Saturday, December 10, 2011

Norwalk has too much empty parking


The Connecticut Avenue Stop & Shop provides far more parking than will ever be used. It would have been more practical to use that space for another business, creating a bit of the density that pedestrians crave.
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Washington Street is attractive precisely because it is lined with buildings, not parking lots.
Do you love attractive, pedestrian-oriented streets? Meet your enemy: the parking lot.

That parking lots are inhospitable places goes without saying. One parks their car then gets the heck out of there. But in our car-crazy world, parking lots can feel like a necessary evil. After all, most people drive everywhere and those cars need to be stored somewhere, right? What is a lover of pedestrian-friendly streets to do?

The first, obvious step is to make sure that parking lots aren't any bigger than they need to be. Only a few of Norwalk's parking lots are well-used. Most are never anywhere close to full. Surface parking lots cost about $5000 per spot. Why would a developer squander valuable money and land on unused parking spots? Because we require them to.

Planning & Zoning's minimum parking regulations ensure that every development in Norwalk has more-than-ample parking, at the cost of more productive and attractive uses of that space. Consider the ratio of space for business to the space for storing cars.

Business typeActive sqaure feet per parking spotspace for cars : space for people
(based on 300 sq ft / parking spot)
Restaurant456.7 : 1
Funeral Home605.0 : 1
Take-out restaurant1003.0 : 1
Retail Stores2001.5 : 1
Medical Offices2001.5 : 1
Industry & Manufacturing3001.0 : 1
Other Offices334 (370 in development parks)0.9 (0.8) : 1
Retail Furniture Stores4000.8 : 1

In the most extreme example, restaurants are required to set aside nearly 7 times more space for cars than for people. Even the typical retail store must have 1 1/2 times more space for cars than for people.

Why should Norwalk require businesses to be more parking lot than business? We don't want Norwalk to be a city of parking lots. It's time to reevaluate these damaging regulations.

While some businesses will no doubt construct oodles of parking regardless of the regulations, we should leave that up to the business owner. It may be in their interest, but it's certainly not in Norwalk's. There should be no requirement to fill Norwalk with asphalt. And, if doing away with minimum parking requirements is too radical, let's at least start by paring them down.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Merritt 7. WTF?

The Merritt 7 office complex is disconnected from the train station, nearby housing and even from businesses across the street.
It's time to connect Merritt 7 with the world around it. Every day thousands of people commute to jobs in the office complex and yet they are trapped. If they want to walk to lunch they have to cross Main Avenue, with its speeding traffic and lack of crosswalks. The businesses along Main Ave may cater to the office workers from across the street, but they greet those workers with a parking lot rather than a walkway.

The train station and the office complex...so close and yet so far.

Commuters coming from Danbury or other points along the Route 7 corridor could, in theory, beat congestion and take the train. It stops literally a stone's throw from the office buildings. Unfortunately there is no way to get from the train station to the office buildings. Chain-link fencing and a high wall block the way.

These barriers combine to make walking impossible, so that even people living in the shadow of the office buildings can only reach them by driving.

Finally, the impression the Merritt 7 area makes on visiting business travelers is downright embarrassing. The walk from the Hilton, in particular, is missing stretches of sidewalk and requires walking through strip mall parking lots. I've even seen businesspeople walking in the roadway.

Norwalk can do better than this. Here's Livable Norwalk's plan to fix the Merritt 7 neighborhood.

  1. Connect the train station to the office complex. Seriously, how is it possible that these two things are disconnected?
  2. Build crosswalks and sidewalks along Main Avenue.
  3. Encourage redevelopment of the existing strip malls into more productive mixed-use by bringing the frontage up to the sidewalk and making it safe and appealing for people to live, work and shop here.
It's time to leverage the success of Merritt 7 as a jobs center to build a successful neighborhood as well.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Re-imagining East Norwalk's Cemetery Loop

WHAT COULD BE: A cemetery loop that functions as a "downtown East Norwalk", appealing to people and businesses, replete with public spaces and places to walk. CURRENTLY: High-speed one-way traffic and a neighborhood that lacks vitality.

One of the biggest barriers to pedestrian and bicycle movement in East Norwalk is the Cemetery Loop. Several moderately-trafficked two-lane streets converge on this high-speed raceway around the historic cemetery. Inside that cemetery is the burial place of Col. Thomas Fitch, the original Yankee Doodle, a potential tourist attraction unreachable due to the nature of the street. The dangerous design also hurts the area's retail and residential property values by reducing walkability and connectivity to the East Norwalk train station.

But enough about what's wrong...the question is, what can be done to revitalize the area? Here is the Livable Norwalk proposal, visualized above.
  • All streets returned to two-way operation.
  • Gregory Blvd connects directly with East Ave.
  • New crosswalks plus a path through the cemetery create pedestrian connectivity.
  • New public spaces are created at intersections to the north, southeast and east of the cemetery, reclaiming land now lost to asphalt.
  • A modern roundabout is installed at the intersection of East Ave and Winfield St (Rt 136) to reduce the backup from the signalized intersection. This will also calm traffic entering the cemetery area.
Thomas "Yankee Doodle" Fitch wants more visitors. (from Matthew Fatale via findagrave.com)
The best part about this plan is that it is relatively inexpensive, primarily involving curbing work and existing entirely within the publicly-owned right-of-way. Its price-tag would certainly be less than $1 million, comparing favorably with the $5 million plan to widen East Avenue while having a much more transformative impact on the neighborhood.