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Testing Road Closures in Parks

The Presidio, San Francisco; Streetsblog.org

The Presidio, San Francisco; Streetsblog.org

Speaking of National Parks in urban areas, there’s some news from the Presidio in San Francisco that the park is experimenting with some road closures. Devising ways of reducing car use and encouraging non-motorized transportation within parks is becoming more popular with concerns about climate change, obesity and mental health and just a general interest from society in living in cities that are not preoccupied with moving automobiles.  As reported by Streetsblog SF:

In an effort to make the Presidio function less like a traffic shortcut and more like a national park, the Presidio Trust is trying out an idea that’s caught on in the dense city that borders it: a trial street closure. From today until October 27, Presidio Boulevard will be closed to private automobiles between West Pacific Avenue and Upper Simonds Loop [map PDF], as the Presidio Trust and the MTA study traffic impacts. Muni and emergency vehicles will still have full access……Traffic on Presidio Boulevard is about 60 percent cut-through, compared to 50 percent in the park as a whole.

This is a problem in many parks: car drivers using the park roads (meant mainly for recreation) as cut through routes for commuting and other non-recreational trips — something that really has “nothing in common with the park proper,” as Frederick L. Olmsted might say.

The evidence from road closures that have occurred shows that little negative impact is seen on traffic (which may be attributed to the sound planning of officials implementing the closures). In San Francisco, a study of closures at Golden Gate Park found little impact on neighboring streets, and even in traffic-clogged New York City, when Central Park’s loop road was totally shut down for Christo’s “Gates” project, the city found there was little impact on overall traffic.

As said, good planning is key. And as with other places, the Presidio is running test closures to allow commuters to adjust and officials to measure impact. Successful road closures are based on sound evidence rather than desire alone to reduce the role of automobiles.

National Parks in Urban Areas

Golden Gate National Recreation Area, one of a few National Parks in urban centers.

Golden Gate National Recreation Area, one of a few National Parks in urban centers.

The New York Times ran an editorial yesterday on the debut of Ken Burns’ new documentary on the National Parks called America’s Best Idea. The editorial calls for this “best idea” to be “protected and celebrated” as well as to look at opportunities for new parks.

Now may be a good time, especially with the recent concern over children not having access to nature and renewed interest in National Parks from people (and the new presidential administration).

TPL President Will Rogers wrote on this issue (and the Burns documentary) for Huffington Post, noting the following that directly applies to where investment is needed aside from preserving what we already have:

The National Park system is also incomplete in that it needs to grow to keep pace with the recreational needs of our ever-increasing population. If we don’t grow the system, we risk loving to death the parks that we have. And nowhere is this truer than in and around cities, where most of us live. We need new and expanded national parks, especially in our urban areas.

Supporting Your Park Organization Online

For the park “friends,” conservancies and advocacy groups out there, you may have heard of the website, Guidestar.org, where donors can learn about non-profit organizations.

Increasingly, those wishing to give money to their preferred causes are researching groups through on-line resources that can give them access to IRS 990 forms and the like.

Many organizations may not know that they can register themselves on Guidestar and submit information, stories, photos and videos about their work. For visitors to these pages, even just a bit more of information might persuade them to give.

If you’re part of a private park organization, here’s some more information on how you might use Guidestar.

Some news from around….

  • Mayor Daley at American Society of Landscape Architects annual conference: “The future belongs to cities. People want to live in metropolitan areas. They also want open spaces — parks, bike paths, beaches.” (The Dirt)
  • Affordable, compact and well-located housing is critical to achieving the nation’s transportation policy objectives. (NHC)
  • Boosting cycling means finding ways to lure women out on bikes. (Scientific American)
  • More on San Francisco’s effort to turn underused roadway and leftover spaces to miniparks. (ArchPaper.com)

Upgrading the Suburbs, New Thinking for Their Parks

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal looked at making suburbia more livable for people in their later years. The piece notes the work of the planning firm Duany Plater Zyberk in Mableton, Georgia, an Atlanta suburb trying to reduce the isolation that suburban street layouts and single-use zoning often bring.

The plan has the following elements: 1) New housing and retail space and services would enable residents to age in place; 2) An arts center would expand an existing amphitheater and add galleries and live-work units for local artists; 3) A new town center, coupled with greenways, would make Mableton more pedestrian-friendly;4) A civic center would include wellness and fitness centers; 5) A historic area would feature restored homes and a commuter rail stop.

One cannot help but notice the role of parks in the form of a town center, greenways, outdoor performance space and fitness centers in this upgrade. For suburbs looking to retrofit, the idea is not to provide the long held suburban ideal of “open space” but the walkable and usable idea of public spaces in plazas, neighborhood parks and interconnected trails.