Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Even rivers ask for rain...

Roads are pretty important to a lot of people.

This isn’t really insightful, but in light of this reality, you would expect a bit more care to be given to the design, not just engineering, of streets. Instead, we get what we’ve always gotten – generally safe and generally efficient thoroughfares for vehicular traffic.

Some folks think there’s more to streets than that, however. And as people often do when they share a desire for change, they’ve started a movement: Shared Space, which Wikipedia says is “the blurring or removal of the distinction between space designated for automobiles and space designated for pedestrians and bicycles.”

Here’s more on the concept from the Boston Globe:

The curb is a big enemy in the Shared Space philosophy, because the curb is a separator, dictating what belongs to the pedestrian and what belongs to the vehicle. There are other enemies as well: signs, lines on the road, even traffic lights. Pioneered by Dutch traffic engineer Hans Monderman, who died earlier this year at age 62, Shared Space gets the street naked, removes all physical and psychological barriers, and forces cars and pedestrians to share. The concept makes the street safe by making it dangerous to proceed without paying attention.

And more

For decades, our urban street system has focused almost exclusively on the efficient movement of cars. "When you walk down one of these European streets and see people walking, entire families riding bicycles together, people sitting outside having an evening drink, you think, 'This is the way a city should be,' " says Steven E. Miller, the executive director of the Healthy Weight Initiative in the nutrition department at the Harvard School of Public Health. He believes walkable streets will go a long way toward mending chronic health problems. "And you feel astounded that America hasn't caught on to that effect."

The whole thing is worth a read. Personally, I wouldn’t mind seeing a bit more of this around here.

Totally unrelated to Shared Space (or maybe not?), here’s something that popped out of the Way Back machine today:

Yeah. How about that? This is the third revision, published by HCCA in 1994. The original edition came out in 1972. I haven’t really had a chance to go through it yet, but I thought it was an interesting piece of HoCo community history. I'll let you know if I find anything fun in it.

Because the fairness doctrine compels me, here’s the playbook used by developers.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Mother Nature got me thinking...

A couple issues that sprouted up in my little piece of Columbia got me thinking. Unfortunately, these thoughts haven't led me to any conclusions…just more thoughts.

So, I'm presenting these matters to the collective wisdom of the local Anonymouses in hopes that my own thoughts might start crystallizing.

First, there's the Walgreens. I'm not exactly sure where it is in the development process, but almost all of Oakland Mills seems to know of and have an opinion about it. For those who aren't in the know, the chain pharmacy is working to locate a new branch at the intersection of Rouse Parkway (Rt. 175) and Thunder Hill Road, a decidedly non-village center site.

That last bit presents a problem. We can argue about tall buildings, but one thing that's pretty clearly part of the "vision" of Columbia is that the life's essentials would be located in our village centers. I don't think I'm slavish in my devotion to founding principles, but when there's a struggling village center that currently has no place for residents to get the medicine they really need – that is, not the over the counter junk – it seems kind of strange to support construction of a pharmacy out on the village's fringe.

But pharmacies don't play that way anymore. Unless they're part of a grocery store, today's pharmacies follow the stand-alone, along-major-roadways model. I'm guessing they do this because it's proven to be successful, and whatever niceties might be said about providing access to medicine, it's still all about the money.

(And contrary to what some may think, Columbia was never intended to blunt market forces in favor of the common good or social gains. Indeed, its true genius was exploiting them to achieve social ends…but that's for a later post.)

Also I'm also sensitive to the fact that this location, as opposed to one in a village center, would be more convenient for some (ahem...) and less convenient for others. Which way the scales tip in this instance, I can't say.

The other undecided I have is with respect to the idea of a new bridge connecting Town Center to Oakland Mills and whether this bridge should serve people, bikes, buses, cars or all of the above. I've long been of the opinion that a bridge open to all vehicles and made safe for pedestrians is the best option for Oakland Mills but others have raised good points that have me rethinking my position. Whatever happens, the bridge must be safe (in all ways) and convenient before it sees significant usage. The bridge we have now doesn't fully meet these standards and I don't know if anything can be done to make it so.

What's more, a really well-designed bridge would give our city another defining piece of architecture, which we desperately need.

So there it jumble of thoughts. 

How about you?