Monday, May 25, 2015

A Superblock by Any Other Name / Walkability Analysis

The following is a verbatim excerpt from the report by Jeff Speck (pp.16, 17):
"Downtown Boise benefits from a quite small block size—about 300 feet square—and almost none of these blocks have been consolidated into superblocks, which tend to decrease walkability by focusing traffic on fewer streets, causing them to become too wide. The logic of small blocks suggests that no further block consolidations should be allowed, such as the one currently considered at St. Luke’s, which will significantly undermine the effectiveness of the street grid in that location." Jeff Speck, CCDC 2013 Downtown Walkability Analysis*

Walkable = Connected = Livable

Cities everywhere—including Boise—are moving towards deconstructing superblocks—development that 'decreases walkability by focusing traffic onto fewer streets.' That's why It is profoundly confusing for many that we would even contemplate moving in the opposite direction. By allowing the closure of yet another public right-of-way—particularly with so many unanswered questions about the impacts—seems counterproductive from a long-range planning perspective.

The Knight Foundation's Carol Colleta in her keynote presentation to a packed house at the 2015 State of Downtown stressed the importance of a walkable city and neighborhoods, adding that potential homebuyers will pay more for a home with a higher walk score.

In the 'Supplemental Narrative,' St. Luke's attorneys argue that the hospital campus wouldn't constitute a superblock. An overwhelming number of independent urban planners disagree, along with the City of Boise's own Comprehensive Plan (aka Blueprint Boise):
DT-CCN 1.4: URBAN BUILDING FORMS (a) Establish design criteria that require developments built in the CBD to use urban building forms where typically buildings are placed at the sidewalk and create a street wall, street level space is activated with people-oriented uses, and building entrances and openings are oriented to public sidewalks rather than to parking lots. (b) Work with developers to use building massing in Downtown that responds to the traditional pattern of lots within blocks, and creates a collage of buildings in each block rather than full-block megabuildings or “superblocks”.

Goal DT-C 2: Continue to develop a framework of streets, paths and open spaces that builds upon existing networks and strengthen connections to the Boise River and Downtown subdistricts.

DT-C 2.1: BLOCK PATTERN (a) Retain a high level of connectivity in Downtown by maintaining the traditional street grid and block pattern (260 feet by 300 feet). (b) Where superblocks exist, work with property owners and developers when redevelopment is proposed to re-establish the street grid and create blocks that approximate the traditional block size. If it is not feasible to re-establish streets, obtain public pedestrian ways protected by easements in place of the street grid so development areas approximate the traditional block size. (c) Avoid development of megastructures on superblocks that create either real or perceived barriers to connectivity.

DT-C 2.2: COMPLETION OF STREET GRID Where gaps exist in the street grid, work with property owners and developers to establish missing street segments when property is proposed for development or redevelopment consistent with the Downtown Boise Mobility Study.
As is evident above, Blueprint Boise expresses our community's value for connectivity, and our aversion to development that creates 'real or perceived barriers to connectivity.'

We support Boise's new LIV Boise initiative, which is currently focusing on the Vista Neighborhood, with plans to extend the LIV values to Boise's Central Addition. In the 2014 State of the City speech, Mayor Bieter presented three of LIV Boise’s initiatives:

  • Redefine Downtown, a new way to look at downtown Boise;
  • Connect Our Community, efforts to make it easier to walk, bike and use transit across the city; and
  • Energize Our Neighborhoods, an effort to revitalize neighborhoods throughout the city. The Vista program is the first example of the Energize our Neighborhood initiative. 

Hopefully, the city intends to include all neighbors and neighborhoods in its LIV initiative. We are concerned that the St. Luke's Master plan as proposed seems to move in the opposite direction of the stated LIV principles. The City, CCDC and St. Luke's may be missing an opportunity to develop in a more suitable location already owned by St. Luke's, that is in need of redevelopment and that is near near the Connector. This would be the area off Americana Blvd. and River Street.

*Note. CCDC's 2013 Downtown Walkability Analysis appeared to be temporarily MIA from its original location on their site and invisible to searches; thankfully, it is now available under a different heading/url after a few inquiries. An archived original can also be viewed here (see pp. 16, 17 for reference to St. Luke's). 

When attempting to use the CCDC link above, viewers see the following:

Screen capture 5/27/15

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