Wednesday, December 29, 2010

A Smarter Built Environment Could Make Kids Smarter, Too

A study of 9 and 10 year olds in the journal, Brain Research found an association between brain size, cognitive ability, and exercise.  You can find an online article about the study, written for a lay audience, at the website of Science Today magazine:
When they analyzed the MRI data, the researchers found that the physically fit children tended to have bigger hippocampal volume -- about 12 percent bigger relative to total brain size -- than their out-of-shape peers.

The children who were in better physical condition also did better on tests of relational memory -- the ability to remember and integrate various types of information -- than their less-fit peers. 
The new findings suggest that interventions to increase childhood physical activity could have an important effect on brain development
The study, conducted by researchers at the University of Illinois, Ohio State University, and the University of Pittsburgh, was serious enough to warrant notation in the December issue of Pediatrics magazine, published by the American Academy of Pediatrics.  The study provides further evidence that a built environment creating walkable and bikeable schools could improve academic performance.  Other studies examined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have linked physical activity and academic performance.  

We have engineered incidental exercise out of our lives.  Sprawl development patterns, using dangerous highways to connect schools to subdivisions, have reduced the percentage of children walking and biking to school from over 40% in the late 1960's to around 13% today.  Partly as a result, childhood obesity is reaching epidemic proportions--at about 17% of the pediatric population--with about a third of children overweight.   Instead of self-reliance, we are instilling in our children a culture of dependency. 

A properly built, smart growth environment can induce up to 80% of children to walk to school.  I suspect additional research in coming years will show that smart growth can make kids smarter.  
Leave it to Beaver depicted an America we've lost--kids walking to and from school.  The sidewalks in our newer, conventional subdivisions are four feet wide--not wide enough for two, let alone three bigger kids to walk side by side comfortably. 

Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Road Safety Paradox

Traffic engineers straighten and widen roads, then establish "clear zones" to make roads safer.  That was the premise for four-laning Apopka-Vineland Road through Dr. Phillips in the late 1990's into a treeless drag strip with Interstate highway lane dimensions.  The result: a faster, deadly road.  The high-speed road design contributed to the death of my neighbor, who lived a couple homes away from us in the Emerald Forest subdivision.  He left a young wife and toddler. 

Charles Marohn, P.E., president of, states, "Taking highway standards and applying them to urban and suburban streets, and even county roads, costs us thousands of lives every year."  He posted  a cartoon illustrating the road safety paradox through a parody of statements he used to make to concerned citizens.  Increasingly, leaders in the engineering field are rejecting this old line of thought in favor of context sensitive solutions.        

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Sidewalks Need Buffers from Traffic

My heart goes out to the parents of Patricia Martin, 8, run over by a small day care center bus while riding her bicycle on Oakland Road at Cynthianna Circle in Altamonte Springs, Florida.  Patricia, who diligently wore a helment (which may have saved her life) remains hospitalized, in critical but stable condition. 

According to the Orlando Sentinel, "Troopers are still trying to determine why the girl left the sidewalk and rode into the path of the bus," apparently traveling northbound behind her.  The photograph below may help partially explain what happened:

Oakland Road and Cynthianna Circle--Altamonte Springs, Florida.
The sidewalk, where Patricia was riding initially, is four feet wide with no landscaping buffer from the road.  Phil Laurien, executive director of the East Central Florida Regional Planning Council pointed out to me that, if Patricia was distracted and her bike left the sidewalk, nothing buffered her from traffic on Oakland Road.  The sidewalk merges with the street at Cynthianna Circle without any painted pedestrian crossing. 

A grassy landscape buffer, like that depicted below, might have avoided the incident.

Courtesy: Jurgen Duncan, Transportation Planner, Canin Associates
The photo above depicts a shaded five-foot sidewalk and landscape buffer perhaps ten feet from the road.  The cross-street in the background has a painted pedestrian crosswalk, setback from the more heavily traveled road and defining the path for pedestrians and bicyclists.  The environment is not perfect.  The brick walls eliminate natural neighborhood surveillance of children walking and biking--a crime deterrent.  However, the photo provides a good example of a more complete street that could lessen the number of parents who experience the terrible anguish of a critically injured child. 

Monday, November 29, 2010

Road Context: A Disconnect

The Miami Herald wrote a troubling editorial.  The Florida Department of Transportation maintains a pedestrian-hostile environment, Brickell Avenue, and then, due to insufficient pedestrian activity, claims FDOT regulations disallow slower design speeds and most other pedestrian safety improvements.  It doesn't matter that thousands of condominiums and apartments tower overhead.  You can find photographs and an article by clicking HERE

The agency charged with designing, constructing, and maintaining State of Florida roadways -- the nation's most perilous for pedestrians -- enforces out-of-date policies when it comes to road context.  The disconnect results in a grim, mounting death toll--including an elderly woman on Brickell Avenue last month--warranting legislative intervention, if FDOT won't update its regulations on its own.  It's time for FDOT to assume a leadership position and provide for "complete streets," safe and comfortable for motorists and non-motorists--and appropriate for the context.

Click here for the Miami Herald editorial.

UPDATE 12/17/10:  The Brickell Avenue controversy is heading towards resolution.  FDOT conducted additional studies and agreed to lower the speed limits to 35 mph (still not low enough for some) and to add Bike Share lane markings.  You can get more details by clicking HERE.

UPDATE 1/5/11:  An op-ed in the Miami Herald is criticizing plans for only four new crosswalks on Brickell Avenue, three at existing intersections, out of 25 proposed locations.  Click HERE for the Miami Herald op-ed. 

Monday, November 22, 2010

Even a 7 Year Old Can Figure Out Urbanism

Windermere Elementary School teacher Anthony Simms assigned his second grade students the task of creating a city or town.  Future planner Max Geller received an A+ for his paper machete town, inspired by Downtown Winter Garden, where we often bike on the West Orange Trail.  The elementary school terminates a vista (now illegal in most jurisdictions).  A photo of my high school inspired the architecture, including pillars made of straws and a dome made from a paper bowl.  The roads are narrow, slow, and safe, with wide sidewalks shaded by trees.   Apartments provide a ready source of customers for the retail below.  Max didn't even consider creating a town of strip shopping centers and highways that kids can't cross safely.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Child Deaths, Injuries Warrant Road Design Investigations

You may have noticed a lot of kids critically injured and killed on our roads last week. Children with green lights, in crosswalks, walking to school, walking to catch a school bus.  Boys losing their brothers.  Parents losing their children. Reading about this carnage day after day in the Sentinel is unbearable. I'm hugging my four kids a little harder every night.

A pick-up truck struck and critically injured Douglas Ethan Swayze, 10, walking in the crosswalk directly in front of his elementary school, Spruce Creek, in Port Orange.  The road is a typical 45 mph posted arterial highway engineered for 50 mph traffic.  The child had about 70 feet of pavement to cross, with no refuge island, exposing him to danger for an extended period of time. 

Taylor Road--The highway in front of Spruce Creek Elementary School (lower left-hand part of photo) in Volusia County where Douglas Swayze, 10, was struck and critically injured while walking to school in the crosswalk.  The crosswalk, in the upper center of the photo, is not lit.    
I cannot comprehend why a school board member, school planner, or official would place elementary schools on highways, where we know children will walk. 

A week earlier, in front of nearby Silver Sands Middle School, a car hit Kasey Alexander, 12, and Sarah Griffin, 11, but only injured them slightly.  The road is two-lanes, tamer, and safer compared to Taylor Road.

The two-lane road in front of Silver Sands Middle School. 
Studies find a correlation between the percentage of pedestrians who survive a collision and vehicle speed.  Billy Hattaway, VHB Miller Sellen's director of transportation planning for the State of Florida, gave me the following chart:
To summarize the chart: speed kills. 

In East Orange County last week, a motorist ran over and injured Miguel Rodriguez and killed his twin brother, Anthony Rodriguez, both 15 years old. Anothony was an English honors student and football player.  The brothers were walking to their school bus stop on the side of Valencia College Lane.  There's no sidewalk on the highway, yet that's where Orange County Public Schools designated a school bus stop.   

The Orlando Sentinel reported the family was "angered that the teens could no longer use a bus stop close to their house — accessible by a side walk. A school district spokeswoman said that bus stop is for middle school students. Anthony and Miguel couldn't use it anymore because they graduated to high school."  This terrible policy had deadly consequences.   
In Kissimmee last week, a Lynx bus ran over and injured Mark Robinson, 12, and killed his brother, Mathew Robinson, 10, walking with a green light in a crosswalk in Kissimmee.  Look at the well-rounded curb radius--about 35-40 feet--which encourages high speed vehicle turns.

The Lynx bus turned left, heading northbound on Dyer Blvd. to westbound on Columbia Avenue.  Numerous apartments are in the northeast corner.  The approximately 40 foot curb radii encourages vehicle turns exceeding 30 mph. 
Compare those curbs to those in old neighborhoods, or New York City, where curbs are more square than round.  That slows vehicle turns to speeds safer for pedestrians. 
The Dangerous by Design report came out in November 2009 and--one year later--I am hard pressed to identify substantial measures undertaken by FDOT and our local governments to improve upon our #1 in the nation pedestrian danger ranking. 

Putting aside designated sources for transportation funding, it's ironic that we can spend $70 million widening three miles of the Turnpike, $12 million tearing out part of the 429, hundreds of thousands on this and that intersection widening, and not more than a pittance making our existing roads safe for pedestrians. 

10/17/10 UPDATE: I received the following information from the Orange County Planning Department regarding $2.4 million in budgeted pedestrian safety items not in the Capital Improvement Element:
The Public Works engineering budget includes $2 million for sidewalks.  Last year the County spent $1,774,194. A safety committee meets to prioritize projects for this budget item.  Additionally, Traffic Engineering has $419,500 budgeted for FY11 for pedestrian safety. This funding is for safe routes to school. Last year the County spent $675,000 under this line item.  In addition to these line items, funding for new roads or road widenings include sidewalks, and new subdivisions are required to construct sidewalks.
I did not find any projects to redesign dysfunctional roads in the DRAFT Orange County Capital Improvements Element probably because the Element is directed to facilities needing minimum Levels of Service (e.g. levels of service for automobile flow).   It is counterintuitive that a "road diet"--removing lanes and slowing traffic--can improve a road's level of service.  However, East Central Florida Regional Planning Council executive director Phil Laurien told the Council this morning that a road diet, if done correctly, can have that effect. 

We should not single out Orange County for criticism.  Can anyone name one existing arterial or collector road elsewhere in Central Florida redesigned in the last year to slow-down motorists for the safety of pedestrians and bicyclists?

The new Town of Windermere roundabout next to the Elementary School is a notable exception.  The roundabout provides an example how a local government can keep a road safe and narrow.  Traffic tie-ups have virtually vanished while low-engineered speed traffic enables motorists and pedestrians (mostly children) to make eye contact.  Motorists then ease to a stop and wave the kids to cross.  After a Federal SAFETEA-LU grant, the roundabout will cost the Town about $120,000, according to my discussion with town manager, Cecelia Bernier.  By comparison, a traffic light would have cost the Town at least $225,000 while imposing ongoing electrical and maintenance costs. 

The time has long passed to consider sweeping reform of our road design standards, both locally and at the State level.  We need road designs sensitive to the context.  Where we know kids will walk--in front of schools and apartments--we need design standards that slow the traffic.  We need to narrow the lanes. We need landscaping that gives motorists a better sense of their speed.  We need to require lit pedestrian crossings and refuge islands.  The Institute of Transportation Engineers has published new standards for designing walkable, urban thoroughfares that warrant adoption.  The Federal Highway Administration endorses the concept.  A growing national movement advocates "complete streets," designed for all road users, not merely motorists.  Local governments take note: Federal grants opportunities are shifting in this direction, as Windermere's experience with their new roundabout demonstrates. 

Saving motorists an extra 10-15 seconds (lost at the next red traffic light) was not worth the lives of Anthony Rodriguez or Mathew Robinson.  In the meantime, official investigations into their senseless deaths and the other incidents discussed here warrant in-depth consideration of the role played by poor road design. 

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Voters Give Smart Growth Mandate to Teresa Jacobs

Source: Orange County Supervisor of Elections
Teresa Jacobs' overwhelming 68% victory for Orange County Mayor translates into one of sweeping geographic scope.  The election results, and the precinct map above, confirm she is Central Florida's most formidable--and popular--public figure. 

In her campaign mailers, Teresa touted her chairmanship of the Central Florida Smart Growth Alliance.

Teresa stated she opposes expanding the Urban Service Area when our population is not growing and so much of our urban core needs redevelopment.  Teresa voiced her opposition to Innovation Way East, which included two miles of one acre homesite sprawl next to the Econ River.   (That was the basis of my "no" vote on the Planning and Zoning Commission). 

On the campaign trail, Teresa promised "frankly, more urban" development for Orange County.  That's a good thing.  Urban means walkability.  It means development patterns shifting to create human-scaled environments like Baldwin Park and Celebration--with safe streets so our kids can walk and bike to school and to interesting places--and less disconnected, traffic-clogged, strip shopping center suburban sprawl based on 45+ mph highways that severely maim or kill our children walking to school and waiting for their school bus.

While campaigning, Teresa spoke of her lost effort in the 1990's to replace a planned arterial highway--Apopka-Vineland Road--with a tamer road that would not have divided her neighborhood.  The experience propelled her into public life. 

At the West Orange Chamber of Commerce Mayoral Candidates Forum, Teresa spoke in favor of a transportation future that is "multi-modal."  At a WMFE debate, she described SunRail as an "insurance policy" to keep our economy moving when we again see gas prices soaring to $4.00 or more. 

  At the Orlando Business Journal's Mayoral Candidates Forum, Teresa spoke of the need for "predictability" in how development appears.  She spoke of the need to streamline bureaucracy so that good development is not stymied.  Form-based SmartCodes, like those adopted by Miami and Denver this year, incorporate both principles and merit her serious consideration.  Orange County staff will come under Teresa's direction in January.  As staff prepares a Unified Land Development Code, you can rest assured that Teresa will read every word and consider every detail. 

The voters gave Teresa a mandate to lead Orange County into a Smart Growth future--and that mandate is as strong as anyone can conceive. 

For more on the principles of Smart Growth, click HERE

Mayor-elect Teresa Jacobs and family.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Amendment 4's Defeat a "Wake up Call to End Sprawl"

Eliza Harris, director of the Congress for the New Urbanism's Orlando Division, says, in wake of Amendment 4's defeat, local governments and developers should thank voters for a "second chance" to do better land planning.  Amendment 4 would have required voter approval of comprehensive land use plans.  She called the massive effort to defeat Amendment 4 a "wake up call" to "end the sprawl that congests our roads, endangers pedestrians, and chokes off transportation alternatives." 

"CNU Orlando's Advisory Committee is urging local governments to revise their comprehensive plans to make walkable development--instead of sprawl--the default development pattern," Harris said. "To avoid future proposals like Amendment 4, local governments need to fundamentally change their required development patterns.  Miami and Denver did so this year by replacing their zoning codes with SmartCodes and some local jurisdictions like the City of Orlando have started to create space in their regulations for walkable neighborhoods.  Local governments in Central Florida should revise their Comprehensive Plans to enable form-based codes and mixed-use, walkable neighborhoods."

You can find her full comments at The Daily City.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Architect Critiques Horizon West's Lakeside Village Siteplan

Lakeside Village Siteplan -- As Shown on the Developer's website
Tory Parish of Jackson Parish Architects posted a critique of the proposed Lakeside Village Siteplan on her blog.  Tory, a resident of Horizon West, relied on a siteplan and architectural renderings posted online by the developer, Boyd Development Corporation.   (There's no relationship between Boyd Development Corp. and Commissioner Scott Boyd). 

Tory writes:
Nothing about the current architectural renderings speak to the history or desirability of this area of Central Florida.  The current renderings depict a typical regurgitated shopping center as found anywhere in Florida.  Why can't the architecture be timeless?  Have some character?  Resonate with our history?  Reflect elements of the Florida vernacular as found in nearby Gotha and historic downtown Winter Garden?
What about apartments and offices above retail?

The current site plan prioritizes the automobile.  Pedestrians and bikers are a distant second.  Every building is surrounded by asphalt.  .... 
The critique comes late, after road and infrastructure construction has begun and when the developer is already seeking Development Plan approvals.  Nevertheless, Commissioner Boyd invited Ms. Parish and me to meet with the developer earlier this week. 

I respect Boyd Development Corporation as a fine conventional suburban retail and office developer.  Its principal partner developed Sand Lake Road's Plaza Venezia, an upscale strip retail center with Publix, Season's 52, Cedars, Shala's Salon, Roy's etc. 

Plaza Venezia, Sand Lake Road
Horizon West's pedestrian-friendly, pedestrian-oriented requirements challenge conventional suburban developers, who tend to propose siteplan layouts used in automobile-only, sprawl environments, like that depicted above.  Conventional suburban developers find comfort in their formula business and financing models.  The transition to a different model is not easy.  Resistance is natural.  The industry does not widely understand New Urban development's long-term financial return advantage compared to conventional suburban development. 

More than a year ago, Orange County approved the Lakeside Village Center's Preliminary Subdivision Plan (PSP), which included a Conceptual Layout.  Boyd Development Corp.'s proposed deviations do not necessarily favor the pedestrian.

How To Turn Main Street Into A Parking Lot
Tory writes, "The four central buildings, which could be tweaked to provide a pedestrian-friendly zone [with parallel parking], have been pushed apart" with perpendicular parking.  The Conceptual Layout below, approved by the County, shows diagonal parking, a compromise between parallel and perpendicular parking. 

Approved Concept Plan--Diagonal Parking narrows the roadway somewhat, keeping the buildings closer together to establish enclosure and a sense of place. 

Perpendicular parking, proposed by the developer, pushes the buildings further apart, and creates more of the appearance of a parking lot. 
Parallel parking requires parking lanes 7-8 feet in width and allows the narrowest street realm.  The charm of old European cities results, in part, from their narrow streets.  SmartCode, a model New Urban Code, allows diagonal parking lanes as little as 17 feet in width.  The perpendicular parking, proposed by the developer, will require two parking lanes, each 18 or 20 feet wide, as required by Section 38-1479(b) of the Orange County Code.  

The developer's explanation for wanting perpendicular parking is that a tenant in Retail Building "D" will not want a customer of Retail Building "C" parking in front of Building "D."  The developer--and perhaps their prospective tenants--do not appreciate the irrelevancy of where customers park in a shared parking environment, especially when the customers have a very narrow and safe street to cross.    

UPDATE Nov. 4--The Orange County Development Review Committee yesterday approved perpendicular parking. 

Lack of Pedestrian-Oriented Outparcels

While the approved Lakeside Village Center PD (called the "Frye PD") allows for more than 800 apartment and live-work townhome units to the west, within a five minute or so walk, the developer contends that "98% of people will drive" to the development.  That's the justification for omitting pedestrian amenities at the outparcels.  However, the omission will make exclusive automobile use a self-fulfilling prophesy.  Tory told the developer she would never walk between their disconnected outparcels.   

The disconnected outparcels give weight to Tory's criticism that the Lakeside Village Center plan "is in direct contrast to Orange County's goal of designing and creating sustainable communities designed for pedestrians."  

"The McDonald's Will Be Pedestrian Friendly"

We advocated an urban prototype for McDonalds with direct sidewalk connection to the restaurant door and a drive-thru in the rear (see the blog post on McDonald's below).  We noted the aesthetic benefits and how they could extend the internal main street's pedestrian experience.  Veteran Orange County planner John Smogor assured about 80 Horizon West residents attending a Community Meeting earlier this month that, "The McDonald's will be pedestrian-friendly." 

The Gas Station Gateway

The developer proposes to move the gas station to the northernmost parcel along C.R. 535 and face the gasoline station pumps and canopy towards southbound motorists.  The view would be similar to this, with vegetation and a knee-wall obscuring much of the vehicles:

Typical suburban prototype gas station.
That is not the gateway view I imagined for a "Village Center."  We urged the developer to hide the gas pumps and canopy from C.R. 535 behind the building as shown below:

Pedestrian-friendly gas station.  Most motorists, even if not familiar with the area,  will recognize the Shell logo and understand where to go.
Orange County required such a layout in Avalon Park, a New Urban development east of the airport. 

Horizon West Residents: "Stick with the Vision."

Orange County Planner Luis Nieves-Ruiz is spearheading a "retrospective" study of Horizon West.  He told the Planning and Zoning Board that Horizon West residents who responded to a County survey want to "stick with the vision."  I'm hopeful the Orange County Development Review Committee, when considering the Lakeside Village Center Development Plan submittals, will do just that.      

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Aloma Avenue--Dangerous by Design

Commute Orlando posted the video below, taken on Aloma Avenue near where two vehicles killed a sixteen year old Winter Park High School student earlier this month. The crosswalk and street design meet all FDOT requirements. Senseless.

Pedestrian Workshop 10/17 from Keri Caffrey on Vimeo.

Commute Orlando opined:
If traffic were slower, many more motorists would be willing to yield since they wouldn’t be as afraid of being rear-ended. I understand FDOT’s concern about placing crosswalks on higher speed roads. The solution, however, is very simple; lower the design speed and speed limits in pedestrian areas. The right to build high-speed arterials through pedestrian-active urban areas needs to be revoked.
UPDATE 12/17/10: The teenager killed on Aloma was intoxicated, according to media reports yesterday.  His impaired judgment undoubtedly played a significant role in his death.  One can't blame his death entirely on the road design.  Tragic.     

Monday, September 27, 2010

Horizon West Deserves a Break Today

Horizon West Frye PD -- Lakeside Village on C.R. 535.  McDonald's is the outparcel. 
Winter Garden Village--No pedestrian amenities between Target and McDonald's.  The drive-thru McDonald's at Lakeside Village in Horizon West would have a similar layout. 

 Horizon West Drive-Thru McDonald's Approved
Site Plan Needs Adjustments

On September 21, the Board of County Commissioners approved a special exception for a drive-thru McDonald's at the Lakeside Village Center, on C.R. 535 in Horizon West.  The location is across from the existing apartments and condominiums.  The applicant, Boyd Development Company (no relation to Commissioner Scott Boyd) proposed a suburban prototype McDonald's like the one at Sembler's Winter Garden Village.  Try walking (with children) from Target to McDonald's.  Without sidewalks, it's dangerous and uncomfortable.  The proposed siteplan would undermine Horizon West's pedestrian-oriented requirements and needs adjustment.

McDonald's "Winter Garden Village" auto-only suburban prototype
McDonald's suburban prototypes wrap the drive-thru and parking around the building.  When walking to or from the restaurant, one might feel a moment of discomfort worrying about a vehicle pulling out of the drive-thru queue with the driver looking into his bag of burgers and fries to make sure the order is correct.  Others might not comprehend the danger to themselves or to their children. 

McDonald's "Winter Garden Village" prototype has a typical drive-thru wrap-around. 
I asked for help from the Congress for the New Urbanism's Orlando chapter.  I recieved overwhelming responses, including from Canada.  Toronto banned drive-thru restaurants that wrap around the building and cut-off direct access between the street sidewalk and the restaurant door.  McDonald's developed (or adapted) a new prototype placing the drive-thru in the rear.

McDonald's "Toronto" prototype.  Toronto disallows drive-thru facilities that cut off sidewalk access. 
 The City of Orlando similarly requires drive-thru facilities behind restaurants without cutting-off sidewalk access.  The Taco Bell at SoDo is a good example.  It improves upon the McDonald's Toronto prototype by including a separate queue lane.  Here's a GoogleEarth view:

TacoBell at SoDo, Orange Avenue, Orlando.
McDonald's adopted a similar layout--with the drive-thru in the rear--at its Ybor City, Tampa restaurant:

Ybor City, Tampa McDonald's

Ybor City McDonald's outdoor dining.
 The Lakeside Village McDonald's in Horizon West should adapt the Toronto or Ybor City prototype.  Any pedestrian path crossing the drive-thru lane should rise above the driveway grade.  The Lakeside Village McDonald's should add an architectural edge to the development's interior street, enhance the concept plan's grid pattern, and provide direct sidewalk access.  The County should also consider parallel, on-street, parking in front of the McDonalds (on the interior street--not on C.R. 535).  The McDonald's should become a walkable destination for future apartment and condominium residents who will live in Lakeside Village, on the west side of C.R. 535. 

The developer's attorney told me they're amenable to what we're trying to achieve.  Commissioner Boyd is in support.  Orange County staff wants to work with us to improve the plan.  Stay tuned.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Parking Lots -- Too Big and Too Little

The planned Tavistock development is slated for the upper area of this photograph, to the left of Apopka-Vineland Road and north of the Cascades Publix shopping plaza.  The photo captures a typical day when the half of the parking lot closest to Apopka-Vineland Road (and furthest from the Publix) sits as empty asphalt.  In contrast, St. Luke's Methodist Church, across the street, relies on grassy areas for overflow parking.   

Tavistock is requesting a waiver to remove several hundred parking spaces required under the Orange County Code at a planned development at the southwest corner of Apopka-Vineland and Conroy-Windermere Roads.  Tavistock is justifying the request on the basis that calculations for required parking spaces are based on single use, whereas Tavistock is planning multiple uses that will experience peak hours at different times. 

For example, Tavistock's planned fitness center will generate the most parking in the early morning and evening whereas the bank and office building will generate the most parking during business hours.    Even during the noon hour, when fitness center use increases, total parking generation will not exceed 1,000 spaces, according to a shared parking analysis by the planning firm Glatting Jackson. 

These business should share parking spaces.  To save unnecessary construction costs, every proposed mixed use development should conduct, and the County Code should recognize, a shared parking analysis. 

The County's voluminous parking requirements are based on annual peak demand--for example, the Sunday before Christmas for retail development--which leaves huge expanses of half-empty asphalt 90% of the time.  Our off-street parking requirements are generally too large and denigrate the built environment. 
Typical half-empty parking lot in front of strip shopping center on Hiawassee Road.

Winter Park K-Mart Plaza.  Typical parking patterns with huge expanses of empty asphalt. 

Developers pay for all the extra, unused asphalt, which drives up rent, which increases the cost of goods and services to consumers.  We pay this hidden parking fee everyday.  If the County grants Tavistock the waiver it seeks, it will avoid the cost of building a structured parking garage, which could cost about $10,000 per parking space.  Such a garage would drive up rents and consumer costs. 

I am the first to concede notable instances when we can't find enough parking.  I often find a packed parking lot at The Fountains on Sand Lake Road on Friday and Saturday evenings, when its myriad restaurants (all the same land use) are doing the most business at the same time.  Winter Park Village, on 17-92, historically had insufficient parking at peak shopping and eating times. 

In most instances, however, when we say we can't find parking, we can't find convenient parking within a few hundred feet of our destination. 

ITE Parking Generation Calculations--Voodoo Mathematics

Most local governments base parking requirements on mathematical formulas published by the Institute for Transportation Engineers ("ITE").  For example, a fast food restaurant with a drive-through window must have 9.95 parking spaces per thousand square feet.  Consequently, most suburban 3,000 square foot McDonalds and other fast food restaurants nationwide will have 30 parking spaces--regardless of the availability of transit, walkability from adjacent neighborhoods, or actual experience.  

Donald Shoup, a University of California at Los Angeles professor of land planning, analyzed the ITE requirements and found them statistically indefensible.   ITE bases many of its parking demand graphs on a miniscule number of studies of limited observations in auto dependent environments lacking transit. 

Shoup sharply criticizes the parking requirements for drive-through fast food restaurants.  ITE reports average parking generation of 9.95 spaces per thousand feet.  Shoup argues this precision gives a false sense of mathematical certainty.  A closer look at the ITE graph below (from the 1987 edition of ITE's Parking Generation) shows that the 9.95 average per 1,000 square feet bears no relationship to the wide range of parking demand.  Square footage is a poor basis on which to calculate parking demand.  

ITE plotted peak parking demand on the vertical axis and restaurant square footage on the horizontal axis.  The plotted squares measure the various observations.  The diagonal line marks the average and serves as the basis for the precise 9.95/1,000 square feet ITE parking generation calculation.  Local governments adopt ITE's calculations for maximum, peak demand as minimum Code requirements.  However, the diagonal line bears virtually no relationship to the scattered observations. 

The chart above plots the basis for a regression equation. (Don't let the mathematical term scare you--read on.)  A regression equation measures predictability on a scale of 0 to 1--from zero predictability to complete predictability.  If parking demand truly and absolutely related to square footage, the plotted squares would all fall on the average line and the regression calculation (R squared) would be 1.  If restaurant square footage was a significant, but not exclusive factor in parking demand, the plotted squares would fall near the diagonal line.  However, in the chart above, the plotted squares fall haphazardly all over the chart. 

One of the largest restaurants, at over 5,500 square feet (on the right side of the graph) generated only about 20 full parking spaces at peak hour.  A restaurant more than half as small, 2,500 square feet, generated about 35 full parking spaces, tying for fourth highest on the chart.  The regression calculation on this chart (R squared) stands at an abysmal 0.038--very close to zero.  The line drawn by ITE is statistically indefensible.  In later editions of its Parking Generation book, ITE removed the R squared calculation. 

Our everyday experience confirms that square footage does not necessarily mean more parking usage. Despite voluminous passer-by traffic, most parking spaces at the Burger King at Kirkman and Colonial are empty at dinner time. A parking lot at a much smaller restaurant, the McDonalds on 17-92 in Maitland, is often packed at the same time.   

Several years ago, when Professor Shoup asked ITE to publish his article articulating these deficiencies in its Journal, ITE refused.  I would have preferred to see ITE acknowledge deficiencies and start a dialogue within the transportation engineering community about how to improve the methodology.  I would like to see ITE publish recommendations for shared parking, parking for areas served by transit, transit oriented development, and walkable communities. 

Corporate Demand for Parking Spaces

Developers contend the corporations they want to lure are driving large numbers of parking spaces.  CVS requests 75-80 parking spaces for each store location.  At the Tavistock community meeting last week,  attended by several dozen people, I asked how many people had ever seen 80 people in a CVS.  Not one hand raised. 

Walgreen's at C.R. 535 and Tilden Road in the City of Winter Garden.  Typical pattern--fifteen parking stalls used and more than forty empty.  The store would have more than sixty empty stalls if this were a CVS with the usual 75-80 parking spaces.   

However, even CVS will depart from its prototype.  The CVS in Baldwin Park has a limited number of on-street parking spaces in front and a shared parking lot in the rear, in the middle of block, hidden from street view.

Baldwin Park CVS.  Limited, shared on-street parking in front and a shared parking lot in the rear.

Many corporations have not grasped that half-empty parking lots make their investments appear economically unhealthy.  In the Pine Hills, this contributes to the perception of downward spiraling businesses. 

Strip shopping center at Pine Hills Road and Silver Star. 

In contrast to CVS, Home Depot conducted a study of its stores and, based on the findings, lowered its parking requirement from over 900 spaces to around 540 spaces per store.  Lower development costs can enable Home Depot to gain a price advantage over its closest rival, Lowes. 

Orange County staff has grasped the over-abundance of parking and no longer permits developers to pave more than 10% over the minimum requirement.  The current code hinders shared parking by requiring Affidavits.  As the planning staff works on a Unified Land Development Code, it should incorporate provisions encouraging shared parking, including payment into a fund for shared parking lots, and loosen the virtual prohibition on on-street parking. 

UPDATE 8/29: At last week's community meeting, I incorrectly identified Professor Shoup as from the University of California at Berkley.  He is at UCLA. 

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Overstating SunRail's Cost to Orange County

Mayoral candidate Matthew Falconer sent a mailer accusing his opponents of voting "to spend $1.5 billion on a rail system we the people rejected by our vote."  (An earlier mailer claimed $1.6 billion.)  His opponents did, in fact, support SunRail, but they did not vote for anything close to a $1.5 billion Orange County budget obligation.  The SunRail Interlocal Agreement, excerpted below, shows Orange County's actual share of SunRail expenditures will amount to just over $40 million over seven years.

SunRail Interlocal Agreement, p. 14.

$40 million is a lot of money--and Orange County needs to monitor to make sure it's spent wisely--but the cost is in line with expenditures for typical road widening projects.  For example, the Planning and Zoning Board voted two months ago on a $75 million road widening project for Southeast Orange County--covering only four miles.  (SunRail will ultimately span 61 miles).  The Orlando Sentinel reported on August 5 that 3 miles of road widening in East Orange County is costing $27.8 million).  For another comparison, the Wekiva Parkway to I-4 interchange will cost about $450 million (slated to come from our tolls unless Congressman John Mica secures federal funds).  No politician is making any of these  expenditures a central campaign platform.   

I'm not certain how Matthew is calculating $1.5 billion for the SunRail system.  Here's my understanding of the numbers: capital construction, right-of-way, trains, and soft costs are expected to amount to just under $600 million, according to a 2009 economic impact report:

Aecom Economic Impact Final Report, p. 4.
SunRail is budgeting $615 million for these capital costs.  In addition to that figure, the Florida Department of Transportation is paying CSX Transportation, Inc. $432  million for the 61 miles of track, right-of-way, and facilities upgrades, (with a leaseback from CSX to operate freight trains at night).  This figure includes $150 million, which CSX committed to spending for upgrading track and facilities elsewhere in Florida to which CSX will divert freight trains. 

Second Amendment to the Contract for Sale and Purchase, March 29, 2010

In addition, FDOT is building five bridges to separate the CSX line from grade level in Alachua, Sumter, and Marion Counties for $214 million--work scheduled independent of SunRail.  I total all that ($615 million plus $432 million plus $214 million) to reach $1.25 billion.  (Matthew's book on p. 169 also computes $1.25 billion). The United States Department of Transportation is covering half with funds they'd otherwise send to other states.  I can assume only that Matthew's $1.5 billion SunRail figure includes years of maintenance and operating expenses (a figure rarely, if ever included when we discuss the cost of roads and highways) and potential cost overruns (although construction costs to local governments have declined with the recession). 

[UPDATE 9 10 10: Matthew informs me the $1.5 billion figure is the total cost to all local governments over twenty years according to the FDOT.  I'll post his entire email below.]

Congressman Mica, Senator Dan Webster (before he left office), and every conservative member of the Greater Orlando legislative delegation presumably compared the cost of the SunRail to the cost of right-of-way acquisition and construction of 61 comparable miles of I-4 lane capacity--SunRail cites $2.3 billion for 30 miles of I-4--and concluded SunRail's $1.2 billion shared price tag was worthy. There's a lot of collective wisdom in that group.

The Voters' Will

Matthew claims the voters rejected SunRail. They didn't. Seven years ago when Mobility 20/20 appeared on the ballot, voters rejected a different system, on a different route (not on the CSX line), intermixed with I-4 toll lanes (derided as "Lexus lanes"), and an acceleration of the State and County's voluminous roadbuilding schedule. Taking Matthew's rationale to its logical conclusion, to uphold the voters' intent, one would also need to oppose all the taxpayer subsidized roadbuilding, too, rejected by the voters. (Not a position I would take).

Property Taxes Not Slated for SunRail

Matthew filed a lawsuit calling SunRail "unconstitutional" on the grounds that operations and maintenance after seven years would require expenditures of property taxes without a popular vote.  Matthew faces an uphill legal battle.  He will need to demonstrate that the Interlocal Agreement removes local government funding flexibility.  The Interlocal Agreement does no such thing and, further, each local government's share of debt service must come from "non-ad volorem sources," that is, not from property taxes. 

Interlocal Agreement, pp. 21-22. 

I could not find anything in the agreement that would obligate local governments to fund operations and maintenance from property tax revenues.  In contrast, shifting more financial burden to road construction and maintenance, the only option Matthew would leave us, would increase long-term pressure to raise property tax millage rates.  Orange County's 4,500 miles of roads (which could stretch to Los Angeles) and State roads don't pay for themselves.  Their ongoing maintenance, resurfacing, and ultimate rebuilding costs reach truly staggering proportions.

"...shifting more financial burden to road construction and maintenance, the only option Matthew would leave us, would increase long-term pressure to raise property tax millage rates.  Orange County's 4,500 miles of roads...don't pay for themselves"

In any event, a proposed $2.00 daily rental car surcharge--less than the cost of a "butterbeer" at Universal's Wizarding World--would provide a plausible source of funding for Orange County's share of SunRail operations and maintenance beginning in the year 2020. 

Rail Successful in Phoenix Despite Sprawling Development Patterns

I agree with Matthew that sprawling development patterns are not conducive to rail transit.  However, a local traffic engineer who returned from sprawling Phoenix a couple weeks ago told me their new light rail system is successful despite surburban development patterns.  The following video confirms ridership exceeding expectations:

Phoenix’s METRO Light Rail Takes Flight from Streetfilms on Vimeo.

Ridership on rail transit systems throughout the nation is reaching near record levels (though down from when gasoline was $4.00 a gallon), as many links in the right-hand column demonstrate.  When I worked in Philadelphia after law school in the early 1990's, friends would drop off their cars in Cherry Hill or other locations in New Jersey and take the train to their jobs in Center City.  SunRail stops furthest from downtown Orlando have considerable parking planned.  It's better to under-promise and over-deliver, but all this does bode well for SunRail's ridership, if SunRail is done right. 

Time Away From Families

For many who spend around 50 hours annually sitting in I-4 traffic, SunRail can provide a congestion-free option.

Questions for Conservatives

For conservatives pondering all this, I'd pose the following questions:

1.  Where are the family values of leaving us with no choice but to spend the equivalent of more than a work week in traffic away from our families? 

2.  Where's the commitment to providing economic opportunities for small businesses?  Opposing rail also means opposing the mixed use, small-business dominated, transit oriented development SunRail would foster.  (Light rail lines in Charlotte, Portland, Seattle, and other cities have generated billions in such development around stations.  Check out pages 198-202 of the report at this link.) 

3.  Where's the commitment to our national security by leaving us overly dependent on Hugo Chavez, the Saudis, and other foreign sources for our transportation energy needs?  Does it serve our interests to send so many billions of our nation's wealth overseas?  Does our susceptibility to oil price shocks--such as those in 1973, 1979, and 2008--advance our economic interests? 

4.  Don't we want America to be #1?   Shouldn't we have a mass transportation system at least as good as the Czech Republic's

5.  Why did Ronald Reagan make no effort to curtail massive federally-funded expansion of the Washington, D.C. Metro system into suburban Virginia and Maryland during his presidency?   

Small businesses dominate Transit Oriented Development in Orange, NJ
Roads Alone Can't Solve Congestion

Before the recession, Orange County was spending roughly $355 million each year on capital roadbuilding projects.  Our Commissioners trimmed that to around $150 million as property tax receipts and impact fee revenues declined.  The reality is that, for nearly two decades, we haven't, and couldn't afford to build our way out of congestion with roads and highways alone:

We haven't come close to keeping pace with our increasing vehicle miles traveled, even while paving over Orange County with extremely wide, high speed roads making us #1 in the nation for pedestrian danger.  Matthew claims that SunRail will take away funding for road safety.  The reality is that we devote much of our road "improvement" funding to creating awful environments like University Boulevard, shown in the photo below, which place pedestrians (you can find at least two in the wrong place) in danger:

University Boulevard, Orange County, Florida

The bottom line is that, while SunRail won't eliminate congestion, I-4 will have more congestion without it.  Matthew is correct that passing trains will delay motorists heading to I-4.  However, SunRail is cutting those delays in half by using double-decker trains

Massive Government Subsidies and Market Intervention

Matthew tells audiences the fact they drove to the event where he is speaking, instead of using mass transit, is a "free market choice."  Cultural conservative William Lind would disagree.  He wrote a thoughtful article published this month on the conservative case for rail transit.  He argues that our rail-free, auto-dependent lifestyles are not a free market choice, but rather reflect massive, decades-long government intervention in the market consisting of road and highway building subsidies.  Until the 1950's, the nation's private rail carriers flourished--and paid taxes.  However, when the Government taxes one economic activity while subsidizing a competing one, the competing one will undoubtedly prevail.  You can find Lind's interesting article at this link

Here is a video in which Mr. Lind makes these arguments:

William Lind: A Conservative Voice For Public Transportation from Streetfilms on Vimeo.

UPDATE 9 10 10: I told Matthew that, in all fairness to him, I would post his Response:

From: Matthew Falconer
To: Richard Geller

Cc: Paula Dockery
Cc: Beth Dillaha

Sent: 9/8/2010 1:59:03 PM

Hi Rick. I was sent your blog on my overstating Sun Rail cost. The $1.5 billion is the cost to LOCAL governments over the first 20 years as provided for in the FDOT analysis. Given Miami's Tri-Rail loses $87 million a year and has 5 times the rider ship I think Sun Rail will repeat that expense.

Your love for new urbanism and mass transit is allowing you to look at facts that support your desired conclusion. I only look at facts. Our nation is $14 trillion in debt. Our state has a $7 billion budget deficit. Twenty five percent of mortgages in Orange County are in default and 75% of small business are losing money. Twenty Five percent of rental car cost is already tax.

Seminole County is seeking a tax increase to pay for mass transit and Orange County will after the elections. This will take $300 million out of our small business economy. I may have lost the election but I was not incorrect about one thing; we are killing the golden goose of small business.

It is hard for insiders, lawyers, engineers and others to understand how bad the economic conditions are. It can and will get worse if we continue to add to the tax burden of consumers and small business.

Matthew Falconer
Falcon Real Estate Solutions

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Goodbye, Don, my friend

The news is frozen as of June 11. That's the last day Don Prendergast and his wife, Bethany, could operate the Orange County Internet News Service, also known as

Don, a hero wounded in the Korean War, lost his battle with cancer on Monday. The community lost a steadfast champion, who kept his mind active in retirement by becoming a self-appointed member of the new internet media.

At its height, was drawing 40,000 hits a month from all over the world. Where else could one watch unfiltered and in-depth interviews of county commissioners, Sheriff Demings, Harris Rosen, and others?

During the 1990's, as development pressures ramped up in the Dr. Phillips area, residents were often caught unaware of the latest proposed land use change. As internet pioneers, Don and Bethany sought to inform Dr. Phillips residents by posting community meeting notices, which most citizens would never learn of otherwise.

Thanks to Don and Bethany's community work, Turkey Lake and Sand Lake Roads would never host the Dolly Parton Dixie stampede, now a vacant big box further down I-4 after a succeeding business, a flea market, failed. Thanks to Don and Bethany, we never had the Dr. Phillips Flea Market.

When I ran for office as a political newcomer, Don and Bethany couldn't have been kinder to me. They gave me invaluable experience in front of their video camera and I became a much better candidate as a result. Others, who managed to win office, owe a similar debt of gratitude to Don and Bethany.

Those attending last night's Dr. Phillips Advisory Committee meeting we're saddened to learn of the news and asked me about a memorial service. I'm told Don didn't want one. He didn't want people to make a fuss over him. Well, I just did anyway and I can hear Don's voice now, "Rick, no, no, no."

I'll miss Don's kindness, his political convictions, and his dedication to the community. He and Bethany were inseparable. Don is irreplaceable. My heartfelt sympathies to Bethany and to their daughter.

Rick Geller

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Skinnier Lake Underhill Road Will Save Taxpayers $200,000

The Orange County Planning and Zoning Board unanimously recommended approval of the proposed four-laning of Lake Underhill Road as consistent with the Comprehensive Plan. 

The new Lake Underhill Road will function as an arterial highway.  I expressed concern that the engineering--12 foot wide lanes (as wide as an interstate highway) without curves--will induce speeding far in excess of the intended 45 mph posted speed.  I saw striking similarities with Apopka-Vineland Road, where the road's engineering encourages speeds of up to 60 mph.  When I lived in Dr. Phillips, one of my neighbors died in crash on Apopka-Vineland Road, leaving a wife and toddler.  A year or so ago, the daughter of friends of ours learned one of her classmates died on Apopka-Vineland Road.  Our arterial roads are similar to Afghanistan or Iraq in one regard--they have an acceptable level of casualties we rarely question. 

I asked the public works representative, Brian Sanders, if we could achieve speeds closer to the intended 45 mph with 10 foot wide lanes in an area passing numerous cul-de-sac subdivisions.  The following month, Brian presented a revised plan, scaling-down to 11 foot lanes.  As a result, public works said taxpayers will save about $200,000.

I expressed my view that we should require shade trees over sidewalks.  Mr. Sanders said public works should revisit their standard landscaping in view of the County's shift towards multi-modal mobility.  In response to some expression of concern over cost, I said, "Sapplings will be fine."

Lake Underhill Road between Goldenrod and Rouse Roads.