Monthly Archives: February 2012

Turn This Parking Lot Into a Village

If we built village of small streets today, where would we locate it?

One great candidate would be a park-and-ride lot, which is a parking lot located next to a subway, light rail, or commuter rail station. These parking lots do the job of getting some people to use public transit who wouldn’t ordinarily take it.

But that’s just the problem: the people who use park-and-ride lots don’t ordinarily take transit. The reason they have to drive to a train station is that they don’t live near it. That’s why building new neighborhoods next to transit (called transit oriented development in planner lingo) has become popular in the last 10 years. If we built a small streets village next to transit station, then we’d have a whole village of people who could use transit for all of their trips longer than a walk or bicycle ride away.

There are countless park-and-ride lots to consider, but we’ll look at just a couple. Greenbelt Station is located in Maryland at one end of Metro’s Green Line, which goes through Washington, DC and back out to Maryland. If you’ve ever hopped a ride on the Bolt Bus from New York City or the bus from BWI Airport, you may have visited this station.

Greenbelt Metro

Greenbelt Station’s parking lot has 3,399 all-day spaces and uses an area of 37 acres. Is that large enough for a village of small streets? Let’s use the village of Jakriborg, Sweden as an example, since that was built next to a train station and we’ve discussed it before.

Jakriborg

The whole village of Jakriborg is just 12.5 acres, and over 500 families live there! Do a little basic math and you find that, at the average US household size of 2.6, almost 4,000 people could live in a small streets village that extends no further than the current boundaries of the parking lot. We’d still have plenty of room for buses, taxis, and Zipcars on the edges.

Greenbelt-Jakriborg

Even the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Tel?, Czech Republic fits on the Greenbelt park-and-ride lot. Built during the Renaissance, Tel? is organized around a large town square with small streets surrounding it.

Telc CZ

Greenbelt-Telc

We would of course craft the village to best fit the site. But as you can see, there’s no reason why well over 1,000 people couldn’t live in a village of small streets on the site of a former park-and-ride lot.

There are plenty more park-and-ride lots on Metro. This example at Landover Station is 16 acres in area with 1,866 parking spots. Around 1,600 people could live here in a small streets village. Which would you rather see here? Parking spaces for 1,866 commuters or houses, apartments, shops and restaurants for 1,600 village residents and visitors from all over the DC region?

Landover Metro

We’ve invested billions of dollars in providing these sites with a rapid transit system that whisks passengers away every 6 to 20 minutes, from 5 am to 12:30pm weekdays and 7am to 2:30am on weekends. What’s really the best use of this land?

Let’s take these parking lots and build small streets villages.

Quebec

—-

If you’re curious to find out how many people could live in a small streets village next to a park-and-ride lot near you, use this handy tool to measure the site in Google Maps.

Small Streets are the Most Walkable Streets. Sidewalks Just Play Pretend.

Since 2007, Kaid Benfield has written a blog for the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) called Switchboard. The blog marked a significant development in the history of the environmental movement because it officially expanded the set of issues of concern for environmentalists into the built environment. Over the last four years, Kaid has made the case that smart growth and good urbanism are key elements of a society concerned with sustainability.

For his 1,000th post, he writes:

I’m not sure there is any one word that describes my concept of a sustainable community place more than walkability.  At least when it comes to describing the physical aspects of a place.  Is it safe, comfortable, and enjoyable to walk in?  Does it have an abundance of places to walk to and from?  Is it human-scaled?  If the answer is yes, chances are that it also has many of the characteristics that smart growth and urbanist planners strive to achieve:  density, mixed uses, connectivity, appropriate traffic management, street frontages, opportunity for physical activity, and so on.

Kaid believes that the most sustainable community places are walkable places.

Well then, what do these walkable places look like? He shares some pictures. One can’t help but notice that many of the pictures are of small streets.

Of the 21 photos, one-third (7) are of small streets. He includes a photo of a TGV station in France that functions as a small street, so one could count that too. Five photos are of wide streets. Notice that all of them are focused on the sidewalk. In some cases, the roadway is completely out of the frame. If the whole wide street was photographed, would it say “walkable”? Doubtful.

For wide streets, walkability can exist only on the fringes. Only if a wide street has the right sidewalk width, tree canopy, street furniture, and separation from traffic can it even have a chance at walkability.

Dupont Circle

This sidewalk wishes it were a small street. Because it is not, these pedestrians have to tolerate the noise of car and truck traffic and cross the traffic to experience its other (missing) half. 

Essentially, the sidewalk of a wide street needs to emulate the human scale qualities of a small street in order to succeed.

Thus, every wide street needs to be three streets in one: two sidewalk “faux small streets” and a roadway for moving vehicular traffic. How difficult is that to build successfully? How difficult is it to maintain balance between these three streets? In the United States, 99% of the time the roadway wins and the sidewalks lose.

The sidewalks of wide streets very rarely match the walkability of a small street.

Paris

What should that tell our planners and policy makers? If you honestly, truly want a walkable environment, build small streets.