By Dom Nozzi
July 24, 2002
Monday afternoon, in doing research for my forthcoming book, I came across a number of comments regarding Port St Lucie in a document titled “Transportation & Growth Management,” by the Center for Urban Transportation Research at the Univ. of South Florida, published in 1994:
“Large single-use land areas create special problems for transportation…This trend in development patterns increases dependence on the automobile — funneling more residents onto arterials with a corresponding increase in traffic congestion. At the extreme are communities in Florida that are almost entirely single-family residential.
The City of Port St Lucie, for example, is a 78-square-mile residential plat laid out by General Development Corporation in the 1960s. The land was subdivided into 10,000 square foot lots and then mass marketed across the country. Platted communities like Port St Lucie are dramatic examples of the traffic problems created by large single-use land areas…”
“Eighty-nine percent of Port St Lucie’s land area is devoted to single-family residential use, at a density of about 4 units per acre…”
“The plat of Port St Lucie includes only 2 east-west arterials — Port St Lucie Boulevard and Prima Vista Boulevard — and no direct north/south arterial…Commercial development is focused along US 1 and increasingly along Port St Lucie Boulevard, with both roadways suffering from severe traffic congestion.”
“Although the City’s comprehensive plan includes a variety of policies and strategies aimed at land use conversion, the existing platted lots are already vested…residential development is not subject to concurrency [state law that requires that new development is only allowed if public services such as water, wastewater, and parks are in place “concurrent” with the development] because the lots were already vested.”
“…to maintain a reasonable [road] level of service…Port St Lucie Boulevard is being widened from 4 to 6 lanes — the maximum available right of way.”
“…All of these plats force residents onto a poorly designed street system served by a few constrained arterials for the journey to work in nearby cities. The built environment in these communities has literally mandated traffic congestion. Retrofitting areas like these will be a growing problem in Florida…”
“Some platted communities…pose serious environmental and public health concerns, including the potential for groundwater contamination. A large portion of Port St Lucie, for example, is currently served by septic and well systems…”
“…land use strategies would include encouraging a complementary mix of uses; consolidating parcels where feasible to permit commercial and office development, and, if possible, retrofitting the community with an urban core or service center.”
Comments from Dom:
Port St Lucie needs to think about how it can create more intermingling of different land uses. It needs to have offices, retail, parks, civic, and industrial land uses close to or interspersed within its residential areas. The community also needs to incrementally establish a more finely-grained network of connected streets, since the street system is currently rather sparse and disconnected. In addition, higher densities will be needed either throughout the community of within village centers.
Such higher densities are essential if the area expects to create a place with transportation choice (instead of everyone being forced to use a car to get anywhere), healthy transit, walkability, healthy retail, lower taxes, and a higher quality of life.
These objectives will need to happen incrementally. They cannot be achieved overnight. It will be a very long process. Essential strategies to set itself on a quality, sustainable path I’ve outlined:
- Streets within the urban area must NOT be widened (adding street lanes) or in any way that would increase street capacity. Adding turn lanes, for example, should NOT be done unless it is necessary to remove travel lanes or add on-street parking.
- Over time, the big community streets — the 4-lane and 6-lane streets — need to be put on a “road diet”. That is, travel lanes, turn lanes, or both, must be removed. Such big roads are a powerful sprawl engine. No force on earth can stop destructive urban sprawl when the community is afflicted by such big roads. Hire diet consultants such as Ian Lockwood, Walter Kulash, Rick Hall, or Dan Burden.
- Let traffic congestion be Port St Lucie’s friend. Widening roads to try to “build your way out of congestion” will NOT eliminate congestion. Congestion would worsen, quality of life would decline, sprawl would be worse, and taxes would be higher if widening is pursued. Without widening, congestion can do the following quite effectively in the long run:
- Increase community densities by creating more compact development. People need to live closer when their travel time increases due to congestion. It is very important that Port St Lucie become more compact in its development patterns incrementally in appropriate locations;
- Reduce air pollution and fuel consumption on a regional basis. Congestion eliminates so many “low value” car trips that this reduction in car trips swamps any air pollution or fuel consumption benefits that come from free-flowing traffic;
- Encourage use of carpooling, non-rush hour driving, transit, bicycling, and walking. In addition, citizens are strongly motivated to demand that their elected officials spend higher amounts of public dollars to improve transit, walking and bicycling facilities so that citizens have more quality travel choices available. It is not an accident that the cities with the worst congestion soon have high-quality transit;
- Increase mixed use. Congestion creates a desire that land uses be closer together. An essential way to do that is to intermingle residences with offices, shops and government buildings;
- Increase community safety. Congestion slows average car speeds, and high car speeds are an important reason why auto-oriented communities are very unsafe — particularly for children and seniors. Slower car speeds also reduce the severity of car crashes;
- Increase retail health for in-town, smaller businesses. As Yogi Berra once said, “It got so crowded that no one went there anymore;” and
- Reduce the strong market pressures for suburban sprawl. People are less interested in living in remote locations if they must face congestion each day.
- Over time, a denser, more connected grid of modest, low-speed 2-lane streets must be created. This would require condemnation by the public sector, community regulations that require a certain level of connected streets as a condition for development approval, or both.
- Port St Lucie should consider hiring a master regional planning consultant to help the community create a long-range vision, and to figure out if there are legal remedies to address the “vesting” problem created by General Development Corporation in the 1960s. I’d recommend hiring Dover-Kohl, Duany/Plater-Zyberk, Dan Burden or Peter Calthorpe.
- Port St Lucie needs to adopt walkable, traditional, pedestrian-oriented development regulations that would require future developments to build or retrofit such design into future projects. When done well, such walkable projects can serve as a model that others in the community will want to emulate or be a part of. Good examples are Clematis Street, CityPlace, and Abacoa to the south of Port St Lucie.
- Port St Lucie will need to elect wise, courageous leaders to lead the community in the direction I’ve outlined above.
A question came up during the Q&A after my speech about the assumption that cul-de-sacs have lower crime rates than connected street neighborhoods.
Just stumbled across some research recently done by Steve Thorne in western Australia regarding cul-de-sacs. Among other things, he found that:
- Houses in streets with the best connectivity (that is few, if any, cul-de-sacs) had 30% lower crime rates.
- High walls create crime opportunities — houses with high front walls had the worst crime rates.
- Connect streets;
- Long entry cul-de-sacs are the worst, but short straight cul-de-sacs can occasionally be okay;
- Buildings should be built close to the street.
Dom would also add that cul-de-sacs create emergency access problems, as the route to the house is often longer, and there may be only one route to access the house (and if that route is blocked, long delays can occur).
Here’s to a brighter future for Port St Lucie,