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The Local Planning Commission: Still Hindering Progress Toward Walkability

8:06 AM PDT on September 21, 2010

In the movement for sustainable transportation, it’s often the sexy stories that monopolize our attention: crazy anti-transit politicians, re-imagining streets for safer biking and walking, potential freeway teardowns.

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But a lot of the time, when livability and active transportation come under assault, it’s in rather mundane circumstances. As this example from suburban Atlanta goes to show, some of the most consequential battlegrounds are still the local planning commissions and zoning boards.

Network blog Decatur Metro offers the case of the Decatur City Commission’s consideration of a new ordinance to allow family daycares on two major thoroughfares. Watch how quickly and ruthlessly the value of walkability is undermined, on the grounds of neighbors’ imagined complaints:

The issue at hand is the lot size requirement in the proposed ordinance, because while the state regulates 35 square feet per child of indoor space, there is no outdoor requirement.  In response to an unrecorded question from commission member Scott Doyon, [Planning Director Amanda] Thompson explained that she had recommended a 10,000 square foot lot size “because it would allow an adequate play space as well as a buffer between neighboring properties.”

Mr. Doyon responded by suggesting an “incremental lot size requirement based on the size of the lot” and “stated that residents who live in neighborhoods with smaller lots would appreciate being able to walk to a family day care and that requiring a larger lot size would prevent this use from being established in most Decatur neighborhoods.”

However, no one else on the commission agreed with Mr. Doyon and the amendment passed with the 10,000 lot size requirement included.

It’s in instances like this one where the attention of citizen bloggers can be so crucial in highlighting the well-intentioned but ultimately insidious decisions of ill-informed public servants. In daycare-starved Decatur, this is one more barrier to walking and inducement to drive.

Also on the Network today: KCBike.info congratulates the city of Independence, Missouri on its new anti-harassment law protecting cyclists, walkers and wheelchair users. The Bike Sharing Blog discusses the long road that led to DC’s bike sharing program, which made its debut yesterday. Cyclelicious remarks on Santa Rosa, California’s installation of a bike-activated beacon warning motorists of the presence of cyclists.

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