Parklets, crowdfunded bike racks could be coming soon to Raleigh

ccampbell@newsobserver.comOctober 25, 2013 

— City leaders next month will consider two pilot programs testing new approaches to urban amenities.

Last Tuesday, Raleigh City Council committees gave initial approval to introduce parklets – miniature parks in on-street parking spaces – and crowdfunding efforts to buy bike racks and park benches.

The separate programs would be rolled out in the coming months and could put a new spin on some of the city’s most basic services. The full council will vote on Nov. 5.

Parklets are already popular in bigger cities like Chicago and San Francisco, and the idea was proposed in Raleigh this April by Hunter Buxton, who owns a Raleigh communications and event planning firm.

The first parklet appeared in 2005 when a San Francisco man sought more open space in his neighborhood. He went to an on-street parking spot, put quarters in the meter, then rolled out an Astroturf lawn and potted tree before relaxing in a lawn chair.

In Raleigh, the parklets would be more organized and could stay put for a year at a time. Grant Meacci of the city’s Urban Design Center proposed parklet regulations to a City Council committee.

Under the plan, businesses would sponsor parklets in front of their locations and pay an annual fee to cover lost parking revenue – between $2,100 and $2,800 depending on the location. Outside groups could get involved but would need the backing of a business.

“I think a third party that isn’t there all the time doesn’t have the control and eyes on the parklet that you would want,” Meacci said.

Parklets wouldn’t be allowed on Fayetteville Street – where parking’s already limited – or on state-maintained streets. Each application would go through a permit process similar to the one used to approve sidewalk dining.

“Almost everyone is supportive except for the folks who complain about there not being enough parking downtown,” Meacci said.

Buxton said she’s already talked to businesses that want to build parklets this spring.

Bike racks

At the same time businesses are sponsoring parklets, individual Raleigh residents could pony up a few bucks toward a bike rack or park bench.

The idea for crowdfunded amenities was proposed this summer by Reid Serozi and other self-styled “civic geeks” at the Raleigh Code for America Brigade.

If the plan is approved, residents can go online to the city’s SeeClickFix troubleshooting website and vote for where they’d like to see bike racks. They could then make a donation to the bike rack effort or a similar project to install benches along the Neuse River Greenway, which currently has no places to sit.

“That might be something folks might be willing to accelerate by stepping up and pulling a few dollars out of their own pocket,” assistant city manager Dan Howe said.

The City of Oaks Foundation will handle incoming donations. The effort will need to raise more than the cost of the amenities to cover overhead, and Howe said promotional efforts will likely be needed to make the fundraiser a success.

“It’s a little delicate doing this as a taxpayer-funded agency,” he said. “People are already contributing to the city whether they like it or not.”

Councilman Randy Stagner supported the idea and thinks it could eventually be expanded to other city projects. “I have had requests to crowdsource traffic calming,” he said.

Campbell: 919-829-4802; Twitter: @RaleighReporter

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