Wednesday, June 26, 2013

By Jove, I think they've got it!

There, that wasn't so hard to figure out, was it?
Back in the winter, when the reverse-angle parking was installed in the Plaza-Central business district, which requires you to back in, and people weren't doing it right, I wondered if they'd ever figure it out. Here's a link to a WCNC-TV piece on motorists' inability to grasp the concept.

As this hilarious article from Charlotte magazine recounts, so many people were just not getting it that the city held a press conference and hired a guy to do a rap song, to demonstrate:

"This was a news conference, an honest-to-God news conference, in which Charlotte city officials demonstrated how to back into a parking spot. And they brought a rapper."

Last Saturday, my spouse and I decided we should visit the amazing new Harris Teeter grocery store at Central and The Plaza (It's two stories, y'all!) because we do lead rather boring lives. After we conquered the problem of how to find the second floor, and ascended and realized there's nothing there but tables where you can eat your Teeter Deli purchases, we bought a few necessaries and left.

On the way home, we drove past the formerly infamous reverse-angle parking. If Saturday is anything typical, I'm here to report that by cracky, people have figured it out.  Not a single car was parked front-end-in.

Way to go, PM-ers.   

Waxhaw: Once a small town, now it wonders what's next

Historic downtown Waxhaw. Photo: Nancy Pierce

WAXHAW – The question came from the back row of the small audience, during a presentation from planning consultants about the future for N.C. 16 as it bisects the fast-growing Union County town.

“If we do all this, will we still be considered a small town?”

Consultant Monica Holmes of Lawrence Group paused briefly before answering: “A very important part of this discussion is, ‘What does Waxhaw want to be?’ ”

Good question. Waxhaw – a railroad hamlet chartered in 1889 and named for the Indians who before the Europeans arrived gave their name to the region called “the Waxhaws” – is growing like kudzu. In 2000 it was the 42nd largest municipality in the Charlotte region, and by 2010 it was No. 25. Growth since then has already likely notched it up to No. 17 or 18.  And now it is studying how it could shape the growth along its main highway, growth that is all but promised to arrive in the next 20 years.

Read my article on Waxhaw looks to future for N.C. 16.

Monday, June 24, 2013

The 'powerful' (?) bike lobby

Below are more fun reads from my week (now ended) of doing the daily news headline roundups from around the Charlotte region for and the UNC Charlotte Urban Institute homepage

Note, also, that as of today Chesser's Choices now has Chesser back at the helm, offering intriguing material from around the U.S. and globally.

The "all-powerful" bike lobby"? casts a dubious eye at the comments by Dorothy Rabinowitz, in her now-famous-across-the-Web rant against New York's fledgling bike share program, that there's an "all-powerful"  bike lobby.  There is a bike lobby, the article notes, but it's anything but all-powerful.

The same must be said of Charlotte. There is a bike lobby, or at least, some people who care a lot about bicycling, and their voices have been heard in the past decade. It's known as the Charlotte Area Bicycle Alliance. But if you've tried to ride your bike through the city you know this group is anything but all-powerful. Yes, there are more bike lanes and routes than previously. But Charlotte is nowhere near the state of, say, the Netherlands. Check out last week's New York Times article: The Dutch Prize Their Pedal Power, but a Sea of Bikes Swamps Their Capital.

That's the way the modern concrete crumbles

Here's yet another interesting piece I found last week while doing the daily news headline roundups from around the Charlotte region for and the UNC Charlotte Urban Institute homepage. (Yes, we read the region's news and link to what's of note in terms of public policy and urban growth topics, so you won't have to. Wonky? Sure, and proud of it!)

The long-lost secret of Roman concrete's endurance: If you have ever seen crumbling concrete and said as I have trudging across the parts of the UNC Charlotte campus dating to the 1960s-1980s (see photo below) "Good grief, I've seen ancient Roman concrete in better shape than this!" the next article will open your eyes. I spotted it on the excellent website, which links to the original article on Bloomberg Businessweek: Ancient Roman concrete is about to revolutionize modern architecture.  The Romans used lime and volcanic rock, and their process produces less carbon dioxide than today's process. 

Steps I walk on daily at UNC Charlotte. Photo: Mary Newsom

Monday, June 17, 2013

Urban wildlife: friend or foe? Plus, TOD sans T?

This week colleague John Chesser is vacationing so Im doing the daily news feed for our two online publications, and the UNC Charlotte Urban Institute's homepage. Its a fun part of the job although somewhat relentless, like owning a dairy farm with cows that have to be milked every day, regardless.
Barred owl, urban wildlife. Photo: Liz Odum

But when you do the news feed you find dozens of interesting articles. John kept finding them and sending links around for us, in-house. So we created a special feed from him on the homepage, called Chesser's Choices:

Today, though, you get my picks at interesting articles: 

Valuing Urban Wildlife: Critical Partners in the Urban System or Scary, Disgusting Nuisances? A Columbia University scientist discusses the differing attitudes the public has toward nature in the city. Cute mammals elicit one reaction. Yucky insects? Not so much. As one of the articles headlines  puts it:Who would want to make a corridor for bees? 

Dead malls turned into data center? This article from tells how a dying downtown shopping mall in downtown Buffalo (one described as a superblock eyesore) and one that appears to be not completely dead but mostly dead is bringing in rent by offering vacant retail spaces for a data storage center. (I would not recommend this for Charlottes completely dead Eastland Mall.) 

Some wildlife (cicada) elicits "yuck." Photo: Crystal Cockman
Do people who live in transit-oriented development drive less? Yes, but not for the reasons you think.  People living in TOD neighborhoods do, in fact, drive less. The mass transit is not the reason. A study Does TOD Need the T?  from Daniel G. Chatman of the University of California-Berkeley looked concludes that even without mass transit, people in TOD neighborhoods drive less. An article in the MinnPost reported: 

What he concluded from all this was that it wasnt so much the availability of transit that made people use cars less, but density itself. Higher density means lower on- and off-street parking availability, better bus service and more jobs, stores and people within walking distance. 

OK, putting on my pundit hat for a minute: A question for Charlotte, where traffic congestion continues to be a huge public concern, might be: Why not start requiring more in-town development to follow TOD principles? Today, the citys conventional, suburban-form development standards permeate its zoning ordinance. Developers who want to build TOD must pay, in time and money, for a rezoning. Otherwise, in many cases the standards that apply reflect planning values circa 1970. The city planning department has been engaged in an almost-year-long process to see whether its 20-year-old zoning ordinance needs an update.  I could have saved the city some money. Yes, it needs an update!

Monday, June 10, 2013

Getting creative with Blue Line Extension design

This is about something that was not the big headline from the Charlotte City Council tonight.

The big news, of course, was that the council passed a new budget that raises the city's property tax rate by a little more than 3 cents, from 43.7 cents per $100 assessed value to 46.86 cents, to pay for a huge bundle of building projects. Those projects include a cross-city bike/ped trail, renovating Bojangles Coliseum (the original 1950s Charlotte Coliseum on Independence Boulevard), building a new 911 call center, and so on. (Read more here. And here's a link to the city's budget department.)

But during the dinner meeting, the council heard a short presentation from a couple of planners about an idea to help the new light rail line look a little better than the first one, the Lynx Blue Line. "Some of the components of the Blue Line we wish that we could have done better," Planning Director Debra Campbell said. So for the Blue Line Extension, city planners and the Charlotte Area Transit System are looking to use some of the already budgeted art-in-transit funds to dress up a number of the walls, bridges and other light rail equipment whose design can range from boring to bleak.

Example of a standard wall finish (taken from tonight's slide presentation) is above, right.

Now, however, designs have been drawn for concrete for walls that is molded with a flowered pattern. Here's an example of a typical wall, and then the one CATS and the city hope to build, instead. (All images courtesy of the City of Charlotte.)