Posts Tagged ‘land use’

Image from Teamster.org of a horse and buggy and a motorized jitney bus

A Horse of a Different Character

A Horse of a Different Character

I’m a big fan of history. In planning we have to draw on our history as a nation and from human civilization to reflect on where we come from to know where we are going. Recently, I went to a symposium of sorts about autonomous vehicles and heard from experts about how soon these vehicles will hit our streets and the expected changes that will come with them, depending on the reception. In an ideal world, these vehicles are like carshares that can be collectively owned and shared between people, or a fleet owned by rideshare giants like Uber, Lyft, Via, etc. Think personal rapid transit that gives door-to-door service using roads.

One of the most interesting conversations at the meeting is how these vehicles and the idea of a shared fleet will impact current land and right of way uses. Being the fan of history that I am, I look back to think forward. The last big revolution of vehicular movement for individual transportation was probably the transition from horse to the car. Unfortunately, but also fortunately, (I was excited to roll up my sleeves and do some research/ glad that someone else was thinking about this too) for me someone had already looked into the relics from our horse-reliant past. This mental floss article explains each of these in detail, but essentially these urban relics are:

  • Stables
  • Carriage Houses
  • Horse walks (horse staircases)
  • Troughs
  • Fountains
  • Auction Houses
  • Horse blocks (to give us short people a much-needed boost)
  • Hitching posts and tethering rings
  • Horsecar tracks

Then there are the indirect impacts that are needed to feed the horses and deal with their waste like barns or grain silos to house their feed. As these are living creatures, waste collection and ways of dealing with manure and urine became important as well. Each animal produced 22 pounds of manure a day on average, I mean just imagine the… puns!! And the sanitary conditions, that’s important too! Y’all (I) thought snow is an issue when clearing streets, but imagine the equine alternative. I digress, but there were whole initiatives to deal with this including inviting farmers to come and collect the manure for free or would collect and sell the manure on their own. Then there are the jobs related to horse care like blacksmiths, stable people, veterinarians, trainers, carriage drivers, etc. The horse flu epidemic (the Great Epizootic) in the 1870’s left many horses dead in the streets. Cities didn’t have the capacity to deal with the carcasses so they were just left to rot. It sure puts those special parking arrangements into perspective, doesn’t it?

Modern Parallels

Many of these items have direct parallels in our modern world. Stables = our parking garages, Carriage Houses = car ports/ home garages, horse walks = car elevators, troughs and fountains= gas stations, auction houses are pretty much the same but require way more impervious surface. Horse blocks have been built into our current vehicles. Hitching posts and tethering rings= on-street parking. Horsecar tracks are actually quite useful nowadays as many cities are reviving streetcar systems and make an easier transition from current status to autonomous vehicles for transit.

The waste problem also has parallels. Instead of physical manure, the effects have been much less tangible over the past decades. Our environment has still suffered, but at a different cost to air quality and climate change versus piles of excrement. Jobs related to driving- especially specialized drivers with commercial driver’s licenses such as bus drivers and operators, freight truck drivers, streetcar operators (especially for heritage lines) and associated car care employment may soon have to adapt to the new trends or be retrained entirely. Dealing with abandoned cars in the streets is an issue that we’ve learned to deal with through towing companies, but what will happen when an AV vehicle fails and breaks down in the street? Tow trucks will likely still exist, but what will they look like as the vehicle designs change?

The Future is Now…

How I see it, our future can be predicted this way as well. Our concept for garages will need to change. There may not be a use for personal garages in the future, so we’ll likely absorb them as part of our living spaces. This is happening now. Watch HGTV for a hot second and there they are converting a garage to a ‘man-cave’ or a “she-cave”. Gas stations will die out for charging stations as we go electric, and they should adapt to become entertainment centers or community gathering spaces that do more than just gas up your vehicle. On-street parking can be traded for more green space or space allocated to alternative modes of transportation, or both (pervious bike lanes) to accomplish environmental goals. Our car stables (parking garages) will also need some rethinking and I have some ideas… which I’ll share in a future post, but it serves to be our biggest opportunity. The spaces are unfit for housing, but have other uses that they could easily transition to in order for cities to meet their goals and accommodate growth.

With the average age of a personal car hitting over 10 years old, it may be a while until we see a wholesale overhaul of our surface transportation system. The road ahead is not going to be easy, it will involve tradeoffs and lessons learned, but if we take a cue from the past, we can avoid and make up for some of the mistakes we made with the horseless carriage.

 

Christine E. Mayeur, AICP is an urban planner with a unique set of skills and hobbies, interested in all things creative and challenging. Christine uses her history of working with communities through grassroots organizations along with her planning skills to help plan transportation systems and environmental solutions that meet the needs of all users.

13th Street NW at Franklin Park, showing people waiting for food trucks in the shade of the trees.

Food Truck Fiasco

 

I love a food truck. I think it’s also fair to say that the DC region as a whole loves its food trucks. It’s like street food, but more trustworthy because it comes from a branded, often punny, metal box truck. With popularity of food trucks and fight for curbside uses (e.g parking) in prime locations, many jurisdictions have created special regulations and programs to manage how food trucks use the curbside parking. But as I was joining my fellow Nspiregreeners to flock to the DC Empanada truck (best empanadas in the District, btw) at Franklin Park, I noticed a few externalities of how these food trucks operate.

  1. Compacted Soils– This is my biggest concern. Food trucks often set up shop along a Franklin Park as shown in the photo below. People wait on the grass in the shaded areas that are within earshot of the trucks. In addition, people take short cuts through the grass to get to their favorite truck. With all of this foot traffic, the soils in this park near the food trucks is compacted. When soil gets to this extent of compaction, the shallow roots of grasses become starved for growing space, nutrients, and water and begin to die off. The scuffing of feet on the compacted soil loosens the top layers and soil sediment then blows in the wind or is washed into stormwater runoff. During rain, the rest of the compacted soil acts almost similar to impervious surfaces, where runoff can sheet across without being absorbed. If the storm is long enough and it is absorbed, the area becomes a mud pit and a potential tripping hazard when it dries again. 

13th Street NW looking north from Franklin Park. Photo shows People in business attire waiting for food from food trucks. The soil under their feet in the park is compacted and grass is not growing at the edge of the park.

Solution: Temporary waiting areas, with lighter touch on the ground or those that aerate the soil while people use them. These can be formalized waiting areas sectioned off by using ropes or guideposts.

  1. Crowded sidewalks or inadequate public space– Many times when trucks set up along streets there is inadequate sidewalk or public space to accommodate the lines of people and crowds waiting for their food. People that need to use the sidewalk to pass either must cross or zigzag their way through the crowds and lines. This impedes pedestrian flow and accessibility.

Solution: Again, temporary waiting areas sectioned off by using ropes or guideposts can help guide people to wait in designated areas and leave the sidewalks clearer.

  1. Noise pollution – Some food trucks run nice and quiet, but others with on-board generators sound like a continuous jack hammer that resonates across blocks. Even the crowds of people, at peak times, can produce noise pollution in otherwise low volume areas. These areas can then run up against opposition because they become a nuisance to residents and other businesses.

Solution: The potential solution to this could be one of two things- require trucks to operate below a certain decibel reading and/or provide temporary noise screening walls or vegetation against the trucks.

  1. Lack of Shade – Unless it’s the first warm day after a stretch of winter weather, most people want to stand in the shade when waiting for their food. The trucks themselves only shade the person ordering outside. If the trucks are popular, the lines can stretch into public space or down a sidewalk.

IMG_20170720_120503

Solution: The solution could be pretty easy- temporary umbrellas or shade structures or enhance the environment. If umbrellas or shade structures, they could be branded for the BID, neighborhood, or supplied by the truck itself. Increasing tree canopies would help offset any air quality issues and improve stormwater quality if designed to capture runoff.

  1. Lack of Seating – In many cases, the public spaces do not have adequate seating to accommodate those that wish to stay outside with coworkers or friends on nice days instead of heading indoors for a SDL (sad desk lunch). Often times seating is limited or unavailable in these cases, forcing customers to sit on the grass (not ideal) or go back to the office and fall prey to the better tasting SDL.

Solution: The solution is pretty obvious, temporary seating, but these could be done as more exciting installations of placemaking and usable art. The Seattle Design Festival hosts a design in public events that encourage people to interact with art and installations.

Seattle Design Festival Block Party 2016

Photo Credit: Trevor Dykstra

As with any project or impact to our transportation system or land use, thoughtful planning can avoid the impacts on the environment and public space. With a little art added into the mix the result can be a unique and attractive space that draws people and encourages sustained activity.

 

Christine E. Mayeur, AICP is an urban planner with a unique set of skills and hobbies, interested in all things creative and challenging. Christine uses her history of working with communities through grassroots organizations along with her planning skills to help plan transportation systems and environmental solutions that meet the needs of all users.

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Buying a home for the next phase of my life

Being the end of Gen-X, I consider myself a blend of Gen-X and Millennial. Like many people in my age cohort, I moved to DC for a good paying job, urban scenery, and transportation options. When I purchased my condo in 2005, I was single with no immediate plans to have children. I lived in my condo for ten years, then I moved into an apartment to get a change of scenery. I still own my condo and I do not have immediate plans to sell it. After two years of renting an overpriced apartment, I’m ready to get back into living in my own home. However, this time I’m in a committed relationship with near-term plans for children.

We started the home buying process by exploring different neighborhoods in the District. Many variables that are important to me now when buying a home, weren’t important to me when I was younger. I’ve quickly learned that as the people enter different phases of life, their housing priorities change. An important question for major metropolitan areas like DC is, can my changing needs be accommodated within my budget? Here are some of the variables I’m currently considering:

Affordability: Affordable housing is a loaded term. You can ask ten people and get ten different definitions. For my purposes affordability means we can pay the mortgage and household bills on one person’s salary or we are able to rent out part of the home to substantially subsidize our mortgage. I like to travel, so I don’t want to be house poor where we only have enough money to pay the bills. I realize capping that number limits being able to live in some of the hotter real estate areas of DC.

Location is Still Important: Living in the District of Columbia near a Metrorail station and/or high-frequency bus lines is still a non-negotiable for me. While living with my dad in Potomac, a Washington DC suburb, getting to work required driving to Metro then taking the red line to the orange/blue to L’Enfant. On a perfect day, the trip took 90 minutes door-to-door. When I was looking for a home in 2005, getting to work in 30 minutes or less was a requirement, so I ended up with a condo that was a 25-minute bus ride from my job. Now my apartment is a 25-minute commute to my current office by metro, bus, or biking.

Having a shorter commute allows me to have the lifestyle I desire. When I had a long commute, my life during the week consisted of working, commuting, and sleeping. Since I’ve been living in the District, my shorter commute means I have more time to hang out with friends, participate in activities, or enjoy a quiet evening at home. For my next home, I want to maintain my current lifestyle.

Low Maintenance Green Space: I have never cut grass in my life. When I was young, we had a landscaper who maintained our yard. One of the reasons I bought a condo was to avoid cutting the grass or shoveling the sidewalk. I love the fact that the community where my condo is located has grass, trees, and flowers, but the apartment community where I live now does not have any green space. As I think about my next home, I’ve decided that I would like some low maintenance green space.

Schools are a Thing Now: Twelve years ago, I didn’t research neighborhood schools. I didn’t have kids, so living near a good school wasn’t a deal breaker for me. Now, as I think about having a family, schools are so much more important. I find myself researching the public-school boundaries and quality of those schools, as well as public charter schools. Ideally, I would like to live in a community where my future kids can walk and/or bike to school.

Walkability is Crucial: Walkability wasn’t a factor in my last home purchase, but it sure is now. When I lived in my condo, I could walk to open space, recreation centers, the library, and several other amenities, but not a quality grocery store or places to eat healthy food. My current apartment is located in an area that is rich in all of these amenities. Living in this neighborhood has made me realize how important walkability and neighborhood amenities are to me. While I understand many areas aren’t as amenity rich as where I live now, neighborhood amenities are high on my list.

Space is a Trade-Off: When I bought my condo, I was adamant that I lived in a two bedroom home even though I was living alone. In my twenty-something mind, I felt like I needed the extra space. I even considered living in four bedroom homes.  For almost four years, my second bedroom in my condo went unused and eventually became my dogs’ room. Now that I’m older and wiser, I don’t have the same need for extra space. Ideally, my next home would have three bedrooms and two bathrooms, though I’d be willing to buy a home with two bedrooms and two bathrooms if it has more of the requirements and ideals I’ve listed above.

Will I find everything I want?

As I embark on this house hunting journey, the biggest challenge for me is finding a home for the next phase of life that is within our budget and has all of amenities that we desire. For example, homes around the Deanwood Metrorail Station meet our space and affordability needs, but lack neighborhood amenities. On the other hand homes in Columbia Heights offer amenities, but don’t fit our budget. Will we find the perfect home? I’ll keep you up to date as we move through the process.

Veronica O. Davis, PE is a transportation guru who uses her knowledge to spark progressive social change. As Co-owner and Principal of Nspiregreen, she is also responsible for the management of the major urban planning functions such as transportation planning, policy development, master planning, sustainability analysis, and long range planning. In July 2012, Veronica was recognized as a Champion of Change by the White House for her professional accomplishments and community advocacy, which includes co-founding Black Women Bike.





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