New Urbanism and bus route geometries

I remember being confronted by a transit planner with exactly Jarrett’s criticism — about town centers placed off of arterials vs. bus route geometries that should stick to the arterials — back in 2005. I hate to pass the buck, but it falls into the trap of giving New Urbanists too much credit for what they can do. (It’s a common trap, fed by the fact that many urbanists are architects and other self-aggrandizing types.)

A typical example given would be Southern Village outside Chapel Hill. That site had a few additional confounding factors: NCDOT planned to widen 15-501 and wanted strict access management, Chapel Hill had little authority over NCDOT, and the entire site sits pretty high up above the road. Luckily for them, though, Chapel Hill also wanted a permanent southern bus terminal (and a permanent greenbelt beyond Southern Village), so the compromise of having a town center and terminal bus P&R works. Newer, infill New Urbanist developments seem to have gotten better about the arterial interface. Excelsior & Grand [warning: PDF] is a great example of a state DOT relenting on design (and crashes dropped 60%!). Even the evolution between The Grove and Americana at Brand is notable; not sure if it was Caruso or Glendale that made that decision, but the arterial sides look and feel much better at the latter. It appears that the state of the art is to place the Main Street perpendicular to, and adjacent to, the arterial; it’s a rare Main Street that can sustain retail all that far into the property, anyways.

The debate reminds me a lot of the debates about couplets, something that Calthorpe was pushing with his Urban Network. Ultimately, those debates were somewhat pointless outside of those few large greenfield projects that have occurred (mainly overseas): by and large, NUists aren’t in a position to built new arterials, or even reconstruct both ROW and urban fabric along existing ones.