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.

Monday, June 29, 2020

From more space to socially distance to a systematic program for pedestrian districts (Park City (Utah) Main Street Car Free on Sundays)

Staff at Fish Market in Old Town Alexandria set up socially distanced tables on the sidewalk and King Street in late May. (Pete Marovich/for The Washington Post)

There's been lots of reportage of initiatives in cities across the country to shift roadway space to pedestrian and bicyclists ("(More) People on streets and the coronavirus").

The next stage of this push is focused on accommodating social distancing and commerce by allowing restaurants to expand into the public space outside of their restaurants ("To expand dining options, restaurants take to the streets," Washington Post)..

What is new about this isn't using sidewalk right of way, but street right of way.

colorful sidewalk extensions into the street right of way, Trueform Group
Colorful sidewalk extensions into the street right of way even with the curb, Trueform Group

Sidewalk extensions, Halifax, Nova Scotia
Halifax, Nova Scotia.

I noticed a pop up ad in an article on a Washington Post article that Park City, Utah is doing this as well, on Sundays, for the core of its "downtown" (it's pretty small) Main Street commercial district. (The ad below is from the Historic Park City website and is different from what I saw online.)



-- "Shop, Dine & Stroll || Sundays on Main Street are Car-Free!Historic Park City commercial district revitalization initiative

The reason that I mention this is that traditional commercial districts should have been doing this all along, long before the coronavirus, as a way to strengthen and call attention to traditional commercial districts as pedestrian and people focused as opposed to car focused.

-- "Town-City branding or "We are all destination managers now"," 2005
-- "Now I know why Boulder's Pearl Street Mall is the exception that proves the rule about the failures of pedestrian malls," 2005

One of the only regularized initiatives like this that I had been aware of before the coronavirus--outside of very special events--is how Denver's Historic Larimer Square has a "Dining Al Fresco" promotion in the summers, where one night each month they close off one of the streets for dining, which is served by the abutting restaurants.
Larimer Square, Downtown Denver, dining in the street/Dining Al Fresco

Larimer Square, Denver, Dining Al Fresco

In the face of the coronavirus, Montgomery County, Maryland has developed a similar initiative for its main town centers, Bethesda, Rockville, and Silver Spring ("Bethesda streets close to make space for outdoor dining," WUSA-TV; "Silver Spring, Rockville, Takoma Park close streets to allow for expanded outdoor seating," Bethesda Magazine).

The difference between Park City is that in some of the Montgomery County communities, in particular Bethesda--a leading restaurant destination for Western Montgomery County--this is every day, not just on Sundays or on weekends.
Streets in Bethesda, Maryland closed to accommodate outdoor restaurant patios and social distancing

Separately, going on a couple years, Takoma Park also in Montgomery County but a separately incorporated city of its own, is the only community in the area -- pre-coronavirus -- to have legalized the ability for restaurants to take over abutting parking spaces as restaurant patio spaces.
An in-street restaurant patio for Takoma Beverage Co. using parking spaces, Carroll Avenue, Takoma Park, Maryland
Parking space patio outside of the Takoma Beverage Co.

This is an example of implementing measures that have been developed from the parklet movement, which started out as a guerrilla and tactical urbanism initiative but is now a mix of guerrilla and officially-sanctioned projects.

But it's a limited takeover of parking spaces, not an expansion into the entire street (although now Takoma Park is doing that too).

Moving from temporarily closed streets to permanent pedestrian districts?  While in the past I have been pro-pedestrian, I had been skeptical of pedestrian-only zones in the U.S., having seen multiple examples of failure, including the US's first example of a downtown pedestrian mall, in Kalamazoo, Michigan.

Kennedyplatz, Essen. 

But visiting Germany in 2014, I saw such districts of varying types and sizes in Essen, Dortmund, and Hamburg, and in 2018, in Liverpool--a very large district in the core--and smaller areas across London, and I came to understand that the issue wasn't pedestrianizing per se, but in starting small--as little as one block--or at least appropriately, in those places where there is enough activity, access and movement to make such places ("wildly") successful.

Exhibition Road urban design treatment, South Kensington, London
Exhibition Road in Kensington borough is a shared space, mixing cars and pedestrians.  It looks cool, but it doesn't work for either pedestrians or cars.

While shared spaces might work in the Netherlands, where they originated ("Hans Monderman obituary," Guardian, I don't think they work in car-dominated societies like the US or the UK.  Instead, it's an example of what I call "designing conflict in," which creates the opportunity for problems, rather than what planning is supposed to do, which is "designing conflict out."

-- "Exhibition Road -- review," Guardian
-- "MP calls for pedestrianisation of Exhibition Road amid dispute over accident figures," Dezeen

I wrote about one such opportunity for creating a pedestrian district in DC in more detail last year:

-- "More about making 17th Street between P and R a pedestrian space on weekends."

Unforunately, instead, DC Department of Transportation and Washington Area Bicyclists Association are fervently in favor of adding a cycle track to the street.

But there are multiple places where this could work, elsewhere in DC and the metropolitan area, and of course, across the country, starting with as little as one block, and working outward, expanding as success dictates and warrants.

-- "Making "Downtown Silver Spring" a true open air shopping district by adding department stores," 2018
-- "Revisiting the Purple Line (series) and a more complete program of complementary improvements to the transit network," 2019
-- "Sadly, DC won't show so well during the Baseball All-Star Game," 2018
-- "Urban design considerations for the area around Washington Nationals Baseball Stadium in advance of the 2018 All-Star Game, 2017

Earlier this year, Alexandria, Virginia began moving forward on expanding the pedestrian area at the foot of King Street ("Alexandria Virginia looks to pedestrianize the foot of King Street abutting the waterfront").

While Essen's district was super cool (inadvertently I was there during a weekend music festival and my hotel was across from a major plaza, Kennedyplatz), and Hamburg's very successful and including a transit mall, and Liverpool's was very large, and on a Friday night, it was booming, one that impressed me the most was Mare Street in Hackney Wick borough

It's a couple block long "pedestrian mall" for a shopping and civic district adjacent to the Hackney Central London Overground station.
Mare Street/Narrow Way pedestrian zone, Hackney, London
Mare Street/Narrow Way, Hackney borough.

It turned out the walking street, which looked like it had been there forever, was only a converted a few years before.  And it was controversial ("Concerns that pedestrian zone in Hackney Central will kill off trade," Hackney Gazette).  Although it looked plenty successful to me, 5 years later.

But my experience in the UK and Germany, and of course there are many other such places not only in various countries in Continental Europe, but across the UK, did in some respects reiterate my concerns about success.

While I think it's possible to have small pedestrian districts in the US, most places lack the concentration of population, strong activity centers, and complementary transit systems that make these districts not only work but thrive in Europe ("Walk the Lijnbaan: decline and rebirth on Europe’s first pedestrianised street," Guardian).

In the US, there are a few pedestrian malls that thrive--Boulder, Burlington, and to some extent, Charlottesville and Madison--but all are in college towns where there is a dense population of students, most without cars.
Charlottesville pedestrian mall
Charlottesville.

Santa Monica and Winchester, Virginia are among other places that have such pedestrianized spaces.  The one in SM is cool, but it's lost key anchors and peters out at the ends, even though one end now includes the terminus of the Expo Line light rail.  Winchester has the same problem, although it has none of SM's advantages--resort community, nearby beach, awesome weather, large population, and transit connectivity.

Third Street Promenade, Santa Monica
Santa Monica.

Winchester pedestrian mall
Winchester

How to look at expanding pedestrian facilities systematically in the coronavirus era and beyondTransit.  I just came across a January Chicago Tribune article about how the Chicago area transportation planning organization, for the first time, released a study evaluating the pedestrian and bicycle access conditions at the region's railroad and heavy rail transit stations ("Where do I walk? Study finds several Metra, and some CTA stations, have a shortage of nearby sidewalks").

From the article:
A lack of sidewalks near several suburban Metra stations and a few CTA stations makes it harder for pedestrians to safely walk to transit, according to a new, first-of-its-kind report by the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning.

“If people don’t feel comfortable walking to the train, they’re not going to use the train,” said Stephanie Levine, associate policy analyst for CMAP.

The analysis found that within half a mile of stations, just 35 out of 242 Metra stations had “excellent” coverage with sidewalks on one or both sides of almost all roads. Eighteen Metra stations had no sidewalks on 50% of the roads within a half-mile of the station.
What's amazing to me is that this had never been done before--although note that the Active Transportation Alliance had received grants to do similar geographic-specific studies over the past decade.   And why isn't this a standard element of station area planning from the outset.

Note that Montgomery County just released a Purple Line Pedestrian Accessibility Report for their under construction light rail line ("Purple Line stations need safer access for pedestrians, planners say," Washington Post).

(And in the draft plan I did in Baltimore, I included a section of recommendations for transit-related improvements, including the then proposed Red Line light rail, which ended up not being approved.  And in early planning stages for the Purple Line, I was asked to share that section of the planning document.)

I guess that's pretty rare, although Seattle has done this around light rail planning too.  The MoCo methodology is worth being adopted more widely.

But the reality is that most transit agencies have failed to ensure that stations are accessible by modes other than cars. In their defense, they'd probably say that the local jurisdictions are responsible for this kind of planning and infrastructure, and they're right, but if they are to be "customer"/rider/service oriented, they need to step on this.
Bicycle gutter, Lutherville Light Rail, west platform
The platform for the west side of the light rail station in Lutherville, Baltimore County, Maryland, has a stairway but no sidewalk connecting it to the nearby street.
Trail to the Lutherville Light Rail stop, adjacent to Greenspring Drive, Baltimore County

Although some agencies are leaders in planning for station access including the Utah Transit Authority ("UTA Works to Overcome 'Toughest Mile' Challenges," Metro Magazine).  The report produced out of the UTA project, the First/Last Mile Strategies Study (lead consultants Fehr & Peers), is particularly good.

Catchment area of public transit stops for pedestrians and cyclists
Catchment area of public transit stops for pedestrians and cyclists.  Montreal,  p. 135, Planning and Design for Pedestrians and Cyclists: A Technical Guide, produced by VeloQuebec.

The DC area Metrorail agency did a similar study c. 2009, for walking and biking.  (Then again, the system had been operating for more than 30 years by then.)  There are still plenty of gaps in terms of pedestrian access, intersection treatments, sidewalks, bicycle parking, etc., even though all the city stations have been open for decades.

I remember coming across an article on the bus system in Greater Minneapolis, and a recognition that lack of sidewalks significantly impacted bus ridership in the suburbs especially ("Metro Transit says bus stops are improved with better signs, more shelters," Minneapolis Star Tribune; "Bus Stops as Community Assets," University of Minnesota graduate student project).

I recommend that as part of transit line and station planning, public improvement districts can be created to implement full vertical and horizontal "ground" access programs.

-- "Revisiting creating Public Improvement Districts in transit station catchment areas," 2020, original entry, 2016

Sidewalk and street networks.  In response to the coronavirus, Matt Elliott, a contributor to the Toronto Star, wrote a piece ("Where should lanes be closed for pedestrians and cyclists as the city comes back to life? We crunched the data") providing a systematic way to look at areas of high pedestrian use, hospitals, and supermarkets, to identify and prioritize areas where right of way dedicated to pedestrians should be increased.

Toronto's 100 busiest pedestrian intersections, by Matt Elliott

Toronto's 100 busiest pedestrian intersections, by Matt Elliott.

Toronto's 100 busiest pedestrian intersections + hospitals and supermarkets, by Matt Elliott
Blue dots are for high use pedestrian traffic at intersections, red dots are hospitals and major health clinics, orange dots are grocery stores.

In the Baltimore County study I did, I advocated similar approach, using bus stops and transit stations, elementary and junior high schools, and local commercial districts as the loci.
Baltimore County, One mile diameter from schools and transit stops

For a presentation I did in Montgomery County, the County planning department graciously produced a similar kind of map.
One mile radius from transit stops, Montgomery County, Maryland
One mile radius from transit stops, Montgomery County, Maryland.  Map by Matt Johnson.

Conclusion.  We have the ability to expand space devoted to sustainable mobility in systematic ways, in ways that promote high quality urban design and placemaking.

I think what we lack is the will to shift space from cars to pedestrians, especially in bold ways.

But too often, our desire may be ahead of where we are practically speaking.  At least here in Salt Lake City, the city responded, like lots of other places, and shifted many streets or street right right of way to shared space or bike/pedestrian exclusive zones -- but no one is using them (at least at the times when I check them out).

So we need to be conscious of where we focus such efforts, to ensure that they are successful and visible in positive ways, so that further and future initiatives aren't scuttled in response to failure or the perception of failure.

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7 Comments:

At 11:02 AM, Blogger scratchy said...

I used to bike the section of baltimore light rail when it was being converted, and never understood that Staircase to Nowhere at lutherville. Was there a plan for it to connect to a sidewalk, but the community shut it down "due to crime"? is it a portal to Narnia? And now that it connects to a medical facility will there be an effort for it go somewhere?

 
At 11:36 AM, Blogger scratchy said...

Er, I meant the Timonium station.
If you look at current google map of Lutherville station, you see that there is now a wooden walkway connecting the staircase to Talbot avenue. It looks to be new, as streetview doesn't show it.

 
At 7:03 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

It wasn't until I worked there that I heard light rail referred to as "loot rail."

And I was specifically told about stories of people coming up from Baltimore to that area, to steal from the stores, how empty boxes of products were left at the light rail station, etc. (Of course, it was a few years later when people in Anne Arundel County fought for the closure of the end line station there.)

Probably residents fought the connection, but I never looked into the history of the lack of connection.

And in the long section from Falls Road to Lutherville where there aren't stations, in the history of the development of the line, yes, residents successfully fought the creation of stations--not that they would have yielded much ridership.

In my writings about this, I proposed abandoning that section and shifting the alignment towards and to York Road, serving Towson directly (and Greater Baltimore Hospital and Towson State in the bargain).

Not unlike how once the Seattle light rail finally extended to Capitol Hill and the university and doubled ridership, serving a major activity center in Baltimore County would result in ridership increases.

(And it was the current sec. of transportation for Maryland, then as planning director for SHA, who made the point to me that by extending light rail 1/2 mile north from Hunt Valley it could better serve the various corporate plazas.)

It's good to see that they have corrected the lack of a connection. Although like with the section north of Falls Road, that side of the station isn't likely to generate much ridership.

 
At 7:09 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

NYC car drivers tear down barricades for shared streets:

https://nypost.com/2020/06/28/de-blasios-unenforced-open-streets-causing-neighborhood-tension/

Boston pedestrian bridges:

https://www.bostonglobe.com/2020/06/29/opinion/walk-this-way-celebrating-bostons-pedestrian-bridges/

 
At 11:40 PM, Blogger scratchy said...

Funny thing is "loot rail" sightings are like bigfoot. No one has directly seen it, they just heard some account which must be true.

 
At 10:46 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

Well, there were a couple incidents in Anne Arundel County. But there are incidents everywhere.

I took a lot of joy writing a response to someone when I worked in Baltimore County. They wrote that bicycle trails generated crime. I quoted from a study from the U of Delaware stating the opposite, but making the point that all transpo infrastructure is associated with crime.

But then I said, many crimes are associated with automobiles, and quoted the County Police Chief saying that. I then wrote. "But we don't shut down the street network..."

... although technically, all emails sent out are supposed to be approved by your supervisor.

 
At 7:49 PM, Anonymous Scratchy said...

A couple incidents out of statistically how many riders?
Fact is, it's generally a stolen car involved in burglary. As you said, where's the call to shut roads down?

 

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