Thursday, July 30, 2015

Seaming a district back together, one mid-block crossing at a time

When our team visits commercial districts, one of the first things we look for is the convenience of access. Sometimes, the challenge in not related to the obvious - like parking - but instead comes in the form of a busy street that is hard to cross. So while the district may have a 40-60k sf of retail offerings, it is instead bifurcated and functions like two 20-30k sf shopping centers. The issue is that 30k of retail can only go so far in its ability to draw from a larger trade area. Shopping center developers can tell you, the more retail you offer, the more viable and attractive your retail center will be to customers. So a busy street that is very difficult to cross undermines sales for the entire district by preventing shoppers from patronizing multiple stores - and spending more money - per visit.

In a small New Jersey town where we are currently working, the two sides a single block commercial strip face this exact problem. Instead of functioning as a cohesive unit, the two sides function as two independent nodes of retail. What happens is that patrons park on one side, and then avoid crossing to the other because the busy street divides the district. If they do want to cross the street safely, they much walk to the end of the block, cross the street, and then walk back to the store they want to patronize. In this community, where the average age is creeping upwards, it simply isn't an option.
Jaywalking across a busy street is the way most people get from one side of this district to another. This puts the elderly and young people at a distinct disadvantage and creates an impediment to cross-shopping, which undermines the overall strength of the district. 

A simple technical solution is to install a mid-block crossing that provide a pedestrian refuge in the middle of the street, while also clearly signaling to motorists that they are to stop and allow pedestrians to cross.

Here are some examples that we like...enjoy!
A center refuge.
Clear pedestrian crossing signs and a painted treatment on the crossing are nice touches. 

The bump outs further reduce the distance from one side to the other and provide and added traffic calming mechanism that signals to drivers to SLOW DOWN. 

The landscaping could be improved, but I do like the stamped brick as a way to further signal that this section of street is part of a pedestrian environment. 

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Professional Development Opportunity: Philadelphia, PA, Safe Commercial Corridor Program

For our Philly folks...some info. on what promises to be a good opportunity to learn about strategies to address public safety issues.

This event is presented by the Philadelphia Commerce Department and Philadelphia Police Department (PPD), with Philadelphia LISC (Local Initiatives Support Corporation) and AlterNation Consulting.

The event is free, and space is limited to the first 100 registrants. Click here to register.

Monday, July 27 from 3:00 P.M. to 5:00 P.M.
PECO, Energy Hall, 2301 Market Street, Philadelphia, PA 19103

How can community collaboration and design enhance public safety?

This Information Session introduces a pilot initiative of the Philadelphia Commerce Department and PPD to address public safety along and around commercial corridors.

The July 27th event seeks to provide community members, police officers and leaders of city agencies and neighborhood organizations with tools and methods aimed at reducing crime, enhancing safety and strengthening those crucial relationships between the community and police that ensure safer neighborhoods.

This opening session will include: an overview of SafeGrowth® and Crime Prevention Through
Environmental Design (CPTED) led by internationally-recognized safety expert Gregory Saville,
presentations of successful anti-crime, pro-safety projects in West and Eastern North Philadelphia and the outline of a six (6) month pilot initiative to address public safety issues along selected commercial corridors through SafeGrowth® and CPTED.

SafeGrowth® is a proven method of organizing and training teams of diverse stakeholders, including
leaders in community development, design, planning, law enforcement and government, to positively impact real-life crime and safety issues. CPTED is also an anti-crime approach that focuses directly on the impact and the relationship between the physical environment and the incidence of crime.

While the Information Session is designed for managers and directors of community based organizations, police districts, and city agencies, all citizens concerned about community safety are

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Complete Streets help the economy, street vendors vs BIDs smack down, and over designed intersections? Commercial District News Round Up, Week of July 7th, 2015

How Thoughtful Street Design Is Helping Communities and the Economy
The National Complete Streets Coalition, a program of Smart Growth America, released a new report analyzing street improvements in 37 neighborhoods across the country.  In the report, communities that were redesigned to accommodate pedestrians, transit users and bicyclists (as well as drivers of motor vehicles) found that the design resulted in positive impacts on key economic indicators, including employment, new businesses, property values and private investment.
Source: Huffington Post
BIDS Worry Over Movement to Increase Vendor Permits
In New York, the number of street vendor licenses are limited by law - only 3,000 permits are issued annually. But a movement led by The Street Vendor Project seeks to change all that. On the other side of this issue are BIDs that are concerned about the impact of vendors on established businesses - many of whom are paying assessments into the BID and who are affected by vendors right outside their doors. Fordham Road Business Improvement District, the largest BID in the Bronx, along with 72 BIDs across NYC, presented a four-page statement prepared by the New York City BID Association warning of “unilateral, piecemeal change” to the current laws “will lead to unintended consequences.” The BIDs suggest a study before lifting the ban. Both sides see financial struggle as vendors have mounting permitting costs while property owners and merchants of BIDs pay assessments to keep the streets clean and orderly.
Image Source:   Credit: Adi Talwar
Neighbors Are Mad Lincoln Hub Slows Traffic, But That Was Kind of the Point
The design, intended to imitate an oriental rug and also to slow down traffic, not appreciated by local residents at this Chicago intersection.  Overdesigned? be the judge.

Reshaping Growth Centers with Open Space = Smart Growth
The addition of open space to urban areas seems counter intuitive to the often assumed need for high-density growth, but this article points out that the addition of open space and the practice of smart growth can lead to high density and better use of land.  The comparison of Atlanta and Barcelona maps, with similar population size, is astonishing.

Most Bikeable Cities of 2015
Minneapolis took number one spot, putting often assumed bike mecca, Portland, in number three. The ranking looked at cities of 300,000+ and the scores are measured on a scale of 0 - 100 based on bike lanes, hills, destinations and road connectivity, and share of local workers' commutes traveled by bicycle.  Check it your city on the list?

The USDA Site Now Has a National Farmers Market Directory
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has launched a searchable national farmers market directory, allowing you to search for markets online. The site has an interactive map and can search the 8,260 farmers markets by zip code and products sold. The USDA included any market that has two+ farm vendors selling their goods in the same location week to week.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Gentrification, two-way streets, empty nesters and sidewalks...Commercial District News Round Up, July 3, 2015

Another Take on Gentrification
Not what you typically see when reading about gentrification - this article sheds positive light on a viewed strength of gentrification, the creation of diversity.  Formerly segregated communities of black and Latino populations are said to become more diverse with the advent of gentrification in their neighborhoods according to this New York Times article by Hector Tobar.

Credit: Eddie Ruvalcaba for the New York Times
The Case for Two-Way Streets
This is a continued piece regarding the case for two-way streets and their associative value to commercial districts and neighborhoods.  Planetizen authored this story and conducted the research. They claim that traffic accidents, crime, and abandonment fell while housing prices climbed on two-way converted streets. In addition, local business enterprises had increased business revenue and customer traffic.

Image source: Planetizen
License to Thrill
Street Performers. Whether you approve or disapprove, street performers are a likely scene in many vibrant cities and within public areas in shopping districts.  This short news article points to the potential problem of too much regulation for performers that more often add to the character and vitality of an area than detract.  New licensing requirements and guidelines are on the horizon in Saratoga Springs, NY despite opposition.

Image source:
Best Practices for Sidewalks
This article by Sustainable Cities Collective gives eight best practice principles to creating the "perfect" sidewalk in commercial and downtown districts.  For example, proper sizing and quality surfaces make the list, read on to see why.

Photo credit: LuĂ­sa Schardong | Source: Sustainable Cities Collective
Urban Empty Nesters 
A growing trend for both downtown districts and real estate agents is the Baby Boomer population moving to urban downtown's as they become empty nesters.  One element that makes this segment of Baby Boomers more interested in relocating closer to downtown is that they are working well into retirement.  Is this, however, a strong enough demographic shift to change retail mix?

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Busing our way out of the food desert conundrum

I really enjoyed this piece in City Commentary, entitled "Urban Residents aren't abandoning buses; buses are abandoning them" by Daniel Hertz. As a New York City resident living in the outer boroughs (where subways are not nearly as prevalent), I am often seeking other viable transportation options, like walking, busing or biking to get where I need to go. For communities that depend on buses to provide convenient access to residents customers, bus service can make or break some business districts.

The article reinforced a key observation that I have made over the years which is this: "service levels are still the number one predictor of bus ridership". Yes, yes and yes! If a bus doesn't come frequently enough, people develop other habits and patterns that only serve to further diminish bus ridership. However, if a bus came frequently enough that I could safely ensure a timely arrival to wherever I was going, I might take it.  Absent that, I'm personally unwilling to risk being 20 minutes late, or force myself to leave home twenty minutes early, just to make sure I am on time. In an age when we are all time starved, crappy bus service just doesn't cut it. So increasingly, the very poor and those with very limited options, are the only ones who take buses.

I recently completed work in two communities that are official "food deserts", defined as low-income places without ready access to fresh, healthy, and affordable food. Yet the term "access" is a tricky one. In both of these communities, viable full-service grocery stores exist within a few minutes drive. Grocery store operators typically look at short drive times - usually around 8 minutes - to determine their catchment area. In both cases, both neighborhoods were served by grocery stores within 8 minutes. Yet owing to low car ownership, the only options for residents were to walk many miles, take cabs, or take municipal buses. In both cases the municipal bus service was quite poor - coming infrequently and therefore making a quick trip to the grocery store nearly impossible. So again, instead of taking buses, residents often find expensive solutions (like cabs or the high cost convenience store on the corner) that further diminish their discretionary income.

Another interesting take away from the article was the fact that in many communities there is no correlation between falling ridership and bus service cuts. What that means is that cities are making bus service decisions without regard for the need for busing. The chart below shows that even in communities with positive ridership change the previous year, cuts to bus service were quite common.

At the end of the day, this is an important issue that drives to the heart of ensuring that communities with low-income and low rates of car ownership have access to the food and retail services they need to maintain basic nutritional standards and a decent quality of life. If we decrease bus service, we subsequently diminish access to these vital goods and services, creating avoidable havoc in the lives of the most vulnerable among us.