By JENNIFER ELLIS and SEAN WHELAN
Walking through historic downtown Truckee, bypassing shops, hotels, and restaurants, one would think Truckee is already pedestrian-friendly. But real walkability includes having home, work, shopping, and more within a reasonable walking distance. The truth is that currently, Truckee is a commuter town.
It turns out that the concept of walkability is an increasingly common discussion in city planning. How can we make downtowns more convenient and efficient for residents and visitors? What would encourage walking as transportation instead of cars? In order to determine walkability of a city or town, Walk Score has set out to test how much can be accessed by walking. The website gives a walkability score to an area based on pedestrian friendliness and walking routes to amenities. What is Truckee’s walk score, you ask? The town scored 59 out of 100. For an environmentally friendly, outdoors-minded community, Truckee could do better.
So how do we accomplish this? How can we make Truckee more walkable?
Currently, residents live mostly outside downtown limits and commute to work. All told, there are a mere 18 rental units along with a handful of residences within Truckee’s historic district. This means that employees drive in to the area from local neighborhoods and even as far away as Reno.
In order to ignite change, first we must realize that it’s okay to revise the rules. Town regulations, such as density restrictions and height requirements, can be adjusted particularly with infill projects to encourage housing within walking distance to businesses and amenities. Servicers (aka fee chargers like TTSA or TDPUD) can modify their fee schedules to encourage locals housing over second homes or condominiums. Even parking requirements are outdated in most towns, including Truckee. Minimum parking requirements have raised housing costs, reduced town density, and resulted in unused land and wasted money. If you can walk, why should your downtown condo have to have two parking spaces just like your friend’s home on an acre outside of town?
Let’s look at an example: zoning. While traditional perspectives on zoning a downtown area rely on single-use zones targeted to commercial, industrial or residential uses, more recent approaches focus on mixed use zoning to allow older or bygone era buildings to be renovated to more modern needs. Separating historically incompatible uses so families don’t breathe pollution from the factory next door has transformed into over-regulation of separating all uses in ways that do not allow for any flexibility. As towns have evolved, this rigidity in zoning has created a path of economic and environmental decline with empty buildings and creeping sprawl. By refocusing efforts and land use regulations on their impact to quality of life, we can attract more of the community to downtown and improve our carbon footprint at the same time.
And with this, the door is opened to more attainable housing in downtown areas, limiting further suburban development across open spaces and mountains. If we combine this need for higher density downtown living with coordinated transit and walkable/bikeable routes, Truckee can increase its walkability score to match our community mindset.
But why spend all of this effort to instill change?
Well, the easy answer is that this type of change benefits the economy, the environment, our community, and overall growth of Truckee. When residents live near where they work, local businesses gain more frequent visitors, thereby supporting the local economy and reducing traffic. Furthermore, the creation of a downtown neighborhood brings locals into the community for a more vibrant and appealing mountain town. By implementing positive changes to old rules and outdated planning requirements, not only can we improve Truckee’s walk score but create a better environment for its residents.
~ Sean Whelan has 18 years of development experience including 10 multifamily projects serving 70 first-time buyers. He is currently working on the development of the Residences at Jibboom.
~ Jennifer Ellis is a freelance writer with a Master of Science in genetics. She also writes housing and planning articles for the Residences at Jibboom.