When Will State Street Stop Being Terrible?

There are a lot of horrible stroads out there, but State Street in Orem is one of the worst I’ve experienced. It is literally both a street running through a city and a highway.

State Street in Orem has mile after mile of this type of thing.

State Street in Orem has mile after mile of this type of thing.

It's like a dystopian nightmare, but not in a cool, movie kind of way.

It’s like a dystopian nightmare, but not in a cool, movie kind of way.

But there are signals on the horizon that State Street won’t always be so bad. In a recent article, my colleague Genelle Pugmire wrote that improving this street is a priority for Orem’s city government:

Councilwoman Mary Street said, “The appearance of State Street should change over the next 20 years.”

She and others in the visioning retreat believe it’s time to take the 5-mile-long downtown and redesign it in block groupings, with cultural arts, mixed retail, housing and other options. Many commented on wanting the intersection of State and Center streets to be redesigned as a downtown crossroads. Davidson said there are huge design opportunities for the area.

Stanford Sainsbury, development services director agrees. “We need to make State Street more interesting. We need to make a sense of place. We need to make more vibrant streets.”

One of the big problems with this street however, is its ownership. Because it’s part of Historic Highway 89 it’s owned by UDOT — a wildly less progressive organization than many city governments in Utah County — which means Orem is going to have to make concessions to things like traffic flow, high speeds, etc. So how can the city make it a more vibrant area without choking traffic?

The fantastic blog Stroad to Boulevard offers one possible solution: European-style boulevards. In a post on Cincinnati, the blog explains a big street “with little side lanes” for access. The idea is to accommodate fast traffic in the middle and slower traffic on the sides.

The Stroad to Boulevard post has some great images illustrating this idea. I’ve also seen it first hand in Spain and France (though I’m still trying to find my pictures of Paris):

A small side lane on a large boulevard in Barcelona.

A small side lane on a large boulevard in Barcelona. The lane on the left is dedicated to bus, but the other land is used for traffic. I’m not totally sure why this lane exists; there is no parking or even stopping so it’s not especially useful for reaching stores. However, this pair of lanes is smaller and isolated from the rest of the boulevard, which is just barely visible on the right side of the picture.

A boulevard with multiple lane types in Madrid.

Here’s another example from Madrid. In this picture, there are four lanes for fast traffic in the middle, with a smaller, slower lane (possibly for taxis) on the side. Whereas the lanes in first picture were separated with a wide pedestrian area, this lane simply has a small barrier setting it apart from the main street.

Those two pictures are perhaps not the best examples in the world — I wasn’t specifically trying to take pictures of the side lanes — but they should at least illustrate the way different areas of a street can be isolated to accomodate both fast and slow traffic.

In any case, the Stroad to Boulevard post also points out why this idea is important for the health of cities:

Different street designs either support, or do not support, economic activity. Government, with a monopoly on streets, must take the lead by designing streets that support local economies. Municipalities must retrofit stroads to true, complete streets for pleasant walking, cycling, transit before they can expect the private sector to develop beautiful homes and storefronts. It doesn’t work the other way around: nobody’s going to hang a flower basket on a highway.

I have no idea what is going to happen to State Street in Orem, or the multitude of other horribly oversized streets in Utah. But one advantage of having such a wide space is that this concept could actually work. And in the long run, that might transform State Street from one of the worst places I’ve experienced into one of the best.

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1 Comment

Filed under driving, travel

One response to “When Will State Street Stop Being Terrible?

  1. Pingback: Walkability, Congestion, and other Things Missing from Streets | (pro(vo)cation)

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