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Car Free in Carrboro

Living without a car in small town NC

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Photo Journal: Pedestrian Experience of Nashville

This past weekend, which was fall break, I went to Nashville TN with some of the people in my program. It was a part-learning, part-recreational trip and we had a great time nerding out, playing Cards Against Urbanity, meeting local planners and advocates, and enjoying the music scene.

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Nashville Skyline

One of my favorite parts of the trip was walking around downtown with the Executive Director of Walk Bike Nashville. We gained a lot of insight about the development that’s going on in the city, what’s being done to improve pedestrian infrastructure and transit, and the pilot project on Broadway.

The pilot project involves portions of the street painted blue and blocked off from vehicular traffic and is intended to help residents and visitors imagine what the street could be like with more space for relaxing and walking. This is on one of Nashville’s busiest streets and an area of a lot of conflict for pedestrians and cars. Because Nashville’s transit system is so lacking, the thousands of people who come here every day jockey with cabs, Ubers, and police cars for control of the space (add the infamous bachelorette parties into the mix, and you’ve got street conflict). There was also a recent change to the crosswalks in this area to make them diagonal crossings, also known as “scrambles,” which halt vehicular traffic in all directions and let pedestrians cross diagonally. Folks around us seemed confused, but it’ll catch on.

Needless to say, I loved what they are doing with the pilot and hope that they can make it permanent.

Another great feature that we thoroughly explored was the Shelby Street Bridge. It’s a car-free bridge for pedestrians and cyclists that runs from East Nashville (by the Titans stadium) to the door of the Nashville Symphony downtown. It’s amazing that you can park on the other side of the river (for free) and walk over to downtown, thus eliminating the need to drive into the core. However, as Nashville grows and the parking lots around the stadium face development pressure, I’m not sure how much longer that resource will remain available.

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Shelby Street Bridge

 

All in all, Nashville’s pedestrian experience suffers from having a weak transit system (every transit rider is a walker, and forcing people to drive downtown just reinforces that roads are primarily for cars), and lots of construction means lots of missing or diverted sidewalks (like the feature photo for this post). But they have a lot of good things planned and a few great resources already in place (like the pedestrian bridge).

All photos are my own.

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Happy Park(ing) Day!

Today is International Park(ing) Day! This is a day celebrated around the world by converting on-street parking spaces to mini, temporary “parklets.”

It’s a form of tactical urbanism and is intended to show communities that their public space can be greater than just a storage spot for cars. Particularly in cities where on-street parking is common, Park(ing) Day openly challenges the idea that cars should be stored in the public right of way. Park(ing) Day asks, “What else could these spaces be for?” “How else could this public street resource be used for our community?” “What are the costs to having our streets lined with empty cars, instead of filled with people?”

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Park(ing) Day 2016, Chapel Hill

This event also contributes to the growing awareness of the [negative] impact of driving on our communities, health, economy, and mobility. If people didn’t have to drive (and thus, didn’t have to park), what could those spaces be for? And if we minimize the available parking (and thus the induced demand for driving), what other benefits might we see from increased pedestrian or cyclist activity? The research suggests (thanks, people at Bike East Bay for aggregating these studies!) that walking and biking have greater economic returns than driving – as one measure, people who walk or bike to downtowns spend more and stay longer than people who drive.

Today’s local Park(ing) Day event is being held until 8:00pm on E. Franklin St., close to the intersection with Columbia Road across from UNC’s campus (approx. in front of 109 E. Franklin St.). I stopped by there earlier and was so excited to meet some of the undergraduate masterminds behind the parklet and to hang in the space. One thing I realized is that parking spaces are huge – this particular parklet takes up 2 parking spaces, and there’s a whole picnic table, sets of couches, minigolf, some other chairs, and a chessboard game in there now. You could comfortably fit about 20 people, and that’s incredible compared to two empty cars just sitting there normally. Check it out for yourself! Stop by, say hello, and enjoy the space. Update: If you missed Park(ing) Day in Chapel Hill or want to learn more about how it got set up, check out the Carolina Planning Journal’s Angles blog post on the subject.

If you’re not in the Carrboro/Chapel Hill area, use this map below to find the park nearest you.

Further thoughts on this topic: beyond the scope of this particular post, I’d like to have a conversation about whether money-making is really the best way to drive the decision-making around the use of our public space for parklets vs. for parking. When you think about it from a social welfare or health benefits point of view, there are clear arguments in favor of parklets and not parking. But in a capitalist system the best way to convince people that something is “good” for them or that it “should” be done is to show them that it will make them more money. So that’s how we end up with studies showing increased sales from walkers & cyclists instead of drivers. Businesses do generally end up supportive of Park(ing) Day, as shown in DC’s Georgetown neighborhood, for example. Three local businesses are sponsoring parklets in front of their establishments.

 

“Guerrilla Wayfinding” Signs in Durham

I went to Durham last week to see a Durham Bulls baseball game. On my way to the stadium (by the way, check out my tweets from my journey on the 405 bus at #carfreeincarrboro) I noticed these signs:

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How cool are those? You are able to tell, in an instant, something that even Google Maps takes a bit of searching to find you – where you are in relation to the nearest attractions. You might not know you were looking for jazz, but my goodness, now you have to go check it out! I imagine businesses would support these as well – especially if they are hidden from sight behind bulkier buildings or around a corner.

They are printed on the cheap on corrugated plastic and can be updated or rearranged easily. They are a supplement to Durham’s official wayfinding signs which point to city destinations and denote districts. I’d call these unofficial plastic signs “guerrilla wayfinding.”

I was describing these to a fellow Department of City & Regional Planning (DCRP) student and wondering who was responsible. He informed me that the folks in Durham copied these guerrilla wayfinding signs from Hillsborough, and that the ones in Hillsborough were put there as part of a Masters Project from a DCRP grad back in 2012. I haven’t been able to find a record of his or her Masters Project, but once I do I’ll link to it here.

Getting around, MBA-style

Friday night I hung out with my friend in the MBA program. [Aside: C and I were on the same freshman hall in undergrad, then we both moved to North Carolina for graduate school at the same time, so now we’re in school together again. Small world.]

Planning seemed to be a familiar concept to most of his classmates, especially among the real estate folks (there’s a whole concentration in my program for economic development and real estate, so it makes sense that there would be parallels). I enjoyed hearing from them about what brought them to North Carolina…and, of course, since the business school is on the opposite side of campus from where I attend class, I geeked out a bit asking them all how they commuted and where they lived and whether they had cars and what they thought of CH Transit.

Hearing about transportation from non-planning students was refreshing. We get in our own little planning world where everyone is supportive of biking and walking and transit, and forget that most of the world doesn’t think about this stuff all the time.

A few highlights:

  • C has been driving every day to class, but admitted that he was getting tired of it. So he took a bet (not on my urging, I swear) to walk to and from class for 10 days straight! Of course I asked him to do a guest post, and he agreed (cough-C-now-you-are-publicly-accountable-for-it-cough).
  • A few of the students I spoke with didn’t have a car, just like me! They’d come from big cities, also like me: New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Boston, and DC. Some of them were biking or carpooling to class, and one person was walking. It made me happy to meet a fellow walker.
  • We took my first Uber in Chapel Hill (!) to move from one person’s house to another. I protested, but not well enough. It was about a mile with temperatures still in the 80s, so comfort while walking would have been an issue, and with 5 people in our group the cost to take an Uber was extremely low. Still, not the mode I would have chosen had I been by myself. But good to know that Uber is alive and well in the area in case I ever need it.

Given that I’ll be sharing my trips taken by different modes, I’ve added some additional info to my trip details. Check it out:

Trip: MLK Blvd. – Rosemary St.
Total trip time: 4 minutes
Total trip distance: 0.9 miles
Mode: Car (UberXL)
Line: N/A
Frequency: N/A
Level of crowding: 5 people in 1 UberXL
Trip quality: 4 of 5 stars (+ for expediency, comfort, cost and – for environmental and congestion impacts)

Stay tuned for that guest post from C!

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