Thursday, January 17, 2013

The benefits of density come from less space for cars

There's been a lot of good talk about density lately. Last week I pointed out that a lot of what some people object to about "density" is actually less space for their cars. The flip side to this is that a lot of what we want from "density" is actually less space for cars. Let's go back to our goals (see above):

Reducing pollution and increasing efficiency: Density can mean less need to drive places, lower construction costs per unit, and more efficient utility networks and goods distribution. Surface parking and wide streets undermine all of these.

Reducing carnage: Density can mean more people walking or taking transit instead of driving, and drivers that are moving slower and paying more attention to pedestrians. Surface parking and wide streets undermine all of these factors.

Improving society: Density can mean enough "eyes on the street" to make it really safe without the need for intensive policing. It can also facilitate more face-to-face contact with neighbors, and more chances for small positive interactions. As Eric Fischer pointed out in the comments to my previous post, Donald Appleyard documented the negative effects of wide streets with fast-moving cars on social networks. Parking lots are almost always unpleasant to walk through, let alone across.

Access for all: Density can mean a more efficient transit network, with higher ridership and thus less need for government subsidies. Spreading out transit destinations with roads and parking lots make transit less efficient and less desirable. The more money you put into a parallel road and parking network, the more you undermine transit ridership.

The thing is that you can have all these problems with high density. Multi-storey parking undermines construction savings and utility network efficiency. Making it easy to drive undermines any effort to reduce pollution and carnage or to save energy or increase transit ridership. The street level facades of multi-storey parking, can also make life unpleasant for people in the area.

1 comment:

Alon said...

Actually, the East Side of Providence, hardly a car-saturated or car-friendly area, needs more density just to get more diverse activity in.