Monday, May 12, 2008

Walkable Tacoma: Dan Burden

Dan Burden, in case you didn't gather from the eleventy billion posts on feed>>tacoma yesterday, is the founder of a consulting firm called Walkable Communities. The city of Tacoma brought him in for a couple days to look around, and give a talk this evening at UWT. I'll be writing in more detail on some of his points and my own thoughts over the next couple days, but I thought I'd do a quick summary of the event tonight.

(I forgot to bring a bad of paper, so I have in front of me a few sloppily-written notes on the backs of crumpled receipts. Yay me.)

Interestingly enough, the message that permeated the lecture was very similar to the message espoused by Kunstler (from what I gather... I wasn't at that one). There is so much emphasis on making driving easier in our communities that we are losing site of actual sustainable design. Transportation authorities have had a tendency to look at traffic congestion and assume that the problem is too few lanes, when it's actually too many cars. Even those who see that the key is too many cars tend to jump to long-range transport solutions, which still misses the point. It is much better in the long run to build a community where the car is used less because it is needed less.

One thing that I found interesting about Burden's approach is that at no point does he preach the elimination of the car. In fact he speaks very little about mass transit. Instead he focuses on the coexistence of cars and pedestrians. Traffic solutions like roundabouts and networked through streets that allow for higher vehicle capacity at lower speeds, narrower lanes that allow for buffer zones.

It all, to me, seemed to come down to two major factors. Make it sensible and make it appealing. Making it sensible means designing communities based primarily on mixed use areas and small property houses so that we physically can walk from place to place (based on a 5 minute radius, which is about what people are comfortable walking. . I know that my 30 minute = normal walking distance is a bit off the norm). Not only do things need to be nearby, but they need to be connected, which means the elimination of the cul-de-sac culture.

Making it appealing comes in from both an aesthetic and a safety angle. People need to want to make the trip, based on the look of the neighborhood, how comfortable the feel about the sidewalks, the crosswalks, everything. People feel comfortable inside their cars, because it's their own little world. So make the community their world.

The biggest difference between Burden and Kunstler, of course, is that Burden is a kindly-spoken man with a big bushy mustache, and Kustler is a crotchety angry bastard. Kunstler is great for getting a bunch of people who already agree with him fired up and ready to move... Burden strikes me more as someone who can actually convince people of things, because he can't be passed off as just a yelling lunatic by the other side.

Anyway, like I said, just a quick summary. More to come.

6 comments:

Jen said...

I think Tacoma's central neighborhoods are already very walkable. It takes me about five minutes to walk to the 6th Ave business district from my house, maybe 20 to walk to Proctor. I feel safe walking around here any time during daylight hours, and homes are close to each other and connected by walkable streets with sidewalks.

The transit piece is the important missing link, though. For example, I initially wanted to go to that lecture last night but opted instead to meet up with the blogosphere at the Red Hot, because going would mean taking my unreliable bus line that only runs every half hour, or driving and paying for parking.

This is unacceptable for a neighborhood a five minute drive from downtown, on a route that connects downtown to a major business district, (Proctor) a university, (UPS) and a community college with a transit center. I would love to rely less on my car but I'm not presented with real options. It's too bad he didn't talk about transit. I feel strongly that this is one of the top three issues Tacoma needs to address more or less immediately.

izenmania said...

I think that it's understandable that he didn't emphasize transit. Transit is a solution to deal with the situation at hand (aprawled cities with clustured retail), without dealing with the situation itself. A good transit system helps people function in a car-oriented city design when they don't have a car. The focus of his presentation was the need to move city design to the point where we don't need to provide motor vehicles just to get pedestrians to their grocery store, etc.

Anyway, I have a whole blog entry to flesh that notion out in coming in a day or two. I was actually at the Red Hot, with the aforementioned bloggers, and intended to bus down to the event. Of course, the bus was just ahead of schedule, so I missed it, and then had to walk/catch the next one. Fortunately made it with moments to spare.

Heather said...

Thanks, Izen, for writing about the lecture. I'm so sorry that I missed it. I'm really kicking myself about it now. Please do post more; it will be read carefully.

Jen, You are speaking my mind for me today. Thanks. I have my own little non-walkable neighborhood combined with poor transit story from yesterday; I'll post a blog on it soon.

izenmania said...

The talk was videotaped and he said he was making the powerpoint files available to the organizers, so hopefully some of it will make its way to the public at some point.

Elizabeth Blackwell said...

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Elizabeth Blackwell said...

while by just seeing at the article itself, Dan Burden's lecture is really wonderful. Thanks for sharing such a wonderful information, so in return I would like to share about a website of the South Sound called papakali.com where the readers themselves are adding their own version of stories to the already existing tales of the South Sound, and the most interesting part is that the stories found in this website are real as they are written by real people.