Revamping Site Design Specifications to Support Human-Scaled Transport Networks, in "State of Transportation Planning 2020, Moving People over Cars: Mobility for Healthy Communities"
The last half-century of urban transport planning is defined primarily by accommodating personal cars. This may be changing. New transport technologies and devices that are more human-scaled have developed, particularly over the past few years, and have fueled prospects to dislodge the primacy of cars. The efficacy of these newer and human-scaled vehicles, however, is bounded by the networks that are available—networks which are defined by the rights of way on which they travel (links) and destinations at the terminal location of a trip (nodes). Both are important. The overwhelming majority of planning efforts to better accommodate human scaled vehicles has focused on network links for these new modes. Less attention has been devoted to how site design and planning at nodes impedes or supports human-scaled transport. Efforts to help transport networks evolve, and their corresponding systems, will be compromised if only some parts to the networks adapt while others remain idle. Options to support first and last mile legs of transit are important, but have limited value when the first or last few feet are largely impermeable to anything but driving. We argue that lack of attention to developing human-scale nodes is important and lack of action will eventually bound capacity. We therefore point to rationales and avenues for reforming site development guidelines.
Better sidewalks, more bike lanes, and multi-modal cross-sections of streets present the “much-turned-to” remedy for progressive transport planning efforts. Recent editions of National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO) and American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) guidelines are evidence of this. These guides largely focus improvements to street and the emphasis on such links in a transport system come at the expense of focus on nodes. Improvements to terminal locations such as apartment complexes, shopping centers, schools, municipal buildings and more are often not considered. For travelers accessing such sites via foot or bicycle, at issue is that site entrances are generally wired only for automobiles, as is travel within it. Consider auto-only-oriented drop-off zones, seas of parking lots, curb cuts long enough to accommodate multiple lanes of traffic and more. These conditions render such nodes as mostly impermeable for these other forms of travel.
The features that make these places impermeable for human-scaled travel are prescribed by the regulations that city officials enact (or have enacted some years ago). Mandated rules in zoning regulations, building codes, and site planning guidelines hold court here. For any substantial change in transport, whether mode choice, congestion or emissions, to have effect, these site characteristics are important. Yet, they have mostly been considered in a peripheral manner against the body of transport and land use scholarship. This essay demonstrates the need for new site design guidelines to steer such developments in ways that allow a human-scaled transport network to develop. Considering the city as a canvas, city codes lack prescriptions to design—and more importantly, redesign—these spaces in ways that are supportive of human-scaled travel.
To support our argument that development nodes are important components to an evolving transport system, we present rationales for new site design guidelines that will help steer actions in ways that allow a human-scaled transport network to develop. Site planning elements interface in many ways with the larger transport system and are too often left off the table. Our aim is to help lay the foundation for a new generation of site design guidelines that will help old standards (e.g., Lynch and Hack, 1984) evolve. A new generation of site planning manuals, supported by new research into these issues, are needed and poised to address human-scaled movement that supports both permeability to sites and comforting travel within them (e.g., how should a half-acre parking lot be transformed to allow safe cycling access?).