Tag Archives: off-street parking

Quality of life in Bloomington: What needs to be done?

Quality of life in Bloomington: What needs to be done?

Bloomington, Indiana Herald-Times

Guest column

November 17, 2007

This column was written by Dom Nozzi. He is the executive director of Walkable Streets, and has been a senior city planner for over 20 years.

I was invited to speak in Bloomington on October 22, 2007. I am the author of two books on sprawl, congestion and quality of life. My expertise is quality urban design. In my 20 years of research, visiting countless cities and preparing development regulations for the “college town” of Gainesville, Fla., I learned that quality of life is a powerful economic engine that communities most effectively leverage by providing a range of lifestyle choices from walkable urban, suburban and rural.

My most important realization was this: Compact, lower-speed, human-scaled walkability (particularly in a downtown) is the lynchpin for achieving a sustainable, more economically healthy and pleasant future.

I was able to tour much of Bloomington while in town. It became immediately clear what measures Bloomington will need to improve its overall quality of life for its citizens, its businesses and its environment. These measures are the “low-hanging fruit” that must be incrementally achieved in the coming years for Bloomington (especially in its downtown), if the city is to realize a brighter, more prosperous and sustainable future.

Convert one-way streets back to two-way.

Creating one-way streets was popular a number of decades ago as an easy way to speed high volumes of traffic through downtown. Nationally, cities are converting these back to two-way because of the obvious problems that one-ways create. One-onewaystreetsway streets result in a significant increase in speeding, inattentive driving, road rage, traffic infractions and motorist impatience.

Former “shopping streets” (often including residences) become drive-throughs instead of drive-tos. Life for the now declining number of pedestrians, bicyclists and transit users becomes unsafe, inconvenient and unpleasant. Likewise, the street loses residences and businesses due to the more hostile conditions. The one-ways also require a great deal of extra motorist travel distance due to backtracking.

Install metered, on-street parking.

In a walkable location, on-street parking must be maximized. (In particular, College Avenue and Walnut Street downtown need on-street parking.) Such parking would be extremely beneficial to downtown businesses and pedestrians (the lifeblood of a downtown).

By contrast, off-street surface parking must be minimized, as it creates gap-toothed dead zones that inhibit walkability, create danger zones and undercut the “agglomeration economies” (the concentration of jobs, residences and commercial) that a downtown requires for health. On-street parking creates safer, slower-speed, more attentive driving, provides protection for pedestrians and offers high-quality, convenient parking for retailers.

On-street parking must be properly priced (targeting an 85-percent use rate), and the parking meter revenue must be dedicated to improving the streetscape in the vicinity of the meters, rather than being dispersed citywide.

Convert off-street surface parking to buildings.

Such parking is deadening to a walkable location, and makes retailing, office and residential substantially more costly. Surface parking — particularly when abutting streets — must be converted to active retail, residential and office buildings. Parking garages — especially when wrapped with retail — consume less parking space, and are much better for walkability than surface parking.conversion to town center

The tragic dilemma that cities such as Bloomington find themselves in is that most all of us are forced to drive a car (and park it) every single time we travel. By providing for cars, walking, bicycling and transit become more difficult. Understandably, we are compelled to urge that conditions be improved for our cars.

Wider, higher speed roads. Larger parking lots.

Yet the “habitat” for cars is at odds with the “habitat” for people, as people tend dislike being near high-speed roads or huge parking lots.

In the end, we find ourselves becoming our own worst enemies, fighting to improve life for our cars.

As we expand our communities for cars, the world for people shrinks.

The remedy is to return to the tradition we have abandoned. The tradition of designing our communities to make people happy, not cars.

Overall, Bloomington has much to be proud of. However, without incrementally taking the steps I recommend above, the quality of life for residents and retail is being severely compromised. I urge the city to start taking these steps as soon as possible.

 

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In Town Centers the Pedestrian is the Imperative, NOT Bicyclists or Cars or Transit or the Disabled

 

By Dom Nozzi

January 6, 2009

I applaud the desire to provide for all forms of travel. This is particularly important in (what should be) a low-speed town center environment.

For a town center to be healthy for retail and all forms of travel, low-speed car travel is essential, and a “park once” environment must be created. Here, the pedestrian, not the bicyclist or car or transit, must be the design imperative. If we “get it right” for the pedestrian in the town center, every stakeholder tends to benefit: not just Céret,_France,_main_street_2pedestrians, but bicyclists, transit, retail, residential, children, seniors, well-behaved motorists, the disabled and everyone else.

However, if we suboptimize bicycling, transit or cars to the detriment of other community objectives, the unintended consequence is that most everyone loses.

Too often, eager bicycling advocates loudly proclaim that a town center needs bike lanes and a removal of on-street car parking. But I believe that bike lanes and the removal of on-street parking in a town center serve to suboptimize bicycling — and I speak as a bicycle commuter.

How do we make the pedestrian the design imperative in a town center? Some of the more important tactics include reducing dimensions (such as street widths, building setbacks and the size of parking), increasing commercial and residential compactness, and obligating slow, attentive speeds by motorists.

Probably the most powerful, affordable way to achieve the above-mentioned tactics is on-street parking. Such parking effectively slows cars and obligates attentiveness by adding friction to the street. Such parking is also essential for healthy town center retail. And such parking sometimes dramatically improves pedestrian safety by reducing the street crossing distance.

In a town center, bike lanes tend to undercut each of those design objectives.

Shoup’s “The High Cost of Free Parking” is perhaps the best book I’ve ever read in the field of planning/transportation (a must-read for all planners, designers and elected folks). In that book, Shoup identifies excessive parking as an enormous problem in nearly all American communities.

However, he points out that it is subsidized, underpriced OFF-STREET parking, required in excess by nearly all local governments, that is one of the most important problems in American cities. Shoup is a strong advocate of on-street parking (especially when it is properly priced and therefore efficiently used). I believe he would agree with me that for nearly all cities (even those with too much parking), an extremely important objective is to substantially INCREASE the amount of on-street parking and substantially reduce the amount of off-street parking. And that as much town center street frontage as possible be lined with on-street parking.

In a properly designed town center, car speeds are low enough that it is not only safe and pleasant for pedestrians and retailers and residences. Car speeds are also low enough to permit safe and pleasant sharing of the travel lane by bicyclists. And in a town center, for those bicyclists who are uncomfortable sharing even a slow-speed travel lane with cars, there tends to be nearby parallel lanes off the main street for the bicyclist.

Important downsides for removing town center on-street parking:

*Smaller retailers tend to suffer so much that empty storefronts result and retailers flee to more remote locations that are inconvenient/unsafe to walk or bicycle or bus to. In other words, bicyclists should be strong supporters of a healthy town center retail/residential environment, in part because it promotes a compact community with short travel distances.

*Unless travel lane width is dramatically reduced, bike lanes tend to add asphalt width to the main street. That can mean longer, more dangerous crossing distances for pedestrians, and higher speed and less attentive (and therefore more dangerous) car travel.

Again, town center designers must be careful not to suboptimize bicycle, transit or car travel in the town center, since doing so tends to be detrimental to the pedestrian, which is the town center design imperative. The irony for bicyclists calling for the removal of on-street parking in a town center is not only that it is detrimental to bicycling. On-street parking removal in a town center was (and still is) most loudly called for by the motorist lobby (which fought to increase town center street widths and car speeds beginning about 85 years ago).

And for the record, I am a strong advocate of in-street bicycle lanes on most all major streets in a city. I believe, however, that they tend to be incompatible with a low-speed, human-scaled ped-friendly town center.

 

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Downtown Parking: Is It Killing Your Town?

By Dom Nozzi

Everyone seems to know exactly how to make their downtown better: MORE PARKING!!!

A few years ago, I read a research article written by a couple of internationally famous transportation and livable cities experts. Part of their work was to survey 32 cities worldwide for the amount of parking and lane mileage provided downtown, and then look for correlations between these factors and both gasoline consumption and the livability of the city.

admin-ajaxBased on this analysis, they came up with a rule of thumb for a CBD (Central Business District) parking-to-CBD employment ratio. Their conclusion was that beyond 200 parking spaces per 1,000 jobs, the city becomes noticeably ugly, congested, polluted, auto dependent, energy intensive, and deteriorated.

When I did an analysis for Gainesville FL (where I was working as a town planner), I was astounded to learn that despite all the rhetoric about insufficient downtown parking, the city has over FOUR TIMES more spaces than this rule-of-thumb ratio.admin-ajax (1)

Ouch.

Here are some spaces-per-1,000-jobs numbers for perspective:

Phoenix = 1,033

Houston = 370

Detroit = 473

LA = 524

DC = 264

Chicago = 96

NY = 75

Gainesville = 840

It seems to me that if we decide it is “unreasonable” to expect people to walk a couple of blocks from their parking space, or unreasonable to build multi-story parking garages (with first floor office and retail), the city is in trouble of fouling its own nest.admin-ajax (2)

A couple of provisos:

  1. No more downtown parking? Nothing mentioned above should be taken to mean that we should not add ANY form of parking downtown. I’m tired of hearing that canard. I generally support multi-story parking garages, in part because their “verticality” helps define the public realm. And they are especially nice when they include a first floor “wrap” of retail and office (since without such a wrap, the structure has a severe deadening effect). Another enormous benefit of such parking is that it substantially reduces the amount of real estate consumed by car parking. A car parking space consumes an ENORMOUS amount of space (about 350 square feet). Since a healthy town center requires walkable compactness and “agglomeration economies” to thrive, the extreme dispersal of the town center with acres and acres of parking asphalt is a recipe for town center decline.

Many town centers around the nation provide insufficient amounts of on-street parking. I support adding as much on-street parking as possible.

On-street parking buffers pedestrians from the noise and danger of cars, and helps slow cars to a more pleasant and safe speed. In addition, on-street parking is extremely helpful for retail, since retail does better when pedestrians find a more pleasant place to walk (or enjoy an outdoor cafe), and because the parking provides a handy place to park near the front doors of businesses.

In my opinion, it is OFF-STREET parking (asphalt parking lots) that we need to be careful about downtown. Such parking creates “gap tooth” dead zones that harm the downtown ambiance and unique character, create ugliness, and increase crime and safety problems. The space used for off-street parking is usually better used for residences, retail, offices, or cultural buildings — all of which help enhance the quality of the public realm and build vibrancy (and “agglomeration economies”). We need to strike the proper balance in our efforts to revive the downtown, instead of putting all of our eggs into the off-street parking basket.

  1. Quality of transit. Occasionally, people respond to the information I present above about parking ratios by saying that the other cities have higher quality transit, and can therefore get away with less parking.

While it is certainly true that the bigger cities have higher quality transit, I believe we need to realize that this is a “chicken and egg” issue. Which comes first? Quality transit, or the conditions that demand the installation of quality transit? While it is possible that we can get quality transit first, it is not probable. After all, we live in a democracy. Our elected officials are not dictators who will take actions that do not have political support. In nearly every city with quality transit, conditions emerged which lead the citizens to choose to support whatever it took to install quality transit. Conditions such as a high cost and inconvenience to drive a car, park a car, or both.

In summary, we need to strike a balance between the need to provide parking and the need to create a livable, vibrant, transit-supportive, attractive downtown.

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