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How Much Land Is Lost to Wide Streets?

New research assesses the land value of street space in 20 of the largest counties in the United States.
June 9, 2021, 9am PDT | Diana Ionescu | @aworkoffiction
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Tony Faiola

"During lockdowns, cities all over the world turned residential and commercial corridors into slow (or no) vehicle zones for pedestrians, cyclists, cafe seating, parklets and play," writes Laura Bliss in Bloomberg CityLab. Our ideas about what streets could be shifted radically in many places. Yet, before the pandemic, "people rarely questioned just how much space streets take up in the first place," says UCLA urban planning professor Adam Millard-Ball.

According to Millard-Ball's recent research into 20 U.S. counties, "streets took up 18% of the total land area in these counties, ranging from 14% in Middlesex County, Massachusetts (which contains the suburbs of Boston) to 30% in Kings County, New York (which is Brooklyn)." Millard-Ball also calculated the value of this space, "estimat[ing] that the residential streets in that area would be worth $959 billion if they were instead zoned for single-family homes, based on 2019 prices."

"Despite studies that show narrow streets are actually safer for users, large widths persist as required standards in local subdivision regulations." The programs created during the pandemic show that different uses are possible, and Millard-Ball argues the space could be better put to use as housing. "Cities could also allow owners to push property lines into streets to make way for front-yard ADUs or bigger, multi-family developments. And if that’s still too tricky, they could start by legalizing overnight parking for people who sleep in their cars and vans."

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Published on Wednesday, June 2, 2021 in Bloomberg CityLab
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