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.
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:
Orange Avenue and Church Street at Street Level:
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?