Cities: December 2006 Archives

Steve Patterson of Urban Review STL has an analysis of a plan for redoing three blocks of Euclid Avenue in St. Louis -- paving, lighting, streetscaping -- the same sort of treatment we've seen here in Tulsa along Brookside, Main Street, and in the Blue Dome District. Steve's article is full of brilliant insights about the gap between what actually makes a street lively and what cities tend to spend a lot of money on.

(UPDATE: Here's a link to a Google map of the target area. It extends one block north and two blocks south of the green arrow, from Lindell on the north to Forest Park Blvd. on the south.)

Steve attended a public meeting about the plan, and he heard one commenter suggest eliminating on-street parking altogether. Steve says that would kill the street:

“But how would eliminating parking kill the street,” you ask? Simple, we do not have the density required to keep the sidewalks busy at all times. Sure, we have a number of pedestrians now that make the street look lively but take away the cars and those same number of pedestrians now looks pathetic. We’d need considerably more pedestrians on the sidewalks to make up for the loss of perceived activity contributed by the parked cars. You might argue that removing parked cars from the street would increase pedestrian traffic but such a cause-effect is only wishful thinking. Density is what increases pedestrian traffic, not the absense of parked cars. Without parked cars the street would look vacant and as it looked vacant you’d have less and less pedestrians because they would not feel as safe on the street. Eventually we’d see less stores as a result. The street would die a slow death. On-street parking can only be eliminated in very special circumstances and none of those exist, or are likely to ever exist, in the St. Louis region. We all need to accept on-street parking as part of the activity of the street.

He also mentions that a row of parked cars provides a buffer between pedestrians and traffic, and it has a traffic-calming effect.

The proposed re-do of these three blocks is expected to cost $600,000 to $1,000,000 per block. That doesn't include $400,000 in design fees! Steve writes:

City streetscapes do not need to be fancy. They need good paving, concrete is a perfectly fine material. They need to be lined with good-sized street trees (spend a bit more on bigger trees). Streets need attractive and quality lighting, nothing too fancy or garish. In short, streets need to just be streets. Zoning, signing and things like opening windows to restaurants are the factors that make for an exciting street.

So why do designers focus on the fancy?

You see the design community has the nagging problem, the portfolio. The portfolio or gallery is where they show off their projects to their peers and prospective clients. It takes the really flashy stuff to show up well in photographs. A well-designed streetscape (or building) that is reasonable conventional but part of a dynamic urban context will look far too boring in a designer’s portfolio. Often they want projects that look exciting when empty, hard to accomplish unless you go all out.

I've heard complaints that the same sort of thing is happening in Tulsa. The reopening of Main Street left far too few on street parking spaces. The lighting in front of Cain's Ballroom is too bright (those horrid "acorn" fixtures) and at a height that blocks the facades of Cain's, Bob's and the Sound Pony from the view of passing cars. Worse still, the light fixtures actually obscure part of the Cain's neon sign.

In Brookside, the curb bumpouts eliminated some valuable street parking spaces for businesses like Shades of Brown and Brookside Lao-Thai. Overly-fancy streetscaping means that we don't have the funding to revert downtown streets to two-way as quickly as if we used basic but good street treatments.

I hope every Tulsa planner and the laypeople who sit on design task forces will read all that Steve Patterson has to say.

MORE: Steve has also posted a critique of new suburban sidewalks. Very pretty, but do they actually make the street walkable? Would you feel safe walking on them?

About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Cities category from December 2006.

Cities: November 2006 is the previous archive.

Cities: January 2007 is the next archive.

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