updated 7/21/09


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I recently attended a Forms-Based Code workshop sponsored by the state. Very interesting one-day course, taught by Tom Comitta, who figures in the book Last Harvest, which is more-or-less required reading for our Planning Commission.

There are a couple of concepts that need explaining (at least I had to work to understand them). A Forms-Based Code is (according to the formbasedcodes.org):

A method of regulating development to achieve a specific urban form. Form-based codes create a predictable public realm primarily by controlling physical form, with a lesser focus on land use, through city or county regulations.

An example is requiring in urban and small-town areas (like Main Street and Mansfield Avenue in Carnegie) that buildings front on the street, rather than having a parking lot in front, and the facade must be at least one and a half stories high.

A Forms-Based Code is a bit different than a Design Overlay, which is a more extreme version of a Forms-Based Code, in that it specifies materials and design details. For example, buildings in Colonial Williamsburg have to be in period-style brick.

The main development advantage for places like Carnegie is that once we set up a Forms-Based Code, we then relax some of the zoning requirements. For instance, the idea of Mixed-Use Development -- allowing developers to mix uses in a single development (e.g., residential and retail) -- is often paired with a Design Overlay or Form-Based Code. This can be attractive for developers.

SmartCode Central provides free, detailed model zoning codes which can be modified and adopted.

I'm hoping we can, in context with our new Comprehensive Plan, update our Zoning Code to embody some of these modern ideas.


At today's meeting of the Planning Commission, we agreed to set up a forum to discuss specific ideas for Carnegie's next Comprehensive Plan.


Carnegie is now working on a new comprehensive plan, so I've scanned and posted a PDF of the 1998 Comprehensive Plan, which we will be looking at as we develop our new plan.


Things are looking up in Carnegie. There is a new Nicaraguan restaurant across Mansfield from the borough building, and a new mixed-use development including condos and retail space (with a good new-urbanist design) is planned for Main Street. And even more importantly, Carnegie CAN—a group of borough residents committed to redeveloping Carnegie in concert with smartgrowth priniciples—has emerged as a leading force in redevelopment.

I travel a fair bit. And, whenever I go somewhere, I keep an eye out for good development ideas to bring back to Carnegie. Over the past few months, I've found myself walking around Arlington, Virginia and Orlando, Florida. In both places, I found some interesting sidewalk ideas.

(Speaking of sidewalks, have you heard about rubber sidewalks? NPR News had a segment on them, and there is a company that makes them...)

I did a little research, and it turns out that the experts in road design in fact say that it's important to design roadways for pedestrians, too... and I found two main references we can use. First is Transportation Circular
Number E-C067 July 2004: Context-Sensitive Design Around the Country, Some Examples.
Catchy title, eh? But this document has some wonderful examples of how to redo streets and roads to make them more pedestrian friendly, with plenty of pictures. Definitely worth a read.

A bit drier, but readable and useful, is A Guide for Reducing Collisions Involving Pedestrians.pdf.

When it comes time to discuss these ideas with PennDOT, it'll be helpful to cite these two sets of expert opinions in PennDOT's own field.

As you can tell from the page on traffic calming, one smartgrowth ideal is a town that's great for walking and biking. An area full of sidewalk cafes, small retail shops and bicycles makes the town so—something Carnegie is embracing fully.

But a few years ago, PennDOT refurbished Mansfield Avenue in Carnegie. They made it a two-lane highway for high-speed traffic right through the middle of Carnegie. Now every time you cross Mansfield you take your life in your hands. So we've been discussing ways to slow the traffic on Mansfield and making it more inviting for pedestrians to cross the road.

People from the outer suburbs use the Park 'n Ride lot next to the Borough Building en route to downtown Pittsburgh each morning. When they get back after work, we want them to want to cross the road towards our restaurants and stores. Right now it's about as inviting as running across the deck of an aircraft carrier during a battle.

If you look at the picture on the front of Getting to SmartGrowth II you can see a great urban boulevard, with bulb-outs at intersections, special crosswalks, planted medians (cover for scurrying pedestrians), and the like. But that would be very expensive. Are there cheaper alternatives we could do sooner?

Arlington Sidewalks 1

Arlington streetscape with pavers

Arlington Sidewalks 2

Arlington crosswalks with pavers

Arlington Sidewalks 3

Arlington street with pavers in median


Arlington Sidewalks

I was looking at some of the things that Arlington had done in one area along Washington Boulevard in the Westover section of Arlington. Look at the pictures to the left and the Google Maps aerial photos of the area or download Google Earth to your computer to see the same aerial photos. They'd used pavers to put a little median in the middle of the street, as well as pavers for the crosswalks. This is a relatively cheap way to give some of the effect of a wide, planted median. It says "this street is for pedestrians, too" at the subconscious level. This inexpensive change makes Westover seem much friendlier. Maybe it would work for us, too.


Serpentine sidewalks at Disney World, Orlando

Serpentine Sidewalks 2

Serpentine sidewalk intersection details

Forsythe Road

Forsythe Road area of Carnegie

Disney Sidewalks

At Walt Disney World in Orlando, there is lots of room to spread out. And the sidewalks were designed from scratch. Look at the aerial photos to the left (areas of interest circled) or check the Google Maps aerial photos of the whole area. Note the sidewalks in this suburban-sprawl area. Though some of the sidewalks are obscured by trees, careful inspection will reveal a few design principles.

First, the sidewalks are serpentine (squiggly like a snake). The sidewalks wander through planted areas like a path through a natural forest. This makes them much less boring.

Second, the sidewalks are relatively distant from the roadway. This isolates pedestrians from the sounds, smells and splashes of the roadway, also decreasing the perceived threat of suddenly being crushed by a ton of high-velocity steel.

Third, as shown in the top picture, pedestrians are gently prevented from crossing the main road at some intersections with side streets. The sidewalk crosses the side road at a distance from the main road; and, access to the intersection is blocked by a planting of shrubbery at the corner.

Fourth, as shown in the middle picture, the sidewalks channel pedestrians right to the crosswalks at main intersections. Plantings on either side of the sidewalk make jaywalking very hard: only a tried-and-true bushwhacker would attempt it.

That's the beauty of these design principles: they make it easy to do the right thing, and hard to do the wrong thing. If you're walking along one of these sidewalks immersed in conversation with your companions, your subconscious will guide you to cross at the intersection because anything else is too hard.

This area of Disney is not much like downtown Carnegie. But the sidewalks at Disney made me think of other parts of Carnegie. An example (see the bottom picture) is near the miniature golf course and the borough park along Forsythe road. There is no sidewalk here, but a serpentine sidewalk through the park south of Forsythe road—maybe even using part of the existing trail through the park (which is really a road that ought to be gated and closed to cars, anyway) would make this part of the borough seem more a well-tended garden.

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