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.
Two Lane Street W/Parking
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.