This weekend, my wife and I went off in search of coffee and a place to sip while doing things like writing this here blog. We were stymied by our selections. Every place we tried either had too little parking or too little seating. We just want to chill with our stimulants, dammit.
At one of the places, after we found the parking lot too full, I noticed that the parking lot was unfenced and continuous with the next lot, allowing us to drive between lots and out to the street, where we quickly found parking. I thought this was pretty neat, pretty rarely used, and probably even a bit illegal.
We build our places as inflexible and private, with the only way to move around by car along roads*. Anybody wanting to walk, bike, or take transit in these places has to do it at the scale of cars. Traffic intersections are all of our intersections. We walk and bike in blocks designed for the speed and scale of traffic, not biking and walking.
But does this have to be? What if we established properties and construction standards to allow biking and walking among blocks, between roads? Some of the 1700s wagon roads network still exists east of Broad Street in Center City Philadelphia, which would be far more walkable if it was paved in anything better than cobblestones or wood blocks. New York is beginning to do this with tighter public space requirements for skyscrapers. As recently as a decade ago, skyscrapers were built with the “public space” inside, in the atrium, where only the elect and permitted could use it. Closer to home, I recall a few innovative and deserted walkways midblock in the Poncey-Highlands neighborhood of Atlanta. Their neglect poses an objection to this proposal: Just because we build a path doesn’t mean it gets used. There needs to be a reason for people to take that path.
And that’s where we come back to parking. Parking takes around 1% of an acre from any property that touches a road. This is space that cannot be built for interior space, or green space, or anything else, except a parking space, paved year round whether or not there is a car there. It doesn’t do to just allow paths within blocks. We also need to allow development at a richer scale than we are accustomed to. The warrens of New York’s Chinatown come to mind. Every city had a space this rich before 1930, and many still do, even if they are blocked and neglected.
The problem is that we plan and build for traffic, and everything else is an afterthought. This made a lot of sense when the existing conditions were full of dangerous and polluting horses and muddy roads, less so now. Can wee begin to plan for traffic, walking, biking and transit, each at their appropriate scales. It is both possible, and more prosperous than what we have today.
Are we having fun yet?
I promised a continuation of last Friday’s post today, and I just don’t have the computing horsepower right now to do it. But I’m working on it. I’d like to write some things as wild-eyed claims in preface, then test those claims against the data. Not only for transit & traffic ways and expense, but also for crime on transit, income inequality versus income mobility, and so forth. This should carry us into Spring.