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Charles Ramirez
Charles Ramirez

Key To The Streets

The greatest amount of public space in cities is provided by the street system, the public right-of-ways. Smaller blocks and a tight-knit grid ensure intimate, walkable neighborhoods. In Hoboken, the streets and sidewalks comprise 24 percent of the land area. The streets are where we meet, a point of contact.

Key To The Streets

A lively streetscape is essential to successful urban neighborhoods. Front doors, stoops, retail shops, cafes and restaurants abut the front lot line. In turn, people are attracted to these streets, further enhancing the life and activity taking place there.

Arguably those who have been taking to the streets country-wide every week for the last 11 weeks, including in some of the settlements, have had reason to do so for many years. Nevertheless, something about this sixth Netanyahu government has touched a raw nerve in those who are the backbone of Israeli society.

Even as this public health emergency continues to unfold, we design our streets to be wider, straighter, and faster, erasing our everyday experience at street level. Level of service is prioritized as the metric of success for our streets, and as a result, we lose sight of the human connection to these vital public spaces. In focusing on the flow of traffic, it is easy to forget that our streets are where everyday life happens and our streets are dehumanized. As a result of this thinking, progress on road safety is flagging in developing countries, as well as southern states of the U.S., where road deaths continue to mount, year after year.

If we begin to look at streets as places, rather than through-ways, we see them as the deeply human spaces that they are. Places of commerce, work, recreation, and play, streets are one of the most fundamental public spaces with which we interact on a day-to-day basis. Safe streets for walking must be considered as a basic human right, given that, for many, walking is one of the first skills acquired in childhood, and one of the last things let go of in old age.

Even in cities that are not prepared to eliminate traffic lights and signage, residents have caught on to the need to humanize streets through better design, championing fundamental changes like narrowed lanes for car traffic and expansion of bike lane networks. In Fortaleza, Brazil, NACTO GDCI retrofitted street spaces with protections like parking buffers and bus stop overpasses to reduce traffic fatalities, and repurposed under-utilized parking areas as a pedestrian plaza. Perceived safety improved almost immediately, with rates of pedestrian use and street play soaring. Meanwhile, Hailey, Idaho is experimenting with parklets that expand sidewalk space, and Seattle is pioneering new approaches to building pedestrian crosswalks. By starting with the way our streets are designed, cities can reshape the everyday experience of pedestrians and cyclists.

It seems like everyone wants green, tree-lined city streets. Under the filtered light of a towering tree canopy the air is cooler, the city seems more humane, and our minds become calmer. This idyll is far from reality, though, for many of us who walk along streets where trees are stunted or absent altogether. Street by street, these urban design annoyances become huge missed opportunities when looked at on a city-wide scale.

While in Solitude, you may hear a rumor at the Inn about a mad beggar roaming the streets and ranting, or come across the beggar near the Bards College. Dervenin will be found walking in the streets, lamenting his missing master. Speak to him and he will complain that his master is neglecting his duties and that chaos will ensue. He says that his master is in the Pelagius Wing of the Blue Palace having tea with an old friend. He will tell you that you'll need "the hip bone" to enter, and give you Pelagius' Hip Bone.

This article was originally posted in July of 2020. Much has changed since, as has our thinking about streets in general. To us, the power of sidewalks is becoming more clear and evident.

The promise of spontaneous encounters is what we want from streets, even if we think we're there just to run an errand or get a snack or take a walk. These tasks are usually excuses to be somewhere that makes us happy.

This photo gallery presents some of the finest streets in the world, focusing on Gdansk, Buenos Aires, Paris, Istanbul and The Prado in Balboa park, San Diego; all of which offer lessons we can apply to city streets in our own communities.

Ulica Mariacka is one of the world's best and most engaging streets. The raised terraces in front of the street's buildings were once front porches, when the buildings were the homes of merchants and goldsmiths. These terraces stimulate vital social interaction on three levels: the terrace, the street and the basement steps. It is a perfect setting for outdoor dining, retail displays, stages for musicians to perform and a spot to watch people strolling past.

This intersection in Buenos Aires' Palermo neighborhood holds several lessons for making sure streets serve people on foot, not just motor vehicles. The most important insight to take away from this example is the value of expanding the sidewalk to stimulate more life on the corner, which also encourages motorists to drive more safely. This extra space allows impromptu socializing and sidewalk cafes to flourish.

The absence of stoplights and signs at intersections also helps slow down the traffic (as the Dutch traffic engineer Hans Monderman recommended). Drivers must come to a stop, taking in all the activity on the street, before pulling into the intersection. Entrances to corner buildings are canted at an angle, opening on to both streets at the same time, which adds to the town square feel of corners.

Most Parisienne neighborhoods feature streets that function as both main streets and neighborhood squares. We highlight three of the most compelling: Rue de Buci, Rue Mouffetard and Rue Montorgueil, each of which illustrates the qualities that make a good street in any community.

The Grand Bazaar is one of the largest and oldest covered markets in the world, with 61 covered streets and more than 4000 shops. There are five major gates (along with other streets) that connect the Grand Bazaar with other bazaars and areas that are all part of the district. The shops in the market include textiles and carpets, countless jewelry shops, spices, souvenir stands, and cafes, alongside fountains, historic artworks, a series of courtyards. The rooftops of the Grand Bazaar have cafes, restaurants, toilets, banks, a post office, police station, and a mosque. As the center of Istanbul's commercial activity, the social activity that happens therein only strengthens its role as a hub.

All these examples show streets that have nourished social life for at least a century. Although the four cities evolved under very different circumstances, they are all defined by streets that serve as a gathering spot for people of all ages and cultures.

Many streets in downtown Hammond contain lanes that are 12 feet wide or more, and drivers can be observed approaching highway speeds when using them. It is surprising to learn, then, that the correlation between lane width and driving speed, crash frequency, and crash severity is a very recent discovery of the traffic engineering profession, and contradicts decades of conventional wisdom within that profession. Even today, many traffic engineers will still claim that wider lanes are safer. This understanding is accurate when applied to highways, where most people set their speeds in relation to posted speed limits. But on city streets, most people drive not the posted speed, but the speed which feels comfortable, which is faster when the lanes are wider. Fortunately, a number of recent studies provide ample evidence of the dangers posed by lanes 12 feet wide and wider.

One-ways also have a history of damaging downtown retail districts, principally because they distribute vitality unevenly, and often in unexpected ways. They have been known to harm stores consigned to the morning path to work, since people do most of their shopping on the evening path home. Learning from the damage wrought by the one-way conversion, dozens of American cities are reverting these streets back to two-way.

Hammond, like most American cities, has many streets with lanes that are either too wide or too great in number. Right-sizing these streets provides ample opportunities for bike lanes, most of which can be fully buffered.

Several streets in downtown Hammond have lost a significant amount of their on-street parking to driving lanes. Some of these streets, most notably the north end of Hohman, have no on-street parking at all. Bringing missing parking back will contribute markedly to the safety and success of downtown.

For Seattleites, the recent heat wave brought into stark relief areas of the city lacking adequate tree cover and shade and underscored the resilience of streets that have sufficient canopy. Conversely, it showed how parts of the city with wide expanses of pavement and concrete trap more heat. Ashli Blow demonstrated this point with a video accompanying her street tree article in The Urbanist, which showed how her thermometer went up as she biked from shady tree-covered areas to more pavement-heavy parts of town.

With trees down the middle, the tree canopy would be much fuller, storm runoff would be much less, and people walking, rolling, and biking would find a much more pleasant and traffic-calmed space. A similar intervention would likely work for other wide streets like Aurora Avenue, with freight and transit lanes continuing to ensure the street (and other major arterials like it) still meets these two core needs.

Many Seattle streets are not wide enough to fit a line of trees down the middle, at least if we plan on maintaining two lanes of car traffic. Some streets like University Way NE (better known as The Ave) make sense for a full pedestrianization which could come with added trees. But as far as Seattle transportation levy projects on the ballot in 2024, prospects may be dim for less vetted pedestrianization transformations. That said, The Urbanist has endorsed Seattle Neighborhood Greenways crowd-sourced list of 130 miles of pedestrianized open streets, which shows lots of candidates are out there. 041b061a72


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