bicycling, and transit. This element should cover programming opportunities as well as facilities recommendations.

But one recommendation that didn't make it into the final plan had to do with the proposed Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee. This recommendation made it in.

2. To support and provide oversight for staff efforts, create by Baltimore County Ordinance a “Bicycle and Pedestrian Citizen Advisory Committee” (BPAC), comprised of citizens and stakeholder representatives, with representatives appointed respectively by the County Executive and the County Council.

The text supporting the recommendation in the original/revised draft plan proposes that this committee have 8 representatives appointed by the County Executive, and one by each Council Member for a total of 15 members (there are 7 Council members). This format was designed to bring about support and buy in (commitment) from both the executive and legislative branches of the county government.

But second, I proposed that a subcommittee of the BPAC (in the very original draft, I proposed instead of a BPAC that a [sustainable] transportation commission be proposed, modeled after such commissions in Tempe, Arizona, and Arlington County, Virginia) be set up for each of the 7 Council Districts (the plan organizes and lists proposed improvements by Council District also) in order to help push forward the development of local advocacy agendas and groups at the level of the Council District. This latter idea wasn't incorporated into the final plan draft.

Currently, cross-county and council district-focused advocacy for biking and walking (and transit) is extremely limited, with the exception of pro-biking advocacy in greater Catonsville (see "Input sought on safer bicycle, walking paths in western count: Planner says he would like to see residents make walking, bicycling a 'way of life'" from the Catonsville Times) and what we might call anti-mountain biking advocacy having to do with the Loch Raven Reservoir (see "Loch Raven bike debate in high gear" from the Baltimore Messenger).

The idea of district-based subcommittees of the BPAC was designed to take institutionalizing change and transformation to the next level by providing a structure within which to organize. (I came up with this after having a meeting in early April with a bunch of bicyclists over dinner in someone's house in the Paradise neighborhood along Frederick Road--it's a couple miles west of the Baltimore City line.)

Labels: , , , , , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home