Monday, October 20, 2014

Complete Streets Policy Celebration Premature


FDOT can adopt a new Complete Streets policy.  Orange County can adopt a transit oriented development overlay district.  Yet we can still end up with 12 foot outside lanes--as wide as those on an interstate highway. 

Here are the existing conditions on Orange Avenue in the vicinity of the Sand Lake SunRail station:


Notice the ten foot lanes and existing paved surface of 58 feet for a pedestrian to cross.  Orange County designated this a Transit Oriented Development overlay district by an adopted ordinance--Section 38-1085 of the County Code.  The Code envisions are more urban environment and states, "The intent of the TOD overlay zone is to reduce reliance on the automobile and to promote lively, pedestrian-friendly development that will serve as an attractive place to live, work, shop and recreate."  It further states, "Street patterns should be developed to simplify access for all modes of transportation and should be designed to serve vehicular traffic as well as pedestrians, bicyclists and transit customers." 
 
Let's see if the re-design alternatives FDOT and Orang County are considering would "simply access" for pedestrians:


The option above is a typical Orange County "improvement": add a large median (so trucks don't encroach both lanes when making a U-turn) and increase the lane width from 10 feet to 11 and 12 feet.  Total pedestrian crossing distance will have increased 20% to 72 feet.  Motorist speeds will have increased about 10 miles per hour.   For comparison, Fairbanks Avenue next to Rollins College, also on the state highway system, has 10 foot lanes.  The narrower lanes handle truck and Metro bus traffic just fine and yet keep motorist speeds relatively tame and narrow crossing distances for students. 


This next option above would create Central Florida's first "buffered bike lane."  Notice how the sidewalk is wider and more inviting.  However, now we've increased the median to 22 feet.  The pedestrian crossing distance has increased to about 86 feet--about a third wider than existing conditions. 


The option above may be the most interesting by including on-street parking--a rarity on the state highway system.  Parked cars tend to slow motorists, but that's not the goal here, with the wide lanes and median.  NOTE to FDOT: The buffer between the parked cars and bicycle lanes is insufficient to protect bicyclists from doors flinging open. 

If the County is serious about encouraging transit oriented development in the vicinity of the SunRail station--and if FDOT is serious about its new Complete Streets policy--then the wide lanes and huge median do not belong here.   The goal should be to slow motorist traffic, not speed it up. 

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Why Subsidizing Big Box Retail Is Economically Irrational

Here's a LINK to an article in Salon magazine about the resurgence of downtown Asheville, North Carolina.  We stayed in downtown Asheville with the kids last winter and found a thriving little City with great restaurants and night life.  The article explains the math, comparing tax revenue from the City's Wal-Mart to more appropriate downtown development on a per acre basis.


Friday, September 19, 2014

Earthquake at FDOT

The Florida Department of Transportation's Executive Board approved a Complete Streets policy. The policy requires the agency to "routinely plan, design, construct, reconstruct and operate a context-sensitive system of 'Complete Streets'" serving "the transportation needs of transportation system users of all ages and abilities...."  The policy calls for integration of Complete Streets into FDOT's "internal manuals, guidelines and related documents governing the planning, design, construction and operation of transportation facilities."  Critically, the policy recognizes that Complete Streets "require transportation system design that considers local land development patterns and built form."    

Click to enlarge
This new policy is nothing less than an earthquake at FDOT.  The days of replicating the same highway system standards--4 or 6 lanes of 45 mph posted high speed traffic--without regard to the surrounding development (including dense urban business districts, houses, elementary schools, etc.) are hopefully ending.  

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Over-the-Rhine's Amazing Revitalization

Revitalized city block in Over-the-Rhine

When I grew-up in Cincinnati, Over-the-Rhine had become the epitome of inner city decay and disinvestment.  Michael Douglas's movie, "Traffic," captured its reputation as a horrid inner city neighborhood, where his teenage daughter becomes a prostitute to pay for her drug addiction.  John Norquist, past president of the Congress for the New Urbanism, once noted to me that Over-the-Rhine's troubles began in the 1950's, when Cincinnati began ripping out its streetcar lines.

The City has reinstalled modern streetcar lines, with service expected to begin in a year.  A non-profit development company, 3CDC, strategically invests in buying and revitalizing old buildings, now the sites of thriving businesses, apartments, and condominiums.   Washington Park, once a home to the homeless, now attracts families with children from throughout the region. 

My Dad took me on a tour of Over-the-Rhine over the Labor Day weekend.  The transformation from conditions that existed during my childhood is amazing.  When Graeter's Ice Cream, a Cincinnati institution, opens a location in Over-the-Rhine, something profound is occurring. 


If Over-the-Rhine can revitalize, so, too, can Paramore in Orlando or any other inner city neighborhood stricken with disinvestment.  Seeing is believing.  Cincinnati's strategy warrants copying. 

Graeter's Ice Cream parlor in Over-the-Rhine.  Non-profit developer, 3CDC, is rehabilitating the adjacent building.  

Washington Park, in front of Cincinnati's historic Music Hall. 

Another building undergoing revitalization by the non-profit developer, 3CDC, in front of the Cincinnati Streetcar line.  The line's permanence is hastening the area's improvements.  




Monday, August 11, 2014

The Voodoo Science of Parking

Orlando Sentinel columnist Beth Kassab quoted me in her column last weekend, "Square footage is actually a very poor determinant of parking demand."  I gave Beth an example from Donald Shoup's High Cost of Free Parking, criticizing the Institute of Transportation Engineers' parking demand manual for fast food restaurants with drive-throughs:  


Each dot on the matrix shows peak parking demand in relation to the gross square footage of the restaurant, according to various studies.  Two restaurants, only 2,500 square feet in size, created demand for 42 and 43 parking spaces.  Yet another restaurant, 5,500 square feet—more than twice their size—created peak demand for only 20 parking spaces.  In other words, square footage poorly predicts parking demand.  ITE even acknowledged this with its disclaimer, “Caution – Use Carefully -- Low R2.”  However, ITE also drew a line on the matrix (a “fitted curve”), recommending that 2,500 square foot restaurants have no fewer than 24 parking spaces.  The line gives the illusion of scientific precision when, in fact, there’s none.  (If the studies showed reasonable predictability, the dots would congregate much, much closer to the line.)  Cities and counties adopt what’s recommended on the line into their codes.  

That’s why I call this, “The Voodoo Science of Parking.”


Strip shopping center at Pine Hills Rd. and Silver Star.
Another example where our codes poorly predict parking demand--but create sprawl.  

Friday, August 1, 2014

Lessons from Buenos Aires

Streetfilms posted a superb video about changes in Buenos Aires, one of the world's great cities, including a new BRT line through 9th of July Avenue (constructed in only six months), the expansion of cycle tracks (called "ciclovias"), a new pedestrian-only street, and bike share:



I visit Buenos Aires about once every couple of years and will look forward to seeing these improvements first-hand.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Petition for SunRail Weekend and Night Service Strong out of the Gate


In the span of a day, more than 750 people signed an online petition to add SunRail service on weekends and later at night.  You can sign the petition at: http://www.change.org/petitions/ananth-persad-florida-secretary-of-transportation-run-sunrail-on-the-weekends-and-later-at-night  (UPDATE -- 7/21/14 -- More than 1,700 have signed the Petition and Mayor Jacobs has begun dialogue on expanding service.)

I added a comment that SunRail is bringing hundreds to Winter Park and that weekend and late night trains would bring even more.  Here are photos of crowds heading to and leaving from Park Avenue businesses on a recent Friday:





The Orlando Sentinel reported that Rep. John Mica (R-FL) is attempting to secure $25 million worth of self-propelled trains, on loan to Tri-Rail in South Florida, in order to expand SunRail service. 

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Vehicle Miles Traveled Still Down




You can find an interesting set of charts analyzing vehicle miles traveled based on United States Government data, through April 2014, at:

http://advisorperspectives.com/dshort/updates/DOT-Miles-Driven.php

Overall miles driven remain at 2004 levels.  (I can't recall any traffic study correctly projecting this declining and stagnating reality during the years I sat on the Orange County Planning and Zoning Board). Vehicle miles traveled based on population growth, shown in the chart above, are the same as they were almost 20 years ago.  

Here's the relationship to gasoline prices:





Saturday, July 5, 2014

Winter Park's Aggressive Tree Chopping

My street, Carollee Lane, has lost two impressive canopy trees lining the street in the last year--not to storms or disease, but to the City's aggressive campaign to remove trees ostensibly near the end of their natural lives.

I'm not convinced the trees were dying or posed an inordinate risk to property.  (UPDATE: 7/21/14--The City was convinced).  Limbs weakened from age or rot can and should be removed before removing an entire tree. 

Any number of contractors, out to make several thousand dollars, will tell you a tree "should be removed."  The question is whether the City's arborist made that determination and whether it was a sound one. 

The most recent tree removed had an apparently healthy trunk--not one hollowed out by age or riddled with disease.  The foliage was still lush. (UPDATE: 7/21/14--As to the tree below, the property owner said a recent storm downed half of the tree.  He supported the tree's removal and said the City will plant new live oaks.  As to the other tree, I'm informed there was visible rot hollowing the trunk, although the property owner isn't happy about the tree's removal.  Yet another neighbor informed me that branches and trees downed in storms have damaged parked cars, nearly hit walkers, and, during the 2004 hurricanes, uprooted water pipes.)   

The stump disrupting Carollee Lane's tree canopy.   

This scene has repeated, more recently, on North Park Avenue near Pennsylvania Avenue and on Webster next to the golf course.  

More communication with citizens as to which trees require removal and why is in order.  

Carollee Lane -- before removal of the tree on the right.  What a loss.  

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Childhood Obesity Costing Tens of Billions

An article at Medpage.com cites two studies with sobering news about the prevalence and cost associated with childhood obesity:
"Nationally representative data do not show any significant changes in obesity prevalence in the most recently available years ... unfortunately, there is an upward trend of more severe forms of obesity, and further investigations into the causes of and solutions to this problem are needed," Skinner and co-author Joseph Skelton, MD, of Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, N.C., said. 
The analysis was one of two studies examining pediatric obesity published this week. A second study in the May Pediatrics suggested that, over the course of a lifetime, higher medical costs associated with childhood obesity average about $19,000 per person, and extra costs average about $12,900 per person when normal-weight children become overweight or obese during adulthood. 
"To put these findings in perspective, multiplying the lifetime medical cost estimate of $19,000 times the number of obese 10-year-olds today generates a total direct medical cost of obesity of roughly $14 billion for this age alone," wrote Eric Andrew Finkelstein, PhD, from the Duke Global Health Institute at Duke University, and colleagues.
Extrapolating the $14 billion cost of higher medical costs associated with obese 10-year-olds over their lifetimes to other age groups results in an even more staggering figure.