At a hearing on March 21, 2023, CNU Orlando urged the City of Orlando’s Municipal Planning Board to reject a request that the City abandon pedestrian access to a sidewalk on Ridgewood Avenue, in Downtown Orlando. CNU Orlando submitted the following written comments.
Dear Mr. Burnett and members of the Municipal Planning Board,
CNU Orlando would like to register our opposition to the proposed abandonment of the pedestrian easement on Ridgewood Ave between Hillman Ave and Cathcart Ave.
Pedestrian routes need to be short and direct. The grid network that makes downtown special and highly functional depends on the resiliency of many parallel streets. While each removal from the grid is a loss, the accumulation of damage to the grid is detrimental. There has been a significant positive change in the planning community's outlook towards connectivity since this right of way was originally abandoned in the 1990s. This change is evidenced by the City's laudable efforts to maintain connectivity in the face of significant development including elevating portions of buildings to maintain connectivity in downtown at block lengths similar to that currently under consideration.
The six hundred and sixty-feet referenced in the staff report is a highway-based standard based on signal spacing for fast-moving traffic that is inappropriate for use in the Traditional City. It is also an absolute maximum, not an ideal. We are not aware that the Land Development Code has separate connectivity standards for the Traditional City (likely because the grid is already in place), but connectivity standards in the Southeast Sector Town and Village Centers require mid-block pedestrian connections every 200-400 feet. As New Urbanists, we advocate for the 5-minute neighborhood as the gold standard for pedestrian comfort and access. Within a 5-minute walk residents should have multiple paths, uses, and access to interesting and useful destinations. Using 660 feet as a standard in historic and pedestrian oriented neighborhoods is a dangerous precedent to set. At this standard, a 5-minute walk would be spent traversing a mere two blocks. Setting this block length as a standard would put many of the best parts of downtown and the Traditional city at risk; the entirety of Pine Street could be abandoned. It is unfortunate that the City ever abandoned this right of way, but at minimum the agreement that was struck at the time to keep pedestrian access open should be honored.
We are also skeptical of the contention that abandoning public spaces makes our City safer. What we have learned over many decades is that places that are loved and used are safer because of natural surveillance that is provided by people, often called "eyes on the street." The obvious and strong interest of the neighborhood association in maintaining this connection attests to their level of investment in this publicly used space.
Most importantly, this is a 100-year decision that should not be made based on short-term circumstances. While it is possible the church and school will be there for many decades, the City should anticipate the possibility that someday this site may be sold or redeveloped. At such time this pedestrian easement should be maintained or re-established. Even if the City allows for the closure of access in the near term, there should be a stipulation that this easement be maintained and the re-opening be considered either periodically or required at the time of any change of use or application for development. Once lost, connections are nearly impossible to re-establish.
Abandonment of the pedestrian easement would be inconsistent with the City’s Comprehensive Plan,” particularly the following provisions:
• Policy 1.10.2 The City shall preserve existing roadway connections and restore connections that previously were severed, where appropriate, in accordance with the City’s Street Closing Policy.
• Policy 1.10.1 The City shall ensure that existing and new residential developments are connected by roadways, bikeways, micromobility options, and pedestrian systems that encourage travel between neighborhoods and access to transit without requiring use of the major thoroughfare system.
• Urban Design: Objective 1.5 When an application is received to construct or expand a school, the City shall review as part of the Conditional Use procedure the placement and design of the facility to ensure that there is an emphasis on pedestrian connections to the facility and that the architectural style is compatible with the surrounding neighborhood.
• Urban Design: Policy 1.5.1 The location and design of schools shall incorporate the positive design elements of the Traditional City.
CNU Orlando is a regional group of CNU Florida, a 501(c)3) organization whose board consists of professionals in the areas of urban land planning, transportation planning, land use law, academia, and architecture. CNU Orlando strongly urges the Municipal Planning Board to vote to reject the request to abandon the pedestrian easement.
Eliza Harris Juliano
CNU Orlando Regional Group