What I’m really talking about in my last post on sustainable streets is the fact that all movement within the city is channeled along the same routes. It doesn’t matter if you’re in a car, riding a bike, or on foot — you mostly still have to adhere to the grid system.
That system is really good for cars because it’s direct and offers a fair amount of choice (different streets with different speed limits, aesthetics, widths, etc.). But our system also discourages alternative forms of transportation — namely biking and walking — because it forces everyone to travel as if they were cars, even if they’re pedestrians.
Here’s a example: imagine you just finished eating lunch at Sammy’s and you want to run over to the Wells Fargo building. The most obvious route is to head either north or south and go around the block. In other words, the walking route parallels the driving route.
However, what if there was a more direct route? What if instead of going around the block, pedestrians and bikers could go through it? (In fact, in this case, that’s actually possible for pedestrians who know how to cut through the buildings directly to the east of Sammy’s, though that isn’t specifically a pedestrian path. And in any case, to arrive at the Wells Fargo building pedestrians would still have to cross University Ave at an intersection.)
The point is that the principles and keys of sustainable streets are merely articulating what should be obvious: that a successful urban infrastructure includes a complex array of passageways, some of which are built with pedestrians (and bicyclists) in mind. Said another way, only cars should have to travel along car-oriented routes.
Old cities and large cities are often filled with these sorts of passageways. But while Provo is generally quite walkable, adding this sort of infrastructure — passageways and “streets” that cut through the middle of blocks, for example — would make it even more so. It’d also increase foot traffic, safety and, though hard to quantify, charm.
I wouldn’t even bring this topic up if Provo wasn’t looking to significantly revitalize downtown. However, revitalization in this case is going to mean building a number of multistory, mixed-use buildings. As those structures go up, the city will have the opportunity to create different kinds of routes for different kinds of travelers.
And finally, I’m reminded of this very short article I recently read on Grist, which mentions that a yet-to-be-built town in Maine is hoping to make streets too narrow for cars. With revitalization efforts, Provo has the chance now to mix the best of a wonderful car grid with the kind of pedestrian-friendly grid that town hopes to create. In other words, Provo really is in a wonderful position to have the best of both worlds.