Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Protecting residents from dangerous industrial businesses, reducing crime, street parking for mixed-use retail, and rethinking Vision Zero

This week we have a special edition of Houston Strategies focused on... specific strategies for Houston (;-). The specific topics are protecting residents from dangerous industrial businesses, reducing crime, street parking for mixed-use retail businesses, and rethinking Vision Zero plans.

First, Judah passed along this story on zoning (or lack of it) coming up again in Houston since the warehouse explosion on the westside.  My simple observation is that we don't need zoning to address this problem.  If we have laws about minimum distances between adult business or liquor stores and schools+churches, we could certainly do the same for certain kinds of hazardous industrial businesses without adding zoning. More on this at blogHouston.

As far as reducing crime, the Houston police need to be all over using NextDoor as an intel source for neighborhood crimes.  It could make a huge difference in reducing all sorts of minor (and not-so-minor) crimes in the neighborhoods.

Midtown recently lost a very popular long-time bakery at least in part due to a lack of convenient parking near her street retail store in a mixed-use space.  This one hits home since it's my neighborhood.   Here's the quote:
“I’m so sick of Midtown,” Masson says. “The biggest issue is parking. Even though there is a humongous parking garage behind the bakery, no one knows it’s there. No one takes the time to look for it. They drive by, they don’t see a parking spot, they don’t pull over.”
I posted this to the Market Urbanism Report Facebook group and it generated a huge debate in the comments. While mixed-use sit-down restaurants seem to do well (people are willing to hunt for parking if they're staying a couple of hours), I think part of the problem for a quick in-and-out business like hers (bakeries, laundries, convenience stores, etc.) is she needs a couple of dedicated parking spaces right in front limited to her customers.  But since it's City of Houston street parking, they can't do that, so those spaces are always full of longer-term parkers visiting the neighborhood. I've noticed most strip centers (hated by urbanists), will offer their tenants dedicated spaces right in front of their businesses (with signs limiting parking to customers). Maybe the City needs to offer that for street parking as well?  Maybe the businesses pay for it?  For those sorts of businesses, people are not willing to hunt for parking and they’re also not willing to go through the parking meter hassle (it takes several minutes to go through the process at a CoH meter).  Just let the business pay for dedicated spaces during business hours (or, alternately, spaces limited to a quarter or half-hour).

Finally, Vision Zero plans have been adopted by many cities - including Houston - to reduce traffic fatalities, but they aren't working. Excerpts from another piece are a cautionary warning to Houston's efforts:
"Yet Chicago, Los Angeles, and Washington, among others, saw sharp increases in pedestrian and/or bicycle fatalities after adopting Vision Zero policies. 
This won’t be a surprise to Antiplanner readers. As described in Policy Brief #25, Vision Zero is an overly simplistic strategy that fails to solve the real problems that are causing pedestrian fatalities to rise. 
Vision Zero is based on the observation that pedestrians hit by cars traveling at high speeds are more likely to die than if the cars are traveling at low speeds. So Vision Zero’s primary tactic is to reduce driving speeds. Vision Zero’s secondary goal is to reduce driving period by making auto travel slower and less desirable compared to the alternatives. Neither of these are working very well.
For decades, traffic engineers followed a tried-and-true formula for reducing auto fatalities: improve roadway designs in ways that reduce the number and impact of accidents. Vision Zero has diverted cities from that formula in an overt anti-auto strategy that sometimes actually makes streets more dangerous (such as when one-way streets are converted to two-way operation). So it is no surprise that Vision Zero isn’t working."
As I've said before, I support Vision Zero when the focus is on fixing problematic intersections and other pragmatic safety improvements. I don't support it when it's just a thinly veiled mask for anti-car urbanists (road diets, reduced speeds, one-way to two-way conversions, speed humps everywhere).

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