Apr 24 2010

Downsizing Streets?

I have been participating in several workshops for the 5 year update to Fort Collins City Plan (the overall riding policies that among other things, drive land use decisions in the city). Tonight we had several group workshops. At one of the workshops that focused on transportation, I was introduced to a new concept in transportation called downsizing. The way it was originally worded I thought they were talking about abandoning streets, something that I don’t support locally, mostly because there arn’t many we can abandon. What the point was, at the current funding levels, the city can’t maintain the street network, and how do we prioritize maintenance, do we stop expanding the street network, etc.

However, this did get me to thinking about how do we downsize streets? I have a couple ideas.

1) We need to really think about where we need to build streets and where we don’t. This applies mostly to greenfield development, but not always. I have worked on many projects where we had to build streets that weren’t really needed all in the name of having easy street access to a building. Townhomes in particular can face greenbelts, they don’t need to face streets. This not only adds to the cost of development, but the city has to maintain those streets. Of course, I have been saying this for years.

2) There are plenty of streets in this city (and in most jurisdictions) that are simply too big. For example, my neighborhood is accessed by two collector streets spaced about a quarter mile apart. In Fort Collins, Collector streets have two wide travel lanes, bike lanes in each direction, and parking lanes. Both of the collectors by my neighborhood, there are no homes that directly front on these streets, there are parks (with plenty of off-street parking), natural areas, etc. The point is, both streets have a total of 16 feet (each) of asphalt that does not get used that has to be paved, snow plowed, etc. Maybe these parking lanes could be removed, with sustainable storm water and water quality built in these areas. Both of these street were built decades ago before the current street standards were adopted. There are examples of this all over. Of course, there are also streets that are severely undersized as well.

3) Create the flexible street types. In other words, rather than a one size fits all approach to street widths and carrying capacities, design streets to fit the context of the site they are in, and with the overall land use patterns. This would allow streets to be narrower in some locations, while in others the streets may need to be wider.

As with everything, sustainability is the word of the day, and that applies to our street network as well.

Apr 24 2010

Plan Fort Collins

The City of Fort Collins is undertaking two projects this year that will have an impact on the entire city, and on the east side-west side neighborhoods in particular. The first is the update to City Plan, the overall guiding document for landuse within Fort Collins. This project is being dubbed, Plan Fort Collins. You can get more information at the city’s website.

The other project that is being tackeled is studying the design guidelines for the Eastside Westside Neighborhoods. This excerpt is from the City’s website

“Eastside & Westside Neighborhoods Design Standards Study is a study aimed at addressing the impacts of residential development occurring in Fort Collins’ oldest downtown neighborhoods. Small houses are being expanded or replaced, resulting in new houses often significantly larger than the original. This type of development is commonly referred to as “pop-ups” (additions) and “scrape-offs” (demolition/replacements), and is a frequent topic of public discussion since the early 1990s.”

The focus on these projects is on development and redevelopment opportunities within the city. As the city quickly runs out of buildable greenfield sites, there will be more and more pressure to redevelop and so called infill projects. The question is not when or if, but rather how and where it will occur. A big challenge is creating compatibility between existing and new. There will be continued pressures in the old-town area, and significant pressure on the Mason Corridor, and the city is also looking heavily at the so called mid-town area, basically surrounding Foothills Mall.

One of the big things I have been harking on for the last couple of years, is the need for the city to identify areas of town that are appropriate for redevelopment, and those that arn’t. There are significant pressures to rebuild portions of Old Town. There are areas though were redevelopment should be restricted to preserve the character of the neighborhood and town. Old Town itself is a major community identifier for Fort Collins, and is a tourist draw of itself. Mountain Avenue is another of those those areas that has a unique character with a mix of stately and worked homes, wide median, and an historic trolley running the length of the street. Then there areas that are more appropriate for redevelopment, such as Luarel Street across from Colorado State University.

Community dialogue needs to happen to help shape the future direction of not only Fort Collins, but communities across the country. As it becomes less feasible to develop greenfield sites, cities will start to rebuild with higher densities, higher structures, etc. I am in full support of this, but it must be done carefully with careful attention paid to the details of architecture, site planning, space creation, and creating public and private spaces.

Feb 12 2010

Berkeley Downtown

Well, I don’t know if this is the official downtown, but these were taken from the business district on several sides of the UC Berkeley campus.

This is the fabulous historical library in downtown Berkeley. I admit when, I first saw it, it was dark, and I thought it was an ugly dismal building (I also had a few great beers in me), But when I saw it the next day, and also learned what it was, wow!

This is a new building that fits in extremely well in its historical surroundings. It is all about compatibility ( a very subjective term, I realize).

Only a block from the new building. Check out the round corner windows. yes the windows really are curved. They don’t build em like this anymore.

For all you coffee lovers out there.

And finally, for you art lovers, this gem was taken in the student hangout section west of the campus.

For more pics, visit my Picassa Web Album.

Jan 12 2010

U.S. Car Fleet Shrinks Last Year

As reported by the Earth Policy Institute, The number of cars owned by Americans actually shrunk last year by 4 million cars, or about 2%. This is rather notable in that it is one of the few, if only time, it has happened. At the same time, ridership on public transportation has climbed 9 percent from 2005 to 2008. One year hardly makes a trend, but is it possible the american love affair with the car is coming to an end? Or is this simply a result of the current economic slump? Perhaps somewhere in between. I know of several people, living in more urban areas than Fort Collins who manage to survive quit nicely without a car. My friend Amy in Oakland is one. She doesn’t own a car, and relies mostly on public transportation, which is excellent in the bay area. She also belongs to a car share service, so if she needs a car for a particular reason she can get one at a reasonable cost.

We shall see where this trend goes. With Americans focus on scaling back and simplifying, this trend could be here to stay.

Jan 1 2010

Berkeley Neighborhoods

Berkeley neighborhoods, esp. those around the UC Berkeley campus are rather quirky. For one thing, they are built on steep hillside, so you will find lots of curvy narrow streets, which has to be a nightmare for the fire fighters. We wandered around the western portions of Berkeley Hills, immediately north of the campus. One of the things we liked about this neighborhood were all the staircases. The streets here are steep and narrow, but in many areas, there are staircases built for pedestrians to rapidly gain altitude, and not have to wander about with the streets. Talk about pedestrian connectivity. Of course, built at the turn of the last century, it is hardly handicap accessible. We also found many sidewalk connections that provided shortcuts between streets and different neighborhoods. Pretty cool, you can see why planners now push these connections on developers now. I always did think it was a good idea, in spite of the NYMBY’ers.

An example of one of the staircases.

Another thing I was really impressed with the area, was how the homes were large, and very expensive, but not pretentious. They are built into the landscape, and don’t overwhelm it. Of course, it helps that the landscape in CA grows quickly. Below are a few photos of what we found.

This one, while not really in the Hill neighborhood was really cool. I liked how it actually addressed the corner lot it is on, and the second floor balcony.

There are entry gates like this all over.

A grape vine is taking over this fence.

This is a rare brick home in the area.

This is a really cool, and huge Agave!

While not rare in these parts, still a huge Redwood.

I really like how this house, though huge, is not imposing and fits into the landscape. McMansions could take a lesson.

A cool hillside house. Notice the garage built into the retaining wall.

This one is for you Lalie.

Just a cool house, cool yard, and cool artwork.

To see more pictures, check out my Picassa Album here.