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Thread: Multifamily units front arterial or internal street?

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    Cyburbian UrbaneSprawler's avatar
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    Multifamily units front arterial or internal street?

    I'm curious to get opinions on this. In the sketch below it shows a multifamily development where the units on the bottom front (with a 30' setback) an arterial street with traffic in the range of 30,000 vpd. Above these units are parking, followed by garages, and then an internal street system. My opinion would be that this south half of the photo would be better off "flipped" with the bottom units fronting the internal street and the parking lot and garages face the arterial. The planners around the office have dismissed this concept. I suspect it's due to wanting to avoid showcasing the back of garages and parking along the arterial street and perhaps making the arterial street feel more pedestrian friendly as a result (though it may be fenced anyway and then no longer visible). In my non-planner view, the units would benefit noise-wise from being further setback from a busy roadway and the units would help better "frame" the internal street system, which without units on both sides of the internal street, loses an opportunity to create a more vibrant internal street system and internal neighborhood as a whole. What am I not getting I guess in having my opinion?


  2. #2
    Cyburbian Tarf's avatar
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    My opinion...

    Need more information. What does the internal street do? Does it go somewhere people would want to walk? What's near the arterial? Depending on what's going on in the surroundings, it may or may not be a good idea. If that interior street is just access to other units, while the arterial has commercial uses in walking distance... it makes for a shorter walk to orient the units to the arterial.

    Noise is a concern, but the concern is primarily with the usable space. Would the garages be large enough to shield the interior of the project from noise? If not, then the apartment buildings may be the better option along the arterial, so the interior of the project is better protected from noise. The noise impacting the units can be attenuated with architecture and windows.

    Just my $0.02 while I was waiting for my pizza to finish cooking
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  3. #3
    Cyburbian UrbaneSprawler's avatar
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    The interior street basically loops from a street to the north paralleling the arterial and the interior street has units fronting it on both sides except here where the garages front the south side of the street with the units abutting the arterial. There is a proposed neighborhood park just north of the development that would be an amenity as well. The development is located at the corner of an arterial-arterial intersection and kitty-corner to it is a neighborhood shopping center, but to get to the front of the shopping center is a 700 foot walk from the intersection the development orients to, with the arterial street itself being over 170 feet in width to initially cross. In my mind's eye pedestrians crossing the parking lot to get to the arterial-arterial isn't that much more distance with the minimum 700 feet from the intersection.

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    Cyburbian ColoGI's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by UrbaneSprawler View post
    The interior street basically loops from a street to the north paralleling the arterial and the interior street has units fronting it on both sides except here where the garages front the south side of the street with the units abutting the arterial. There is a proposed neighborhood park just north of the development that would be an amenity as well. The development is located at the corner of an arterial-arterial intersection and kitty-corner to it is a neighborhood shopping center, but to get to the front of the shopping center is a 700 foot walk from the intersection the development orients to, with the arterial street itself being over 170 feet in width to initially cross. In my mind's eye pedestrians crossing the parking lot to get to the arterial-arterial isn't that much more distance with the minimum 700 feet from the intersection.
    I can see the reasons for both views but IMHO with the fact pattern given it seems like the desire to have a nice front on an arterial with that many TPD will eventually be negated by the trees anyway.

    Using a slightly different view, that is a fairly wide setback and you can do a very nice LID to mitigate the parking lot runoff and install nice shrubbery to add value to the property and QOL overall. And ask the concession of a decent treatment for the back of the garage and it will likely turn out very nice.
    -------
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    Cyburbian DetroitPlanner's avatar
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    Looks to me like you have a classic does form follows function or vice-versa?

    I can see both have a valid arguement. Having the garages closer to the roads will provide some road relief and depending upon how the units are constructed some privacy. However, depending upon how the units are constructed, the units themselves may provide a more attractive face to the development, making it easier to sell the units.
    We hope for better things; it will arise from the ashes - Fr Gabriel Richard 1805

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    Cyburbian UrbaneSprawler's avatar
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    Thanks. Just the fact that there isn't a clear cut notion here one way or another is enough for me. I just didn't know why my suggestion to consider this reorientation was shut down by the planners in the office without any explanation, which I can only therefore presume is due to me being an engineer who started to inquire about a planning related issue again.

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    Cyburbian ColoGI's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by UrbaneSprawler View post
    Thanks. Just the fact that there isn't a clear cut notion here one way or another is enough for me. I just didn't know why my suggestion to consider this reorientation was shut down by the planners in the office without any explanation, which I can only therefore presume is due to me being an engineer who started to inquire about a planning related issue again.
    If it helps, from an ecological systems point of view, IMHO your idea was better because - as above - you get both noise attenuation and stormwater mitigation from a nicely-landscaped LID (plus QOL and property value benefits).
    -------
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  8. #8
    Cyburbian
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    I often had a problem with these types of designs too - where an urban form is being forced onto a suburban arterial with 30,000 cars per day probably traveling at high speed. I myself find it more natural to keep my window open when weather is near decent, and so noise attenuation alone wouldn't do it for me. And I know there are studies on the health impacts of living this close to that much traffic. IMO, this just isn't a good living environment even if the form is pseudo-new-urban. Perhaps once we switch to an electric-hybrid fleet, this will be less of an issue???

    A bigger problem I see with these types of "perimeter block" suburban designs is that the apartments basically front either onto a busy street or a parking lot. I've heard anecdotally that people felt Fort Collins' design guidelines was forcing the type of cookie-cutter apartment development that basically had a perimeter of apartments surrounding a parking lot. I myself lived in a couple of apartments (a schlocky 1980s apartment and a classy 1960s 2-story condo building) that included an interior green (not parking) courtyard and felt it was great. The 1960s design even had the units double-fronted so we had a courtyard view and an alley view - this may be one solution to being along a busy street, if its still done in apartment design. I also lived in a couple apartments that fronted onto relatively quiet (local or collector) streets - one with about 10,000 - 15,000 ADT at 30 mph and that was about the limit for me. I know the parking has to go somewhere - I myself like the idea of angled parking off of an internal tree-lined private "street".

    One way to make the parking along the arterial palatable to your new-suburbanist counterparts may be to suggest a "boulevard-esque" treatment wherein a parking lot buffering along the arterial looks like the slow parking lane of a new urbanist boulevard? Not sure where you put the garages though. Perhaps in between the buildings along access alleys?

    While I agree good development is not one-size fits all new urbanist, it seems this is one issue that could be solved by the presence of alleys ...

  9. #9
    Cyburbian
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    I just didn't know why my suggestion to consider this reorientation was shut down by the planners in the office without any explanation, which I can only therefore presume is due to me being an engineer who started to inquire about a planning related issue again.
    Another possibility is that the suggestion may have been shut down with a simple and formulaic "but that isn't new urbanist."

  10. #10
    Cyburbian UrbaneSprawler's avatar
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    Our urban design criteria I think has been making a conscious effort to have multi-family/apartment units have identifiable block patterns and "street" frontage vs. the traditional perimeter of apartments surrounding a parking lot. A conscious effort to be more new-urbanist in nature compared to our former PUD code.

    From my perspective I get caught up in how it has resulted in our case, more public streets for the municipality to maintain vs. the more "traditional" approach with the interior being private. In my view, I question why we would want to take on more maintenance liabilities when these developments typically are governed by a property management/master association that would already maintain everything as it is.

    That said, I can appreciate the view of intergrating different neighborhoods together through a connected system of blocks and streets. I can also understand the philosophical argument of why should four single family lots on a cul-de-sac have their street publicly maintained any more than a street fronting multi-family units with a higher density of people benefiting.

  11. #11
    My sorta new urbanist development has main entrances on both the exterior streets and facing a courtyard. There is a street that cuts through the development that is open to the public (by agreement with the city) but is plowed and maintained by the condo association. In my opinion it is a bit too wide (one way, about 25 feet with no parking) and cars go a little too fast despite the pavers, but it does work.

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    Quote Originally posted by UrbaneSprawler View post
    In the sketch below it shows a multifamily development where the units on the bottom front (with a 30' setback) an arterial street with traffic in the range of 30,000 vpd. Above these units are parking, followed by garages, and then an internal street system. My opinion would be that this south half of the photo would be better off "flipped" with the bottom units fronting the internal street and the parking lot and garages face the arterial.
    I don't see how the buildings and parking lots could be flipped without either lengthening the driveway (thus increasing the paved surface) or bringing the driveways out to the arterial street. If you can manage it, I'd like to know how.

  13. #13
    Cyburbian
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    To me the deciding factor is not how the site functions internally but how it relates to its neighbours, including the street it fronts onto. Which solution is better depends on what the rest of the street looks like and what the future vision for the street is.

    If the street generally has units facing it the units on this site should also face the street. If the street generally does not have residential units facing it then it leaves the door open to both options. In this case youíd also have to look at what you except the street to look like in the future. Will it evolve into a walkable street with buildings facing the street? Or, will it remain just a vehicular artery with landscaping along the edges. Either option is valid Ė there is no point dogmatically forcing one design ideal over another if the rest of the street isnít going to change. What you don't want to do in enforce one option for this site and then not enforce the same design on other sites along the street when they develop.

    In the end, if there is no strong preference from the municipality, either for a soft-edged landscaped street, or for a hard-edged building-lined street then Iíd leave it up to the builder to decide what they want to do.

  14. #14
    Cyburbian HomerJ's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Howl View post
    Will it evolve into a walkable street with buildings facing the street? Or, will it remain just a vehicular artery with landscaping along the edges. Either option is valid – there is no point dogmatically forcing one design ideal over another if the rest of the street isn’t going to change. What you don't want to do in enforce one option for this site and then not enforce the same design on other sites along the street when they develop.
    Agreed. Since both options seem valid the focus seems to be on the site's context with the surrounding area.

    I can offer my .02 that right now I live in a multi-unit townhouse apartment complex that looks very similar to the illustration (except that it is actually oriented the way UrbaneSprawler would prefer). My apartment is about 90 feet from the arterial with a pretty light landscape buffer and I think only a 30 foot buffer in my instance would be pretty loud for automobile traffic.
    Insanity in individuals is something rare - but in groups, parties, nations and epochs, it is the rule.

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    Cyburbian jswanek's avatar
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    .

    Now imagine this is your multifamily on an arterial, zero setback, with the sidewalk underneath, and the pillars solid-steel bollards at the kerb/curb:



    Verrrry "transit community"

    .

  16. #16
    Cyburbian Streck's avatar
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    If you flip the multi-family unit building so that the parking drive is adjacent to the arterial roadway to get the dwellings farther away from the road, you will find that you can also flip the upper multi-family unit building so that you get a common area for trees between both multifamily unit buildings. This will provide an opportunity for a common landscaped walkway area along the "fronts" of the buildings.

    It also results in a gradual transition from high density transportation corridor to a lower density access drive/parking use to dwelling use situation.

    I think the noise to dwelling units can be greatly mitigated by construction techniques, but outdoor patio/bar-b-que liesure opportunities would be very diminished having the dwelling units so close to the major arterial roadway.

    I support the original Urbane Sprawler's posted recommendation.

    Try a cut-and-paste method to reverse the units and show a common landscaped area between the buildings to show your colleagues. A simple horizontal cut or two along the tree lines will do it. (I could not post such an image to this site.)

  17. #17
    Cyburbian Streck's avatar
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    Here is an edited view of your site using a cut-and-paste method to reposition the buildings as suggested in my previous message.



    I see that my image from my Cyburbia Gallery has not printed into this message.

    I would appreciate any help in showing me how to upload my image.

    Here is the location: http://www.cyburbia.org/gallery/show...&catp=nurbimel
    Last edited by Streck; 15 Jan 2012 at 12:41 PM. Reason: Added location of image in plain text.

  18. #18
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by UrbaneSprawler View post
    I'm curious to get opinions on this. In the sketch below it shows a multifamily development where the units on the bottom front (with a 30' setback) an arterial street with traffic in the range of 30,000 vpd. Above these units are parking, followed by garages, and then an internal street system. My opinion would be that this south half of the photo would be better off "flipped" with the bottom units fronting the internal street and the parking lot and garages face the arterial. The planners around the office have dismissed this concept. I suspect it's due to wanting to avoid showcasing the back of garages and parking along the arterial street and perhaps making the arterial street feel more pedestrian friendly as a result (though it may be fenced anyway and then no longer visible). In my non-planner view, the units would benefit noise-wise from being further setback from a busy roadway and the units would help better "frame" the internal street system, which without units on both sides of the internal street, loses an opportunity to create a more vibrant internal street system and internal neighborhood as a whole. What am I not getting I guess in having my opinion?


    You raise a very important point. Those of us who, as planners, advocate for greater livability through simple design changes like buildings which front on the street, need to pursue these designs in a way that makes good common sense to those who perhaps arenít as acquainted with the reasons underlying the benefit of such changes and, moreover, we musnít lose sight of the practical constraints on imposing such changes.

    Buildings which front on the street, as opposed to turning their backs on it, help create lively public spaces by preventing the sidewalks and public way from becoming a hostile and ďsecretiveĒ place for illicit activities (say, for example, at night when no cars are around). Windows and porches and just the mere presence of people coming in and out help foster positive urban atmospheres.

    This doesnít mean every street should be an urban one, however. Some streets are simply for moving cars. The wisdom of this is something to be addressed at a larger scale, above the site specific design review. One way to both move cars and create ped friendly urban atmospheres is to use a boulevard with multiple ways, as is done in Paris and San Francisco. You can turn an arterial into a safe and attractive boulevard by separating one way local roads off to the side for local commerce from center travel lanes where cars go a bit faster. This way the structures face slow moving traffic, but other cars can continue to move through with little impediment. Regularly spaced trees and onstreet parking create a buffer between traffic and pedestrians, and create an incentive for cars to slow down.

    Then the structures themselves should have a commercial component on the base, for which fast-moving traffic isnít as much of a bother as it would be for residential units, which can be located above. Lastly, 30,000 cars a day isnít that much (although itís certainly not insignificant, either). I lived in Burlington, VT on a road which carried that same amount, and was busy all day long, and the setback was probably no more than ten feet from porch to sidewalk, or 20 feet from window to street edge. It was noisy, sure, but not a major problem.

  19. #19
    Cyburbian UrbaneSprawler's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Streck View post
    Here is an edited view of your site using a cut-and-paste method to reposition the buildings as suggested in my previous message.
    Streck, thanks for the suggestion and attempt. I went ahead and did a photoshop exercise to compare:


    Original Image


    Orientation flipped

    The more I look at it, the more I prefer the second version. I think the internal roadway would be more pleasing with units on both sides.

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