Greening the Urban Village with


By John Alt, President Village Technology

Just as the vertical elevator changed the economic and design formulas for urban architecture, the "horizontal elevator" will now change the economic and design formulas for urban planning and downtown revitalization.

So what is a "horizontal elevator", and how will it change the way cities do business?

First-and most important-a "horizontal elevator" cannot be a bus, because pedestrians will not use buses like they use elevators. Pedestrians view buses (even clean, quiet, electric ones) as exactly what they are: often necessary-but inconvenient-interruptions in their natural pedestrian movements. Think about it: if people had to get on buses to access the upper floors of tall buildings, cities would still be only 3-4 stories tall.

To have the same profound effects, a "horizontal elevator" must have virtually the same characteristics as its vertical cousin:

  • It shouldn't require you to wait more than 150 seconds for it to arrive.
  • It should allow you to roll your baby stroller right into it.
  • It should never get stuck in traffic congestion-or wait for red-lights.
  • You should have the option of getting off on every "floor".
  • From the same place you get off, you should be able to step on again-not more than 150 seconds later-going in the opposite direction, so you can easily return to your starting point.

Second, a "horizontal elevator" must be affordable. Subways and elevated people-movers (such as the new $500 million monorail in Las Vegas) come close to providing the "horizontal elevator" service-but with a price tag that makes them unfeasible in most cities, towns, and urban villages. The real "horizontal skyscraper" shouldn't cost a whole lot more than a conventional bus system. And it should be easily packaged within a self-financing revenue strategy. (Again, if vertical elevators had to be subsidized by public bonds, we'd still be walking up stairways to get to the top floor of downtown buildings.)

Before the advent of the vertical elevator, people were only willing to access 3 or 4 stories of building space. Today, on the threshold of the advent of the "horizontal elevator", daily shoppers and business patrons will only walk, on average, about 300 meters (1,000 ft.) from a parking space-or, alternatively, from a commuter rail or bus stop. This limited Pedestrian Access Distance creates a powerful, underlying dynamic of urban commerce, real-estate development, and parking-traffic management principles. Stretching Pedestrian Access Distance from its present 300 meters to 5 kilometers (3 miles) or more with a "horizontal elevator" will constitute a new urban model. Here's a short list of what could result:

  • Economic Development: The number of potential customers for every business within walking distance of the "horizontal elevator" will increase by 10 fold or more. (Instead of attracting customers generated by parking within 300 meters, businesses can now attract customers generated by parking with 3-5 kilometers!) More potential customers = more transactions. (Downtown business districts could achieve the market efficiency of Wal-Mart.)
     
  • Consumer Patterns: The number of retail, service, or entertainment choices available from every parking space within walking distance of a "horizontal elevator" will also increase by 10 fold or more. (Instead of being limited to the business venues within 300 meters of a given parking space, visitors can choose from business venues within 3-5 kilometers!) More choices = more transactions! (Shopping "downtown" can become more attractive than shopping at the mega-mall.)
     
  • Urban Design: The number of daily or hourly parking spaces needed within core business districts can be reduced to virtually zero. (Daily or hourly parking can be provided on the periphery-at one or both ends of a "horizontal elevator".) This means core areas can have both more green space and intense business density and diversity.
     
  • Downtown Traffic Congestion: The number of daily and hourly parking spaces serving core business districts can be dramatically increased without adding cars and traffic congestion to core business districts. (New peripheral parking facilities, located at the ends of a "horizontal elevator", will intercept cars before they enter core street-grids.) Removing daily and hourly parking from core areas will greatly reduce congestion, noise, and exhaust pollution.
     
  • Downtown Livability: Urban residents within walking distance of a "horizontal elevator" will be able to leave their car parked under their apartment building for days on end. The varied business, shopping, entertainment, civic, education and recreational choices available to residents along a linked network of "horizontal elevators" will provide virtually all their daily needs.
     
  • Commuter Transit and Regional Road Congestion: The decision between getting in a car versus getting on commuter transit is influenced as much by what's available at the end of the trip, as by the trip itself. A ride on light-rail may be easier than a grid-locked morning commute-but, after stepping off the light-rail platform, commuters are confined to the choices within their limited "pedestrian access bubble". Stretching that bubble with a linked network of "horizontal elevators" will make the commuter transit decision more attractive -and decrease regional road congestion.
     
  • Competition for Urban Sprawl: An urban business district equipped with "horizontal elevators" will provide daily visitors with a "one-stop-shopping" experience far superior to the most extravagant super-mall. From a single, easy-to-find parking space, a linked network of "horizontal elevators" will provide the visitor not only with a greater mix of retail and entertainment choices-but also the civic, cultural and educational choices which are typically absent from suburban venues.

So, how far away is the advent of the "horizontal elevator?" Actually, it's ready to go right now: www.villagetechnology.com/horizontal.html

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