Monthly Archives: December 2021

Greenville’s Impressive Transformation Faces a Severe Challenge

By Dom Nozzi

Greenville SC — the city we moved to in June 2021 — was brought back to life over the past decades. Before 1980, Greenville’s oversized main street had led to many abandonments, much crime, a lot of drug and prostitute activity, many vehicle crashes, and an overall flight of citizens away from what had become an awful town center. Since then, the downtown has seen an astonishing rejuvenation — so impressive that the City has won several national awards and those selling property in or near downtown boast about the property being near main street.

This, in sum, is the story of how an American city can be brought back to life by reversing its century-long design direction: Designing primarily for people walking and bicycling rather than designing for happy cars. In large part, this meant undoing the century of damage done to the city by the engineers and planners the City had hired — ironically — to “fix” problems.

In 1968, citizens and community leaders commissioned a downtown development plan to help direct efforts to revive a struggling business district. The plan recommended what is now a key element of downtown — making Main Street a pedestrian-friendly environment.

Max Heller, who is known as the “Father of Modern Greenville,” was the 29th mayor of Greenville for almost a decade from 1971-1979. The sidewalk and café-lined downtown enjoyed in Greenville today is a result of Heller’s vision for the city and his European heritage. Under his guidance, Main Street was converted from a four-lane thoroughfare to a two-lane oasis complete with trees, streetlights, flowers, and green spaces.

In 1979, implementation began on a new streetscape plan, which included narrowing Main Street from four lanes to two and creating angled parking. Trees and decorative light fixtures were also added, and sidewalks were widened to 18 feet, providing space for outdoor dining. The streetscape was extended from South Main into the West End and the improvements were completed in 1981.

While the framework for revitalizing downtown was in place, in 1987 community leaders contracted with Land Design/Research, Inc. (LDR) to identify additional development opportunities and create a Downtown Development Strategy. The LDR plan recommended focusing development efforts in three key areas, including the Reedy River Falls area. This was the first time the often ignored Reedy River and Reedy River Falls were identified as significant assets for downtown. The plan further suggested that future developments should open to and engage the riverfront, and removal of the Camperdown Way Bridge was mentioned as a way to highlight the distinctive natural feature of the falls. In the ensuing years, these ideas would come to fruition and help create what is now a centerpiece of Greenville’s downtown.

A transportation consultant and colleague of mine gave me additional insight into the history I provided above. He noted that while the main Street is a great story, there are 10 large parking garages on the downtown grid, within 3 blocks east or west. The “B” Streets feeding these garages, he noted, are very slow to mature into even average walkability. When will the parking demand diminish, he asked?

Hearing these thoughts, I let him know that I am fully and painfully aware of how Greenville has a long, long way to go to engage in an essential reform of its transportation system.

The City — while taking bold steps that nearly all other US cities are unable to take due to lack of wisdom or political courage — has barely scratched the surface on crucial reforms needed. After moving here, I immediately noticed that while main street has wonderfully walkable urbanism, it is a tiny sliver of urbanism in a downtown that has been excessively given over to enabling motor vehicles — thereby degrading walkability, bikeability, retail health, and residential health.

As my colleague indicated, the City does not get it regarding parking. I’ve spoken with the mayor and a number of residents, and while the mayor openly supports road dieting for near term and long term projects, he seems opposed to on-street parking (a great many streets suitable for on-street parking do not have it) and he also seems to strongly oppose — tragically — priced on-street parking.

There are many roads in town center Greenville that are oversized “stroads” (oversized roadways that also try to be streets, but fail as both a road and a street).

Each is in crying need of a diet: Augusta, Pete Hollis, McDaniel, Dunbar, Academy, Stone, Buncombe, Wade Hampton, Rutherford, Richardson, Poinsett, Pleasantburg, Laurens, Mills, and Church.

A significant obstacle for all South Carolina cities is that the South Carolina Department of Transportation (SCDOT) owns nearly all roads, and SCDOT has only two objectives: maximizing motor vehicle speeds and maximizing motor vehicle volumes – such objectives are deadly for the health of a city.

Given the above, I’d say the top three transportation objectives for Greenville are taking ownership of many roads owned by SCDOT, road diets for the 14 oversized stroads, and Shoupian parking reform (which emphasizes properly priced on-street parking).

I have a growing sense, however, that like nearly everywhere else, even Greenville has passed the point of no return on transportation. Barring an unprecedented economic collapse, there is no turning back on the self-perpetuating downward spiral we’ve spent several decades getting ourselves in regarding transportation.

https://domz60.wordpress.com/…/17/the-point-of-no-return/

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Civility Needs to Go Viral

By Dom Nozzi

Civility needs to “go viral.”

Why?

Because in my experience, there has been a steep decline in civility in American society for several decades. And civility is one of the most essential elements for a culture that seeks to survive and thrive into the future. Without civility, a culture is on the road to collapse.

The first and most powerful step in restoring a reasonable level of societal civility in American society is to put our “stroads” on a road diet. This is necessary in several instances for every city in America.

 A “stroad” is a delightful term coined by Charles Marohn of Strong Towns, and refers to those dangerous, multi-laned thoroughfares you encounter in nearly every city, town, and suburb in America. They’re what happens when a street (a place where people interact with businesses and residences, and where wealth is produced) is ruinously also designed to serve as a road (a high-speed route between productive places). They are enormously expensive to build and, ultimately, financially unproductive. They’re also very dangerous. And they are the futon of transportation” because, just as a futon is neither a particularly good bed nor a particularly good couch, a stroad is neither a particularly good road or a particularly good street.

Greenville makes this step obvious. Motorists are obligated to drive 15-25 mph smoothly on appropriately road dieted Main Street. This is contrasted with the 45-55 mph speeds motorists are allowed and enabled to drive on Greenville’s many stroads. Of course, on a stroad a motorist is not driving at those higher speeds smoothly. Instead, the stroad inevitably forces motorists to engage in “jack rabbit stop and go” travel, where motorists engage in short bursts of excessive speeds followed by frequently repeated stops and slow downs.

Despite the fact that nearly everyone expects a slow speed road to be frustrating and unpleasant to drive on (“WE ARE VERY BUSY AND NEED TO BE ABLE TO DRIVE FASTER!”), driving on Main Street in Greenville versus driving on the Greenville stroads leads to far better and more enjoyable motorist experiences.

On slow speed Main Street, nearly all drivers are more courteous, more calm, more relaxed, more happy and smiling, more polite, more well-mannered, more patient, and filled with civic pride.

The drive, even though slow in speed, FEELS like it goes by relatively quickly. This is because the drive is more aesthetically pleasing and enjoyable. Some drivers don’t want the driving experience to end.

On higher speed stroads, by striking contrast, drivers are more hostile, angry, stressed, impatient, hot-tempered, and enraged at any fellow citizen who DARES to get in the way by driving or turning too slowly, and ashamed to live in a city with such an oversized, strip-commercial roadway blight (this is exemplified by the fact that no one in Greenville takes their out-of-town guests to show off the higher speed stroad, whereas many show off Main Street to their guests).

The drive, even though higher in speed, FEELS like it takes a relatively long time. This is because the drive is ugly, frustrating, and stressful. Drivers can’t wait to get off the stroad.

The unpleasant, stressful, angering, impatient, hostile, uncivil, short-tempered emotions induced by stroads spills over into the stroad-driving motorist’s life beyond the unpleasant stroad experience and into the realm of family life, work life, social life, and interactions with fellow neighbors and other citizens.

Stroads in Greenville include – but are not limited to – the following:

Augusta Avenue

Peter Hollis Boulevard

McDaniel Avenue

Academy Street

Stone Avenue

Buncombe Street

Rutherford Street

Richardson Street

Poinsett Highway

Pleasantburg Drive

Laurens Road

Mills Avenue

Church Street

In sum, converting stroads to streets is an effective way to substantially promote civility (and happiness!) in American society.

We start doing that by removing excessive numbers of lanes on stroads. In other words, treating the failing stroad with a life-giving road diet.

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