On Tuesday, February 27, Dan Burden of the Walkable and Livable Communities Institute came to Winter Garden and spoke at three workshops on taming our streets. These ‘Livability and the Role of Transportation’ workshops were compact and relevant and filled with visual representations.Session 1 was ‘Street Design and Your Business’ in which Dan explained the economics of place, or the correlation between street design and economic growth. He stated, “For the economy to grow, we can’t keep growing our traffic.”He shared the statistics that while we once fled the cities, people are returning in droves. Regarding economic growth, streets have to be beautiful in order to attract people and to attract merchants. This is done with sidewalks, vegetation, and speeds appropriate to the land use. The towns that make will attract are the ones that implement these types of elements. As you can recognize, healthier communities are those in which people linger and spend more time.Dan showed two photos side by side. In one, homes were built facing the street, and in the other, homes were turned away from it. He explained that even though both roadways may be collectors, one costs lives and provides no wealth (and raises blood pressure) while the other provides wealth and protects lives. It was easy to decipher the street design elements that made these possible.

He showed several examples of cities and towns putting good street design into practice. It’s important to remember that the average person will outlive his ability to drive a car by 7 to 9 years. If you don’t live in a location where you can get around by other methods, you lose much independence and mobilization.

‘Street Design And Your School’ was the title of the afternoon session held at Lake Whitney Elementary. We learned that as much as 30% of rush hour traffic is attributed to transporting students to school. Dan showed us practical solutions that have been implemented to relieve traffic pressure at schools around the country. One popular tool is the roundabout. Other solutions were curb extensions, bike lanes of a contrasting color, mini circles, mountable medians, highly visible crosswalks, close vertical walls constructed of islands or trees, and large gutter pans (which make the road feel narrower to slow traffic).

Regarding roundabouts, specifically, these eliminate accidents by 90%, move 30% more traffic than a conventional intersection, and increase rather than decrease the adjacent property values as is common at busy intersections. Discussion ensued over roundabouts, as there is some confusion out there regarding roundabouts versus traffic circles and rotaries.

The last session of the day ‘Street Design and your Neighborhood’ drew the smallest crowd but concluded with good discussion. During this session, Dan asked the audience to name our values. Some that were mentioned were community, safety, walkability, green space, convenience, health, good schools, and prosperity. Yet, we all clearly saw how we are not building from this set of values. And to borrow a quote than Dan borrowed from John Steinbeck, “America is out of sync with its values.” Dan encouraged us that by identifying our values, we can lay out a whole town. For example, if we do indeed care about health and safety, we would work hard to implement complete streets which accommodate multiple modes of transportation – pedestrians, bicyclists, and motorists. These values we claim to hold dear should become part of our design palette.

Walking Audit of Winter Garden after first workshop

They might seem slightly cartoonish, but I do love these bike racks in Downtown Winter Garden. Being that the West Orange Trail and therefore biking are, quite literally, central to this community, I think the racks are highly appropriate. Besides it’s nice to see artwork and style in public amenities.

March 1st, 2012

Good Place Clue

One measurement I use to define a good place (composed of great placemaking elements) is the distance I am willing to park my car from my destination. At my grocery store or any strip retail center, I park as close to the door as possible. If I see someone leaving, I will even wait for the closer spot they are leaving behind. However, in a great place, like downtown Winter Garden, for example, I don’t mind parking several blocks and often intentionally park further away than necessary from my intended destination because I know I will enjoy the walk from the car. At this particular great place, I enjoy my stroll past large display windows, cafe tables brimming with happy diners, and often a band playing from the central pavilion. A delightful walk I never intentionally avoid.