corner retail, part two

My earlier post on corner retail was in preparation for talking about an idea that corner retail should be acknowledged, supported, and promoted in the upcoming Sacramento 2020 General Plan. The general plan tentatively promotes higher density by allowing a reasonable floor area ratio for properties throughout the city, while removing development constraints that add nothing to safety or livability. Assuming the plan and the resulting code to support it does significantly increase the number of homes and people able to live in the city, if the city remains as car-centric as it is, the result will just be less parking availability and more congestion (both of which I’m in favor of, but I recognize most people are not). It would go towards solving the housing issue, but do little for livability and climate change issues.

So what is the solution? A place where people can perform most of their daily activities without driving. In other words, corner retail. The jobs issue is a separate one, though corner retail would also increase the number of jobs within walking distance.

Karma Brew, my neighborhood bar, on the corner of P St & 16th St, 2-1/2 blocks from my house

I am not sure exactly how to accomplish this, but I’ll throw out an idea. I don’t think rezoning corner lots from residential to commercial is necessarily the answer, because that might encourage entirely new buildings replacing existing buildings. Obviously many existing buildings would need to be changed to serve as retail, but I don’t think wholesale replacement is good, and it is not respectful of that claim of ‘neighborhood character’ (which is often a cover for concerns not voiced, but is nevertheless a consideration).

Rather, I think a by-right conditional use permit (is that an oxymoron?) is the better solution. That way the building remains similar to what is there now, but becomes functional as a retail location.

Where? I’m partly of mind to say everywhere, every corner. Much of the existing corner retail predates zoning (grandfathered in) or is already under a conditional use permit. But I’m also of mind to limit it to fewer locations, which would be any corner fronted on at least one side by a collector or arterial street. In the lower density parts of Sacramento, I don’t think much corner retail would show up, because it takes a certain density to make retail viable, but there would certainly be more than there is today. Wouldn’t you like to be able to walk to a coffee shop in your neighborhood. Or walk to the market for a few items?

Note that I’m not clearly defining what corner retail is. Does it mean there is only one business present, or allowed, or could it be a few small footprint businesses clustered together? Some of the locations I’ve identified are not on actual corners, but they have the feeling of corner retail. The general plan and the supporting code would have to define corner retail.

Below are two maps of Oak Park, on the left, arterials and collectors, and on the right, GoogleMaps with markets selected. The scales are similar but not identical. As you can see, some corners on arterials or collectors already have corner markets, and there are other corners with retail that is not a market, but there are a number of locations that could have corner retail under my proposal, but do not. I picked Oak Park just because I’d spent time there recently looking for markets and other corner retail (photos below).

The slideshow below shows some of the corner retail, mostly markets, in Oak Park. Note that in general these locations are much more car-oriented than the ones I showed in the central city, because the area is much more car dominated. I will say more about that in the future. It does not include the many, many businesses that are part of commercial zones along Broadway and Martin Luther King. If you zoom in on Google Maps, a commercial area overlay shows up as pale yellow. I am gradually collecting photos of retail in other areas of Sacramento and will eventually post them.

big smiles at Sunday Street on Broadway

Sacramento’s first open street event* took place on Sunday, Sunday Street on Broadway.  

Broadway was closed to cars and open to people from 8 to noon. The route was on Broadway from Riverside east to 26th St, jogged down to 2nd Ave, and then ended again at Broadway. People were wondering how this would work in Sacramento, the first time, and in a place that is pretty car-centric. Well it worked great! A lot of people came out. I’m sure the city will have an estimate, but the initial answer is, a lot.

If success is measured by smiles, and it should be, this event was a great success. People of all ages were there, people from the neighborhood and the region. A lot of people were bicycling, but a lot were walking, and using other wheeled devices. Slide tricycles, which I didn’t even realize were a thing in Sacramento, were common.

Sacramento Area Bicycle Advocates (SABA) created a separated bikeway (protected bike lane) for people to experience, which attracted a lot of attention and generated a lot of discussion about the state of bicycling in Sacramento. Adjacent, WALKSacramento asked people to add their favorite places to walk to a chalk board, all of which were NOT car-dominated places. Some people prioritized how it felt to walk, others their destination. Ice cream was a popular theme. 

Outside food vendors were prohibited in order to highlight local restaurants. For those open, business was booming. Some places missed out, though, by not being open. I’d imagine as word gets around how well it works, food retail along future events will be open and prosperous. Many business owners just assume that most of their customers come by car, but places that encourage and activate walking and bicycling all have increased business. Vintage Bicycle Supply was open and crowded with people not even aware it existed, and fans of the CycleFest cruiser bikes. New Helvetia Brewing was quenching people’s thirst and hosting running clubs. There were a lot of sports and fitness vendors, showing people what they had to offer and just providing fun. The two hula hoop groups were particularly popular with kids, and there were chalk drawings everywhere. Sidewalk chalk may be the single most important tool available to the public for activating public spaces. 

SACOG and Social Bicycles were showing off the new bike share which opened just Thursday. I heard comments from a lot of people that they found the bikes easier to ride than they thought, and were looking forward to trying it out. [previous post riding the bike share.

The section along 26th St and 2nd Ave was much quieter, with a cluster of local businesses and organizations near the end at Broadway. It was also far cooler than Broadway, with all the street trees moderating the temperature about 10 degrees below Broadway. This was not only much appreciated by people, but points out that for the new Broadway to work for pedestrians and bicyclists, it is going to need to not only not lose many of the existing trees, but to really create a welcoming tree lined street. When I participated in the public meetings the last two years, I didn’t realize how important street trees would be. Since Broadway will be a vibrant commercial corridor, it may be that the big shade trees should be in the median, with less dense trees between the street and retail, so that the view of customers is not obstructed. Interesting design issues. 

Hope you had a fun time too! I’m looking forward to the next one. 

Photos on Flickr

* Though the county claims its Great Scott road closure is an open street event, it really does not meet the widely accepted definition of an open street.