Friday, September 26, 2008

Living just enough...

Curious sight from my recent trip to Virginia Beach: a not-too-shabby little town center area. Amidst the otherwise low-slung, sprawliness of the Tidewater area, this downtown area is home to several good restaurants, a comedy club, a fancy-pants performing arts center, a hopping night club and (gasp!) a very tall building.

One of the things that struck me most about the area was how easy it was to get in and out of by car while also being really welcoming to pedestrians.


Young at Heart said...

I think this looks great with that one tall building. Do you have any other pictures of the area?

Anonymous said...

Where to begin? Annoyingly-bright pinkish-orange light pollution. Glare from light fixtures apparently chosen more for daytime ornamentation than night-time usefulness. Lots of asphalt and concrete. Few trees and apparently even less grass. Tour the Street View and see for yourself, including more tall buildings and not a green roof in site.

Perhaps the ease of accessibility by car is due to its siting just a half mile from an interstate highway. I wonder what that does for the air quality.

It doesn't seem quite the concept Rouse envisioned, a small town balance of homes, daily necessities in village centers, and nature intertwined throughout. If we want to maintain what remains of Town Center's park-like environs, Virginia Beach's Town Center development (actually half way between Virginia Beach and Norfolk) isn't a good model for Columbia's Town Center village.

hayduke said...

Y@H: Unfortunately, I don't have any others. I was too focused on food to take a bunch of shots.

Anon: It doesn't seem quite the concept Rouse envisioned, a small town balance of homes, daily necessities in village centers, and nature intertwined throughout.

You left out the part about Columbia being a "complete city."

Also, that "air quality" picture you link to has nothing to do with pollution from cars or humans, but rather from a fire that was burning at the time in the Great Dismal Swamp. So, it's actually pollution caused by nature.

Anonymous said...

Nothing to do with cars or humans? Pollution caused by nature?

The wildlife refuge's hydrology, changed by "human activities" (it's now surrounded by highways, airports, commercial and residential development), per the refuge's conservation plan, p. 43, may be partially responsible for "reduced volumes of water to recharge the swamp during dry summer periods. These swamp wetlands surround Lake Drummond, one of only two natural lakes in Virginia.

Drought conditions are also expected to occur more frequently for many regions resulting from climatic changes due to increased manmade greenhouse gases.

Heavy machinery catching fire on June 9th (ironically during tree clearing operations) caused the fire in the Great Dismal Swamp's national wildlife refuge, burning 5,000 acres. The fire has burned for months since then, only contained just two weeks ago, not yet extinguished, and without Mother Nature providing more of a soaking than Tropical Storm Hanna dropped, experts foresee a good chance of the fire regaining strength in the dry fall season.

Nature wasn't the culprit.

As for the quality of Virginia Beach's traffic near that Town Center, Virginia Beach's 2007 public forum to address traffic problems is fairly enlightening:
- 264 exit 17B exit to Independence Blvd: "exit is a nightmare... too many cars"
- "hardly a day goes by that a near accident hasn't happened (17B exit)"

A few years ago, after their denser Town Center development had begun, that section of Independence Boulevard was labeled as being "severely congested". Ring any bells?

Columbia can be a complete city without compromising its open spaces and severely congesting traffic.

Anonymous said...

What happened, Hayduke, to your perspective in the past year?

You seem cavalier toward things which were once at the core of your beliefs.

Another one lost to powerful party politics.

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Anonymous said...

After your 9/08 post, a local Virginia paper posted an article noting significant pedestrian safety shortcomings of their Town Center design, specifically an area where pedestrians currently choose to cross an 8-lane 45 mph road where a safe means for pedestrian crossing has not been provided and where both of the closest crosswalks do not allow pedestrians to cross the road in one shot, purposefully stranding pedestrians on the median, in close proximity to quick moving traffic for a full light cycle.

Those pedestrians that don't want to be stranded on the median for a full light cycle either run (if they are able) to cross the entire road at the crosswalk during the too-short-by-half "Walk" cycle or instead cross the street midway between the two crosswalked intersections with no traffic control to protect them from eight lanes of traffic.

It also seems part of the problem is insufficient free or reasonably priced parking within the couple blocks of their 'town center' for workers and visitors of that town center's high density of development, motivating people to instead park just a block north of the 'town center' in a free parking lot.

The proposal to significantly increase Columbia's Town Center offers parking in the form of parking garages ($$?) and apparently significant amounts of on-street (metered $$?) parking, which certainly seems prone to risks similar to Virginia Beach's.

Virginia Beach's remedy? For now, build a wrought iron fence to block where pedestrians had been choosing their more pedestrian-friendly crossing, forcing the pedestrians to either of the two takes-two-cycles-to-cross crosswalks. The fence is intended to serve as a stop-gap measure until their chosen permanent solution can be constructed three years from now in 2011: a pedestrian overpass bridge that will safely separate the pedestrians from the eight lanes of traffic and not require them to wait through two light cycles (one of them stranded in the median) to cross the street.

The estimated cost for that pedestrian bridge is in the millions and, despite calls there for public-private bridge funding cooperation similar to some of the public-private funding mentioned here in Columbia's Town Center for upkeep and infrastructure, their downtown business association now seems to want the cost burden placed solely on the public.

The world could use a lot more safe crossings, including the use of grade separation, especially when we're being told that the increased density (which will require widening roads, adding 10,000+ more cars daily to Town Center's traffic, and weakening the County's existing traffic congestion standards) will somehow make Town Center more pedestrian friendly.

The increased traffic arising from proposed increased density poses signficant risks of very tragic outcomes. Let's be very careful for our sakes and (DISCLAIMER: news video of traffic death and heroism) the sake of our wildlife as well. We need heros in this process beforehand, too, not just after the fact.

Do we know the full extent of the impacts and risks of this proposal to our wildlife, both in Symphony Woods (where a number of new roads are now proposed) and in the many other affected parts of Columbia? We should, right? It would certainly be irresponsible to approve this size zoning change without such awareness.

We have this one opportunity to ensure a cleaner, more efficient, and safer-for-us-and-our-wildlife transportation infrastructure for the next 30 years. Let's be certain to get it right, starting with:
- no deforestation for building throughways through what is supposed to be a permanent open space park,
- no weakening of our traffic congestion protections that serve to protect public safety and quality of life,
- requiring a plan for public transit robust enough to meet the needs of density permitted under existing zoning and clearly delineated right-of-ways for such transit,
- avoidance of increasing density without such a public transit plan that would require later shoehorning of public transit through environmentally-sensitive areas and at substantially greater costs to build, for which the public would be left the huge bill to pay.

Increased density should be supported with 21st century transit solutions that would also allow us to reduce our dependence on autos for already existing density. Increased density, if appropriate, should definitely not be supported with another round of asphalt/concrete highways, highway cloverleafs (has anyone seen the actual changes proposed for the expanded BLP/29, new over-Lake-Kittamaqundi-multi-lane-road/29, and expanded 175/29 interchanges????), a slew of additional red lights to idle cars, and tens of thousands of cars slowed in more congested traffic.

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