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.