By Dom Nozzi
An essential ingredient for a town center to be healthy is to be compact, human-scaled, and accessible. For the town center, then, this means that the pedestrian must be the design imperative. By deploying this objective, transportation accessibility and therefore transportation choice is maximized for bicyclists and transit users as well as pedestrians.
Accessibility is an essential objective, since essential destinations – when they feature good accessibility – can be safely and conveniently enjoyed by all citizens, including children, seniors, the handicapped, the poor and others without access to a car. This principle guards against a development design that can only be reached by those with the use of a car.
High accessibility is therefore inclusive and community-building. Low accessibility is exclusive and isolating.
Consider, below, a proposed new conference center in Greenville, South Carolina. These are some of the design features we must strive for if we expect to achieve adequate accessibility for the development.
*The conference center must be required to lease parking spaces it needs from the underused bank parking garage [as an aside, for Greenville to promote a compact, walkable town center, it needs to own and lease parking spaces within a multi-story parking garage to a large range of town center private uses such as offices, retail, and culture]. The conference center should not be allowed to create any new off-street surface parking. If the center builds a multi-story parking garage, the first floor must be wrapped with retail.
*The conference center must be designed to keep blocks relatively modest in length (a maximum length of 300 to 500 feet). If this cannot be achieved with driveways or streets created by the center, mid-block cross-access must be created for pedestrians and bicyclists.
*The conference center first floor must be faced with ample window space at eye level. Large expanses of blank wall should not be allowed.
*The conference center needs to be exempt from landscape requirements, car parking requirements, and setbacks. Buildings for the center must be brought to a build-to line no further than 20 feet from the street curb. No motor vehicle parking, blank walls, or HVAC equipment is allowed to front the public sidewalk. Building facades that abut the public sidewalk must use weather-protective awnings.
*Floor area ratio (FAR) must be relatively high. Building height for actively used floors should not exceed five stories.
*Streets serving the center must contain priced on-street parking, shall be no more than two lanes in width, must be two-way in operation, and shall not include turning lanes. Very low design speed geometry must be used for streets serving the center. For streets not built or controlled by the center, the center shall provide assistance such as funding to retrofit existing streets serving the center but not under the control of the center. Retrofitting shall be as described in this section. In addition to street and turning radius dimensions being low speed, other infrastructure shall also induce low speeds. For example, any traffic signals (preferably post-mounted), signage, or street lights shall be relatively short (at a human scale of no more than 10 feet in height). Street trees shall be used for shade and enclosure canopies. Alignment of street trees, other vegetation, sidewalks, and streets shall be formally rectilinear rather than informally curvilinear. Any use of plazas or squares shall be hardscaped (rather than grass-surface) and flanked on all sides by active retail. Low-speed street design shall not include speed humps.
*Public art sculpture is strongly encouraged.