Sunday, March 15, 2009

Street Section Policy Issues

For the discussion with the Planning Commission on streets there will be two primary policy areas that staff will be exploring: 

1) the elements within a standard section (i.e., sidewalks, planter strips, on-street parking, etc.); and, 

(2) the dimensions of those elements. 

The combination of elements and their dimensions are a reflection of the community’s values. A community that wants to encourage biking may allow bike paths to substitute for on-street parking. The concept of “complete streets” or having a healthy balance across modes has tended to be effective in the long-run. Streets which disproportionately favor one mode of travel over another (i.e. no sidewalks) usually have a detrimental effect on quality of life.

The following discussion points out some of the policy issues associated with the standard street sections that will be proposed during the Commission meeting.

Essential elements. The list of possible elements that can be provided in a street section are numerous and can include parking (parallel or diagonal), travel lanes, bike facilities, pedestrian facilities, landscape strips, LID facilities, use of different paving for sidewalks and streets, etc. Staff have chosen required elements based on already approved and publicly-vetted street sections contained in the Transportation Element of the Comprehensive Plan approved in 2008.

On-street parking. On-street parking is a central issue in considering narrower street sections, because it tends to be reduced when street widths are narrowed. Parking is often provided on both sides of streets in Oak Harbor. However, as narrower lots have been provided, on-street parking has been reduced as the distance between driveway aprons is not sufficient to provide room for parking, even with parking lanes required in the streets.

Practically speaking, the choices are to provide no on-street parking, provide some on-street parking (one side of the street) or provide a high level of on-street parking (both sides).

If no on-street parking is provided, it will reduce the amount of pavement required, thereby reducing development and maintenance costs and likely have less environmental impact, due to a reduction in impervious surface.  However, people may be forced to park further away from their destination where parking is available. 

If a high level of on-street parking is required, the City is not as likely to have complaints from citizens about parking, but development, maintenance and environmental costs are likely to be greater. If no on-street parking is provided, guest parking can still be provided in parking courts on dead-end streets, such as has happened in the Fireside development.

Right-of-way width and narrow streets. Narrow streets do not necessarily mean narrower rights-of-way. If parking is eliminated or reduced, the City has a policy choice to make; require wider sidewalks and landscape strips to add up to 50 feet of right-of-way, or is the r-o-w reduced, creating more area for private improvements and an incentive to construct narrow streets? Retaining a wider right-of-way allows the City to plan for future public facility expansions.

Landscape strips size. The street sections proposed 5-foot landscape strips. Smaller landscape strips have been used in other jurisdictions, including Oak Harbor. However, smaller strips tend to result in cracked sidewalks and curbs from overgrown tree roots.

Traffic calming. The City receives complaints about traffic calming (or lack of it) in neighborhoods. Narrow streets do not preclude traffic calming and, in fact, promote slower speeds in comparison with wider streets.

Three-tiered review process. The three tiered process proposed in a previous post is designed to eliminate staff, applicant and Planning Commission time spent processing variance requests for deviations from existing street standards. Minor deviations can be processed under an administrative variance process, saving major deviations (change in required street elements) for Planning Commission review. There would no longer be a need for Planning Commission review of minor deviations.

Staff will be seeking Planning Commission input on these policy issues prior to drafting the Code language for street widths.

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