Videos and Slides: Main and King Street Transportation Charrette, Final Presentation and Q&A

Here are two YouTube videos covering the complete final presentation (53 min) and Q&A session (41 min) from this week’s Main and King Street Transportation Charrette, featuring consultants from Nelson\Nygaard. These videos were recorded by Adam Cohen.

Here are the slides from the final presentation:

Many of the ideas for enhancing the pedestrian and bicyclist experience were appealing. They enjoyed a generally positive reception from the audience. NSNA was less convinced, however, by assertions that increases in urban density in the areas around Main and King Streets could result in less car traffic. The consultants provided these charts (see pages 19 and 20) but the data relates to San Francisco, Los Angeles and Chicago, much larger and denser urban environments than Northampton, with much more extensive systems of mass transit. With smaller towns, some evidence suggests that residents might respond to higher density by moving away (increasing sprawl) rather than by giving up their cars.

Even in Portland, Oregon, a Smart Growth bastion, traffic bedevils the chic neighborhood around Northwest 23rd Avenue. Randal O’Toole writes:

Portland’s Northwest 23rd Avenue is lined with classy shops and restaurants. When residents of the Portland area ask planners for an example of their vision of a high-density, mixed-use area, they are often told to look at Northwest 23rd, where residents have supposedly learned “to walk and ride transit rather than drive.”

As shown on the Thoreau Institute’s Oak Grove tour, however, the real Northwest 23rd is jammed with cars throughout the day. This is because local residents are not numerous enough to support the shops on the street, so those shops have worked hard to attract people from throughout the area. Nearly all of those people drive to get there.

Recently released census data reveal that the densest census tract in Oregon is located right next to Northwest 23rd. This census tract has more than 23,500 people per square mile, which is the average density of New York City and nearly half the density of Manhattan. Yet even this high density is not enough by itself to support a street of shops and cafes.

Nor do the people who live in this census tract rely solely on transit, bicycles, and shoe leather for transport. Indeed, one of the major problems in the area is lack of parking, since shop customers frequently park in front of residences, and the residents have no place to park their own cars.

In fact, the president of Neighbors West Northwest, the local neighborhood association, told the Oregonian that the traffic and parking problems that accompany the area’s high density have made “the livability worse than it was” before the area became trendy…

…if the goal is to create streets of shops that primarily serve the local pedestrian neighborhood, then Northwest 23rd is not the model. In fact, outside of New York City and possibly a few other pre-auto cities such as Boston and San Francisco, there is no model for such a street anywhere in the US. It is simply not possible for a street of shops to provide the same services, goods, and value provided by giant Safeway or Kroger supermarkets, Office Depots, Wal-Marts, and other growing categories of big-box or warehouse stores…
Many dense US cities also show a demographic skew – households with young children tend not to live there. That might reduce the costs of public schooling in those places, but it’s not a truly comprehensive model of living that serves the nation as a whole.

See also:

Gazette: “Northampton residents support narrowing of streets” (3/16/11)
On King Street, the recommendations call for narrowing King Street from four lanes to three, with a central lane serving alternately as both a turning lane and a median. On-street parking would also be established on King Street in the areas closest to Main Street and between the intersections of Finn and North streets. North of King Street a bicycle track would be installed.

On Main Street, between the intersections of King and State streets, the number of lanes would be consolidated from four to two and the sidewalk widened by approximately 15 feet and reverse angle parking installed.

Videos and Slides: Main and King Street Transportation Charrette, Introduction and Goal Setting (3/14/11)
The consultants’ overarching philosophy is informed by New Urbanism and makes a priority of building mixed-use, pedestrian-friendly urban environments. It is reminiscent of proposals made during the Notre Dame Urban Design Studio and stands in contrast to more car-oriented preferences voiced by some members of the business community at recent King Street zoning workshops.

Videos: King Street Zoning Workshop and Planning Board, December 2, 2010
Here are two short YouTube excerpts (Buffer Zones, Buffer Zones 2) from the December 2 King Street Zoning Workshop Subcommittee meeting, where the participants struggle to balance the car-oriented preferences of many developers with a desire to encourage pedestrian and bike traffic around King Street and its businesses.

Video and Slides: Proposed Improvements for the King/Summer/North Street Intersection (10/19/10)

Energy-Efficient Personal Vehicles of the Near Future (5/24/08)
Smart Growth advocates are concerned about the energy consumed by America’s many cars and the emissions they produce. With gas nearing $4 a gallon, it’s hard not to share these concerns. However, the solutions commonly proposed–densification to support rail and bus travel–often don’t work well in practice. Many homebuyers resist being packed into dense neighborhoods where costs per square foot are high, greenspace is scarce, roads are congested and parking is hard to find. And, too, commutes by public transit typically take twice as long as commutes by car.

The May/June briefing from describes how companies are working to combine the convenience and comfort of personal vehicles with the need to be gentle on the environment…

“Sprawl and Smart Growth” (PDF) by Jane S. Shaw
Senior Associate, Political Economy Research Center, Bozeman, MT
Randal O’Toole, head of the Thoreau Institute, points out that according to Census Bureau surveys, 90 percent of commuters typically drive to work. Only when densities reach 5,000 per square mile (in cities such as Seattle, Chicago, and Boston) does the percentage of drivers start to go down from this high level…

Wendell Cox: “METROPOLITAN DENVER AT RISK: How Densification Will Intensify Traffic Congestion, Air Pollution and the Housing Affordability Crisis”
Asian and European urban areas have far higher population densities than US areas. They also have much better transit systems with much higher levels of service. Yet, Figure #11 shows that traffic intensity is gr
eater in nations with higher population densities. European traffic intensities are twice that of American urban areas. The same is true in the United States, where higher levels of traffic congestion occur where population densities are higher…