Walking the Walk

Urban design from the front lines

Kevin Klinkenberg

Using urban design to make our lives more enjoyable and create wealth

This site is for all those interested in the making of cities and towns, and especially the lives of the humans that inhabit them. Kevin Klinkenberg is an architect and urban designer who's practiced from coast-to-coast. 

Excess urban pavement - Improved parking on The Path to Prosperity improves a downtown urban street

Last week I commented on how many of our city streets suffer from the excess of pavement dedicated to cars moving quickly. This is especially true in older urban areas that have seen decades of street "improvements" which loosely translate into removing people from streets and adding space for fast-moving cars. The sad reality is that in many of the neighborhoods that fit this description, they have the double-whammy of reduced economic activity (more jobs and such have moved to outlying areas) and wider streets for fast traffic. The combination is not only one that creates deadly dull urbanity, but also is sometimes literally deadly to pedestrians, cyclists and transit users.

And, more importantly for the purpose of this post, these overly-wide streets (often with little or no curbside parking) are hostile to the success of businesses. As the previous post discussed, it's absolutely fundamental for the success of businesses in walkable areas that on-street parking be provided and maximized. In fact, I'd go so far as to say the starting point for any planning effort should be to allow for the maximum amount of such parking on *every* street. Of course there will be exceptions where compromises are made. But again, I'd suggest that for the overwhelming majority of our communities that it's a basic right and necessity.

Here in Kansas City, a group of us with the Urban Society of Kansas City undertook a project to show just how easy and beneficial it is to modify one section of such an urban street. Baltimore Avenue, in the Crossroads area just south of downtown, was a four lane road with very light traffic and parallel parking on both sides. Our group discussed with the property owners the idea of changing the configuration into one lane in each direction plus angled parking. The curb to curb width is 52 feet.

As is often the case in such matters, the first couple of answers from the city engineers were "no" and "there's not enough room". We disagreed, and in fact parked our own cars in the suggested configuration to test it (photo attached). After a couple of years of discussion, the changes we proposed were approved.

But here’s the real beauty of this: it only required a few thousand dollars in paint to re-strip the street and a few signs to clarify the parking situation.

The result over the last few years has been as expected. First off, there has been no increase in accidents or injuries in the area. Second, cars move a lot more slowly on the street. Third, several new businesses have sprung up and take advantage of the additional street parking. In fact, this simple employment of a few thousand bucks added nearly 100 spaces (double the previous amount) in a six block stretch. Run those numbers compared to the cost of building off-street structured parking and I think you'll begin to see the wisdom of this approach.

The sad thing is - there are literally thousands of streets and blocks like this all over our communities that are oversized for traffic and undersized for doing business. Next time a plan calls for more parking garages, ask yourself first "are we using our existing street pavement to full advantage?"


Before... notice the demonstration of how cars would fit:


After... and now you can see how well everything fits: