Jacksonville: A sense of place: The human experience is vital for Downtown’s success

Jacksonville: A sense of place: The human experience is vital for Downtown’s success

Illustration: Elkus Manfredi Architects
“You can find your way to Downtown by looking for our striking skyline of tall, grand buildings, even from miles away over the St. Johns or from the interstate. But once you’re there, on the ground, about all you see are the bottoms of those tall, grand buildings and their parking lots. What people are there hustle from car to office and back to car, coming and going on those efficient one-way streets…

The current campaign to revitalize Downtown includes more grand buildings within a master plan and public-private partnerships and the politics of city subsidies and all that, but this time, the builders also need to think about the essential ingredient: people.

After all, the ‘vital’ in revitalization refers to life, having good energy, liveliness or force of personality. So revitalizing Downtown means repeopling it.

Much of that will be residents, as apartments and condos are sprouting or being planned all around Downtown, toward the goal of a critical mass of 10,000 people.

But it also must include people who come Downtown because it’s fun, interesting or comfortable, just to hang out, maybe lingering after their workday before beginning the trudge back out to the suburbs or the beach…

Everyone focused on revitalization must understand that what we are after is a Downtown that, rather than just being building-defined, is people-fueled.

‘Public places are a stage for our public lives,’ says the Project for Public Spaces, a non-profit that helps cities create and sustain such spaces to build community.

‘They are the parks where celebrations are held, where marathons end, where children learn the skills of a sport, where the seasons are marked and where cultures mix. They are the streets and sidewalks in front of homes and businesses where friends run into each other and where exchanges both social and economic take place.

‘They are the ‘front porches’ of our public institutions — city halls, libraries and post offices — where we interact with each other and with government.

‘When cities and neighborhoods have thriving public spaces, residents have a strong sense of community; conversely, when they are lacking, they may feel less connected to each other.’

Placemaking can be happenstance or a sort of human engineering that can be used for an entire community or for a piece of a city block. ‘It’s a spectrum,’ said Tony Allegretti, executive director of the Cultural Council of Greater Jacksonville. ‘On one end, just throw a chair out, and on the other end, a multi-faceted experience cluster of retail, outdoor dining, etc. I’m more grassroots: It’s not about infrastructure at all, just something that gets the community together.’

Jake Gordon, CEO of Downtown Vision, offers a more structural definition: ‘To me, placemaking is a multi-faceted approach to the planning, design and management of public spaces. It capitalizes on a local community’s assets, inspiration and potential, with the intention of creating public spaces that promote people’s health, happiness and well-being.’

When 140 Jacksonville leaders went on a fact-finding trip to Toronto in November, they heard Rob Spanier, a partner in an international real estate firm called LiveWorkLearnPlay, talk about creating ‘iconic and thriving’ mixed-use neighborhoods where ‘people love visiting and wish they could live that life,’ college and resort towns, for example.

Spanier’s work, some of it for Tallahassee, focuses on placemaking for entire communities, built around strategizing to attract people and engage community. One approach is to actually compete with malls through innovations like ‘interactive retail,’ pop-up shops and adventure experiences, ‘things to do, not just buy things.’

‘It’s happening everywhere,’ he said, and ‘Jacksonville is perfect.’…”

— Frank Denton,The Florida Times-Union

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“Bike Dreams”

“Bike Dreams”

Photo: Roberto Gonzalez
“Can we ever find a path that leads to bicycles and cars sharing the road in harmony? Many believe so. Here’s a bit of history and a look to the future. …Cyclists and many of Central Florida’s civic and government leaders have been promoting biking in recent years, whether it is the occasional weekend rider who throws his/her bike in the back of the SUV and heads out to a multi-use path like the popular West Orange Trail in Winter Garden or someone who pedals to work rather than driving a car.

Leading the push are people like Billy Hattaway, a former Florida Department of Transportation administrator who used to be primarily involved with building roads. A cyclist, Hattaway was hired last year by Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer to head up the city’s transportation department. Among his goals: getting more people to hop on bikes—and not just on the annual ride to work day that the mayor usually leads…

The problem facing Hattaway and any area cycling enthusiast is that bikes were not a part of the equation when Metro Orlando started to grow, even though Florida’s subtropical climate makes being outdoors a viable option year-round, albeit a hot, wet and muggy one through much of the year.

Starting in the years after World War II, the car became the main—and only—choice to get from Point A to Point B. Roads, as a result, were built wide and often straight, the sole intent being to move motorized vehicles at the fastest speed, practical or not.

Development became more dispersed over time with self-contained subdivisions springing up throughout the region, often connected to the rest of the community by major four- and six-lane roads hosting an endless string of strip malls anchored by a supermarket or pharmacy chain. Quite simply, people on foot or bikes were not really considered in the transportation plans…

Orlando, Hattaway says, has adopted a complete-street philosophy that contends roads are for everyone, not just cars and trucks. The city, as a result, has been adding painted bike lanes to roads and widening sidewalks from 5 and 6 feet to 12 feet to encourage everything from walking to biking to rollerblading. The City Council also passed an aspirational resolution in December calling for a ‘Vision Zero’ plan to eliminate deaths and serious injuries to pedestrians by 2040.

Orlando now has more than 300 miles of bike lanes and multi-use paths, with more planned. A $9 million pedestrian bridge is under construction at Colonial Drive near Interstate 4 and should open in the fall.

There are 26 bike-only or multi-use paths covering more than 150 miles scattered throughout Orange, Seminole, Lake, Volusia and Osceola counties. Some of those will become part of the planned 250-mile coast-to-coast bike-only connector that will link St. Petersburg and the Gulf of Mexico with Titusville on the Atlantic. About 69 miles of gaps need to be filled in. The proposal is more than $63 million short on funding, according to the Florida Greenways and Trails Foundation.

Like many cities and counties in Central Florida, Orlando does not really have a budget dedicated solely to cycling. Instead, it typically will stripe in a bike lane with funds it has for repaving a road or if a street is torn up for new sewers and then rebuilt.”


Photo: Roberto Gonzalez

“Peter Martinez, who helped start the Juice bike share program in Orlando five years ago, says those renting the sturdy orange cycles put out by his former company invariably stopped when they reached a major road like Colonial. Quite simply, he says, they wanted nothing to do with the traffic.

‘You have to know how to navigate the streets,’ he says about riding in Metro Orlando.

Local actor and filmmaker Ricardo Williams knows how to get about because he likely is the most prolific Juice biker around. He reckons he has ridden some 5,800 miles on the rentals since the spring of 2015. Most of his trips cover two to three miles, but he occasionally will throw in a 20-miler. He owns a car and drives it for longer trips.

The bikes, he says, are more convenient than driving because they relieve him of worrying about parking since he lives downtown and does much of his business there. Yet, as much as he rides, he often worries about being hit—which has happened three times in recent years. Fortunately, all the mishaps were minor, he says, and he escaped injury.

The Juice program now rents more than 200 bikes at nearly 30 locations throughout Metro Orlando. It started with four sets of racks and 20 cycles.

One group of riders has set out to dispel the notion that bikes don’t belong on Metro Orlando streets. They meet after work at Loch Haven Park on the last Friday of every month to ride seven to eight miles through downtown, then back to the starting point.

The ride, similar to ones held all over the country, is called Critical Mass. Usually 150 to 300 men, women and children pedal along, taking up an entire road lane—which bicycles are allowed to do, by law. The Orlando Police Department has no issues with Critical Mass, says department spokeswoman Michelle Guido.

‘It’s a pretty cool event,’ says Brandon Tuma, who participated in Critical Mass for five years. ‘We show up to ride bikes and have fun and to make people aware bikes are on the road…’ ”

— Dan Tracy, Orlando Magazine

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Walkable Cities: “Last lecture in Grid Un-Locked series explores ‘walkability’ and the future of planning”

“It is not drinking finer wine and buying better salami that makes Italians healthier than most Americans, according to a diagnosis from a renowned city planner.

Odd that a planner and engineer would be trying to diagnose health in the first place, in fact, but New Urbanist expert Rick Hall argued his analysis gets to the heart health of cities themselves.

He contended that the difference isn’t the quality or health of the food, it’s that the Italians walk down to the store to get it while Americans sit in traffic on the way to buy groceries. Here, American doctors actually prescribe walking because it’s so removed from their routines, he added.

Doctors could argue with his conclusions about healthy eating habits, but probably not this point: ‘We in this country have to take extra time to do our walking because there’s no logical daily use of walking to get around,’ Hall said with a laugh…

That must and will change, he told attendees of the final lecture in a series hosted by the Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce called ‘Grid Un-Locked’ that has explored mobility, or lack thereof, throughout Sarasota.

‘We can continue down the path of automotive dominance thinking that’s what most Americans want,’ Hall said. ‘The problem is it’s so difficult to imagine anything else. But if you go to a place that has been proactively built to support walkability and transit … it’s night and day.’

Downtown Sarasota as it is today is an example of what that could look like, said Hall, who helped develop the downtown master plan that envisioned walkability under the guidance of Andres Duany. But the rest of the city or county certainly isn’t, he said.

In a not-so-distant future, the markets will shift in favor of walkable neighborhoods and communities over the classically American low-density suburban experience in much of the area now, he said. Communities that begin to plan for such a future now will be well ahead of a trend already well underway.

Planning for that eventuality will look a lot like the past, when walking and rail and water taxis offered other convenient travel options, as planner Andrew Georgiadis lectured about during last week’s forum.

It also will involve what Hall called ‘context policy,’ in which a street isn’t considered just by how many lanes it has or cars it carries, but in the consideration of what development exists around it. That means sidewalks in suburban areas will look dramatically different than those hugging Main Street and that cars screaming down a suburban arterial will behave very differently than those crawling down an urban thoroughfare with many walkers, he said.

‘You can’t know how to design a street unless you know where you are, and if you don’t subscribe to this kind of differentiation of how you design streets, you’re going to design them all the same … Context should guide street design.’

The Florida Department of Transportation is breaking out of its usual ways to establish its ‘complete streets’ program that is classifying different stretches of state roads in that way, proving ‘this is not your father’s DOT anymore,’ he joked. Now when an engineer is asked to design something more pedestrian friendly, the book they typically will rely on will actually have that option in the rules, Hall said.

But the sweeping changes that the inevitable introduction of driverless cars will bring have yet to be incorporated into much of the discussion, he admitted. In many ways, driverless cars might actually increase traffic trips even if they ultimately drive down car ownership, he said…”

— Zach Murdock, Herald Tribune

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Complete Streets: “On Sunday, a large swath of St. Pete’s Central Avenue will close to vehicle traffic — here’s why”

Complete Streets: “On Sunday, a large swath of St. Pete’s Central Avenue will close to vehicle traffic — here’s why”

Photo: Cherie Diez,Tampa Bay Times

“Walking. It’s an incredibly easy way for most people to get around. It typically involves fresh air. You don’t need a seat belt. The fuel you use comes not from the ground via some harmful drilling practice, but literally from you. Yet despite all this and more, walking is incredibly underrated…

A group of environmental and consumer advocates wants to help change that, though.

On Sunday, as part of the Open Streets St. Pete event, representatives from Florida Consumer Action Network will create a pop-up Complete Streets scene, including a ‘parklet,’ or small park-like area along the sidewalk ideal for reading, sitting and observing nature or playing games. They’ll also install a temporary ‘bulb-out,’ which is a patch of sidewalk that extends out into the street as a means of slowing auto traffic and making more room for pedestrians and outside restaurant seating…

FCAN members also hope to educate the public on pedestrian safety, given the Tampa Bay area’s reputation for being grossly unsafe for pedestrians.

The overarching event, Open Streets St. Pete, aims to bring families (and pets) out to Central Avenue between Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and 21st streets, a swath of Central Avenue they’ll be able to traverse freely without worrying about whether a car will blow a stop sign or fail to yield.

‘For one day, Central Avenue will be closed to cars and opened up for people to walk, bike, and have fun,’ said Lisa Frank, a campaign organizer with FCAN. ‘To make streets safe for people every day, we need to build Complete Streets improvements like bulb-outs, which extend the sidewalk and provide space for trees, restaurant seating and more while slowing down traffic.”

–Kate Bradshaw, Creative Loafing 

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Additional article from Tampa Bay Times

Complete Streets: “Pedal power surges in Cape Coral”

Complete Streets: “Pedal power surges in Cape Coral”

Photo: Randy Kambic/Special to The News-Press

“Thanks to considerable behind-the-scenes work in recent years, pedal power is stronger and safer than ever for recreational biking, putting fitness and social benefits in high gear…

Michael Swanson and Rob Seibert are major organizers of Cape Coral Bike-Ped’s ‘slow-roll’ events held on the last Friday night of each month. ‘We have all kinds of bikers and it’s leisurely paced,’ said Swanson. ‘The police escort us which is especially helpful going across the intersections along the way…’

It’s been ‘a true private-public partnership,’ said Cape Coral’s Conant-Adair. She recounted how seven inter-connected bike routes consisting of bike lanes, shared roads and sidewalks on canal bridges were first defined and planned in 2012. Within two years, 90-plus miles of routes were designated that border nature preserves, canals, marinas, golf courses, the Caloosahatchee River and more. Also, 1,000-plus directional and adopt-a-route signs have been installed…

In 2015, Cape Coral was designated a Bicycle-Friendly Community by the League of American Bicyclists and last year by the Florida Bicycle Association, and an eighth route was created…” 

— Randy Kambic, Special to The News-Press

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“Hollywood launches Complete Streets construction project”

“Hollywood launches Complete Streets construction project”

Illustration: City of Hollywood

“…Officials recently broke ground on construction that will develop into the Broward Metropolitan Planning Organization’s flagship. A two-year timeframe for completion is expected.

From City Hall to Dixie Highway, the corridor will change into an efficient multimodal transportation system. The city was awarded a $7.6 million grant for the project…”

— Helen Wolt, South Florida Sun-Sentinel

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