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Posted by on Dec 17, 2009 in General, Transit | 18 comments

Moving People or Cars?

Or designing for people or cars?

One of the challenges of transportation planning is who do you plan for? Cars? Bikes? Pedestrians? Transit? In my experience, it seems all modes take a back seat to the automobile. Parking lots become nightmares for pedestrians. Check out Orange Blossom Trail just north of Holden and you’ll see what I mean – vast empty parking lots laid out cheek to jowl.

OBT and Holden

Getting Around the Built Environment

Even in places that are relatively new and quite popular, driving and getting around within them is a nightmare. Look at Waterford Lakes Town Center, or cross Alafaya trail and check out the shopping center with the now empty Circuit City. Sure, there are cross access easements and connectivity within these shopping centers – they keep traffic within the development (ie internal trip capture) but are meant really to keep the cars flowing on Alafaya Trail.  Even though they’re designed for cars, driving within them is nerve wracking. Walking from your car to the store isn’t so hot either (everyone walks at some point). Riding a bike isn’t ideal and what about transit users who have to get from Alafaya Trail to the ‘Town Centre’ or shopping plaza?

Planners often joked that subdivisions were named after the flora and fauna that were relocated to make room for new homes – Eagle Pointe, Whispering Oaks, you get the idea.  Well, I think we’ve come up with cutesy names for ‘villages’ and old english ‘centres’ to try to soften the harsh reality of suburbanized auto-oriented shopping districts.

When the Rubber Hits the Road

Locally, there seems to be more interest in alternative forms of transportation, but is it merely lip service? Will our political leaders, local governments and regulatory agencies be able to make meaningful transportation change? Change that requires a lot of coordination and cooperation from many agencies that have varying missions and regulating authority. Not to mention the developers and the citizenry at large.

Then there are the planned transportation improvements that are already on the books. Projects that run contrary to a good land use and transportation mix. Millions spent on constructing grade separated overpasses that blow out intersections. Referred to as ‘progress’ by some, they also seem to hasten blight within the adjacent commercial uses and the neighborhoods surrounding them.

This blight can occur when connectivity to the commercial or office properties at the surface street level is hampered due to restrictions in movement, either by car, bike, bus or on foot. Movements are restricted in all modes so that through traffic can proceed unencumbered by a traffic signal, turning vehicles, or pedestrians. Access to the businesses located at the corners, what once were prime commercial locations and activity centers, is now restricted. Driveway access is eliminated or allowed in only one direction, usually a set distance from the intersection. Commercial properties are set back further and further from the intersection creating longer distances to access them.

Maitland Blvd & Forest City Road at Street level:

Matiland Overpass

Orange Avenue and Church Street at Street Level:

Church and Orange

There’s a lot happening on Orange Avenue. There’s accommodations for all modes – bikes, buses, peds, cars… And it’s some of the most valuable real estate in the area. But beyond that, there is activity, commerce, economic development. Using a car isn’t the most convenient or even sometimes the fastest way to get around, but it’s an area bustling with activity, even in this recession. Nothing will ever really go on at the corner of Maitland and Forest City Road. The street in the foreground is a neighborhood street. There are houses that access it, but they don’t access Maitland Blvd or Forest City Road. Is this, to quote developers, ‘the highest and best use’ of this land?

The intersection improvements planned at intersections like SR 50/Colonial & 436 and at 17/92 and SR 436 are not designed to improve conditions in the surrounding neighborhoods, economic development or commerce,  but to improve conditions for the motorists simply passing through. Moving cars, not people. Like Keri pointed out in an earlier post, this creates an environment where speed is more important than anything else. Is this good transportation policy? Is it good land use policy? Which comes first and how do you correct the mistakes of the past?

18 Comments

  1. What’s more, check out the walkability ratings of any of the the photos. It seems to me that a MALL ought to get a better rating that “somewhat walkable.” Try not to think about how much you, as a cyclist or pedestrian, pay towards these parking lots each time you make a purchase.

    Click on the website link to test out other locations…

  2. I have a theory ….

    It begins with the fact that nothing will change unless you can start making the auto pay it’s way in our society, instead of being subsidized. If cars were very expensive to own/operate, then fewer cars on the road = more options for alternative transportation.

    How does car ownership/operation get expensive? I’m not sure you can legislate any change that would be drastic enough (not enough people would support such legislation). I think it would have to be market-driven. Best scenario I can come up with is for gas to get very expensive very fast. What that price point is ($5? $7 more?) I don’t know, but obviously the higher the price the more you will see fewer personal cars in use.

    But the problem is that I think there will only be a short window of time (5-10 years?) before some other power alternative takes the place of gasoline (e.g. power cell, or electricity) for cars. Once it does, everyone goes back to the way things were.

    But, if it takes longer to get this new power source going, then this gives alternative transportation options a chance to grow roots. If that, combined with some kind of environmental awareness takes hold of the population,
    then maybe, maybe, you see fewer car-specific concessions in our cities and streets.

    I’m not sure what this does to sprawl. Does sprawl die and decay during this window of time? Do masses of people leave the suburbs and live closer in? Or does mass transportation step in and allow people to still live in suburbia but commute to work and other destinations without using a car? I don’t know ……

    OK, that’s just my working theory … plenty of room for others to poke all kinds of holes in it ……

    • These are great insights Andrew. I’d like to explore some of them. How does mass transportation step in without the commitment and buy-in from the community? The cost of owning a car in Central FL is already very expensive. Off the top of my head, I’ve seen that car ownership/transportation costs are creeping into the 25% -30% range for monthly budgets – which is crazy. People accept it here because the built environment practically requires it.

      95% of the people that use LYNX are transportation dependent, meaning that’s the only transportation they have – other than feet and bicycles – and LYNX bike racks get a heavy workout every day. But LYNX struggles to provide for many people what is a very bare bones level of service. Vast parts of Central Florida aren’t even served by transit, partly because those areas happen to be fairly affluent and frankly, won’t use transit if it’s available. The reasons are many – it’s not convenient, it’s easier to just drive, the bus doesn’t go where they need to go. Plus there’s a real fear of the unknown for people – how do a I catch the bus? How does the bus driver know when I need to get off? How do I transfer? Can they give change? Are they clean? What will people think of me standing by the side of the road?

      Also, the general public has no idea how much their car and the use of said vehicle is subsidized. They believe that the taxes they pay at the pump is the end of it. How do you change that way of thinking? There’s a real sense of entitlement among a large segment of the community. A sense that roads are the only way to go and a car is the highest and best form of transportation, much like the single family home is to be protected from any sort of impact at all costs. Sun Rail FINALLY looks like it will move forward. It’s 60 miles of commuter rail. How many miles of roads do we provide already that could probably be better used as commuter rail corridors? With the added benefit of being a much narrower envelope.

      I think one way to point out these costs in a gentle way is to talk about tax base and the costs of transportation. What economic activity is generated at the confluence of SR 429, the Turnpike, and SR 50? It’s ~1 square mile. Compare that to the economic engine on Park Avenue in Winter Park. Show people – commissioners and decision makers – how much it costs to provide space for parking that only gets used on the busiest shopping day of the year and interchanges that restrict commerce. Let’s talk about the true costs of things. It’s not about getting rid of cars, but focusing on making the land use and transportation system work cohesively and sustainably.

  3. More than the cost of gas, there’s the value of the land. Than means parking fees/property taxes rather than gas taxes. Power source alternatives do not change the land use. The value of so-called “alternative” transportation is it doesn’t make me pay for empty parking spaces at a mall parking lot I don’t/can’t use.

    My bike is the antithesis of “mass” transportation, but it also doesn’t require giant amounts of otherwise empty real estate to support it so it isn’t like a car, either.

    My cars only impose a significant cost to society when I drive them on public roads or ask for land to park them. That suggests registration fees don’t relate to societal cost.

    Realistically, how, exactly, would we politically accomplish this “masses of people” moving around? Who would buy the suburb houses or who would pay to tear them down?

  4. “The City is for people, not cars”
    -Former Ontario prime minister William Davis

    “Transportation is not, has never been and should never be about moving cars. It is about moving people so they can live their lives to the fullest in this great City.”
    -Toronto Mayor David Miller

    What can I say? I agree with these people.

  5. Laura: SteveA makes a good point about land costs. I think you also have to factor in population density. Those both must be present before mass transportation becomes optimal and something in demand.

    I can’t see us getting away from the auto (and move towards alternative forms of transportation) unless there is some kind of “crisis” where things have to happen quickly. Another possible example — a environmental crisis. Maybe the Govt. restricts auto usage because of our agreements with other nations regarding our carbon emissions. Unlikely, but that’s the kind of crisis we’ll have to have ……..

    • Time is also a critical factor in getting people to switch modes. When it takes about the same time to travel from point a to point b via public transit, bike or automobile, people are more likely to choose a different mode. So it doesn’t necessarily mean we need a crisis in terms of costs to force a change. Perhaps making decisions to invest in a wider variety of infrastructure that’s supportive of more modes – and also encourages economic development – is a more sustainable strategy. We can’t build our way out of congestion, no matter how hard we try.

      • “So it doesn’t necessarily mean we need a crisis in terms of costs to force a change. Perhaps making decisions to invest in a wider variety of infrastructure that’s supportive of more modes –”

        http://www.nytimes.com/cwire/2009/12/21/21climatewire-a-pro-bicycle-city-faces-trouble-promoting-el-2513.html

        AMSTERDAM — Cars in the pinched, medieval streets at the center of this city can quickly clog traffic. The policy has been to find myriad ways to discourage them, clearing the way for more and more bicyclists.

        The Dutch have tried stiff fees, a maze of prohibited lanes and other ways of outright discrimination to limit the number of cars in this antique city of arched bridges and canals. It was originally built to cater to boats.

        The city’s charm campaign was then shifted to bicyclists, but now officials are trying to switch gears and mount an aggressive effort to encourage people to buy new electric cars. That jibes with this country’s fight against global warming, but it is also warming the tempers among cyclists. They worry that their traditional right-of-way over cars will be sideswiped by more cars and more parking ramps.

  6. re: planning with only cars in mind

    Saw that up close and personal at our advocacy committee meeting this week. The non-motorized transportation engineer for MoDOT spike to our group. Highlights (or low-lights):

    1. Didn’t know what “peak oil” meant.
    2. Still believes we’ll be driving gasoline-powered cars in 100 years.
    3. Believes that MoDOT must continue to plan for more roads and more cars into that future.

    This is the person in charge of bike/ped issues and compliance for Missouri.

    Geez.

  7. I would be very interested to see someone do a credible evaluation of how much of my purchase dollar goes toward the NPV of parking lots in a high RE value area. When I ride my bike to such a store and make a purchase, I’m subsidizing motorists by that amount. A sharp storekeeper could give bicyclists a discount and still increase his profit margin if local juridictions did not require him to include the extra parking regardless. Speaking of which, how many of THOSE jurisdictions have similar zoning requirements regarding nonmotorized parking?

  8. Steve asked about “…zoning requirements regarding nonmotorized parking?”

    Kevin’s comment:

    The City of Toronto has zoning requirements for bicycle parking. These requirements include short-term (visitor) parking and long-term (employee and resident) parking. For a quick summary of requirements, please see the chart at the top of page 36 at:

    http://www.toronto.ca/planning/pdf/bicycle_parking_guidelines_final_may08.pdf

    Although these are officially draft guidelines, City staff are not approving designs that fail to conform to the guidelines.

    Except for medical offices, commercial buildings are required to have at least six short-term parking spots. The total number of short-term bicycle parking spots is the greater of six or 0.2 spots per 100 sq M of office space. In addition to this, there is also a requirement for long-term parking of 0.2 spots per 100 sq M of office space.

    These parking spaces have to conform to specific standards as set out in the link.

  9. Laura wrote:

    “Also, the general public has no idea how much their car and the use of said vehicle is subsidized.”

    Technology exists to charge motorists directly for their impacts. GPS. A GPS unit connected through a third-party company that keeps the personal data out of the government’s hands could act as an intermediary. It could also be an intermediary with private parking lots. You’d pay for every mile you drove; every place you parked. You could be charged more for peak-hour usage. More for exceeding the posted speed. More in areas with poor air quality. It facilitates per mile insurance payment, too. The unit could tell you exactly what you’re paying and why.

    The technology exists; it’s a political problem.

    • There really isn’t a need to track folks and such to determine how much they’re subsidized…people just don’t want to know. There’s a huge disconnect in the general public about who and what is subsidized and by how much. It’s very much a political issue, but it’s also a socio-economic issue as well.

  10. All good comments. But here’s completely different consideration that the question “who do you build for” provoked in me: What kind of bicyclist do you build for? One who follows the rules of the roads and attempts to ride as a vehicle, or one who acts more like a pedestrian?

    The common planning opinion, from what I have seen, is that the vehicular cyclists (they call them “A” cyclists, for Advanced) can already hold their own on existing infrastructure and seldom ask for asking for anything special, so little or no thought need be given to them. The fact that most cyclists fall into one of their other two categories (“B” for Basic and “C” for children) is considered all the more reason to focus planning efforts on these groups, with bike lanes and other bicycle-specific infrastructure.

    I was in a meeting a few months ago with some engineers from a local transportation engineering consulting company, and they commented that their design audience for bicyclists includes not only those who know and follow the rules of the road, but those who may not posses a driver’s license and therefore may not even KNOW the rules of the road! That took me aback quite a bit, and I’m still sorting out how I feel about it. I guess it’s a logical conclusion that since bicyclists are not forced to be licensed the way motorists are, planners have to assume the presence of SOME bicyclists lacking even basic driver training, but geez, I can see the difficulty in trying to accommodate them with engineering only. (Although I would still think that the vast majority of adult bicyclists DO know how to drive a car, they just don’t ride like it. But I don’t have numbers, and I’m sure it varies by neighborhood.)

    • I’ve been a bicycle transportation planning professional for over 15 years, and I have seen all sorts of schemes and designs purporting to support “B” and “C” cyclists. They all increase conflicts.

      How can one possibly be improving safety if you’re increasing conflicts?

      I can teach a 10-year-old the rules of the road and the skills needed to bike safely in traffic (though judgment is another matter), so why should an adult without a license be unable to understand the rules of traffic? Indeed, I knew the rules of traffic well before I took driver’s ed in high school because I spent countless hours on the roads on my bike.

      Too many American bikeways are predicated on incompetence, ignorance and fear. (And the European-style designs many of my colleagues are promoting are even worse.)

      I challenge anyone to provide an example of a successful safety system predicated on incompetence, ignorance and fear.

  11. Mighk wrote:

    “I can teach a 10-year-old the rules of the road and the skills needed to bike safely in traffic (though judgment is another matter).”

    Kevin’s comment:
    I agree. I am comfortable taking the lane on roads with dense car and truck traffic, but I will not allow my 11-year-old son to do the same. It is just too dangerous and unpleasant.

    Here is a video of Assen, NL, where almost all the children arrive at school by bicycle. Note the infrastructure that enables a safe and pleasant ride. One that parents obviously have no issues sending their children out on. See: