The Critical Path is Interboro’s submission to the Columbus Rewired International Ideas Competition, which asked entrants to initiate a dialogue about the current and future state of Columbus public transportation network in the context of its overall infrastructure. Interboro’s submission won first prize.
Interboro used the competition as an opportunity to think about public transportation in the poly-nucleated, postmodern city. We began with the premise that though there are a lot of good ideas about how to get citizens from a periphery to a center (and then around the center), there are fewer about how to get citizens around the many nodes between downtown and the small town.
At the heart of Interboro’s scheme is a remained right-of-way, a bold new “suburban connector” that leverages transit investments to create an exciting new public space. This new right-of-way, which can best be thought of as a hybridization of the Parkway, Main Street, and the Strip, is a two-way arterial that connects nodes along the many everyday commercial corridors of the city. A major component of this new right-of-way is The Fast Lane, which would occupy the center two lanes of the new Right-of-Way, and which would be dedicated to buses and high-occupancy vehicles. Other components of the new Right-of-Way include a “Plain Lane” for regular traffic, an “Avatarmac,” which would encourage the development of structures that front the Right-of-Way to create a public face in the form of a building, a kiosk, or simply a sign, and “The Swale,” which would accomodate landscape features, Main Street elements, and car-related programs
THE CRITICAL PATH
Typically, public transportation aims to deliver suburbanites to and from the traditional downtown, and to get people around a traditional, dense, mixed-use downtown. This is so because for many, many years, movements in and out of the center city were typically the most important. The rail (1) and road (2) systems in most American cities are hub and spoke systems because hub and spoke systems are the most efficient systems for delivering people in and out of a central location.
This movement from periphery to center is certainly still made, but it is no longer as important as it used to be. This is because, as many urbanists have noted, the monocentric city that characterized the early twentieth century (3) is being overwritten by a new, polycentric, postmodern city (4). In this new city–which illustrates Michael Dear’s conceptualization of the fragmented landscape of postmodernism (5) more than Ernest Burgess’s celebrated Concentric Rings diagram (6)–growth happens in residential, commercial, and industrial nodes sprinkled around the urbanized region (7). Here, where the movement from periphery to traditional center is not necessarily more important than the movement between any two nodes, an ideal public transportation system would look less like a hub and spoke and more like a network (8).
While there are a lot of good ideas about how to get people from periphery to center, as well as around the center, there are fewer ideas about how to get people around the nodes “between downtown and the small town.” Columbus, for example, has a lot of transportation plans on the table: the Northern Corridor (9) will link the downtown to OSU to Polaris, creating a strong, rail-based growth corridor. The streetcar network (10) will make both downtown and the OSU campus more walkable and less auto-reliant. The express bus service running along the city’s radial highways connect outer-ring suburbs with the center. These initiatives are critical, but they are informed by a more traditional understanding of the city, and are inspired by the more traditional goal of public transportation. These initiatives do not rise to the challenge posed by the new, polycentric city, and are likely to have a compromised impact (11).
This is too bad. Look at where most people live (12). Look at where the region’s major employers are (13). Look at where most job growth and population growth is projected to occur (14). The present and future Columbus is not only in the downtown and in some mega-node in the suburbs; the present and future Columbus is in the dozens of nodes “between downtown and the small town.”
We picked the third site because we think planners need to meet the challenges of the new city. We want to investigate the ways in which we can creatively bring public transportation to that part of the city that is “between downtown and the small town.” We’re looking at the east-west access as opposed to the more traditional north-south axis to de-emphasize the sort of traditional, monocentric thinking advanced by the north-south corridor plan, but also to emphasize the heretofore overlooked importance of typical, everyday corridors such as 161.
Because of the low residential densities and auto-oriented lifestyles, bringing public transportation to a place like the 160 corridor is certainly challenging. Nonetheless, if we don’t think of ways to do so, we will be missing out on an enormous opportunity to confront a major challenge of the new city. We need a critical path!
How do you make public transportation work in the polynucleated, postmodern city? How do you creatively bring public transportation to that part of the city that is “between downtown and the small town?” And more ambitiously, how can you leverage transit investments to envision new models of public space? Our strategy is threefold: densify the nodes and mix up the uses; expand transportation options in the “last mile,” and Rethink the Right-of-Way,
DENSIFY THE NODES, MIX UP THE USES
As vital as many residential, commercial, and industrial nodes are in Columbus, most of the nodes identified in figure (8) are characterized by large swaths of undeveloped land, as well as land developed for large, single uses. Mixed-use development at higher densities should be encouraged in these spaces, in order to increase the number of citizens who fall within a half-mile radius of the node’s center.
EXPAND TRANSIT OPTIONS AT THE LAST MILE
In addition to densifying the nodes, small measures can be taken to increase the numbers of households that fall within the 10-minute walking radius of the center of the node. Though the half-mile radius is often thought to be synonymous with the 10-minute walk, in fact dead ends, fences, and ground conditions often make half-miles walks take much more time. Measures to increase the numbers of households that actually are a 10-minute walk from the node’s center might include easements through backyards, etc.
RETHINK THE RIGHT OF WAY
At the heart of our proposal is a bold new right-of-way. This new right-of-way, which can best be thought of as a hybridization of the Parkway, the Main Street, and the Strip, is a two-way major arterial that connects nodes along the arterial. A major component of this new right-of-way is “The Fast Lane,” which would occupy the center two lanes of the new Right-of-Way, and which would be dedicated to buses, high-occupancy vehicles, and fuel-efficient vehicles, and bicycles. Other components of the new Right-of-Way include a “Plain Lane” for regular traffic, an “Avatarmac,” which would encourage buildings that front the Right-of-Way to put on a public face in the form of a building, a kiosk, or simply a sign, and a “Swale,” which would accommodate landscape features (see below for more details).
Project Team: Tobias Armborst, Rebecca Beyer, Inger Christensen-Dalsgaard, Daniel D’Oca, Alec Schierenbeck, Georgeen Theodore