The Image of an Ideal Street

Next American City recently published an interview with Mike Lyon, who is involved in the Congress for the New Urbanism and who runs a planning firm. Among other things, Lyon mentions how cities are trying to become more walkable and more sustainable, but also sometimes have regulations in place making the needed changes illegal.

Lyon goes on to comment on the importance of urban biking before he’s asked what an ideal street ought to look like. This is his response:

It would probably have three-to-five-story buildings, maybe mixed use, pretty much built up to the edge of the sidewalk. It would have a nice, wide sidewalk with trees, benches, cafe seating. And then towards the middle, a protected bike lane facility that meets the needs of the majority—simple bike lanes don’t go quite far enough for a large population of people.

Narrow travel lanes. In Europe you’ve got buses that travel on nine-foot lanes. Here we have standards of 11-12 [feet]. Parallel parking is usually a good thing for streets, one that can create friction and slow down motorists. It also creates a barrier between people biking and people walking, not just from a comfort perspective but also from a pollution perspective: Having that buffer means you’re less close to the exhaust from passing vehicles.

Having very visible, clear crosswalks at every intersection, every corner. It sounds ridiculous that I have to say that, but you go to so many cities and that’s not the case. I’d like to see people of all ages on the street as well—a really dynamic atmosphere where you feel comfortable doing any number of different activities.

Efforts to revitalize downtown often focus on “projects” like the convention center and the Tabernacle Temple. But significantly, many of the streets and sidewalks around downtown lack the elements mentioned in the quote above. As we think about economic and cultural progress in downtown, it’s important to remember that the success of the streets connecting the big projects is at least as important as the projects themselves.

University Ave has wide sidewalks and occasional cafe seating, but few mixed use buildings (the pictured Wells Fargo building being an exception), no bike lanes, and extremely wide lanes.

100 North, as viewed from the corner of University Ave. This street is not an arterial, yet it also has astonishingly wide lanes more befitting a highway. It also has no trees, no bike lanes, no mixed use structures and, though not visible from this picture, large parking lots on every block until 500 West. As in the picture above, there also isn't much foot traffic on this street.

Freedom Blvd in the vicinity of 1500 North. Freedom is a major arterial road, so the conventional wisdom would be that the resulting traffic would spur economic development. Yet this picture illustrates clear violations of just about every concept Lyon introduces in the quote above. I don't think it's a coincidence that this area is also generally blighted, both economically and aesthetically.

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Filed under commuting, Development, Downtown, driving

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