Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Bellemeade Village

Jim Schlosser covers the preview of the first phase of Bellemeade Village, which will be built a few blocks from where I live:

"This project won't be about just building condominiums,'' [Jim Jones] said, looking at an empty concrete lot that two years ago was filled with North State Chevrolet dealership cars."It's about creating a village and an experience that, before, you had to go to Charlotte, Atlanta or Washington to see.''
Mr. Jones is one of the owners of the old North State Chevrolet dealership where Bellemeade Village will be, and he describes himself as a car dealer turned developer.

I got to meet him at the preview party and I was impressed by how much he knows about what's going on in the neighborhoods (Fisher Park, Cedar Street, Aycock) near his project. He emphasized that the historic neighborhood setting of Bellemeade Village will be essential to its success.

He even gave my neighborhood some credit for laying some groundwork for his project by promoting mixed-use, infill urban development with our neighborhood plan.

I think that one of the major obstacles to Bellemeade Village's success is its street setting: it is almost completely surrounded by multi-lane, one-way streets, and therein lies a conflict: I have yet to meet an urban planner who doesn't love the idea of slowed traffic on two-way streets with plenty of on-street parking and walkable sidewalks. These are what make street life in an "urban village" possbile. But all of these things reduce traffic capacity.

And I have yet to meet a city transportation engineer who will eagerly reduce traffic capacity on any city street. It goes against their whole raison d’ĂȘtre: engineers plan and build streets to move cars, and if cars don't move, they get calls and complaints from drivers. Who can blame them?

For Bellemeade Village, and for projects like it (such as the Summit Avenue corridor project), necessary traffic calming won't happen unless the city council and / or influential city leaders explicitly direct transportation staff to "slow the flow" and nourish pedestrian life. The city will have to pay for the streetscape changes, too.

Paying transportation dollars for slower traffic? It kind of goes against conventional thinking. But can you name a great urban center that's easy to drive through?

1 comment:

Joe Guarino said...

Nice job, David. Illustrating the conflict between the visions and priorities of urban planners and traffic engineers aids in understanding the issue.