Monday, July 7, 2014

Bike lanes and parking

Since what happens on the streets every day is very much a part of a city's public face, I'm posting some comments on the current controversy over bike lines and parking in Appleton.

Bicycling benefits everyone. Every bicycle trip directly gives the rider health benefits from the exercise and economic benefits from not having to spend money on gas or parking. Drivers benefit because every bicycle trip means one less car on the road to cause traffic jams (a reduction in car traffic of only a few percent can make the difference between freely flowing traffic and gridlock) and to compete for road space and parking. The whole community benefits because every trip made by bicycle means one less car trip to cause air and noise pollution, get into accidents, and increase the demand for, and therefore the price of, gas. Accordingly, it's in everyone's interest for cities to support and encourage the use of bicycles whenever it's practical and reasonable to use them. That leaves a lot of room for improvement.

Some people object that bike lanes are of limited value in Appleton because of our weather.    But  the average high temperature in Appleton from the beginning of May through the first week in October is at least 60. People who don't mind bicycling when it's a little cooler can do it in average high temperatures of at least 50 from the beginning of April until the end of October.

Even granting that there will be some days in those months when rain or wind make bicycling impractical, that still leaves a sizable number of days in the year when many people will not find weather an obstacle to bicycling.

Yes, our weather can be harsh, but that's too often used as an excuse not to support innovative and progressive city planning. To put this in context, consider the following statistics, quoted from the book Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America by city planner Jeff Speck:

A) What North American city has the most linear feet of successfulretail-fronted sidewalks?

B) What developed country has the highest share of urban trips going to walking instead of driving?

C) How many months out of the year do sidewalk cafes stay open in Copenhagen?

Answers: A - Toronto; B - Sweden; C - 12.

Finally, a major issue in this controversy is the proposed removal of on street parking to accommodate bike lanes.  One strategy to address this issue that no one seems to have tried is to accept the removal of parking, but ask that residents who have to give up this convenience be compensated for it.  

One way to do this would be to implement traffic-calming measures on such streets to greatly reduce the amount and speed of motorized traffic. This would give residents a quieter and safer street, which would also mean increased property values, in return for no longer having on street parking.

Since it would also make the bicycle lanes safer for bicyclists, these are measures that could find cooperative support from both residents and bicyclists.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Appleton: Downtown Parking

Cars, whether driven are parked, are a ubiquitous feature of our public faces.  This image is meant to remind us just how ubiquitous.

The photo is one I've edited to block out in black areas of the Downtown Appleton area devoted to ramp or street parking.  It comes from applying to the Google Earth image information from the Appleton Downtown Inc. downtown parking map, from my own observation walking around, and from visual inspection of the image to see where cars are parked on the street.

It probably isn't 100% accurate, but I think it is nearly so.  In particular, I don't think I've included all the on street parking.  I'll be glad to include corrections in a revised version.

The purpose of the image is just to point out how much real estate is devoted to the temporary storage of personal automobiles -- a fact which is a sort of "elephant in the room." something screamingly obvious which no one ever wants to mention.

You can see a larger version by clicking on the image as it appears at:  in Google+:

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

A note on the Formost Dairy site

The Appleton Post-Crescent has published an update on public dialogue over the proposed development of the former Foremost Dairy site.  

As usual, the Post-Crescent's story doesn't include a map, apparently on the dubious assumption that all readers will know exactly where the site is.  Some research on my part shows that the site's specific address is 935 E John St Appleton, WI 54911, and you can see a map and satellite picture of it here.

You can see some examples of the work of the architectural firm Vetter Denk on their web site here, here, and here.

Also relevant is the City of Appleton's Fox River Corrider Plan.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

   Appleton’s good, bad, and ugly public faces.

Note:  this essay was first published in the Appleton Post-Crescent in December 2008.  It's reproduced here, slightly revised, and with photos added, as the initial post in this Appleton's Public Face blog.

Let’s take a walk down College Avenue, and we’ll see the good, the bad, and the ugly struggling for the heart of our town.

What stately College Avenue usually
doesn't look like ...

... and what it usually does
We’re immediately plunged into a contest between the good and the bad.  Beginning at the College Avenue Bridge, we see extending westward before us what should be one of the most splendid urban boulevards in the country, lined with lovely old houses ranging in a really American mixture from comfortably respectable homes to imposing mansions, many of them architecturally striking, some of them historically significant, and all of them lovingly maintained. 
Lawrence: space and grace
The beauty of this residential district is only enhanced by its contrast to the more formally dignified architecture and landscape of Lawrence University farther on, an area where academic buildings and meticulously kept lawns combine grace and space in a way modern planners seem to have forgotten.
Conkey's: At least the building survived

But the tragic word is “should.”  College Avenue itself, instead of fulfilling its destiny as a magnificently welcoming centerpiece to the city’s historic core, has been allowed to become a de facto expressway, which means it is a sort of gash of air and noise pollution splitting the heart of town.  This would be a great street to live on if – I SAID THIS WOULD BE A GREAT STREET TO LIVE ON IF IT WEREN’T FOR ALL THE TRAFFIC NOISE!

The beauty of the past wrestling with
the drabness of the present
Let’s get across Drew Street where at least we can hear ourselves think, partly because a lot of the traffic on the section of College we’ve just walked down has diverted itself onto Meade and Lawe Streets, spoiling much of the otherwise lovely neighborhood east of City Park almost as sadly as it ruins that part of the Avenue itself.   But if as we approach downtown we’ve left much of the bad behind, we now can perceive an even keener struggle between the good and the ugly.  The battle begins at Durkee Street, where two of the prettiest and most historic structures in town, one the previous home of the much-missed Conkey’s Book Store and the other the Harmony Café, flank the Avenue to form a sort of gateway to what’s left of our irreplaceable downtown architectural history.

Harmony Cafe: the interest of the past, slightly 
interrupted by the blandness of the present

The vibrancy of urban environment is
created by a sum of details

Details, shmetails!

203-205 W. College

This gateway leads us to a long tableau of the good, characterful, livable urban landscape of the past wrestling with the faceless and tacky design failures of more recent decades.  The south side of the 100 block of E. College in particular forms an almost unbroken pageant of past glories.   Among the most noted of these is the Wharton-Warner building (still marked with two letter W’s for its builders) at 127-129 E. College, with its gloriously non-functional High Victorian façade.  As we continue our saunter, we pass further riches in more abundance than can be enumerated here, including 203-205 W. College, the original home of the Appleton Post-Crescent newspaper, which explains the symbolism of the two lions’ heads high on the façade, representing crusading journalism’s “roar of truth,” and right next door the wonderful Kamps building, built as a harness shop, hence the wagon-wheel window and finely sculpted horse’s head which has gazed sedately down on The Ave since before 
An unbroken pageant of past glories
most of our grandparents were born.

Beautifully ornamented facade with gargoyle,
wagon wheel window, and horse head reflecting
the building's history

All of College Avenue used to be this beautiful

100 block E. College: will this loveliness too be lost?

Big intersecting planes 
on smaller intersecting planes
But we also find again and again this series of historical gems brutally interrupted by the habitual design disasters of modern times.  It would serve little purpose to name names:   you can see for yourself which buildings on our most important boulevard present us with the mind-numbing tedium of the “intersecting planes” school of architecture (when are architects going to learn that planes are boring even if they intersect?) and the unthinking combination of red brick column and grey concrete wall which makes so many buildings look like parking ramps even if they aren’t.

Grey intersecting planes
Who can imagine what they’ve replaced?  Such structures are monuments to an infatuation with the bulldozer and the wrecking ball.

Colored intersecting planes

Squat intersecting planes

So what’s to do?  We can begin by all opening our eyes to what has been done here to the good of our common heritage because of the encroachment of the bad and the ugly, and by resolving to enter the struggle on the side of the angels.  There’s enough left to be worth working to save.  You could still have a good thing here, Appleton.  Don’t blow it.

Red brick and grey concrete

This is what Galena, Illinois' s downtown looks like.
Huge numbers of people come to see it,
and they spend money.
image information
This is what too much of Appleton's downtown now
 looks like. How far would you travel to see it?