Business News Politics Transportation

Ludlow Avenue: The Case for a Pedestrian Streets Ordinance

The stretch of Ludlow Avenue from Whitfield Avenue to the west to Ormond Avenue to the east has a decidedly suburban form different from the rest of the gaslight district between Ormond Avenue and Clifton Avenue. This western stretch is part of a two-block commercial main street that is arguably the “most complete neighborhood commercial district in the city,” according to Aaron Renn.

Just being a commercial main street, however, has not been enough to preserve the pedestrian-oriented nature of the street for the entire western half of the district on the south side of Ludlow, and a key gap on the north side of Ludlow at Ormond.

The southern stretch could be described as the Clifton financial district. Between Whitfield and the CVS are three banks – US Bank, PNC and Columbia Savings Bank – all with their own independent access and parking lots surrounding the buildings.

The oddity is not that banks have their own access and parking, but that you have auto-oriented suburban development on a historic commercial main street. This is not a unique problem, but a pedestrian streets ordinance, perhaps modeled after Chicago’s, could help correct faulty land use decisions like this one.

The theory behind such an ordinance is that you have an A and B street hierarchy, with A streets having a high standard of spatial definition and pedestrian interest in a continuous network, and B streets having lower standards for parking lots, drive-thru’s, muffler shops, etc.

This is a neoliberal approach typical of New Urbanism, It compromises for many areas and gives businesses a design choice based on location: a pedestrian main street (A), or an auto-oriented B street.

Chicago’s pedestrian streets ordinance seeks “to preserve and enhance the character of streets and intersections that are widely recognized as Chicago’s best examples of pedestrian-oriented shopping districts. The regulations are intended to promote transit, economic vitality and pedestrian safety and comfort.”

The ordinance then sets the criteria for the pedestrian street designation, lists all street segments within the city that have been deemed pedestrian streets subject to the ordinance, and sets standards for build-to lines, transparency and pedestrian access.

Of particular importance is what it says about parking and driveways:

Parking Location. All off-street parking spaces must be enclosed or located to the rear of the principal building and not be visible from the right-of-way of a pedestrian street.

Driveways and Vehicle Access. Vehicle access to lots located along pedestrian streets must come from an alley. No curb cuts or driveways are allowed from a pedestrian street.

If this the stretch of Ludlow Avenue had a pedestrian streets ordinance, at such time these banks wish to make improvements or redevelopment, these standards would then kick in and require the banks to reconsider their vehicular access, possibly to the point of eliminating driveways and consolidating parking and access off Whitfield.

More realistically, however, the ordinance would help guard other commercial main streets from the auto-oriented nature of drug stores, banks and restaurants without the need for a short-term Interim Development Controls (IDC) district or historic district protections.

Business News Transportation

Industry Experts Believe a ‘Parking Revolution’ is Sweeping America

In April of this year, members of the International Parking Institute, the world’s largest association representing the parking industry, surveyed parking professionals to determine trends and gain input on parking and related topics.

The survey results found that a “parking revolution” is taking place in the United States, and that the industry is beginning to embrace a variety of new parking solutions.

“The industry is embracing a variety of new technologies that make it easier for people to find and pay for parking, and for parking authorities to better manage it,” the report stated.

Cities identified as leaders in the movement included San Francisco, Portland, New York City, Seattle, Miami, Houston, Boston, Denver, Pittsburgh, Washington D.C., and Tampa.

Emerging Parking Trends

Cincinnati’s recently approved Parking Modernization & Lease Program appears to apply these top trends by moving toward technologies that improve access control, payment automation, and real-time communication of pricing and availability to user’s mobile devices.

These kinds of features are the new standard being implemented around the country, and are provided by Cincinnati’s lease agreement.

Parking professionals were also asked to identify the ten most progressive municipal parking programs in the United States, with San Francisco’s SFpark named most innovative.

“The SFpark pilot project provides real-time information on parking availability and cost; reduces double parking, circling, and congestion; and improves parking ease and convenience,” the report stated. “A high-caliber data management tool allows the San Francisco County Transportation Authority to make rate-change recommendations, supply real-time data, maintain optimum operational and contractual control, and rigorously evaluate the pilot’s various components.”

Respondents also said that SFpark was particularly bold in requiring city and government employees to pay for parking in order to bolster the program’s credibility before asking voters to consider sweeping changes in parking management.

Of particular interest is SFpark’s on-street rate adjustment policy.

Prior to the changes, rate adjustments were made during the budget-planning process. The goal with the pilot program is to take a demand-based approach in order to achieve parking availability targets in a consistent, simple and transparent manner.

Prior to the program, rates in downtown were $3.50/hour, $3.00/hour in the downtown periphery and $2.00/hour in neighborhood commercial districts, and were operational mostly from 7am to 6pm or 9am to 6pm Monday through Saturday. As part of the pilot program, demand responsive time-of-day pricing is split into three distinct rate periods: 9am to 12pm, 12pm to 3pm, and 3pm to 6pm for 9am to 6pm spaces.

These demand-responsive rate changes are made gradually, no more than once per month, and periodically near the first of the month based on occupancy in the previous month.

In order to maintain at least one parking space per block, 80% space occupancy is desired with rates increased when occupancy is greater than 80%, held constant at 60% to 80% and decreased with less than 60% occupancy on a per-block basis to more effectively redistribute parking demand.

In order to help users from having to cut trips short or risk parking tickets, time limits in the pilot areas were lengthened from 30 minutes/two hours to four hours/no limit.

Cincinnati’s program, meanwhile, will provide for public rate control and expanded hours of operation from 8am to 9pm in the Central Business District and 7am to 9pm in neighborhoods. The plan will also allow for limited $0.25 incremental rate increases, but there does not appear to be provisions for demand responsive time of day pricing, a target on-street block occupancy amount, or lengthened or eliminated time limits.

In addition to new technologies, the report indicates that parking is becoming more than just a place to store cars, and is instead moving towards more integrated forms of transportation planning – something that has also taken place locally through new bicycle parking provisions and parking requirement restructuring.

“Today, parking is about so much more than storing cars,” concluded Shawn Conrad, executive director for the International Parking Institute. “It’s central to the creation of livable, walkable communities. It’s about cars, bikes, mass transit, mobility, and connecting people to places.”

News Opinion Transportation

REVIEW: ‘Walkable City’ Offers Clear Guidance on How to Improve Cities

Walkable CitiesIn his 2012 book, Walkable City, Jeff Speck, coauthor of Suburban Nation and The Smart Growth Manual, branches out on his own to nail down a comprehensive guide to walkability.

He contends that a great deal of money and muscle have gone into streetscape improvements, but how important are these in convincing people to walk? The book is rooted in Speck’s ‘General Theory of Walkability’, that for walking to be favored, it must be useful, safe, comfortable and interesting.

  1. Useful: Most aspects of daily life close at hand and well-organized
  2. Safe: Streets that are designed to be safe and also feel safe to pedestrians
  3. Comfortable: Urban streets as outdoor living rooms
  4. Interesting: Sidewalks lined by unique buildings with friendly faces

Speck then prefaces his ten steps to walkability with some notable cases studies proving the economic advantage of walkable places, real estate premiums of walkable urbanism versus drivable suburbansism, the personal and health benefits those in walkable places gain, the environmental impacts of driving, and one’s risk of dying in a traffic crash versus murder by a stranger.

“It is the places shaped around automobiles that seem most effective at smashing them into each other.”

The book is a useful read for those looking to better understand urban design and transportation policy practices, and how they influence our behaviors in cities. Here is a summary of Speck’s analysis and thoughts on working towards a more walkable community using his ‘Ten Steps of Walkability.’

Step 1: Put cars in their place
Speck acknowledges that the auto will remain a fixture of our communities given the Federal Government’s historic and current interest, with some nudging from the “Road Gang” lobby, in road building and the inverse relationship between highway investment and property values.

He argues that traffic studies are “bullshit” by nature and that all transportation decisions should be made in light of induced demand, the phenomenon rooted in the economic theory of supply and demand where demand from drivers tends to quickly overwhelm new supply.

He goes on to attack state DOTs and their involvement, or lack thereof, in the new American Main Street – the state road running right through town. He is against pedestrian zones, for congestion pricing, and notes how the automobile has not moved us any faster, just further.

Step 2: Mix the uses
Speck notes the historical impetus for Euclidean Zoning and that it now undermines the success of cities.

Humans can no longer work, shop, eat, drink, learn, recreate, convene, worship, heal, visit, celebrate, and sleep all within downtown, and the primary inadequacy of housing prevents all other activities from thriving. However, the housing inadequacy should not be made up with more affordable housing, as cities have too much of it, but affordable housing should come through inclusionary zoning and accessory dwelling units.

Step 3: Get the parking right
The author also points out something we’re all affected by on a daily basis but rarely think about, the amount of off-street parking that exists and how its cost in all forms is “diffused everywhere in the economy.”

Speck notes that employer-subsidized parking and minimum parking requirements undermine urbanism and instead advocates for in-lieu fees to fund shared municipal parking and parking cash out programs for employees of large companies.

Speck also carefully addresses the more exact science of on-street parking using parking guru Donald Shoup, author of The High Cost of Free Parking. Speck summarizes this discussion with a comparison between the Chicago parking meter lease where profit for Morgan Stanley (now CPM) bears no relation to parking occupancy, and San Francisco’s managed congestion-pricing regime that seeks goal occupancy of 80%, meaning rates ranging from $0.25/hour to $6.00/hour throughout eight neighborhoods.

Step 4: Let transit work
“With rare exceptions, every transit trip begins and ends with a walk. As a result, while walkability benefits from good transit, good transit relies absolutely on walkability.”

Speck is an advocate of well-planned modern streetcars. He points to the failures of the Dallas Area Rapid Transit system “where parking is as ubiquitous as it is cheap, the only significant constraint to driving is the very congestion that DART hopes to relieve.”

Metro Buses
Speck strongly supports the expansion of bus service to provide greater accessibility and mode choices. Photograph by Randy Simes for UrbanCincy.

He contends streetcars should not be means of reducing traffic, but should act as pedestrian accelerators that make the most sense when a large area of vacant or underutilized land sits just beyond walking distance from a walkable downtown, and that private parties should want to help pay for it. For the rare routes where other transit can offer a superior experience to driving, there must be urbanity, route clarity, frequency and pleasure; and traditional buses have a hard time being efficient and pleasurable.

Step 5: Protect the pedestrian
“Will potential walkers feel adequately protected against being run over, enough so that they make the choice to walk?”

Speck first advocates small block lengths with many blocks per square mile providing route options and shorter distances between destinations. Next, he addresses design speed and how four lanes roads can encourage weaving and how effective road diets can be when they include left turn lanes. He advocates for the historic lane width of 10 feet, rather than 12 feet which is the standard for cars going 70mph and how pedestrians are much more likely to survive being hit at 20mph than 45mph.

He then addresses the psychology of intersections and risk homeostasis, naked streets and shared spaces saying, “nobody drove dangerously through this intersection, precisely because the intersection felt dangerous.”

Speck does not believe one-way streets are appropriate for downtowns, especially retail areas where traffic is distributed unevenly and cross-street visibility is reduced and also addresses bike lanes, trolleys and curb cuts impact on pedestrians.

“What makes a sidewalk safe is not its width, but whether it is protected by a line of parked cars that form a barrier of steel between the pedestrian and the roadway.”

Step 6: Welcome bikes
“A street with bikes, once the drivers get used to them, is a place where cars proceed more cautiously.”

Streets with bicycle infrastructure have proven safer for pedestrians and drivers, with the biggest factors in establishing a biking city being urbanism and infrastructure. Portland increased the population of people biking to work from 1% to 8% in 15 years with only $50 million or 1% of their transportation funding.

He goes on to point out the obvious dangers of cycling, especially vehicular cycling, and how bike lanes can be used as part of road diets but should not replace curbside parking or be and impediment in retail areas.

Step 7: Shape the spaces
“If a team of planners was asked to radically reduce the life between buildings, they could not find a more effective method than using modernist planning principles”- Jan Gehl.

Speck hits on one of the more well-known urban design tenets – that pedestrians enjoy a sense of enclosure and need it to feel comfortable. The trouble is, however, that the typical American urban experience is a profound lack of spatial enclosure, “a checkerboard city devoid of two-sided streets,” and that figural space (the public realm) is in a battle with the figural object of modernist architects.

Main Street
Planting street trees and creating a buffer between pedestrians, like along Main Street in Over-the-Rhine, Speck says is critical for success. Photograph by Randy Simes for UrbanCincy.

He goes on to state that tall buildings are not necessarily needed to create this enclosure, or density, and can actually be a detriment to downtown development.

Step 8: Plant trees
Trees can also create a cathedral-like enclosure over streets and have other environmental, health, safety and economic benefits. Street trees provide an obvious buffer between sidewalks and automobiles, though DOT’s and county engineers have seemingly chosen the safety of drivers over that of pedestrians by categorizing street trees as “fixed hazardous objects.”

Trees close to the roadway also capture CO2 and rain more effectively and should be part of the solution to combined sewer overflows. The author goes on to mock how little it takes to achieve the Tree City USA designation, the return on investment trees can provide, and varying species block-by-block to guard against disease.

Step 9: Make friendly and unique faces
Pedestrians demand almost constant stimulation, and parking lots, windowless storefronts, and landscapes fail to do this. Where there is parking, surface lots can be hidden from view by mere one-story buildings, and parking structures should be hidden from view by liner buildings or at least have upper floors that appear to be inhabited.

Cities need active, open and lively building edges with transparent building facades and features that add depth such as awnings, deep window sills and columns. Facade geometries should also be oriented vertically and limited in width to provide the appearance of a shorter walk and building variety.

He is critical of modernist architect’s disinterest in pedestrian activity and singles out Frank Gehry, but goes on to bail modernism, but not brutalism, out by stating “what matters is not whether the details were crafted by a stone carver or a cold extruder, but whether they exist at all.”

Lastly, he reiterates that the greening of the city in an untraditional manner should be avoided as open spaces can encourage people to take walks, but do not cause people to embrace walking as a practical form of transportation.

Step 10: Pick your winners
Finally, Speck acknowledges there is a finite supply of financial resources to create walkability and therefore it should be spent where the most difference can be made- where there’s already an accommodating private realm with comfort and interest to support an improved public realm.

Speck then uses this logic to create his urban triage plan for walkability that steers financial resources to the identified network. He states that though it may not be viewed as equitable, that this plan should happen first in downtowns as they are shared places and are important to the city image and attracting investment.