On parking, development, and better street design

In my City Talk column last Sunday — Lecture emphasizes versatility, beauty in street design — I talked about the recent lecture at SCAD of Victor Dover, an expert on urbanism and co-author of the recently released Street Design: The Secret to Great Cities and Towns.

I won’t recap that entire column here, but Dover’s ideas — both generally and specifically about Savannah — are well worth consideration.

Dover emphasizes, with overwhelming evidence, that great streets in cities around the world are bustling with a variety of types of transportation. Cars are generally present in that mix, but their speeds are kept within reasonable limits and the design of the street actively encourages pedestrianism, bicycling, and other forms of transportation.

Effective streets often include ample parking, although that was not the emphasis of Dover’s presentation. Parked cars help shield pedestrians from active traffic and also slow drivers down. A critical mass of on-street parking also boosts businesses and allows drivers to access neighborhood commercial districts from a variety of directions at various times of day.

Dover showed a slide of St. Charles Avenue in New Orleans and asked his Savannah audience about the ruts along the streetcar line in the neutral ground. I had the answer of course — the neutral ground is also perfect for joggers. Also, it’s worth noting that the St. Charles Avenue median is wide enough to allow cross traffic to cross the street one lane at a time, eliminating any demand for stoplights along long stretches of the road.

Also worth noting: St. Charles Avenue, which now also features a bike lane, has just one lane for cars in each direction. Those lanes handle a lot of cars each day, but they don’t crowd out other uses — and they don’t interfere with the street’s beauty. Here’s a shot I took in 2009 of St. Charles Avenue:


Click here for another post about St. Charles from summer 2013, which included this image:


Dover’s recent talk at the SCAD Museum of Art was also referenced last week in John Bennett’s Connect Savannah column If we win the parking war, we lose the city. I always enjoy and appreciate Bennett’s columns, but I think he hit the ball out of the proverbial park with this one.

From that column:

In Savannah, however, there seems to be something else at work. Millions of people come from all over the world every year to enjoy strolling our streets. Yet some of us just can’t tolerate walking a couple of blocks from our cars to our destinations, even in one of the most beautiful cities in North America.

Should we fine tune the pricing of on-street parking to reflect market rates as Shoup suggests, extend hours of operation at municipal garages and find other ways to maximize the usefulness of our existing parking inventory? Certainly.

However, entertaining unreasonable expectations of suburban-style parking in a historic city is potentially disastrous, as explained by Savannah-based urban designer Kevin Klinkenberg.

“Savannah can, like so many other cities, solve its parking problem by building a lot of convenient, cheap parking,” he said. “And when we are done with that, we will have destroyed the reasons people love Savannah in the first place.”

As I’ve noted over and over and over in my various writings, there are many things we can do to expand the inventory of on-street parking, including lengthening the time on some meters in areas that are often nowhere near capacity.

And let me pick up on one other element of Dover’s talk. He mentioned the possibility of recreating the walkway under the trees down the middle of the Oglethorpe Avenue median. I think it’s a wonderful idea. Just a few weeks ago, I was down that way and pulled out my iPhone and took this photo looking east from Montgomery Street.

Who wouldn’t want to walk on a path between these trees, even with vehicular travel lanes on either side?