Durable Growth

Responding to parklet questions

140708001 Ray'sI recently wrote about the possibility of a parklet at Ray’s Delicatessen and Tavern, a neighborhood gathering place a short distance from my home.  My comments were intended to note the potential of the idea and to encourage Ray’s to continue with their study of the concept, including the development of a site plan and other data the City of Petaluma would need before making an approval decision.  I specifically withheld my own approval until those latter steps were complete.

In the way of too many land use discussions, some readers didn’t grasp the nature of the land-use process, including the balancing of pros and cons yet to come, overlooked the statement of my withheld judgment, and assumed that I’d was advocating for a fully fleshed out idea.  The resulting comments and emails took a variety of tones.  Earlier today, I finished the last of my responses.

Although many of the respondents misunderstood the status of the parklet idea, many of the comments touched on valid points that were worthy of sharing.  Below, I’ve tried to capture the sense of the questions posed and my resulting responses, starting with the more general questions and proceeding into those more specific to Ray’s.  However, I’ll reiterate that I’m writing for myself, not for Ray’s or for any other parklet applicant.

Who would pay for a parklet?: Elsewhere, parklets have always been applied for and installed by the nearby businesses, sometimes with support from citizens or non-profits with an interest in the changes that would be brought by parklets.  I wouldn’t expect Petaluma to be any different.

Wouldn’t a business propose a parklet only so they can make more money?: We live in a market economy.  No reasonable business owner would propose a parklet unless he expected the additional business created by the parklet to justify the expense.  But it’s also true that most parklets are proposed by local businesses that also value their community and are eager to give something back.  You don’t see many parklets at Starbucks.

How can we justify frills like parklets when our roadways are falling apart?: It’s true that infrastructure maintenance is badly in arrears in Petaluma.  The same is true of most U.S. communities.  The bill is coming due on the drivable suburban experiment and the public is unwilling to pay the tab.  It’s a problem that will require a multi-faceted solution.  Providing more places that people can reach without getting into their cars, such as parklets at neighborhood gathering places, can play a small role in that solution.  So parklets would be part of the solution, not the problem.

Wouldn’t a parklet use up scarce parking?: If a parklet includes bike parking, the parking demand created by the gathering place might decrease.  People are willing to walk and to bike when those modes are made as convenient as driving.

How would deliveries be accomplished if a parklet occupies the curbside space in front of the business?: That’s a site-specific question that any applicant would need to answer.

If Petaluma suddenly had a multiplicity of parklets, wouldn’t traffic congestion clog the community?: If parklets popped up all over town (an unlikely event, but a theoretical possibility), the likely effects would be a small reduction in traffic, a noticeable increase in pedestrian and bike traffic, and an incentive for other building owners to change to uses that would serve the increased foot and pedal traffic, which would have a multiplicative effect on reducing traffic.  Even in the best case, the effect on traffic would be minor, but a step in the right direction.

If you think it’s such a great idea in San Francisco and Portland perhaps you should move there: Petaluma has a mixed reputation in planning circles.  On one hand, it was the city that pioneered urban growth boundaries and that was the earliest adopter of form-based coding, both of which have become key elements in modern city planning.  On the other hand, as those of us who live here know, Petaluma has often backslid between those giant steps forward.

On the whole, Petaluma is perceived as a place not content to stay with the status quo.  I like living in a small city that is among the most likely to adopt urban strategies such as parklets.  As much as I enjoy San Francisco and Portland, I’ll be staying in Petaluma.

Why even consider a parklet in a residential neighborhood like that around Ray’s?: In its early history, the neighborhood around Ray’s was a place where residents walked to do daily errands.  Ray’s is a remnant of that early history, as are several other businesses such as the Fairwest Market.  It was only later generations that decided that transportation should focus solely on the automobile.  A parklet at Ray’s wouldn’t be breaking new ground; it would be returning the neighborhood more to as it was in the 1920s.  And there is significant evidence that the land-use pattern of the 1920s was more sustainable, both environmentally and financially, than the current drivable suburban model.

There are traffic problems near Ray’s.  Doesn’t that make it a bad place for a parklet?: It’s true that the intersection of Western and Webster is awkwardly configured.  I traverse it many times each week and am always alert to traffic misbehavior.  However, I think the problem is primarily due to the unfortunate geometry.  Given the likely location of the parklet, I don’t see how it could worsen the situation. Instead, it’s well established that the appearance of constricted lanes slows traffic, so it’s possible that a parklet would decrease the frequency and severity of collisions.

Ray’s is near three schools with the resulting twice daily congestion.  Does that make a parklet a bad idea?:  Unless the parklet creates increased traffic, I don’t see a conflict.  Also, the peak school traffic at is at 8am and 3pm which aren’t the peak business hours at Ray’s.

What would happen to the bike lane in front of Ray’s?: Parklets are generally proposed for parking spaces only.  I would expect the bike lane to remain on its current alignment.

If you have further comments to offer, please offer them here.  However, remember that I’m not Ray’s, I’m not working for Ray’s, nor am I suggesting that a Ray’s parklet is fully designed and ready for installation.  But if you have questions that you’d like Ray’s, or any other parklet applicant, to answer before getting approval, feel free to share.

In my next post, I’ll build on another topic from my earlier parklet post.  I’ll announce tentative plans for a group that would work toward a draft parklet policy for consideration by the City of Petaluma.  If the topic interests you, even if you’re not yet sure about the worth of the concept, please read the post and consider participating in the group.

As always, your questions or comments will be appreciated.  Please comment below or email me.  And thanks for reading. – Dave Alden (davealden53@comcast.net)

Written by Dave Alden

Dave Alden

Dave Alden is a Registered Civil Engineer. A University of California graduate, he has worked on energy and land-use projects in California, Oregon, and Washington. He was also the president of a minor league baseball team for two seasons. He lives on the west side of Petaluma with his wife and two dogs. The blog that he writes can be found at http://northbaydesignkit.blogspot.com.

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