#ReadUrbanandPlanningWomen2014 entry #22: Carolyn McAndrews

I recently met Carolyn McAndrews during a visit to UC Denver’s planning program. She’s doing really interesting work in transportation on street safety. The reason she’s so interesting is that her approach is highly empirical. Unlike the million and one designers in the world who pronounce what design aspects are safe, McAndrews actually does the work, as we say: she works from secondary data, or data she collects herself, to see how different street layouts and features affect safety, and–and this is the cool part–how the distribution of ‘safe’ streets differs across different socio-economic groups. At the center, it’s an environmental justice approach. Very cool stuff from a very promising young scholar.

Her web page is awesome, and it’s reminded me that I need to get off my duff and really spiff this place up. So yeah, that’s going to happen. Yessirree. But hers has all her publications laid out along with her research interests, where you can find the paper that I am going to discuss today:

McAndrews C, Florez J, Deakin E. 2006. “Views of the Street: Using Community Surveys to and Focus Groups to Inform Context-Sensitive Design.” Transportation Research Record, 1981:92-99.

This is a really nice example of applied planning research. So they have San Pablo Avenue, and it’s an urban arterial with a decent amount of traffic. The planning goal is to reshape it so it’s not just big street dominated by cars, but a multi-modal environment that people can use for walking and other modes as well. It runs through a bunch of neighborhoods, so the effort is actually looking at a corridor analysis. They do surveys on how residents use the corridor as it is, and they find that residents already do a lot of their shopping and other activities already along the corridor. The focus group activity, which sought input on what types of changes residents were interested in, found that walking was the main interest. McAndrews and her coauthors are a little more polite than I would be discussing the “I, Me, Mine” aspects of what emerged from the focus groups. Translated less gently than the authors do, what emerged from the neighborhood focus was (hardly a surprise) the desire there be more street amenities and businesses that serve residents. And mixed use retail is ok, as long as it is ‘within scale.’ Which every planner who does housing has heard a million times: you can bring me amenities, but don’t bring new residents in any number:

The focus group participants therefore want assurance that the new resi- dents have adequate off-street parking. They also want assurance that new developments will not look like “big-box” retail or “monolith” apartment buildings. Neighbors thought that the design of the build- ings is important—the height should not be out of scale with the surrounding neighborhood (most thought three and sometimes four stories would be suitable), and the building should convey a sense of permanency rather than temporary residence. They say that the possibility for new development should be analyzed with design in mind, and further, if reduced parking is going to be justified on the basis of transit proximity or walkability of the area, a detailed study should be produced to establish reasonable parking levels.

The residents also don’t buy the idea that you can just eliminate parking just because transit is available…

The authors are right; you can’t really ask residents to participate in the process to reveal their democratic preferences and then critique the results; that’s not good. But that’s why we have grumps like me to point it out.