Thursday, August 28, 2014

'Do not try to design neighborhoods through a computer screen'

The photo at right arrived about 10 days ago from Davidson-based transportation planner John Cock.
Cock and I were among a group of fans of the late Warren Burgess, who died at age 56 in May 2005.

The plaque was installed a few weeks ago beside a bald cypress tree that had been planted in his honor in Davidson’s Roosevelt Wilson Park shortly after Burgess died.

Burgess – or Warren, as I’m more comfortable saying – was for more than 20 years an urban designer on the staff of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Planning Commission. He was Davidson town planner from 2000 to 2003. To this day, he has a fan club of sorts, people like Cock and former Davidson planner Meredith Judy whom Warren mentored, as well as other urban designers and planners in the area, like David Walters, the just-retired head of UNC Charlotte’s Master of Urban Design program.

You may have noticed over the years that there are some occupations that lend themselves to memorial plaques,

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Here's one list Charlotte isn't on - and ought to be

Syracuse is yet another city where advocates are pushing to tear down a section of elevated interstate highway (in this case I-81) and turn it into a boulevard. “What we’ve done is take an incredibly important piece of this city off of the development map,” developer Robert Doucette tells Governing magazine. “This highway runs through the part of the city that should be some of the highest-producing parcels of land in the region.”  (See Why Would You Have a Highway Run Through a City?)

The article lists New Orleans, which got federal funds to study removing the Claiborne Expressway, Cleveland, New Haven and Detroit as either moving toward or studying urban highway removal. Among the comments, one mentions Buffalo as also discussing the fate of its skyway, which cuts through a waterfront area. (The whole comments section itself is an interesting pro-con discussion.)

The article notes that one factor in the teardown trend – or more accurately, the teardown wannabe trend – is the age of the highways. Most were built in the 1950s and 1960s and are aging out.  Charlotte’s uptown freeway loop

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Can a place progress from Dead-End-Ville to Connectivity City? It's tough reports that the town of Cornelius in north Mecklenburg is proposing connecting a neighborhood street, Floral Lane, to Statesville Road (U.S. 21).

One of the most politically fraught decisions any elected or government staff officials can make is to connect streets that used to be dead-ends. It's easy to understand why residents protest, as the Floral Lane residents are doing.

The first house I bought was on a dead-end block in Charlotte's Chantilly neighborhood, where my street ended at Briar Creek. I liked the lack of traffic on the street, with only residents and their guests traveling in front of the house. I felt my cats were safe to go outside there. People who live on cul-de-sacs have the same welcome lack of cars going past.

But when a whole city is overloaded with dead-ends and cul-de-sacs, that sends huge numbers of cars onto the few streets that do connect. The result: far more congestion than you'd otherwise have.

Consider Providence Road in south Charlotte. It's horrifically congested, especially the farther you get from uptown. One reason is that all the vehicles heading from south Charlotte towards uptown have to travel on comparatively few thoroughfares, because south of Myers Park and Eastover, the neighborhood streets don't connect to any other neighborhoods. If the same number of vehicles that clog Providence Road daily were spread through dozens of interconnected streets, rather than all jamming Providence Road, the congestion problem would ease considerably.

But how does a town or city progress from Dead-End-Ville to Connectivity City? That's the hard part. If you simply open one new street connection, that street will absorb far more than its share of the traffic. What to do?

I've said for years that Charlotte (and I'd add Cornelius and other cul-de-sac landscapes to this statement) needs to connect dozens and dozens more streets to each other. But whenever the city does that, it owes the residents of those streets the ability to co-exist with more traffic. That means building sidewalks, crosswalks - signalized if necessary - and installing traffic calming devices like humps or roundabouts.

Connect the streets, but build the necessary infrastructure so that people can live with the cars. It's not rocket science. It's just more expensive.