Revisiting the High Cost of Auto Orientation

By · June 18, 2012 · Filed in Uncategorized

Making the Case for a Franklin Avenue Road Diet in Waco

Several weeks ago 1000 Friends of Waco shared an interesting article from the Strong Towns blog that compared property values in auto-oriented and more traditional developments (click here to read the original article) and found that in this instance traditional development patterns provide a greater return on investment than auto-centric developments.

We thought it would be interesting to take a look at a local example.

Franklin Avenue has an opportunity to become a better economic generator by considering a “road diet.” A road diet is when a wide, high-speed road is redesigned to be more narrow, have slower traffic, and more space designated for on-street parking, bicycles, pedestrians and plant material.

The idea of utilizing road diets didn’t originate with 1000 Friends.  It was one of the priorities in the Imagine Waco plan, which called for a road diet on several arterial corridors throughout Greater Downtown Waco including Franklin and Washington Avenues. Specifically, the plan states, “The current transportation system is focused on moving traffic through the downtown rather than creating an environment where streets are integral to the urban design of the downtown,” and recommends that Franklin (and Washington) be redesigned to:

  • Continue one-way operation
  • Re-purpose two through lanes for transit, on-street parking and/or cycle track
  • Plan for station locations every ¼ mile
  • Sidewalk and landscape improvements
  • Colored/textured crosswalks at intersections

Other recommendations include:

  • Calm and add pedestrian and parking accommodations to existing streets with bulb-outs, planting areas and slow points
  • Inspect and improve sidewalks to accommodate two adults walking side-by-side (six feet)
  • Define bike route connections to downtown multimodal streets
  • Improve pedestrian lighting

To better understand why these recommendations make for a sensible investment for our community, we must first understand how these corridors function, their impacts on commerce and their value to the community.

The first step involved looking at what impact these improvements may have on travel times relative to roadway capacity. It was also important to determine what, if any, safety impacts may result from the proposed redesign.

An analysis of property values and building density was prepared to determine economic impact. For this analysis, Franklin, as an auto-oriented corridor, was compared to an adjacent, more multi-modal corridor with some of these improvements already in place.

Austin Avenue is immediately parallel to Franklin and more closely resembles the multi-modal corridors recommended in the Imagine Waco plan in that it accommodates pedestrians with adequate sidewalks. Austin Avenue also has dedicated space for on-street parking, which both slows down traffic and provides a buffer for pedestrians to create a greater sense of safety.

Capacity vs. Volume and Safety

The Waco MPO made the following information available on the Franklin and Washington Corridors.

Franklin from Fifth to 11th Streets represents the most heavily traveled segment and sees about 8,500 cars per day but has the capacity to serve close to 24,000, almost three times more capacity than it needs.  Similarly, Washington has six times the capacity it needs today.

This thought may not sound ideal to those who speed down Franklin to work in the morning, but theoretically two lanes could be removed without impacting traffic flow or travel times. This should also increase safety considerably by reducing potential conflict points (opportunity areas for crashes).

According to the Metropolitan Transportation Plan (MTP), Franklin Avenue is one of the more dangerous corridors in the region. The crash data on corridors reveals that it has the third highest ratio of crashes per miles traveled with 29.24 crashes per million VMT. This is somewhat concerning because as a one-way street the opportunity for left turn and head-on conflicts are virtually eliminated, Franklin Avenue has considerably fewer conflict points than the two-way streets it is measured against in the MTP. This indicates speeds may be too high on Franklin.

Economic Development

In conventional urban and transportation planning circles it is generally accepted that multi-modal corridors or “complete streets,” as they have come to be known, improve property values, encourage business activity, increase safety and inspire density, all good things for urban economic development. A review of the improvements to Austin Avenue during the past several years will provide an apples-to-apples comparison as it relates to the Franklin redesign proposed in the Imagine Waco plan.

For the purposes of this analysis, property along Franklin Avenue between Fifth and 11th streets was compared with the adjacent property along Austin Avenue from Fifth to 11th streets. All property that fronts the streets or resides wholly within the half block of the street frontage was included in the assessment; any building that has a presence on both Austin and Franklin was eliminated; and analysis started at Fifth Street rather than Fourth Street to eliminate outliers in the Alico and Roosevelt buildings.

 Property Values

Using available 2011 appraisal data, large differentials in values and building density are present along the corridors.

The property adjacent to Franklin had a total of 823,606 square feet of land area covered by a total of 525,455 square feet of improvements resulting in an overall Floor Area Ratio of 0.64. Floor Area Ratio (FAR) is an index used to determine building intensity; it is calculated by dividing improved area by total land area. The Franklin Corridor has 21 vacant parcels or parking lots.

Values along the Franklin Avenue corridor totaled $18,758,133 with a net average price of $22.78 per square foot of land area.

The property adjacent to Austin represents a total land area of 666,538 square feet with improvements totaling 763,191 square feet. The FAR for the Austin corridor is almost double that of Franklin Ave at 1.15.  Nineteen vacant parcels and parking lots are situated along Austin.

Values along the Austin Ave.corridor totaled $35,653,166 with an average price of $53.49 per square foot of land area.  Values are 135% higher along Austin Avenue.

 Conclusions

Given the information on roadway volume, capacity, safety, value and density, these improvements are a good investment for Waco. Imagine Waco offers guiding principles directed toward restoring Greater Downtown’s vitality, increasing livability and walkability and promoting new business growth. Redesigning the Franklin corridor through Greater Downtown will take a significant step toward realizing those principles.

Franklin today is designed as an auto-oriented corridor; not for people. Until safe places are available for individuals to park and walk along the corridor, investment in redevelopment along Franklin Avenue will likely continue to result in lower densities and values.

Based on current conditions, Franklin Avenue is relatively unsafe for pedestrians and motorists. The lack of mobility alternatives provides little opportunity or incentive for business development. This results in less than comparable property values and density development relative to a more complete street scenario as represented by the adjacent Austin Avenue development trends presented in this analysis.

Investment in roadway improvements consistent with the strategies outlined in Imagine Waco would result in improved incentive for business development, increased property values and improved safety. The improvements would theoretically have minimal impact on traffic flow or travel times along the corridor.

The Greater Waco Chamber is committed and actively working to make Greater Waco a magnet for talent. Volumes have been written on the importance of place-making as a talent retention and recruitment strategy.

1000 Friends of Waco believes that implementing Imagine Waco improvements like the proposed Franklin Avenue redesign can have a profound impact on our ability to grow Greater Downtown, which is as important as any other work focused on attracting and retaining talent, growing our workforce and creating the kind of conditions that allow our community to thrive.

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