Pavement or Parks?

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Friday, May 16th, 2014
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In some overpaved cities, people are turning parking spaces and underused streets into useful places for people such as parklets, plazas, and bicycle parking.

Getting official approval to do so, however, has often been a slog through the bureaucratic mud. Interested groups or individuals might have to navigate the byzantine processes in departments of planning, transportation, public works, and so on.

To help expedite the creation of more people-friendly places, the Los Angeles Department of Transportation’s People St program has streamlined the process by assembling a “kit of parts” for pre-approved projects. The People St program requires a community partner to spearhead each project in order to identify needed projects, build community support, raise funds, install the infrastructure, and maintain the project. Community partners may include non-profits, Business Improvement Districts (BIDs), Community Benefit Districts (CBDs), or other organizations that will oversee the management, maintenance, and operation of each project.

The city requires the overseeing organization to obtain a minimum of $1 million in general liability insurance, as well.

Rather than creating a unique proposal for each project, which would then need official review and approval, community groups select one of the pre-approved People St options, tailor it to their site, and submit an application for their project. The “kit of parts” approach shortens and simplifies the process by assembling information for each project type, such as project guidelines, application manual, application forms, technical appendix, and sample letters of support.

Community partners can choose one of three types of designs, as follows:

Parklet: 1–3 parking spaces converted to space for people, which usually includes seating and plantings. Cost usually runs US $40,000–80,000 and installation requires up to two weeks. Each parklet must include safety features such as reflective tape, a defined perimeter treatment, wheel stops, and heavy barrier plantings.

Plaza: an area of underused street/paved area converted with a colorful paving treatment, plantings, and tables, umbrellas, and chairs. Safety features, as with parklets, mandate wheel stops, heavy barrier plantings, reflective tape and posts, and a defined perimeter treatment. Cost for a plaza runs about $35,000 for the city and is quite variable for the community partner; many obtain grants for materials purchases and use volunteer labor to minimize the overall cost.

Bike corral: typically taking up one parking space, a bike corral can hold 16 bicycles. This approach is especially useful where sidewalks are too narrow to accommodate bike racks. Interested parties apply to the program and if a bike corral is approved, agree to maintain the corral. The city DOT covers the cost of each bike corral.

All projects are in place for one year. Community groups with successful projects can apply for longer-term status.

Crowdfunding a parklet in Vancouver

A chocolaterie owner in Vancouver has successfully married crowdfunding with a parklet project. “The idea here is to give back and hope that in the end this parklet reinforces our sense of community, that it gets people talking, smiling and laughing in a beautiful environment,” said Anne-Geneviève Poitras, owner of Chocolaterie de la Nouvelle France

Poitras raised $5,383 on Kickstarter to create a parklet outside her business. The design by PWL Partnership will use two parking spaces to create a public space with plantings, seating, and a bike bar, where patrons can pull their bikes to a table without dismounting. Overall cost is projected to total about $25,000.

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As of this writing, the French Quarter Parklet, as it’s called, is under construction and should be completed within a week. Poitras said of the project, “The most exciting thing to me is that I will be feeling at home once this project is completed. Native of Montreal, I am used to urban spaces and innovative designs, and wish to create and build more gathering places in Vancouver.”

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The French Quarter parklet is a collaborative effort, with contracting support coming from Tradeworks, a local nonprofit group. Additional support for the video campaign, landscape installation, bike bar design, and bicycle renovations will be supplied by local companies.

The project falls under Vancouver’s Parklet Pilot Program, which aims to help interested business owners to install parklets. Benefits of parklets, according to the city’s Parklet web site, include creating vibrant social spaces that benefit patrons and businesses, and opening up congested sidewalks.

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