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HomeGateway PlanWhat is "walking distance" from the Plaza or from Cal Poly Humboldt?

What is “walking distance” from the Plaza or from Cal Poly Humboldt?

At its March 27, 2023, meeting the Arcata Planning Commission agreed to put this forth as an “Implementation Measure” to be included in the General Plan:

This implementation measure should be drafted as follows: i. City staff shall bring before the planning commission a proposed rezone to consider allowing mixed uses and more housing in current R‐L neighborhoods within walking distance of the plaza and Cal Poly Humboldt 1. The Bayview, Northtown, Arcata Heights, and Sunset neighborhoods currently only permit low density housing despite being within walking distance of downtown and/or Cal Poly Humboldt. Staff shall develop a plan to upzone these neighborhoods in line with the Strategic Infill Redevelopment Program and bring the plan back to the planning commission for consideration within 2 years. 
[Note: “planning commission” should be capitalized as “Planning Commission” and “plaza” should be capitalized as “Plaza.”  “R-L” is Residential Low Density zoning.]

As this was discussed by the Commission, this Implementation Measure proposes to upzone all areas of Arcata that are within “walking distance” of the Plaza or of the University to be Residential High Density zoning. This would allow 4-story buildings (possibly taller, with density bonuses) and would allow “local-serving commercial uses such as corner grocery stores, coffee shops, etc.” as principally permitted in those R-H zoned neighborhoods.

The idea is to create a more walkable community. 

What is “walking distance”?

The City planners consider walking distance as an “as the crow flies” distance — with no consideration to real-life walking distance. Further, they calculate the walking distance from the edge of a neighborhood — and not from the center of that neighborhood or from a farther spot within the neighborhood.

To the planners, the theoretical walking distance from the Gateway area to the Arcata Sports Complex is a little over 5 minutes. In reality, from the Creamery building at the center of the Gateway area, it’s about a 16 minute walk to the Sports Complex. From the upper north end or far west side of the Gateway area it would be about 23 minutes. In no case is is 5 or 6 minutes.

These are figures for an adult walking. If you were a resident in the Gateway area, would you send your 10-year-old child out to meet their friends at the playground and soccer fields out at the Community Center and the Sports Complex? Probably not. To the city planners, it’s only a bit over 5 minutes. To the parent or the child, it’s perhaps 40 minutes.

Let’s look at what’s in the Draft Gateway Plan as an example of how the planners are looking at “walking distance.”

The dashed white line in the images below show a theoretical computer-drawn 10-minute and 5-minute walking time. Here’s a close-up:

And here is the full-size map from the Draft plan. This 5-minute and 10-minute “walk to the Gateway Area” does not take actual street or trail distances. It’s just a measurement on a map. The times of 5 or 10 minutes are meaningless in real terms.

The following is from the Gateway Plan introductory video, from December 2021, which is still promoted in Arcata’s SIRP website as a good introduction to the Gateway plan, despite it being filled with misleading and actually false information.

So the green parcels, the green shaded areas, are parks and the red are Commercially Zoned areas.  Within a five or ten minute walk of the Gateway area we’ve got Arcata High School, a skate park. Humboldt State University is just within the 10 minute walking area. Wildberries, the bus terminal, the Co-op and Safeway.  So a number of grocery stores with an easy walking distance of the Gateway area. The Plaza is just a few blocks away, the library, the Arcata sports complex is just within a 10-minute walk and the Arcata marsh. So and then all of those red Commercially Zoned lands.  So Gateway area is really optimally located and is in within walking distance of a big portion of the city.

This a entire “10 minute walk” map is very misleading. Yes, the Gateway area is close to town, and, yes, it is walking distance to many locations. But it is not true that “the Arcata sports complex is just within a 10-minute walk.” A person has to cross Highway 101 on 7th Street to get to the Sports Complex.

If a person is living at the northern sections of the Gateway area, it would be a 25-30 minute walk to the Sports Complex. In some cases, it could be a 10-minute walk from the border of the Gateway area – but not from where people would be living.

From 5th & K Streets – which would be the entrance to a large portion of the proposed housing area, that currently industrial area along Samoa Boulevard – to the HSU Library is 1.1 miles, or a 23-minute walk.  From the other end of the Barrel District, it’s 1.6 miles, or a 32-minute walk.  From 10th & O, it’s 1.1 miles, 23 minutes also. Even from the closest spot, around M & Alliance, it’s 0.7 miles and 15 minutes.