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Guide to Improved Street Designs: Pay Attention to Precedent

What does a successfully multi-modal and livable street look like? There are examples all over the world, if you're paying attention.
April 25, 2016, 5am PDT | James Brasuell | @CasualBrasuell
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Jeff Speck writes for CityLab about the next front in the ongoing contest to control the design of streets. On one side are cars and traffic engineers, but the latter of those two have ceded ground in recent years to pedestrians and placemaking.

Noting recent successes, Speck asks the questions: "What is the next urgent battle to be fought in the name of more walkable, livable streets and communities?" And, "what if there were one category that managed to include all the others?"

Speck answers these inquiries affirmatively, noting the importance of models, otherwise known as paying attention to precedent. Speck even has a case study with which to make his point, with the example of Lowell, Massachusetts' plan to transform a below-grade highway, with an elevated traffic circle, into a boulevard. Grant Welker reported on the details of the proposed redesign for the Lowell Sun. Speck critiques the current plan by appealing to precedents.

While there exist a growing number of locations in America with street configurations like this one, it is impossible to name one with street life. Swoopy configurations like this design are found mostly in suburban drive-only locations out by the mall, not in cities. If no attractive place can be found with a similar configuration, then a design should not pass the street-planning smell test.

To counter the current proposal, Speck chooses his own precedent—as set by The Boulevard Book by Alan Jacobs, which laid out the fundamental ingredients for a boulevard that both moves cars and provides a walkable urban setting.

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Published on Friday, April 22, 2016 in CityLab
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