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Urbanizing the Sprawl


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#1 Doohickie

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Posted 11 January 2013 - 12:29 PM

I made a post in the Modern Streetcar is Dead thread that didn't exactly seem to fit in with the topic of that discussion, so let's start a new thread.  Here's the post:

Magnolia Avenue is now a slower street with fewer traffic lanes and the neighborhood is *booming* since that change happened. I think you'd find that the vast majority of people down here would be actively opposed to going back to the street's older, faster four-lane configuration. We've used the same technique on South Main to start the ball rolling on bringing back what has been a dead zone until recently, and we're also narrowing Rosedale trying to fix the barren wasteland that resulted when the State DOT plowed through one of those "more and bigger" roads through the 'hood, even though it's majorly over-scaled and antithetical to the kind of place we want to build.

The City is preparing to right-size Race Street in the Riverside area and I'm hopeful that it will help that area experience maybe 1/10 of what has happened in the near Southside.


We know the Road Diet experiment worked on Magnolia. It's been slow to get going on South Main, but with new businesses at Daggett and the new Southside Urban Market on Saturday mornings, momentum is building. How ultimately successful it turns out remains to be seen. I'm eager to see what happens at Race Street. I think Race is already more lively than South Main, so the road diet may really help the area blossom.

One thing that's kind of depressing about all this is that, as someone who lives south of I-20, I am not part of it. Our plan is to eventually move closer into town, ideally Fairmount or Ryan Place, but we're not ready to pull the trigger just yet. But I wonder, especially Kevin, in all the investigation you've done on liveable neighborhoods, has there been much success in turning a suburban sprawl neighborhood into an urban village kind of area? For instance, what would you suggest for an area like Sycamore School Road and McCart Ave. (my 'hood)? It's a sprawl neighborhood that is mature. The housing is pretty much fully built out, and the area never quite got the kind of retail and business mix to support the population (for instance, NO neighborhood bars; the closest bar I can think of is at Altamesa, a mile to the north, or south on Crowley Road near CMS). Is there any way to "reclaim" a neighborhood that is based on driving a half mile to Albertson's?



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#2 Volare

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Posted 11 January 2013 - 12:44 PM

That's a great question and I hope Kevin can shed some light on your question. I would be very skeptical that suburbia sprawl can be turned urban, but who knows?



#3 Fort Worthology

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Posted 11 January 2013 - 01:51 PM

There are things that can be done.  It's a challenge, though, because the design is so fundamentally in opposition between the two forms.

 

Let's take your example, Sycamore School Road and McCart:

 

urb1.jpg

 

This might fairly be described as a suburban "neighborhood center."  For comparison, we'll use Magnolia & Henderson, also a neighborhood center but a very different sort of neighborhood - the old urban center:

 

urb2.jpg

 

Even from this top-down view, the differences are apparent.  The urban center is made of an interlocking network of small streets, the suburban one a hierarchical arrangement of ever-larger "feeders" emptying into a small number of very larger arterials.  The urban center features a wide variety of building types and uses mingled together, the suburban one comprised of single-use pods that do not connect with each other (instead being linked by the arterials).  The urban center buildings are brought up to the street, oriented toward the pedestrian with parking to the rear and on-street, the suburban one features commercial buildings behind large front-loaded parking lots and no real pedestrian access.

 

Go to a really basic level - the street layout:

 

urb3.jpg

 

urb4.jpg

 

The urban center's small-but-highly-connected street network lets all the streets be smaller.  Smaller streets = slower traffic, better for pedestrians, more alternate routes.  This connectivity is a key part of how the urban center works.  In the suburban example, there are actually very few streets that connect through, meaning the arterials and such have to be huge as there are no/very few alternate routes.

 

So connectivity - how would we enable better connectivity in the suburban example?  It'll require new streets being built, existing streets connecting through.

 

(Also, the block sizes in the suburban example are huge compared to the urban example, which further decreases walkability.  More frequent streets to break that up would be beneficial.)

 

And then there's the nature of those single-use pods - most of them don't connect to each other at all.  I'd wager most of them, in fact, have barriers between them - fences, walls, berms, etc. meaning that even if you live directly behind the Panda Express you couldn't walk there directly if you tried.

 

And you'd need to change the zoning that requires a certain amount of parking, the zoning that requires a certain setback from the road, the zoning that prevents uses from mixing (this isn't even getting into the stuff that forbids multi-story buildings, or forbids buildings with commercial space downstair and residential space upstairs, etc.).  You'd need to start breaking up those huge parking lots into blocks, building new structures in them, creating a space where there was none.  You'd need to start reclaiming the excess road width once there's a more interconnected street network.  Add on-street parking.  Add bike lanes.  Add much better sidewalks.  Add pedestrian-oriented lighting.  Add trees.  Require that new buildings interact with the street in a positive way.  Require residential developers to provide connections between developments.

 

I don't want to seem like this is insurmountable - it'll take a lot of time and effort but it's absolutely do-able with enough dedication and initiative.

 

Here's a TED talk by Ellen Dunham-Jones about retrofitting suburbia:

 

http://www.ted.com/t...g_suburbia.html

 

And here's a company that makes images showcasing retrofits:

 

http://www.urban-advantage.com


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#4 RenaissanceMan

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Posted 11 January 2013 - 03:11 PM

For further reading, I'd suggest Durham's book, Retrofitting Suburbia:

http://www.amazon.co...aw/d/0470934328


(as a side note, I'm wondering what found its way into Kevin's coffee this morning)

#5 Fort Worthology

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Posted 11 January 2013 - 04:24 PM

(as a side note, I'm wondering what found its way into Kevin's coffee this morning)

 

Proving to myself I haven't completely forgotten this stuff.  And I've got a song in the works that sort of touches upon this sort of subject.


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#6 Volare

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Posted 11 January 2013 - 04:38 PM

(as a side note, I'm wondering what found its way into Kevin's coffee this morning)

 

I was wondering that too. Whatever it is, we need to keep it in supply. Too much of a void in that space for too long...



#7 mmmdan

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Posted 14 January 2013 - 10:19 AM

I think that one of the biggest hurdles will be converting the cul-de-sacs to through streets.  Look at all the streets that come really close but do not actually connect.  A lot of those people bought those houses specifically because the street does not connect and the only people that drive on their street live there or are visiting someone that lives there.

 

You have to convince them that the increase in traffic won't negatively affect them.  A lot of them would probably think that as soon as the streets connect, you will now have tons of people racing down the street endangering their children.

 

I bet a lot of the people that live close to the feeders wouldn't mind the new connections, because then everyone wouldn't have to drive past their house to get out of the neighborhood.



#8 Doohickie

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Posted 14 January 2013 - 12:00 PM

As a guy that lives right near an intersection of feeders (where the road at first light east of McCart, and the first turn south of Sycamore School Road intersect), I see that traffic already.  At this point I'm used to it, but I think getting others to accept a greater share of it would be a challenge.  Part of the reason they chose to live on cul-de-sacs is the lower traffic levels.  And frankly, the you see kids playing on the street more in those blocks.  I don't think a push to open cul-de-sacs to urbanize the neighborhood would get anywhere.  I could see the possibility of opening the cul-de-sacs to pedestrian and bicycle traffic; that might sell.  But distributing the motor traffic?  Not so much.

 

On the other hand, I think people in my neighborhood are generally frustrated in terms of access to and from Sycamore School Road.  There are three entrances to the neighborhood between the train tracks and McCart:  Hawkwood (with traffic light), Clover Meadow (with traffic light) and Arbor Dr (stop sign) just east of the Walgreens which only goes into the neighborhood 2 blocks and then ends.  It was especially frustrating coming out of Clover Meadow while there was a No Right On Red sign.  That light is very slow to change and people would get stuck there for several minutes, even though there was no Sycamore School traffic.  (The sign came down eventually.)  Having just a few entrances into the neighborhood is frustrating though.  So you may be able to sell increased access based on that.

 

One thing that occurs to me is that in Fairmount, the business centers are in the neighborhood, while in my area, they are at the corners of the neighborhoods.  So what would maybe serve as the neighborhood center is not a single "business district", but four different strip malls laid out such that even driving from one to the other is a pain.  So instead of the main roads being adjacent to the neighborhood, they actually cut through it.  So when you try to get area residents to agree on a course of action, there are at least four different (not very active) neighborhood associations.

 

I think one improvement would be to divide the parking lots by streets, but that by itself wouldn't really address the walkability issues.

 

Coming from someone who would like to see improvements, it all looks unlikely that any change would happen.  A lot of the people actually prefer things the way they are, so motivating them to support change is pretty unlikely.


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#9 RD Milhollin

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Posted 14 January 2013 - 07:01 PM

I wonder if this Forum topic could be looked at closely by the CNU. They sponsored a public talk featuring Richard Florida several years ago, think it's time to put this sort of thing back on the front burner in Fort Worth?

 

http://www.cnu.org/c...design-training



#10 Doohickie

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Posted 15 January 2013 - 11:03 AM

I guess I need to separate this in my head into two categories:  What specific steps could be taken to make sprawl more livable/walkable; and what is the feasibility of such steps (or how to make them attractive to my neighbors).  Because unfortunately, I realize that my post above is more about the latter and I'm really more interested in the former.


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#11 mmiller2002

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Posted 15 January 2013 - 12:29 PM

I guess I'm wondering why you'd want to force "urban" on suburban neighborhoods where people have chosen that environment?  People live there for a reason.  There's a lot of denser neighborhoods closer to downtown that could use a re-do, and are more conducive to urban-ness.



#12 Doohickie

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Posted 15 January 2013 - 12:39 PM

I dont' really expect change; that's why I said I need to separate the feasible from what would make the area more walkable/liveable.  It's really more of a thought experiment... what if? Kind of like Jeriat's skyscraper studies.  It will be much easier for me to finish updating my current home and sell it so I can move north, than it will be to change my whole neighborhood to my liking.
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#13 johnfwd

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Posted 31 January 2018 - 07:47 AM

I chose this thread for a thought or two about regionalism and would have named it "regionalizing the sprawl" (with apologies to Doohickie).  I noted in another thread the difference between "Trinity Metro" with its greater regional focus as a transportation system and its governing authority, the Fort Worth Transportation Authority.  I emphasize the city name to make a point about "jurisdiction" in defining public governance as opposed to the regional aspects of the free economic market and the "sprawl" of people and businesses.  I believe it's easier to regionalize the economy, transportation and other infrastructure features (e.g., a regional airport), than it is to regionalize governance.

 

Historically and today, cities and counties have separate governing jurisdictions--city councils and county commissions.  Public services generally maintain separate jurisdictions--example, city police and county sheriff.  The trend toward regionalism is threatening to blur the jurisdictional distinctions in some instances.  For example, a major fire in a rural area between Dallas and Fort Worth may draw the fire departments of both cities.  Obviously hunting down fleeing felons across municipalities involves their respective police forces. 

 

But, I believe that, irrespective of the regionalism trend, the governing jurisdictions will remain distinctly separate.  We've been discussing here the possible merger of "the T" and "DART."  I don't think that will happen. Nor do I think it will happen with other aspects of governance  Does anyone envision a "Dallas-Fort Worth City Council" or a "DFW Metroplex Police Department" in the future?  Food for thought as we see this regionalism trend as an effort to control the "sprawl."



#14 PeopleAreStrange

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Posted 31 January 2018 - 03:33 PM

Trinity Metro (FWTA) is not a city of Fort Worth agency, and never has been since it was formed in 1983.

 

Technically, Trinity Metro is the exact same type of transit agency as DART- a metropolitan transit agency that serves a core city and suburban member cities.

 

It's just easy to forget Trinity Metro is supposed to be a metropolitan transit agency since no large suburbs have ever voted to join it.


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#15 johnfwd

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Posted 05 February 2018 - 04:04 PM

Technically you are correct. I was making a point about centralization of governing authority over a regional transportation system, in this case Tarrant County, as a matter of political jurisdictional efficiency.  My belief is that the Fort Worth-based system is separate from the Dallas-based system for reasons of political efficiency.  Politically, DART has found it difficult enough to gain suburban community members in its own county, much less than trying to reach those in Tarrant County.  As you know DART tried recently and unsuccessfully to recruit Arlington.  Mainly for this reason, I don't believe a merger between FWTA and DART will occur in the future.






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