Cars and people

Heavy emphasis on walking. Not so much on driving

As we await a review of detailed site and design documents for the newly named Regions Field (thus far no presentation has made it to the agenda of the Design Review Committee), it’s worth considering transportation access to this new venue.  In the rendering released at last week’s groundbreaking (above), we see the corner of First Avenue South and 14th Street (the super-graphic faces 14th). Whether by design or not, the rendering is filled with lots of people, but only one car. No bikes or public transit are visible either. One of the first questions, as a matter of course with large, destination sports or entertainment venues is: where do people park?

It's all about providing a connected environment

Part of the answer is seen above, in a shot of the Bricktown entertainment district around the AT&T Bricktown Ballpark in downtown Oklahoma City. This former warehouse district has been revitalized into a restaurant and entertainment center around the ball park (note the great reuse of existing historic warehouse structures). There are multiple small lots, and some structured parking, scattered throughout the district; the idea is not to park everyone coming to a game in one attached deck, but rather for fans to find multiple locations to park and enjoy dinner and a stroll before the game. People don’t mind walking a couple blocks as long as the walk is engaging, with lots of pleasant distractions and “window shopping” to be done. This appears to be the strategy at Regions Field, where it’s been determined that within a certain walkable radius of the facility, there’s more than enough on-street and existing parking facilities to handle the fans.

Lots of options across a well-planned district

The map above illustrates the scattered parking plan for the Bricktown district. Needless to say, the plan would be much less attractive if the streets weren’t lined with active, inviting businesses and diversions. Interestingly, the canal you see in blue weaving through the district was built from scratch in 1998 as a tourist attraction to complement the district; the water taxi service along this canal has become quite popular.

It took some vision

This is not to say that water taxis are in the cards for our new Parkside district. But it’s encouraging that the development is going with a scattered parking strategy: this should promote foot traffic throughout the area, spurring additional private development. Now, let’s just get those sidewalks paved around Railroad Park, and some more bike lanes marked, and we’re starting to make this area a model for how cities (and zoning departments) can think outside the dated, 1950’s paradigm of “every facility has to have its own parking”. We can scatter it, share it, and encourage other modes of transit instead.

These boots were made for...

Which brings us to a final note on that oddball city, New York, where zoning laws have been changed for some time to deliberately discourage developers from building on-site parking at their projects. In a fascinating recent article from the New York Times, we learn that in the last 30 years the number of off-street parking spaces in Manhattan has fallen by 20% (and this in a city borough which has gained about 100,000 in population over the same period). Part of the outcome? Well, besides increasingly expensive rents for off-street parking spaces (which routinely fetch over $1000/month), transit ridership is way up, bike lanes have been constructed everywhere–and, of course, people continue to do a lot of walking (midtown intersection, above). New York had the right idea changing its zoning laws. We need to consider the same thing here, in certain areas where it makes sense. This can only enhance the density and diversity of our urban environment. So get those boots on and get ready to walk through Parkside to all the new urban attractions that will soon await us.

[thanks to alanoftulsa for the Bricktown overview pic; babselder for the canal pic; flickr4jazz for the Manhattan pic]

14 responses to “Cars and people

  1. Michael Calvert

    A bike lane was sought on 14th St. to serve UAB, but the result was a “shared” lane.

    Is the museum on the corner of 14th and !st in the rendering? I hope the existing, 4-story brick building on Second Avenue survives just beyond center-right field fence. Can anyone clarify this?

    • It is unclear exactly what’s shown in the rendering, but I hope we’ll see further details soon on what exactly is where. And what survives, as that’s unclear to me as well. Thanks.

  2. Properly located and designed parking decks can help maintain a tight urban fabric in a place like Birmingham where cars (unlike NYC) are a given. But this is a timely take on Regions Field. The city should fast-track a district plan for sidewalks, street parking and wayfinding system that would make people comfortable and start to brand the Parkside District.

    • My reference to New York as “oddball” was in part a reference to what you state–it’s one of the few US places (at least in Manhattan) where the vast majority rely on other modes of transit besides the private car. Birmingham has to provide parking, but in a more sophisticated and holistic way than has been the practice. Branding and wayfinding are so crucial to this new district, I can’t agree more. Thanks.

  3. This is great! I’m glad they are not going to build a sea of asphalt. I also prefer the “trouble” of parking in an urban area. In suburbia, often you only have one choice for parking, the venue you are going to. As a result, they can charge more knowing you have no other options. But in a city like Bham you can often find street parking for little or no cost and in major cities you can take the transit. It is also a terrible idea to put thousands or cars in the same lot when they will all be leaving at the same time. There can be no better example of this than Barber Motorsports Park.

    • Thank you for your comment. While people extol the “free” parking in suburbia, guess what? It’s never free. It’s just built into the cost of rent, or the price of a sandwich. A good urban solution around the ball park will be more expensive parking adjacent to the park, cheaper a couple blocks away, and free, on-street for those willing to walk across Railroad Park from several blocks away.

      • How long will the ‘free’ on street parking survive anyway? I do my best to pay the meters when I find a spot that has a functional one, but the huge tracts in fairly dense areas (UAB, financial district) with broken or unmonitored parking meters have got to be costing the city a ton.

      • Good question. Indeed this must be costing the City a lot. I hope that the new, electronic, credit card accepting meters around Linn Park are a sign that a progressive new meter strategy is in the works for the remainder of the City, or at least crucial areas such as around the new Parkside neighborhood.

  4. Steven Driskell

    Great post! I’d like to think that this type of development would encourage more use of the transit system, even if it’s just over short distances; maybe change the negative perception that most have of mass transit.

    Coincidentally, the DecaturDaily has an article today (Wednesday, Feb 8, 2012) about how current and planned development in downtown Decatur is putting a strain on parking. Seems like these are good problems to be experiencing.

    • Thanks for reading. Parking is a “good” problem to have; as long as part of the solution is holistic, involves transit, and a range of more and less expensive parking options, preferably able to respond to different needs at different times. Meters can be programmed to offer certain prices at one time of day, varying with special events or less active times. I look forward to learning more about Decatur.

      • Steven Driskell

        I shall try to keep you updated on Decatur… I wrote a development blog for the city a while back but got bogged down with school 😦 Now that things are starting to pick up, I’m not very motivated, haha.

        The thing that’s always bummed me about Birmingham is that it has the most established street grid in the Southeast outside of New Orleans, yet has trouble implementing a successful transit system… Of course, I think that all kind of goes back to how little success we saw in downtown in the past. Maybe?

      • Thanks. I think to some extent Birmingham is no worse than other Southeastern cities where transit funding struggles and the vast majority of citizens show no compelling interest to demand alternatives. On the other hand, I sometimes think that Birmingham’s particularly bitter Civil Rights era confrontations give it a special aversion to public transit: people became scared to ride the bus in the 1960’s and they–and their children–have chosen private cars ever since.

        Ironically, Birmingham once had the South’s largest streetcar system. Maybe this is the year the state DOT will finally allow state funding for transit–like most other states–but I doubt it.

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