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Carfree test districts with cars hidden in the center

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  • Todd J. Binkley
    In the phasing page at carfree.com (carfree.com/phasing.html), under the heading A Test With Peripheral Parking , Crawford writes: One way to test the
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 30, 2000
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       In the 'phasing' page at carfree.com (carfree.com/phasing.html), under the heading 'A Test With Peripheral Parking', Crawford writes:  One way to test the carfree neighborhood concept is simply to build a good-sized neighborhood with all its parking at the periphery.  This is a good test of how a carfree neighborhood would work in practice.  Unfortunately, the large area that must be devoted to peripheral parking puts open space at a greater distance.

      How about this:

      Find a developer who is genuinely interested in the carfree concept ( i.e. willing to defer all important design and planning decisions to the authority of the appropriate sages at this forum ).  Then begin to build the first phases of a beautiful Reference District, just like one Crawford proposes, with the following temporary modifications:

       Build a freeway-linked sunken access road that leads into the center of the district, in a grade-separated open trench between the commercial and industrial buildings shown in the Reference Design; adjacent to, but acoustically and visually screened from the central boulevard and nearby pedestrians and residents.  Connect this to an underground parking garage that would lie beneath the entire length and width of the central boulevard.  The lack of building loads above this garage would help to minimize the construction costs of this first phase.  The sunken access road would be designed at the outset to be eventually replaced by the metro freight system proposed by Crawford.  The garage under the central boulevard would be designed to ultimately be replaced by the passenger metro ( subway ).  As this underground garage fills up, the commercial and industrial buildings (shown in the Reference Design ) could be built.  In this proposed test district, these buildings would straddle the sunken access road.  As called for in the reference design, these buildings would have ground floor commercial space fronting pedestrian streets.  The upper floors could temporarily be used for parking.
      These structures would designed so that the cars inside them would be niether seen nor heard by ( nor smelled by, nor a physical threat to ) the people on the pedestrian streets outside.  Cars would creep in from the sunken access road directly into the basements of these buildings, metaphorically and quite literally beneath the delightful carfree district overhead, then wind their way up through the center of the building to the hidden parking spaces above.  It would be physically impossible for a single wicked car to invade the carfree district.  These structures would be conceived as temporary refugee centers for cars, that would soon be transformed into more civilized commercial and industrial uses. Unlike typical modernist concrete box parking structures, which are dominated by low, wide openings, conspicuous sloping ramps, and an attitude toward passing pedestrians that ranges from indifferent to malicious; these would be real buildings with an unmistakable future for human uses.

      Some reasonably inoffensive ( even attractive ) parking structures masquerading as real buildings exist in downtown Pasadena and in Santa Barbara.  There are probably others that could also be used as models.

      Imagine a beautifully detailed, four-or-five-story, 19th-century Parisan apartment building............ that has been completely gutted by fire.  No windows, no roof, nothing inside, just four walls.  Thick, masonry walls, with regularly spaced openings that are vertically-oriented, human-scaled, and embellished with wrought-iron railings and small balconies.  Though 'destroyed' by fire, the building really still exists.  It remains a beautiful edifice that will inspire its own reconstruction.  It will endure as part of the fabric of the community.  In the hearts and minds of local residents, it will remain part of what they call, home.
      Now imagine yourself beginning to rebuild the interior of the building:  Line the entire ground floor perimeter with small shops that open onto the street.  Next, put in open stairways that lead from the street to small offices above the shops.  Now fill-in the core of the building with removable access ramps, and on the upper floors put hidden parking spaces that can only be accessed ( by car ) through a tunnel leading directly from the proposed sunken access road.  Voila!  You now have a genuinely beautiful building, possessed with a secure future for human habitation and affection....... that just happens to be needed for storing cars for awhile.

      Another option would be to simply hide temporary parking structures in the courtyards of the residencial blocks closest to the central boulevard.  These could also reasonably disguised as real buildings, and accessed ( by car ) solely from an underground tunnel.  The initial reduced desirability of these residences would eventually be offset by the sizeable increase in property value that would occur once the parking facilities were removed and courtyard greenspaces were restored to these prime, centrally-located buildings.

      The guts of the proposed temporary parking structures could be built with inexpensive, recycleable, and most importantly, removable, prefabricated concrete components.  Sophisticated legal instruments could be engaged to ensure that these odious facilitators of unsustainable transport will indeed be removed by a targeted date.... lest any selfish, myopic autophiles become too attached to them.
      Perhaps a timed network of embedded micro-explosives could serve as a backup.
      Or maybe they could be designed to simply wear out in five or ten years.

      This test district would clearly start out as a bedroom community.  The compactedness ( my favorite euphemism for placating the density-phobes ) of  the population, however, would rapidly attract small scale retail shops ( a convenience store, pharmacy, coffee shop, corner market, video-film rental, dry cleaner ), restaurants and other services.  As the district grows, its tremendous livability and charm would eventually attract industry and other larger employers.  Sufficient capacity would quickly arise to support a busline from the underground transport stop in the center of the district to important destinations in the neighboring city.  This bus would help reduce parking demand until the metro could be completed. And it would never be seen above ground in the carfree district .  Incentives could be given to home buyers who would agree not to own a car.  A car-sharing outfit could be set up, further reducing parking demand ( as well as traffic on the access road ), as has been done elsewhere.

      The placement of a sunken access road and hidden, temporary parking structures along the central boulevard would preserve the center as the social, commercial, industrial and transport focal point of the district.  It would also help maintain the integrity of the Reference Design, which depends on conveniently accessible, abundant open space at the periphery of each district.

      Tests districts of this type could be replicated along an extension of the same sunken access road until the first loop in the Reference Design was completed.  Eventually the traffic on the access road might justify floating a bond measure ( or even attract private capital ) to finance the construction of the metro and metro freight systems.

      If the open trench proposed ( in the Reference Design ) for the metro freight system proved to be too narrow to provide adequate ingress and egress for all the cars, then underground frontage roads could be built alongside the sunken access road, in what would eventually become the basements of the commercial and industrial buildings.  The proposed underground parking garage ( under the central boulevard ), could instead be roadway, if still more roads proved necessary.  In any case, some road access would have to be maintained during the construction of the metro and metro freight systems, and this would obviously have to be planned for at the outset.

      Best wishes from Ventura, California

      T.J. Binkley
       

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