Un-Sprawling Brevard – Part 1: Small Blocks


by Barry Watkins, Feb 18, 2017

Smart Growth America’s most recent “Dangerous by Design” report ranks Brevard county as the #2 most dangerous place for pedestrians in the entire US!! Here’s an article with some of the highlights: http://spacecoastdaily.com/2017/01/report-brevard-county-ranked-no-2-in-the-nation-for-most-hazardous-area-for-pedestrians/

Is this going to finally wake some people up and encourage us to do something about pedestrian safety!? What can we do? Why is Brevard such a dangerous place to walk? The basic answer is fairly straightforward: 1) The car-centric suburban sprawl development pattern actually KILLS PEOPLE!, and 2) Brevard is the poster-child of sprawl! How can we fix it? Un-sprawl! Here’s the first article in a new series where we will address this.

“Un-Sprawling Brevard – Part 1”

How do we reverse and undo the effects of sprawl and make Brevard’s communities more walking-friendly? There are a bunch of things we need to do, but let’s tackle a few important ones, starting with this…

Build things to a human scale starting with small blocks.

Whether we’re talking about commercial areas or residential a very important part of making a place walkable (and bikeable) is to arrange things in small blocks. Buildings should be close to the street around the block perimeter and most of the car parking should be behind buildings in the center of the block.

parkave2_gslide

Park Avenue, Winter Park. Traditional Commercial street with small blocks.

screenshot-2

Traditional small blocks in Cocoa Village, Cocoa, Florida

Much of sprawl is of course the exact opposite of this. Very long disconnected blocks. Our commercial areas are broken up by oversized parking lots in the front of buildings.

SONY DSC

Average sprawl strip mall

screenshot-3

Average sprawl neighborhood the way we’ve been building for the last few decades. No block structure. No direct connections to walk out to main road from homes backing up to main road. No commercial nearby to walk or bike to for miles around anyway!

Small blocks create more direct paths from one place to another which helps to shorten walking and cycling trips. Sprawl many times creates long, winding paths from one place to another and turns what could be an easy walk into a laborious and difficult task.

picture-91

The above famous map illustrates a familiar occurrence in suburbia. The map comes from the article “Sprawl Madness: Two Houses Share Backyard, Separated by 7 Miles of Roads” by Angie Schmitt on Streetsblog: http://usa.streetsblog.org/2013/02/28/sprawl-madness-two-houses-share-backyard-separated-by-7-miles-of-roads/ In the article, Ms. Schmitt points out that the two houses at “A” and “B” back up to each other, but to get from one to the other takes a 7 mile journey because of the disconnected sprawl streets in their surroundings! This same effect commonly unnecessarily lengthens trips to the local grocery store from your house or to the Wal-Mart backing up to your neighborhood. A walkable development pattern with small blocks fixes this.

fig61

This familiar diagram illustrates connected traditional small-blocks on the top half vs disconnected sprawl on the bottom half (Source: https://www.fhwa.dot.gov/publications/research/safety/pedbike/05085/chapt6.cfm)

Can existing development that’s been built in a sprawl fashion be saved? It is difficult, but where there is the public will to bring change it can be done. Setting new standards in place will accomplish a lot. Commercial properties built in the last generation have a relatively short shelf-life. The fad architectural styles they are typically built in go out of style in a few years and they need to be revamped and even completely rebuilt every so often or they lose their value. Every time another property is ready to be redeveloped having the right standards in place gives us the opportunity to affect change in the right direction. The SmartCode model land development code (smartcodecentral.com) has a block perimeter standard that will help create small blocks. Our county and all of our cities need to have a standard for block sizes and over time the standard will help our communities evolve toward greater walkability.

Besides just setting a new standard we also need to look at our neighborhoods and existing developed areas in detail and look for ways to be proactive about creating smaller blocks and shorter walking paths from place to place. In sprawl there are some common barriers to walkability that can be overcome with a little thought and these can often be remedied without much cost. In residential neighborhoods that have long winding roads but lack in connectivity we can in effect make smaller blocks by providing pedestrian cut-throughs where they make sense to help make it easier to walk or bicycle from home to shopping and other destinations. Let’s look at an example of how this can work:

screenshot-1

In the screenshot above from Google Maps you can see these houses back up very close to the Longleaf Elementary School in Melbourne as the crow flies. The sprawl street pattern built here however forces a child to walk 2.3 miles all the way around and along a busy arterial to get from home to school. That’s a 45 min. walk! If there were a direct route across the wetlands and through the apartment complex behind the school the walk would be shortened to about 1700 ft. or a 6 minute walk!

305905

How hard would this be to accomplish? I’d say pretty easy. You would need to get permission from two home owners to put a path in between their houses and then build an elevated walkway across the wetland. The apartments already have an access to the school thru a gate so that’s all that’s needed. Why not make the trip shorter and safer for all the children who live in this neighborhood that go to this school? It would be fairly easy and inexpensive to do. Basically the walkway could be a great project for one or a couple of our great civic groups. Why not? There are of course hundreds of similar ideas that would work all over Brevard, and these can and should be done.

In existing commercial areas with large parking lots the usually over-sized and under-used parking lot can be broken up into small blocks. Then traditional, walkable, small-lot development can be introduced. These next three pictures show how it can be done in stages: (Source: https://livingurbanism.wordpress.com/tag/seth-harry/)

illustration-5

Existing sprawl commercial parking lots

illustration-6

Define blocks and allow infill development to occur as the market allows.

illustration-7

Over time the parking lots are transformed into walkable urbanism!

The key to seeing this happen is it has to be planned! Our city and county governments have to take the lead and decide where they want walkable development to occur and then code for it. The SmartCode model code is a great example of how it’s done. We just need some champions in our local governments and planning boards to stand up and decide that this is what we want and need. Do we want to stay on the top of the “Dangerous By Design” list year after year? I don’t think so. Pass this along to your local officials if you agree. Contact Walkable Brevard if you’d like help with a walkability project in your area.

Barry Watkins, Walkable Brevard, Rockledge, Florida, email: walkablebrevard@gmail.com, ph: 321-355-2747, Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/groups/walkablebrevard, Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/walkablebrevard, WordPress: https://walkablebrevard.wordpress.com

Advertisements
This entry was posted in Feature Articles, Repairing Sprawl and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Un-Sprawling Brevard – Part 1: Small Blocks

  1. Let’s rally and make Brevard more safe for walking

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s