Fayetteville 2030: Transit City Scenario

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Location: Fayetteville, Arkansas. Southern city

"Streetcar cities understand there's a real competition for 'quality of place' in the New Economy, that urban real estate has to accommodate higher-value uses than wide streets and big parking lots, and that streets have to be used more efficiently than to merely accommodate single-occupancy vehicles." - Gloria Ohland and Shelley Poticha, cds., Street Smart: Streetcars and Cities in the Twenty-First Century.

Building Resiliant Cities through Scenario Planning

According to the Brookings Institution, 80% of the built environment projected to exist by 2050 has not yet been built. While seemingly upbeat for smart growth advocates, such potential cannot be optimized until risk-averse, market-oriented municipal planning porcesses explore alternatives that may seem counterintuitive. As a complemenet to Fayetteville's 2030 City Plan (adopted in 2011 by its city council) a 2030 transit city scenario plan was indepenently prepared over a ten-month period from 2010-2011, modeling a future based on development of a streetcar system. We asked: what if 80% of future growth was incented to locate around a street car system proposed for Fayetteville's main arterial now dominated by aged low-density commercial development? The city could create a five-mile signature multi-modal transit corridor transforming underperforming suburban development into mixed-use transit-oriented neighborhoods.

Fayetteville will add more than 50,000 people to its population of 73,000 by 2030, entailing 28,000 additional housing starts on top of the current 32,000 units. Despite Fayetteville's comprehensive plan, development outcomes unwittingly promote sprawl and assume stability in the usual drivers of growth. The city's built environment lacks responsiveness to changing energy futures, contraction in the cheap credit that underwrote suburban development, demand shifts in transportation markets favoring public transit, and emerging concerns over food security and affordability. Despite the city's progressive planning record, if its long-term decision making remains reliant on homogenized data from past preformance, city planning will lack resiliency in the face of paradigm shifts and "black swan" event.

Retrofitting Commercial Corridors with Streetcar Transit

The multi-modal corridor plan covers a five-mile segment between the downtown/university district and the outlying regional shopping mall area--a recently designated "uptown." Three interconnected planning principles underpin the retrofit.

1. Corridor Planning to retrofit an auto-dominated arterial using complete streets policy to increase transportation accessibility for all users. New geometrical relationships among travel ways/multi-ways, streetsides, intersections (roundabouts vs. signalization), utility easements, and landscape architecture systems anchor new neighborhood formats. Improved street connectivity optimized access and walkability through the redistribution of parking from large surface lots to connected urban blocks that

2. Station Area Planning to concentrated growth around transit stops creating new transit-oriented neighborhoods with integral employment centers and ridership populations. Because corridor widths reflect urban development patterns across three eras (19th century, early 20th century, and contemporary), the plan explores various urban retrofit strategies and transit mode-sharing configurations. Unlike the hub-and-spoke of light rail, streetcar grids need contiguous corridor density to support adjacent low-density

3. Sprawl Repair and Transit Supportive Land-Use Design to retrofit decling auto-oriented commercial properties toward higher value mixed-use place types along the corridor. Sprawl repair tools include restructuring of sprawl into neighborhood forms with clear centers and edges, form-based coding of public open space and streets, and general intensification of both urban and ecological system

Scenario visioning helps the city envision a plausible planning possibility that would not have emerged from charrettes and similar public processes reliant on consensus. While Northwest Arkansas was crisscrossed with extensive rail development eighty years ago, the memory of such has entirely disappeared. Fayetteville residents now understand that the streetcar city is an underutilized North American urban form. Akin to the early 20th century streetcar cities built at 7-14 dwelling units per acre our plan updates the role of rail transit in serving small town markets.

The design team--including nonprofit organizations collaborating with planning staff and citizen committees received support through a 2011 federal planning grant. Rather than seen as threatening, scenario planning effecitively released community creativity and feedback since radical visioning was expected. Rail transit as a function of smart growth is now a significant issue in local election for federal office. The city is exploring transportation planning consultants who specialize in streetcar development, aligning developer interest, and studying transfer of the College Avenue right-of-way from state management to city oversight.

Key Principles: Reversing TOD--development-oriented transit

Akin to lessons learned from the North American streetcar systems developed over 100 years ago, transit should be planned in anticipation of development to not only enhance mobility choices but to ensure as well the development of vibrant urban neighborhoods. This coordinated sequencing of public and private investments recalls value-capture methods once used to finance infrastructure costs from the increased property values attributable to enhanced accessibility. Given escalating public-sector transportation funding gaps, ongoing urban growth will have to simultaneously address compact mixed-use neighborhood form, economic development, and intermodal transit planning--even in small city markets.

The proposed streetcar system revitalized a five-mile segment of the city's primary commercial arterial, currently suffering from land use underutilization, high vacancies, and property abandonment, despite the corridor's adjaceny to high-quality neighborhoods. Cutting through urbanisms from three different era, corridor revitalization coordinates urban retrofit strategies that facilitate: 1) downtown infill and preservation; 2) sprawl repair and transition; and 3) edge city restructuring.

From Auto-Dominant Arterial to Transit-Oriented Boulevard

A 2011 report reveals that the typical Northwest Arkansas household spends a shocking 29% of its annual income on transportation--more than they do on housing and far more than they do on housing and far more than the average household in rail transit cities, which is 16%. Using rail transit to improve the corridor's public realm and land use for enhanced mobility and accessibility is a prosperity-building program.

2030 Growth Scenarios

Two 2030 development scenarios--one showing current sprawl patterns entailing enormous fiscal liabilities, and another showing an anti-sprawl alternative at a fifth of the cost--visualize consequences of current planning policies for public consideration. While citizens view the commercial corridor as an undesirable, ugly place, the transit scenario shows how a corridor retrofit can shape a smart-growth future.

Replacement of Fungible Commercial Property with Complete Neighborhoods

The elastic commerical fabric comprising the corridor (vs. the adjacent non-elastic residential fabric) is highly disorganized, fungible, and ripe for replacement by mixed-use compact development in neighborhood formats with clear centers, edges, and anchoring public spaces.

Breeding the DNA of the City's Beloved Downtown

New neighborhood formats responsive to existing built contexts and geography along the corridor connect downtown with the regional shopping mall and big box district to the north--recently designated the "uptown center" by the city. Why not breed the DNA of Fayetteville's beloved town square and downtown along the corridor?

Downtown Infill and New Shared Street District

The downtown context inspires infill development and design of a shared street district framed by high-density urban housing. Small-scale infill within the shared street district creates compatibility with historic structures centered on Dickson Street.

New Neighborhood Boulevard and Squareback in the First Ring Suburb

Introduce a town square configuration into a congested suburban arterial intersection. The "squareback" configuration redistributes some traffic around the intersection and accomodates new layers of mixed-use development, including incorporation of streetcar service facilities.

From Strip Commercial to Mid-Town Center

The 1960s strip commercial development and right-of-way cross-section allow for development of a multiway boulevard that accommodates new multi-modal transportation facilities and varying traffic speeds. The multiway and new street network extension reconfigures large parking lots into a park-once environment serving mixed-uses, including new job centers.

Neighborhood Parkway: From Cloverleaf to Traffic Circle

Edge-city expressways are redeveloped into configurations featuring a multi-decked traffic circle that improves city imagability and way-finding. Transit investments are also used to improve ecological functioning of existing floodplains and riparian communities that cross the corridor. Urban infrastructure thus delivers the 17 ecological services found in all healthy ecosystems.

Retrofit of Suburban Mall District

We route the streetcar through the mall, creating an indoor galleria. In addition to providing a mixed-use walkable town grain, big development related to new high school and sports facilities are plugged into the galleria, living up to the new "uptown center" designation unwittingly applied by the city.

Lessons Learned: Challenges in Discussing Rail Development

Since many of assume that rail transit development will displace funding for roads, we initiated community discussions with the stipulation that the project is foremost a road improvement initiative--i.e., we use rail investment to upgrade the road's functionality and aesthetics. Unlike light rail, which requires dedicated right-of-way, streetscars are a low impact mode since they are adaptable to existing right-of-ways. Any discussion of mode split should emphasize complementarities, as most public policy, decision-making, and citizen understanding remains committed to one mode--whether it by bicycles, pedestrianism, or automobilies.

While streetcar development enhances mobility and transportation ecology, a more impactful benefit is the attendant change in development patterns. Since streetcar transit and walkable mixed-use neighborhoods are symbiotic--i.e., most riders become pedestrians--the desire for rail intrinsically leads people to want transit-supportive development codes. Many residents have come to understand the relationship between transportation planning and livability.

Unlike consensus-based participation formats, scenario planning creates a permissive planning enviornment where radical visioning is expected. Citizens are intrigued by a planning proposition structured around a specific driver of growth, and become better informed about latent long-term trends structuring their communities. City planners and citizens alike are horrified by the results of visual projections stemming from their city's current policies. While the city is accustomzed to moving forward from the results of a charrette, not knowing precisely where to start makes it more difficult to act on a scenario plan.

Since funding is the determining factor of feasibility, we are exploring the role of "value capture" in devising regional-scaled revenue mechanisms for maintenance and operations. The question is will value capture work at the scale of a city given state enabling legislation regulating municipalities. Aligning developer interest with public investments is also tricky since the emerging post-recession development community is not local and not well known.

Transect Zone(s): T1 natural, T2 rural, T3 sub-urban, T4 general, T5 center, T6 core.
Status: Proposed
Project or Plan's Scale: Region
Land area (in acres): 2300
Total built area (in sq. ft.):
Total project cost (in local currency): 1e+08
Retail area (in sq. ft.):
Office area (in sq. ft.):
Industrial area (in sq. ft.):
Number of hotel units:
Number of residential units (include live/work): 26000
Parks & green space (in acres):
Project team designers: University of Arkansas Community Design Center
Project team developers: N/A

Previous site status:

Starting/Ending date of construction/implementation: - 2030