the urban prospector

Searching for Golden Opportunities in America's Cities

Small Streets

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Lombard and 4th in Philadelphia

Small streets are essential for the success of cities. While this is applicable to the street’s entire Right of Way, in this post I focus on the cartway; the area dedicated to automobiles. The ultimate key here is to make streets safer and more enjoyable for pedestrians.

Imagine walking down your favorite street, several lanes of cars flying by only a foot or two away whipping dust in your face, horns honking. Having a hard time? Nobody likes walking down such roads: they are neither safe nor pleasant. The best streets for pedestrians are safe and comfortable. Cars are slow and often have some sort of effective separation from the pedestrian realm. The noise of the street should be coming from buildings or pedestrian activity. Shade should be present during hot summer months. Sidewalks at minimum should comfortably handle the pedestrians and in busy areas should include frequent seating and other street furniture. Assuming an appropriate level of residential, employment and retail density, streets that meet these conditions will have a great pedestrian atmosphere. These great streets come in many sizes and types.

Pedestrian Alley

In most people's minds, this alley would not qualify as a street, but it is a valid means of pedestrian travel through an area and creates an incredibly interesting and enjoyable atmosphere. Pedestrian alleys should be used as much as is possible and be considered part of the pedestrian transportation grid.

In most people’s minds, this alley in Red Bank, NJ, would not qualify as a street, but it is a valid means of pedestrian travel through an area and creates an incredibly interesting and enjoyable atmosphere. Pedestrian alleys should be used as much as is possible and be considered part of the pedestrian transportation grid.

Shared Street

Water Street in Oakland's Jack London Square is a great shared street. Here pedestrians, cyclists and cars coexist without segregation of uses. The only way this works is because pedestrians and cyclists are given the highest priority in this street.

Water Street in Oakland’s Jack London Square is a great shared street. Here pedestrians, cyclists and cars coexist without segregation of uses. The only way this works is because pedestrians and cyclists are given the highest priority in this street.

Linden Street in San Francisco is another shared street. Here, Blue Bottle Coffee has a shop that opens up directly onto the alley.

Linden Street in San Francisco is another shared street. Here, Blue Bottle Coffee has a shop that opens up directly onto the alley. Seating is available and is directly next to the area that cars can drive through. Once again, pedestrians are given priority on this street.

Two Lane Street W/Parking

Ferry Street in Newark is a more traditional, though still safe and enjoyable street. Here pedestrians are separated from cars. The slow speed of cars on this street mean that bike lanes are unnecessary.  This street design is great for commercial strips.

Ferry Street in Newark is a more traditional, though still safe and enjoyable street. Here pedestrians are separated from cars. The slow speed of cars on this street mean that bike lanes are unnecessary. This street design is great for commercial strips, though designs without parking are even better.

Unfriendly Streets

This massive street separating Riverfront Park from River Bank Park has a 25 mph speed limit, a design speed of much higher. Speeding here has been an issue over the years.

This massive street separating Riverfront Park from River Bank Park in Newark has a 25 mph speed limit, a design speed of much higher. Speeding here has been an issue over the years.

Streets are often designed much larger than necessary. They have more lanes than needed and the lanes themselves are wider than necessary. With wide open spaces on our streets, cars drive faster. Cars tend to drive at the speed at which the road was designed for rather than the posted speed limit. This fast traffic is antagonistic towards a healthy pedestrian atmosphere. Through the use of traffic calming, streets can be modified to be more pedestrian friendly. There are many things that can be done to calm traffic. Removing lanes and reducing the width of lanes is one option. Introducing all way stops in neighborhoods slows down traffic at intersections and creates a deterrent to through traffic. Creating bulb outs at intersections narrows the street and slows traffic. The inclusion of raised intersections and raised mid-block crosswalks increases the traffic calming ability of the streets. Raised intersections and crosswalks bring the street up to sidewalk level giving ultimate priority to the pedestrian and not the car. It is essentially a speed hump with a cross walk. Implementing these strategies will make the streets safer and quieter for pedestrians.

These strategies often involve the reallocation of street space. With fewer and narrower lanes, there is extra street real estate available. Bulb outs, by taking space away from parking leaves room to install other features. The use of this space should go to making conditions better for pedestrians or cyclists. The exact use should depend on the context and current conditions. If the street will still handle high volumes at speeds that are unsafe for cyclists, the addition of bike lanes should be a high priority. If trees are lacking, this may be a great chance to add tree coverage. If bike lanes and tree coverage are not issues, then this is an excellent time to widen sidewalks and introduce street furniture.

Walnut Street in the Ironbound is much wider than necessary. The wide street encourages speeding, creating a dangerous environment for the many pedestrians walking in the area.

Walnut Street in the Ironbound is much wider than necessary. The wide street encourages speeding, creating a dangerous environment for the many pedestrians walking in the area.

It is possible to fit 3 cars in the two drive lanes of Walnut Street. This would be a great location for some traffic calming.

It is possible to fit 3 cars in the two drive lanes of Walnut Street. This would be a great location for some traffic calming.

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