Friday, March 18, 2011

Pedestrian Dead Zones

A TRAX train passing the Frank E. Moss Federal...Image via Wikipedia

Just because you build nice wide sidewalks and create a barrier between cars and pedestrians (such as trees) does not mean you will create an environment that conducive to pedestrian activity. To create pedestrian activity you need to have someplace to walk to but also reduce the number of barriers that exist to actually using those sidewalks to get somewhere.

Despite its very long blocks, there is some good pedestrian activity in downtown Salt Lake City from North Temple to about 350 South. If you travel any farther south than that you will see a remarkable decrease in the number of pedestrians. There is several causes of this drop off in pedestrian activity and I will cover some of the major ones in this posting.

Since Main Street is home to the TRAX light rail line I will start off at the corner of 400 South and Main. On the northwest corner of the intersection with have a court house. Court houses tend not to foster pedestrian activity because they are a single point destination, in other words people may go to the court house but that is the only reason they head there.

They are currently expanding the court house to take up most of the block from Main Street to West Temple. This will create a large barrier to pedestrian activity in the area. With court houses becoming even more fortified these days this makes court houses even more unfriendly toward pedestrian activity these days.

Here is a picture of the current court house looking north:

Here is a picture looking south diagonally from corner of 400 South and Main toward the corner of 500 South and West Temple.

Does this look like a thriving pedestrian and transit friendly downtown area or does it look like a parking lot of a suburban office park? This block of parking is made worse because of Salt Lake City's extremely long blocks. To the left of the picture is the Court House TRAX station and on the next block at State Street is another court house.

There is apparently a long story involving this parking lot barrier that covers the block between 400 South, 500 South, Main and West Temple. Despite all the opportunities that exist for development of this block with a TRAX station at the front door this lot will most likely stay as it is for the foreseeable future.

Once you walk pass the parking lot you face a new barrier for pedestrians-the 500 South and 600 South speedways to Interstate 15:

However, it is not three and four lanes of speeding cars that create a barrier to creating an effective pedestrian environment, it is the development that has occurred along the two streets. Because 500 South and 600 South are the two primary access streets to Interstate 15, the area along the two streets have become lodging row.

You would think that lodging facilities would want to foster pedestrian activity in the area but instead most lodging facilities are designed on two principles:

1. Everyone will arrive by car so there is no need to create effective pedestrian access points.
2. Especially if the lodging facility has on sight restaurants, the goal is to ensure the people staying at the facility only use their restaurants or have to get in their car and try to find parking if they want to eat somewhere else.

If you look at the picture above, you will notice that there is no pedestrian access point from the building in the picture to street level. This building is the Little America Hotel that covers all of the block with its sister property the Grand America Hotel taking up half of the block on the far side of Main Street (there is some irony that the Grand America was home to Railvolution back in 2005).

The next two pictures show the main entrance of both hotels on Main Street. While there is some pedestrian access to both hotels it is design more to foster getting guests between the two facilities than actually create any pedestrian activity on Main Street.

To be fair, the Little America does have a pedestrian entrance to its restaurant on Main Street about halfway between its main entrance and 500 South but it appears that there is few people that use it since pedestrian traffic on this section of main street is non-existent.

South of 600 South you have there is some areas of abandoned or barely used businesses and past 700 South you encounter several car dealerships including the Mark Miller Toyota Sprawl lot that completely kills most pedestrian activity in this neighborhood.

Heading back north we move one block west to West Temple and you have the only access point to the Little America from West Temple and as you can see from the picture it is not exactly pedestrian friendly:

To be fair to the Little America/Grand America hotels, they are not the only culprits as the Embassy Suites at 600 South and West Temple shows with its very small sidewalk providing the only pedestrian access to the hotel:

In fact I all of the hotels except for Motel 6, had very poor to no pedestrian access points to the hotel. This next photo is back at 500 South looking south toward 600 South with the Little America on the left. As you can see the east side of West Temple has the right elements for pedestrians, there is just too many barriers to using it.

Finally you look back toward downtown, so close yet so far away.

You can build sidewalks and put trees in to create an environment that should foster more pedestrian activity, but if development or the lack of it and street design creates barriers to pedestrians all sidewalks in the world will not encourage people to use them.

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1 comment:

Joshua Cairns said...

Great read!