Tag Archives: sign regulation

Essential Ingredients for a Walkable, Compact Town Center

 

By Dom Nozzi

December 20, 2013

I attended a joint citizen board meeting regarding “Sustainable Streets and Centers” in Boulder, Colorado. Here are my thoughts about necessary strategies.

Assumptions

  • Boulder has adopted a clear vision for one or more newly emerging walkable, compact centers in locations such as East Arapahoe Road, Colorado Street, and East Boulder, and intends to use effective tactics to induce the creation and sustainability of such centers.
  • People that desire to live in walkable, compact living arrangements seek a setting that is conducive to such a lifestyle. That setting features low-speed, narrow and human-scaled streets and intersections, very short walking distances to most destinations, buildings pulled up to the sidewalk to create enclosure, and a vibrant experience (in contrast to deadening expanses of parking and large building setbacks). The market for higher density housing will be very weak and unsustainable if such a walkable setting is not provided.
  • 15-minute neighborhoods are an important Boulder objective, which will require the creation of a relatively large number of centers.
  • The objective for centers is a drive to rather than drive through experience, a park-once setting, and a design that makes the pedestrian the design imperative.

General comments

First, strive to use words that resonate and are understandable to non-professional Boulder citizens. Terms such as “multi-way” or “activity center” or “alternate modes” or “corridor” are confusing, uninspiring, and negative. Second, when visioning or seeking comments from citizens, it is important that citizen comments be guided and informed by skilled design professionals (such as Dover-Kohl) who are skilled in presenting information in an understandable, inspiring way (particularly through use of quality graphics). Third, existing housing, employment, or land use patterns should not necessarily dictate visions if such patterns conflict with Boulder objectives. Fourth, the needs or convenience of regional commuters should not trump the low-speed, vibrancy, pedestrian scaled needs of Boulder’s centers.

Toolbox of Strategies that are Essential in Creating a Walkable, Compact Center

(somewhat different toolboxes are needed for other lifestyle zones – “transect zones” – in Boulder)

Land Development Regulations:

  • Motor vehicle parking is behind buildings.
  • Shorter blocks via cross-access pedestrian ways between buildings.
  • Mixed-use zoning to reduce walking/biking distance, and increase 24-hour vibrancy and safety.
  • Relatively high residential densities and commercial intensities.IMG_3045
  • Remove any regulatory barriers to infilling existing parking with buildings.
  • Do not allow gas stations at intersections.
  • Convert parking minimums to parking maximums. Require that the price of parking be unbundled. Increase allowable shared use and leased parking opportunities.
  • Relatively modest building setbacks. At intersections, a sense of place is achieved by requiring buildings to abut the back of sidewalks.
  • Exemption from landscaping requirements.
  • Relatively small minimum lot sizes.
  • Relatively small signs required by the sign ordinance (to help signal a low-speed, pedestrian scaled setting).
  • Proactively overlay a street grid with small block sizes before development is proposed.
  • Do not allow fences to cut off non-street access to adjacent parcels. Fences used should not exceed three or four feet in height along a sidewalk.
  • Emphasize multi-family housing rather than single-family housing in centers and along major streets.
  • Consider requiring at buildings at least two-stories in height for more of a sense of place, a sense of enclosure, mixed use opportunities, and better adaptability to change over time.

Infrastructure

  • Shorter street blocks (200 to 500 feet max).
  • When streets passing through the proposed center are 4 lanes or more in size, they need to be necked down (road dieted) to no more than 3 lanes.
  • Intersections must be kept relatively small in size so that they are pedestrian-scaled. No more than one turn lane in a given direction, relatively narrow travel lanes, and small turning radii.
  • Continuous left turn lanes are to be discouraged. Raised medians with turn pockets are to be encouraged.
  • Raised crosswalks when feasible and appropriate.
  • Street (including lane width) and turning radii dimensions are small and slow-speed.
  • Street lights should be pedestrian-scaled so that light bulbs are no more than 14 feet in height. Taller lights create a highway ambiance and induce higher car speeds.
  • Bus bays are inappropriate in a compact, walkable center due to loss of pedestrian scale and increased pedestrian crossing distance.
  • Sidewalks have straight, rectilinear trajectories rather than curvilinear, suburban trajectories. Curvilinear trajectories, by adding unnecessary distances to walking, are annoying and patronizing to pedestrians. They are mainly benefiting motorists, who obtain a more pleasing view as they drive along a street with curving sidewalks. They also increase the likelihood of dirt cowpaths being formed by pedestrians seeking the shortest route.
  • On-street parking is allowed and priced.
  • Consider visually prominent gateway features at the entrances to centers to clearly signal to motorists that they are entering a low-speed, walkable setting that requires attentiveness.

 

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Light Pollution

By Dom Nozzi

There is an “invisible” — yet nevertheless important — quality-of-life issue that communities neglect at their peril. Invisible because it is rarely discussed as a problem.

Light pollution.

Light pollution hides the glorious, romantic stars in the night sky. Such pollution degrades wildlife habitat, and creates a frenzied, “anywhere USA” ambience that kills the authentic, quiet and sleepy charm of a community. Light pollution disrupts sleep for countless people in residential areas.

In my opinion, light pollution has become an epidemic in our county because, increasingly, retailers discover that excessive lighting is a handy way to attract the attention of the 40,000 motorists driving by each day on arterials. It is also a convenient way to evade those pesky local sign ordinances. Sign regulations are evaded in this case because excessive lighting allows the retailer to make her/his entire building a sign at night. It is the “building as sign” problem that we often see — especially with chain retailers.

This is done in at least two ways. First, a retailer lights up their building to make the structural elements on the property are so screamingly visible that we are compelled to look.

As an aside, one could make the point that the light pollution problem often worsens when city engages in more effective enforcement of the city sign ordinance.

A number of newer gas stations will use a high canopy over the fueling stations. The bright, glaring lights underneath the canopy makes the place look, in the words of Jim Kunstler, like a “UFO Landing Strip” which can be seen from miles around. Other retailers like to line their exterior walls or parking lots with lights that spill upward and across property lines.

Of course, retailers who are cited for light pollution are usually indignant, and commonly defend their ability to continue polluting. A frequent ploy is to grab the moral high ground on this issue by claiming that the sole purpose of all this excessive lighting is for “public safety,” or the “safety of customers.” It is claimed that the excessive lighting keeps women and children safe from predators (despite the fact that it has been shown that bright lights will create darker shadows where predators can more easily hide, and that glaring lights can cause traffic accidents).

The result is that citizens and decision-makers often look upon those concerned about light pollution as people who are insensitive to public safety.

It is only a coincidence for the retailer that this “safety” lighting happens to make the entire building a glaring billboard to attract customers. We all know that the only reason for the bright lights by our safety-minded retailers is to promote public safety.

Please.

Controlling light pollution is an important element in retaining a pleasant ambiance for our towns, not to mention the needs of our wildlife and star-gazing public.

_________________________________________________

Visit my urban design website read more about what I have to say on those topics. You can also schedule me to give a speech in your community about transportation and congestion, land use development and sprawl, and improving quality of life.

Visit: www.walkablestreets.wordpress.com

Or email me at: dom[AT]walkablestreets.com

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Light Pollution and the “Buildings as Sign” Problem

By Dom Nozzi

There is an “invisible” — yet nevertheless important — quality-of-life issue: light pollution. Invisible because it is rarely discussed as a problem. In my opinion, light pollution has become an epidemic in our communities because, increasingly, retailers discover that excessive lighting is a handy way to attract the attention of the 40,000 motorists driving by each day on arterials. It is also a convenient way to evade those pesky sign ordinances because excessive lighting allows the retailer to make her/his entire building a sign at night. This, then, is the “building as sign” problem that we often see in our towns — especially with chain retailers, who also like to use “icon architecture” to make their building a sign during the day. Solar-Gas-Sation

Light pollution problem has accelerated in recent years as a result of many cities engaging in more effective enforcement of their sign ordinance.

A number of newer gas stations will use a high canopy over the fueling stations. The bright, glaring lights underneath the canopy makes the place look, in the words of Jim Kunstler, like a “UFO Landing Strip” which can be seen from miles around. Other retailers like to line their exterior walls or parking lots with lights that spill upward and across property lines.

Of course, retailers like to grab the moral high ground on this issue by claiming that the sole purpose of all this excessive lighting is for “public safety,” or the “safety of customers.” As a result, citizens and decision-makers often look upon those concerned about light pollution as people who are insensitive to public safety. We often forget, however, that bright lights can make shadows darker, thereby creating better places for criminals to hide, or that glaring lights can cause traffic accidents.

It is only a pleasant coincidence for the retailer that this “safety” lighting happens to make the entire building a glaring billboard to attract customers.

Controlling light pollution is an important element in retaining a pleasant ambiance for our community, not to mention the needs of our wildlife and star-gazing public.

Leave a comment

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