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Thread: building orientation as traffic calming

  1. #1
    Cyburbian permaplanjuneau's avatar
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    building orientation as traffic calming

    Does anyone know of any support (studies, experience, etc.) where building orientation has had a traffic-calming effect? I am working on a variance to required rear-yard setbacks that will allow a low-income housing development to be oriented in such a way as to reduce the monolithic appearance that would result from strict conformance with required setbacks. My gut feeling is that turning the buildings slightly will not only reduce the linear appearance of the development, but will also affect the way that drivers perceive the street, and cause them to slow slightly and pay more attention to their surroundings. Any thoughts on this issue would be greatly appreciated.

  2. #2
    Forums Administrator & Gallery Moderator NHPlanner's avatar
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    Sounds somewhat reasonable in theory....but I doubt if you'll have much luck finding studies.....

    Maybe try starting here: http://www.trafficcalming.org/
    "Growth is inevitable and desirable, but destruction of community character is not. The question is not whether your part of the world is going to change. The question is how." -- Edward T. McMahon, The Conservation Fund

  3. #3
    Cyburbian mike gurnee's avatar
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    Someone is grasping for straws, trying to find an excuse to grant a variance. Buildings that are not perfectly in line with setbacks would be less monotinous, and the buildier has that option. I do not know the AK statutory required findings for a variance, but it would not fly in the states I have worked. Lower income housing should have more open space, not less.

  4. #4
    Cyburbian Seabishop's avatar
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    Even if drivers slow down the first time they see it, they won't after passing on their way to work everyday.

    Would this have the unintended consequence of making the low income housing the "weird crooked development where the poor people live"? In other words, it might be best to have the low income development fit into the neighborhood better.

  5. #5
    Cyburbian
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    How would the reduction of the monolithic appearance (which ideally shouldn't be there in the first place) affect the buildings' proximity to the ROW? Seems like if you're moving buildings closer to the road and tweaking the orientation and footprint, you could potentially cross a line between "traffic-calming" and "creates massive driving hazard by being too close to ROW and distracting drivers with odd angles". It's a nice thought, but not sure how it would translate in practice. The builder can probably modify the appearance of the building without affecting the footprint, or at least not affecting driving patterns, therefore, no hardship. Just my .02.
    I don't dream. I plan.

  6. #6
    Cyburbian permaplanjuneau's avatar
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    grasping at straws

    yes & no...the project looks a lot better on paper with the angled orientation. This design also relates to the existing development in the neighborhood, which is a mixture of 3- and 4-plexes, townhouses, and single-family homes. The only problem is that the subject lots are at the edge of a multi-family zone which abuts a single-family zone, and our code requires the larger setback to apply when a common lot line divides two zoning districts. The applicant has offered mitigation in terms of landscaped buffers and has reduced thier proposed encroachment--I just have to see if I can justify a five-foot encroachment into a twenty-foot setback (it would only be a ten-foot setback if the subject parcels didn't abut a lower-density zone). I don't think that there will be any controversy over this variance, as there is only one property owner in the neighborhood who isn't the applicant, and the applicant is willing to direct extra mitigation for the encroachment adjacent to this property.

    As for "the wierd crooked development," this is actually one of the only low-income projects in our town that doesn't scream "subsidised housing." All of the others are obviously cheap, and as rectangular as a building and site layout can be.

    The open space concern is also valid (of course), but this layout will actually increase the amount of useable open space in the development, as strict adherence to the setback requirements (with the building plan which will be used) would result in no open spaces wider than 20 feet. With the angled site plan, the total amount of open space is the same, but several of the open spaces will be up to 30 feet wide.

    So yes--I'm grasping at straws. I think, however, that I'm doing it for the right reasons. Thanks for all the comments, though...if nothing else, they helped me flesh out why I want to reccomend the passage of this variance.

    just for clarification, the variance is to the REAR yard setback--not to the front, so the buildings won't really be any closer to the street if this variance passes.
    Last edited by NHPlanner; 14 Jul 2004 at 4:18 PM.

  7. #7
    Cyburbian boiker's avatar
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    I think it all depends on why you have a rear yard setback. What is its purpose and what are the consequences, aside from weakening the ordinance, if this variance is allowed.

    If you allow it for this development, you may have to allow the variance for many more.
    Dude, I'm cheesing so hard right now.

  8. #8
    Cyburbian Michele Zone's avatar
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    I have no idea how it would affect traffic. But I am thinking of some of the stuff I have read about creating a sense of place and how Savannah, GA was designed -- that curving streets can give you a sense of an "end" to the street even when there isn't one. Your description also makes me think of San Francisco, which is a wonderfully picturesque city with a strong sense of place in part because of how hilly it is. Because the hills allow for a regular city grid without the lack of personality that such a grid often causes. I am trying to think of specific things I have read but just can't put my finger on what I might be able to cite. Um, I am thinking that some of what Jane Jacobs says in "Death and Life of great american cities" is critical of the way "open space" is handled in most public housing developments. Open space, when mishandled, equates to a dead zone. And I agree with you that the boxiness of most public housing is antithetical to a humane environment. It amounts to warehousing human beings.

    I really do not like the sound of the regulation you cite: of requiring more of a setback on the edge of a zone. That sounds to me like it creates a dead zone and cuts off one area from another. I know you have no real control over the regulation itself, but some of the folks here have expressed concern over the kind of precedent a variance sets. I think if it is written up carefully, a variance could set a positive precedent that encourages builders to work hard at making projects on the edge of a zone relate well to both zones and be an effective transition which connects the two distinct areas rather than what it sounds like you have presently: a dividing line, alienating the two areas one from the other.

    If you approach it with that mentality, does that make it easier to write a recommendation for the changes which you think clearly merit granting a variance? I mean, it sounds like it is well designed and just being strangled by "mindless" regulations. In human society, rules and regulations are supposed to be guidelines but should not usurp common sense. Our system allows for and requires human judgment calls along the way. Since it sounds like a good call, I think the main things you need to work on are 1) arguing your case effectively (something you have gotten a good start on with putting your thoughts in order here) and 2) making sure that the manner in which the variance is granted sets a positive precedent so that you do not wind up regretting it.

  9. #9
    Cyburbian Rem's avatar
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    I think you have more of an argument in respect of the landscaping you can achieve in a Z lot arrangement - assuming of course there are some increased setbacks as well as the decreased setbacks.

  10. #10
    Cyburbian Emeritus Chet's avatar
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    I think a well defined streetedge can do more than a single building placement. To the extent that buildings define your street edge in a consistent manner, it may have the same effect.

  11. #11
    Cyburbian The One's avatar
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    Curves and traffic circles

    Try curves and traffic circles every 250+ feet.....
    “The way of acquiescence leads to moral and spiritual suicide. The way of violence leads to bitterness in the survivors and brutality in the destroyers. But, the way of non-violence leads to redemption and the creation of the beloved community.”
    Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
    - See more at: http://www.thekingcenter.org/king-ph....r7W02j3S.dpuf

  12. #12
    Cyburbian nerudite's avatar
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    I don't know of any studies regarding building orientation, but reducing setbacks along a street (front yard setbacks that is), does tend to have a traffic calming effect in conjunction with other amenities (like treed boulevards). Generally, changes that give the appearance of narrowing the roadway or the sightlines tends to cause people to slow down.

  13. #13
    Cyburbian permaplanjuneau's avatar
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    Real World Resolution

    These variances passed unanimously.
    The zoning map amendment referenced in the staff report also passed. Some background on it: The two pedestrian way improvement options were 1) widening the asphalt roadway by 6' and striping the pedestrian section, or 2) a separated walkway partially in the ROW and partially on the applicant's property. Obviously, staff thought that option 1 was NOT an option. The Planning Commission agreed, and option 2 was adopted.

    PS--the PC also agreed with many of you (and myself, for that matter) in that these lots could have been developed without variances, but that the variances would make the development so much better that the variances made sense.

    Good development wins out over The Code for once! Yay!

    (as you can see from the attached staff report, I didn't end up using the "street calming" justification for these variances)
    Attached Files Attached Files
    Last edited by permaplanjuneau; 28 Jul 2004 at 2:39 PM.

  14. #14
    Cyburbian mike gurnee's avatar
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    Now it would be nice to work on your code, if you had the time. Allow for such flexibility, as in an average rear setback.

  15. #15
    Cyburbian permaplanjuneau's avatar
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    Revise the Code!

    Quote Originally posted by mike gurnee
    Now it would be nice to work on your code, if you had the time. Allow for such flexibility, as in an average rear setback.
    We are currently working on re-writing our code entirely, as it has been piece-mealed since its adoption in 1986, and is now at odds with itself in many places (besides being pretty archaic anyway).

    I like the idea of an "average rear setback," but can forsee trouble unless there is still a minimum...of course, we still require front setbacks everwhere but our historic district, and the "powers that be" don't seem too keen on adopting a "build-to" line instead of a minimum front setback.

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