Missed Oppourtunities for Local Streets

Posted: September 28, 2010 in Complete Streets, New Urbanism, Urban Design, Urban Lifestyle

While searching for news about a local road project now under construction, I came across this article from 2007:

Patton Chapel Road project is now more neighborhood-friendly.

The writer, Lisa Harris states that the deletion of sidewalks from the plans makes the plan more neighborhood friendly. Local residents had protested the project and were now satisfied that the proposed sidewalks had been eliminated.  The addition of a center turn lane, which they had also objected to, remains part of the plans, which will speed cars through the mostly residential neighborhood. (That  no doubt pleases the city engineer).

A small group  of vocal residents, mostly from the Polo Trance subdivision along Patton Chapel road had objected to the project since it was first proposed in 2003, concerned that the road widening and the sidewalks  might affect their landscaping  and bring traffic closer to their backyards. Others in the area objected mainly to the widening because it will speed traffic through the area, (the goal of the city engineer).  They documented their opposition here.

While the deletion of sidewalks from the plan might please some of the residents, it is simply not true that the new plan is neighborhood friendly for several reasons. By missing an opportunity to connect the neighborhood to shopping and schools, all with in walking distance of the neighborhoods along this well traveled street,  and accepting the addition of the third lane, the residents have succumbed to NIMBY-ism and are trapped in the car oriented thinking of the past. Patton Chapel Road is a major thoroughfare connecting several schools, parks and churches with residential and commercial areas, and thus should be a compete street since it links together several important destinations.

The original plans called for widening of the road with the insertion of a center turn lane and sidewalks on one side of the road. The turn lanes are mostly due to the presence of several churches along the road. I agree with the residents that the widening was not needed, as it will only serve to speed up traffic on the road which is lined with single family homes for the most part, and already is a speed zone. However, the Polo trace residents also objected to the sidewalk, a portion of which would have required the removal of landscaping along a brick wall that separates the neighborhood from the street. What they should have objected to was the third lane. The sidewalks could have then been built with out encroaching on the existing landscape buffer.

Once the Chapel Lane extension is built connecting Patton Chapel Road to the major local shopping areas ( a project that will have sidewalks according to this article), and sidewalks are completed on Preserve Parkway, ( a road through a new  traditionally planned neighborhood and nature preserve), major shopping, churches, schools, and parks would have been accessible on foot at both ends of the street by those who can not drive for the residents of Patton Chapel Road and adjacent neighborhoods. In addition to enhancing connectivity, sidewalks would have also provided the neighborhood with an excellent recreational facility, encouraging obesity fighting activity.

They also missed an opportunity to enhance their property values. Studies show that access to sidewalks and other elements of “Complete Streets” make a neighborhood more desirable to  families looking to move up to the larger homes typical of this part of Hoover,  enhancing their value. Beside providing recreational opportunity, these sidewalks would have provided safe routes for school children and their parents to walk to schools and churches along on the street, potentially reducing  auto traffic on  the road significantly ( reducing need for the third lane and air pollution to boot).  Now when they go to sell their homes, they will be competing against new neighborhoods that provide these amenities, homes that will have a larger sales value.

Hoover as of late has been  requiring sidewalks in new developments.  This policy is not as complete and comprehensive as it should be but indicates some progress in their thinking.   So far they have not embraced the idea of complete streets by choosing not to include bike lane as well as sidewalks. The bias toward requiring sidewalks is progress, but apparently the city lacks the political will to do what is right for all the citizens, allowing a small minority to dictate urban policy.  They also have not seen to it that the sidewalks they require go somewhere.A good example is the new Chase Lake community. There you will find sidewalks in the residential area that stop short of connecting the houses to the new retail on Highway 31. Does that make sense?

Chase Lake Subdivision - Hoover Alabama

Another missed opportunity by the city of Hoover was the state highway 150 widening. No sidewalks or bike lane were included, even though this project included federal dollars and thus they were required to include complete street facilities in the design by federal law unless certain exceptions are met.  Somehow they were able to convince the feds that such improvements were too expensive and unfeasible. Now the hotels that have sprung up on SR 150 are demanding sidewalks so guests can walk to restaurants and shopping with out using their cars. Guests have to add to the traffic on this already overburdened stretch of roadway to get some supper. This seems very shortsighted for a road project the City hoped would attract such development.

I for one am tired of my city and region continuing to  miss these opportunities. I was pleased the recent Birmingham Blueprint plan acknowledges Complete Streets as part of its strategy to improve the local lifestyle and make the area more attractive to young professionals.  I will be doing my part to help by getting involved, and trying to alert you to new projects that could be “complete”.  Please help by letting your local officials know you support Complete Streets!

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