Written by Nolan Rogers, SSI Sustainable Landscapes Intern
Conventional street design in most American cities is currently focused on getting cars from point A to B, with little concern for other uses. This often results in high speed corridors connecting parking lots, with nonexistent or unused sidewalks, and unsafe conditions for bicyclists. Designing cities in this way discourages alternative forms of transportation, ultimately reducing community interactions, limiting the time individuals spend in commercial areas, and decreasing equality by making some areas inaccessible to those who cannot afford, or choose not to own cars. The Slow Streets design group out of Vancouver, Canada argues that prioritizing slower speed transportation is not only “better for cities” but can “yield a greater return on investment from taxpayers and municipalities”. This belief has been gaining traction in many of the world’s cities, including several in the Pacific Northwest. The City of Eugene’s Pedestrian and Bicycle Master Plan notes the following expected benefits of designing transportation corridors for slower speed uses:
- Higher levels of individual health and wellness
- Reduced traffic congestion and exposure to crashes
- Healthy business districts and more dollars staying in the local economy
- Better air quality and lower levels of carbon and noxious emissions
- Higher quality of life
- Lower costs for roadway maintenance
- More equitable access to community resources for all
In the long run, these benefits can be expected to improve communities while saving taxpayer money. Some of the techniques for designing slower streets involve implementing bike lanes, beautifying pedestrian pathways, adding seating, creating traffic buffers, and improving public transportation options.
Rendering by SF Bicycle Coalition
However, creating slow, community oriented streets can be as simple as the addition of a well placed art piece, as demonstrated by Mark Lakeman’s City Repair Project in Portland. Among other initiatives, City Repair helps communities establish street murals, mostly in intersections. These murals slow traffic speeds as drivers become more cautious around the unfamiliar conditions, making the area safer for other forms of transportation and encouraging community interaction. This accessible form of street design helps individuals reclaim their communities’ streets without the need to involve government. So, even if you are not a city planner, something as simple as a piece of art could encourage slower streets and make a difference in your own neighborhood.
SW Lents Mural by City Repair Project
Eugene Pedestrian and Bicycle Master Plan
Mark Lakeman- City Repair
Slow Streets-Vancouver Urban Design Group