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Posted by on Mar 31, 2012 in Uncategorized | 23 comments

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Blighted Landscape

An op-ed in the New York Times by Eran Ben-Joseph calls for the transformation of ugly surface parking lots.

It’s estimated that there are three nonresidential parking spaces for every car in the United States. That adds up to almost 800 million parking spaces, covering about 4,360 square miles — an area larger than Puerto Rico. In some cities, like Orlando and Los Angeles, parking lots are estimated to cover at least one-third of the land area, making them one of the most salient landscape features of the built world.

Such coverage comes with environmental costs. The large, impervious surfaces of parking lots increase storm-water runoff, which damages watersheds. The exposed pavement increases the heat-island effect, by which urban regions are made warmer than surrounding rural areas. Since cars are immobile 95 percent of the time, you could plausibly argue that a Prius and a Hummer have much the same environmental impact: both occupy the same 9-by-18-foot rectangle of paved space.

His ideas for designing parking lots as more useful space (solar panels, permeable surface material, rows of trees) are intriguing. But who pays for that? The externalities of providing massive amounts of storage space for cars are not directly paid by car users. Those costs are hidden in the prices of goods and services, in taxes and in the degradation of our environment. We all pay, whether we use a car or not.

Dropping Kids Off In Rush Hour Traffic

This story was broadcast a month ago. It recently came to my attention through the BWCF pedestrian initiative.

For five mornings between 6:50 a.m. and 7:20 a.m. Local 6 documented students being dropped off in the middle of traffic on Turkey Lake Road between Paw and Hollywood.

Students at Dr. Phillips High School are being dropped off in traffic every day, so drivers can avoid waiting in line on campus, and the school principal is trying to do something about it.

Principal Eugene Trochinski said the practice has been going on for years along Turkey Lake Road, and both Orlando police and Orange County school administrators agree the practice is placing hundreds of local students at risk.

Trochinski says he has been trying to get parents to stop the rush-hour practice, issuing a safety alert in the February school newsletter advising parents not to allow students to “disembark” on the road.

There’s a second video showing how the school plans to move drop-off traffic through its queue faster so parents will stop dumping their kids into 7 lanes of rush hour traffic.

Both stories strike me as an adventure in missing the point. We’re just not willing to acknowledge anything close to the core problem. I wonder what it will take.

23 Comments

  1. My wife and I watched the news reports regarding children being dropped off in the roadway, since traffic was so heavy inside the school. The reporters certainly missed the point, in our combined opinion. So much speculation about how things could be improved to ensure the safety of the children, but no reference to the true consideration.

    As a lane-managing cyclist, I’ve been stopped too many times by law enforcement in a couple municipalities in Eastern Volusia County. It’s made me wonder why I’ve not been stopped in those municipalities that have not had to be threatened with a lawsuit. Daytona Beach Shores and Ponce Inlet are locally known to be diligent in writing tickets for speeding. It makes me wonder if those cities recognize that traffic has to operate at a more reasonable speed when a cyclist is in a sub-standard width lane.

    There have been articles about neighborhoods being used as a cut-through to avoid congested intersections. One of those areas implemented “illegal” speed bumps and the city or county removed them. Not that I’d want to compare cyclists to speed bumps, but the neighborhood residents need only to go for bike rides in their quiet neighborhood during those periods to teach the cut-through motorists that it’s not the right answer.

    I also wonder when the core problem will be recognized. So far, four dollar a gallon fuel prices hasn’t done it either.

    • I am a strong opponent of “rat-running” cut-through car drivers. Here are a few photos of how we’ve been able to prevent that kind of behaviour here in Toronto. See:

      Heath St E and Inglewood Dr:
      http://g.co/maps/wkvnh

      Earl St/Huntley St
      http://g.co/maps/qpkwe

      Laneway/parking transition, Rachael St
      http://g.co/maps/dg7e3

      Disconnection from intersection, Hudson Dr
      http://g.co/maps/h3qg4

      These all seem to be have been added after the fact, and we are still a long way from incorporating these features into original designs such as at:
      http://g.co/maps/ztz59

        • Here’s one http://g.co/maps/7khxe that’s part of my daily commute (I walk to the bus stop). It was installed to prevent people from cutting the corner at Michigan St. & Orange Ave to head north on Orange.

          All those red triangular signs on the edge get run over regularly. The planted area is actually about 8″ below the top edge of the curb and there’s a raised manhole in the middle. Yet some goof in an Escalade thought he could drive through it, at speed. I think he totaled the car. The signs in the planter are not frangible. The ones on either side to prevent cars from cutting over the raised curb sidewalk get hit all the time, but I believe they’re frangible.

          The business on the right is a starbucks. Have I said how much I love my commute?

          • Nice! I like it! That’s a good semi-permeable neighbourhood connector.

            I would have put a bit wider space on either side for cycle traffic (CROW standard is two metres). But in Orlando the proverb “The perfect is the enemy of the good” should always be kept in mind.

            I like the story about the goof in the Escalade. More money than brains…

            When the tree is fully mature that should really stop cars. Of course, we’ll always get car drivers who say things like “But officer, the tree darted out in front of my car!”

            Of course, when the tree is fully mature we should be well over peak oil. Still, the sort of person who has the money to buy an Escalade has the money to pay $20 per gallon for gasoline.

            One minor quibble: I presume that people still do cut the corner, just not while driving cars. :)

  2. When I was in Montreal last week, I was struck by the attempts to provide easy and free access to businesses by large objects (motor vehicles) while simultaneously attempting to restrict access by smaller objects (pedestrians and cyclists) via fencing and such. Such attempts may well create future stories about people putting themselves at risk. We truly do live in interesting times…

  3. Gas is going to get much higher before it really affects driving behavior. A Hummer H2 gets about 10 mpg. To drive 20,000 miles costs $7,862 just in fuel costs at $4.00 per gallon. But other operating costs add a lot. Total operating costs for that H2s 20,000 miles is about $11,500. Increasing to $5.00 per gallon increases those two amounts to $9,828 and $13,500 respectively. Someone who spends $60,000 on a car isn’t going to worry about an extra $2,000 per year. Unless of course they’re up to their eyeballs in debt…
    For a 48 mpg Prius driver, the total operating cost for 20,000 miles goes from $5,300 at $4.00 to $5,700 at $5.00 per gallon. Again, $400 for someone who spends $25,000 on a hybrid is no big deal. (But then, the extra money they spent to go hybrid doesn’t usually save them much on the operating end.)
    It’s the people who have old, low mpg cars and are just getting by who are going to have to cut their driving.

    • I have old, low mpg cars, and I’ll bet I am FAR less sensitive to gas prices than the Hummer OR the Prius driver. Actually, my wife gives me less objections to borrowing the Land Rover the higher gas prices go. For the 1967 Jaguar, the main gas problem is finding fuel that is high enough octane for the 9:1 engine and keeping what I buy from going bad over time. The 1976, on the other hand, runs fine on whatever the best comes out of the pump. Those operating economics would remain much the same if fuel were $100 per gallon.

      • FWIW, “just getting by” is largely a state of mind in the US, where minimum wage is far higher than average salaries over much of the world. It is one reason cars are considered “necessary” by most. Many reading this blog know that to be untrue…

  4. The guys in commodities are no dopes. They want to maximize profits and they know not to bankrupt their customers. So every time the economy starts showing signs of picking up, they suck all the wind out of the sails, but when it gets too bad, they drop the price again.

    It’s kind of like a drug dealer and an addict. The drug dealer wants to make sure that the addict gets “enough” to keep coming back for more, but not enough to kill himself.

    Right now, according to Bloomberg, the futures experts say $4.05-4.15 is the sweet spot. Then it will go down.

  5. A lot of these parking spaces are the result of development codes. While some places want to have a great number of spaces, the code and the code authorities are often not flexible enough to give businesses and residences a break on parking. I design buildings that are rather large and largely unoccupied, but we have to beg to have the parking requirement REDUCED, and it’s usually after some back and forth with that city’s officials.

    But I do see some light at the end of the tunnel, there are cities and business that are embracing rezoning efforts to reduce parking requirements in more urban areas, and occasionally they will allow shared parking within a consolidated structure that keeps the same number of spaces in a much smaller footprint.

    • For example, if you open a restaurant that is 1000 square feet, and the code requires 1 parking space per every 100 square feet, that would be 10 parking stalls at 9′x18′ plus an additional stalls worth for an accessible parking spot, so already we are at 1782 square feet of paving, but we also have to be able to drive to the spot, so a run that is at least 99′x24′ for the drive, so another 2376 square feet. So, for a 1000 square foot restaurant, we are talking approximately 4158 square feet of paving, and we haven’t even provided a sidewalk or accessible route to the front door, or a place for a dumpster or outdoor equipment…

      • I sit on the City of Orlando’s Board of Zoning Adjustment and this is a common issue. I think the City’s code is fairly flexible but it’s still a bit onerous particularly for restaurants, even in urbanized areas.

        My pet peeve is the requirement in the Traditional City overlay to have 1 parking space behind the front setback for single family residential. Even on quiet residential streets where onstreet parking is allowed. This makes expanding many of the small 50s ranch houses nearly impossible (the most common way is to enclose a carport or make a single car garage into a living space). The result? Scrape-offs and the continued “Bungalofication” of many of the mid-century neighborhoods.

        • “1 parking space behind the front setback for single family residential.

          What is wrong with that? The last I heard, the normal rate of spaces for each apartment unit was 2 1/2 spaces. Certainly houses should have no less than apartments, even with on street parking.

          I once lived in a city that was very walkable up north. In fact, all the kids walked to school except one. Lunch was 1 1/2 hours and we walked home for lunch as did many businessmen.

          The house lots were 50′ wide. On one side, there was no set back. On the other side, there was 10′. So the lots and the houses were long and narrow and two storied. The garage was in the back yard so that the cars were out of sight, which makes the streets much prettier.

          • Nothing really wrong with it but it often prevents any ranch style houses on narrow lots from being able to meet the requirement for an expansion. The houses are so far set back from the street that there’s plenty of room for at least one, often two parking spaces. Then there are off street parking spaces available. My point is that it’s in the traditional city, it’s very walkable by design and there’s less need for cars and huge ones at that. So, why quibble over where the car is parked?

          • er – I mean plenty of onstreet parking. I think the city requires two spaces for single family, but at least one has to be behind the front set back.

  6. The normal solution for preventing dropping children off by car is to make the streets around the school a “no stopping” zone for cars. The local police make it a part of their routine to go by twice a day, during school start and stop times, to enforce the law.

    A better solution is to put the school into the car-free zone or else expand the car-free zone to include the school.

    Then school transport typically becomes by bicycle. Here is an example from Japan (my advice is to skip the first 1:15 of someone yapping about what you are going to see, and go straight to seeing it):
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Iaz_T89wJ2o

    And from The Netherlands:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2n_znwWroGM&feature=player_embedded

    And from a Toronto suburb:
    http://www.hdsb.ca/Newsroom/Pages/PLRobertsonPublicSchool.aspx

    • “The normal solution for preventing dropping children off by car is to make the streets around the school a “no stopping” zone for cars.”

      Er, they do it while waiting at a red light.

    • I just saw something nifty in the Japanese video that I didn’t see before. Look closely for the guard enforcing the entrance to the car-free zone. The guard courteously bows to each passing cyclist. Nice!

  7. The problem for Dr. Phillips HS (the one profiled above) is that the school essentially has turned its back on the neighborhood – with it’s entry facing Turkey Lake Road & Universal Studios (the school was there long before Universal). Many of the kids that attend the school are within easy walking/biking distance, but due to the many cul de sacs and lack of a normal street grid (not to mention privacy walls) it’s impossible to access the school ‘as the crow flies’. There’s bacically one way in/one way out. It’s what I refer to as space ship schools.

    http://g.co/maps/gdeyj

    Conversely, check out Boone HS http://g.co/maps/c8tjp which is located in the downtown core. The front entry is on Kaley Street, but there are also multiple access points fromt the surrounding neighborhood and a real grid. It can be a little tricky in terms of security, but it makes for a much more cohesive community. The school is percieved as part of the community rather than a nuisance to be walled off from the neighborhood.

    Typical suburban vs. urban development. Thanks Euclid, OH! ;-)

    • It’s kind of hard to provide connectivity when you’re surrounded on three sides by Orange Tree, a gated golf course community that doesn’t want ‘those people’ cutting through. (Orange Tree developed the land next to the school more or less concurrently with the construction of the school.)

    • Hey, don’t go blamin’ my home town. :^) It’s not their fault everybody else took zoning to extremes. Euclid is far more interconnected than, say, unincorporated Orange County. Very few walls, cul de sacs or loops.

      • LOL, sorry Mighk, I just love to cite that case ;-) Though I should be ever so grateful, I have a job mainly because of the ruling.

        As Andres Duany reminded many Portlanders – was that connectivity in place prior to the proliferation of the car? But yeah, it’s not Euclid’s fault people took it to the extreme. Orlando’s connectivity is mostly in the traditional city which is defined as those areas platted/developed before 1950 or 55. I forget the year. Phew! My house just makes it.