Thoughts on urbanism in MidtownThere's been a request for my opinions on the Chronicle Midtown urbanism article last week. The short summary for those who missed it is that Midtown is seeing a lot of development, but not the pedestrian-friendly, mixed-use urbanism people had hoped for, partially because of high parking requirements and a set of city regulations that are oriented more towards suburban forms (like large setbacks, for instance).
I'm not sure I have a whole lot to add to Kevin's and Christof's thoughtful analyses. Obviously, the city recognizes it has a problem, which is why we have the new urban corridors initiative to come up with special development rules around major transit lines. I agree that the parking requirements are probably too high. One good option would be for the Midtown TIRZ to invest in a public parking garage that could serve several blocks, and eliminate the parking requirements for developments on those blocks. Another tactical option that would be helpful in the short-term would be to recognize that a lot of workers in downtown and the Medical Center are willing to ride the rail to restaurants and bars for lunch and dinner, so such establishments within walking distance of rail stops could get an automatic waiver for some or all of their parking requirements.
There's another problem in Midtown though. Take a look at this Google map. Notice that all the diagonal Midtown streets northwest of Main are major feeders to or from Spur 527 off 59. Those streets are critical to getting massive numbers of workers in and out of downtown, and I don't see them ever being conducive to pedestrian-friendly urbanism. Not only are they wide one-way streets that move lots of cars at a pretty high speed, many of the businesses along them are specifically aimed at commuters with easy in-and-out parking, like the Spec's flagship store, and, yes, even the much-despised CVS. It's unfortunate that Midtown's first urbanist development started at Bagby and Gray, because the nature of these commuter roads has kept it from expanding southeast. Any urbanist focus in Midtown needs to be southeast of Travis, particularly along Main Street and the rail line (well, obviously).
So, that's my two cents, for what it's worth. I suspect the city will want to take it slow, and wait until the urban corridor regs get figured out before proceeding to encourage a lot more development in Midtown, especially along the rail line. They'd rather have it slowly develop the "right" way rather than quickly develop in a hodge-podge fashion with ad hoc variances.