Currently viewing the tag: "Urban Planning"

For today’s Metro Monday, we once again direct you over to our friends at Streetsfilms to view an exceptional piece on Melbourne’s pedestrian facilities. It is simply amazing to see how quickly a city can change with the right policy, perhaps Miami 21 will serve as our saving grace.

There is an invaluable lesson here. In the early 90s, Melbourne was hardly a haven for pedestrian life until Jan Gehl was invited there to undertake a study and publish recommendations on street improvements and public space. Ten years after the survey’s findings, Melbourne was a remarkably different place thanks to sidewalk widenings, copious tree plantings, a burgeoning cafe culture, and various types of car restrictions on some streets. Public space and art abound. And all of this is an economic boom for business.

Miami 21 Update: On Thursday the City of Miami commission approved the continuation of the Miami 21 project with the mapping of the quadrants. Interestingly, the only mention of this in the Herald was a recent editorial two days before the actual vote by Daniella Levine… Perhaps this is a contributing factor for much of the confusion regarding Miami 21…

On the Tomorrowland Transit Authority this past week, I passed a model of Walt Disney’s original plan for an Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow (EPCOT). I got to thinking: “I wonder how many people passing this model on a daily basis know that the Walt Disney Company actually tried their own hand at an experimental community, albeit on a smaller scale?”
Celebration sits on roughly 5,000 acres at the southern end of the Reedy Creek Improvement District, the same parcel of land on which the Walt Disney World resort is built. While billed as small-town americana, Celebration is actually considered a census-designated place (CDP): It is an unincorporated master-planned community with slightly under 10,000 residents, as of 2004 American Community Survey data.

Walk through the streets of Celebration and you’ll enjoy a very clean, crisp atmosphere. Everything is in its place, all of the shops and homes are freshly painted, lawns are manicured, and yes, those apartments above the shops are real apartments. There’s a small “downtown” core of shops, restaurants, a movie theater, schools… inhabitants of the community are encouraged to use their NEVs (Neighborhood Electric Vehicles… think, golf carts) to get around town. Just about everything has been thought of.

Forget, though, about affordable housing in this “mixed” community: two bedroom, two bathroom condo-style homes go for $400,000. The nearest mainline transit links are the route 55 and 56 Lynx buses that run on US 192, approximately two miles to the north, too far to be walked on a regular basis. These are quite possibly the fundamental explanations for why there are no people milling about the center of the community.

While the Walt Disney World company wasn’t trying to recreate Walt Disney’s vision of EPCOT with the founding of Celebration, they were definitely reaching back to try to recapture the small-town feeling of pre-1950s America. While they made a valiant effort, like so many of these new, master-planned communities, they’ve missed their mark. Without a connection to some sort of mainline transit, and without affordable housing, the Walt Disney Company excluded a huge portion of America that wants to live this quintessentially American dream: living, working, and playing all within walking distance of one’s home.

-Photo courtesy of Picasa Web Photos

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“Higher density housing offers an inferior lifestyle only when it is without a community as its setting.”

- Andres Duany

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It somehow always seems that when Transit/Development news flares up, so do events in our personal lives. In any case, here are some of the top news stories this week, some of which we’ll get around to commenting on:

Local:

  • The next phase of the Metrorail extension hasn’t even broken ground and already the cost overruns have begun. This time Parson’s is looking for an additional $13 million in “Consultant fees.” I’m not specifically implicating that Parsons has something to do with this, but, I find it intriguing that nearly every project they’ve worked on locally (Miami Intermodal Center, MIA North Terminal, MIA South Terminal, PAC, Boston’s Big Dig, etc.) has come in way over budget. Is there something we don’t know, or is it really that easy to bilk the county out of money once you’re hired to do contracting/engineering/management work? I guess choosing the French construction giant Bouygues Travaux Publics, wasn’t such a bad idea after all.
  • Top issues for Kendall this year? Forget Cityhood, how about congestion, lots of it. It’s only getting worse too as years pass and opportunities for real transit come and go (Tri-Rail Kendall link anyone?) If the Kendall community fears Tri-Rail trains traveling down an existing ROW behind their houses or an “unsightly” elevated rail down Kendall drive is going to lower their property values, just wait and see the nose dive congestion will cause. At least the recent efforts have paused (momentarily) foolish FDOT hopes of expanding Killian to 6 lanes west of 137th Avenue. Perhaps Kendall residents are beginning to realize that the car isn’t a viable solution…
  • Like him or not, Manny Diaz has a Vision. We’ll dig into this much more in depth soon…
  • I’m liking the looks of a final panel report on the UDB. Key part of this would require 3/4 of commissioners to move the line for projects and would bring in an outside firm to redraw the line.
  • Live Nation is set to bring yet more events to Bayfront Park. Can’t a Park just be a Park? I’m not arguing against the Museums, those are neccessary, but why does Bayfront need so many attractions to make it successful? I think the park would induce more local use if there was less cement and far more shade trees, just a thought…
  • The Federal DOT has given MDT a grant to purchase 16 hybrid express buses for the new HOT lane project on I-95. The buses will travel from downtown Miami to Ft. Lauderdale. Now can we please modernize the system and implement farecards (and new machines) that are transferable on all 3 local agencies?
  • Don’t ride Transit, Buy a BMW…No seriously, Norman Braman wants you to buy a BMW and skip out on urban life…Oh, more on this soon…However, please follow this link for some laughable signs of hypocrisy…
  • Gasp! This first paragraph says it all: “The [Palmetto Bay] Village Council approved a special permit allowing a new commercial development to put all of its parking spaces on the street at a zoning hearing Monday.” Note: A special permit. I know this is a young, incorporated bedroom community and all, but seriously, can we get some logical planning oversight around there? (In Case you missed it, we’re glad to see the use of on street parking in this and other bedroom communities…This shouldn’t be a special instance, but, rather the norm….)
  • Watering rules in effect now till forever. Green lawns aren’t a necessity folks…
National:
  • Cape Cod wind farm moves one crucial step closer to disturbing a bunch of rich folks’ “pristine” views…
  • Northern Virginia (and Atlanta) is getting closer to funding a new streetcar. Not enough BMW dealers in the area I guess…

“At a length of nearly 19 km, the Canada Line will be an automated rapid transit rail service connecting Downtown Vancouver with central Richmond and the Vancouver International Airport — linking growing residential, business, health care, educational and other centres in the region — and adding transit capacity equivalent to 10 major road lanes. The Canada Line will connect with existing rapid transit lines at Waterfront Station and major east-west transit services, creating an enhanced transit network to serve the region in time for the 2010 Winter Olympics.

The line is expected to carry 100,000 passengers per day at launch and 142,000 passengers by 2021. Travel times southbound from downtown Vancouver will be 25 minutes to Richmond Centre and 26 minutes to the airport terminus. Northbound, trains will leave Richmond City Centre and YVR every six minutes heading to Vancouver. The departures will be coordinated to allow for a train every three minutes on the main line in Vancouver.”

Remember the debacle which erupted in Palm Beach when attempting to identify a location for the massive Scripps Institute? Mecca Farms and Boca Raton were all suggested as alternative sites for the massive Bioresearch center, however in the end, a location in Jupiter near FAU’s campus was selected. In the end, here is why the Mecca Farms site fell apart:

The plan came to a halt two years later when a federal judge sided with environmentalists and ruled that the project’s potential environmental impacts hadn’t been adequately studied. Under deadline pressure, commissioners moved the Scripps Florida headquarters to a smaller, urban site at Florida Atlantic University‘s MacArthur campus in Jupiter.

Somehow, the voice of reason prevails over absurd westward development, even if it was for a monumental institution; this project had absolutely no reason to pave over thousands of acres of farmland. Palm Beach County paid $60 million for the Mecca Farms complex and is now trying to figure out what to do with the rural designated land. Considering the reasons why the institution was blocked from building here, their “ideas” may surprise you:

More than four years after the county bought the 1,919-acre property with a sprawling Scripps Florida science campus in mind, commissioners are taking steps to usher in a new reality: suburban home development.

Suburban home development? How is this environmentally friendly? Well, it isn’t but they have some ideas which are actually worse:

County administrators want to use about 100 acres for a landfill, set aside land for water marshes and environmental improvements and package the rest for home builders.

Palm Beach County has the unique opportunity to conserve thousands of acres as farmland, able of producing enough goods to satisfy the needs of much of the South Florida area. This is a pristine opportunity to make our region sustainable, by actually producing food locally and Palm Beach County commissioners are looking to throw it away on yet another ridiculous sprawled out single family home compound. With oil recently reaching $100 a barrel, I am shocked to see still autocentric development mindset…

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I attended today’s county commission meeting to voice my support for many of the projects, particularly the port of Miami Tunnel and the Streetcar. I sat through all 10 hours of testimony and discussion, at times observing our commissioners running around in circles. Hours of discourse could have likely been saved had all the elected members realized from the very beginning that today’s resolution did not guarantee any of these projects but merely paved a path for all of them to return to the commission for approval at a later point in time. The only time sensitive resolution fully moving forward after today’s vote was the Port of Miami Tunnel, already previously approved by the County. Below is a copy of the speech I presented to the commission:
My name is Gabriel J. Lopez-Bernal; I am a transportation engineer, urban planning student, and local sustainable planning advocate from transitmiami.com. I am here today to voice my unconditional support for the plan sitting before you; a plan that will revolutionize the city of Miami and will make urban life a real possibility for more county residents.

Miami Streetcar
The Miami streetcar will serve a vital role in the future development of our city. It will serve as an economic catalyst for the entire county by guaranteeing mobility where it is needed most; our downtown core. Contrary to the suburban sprawl most of this commission voted in favor of a few weeks prior, the streetcar will allow the county and city to continue growing in an ecologically and financially sustainable manner for years to come. I cannot begin to quantify the economic benefits our entire community will experience through this measure. Most importantly, the streetcar provides the means with which to construct some truly affordable housing, located within easy reach and facilitating life not governed by the economic constraint of owning a vehicle for personal independence.

Port Tunnel
The benefits the port of Miami tunnel will provide are twofold: providing direct easy access to and from our second largest economic engine and perhaps more importantly, ridding our newly emerging downtown urban center of the traffic, smog, and noise pollution produced by these vehicles daily. The reduction of these nuisances in our city center will foster a hospitable urban environment.

An unprecedented resolution sits before you today aimed at simultaneously solving some of the transit, infrastructure, and societal needs of this community. As is the case with most plans of this size, it isn’t without its share of flaws; however, the economic and intangible benefits these upgrades will produce should be enough to outweigh any of your reservations. I ask that the commission take the necessary steps today to propel Miami into a new, sustainable future.

I’m assuming everyone would have figured out what city was featured in yesterday’s Pic o’ the Day had I placed this picture up instead:I’m surprised nobody could realize that was Duck Creek Park sitting right smack in the middle of all those housing sectors. The point of the Pic o’ the Day was to illustrate just how drab and boring our suburban lives in suburbia have become. As rd commented in the previous post:
“I still believe it’s somewhere in Miami visible by plane. I’ve seen Miami out of a plane before and it looks just like that photo.”

I’ve seen it too and it’s revolting. I can guarantee you (and I will) that I can find pictures of thousands of suburbs across the country that all look like they could be here in our own backyard. Kendall, most of Broward, South Dade, nearly all of Palm Beach, etc. is quickly becoming a mass of featureless suburban plight. Cookie cutter houses, laid out on arbitrarily curvy streets which connect to a few major connector roads, all of which are littered with drive-thru everythings and strip shopping centers. There is no sense of place or community because this isn’t a place (or a community!) just a soulless blob stretching out radially from every former nucleic city center…

To be continued…

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Last week’s Pic o’ the day featured a very memorable, walkable, and livable neighborhood in Philadelphia. Today’s picture is just the opposite, exemplifying much of the construction occurring all across the American landscape. Try and see if you can figure out where this blandness is located. The point of this photograph is to illustrate the lack of creativity associated with urban sprawl. Developers are creating homogeneous housing areas which completely lack a sense of space or community. The available public space is poorly distributed, houses are sectioned off in quadrants inaccessible to pedestrians, and the whole neighborhood suffers from the lack of any memorable structures. I’d be surprised if anyone can guess where this place is…

One of the best examples of how to create a vibrant, pedestrian accessible, and dense neighborhood is in Boston along the Back Bay. The dense row houses, some of which have been converted into mixed use structures (along Newbury street, Commonwealth Avenue, and Boylston) create a dense yet comfortable living environment. Public park space is amply provided along the Charles River Esplanade, Commonwealth Avenue, and the city’s central park (the Boston Common and Public Gardens) which anchors the eastern portion of this quaint neighborhood. Boston’s Back bay embodies many of the principles envisioned in Miami 21, including stepped structural height increases, reduced setbacks, on street parking, and canopy/park space requirements. Miami’s design district would be ideal for similar development and the Miami streetcar, like the green line which runs adjacent to the Back Bay, would only further bolster the livability of this neighborhood.

Alrighty folks, I think I’ve started to crack the Miami-Dade County Commission’s playbook for planning and it’s not pretty; looks like the Dolphin’s offense, running in 20 different directions and effectively getting us nowhere. The best choreographed transportation network couldn’t support the kind of cross county movement commuters will likely be doing once 600,000 square foot office compounds are completed on the western fringes of the county (keep in mind the recently approved Kendall project is one of many, others are “planned” further north along the turnpike around Doral.) It appears that our makeshift planners on the commission (in addition to believing that bridges over avenues in sprawl ridden neighborhoods will alleviate traffic congestion) are deciding to essentially sandwich residential development between two opposite commercial “hubs”, one vertical and on the coast, the other sprawled out and mosquito ridden over former wetlands in the west.

It’s interesting to see such a dramatic commercial development juxtaposition occur within such a confined region. While the equivalent of 3 600,000 square foot, LEED certified office skyscrapers (Met 2, 600 Brickell, and 1450 Brickell) rise in our transit accessible downtown core, our commissioners believe it is sound planning to offset them with at least 1 sprawling complex.


West Kendall Baptist Hospital plans…

What irks me most is the marketing ploy to promote the Kendall complex as a commercial center. Central to who exactly when it’s located on Kendall and 167th is beyond me, but I’m assuming that pretty soon the commute from Naples will be quicker than from within some other parts of the county.

Martinez fought for the plan — arguing that developer David Brown promised to build a long-sought road connecting Kendall Drive to a nearby residential complex. It was a job, Martinez said, that the county couldn’t complete.

Sorenson took exception: “Should we make policy decisions based on what developers are going to do for us? Seems to me we ought to be making the policy.”

Forget what is in the best interests of Citizens let’s fight for developer’s rights to exploit our land, water, and natural resources to make a quick buck!

West Kendall Center will likely resemble this aerial from a complex in Birmingham. You can spot the telltale signs of sprawl easily. 1) Squat, warehouse-like buildings covering near acres of land each. 2) Enough surrounding surface parking to accommodate the one day of the year where parking might become an issue. 3) Like a tree, all branches of the sprawl connect to one main arterial road, forcing all visitors to the “mixed use” development to enter and exit through this one opening. 4) A highway nearby (bottom right) to accommodate the hordes of vehicles coming off from the already clogged arterials roads. 5) Trees are confined to medians not sidewalks because the sidewalks (if they exist) won’t be used anyway.

Obviously, Lowes is a good fit for the Sprawl environment with its massive horizontal structure and acres of parking…

The Lowe’s vote commanded the most attention. Twice since 2003 representatives of the home improvement giant have tried to convince commissioners to let them build outside the UDB; both times they were denied.

Tuesday they cracked through — even as dozens of people lined up to speak against the plan to build on 52 acres at Southwest Eighth Street and 137th Avenue.

Said Julie Hill: “Further sprawl will exacerbate climate change in South Florida.”

Added John Wade: “We should have a water recycling program working before there’s any attempt to move the UDB.”

But Humberto Sanchez, who lives about 25 blocks from the proposed Lowe’s site, told the story of a recent shopping venture to buy light bulbs. “It took me an incredible amount of time to buy light bulbs at Home Depot.”

Oh Boohoo…

Interesting side note: you would not believe how difficult it is to find pictures of Sprawl and suburban office complexes despite how common they are in the American Landscape. Just further proof that we keep building places that aren’t photographic, let alone even livable. Finding a decent picture of a Lowes parking lot was just as difficult because as common as they are, who the heck would want to photograph one?

MVB’s Thoughts


Stadtbahn im Schnee, originally uploaded by Fußgänger.

The Freiburg Straßenbahn line 4 running in an early October snowfall in southern Germany.

Freiburg, a town of just over 200,000 boasts 4 tram lines and over 21 bus routes, far more than most cities it size…Check out the map of the routes…

Who says small towns can’t have public transit? You certainly can’t if they aren’t first navigable to pedestrians, the original form of personal transportation. Freiburg also boasts an extensive pedestrian zone in the city core and compact urban design that places most public structures in easy reach.

Too often our society seems to overlook one of our most important modes of transportation- our own two legs. A new website, Walk Score, aims to change our dependence back to our own legs for personal mobility and seeks to help homebuyers find homes with many destinations within walking distance.

The premise is simple, you enter an address and the system characterizes the neighborhood on a 0-100 scale based on how many destinations are within a reasonable (less than 1 mile) walking distance. Essentially any ranking below 25 is is impossible to walk around while scores above 90 signify dense easily accessible neighborhoods. The website takes schools, restaurants, grocery stores, shops, parks, and libraries among other items into consideration when calculating the neighborhoods walk score.

Walk score allows people to quickly find homes in areas where car ownership let alone full dependence on a vehicle is not a requirement. In playing around with the program for a little while you’ll quickly see the disparity between automobile based/designed sprawl areas and true urban neighborhoods. The importance of walking to destinations daily cannot be emphasized enough from a planning perspective or as new research shows as a matter of your health.

President Bush’s Crawford Ranch somehow attained the dubious zero rating. Let us know how your neighborhood compares…

I had the opportunity this past weekend to finally ride one the nation’s three downtown fully automated people mover systems in Jacksonville. The Jacksonville skyway, is the most recently completed of the three automated systems (the others being in Miami and Detroit) opening up fully to the public in November of 2000. Like the Miami and Detroit people mover systems the Jacksonville mover originated from a congressional movement in the 1970’s aimed to fund and research new urban transit systems.

“…Congressional pressure was increased on UMTA to show some positive results from their research and development expenditures. So, in 1975 UMTA announced its Downtown People Mover Program and sponsored a nationwide competition among the cities, offering them the federal funds needed to design and build such a system. Since UMTA was prepared to pay most of the costs of planning and building these systems as part of its demonstration program, the response from the cities was almost overwhelming…”

Free money to develop an urban transit solution in an age of increasing congestion, if it sounds too good to be true, that’s probably because it was; none of the “top” cities initially considered for people movers built them, leaving millions of dollars available to secondary cities like Miami and Detroit.

“…In 1976, after receiving and reviewing 68 letters of interest and 35 full proposals and making on-site inspections of the top 15 cities, UMTA selected proposals from Los Angeles, St. Paul, Minnesota, Cleveland and Houston. It also concluded that Miami, Detroit and Baltimore would be permitted to develop DPMs if they could do so with existing grant commitments…”

Needless to say, the people mover system was a botched, rushed, and half-hearted effort from the US Department of Transportation to fund and research reasonable transit solutions for the ever growing congestion problems of the 1970’s. Unlike Miami, the Jacksonville and Detroit systems have never been connected to larger urban transit systems and all three are largely considered to be failures. Miami and Detroit are currently experiencing urban renaissances which will surely provide the downtown residences and employment necessary to patronize such costly systems. Metrorail, Tri-Rail, BRT, and possible FEC rail transit will provide an even greater number of patrons and will increase the area in our city which is easily accessible without regular vehicular use.

In riding around on two of the three systems, I’ve come to identify their obvious shortcomings and deficiencies. Their failures can be attributed to a lack of supportive regional transit infrastructure as well as absurdly poor integration with their surroundings. The pictures below accurately depict most of these problems, turning the Jacksonville Skyway transit stations into inhospitable, inaccessible urban realms for pedestrians, like much of the rest of the city already is…

This evening picture depicts the surface parking lot (1 of 2) which I had to cross just to access the San Marco Station. This “neighborhood” contains a few of the ritzier hotels in Jacksonville, all of which are surrounded by surface lots, isolating the transit station in a sea of asphalt:

The Central Station was no exception either, bordered on the south side by not only a surface lot but also a free standing parking garage which towered above the station…

The Jefferson Station seen here is a the epitome of urban blight, surrounded by worn out grassy lots and blatant signs of urban neglect and decay…

As if parking were an issue, the space below the problem, highways, finds a new use…

The Prudential plaza is one of the few buildings built up close to the Skyway, its unfortunate that the other side of the station was crowded by a parking garage.

Twisting through the mess of interchanges…

Who rides the skyway when there is more than enough parking at Alltel Stadium?

A beautiful touch added to all the downtown streets, but someone failed to realize how transit, pedestrian access, biking, and urban planning all go hand in hand…

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