What’s in the Recipe for a Perfect Street?

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What ingredients come together to make a perfect street for both drivers and pedestrians? This is a question urban planners and developers have been asking themselves for decades now. And as the needs of the public have changed in that time, so has street design. For a long time, streets were built almost exclusively with cars in mind, building as many lanes per direction as possible (usually between 2-4 lanes for both directions) with minimally wide sidewalks. Such street planning has led to high levels of air pollution, increased traffic, faster speeds for cars, and increased danger for pedestrians. However, research shows that pedestrian-friendly streets are as much a place for culture and commerce as there are transportation.

Most urban planners agree that making cities more “walkable” and less car-centric offers many benefits for the community at large. Many large cities are testing out new concepts by taking away more space from cars and giving it to pedestrians; a successful example of this is when New York City transformed much of Times Square from a congested traffic corridor to one of the largest pedestrian areas in the city. Given this, what is the recipe for the perfect street?

Center divider: The primary function of the center divider is to separate the two directions of traffic, but most are little more than lines painted on the pavement. Many cities have taken to creating physical concrete barriers to prevent people from driving unsafely from one side of the street to the other, but this space also serves pedestrians as a place of momentary rest while crossing wide streets. This space is also a prime spot to place trees and bushes to add more greenery.

Minimal car lanes (1-2): For a long time, most city planners thought more lanes would help curb traffic during the morning and evening rush, but if our major highway systems are any indication, it would appear that this is indeed not the case. More lanes only spur more traffic because everyone assumes the previous sentiment, so removing all but one or two cuts down on traffic as it will spread to other roads evenly and will cause cars to drive more slowly for the safety of crossing pedestrians.

Bicycle lane: For many streets, cyclists must share the road with cars which results in many collisions between the two . . . especially to the detriment of the cyclists. Turning an extra traffic lane into a designated bicycle lane can create a safety net for cyclists who are free to move quickly down the street without worrying if they are creeping too close to car traffic.

Extra wide sidewalk: The most important part of this formula for pedestrians: making sidewalks wider, which affords people more room for walking past one another. When people are able to walk by easier, they tend to do it more, increasing foot traffic past local shops which in turn increases local revenue. Wider sidewalks also mean there is more room for benches and for outdoor cafes to have additional seating. An added bonus of wider sidewalks is that pedestrians are further away from vehicle traffic, decreasing the chances of accidents between people and traffic.

Clearly visible signs and directories: Sometimes it can be tough to to find your way around the city when street signs are either hidden or obscured from view. Signs should be large enough to be read from a distance and unobstructed by trees or buildings. Additionally, neighborhood directory kiosks placed at major intersections can assist pedestrians with navigation around the local neighborhood by pointing out where they currently are with points of interest nearby.

Defined crosswalks: Crosswalks should be painted in bright attention-grabbing colors or built with a material that stands out from the normal pavement. By doing this, drivers can be much more aware of these areas and slow down in an appropriate amount of time. For added visibility, reflectors or blinking lights can line the crosswalks.

Plentiful street lamps: Ample lighting in every part of a neighborhood contributes to added safety for drivers as well as for pedestrians. Drivers can see the road more clearly and people can walk in safety as lighted areas tend to ward off petty crime.