Pedestrians walk on a red signal, if traffic is slow
Imagine walking downtown on 6th Avenue between G Street and H Street towards the Performing Arts Center after parking in the 6th Avenue parking garage. This an area that is the apex for numerous offices, amenities, and parking. Pedestrians constantly cross at these intersections on no-walk signals as well as in the middle of street. The pedestrian population here is strong, but the infrastructure needs work. On one side of 6th Ave there is a surface parking lot that is stark and unfriendly. On the other side is the transit station. While the transit station brings people, the majority are none too savory.
This is one of the highest sex trafficking collectors in the state, drugs are present, inebriates call out at passersby. There is a high volume of traffic moving at high speeds in this location. While there are services in the vicinity that support the pedestrian population such as The UPS store, McGinley's Pub, Humpy's Great Alaskan Alehouse, and the Performing Arts Center, this section of 6th Avenue is a black hole. The 6th Avenue parking garage needs first floor amenities that will foster change to the dynamics of the street. The surface parking lot on the North side of 6th Avenue needs vertical development, preferably mixed use. Underneath all of these urban design challenges, the presence of pedestrians crossing on no-walk signals and in the middle of the street is a sign that with a few changes this area could become a safe, pedestrian rich environment bustling with shops and economic prosperity.
Pedestrians ignoring street walking signs gives a glimpse into to the micro culture of a specific
area. It shows that pedestrians feel safe. And this sense of safety weaves pedestrians into an urban fabric where people rule over vehicles. In a city this balance between pedestrians and vehicles varies within certain areas and times of day. Some locations may be pedestrian only, others transition during slow traffic hours in the evenings. Others occur during business hours where a flux of pedestrians take over the streets to find lunch.
These moments of pedestrian dominance, have a connection to what type of businesses move into an area. Take a look around a pedestrian dominated area. There are more likely to be boutique shops and restaurants, small businesses and food carts clustered together. These areas also have a pedestrian-paced ambiance where movement is slower. When streetscapes support a high volume of traffic at a fast pace with small sidewalks and boarding buildings, this street has no chance of serving anything other than an artery of travel. Urban Design principles that slow down traffic, widen sidewalks, and increase pedestrian density make pedestrians feel dominant over an area. This pedestrian dominance provides an incubator to positive growth in many aspects. Adjacent areas begin to feed off each other creating a domino affect down a street bringing a higher density of people requiring more shops, restaurants, office space, and housing.
A space effective way to put all of the uses in close proximity to each other is the concept of mixed use. This modern-named development type emphasizing a pedestrian dominated model is something that can be seen throughout history. Think of the 1850's corner store where the lower level was shop, the back served as an office, and the owner/manger lived above. The integration of cars into human culture changed this model significantly. Today, it is encouraging to see entities such as developers, architects, and city managers take notice of this. In short, clustering a person's needs throughout the day lowers the requirement for vehicular transportation. Mixed use provides this and successfully changes the culture around it.
A step in the right direction, the Anchorage Municipality in conjunction with other groups is working on mixed use developments downtown. While the physical aspects of these efforts will not be seen for a few years it is encouraging to witness the work put in and the problem solving taking place among many groups. Additionally, in an effort to integrate this concept of mixed use in existing residential neighborhoods the city is proposing to introduce a R3A zoning into areas they have designated as main streets, town centers, regional centers, or city centers. These zoning districts are all scalable within the context that they are located. For example a nine story mixed use building will not be constructed next to single family homes on small lots. There is a process of integrating mixed-use buildings into existing neighborhood fabric with as little disruption to the skyline as possible. This concept not only brings diversity to a neighborhood, but it also may help develop the economic fertility and growth of an area. The building on 14th Avenue and G Street is an example of bringing businesses into a neighborhood of single family homes integrating a mixed use neighborhood concept. This building is home to small business and the popular Fire Island Rustic Bakeshop. It would be interesting to see what changes have occurred to the culture of this area and what economic growth it has provided.
Where can Anchorage increase pedestrian dominance or build upon pedestrian rich areas of the city creating a richer, more vibrant fabric? Start with locating an area where people cross the street when there is no pedestrian walkway. The example of 6th Avenue is just one among many opportunities. There are sections of downtown that have no pedestrian crossing for three continuous blocks. This creates a vehicular corridor and isolates parts of downtown from each other. Next, look at areas where people cross on no-walk hand signals and identify the times of the day that this may occur. Is it a store, small development, or business that people are walking to? Is it a path of travel between a parking garage and an office building? Once the motivation factor is identified than implementation strategies can be further developed. Additional services added can increase the pedestrian traffic or streetscape design can provide a more pedestrian friendly approach. Focusing on making one area a successful model will cause a domino affect and branch out to other areas of the city.
If F street between 6th Avenue and 7th Avenue were shut down from vehicular traffic either permanently or during specific times of the day imagine the possibilities. Perhaps a city block of food trucks. The food trucks on 8th and K Street do fairly well in the summer, but that land will soon be developed. Why not take that enterprise and locate it on F street providing a four season food truck district. In the summer the quantity of tourists will make these trucks successful and in the winter locals will have a close central place to expand their lunch options. This street is equipped with snowmelt, the sidewalks are wide, and is almost always a safe place for people to walk especially during the winter. Between community events such as concerts, street festivals, and food trucks this section of downtown could become vibrant year round.
People consistently jaywalk 3rd avenue between F Street and H Street because there are no pedestrian crosswalks or signals. 49th State Brewing Company, The Marx Bros. Cafe, and adjacent businesses are cut from adequate pedestrian access. The quantity of people, both locals and tourists, these entities serve require something more than jaywalking to access them. 4th Avenue, 5th Avenue and 6th Avenue between I Street and L Street have the the same issue. That means that for someone walk on K Street from 7th avenue to 3rd avenue, they need to cross major city center streets with no means other than to take a long circuitous route or jaywalk. These conditions are just a small examples of the inadequacies for downtown pedestrians.
The necessity for pedestrian rich areas and mixed use development is not a trend that will disappear with time. It is a cultural element that changes the dynamics of a city. Keep an eye out for where pedestrians cross streets on red lights, in the middle of streets, in front of oncoming traffic. This could indicate that pedestrians have an influential place in that specific urban local. This location could be an opportunity to make changes to the streetscape and add services enhancing the pedestrian population and changing the culture of Anchorage.
*Inspired by: Urban Code, 100 Lessons for Understanding the City by Anne Mikoleit and Moritz Purkhauer