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Do "Main Streets" work?

OfficialPlanner

Cyburbian
Messages
930
Points
22
Envision this...

Your typical suburban area, with a semi-urban "Main Street" running throw the heart of the community.

The "Main Street"
Developed at a density of 3 to 5 times coverage, continues street wall, retail at grade with 4 or 5 storeys of residential floors above.
Parking is provided at the rear of buildings which act as a buffer between the mixed-use Main Street and stable 1 and 2 storey residential neighboorhoods.
Regular bus transit running every 20 minutes heading to and from downtown.

In theory residents of the single family neighboorhoods should be within walking distance to access retail along the Main Street, This retail includes cafes, restaraunts and supermarkets, not intended to be a subsitude for downtown but rather, bring everyday consumer needs closer to the community.

Is this a good or bad idea and is it pratical?
 

Jeff

Cyburbian
Messages
4,161
Points
27
In theory it's a great idea, you'll run into problems with the public transit thing though, IMHO. I think the downfall of the "Main St" concept in the suburbs is that the surrounding residential neighborhoods just aren't dense/populated enough to support them.
 

Cardinal

Cyburbian
Messages
10,078
Points
33
That's a tough one, without more information. I think it will all come down to density and demographics. How many people live nearby and what kinds of commercial activity will they support.
 

OfficialPlanner

Cyburbian
Messages
930
Points
22
The density will come from the Main Street itself, lined with 5 to 6 storey buildings, retail at grade with 4 to 5 storeys of residential space above it. At a density/FSI of 3 to 5 times coverage.

Im not sure how many units or residents that will translate into but prehaps enough to support bus transit. If not, simply add a few more floors to the buildings untill the minimum density to support transit is achived.

It will be mixed-use, the familes living in the single family homes while the couples and singles rent/own spaces above the retail stores along the Main Street.

The retail or commerical activity would be the same found in any suburb except having a diffrent built-form and parking at the rear of the building instead of infront.
 

Cardinal

Cyburbian
Messages
10,078
Points
33
That denisty may work for some types of stores, but not for others. There is also the question of how many of those stores the population can support. How many square feet of retail space will you have? How many people or households will it take to create a market large enough to fill that space? Can all of those households be built within a walking distance and still only have an "urban district one street wide?

I guess that is another thing, too. The most successful "main street" commercial districts are not linear corridors, but dense cores which offer people the opportunity to make circuitous routes through them.
 

OfficialPlanner

Cyburbian
Messages
930
Points
22
I guess that is another thing, too. The most successful "main street" commercial districts are not linear corridors, but dense cores which offer people the opportunity to make circuitous routes through them.
Thats true but there are some folks who would never live in a dense core and prefer single family homes. Linear urban streets would be the only way to get the best of both worlds.

Residents will have the option to walk or drive, parking is provided at the rear of buildings and an attrative streetscape greets pedestrians at the front.

As for retail, live-work spaces could be an option if vaccancy is a problem, but I don't think it will be. Low-density suburbs already support endless stripmalls along major corridors.
Nothing has changed except residents now live directly above these retail stores, which should be a positive boost to bussiness located along the main street.

This is not intended to be a subsitude for downtown, if the density doesn't work for some shops then find a store that does. Anything people use on a daily basis, such as food outlets, drug stores, gift shops should thrive with the added density.
 

Jeff

Cyburbian
Messages
4,161
Points
27
Is this project something in the works or just a pipe dream right now? If so, what metropolitan area are we taling here?

You're description of your vision sounds alot like Queens, NY with its 4-5 story taxpayers (commercial w/ apts above). But the make up is more than just one street, as Mike said.

Personally, I wouldn't go all gung-ho on the transit thing right away. Let the resideints show a need before you start a system.
 

Tranplanner

maudit anglais
Messages
7,903
Points
34
Mike DeVuono said:
Personally, I wouldn't go all gung-ho on the transit thing right away. Let the resideints show a need before you start a system.
The opposite side to that argument is to get the transit in first so that it becomes the first option for residents. Letting them get used to taking their cars, and then introducing transit at a later date may seriously limit the effectiveness of the transit service.

I think the biggest problem to be faced, and the one that we're experiencing here, is the adjacent low-density residential areas resisting the introduction of higher-density development along arterial roads.
 

Jeff

Cyburbian
Messages
4,161
Points
27
OK, but where is this transit going to take me? If I already live in this new "Main Street" I can walk everywhere right?

If the surrounding areas are going to come in, I don't think you can support a transit system based on them. The density just isn't there, nor is the desire to take transit, especially when you are providing parking.
 

Tranplanner

maudit anglais
Messages
7,903
Points
34
I think the residents in the higher-density Main Street would support the transit service, to go to work etc. OP'ers originally stated there would be a transit service linking the Main Street to the Downtown. I gues you have to differentiate as to where the Main Street development is...it's context so to speak. Is it a greenfields development in the middle of nowhere, or a "re-urbanization" of an existing suburban area (that's the Toronto experience right now, BTW). I agree with Mike, as to how the greenfields scenario and transit would go. Also depends on your Metropolitan area...
 

nerudite

Cyburbian
Messages
6,544
Points
29
When I left the City of Vancouver (WA, not BC) we were working with Portland and METRO to adopt a regional plan that would run light rail up the I-5 corridor from Portland. The original proposal would run it in a loop along the highway system that loops through Vancouver (I-5, SR-500, I-205). However, I think the way the City is leaning is toward running the light rail project up one of the arterial streets (Fourth Plain Road... a blighted, strip-mall infested mess) and over the next 20 to 30 years, develop a more Main Street approach. There is currently a Transit Overlay District along Fourth Plain Road that provides transit oriented development incentives... but without the light rail and an increase in pedestrian activity, it won't fly. Overall, I think that retrofitting an arterial in a Main Street is possible... I hope Vancouver gets around to redeveloping Fourth Plain in this fashion eventually.
 

OfficialPlanner

Cyburbian
Messages
930
Points
22
Thanks for the help everyone, generally density would be key if the Main Street concept will work.

It was taken out of context from toronto's newly approved official plan which calls for this Main Street approrach to most of our major roads. We already have the bus/streetcar transit in place which runs along the arterial roads and into the subway.

The major problem we face currently is getting the 6-storey buildings to line the street with retail at grade. It seems like there is no demand.
Townhomes and high-rises do incredible well but the low and mid-rise buildings that we need seem to have very slow sales and developers don't like them.

It's also hard getting the retail spaces at the bottom of our buildings filled, developers tend to build them very small and don't include any loading facilities which make them very undesireable to retailers regardless of the density.
 

green22

INACTIVE
Messages
101
Points
6
main st OP

If it were based on density alone, North York's Yonge streeet would be a successful main street or even downtown. What the mayor doesn't know is something that the original main streets and shopping centers know well. Shoppers like a continuous row of stores, or aisles to choose from. Shopping centers don't want 40 feeet of blank spaces for people to walk by any more than street retail does. If one condo has street retail from sidewalk to sidewalk while the 2 condos next to him have plazas or houses, the strip is discontinuous.

While it is not necessary to have the strip be non stop for 50 blocks, there should be atleast 2 or 3 continuous blocks to create a shopping strip. I do not think that most of the streets will be able to have streetfront retail in every building , you might want to select 5 streets in a row separated by 2 without, for example based on demand.

Although many of the neighborhoods in the main street program are not Toronto's hottest real estate, if Toronto added LRT and zoned for 8 stories I would expect some interest. Your best chance for main streets would be to ban malls and box stores like England. Perhaps cutting back on the required amount of off street parking requirements might make developing the area more attractive. In downtown the requirements are less because of transit availability. With the LRT you could give main street the downtown requirements? They could also save money on the open space requirements being right next to the curb.
 

green22

INACTIVE
Messages
101
Points
6
infill

There is an interesting article on the problems of urban mixed use infill. Is infill worth the High cost Jan 24 Washington post
 

passdoubt

Cyburbian
Messages
407
Points
13
Your concept basically describes most of the older inner ring Philadelphia suburbs, except that the Main Streets no longer have any "everyday consumer needs" you cite. It's obvious that nobody wants to put a modern grocery store in a 3+ story building. You hit the nail on the head: developers don't like them.
 

AubieTurtle

Cyburbian
Messages
894
Points
21
I don't know how much you could count on the residents of the single family homes in the adjacent neighborhoods to support the retail on the "Main Street". Certainly those who live above the businesses would find it convienient to pop downstairs and maybe down a block or two to get what they want. Those in the adjacent neighborhood, even if it is within the magic five minute walk to the business district, are more likely to get in their cars and drive to Home Depot 15 miles away then they are walk to the Ace Hardware on Main Street. Heck, even if there is plenty of parking so they don't have to walk you'll still find that once they get into the car they are just going to go ahead and visit big box land down the street.

My gut instinct on the best way to get this to work is for the build the Main Street at the proposed density with only enough retail that can be supported by those living on the street. Try to design the buildings with live/work units on the bottom floors that can later be converted to retail when (and if) the population in the single family homes start to walk to Main Street, making the demand for retail rise.
 

H

Cyburbian
Messages
2,850
Points
24
The only “Main Streets” that seem to work as “Main Streets” are the ones downtown. When they are in the ‘burbs they seem to function more as a strip center or outdoor shopping mall. What is the difference? Well, in three words, large parking lots (even if in the back).

But do outdoor shopping malls and strip centers that look like “Main Streets” work? I know in Florida they do. And they can look and funcetion quit well.

but, “There ain’t nothing like the real thing, baby
:-D
 

Plan Man

Cyburbian
Messages
125
Points
6
BlackRedGold said:
The Ottawa suburb of Barrhaven, where I live, is planning a main street idea.

Here is the full plan.

Here is the land use site plan.

This is the population estimates for the area.

This is in a middle class suburb of ~50,000 residents that is expected to double in ten years time.
A land use and design study is currently being undertaken for the Barrhaven example, called the "Nepean Town Centre", by the City of Ottawa. One of the key elements is the future light transit corridor running through the median of the main street, what it sounds like similar to examples in Boston that I have seen. It should make the plan and the viability of a true main street certainly interesting.
 

Bangorian

Member
Messages
198
Points
7
H said:
The only “Main Streets” that seem to work as “Main Streets” are the ones downtown. When they are in the ‘burbs they seem to function more as a strip center or outdoor shopping mall. What is the difference? Well, in three words, large parking lots (even if in the back)[/i]”
Lansing, MI has two Main Street programs, neither of them right downtown (though lord knows they need it). One is more of a district (Old Town) and one is a corridor along Michigan Avenue, an old retail corridor that was one on the trolley line.

These aren't suburban locations, though...

If there was single-family residential around the "main street", it would have to be DENSE single family (i.e. smaller houses on smaller lots than the traditional subs). Like a pre-war neighborhood. Just as pointed out that people want continuity on the commercial street, people also want continuity of homes and don't want to walk past large lawns, etc. on their way to the commercial street. This is especially important for the streets that intersect the commercial street.
 

BKM

Cyburbian
Messages
6,464
Points
29
The difficulty is, unless you have the residential density, a pedestrian-oriented retail environment will work only for speciality goods or regional centers like downtown. Stores can't survive based on walking traffic from adjacent quarter-acre-land.

This has probably been said better above :)
 

michaelskis

Cyburbian
Messages
19,162
Points
42
Wow... this is a great thread. I think that a main street could work, IF the social characteristics of the surrounding neighborhood. I have been looking into doing a study if a Main Street could work in a suburb or bed room community as my masters project. We have a location that would work great... but our community has almost no commercial buildings that would aid to a traditional downtown. Instead we have a “Commercial Corridor” full of crazy poll signs, massive setbacks on the other side of seas of parking area. (Now they are putting trees in... all together now ooooooohhhhhh) But there is a street now to far from City Hall, in the center of town, that is an east west corridor, but it already has mixed uses on it (not in one zone, but in many)... and if I do a project, and show that it could work, if given the chance.
 

JNA

Cyburbian Plus
Messages
24,474
Points
49
From the National Trust
The 2004 Great American Main Street Awards semifinalists are:

Westfield, New Jersey - My Hometown. :)
 

jresta

Cyburbian
Messages
1,473
Points
23
I think Main St. works just fine. I don't think you need 5 or 6 residential or office floors above the retail either. I think one or two floors work just fine.

They're all over NJ and PA. In fact the smaller Main Streets have a much better time than the larger downtowns. This is probably a function of the income of the people who live in the neighborhoods as much as anything. The malls and such had an affect as would be expected with any glut of retail space but eventually the market caught up with it.

This is Maplewood, NJ - the train to NYC running through on the right.


here's some more great photos
http://www.redbank.com/modules.php?name=Photography
 
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