Monday, January 6, 2014

Creating walkability even with surface parking lots

Building walkable neighbourhoods in the South of Fraser can be a bit of a chicken or the egg dilemma. Until there is a critical mass of people who feel comfortable accessing destinations without driving, the automobile will continue to be the dominant mode of transportation and must be accommodated. Unfortunately auto-oriented development usually creates public realms that are hostile to pedestrians, cyclists, and even transit, and actively discourage anything but driving.

The solution to this is building walkable areas that accommodate the auto by hiding parking either underground or in parkades with ground-level retail, but sometime the finances don’t make enough sense to build expensive structured parking. Reducing minimum parking requirement should also be considered, but there are cases where surface parking is the only option as an area transitions from an auto-oriented to pedestrian-oriented neighbourhood. How do you build surface parking that doesn’t destroy the public realm, and promotes active transportation?

One of the key things that can be done is situating buildings so that they put their best face toward the street with pedestrians being prioritized over cars. Most municipalities talk about this in official community plans, but I haven’t seen too many good examples of this in the South of Fraser. That is until I saw a project that is being proposed at the corner of 80th Avenue and 128th Street in Surrey, in what the City of Surrey is calling the “Central Newton Cultural Commercial District.”

Ariel view of proposed commercial development at 80th Avenue and 128th Street in Surrey. Click image to enlarge.

The project consists of one- and two-storey buildings and a surface parking lot. By all account this could look like your typical auto-oriented strip mall, but because of the situating of the buildings and the surface parking lot, it will actually be able to promote walkability.

Site plan of proposed commercial development at 80th Avenue and 128th Street in Surrey. Back onto Interurban right-of-way. Click image to enlarge.

As shown in the drawing, the building activates the street by requiring store entrances that are accessible from the sidewalk. It includes pedestrian breezeways to allow access to the buildings in the centre of the development. The project also proposes to use high-quality building materials for the pedestrian realm. Most importantly the project hides the parking so it is mostly out-of-site from pedestrians.

The project also provides access to the stores from the surface parking lot side of the buildings. One of the challenges is that many of the ground-level retailers may close the street-facing entrances. While the City should do what it can to prevent this, it isn’t too bad because as an area becomes more walkable, there will be a demand for the retailers to open the street-facing entrances.

The lot coverage is about the same as any other-strip mall development, but because of how the buildings are situated, it actually creates a pedestrian-friendly design.

The project does have its challenges as it is in Metro Vancouver’s Industrial Zone, but the siting for this proposed development should be used as an example for other projects in the South of Fraser. This is one of the best examples of accommodating the automobile with surface parking while at the same time creating the framework for a walkable neighbourhood that I’ve seen in this part of Metro Vancouver.


Tim said...

I do not see the proposed greenway in the plan. In the rail right of way?

Nathan Pachal said...

The project doesn't go into the rail ROW. I don't see the greenway in the plan either, but I'd assume BC Hydro would have to sign-off on the greenway anyway.