Market Street in San Fransico connects many communities within the city, yet using it to navigate from place to another was a slog. Until they got rid of cars last year. The removal of cars on the popular main street made getting around the city faster, easier, and healthier. Anyone who lives in a city knows how much space cars take up so it’s a logical thing to ban them from streets that are best serviced by public transit, bicycles, and pedestrians.
A renewed Market Street will anchor neighborhoods, link public open spaces and connect the City’s Civic Center with cultural, social, convention, tourism, and retail destinations, as well as Salesforce Transit Center, the regional transit hub. The vision is to create Market Street as a place to stop and spend time, meet friends, people-watch while sitting in a café, or just stroll and take in the urban scene.
During the the last century urban planners in North America built cities for cars instead of people. The 21st century is literally paying the costs of their misjudgement. Efforts to make streets for people we gaining popularity over the last couple of decades and the pandemic pushed that further.
We’ve seen cities close streets to cars, open new green space, and overall make the urban experience better. Modern urban planners are calling on everycity to not only keep the people-friendly infrastructure but to accelerate the development of more.
Our urban parks, streets, and various semi-public and private spacesâ€”from balconies to backyards and roof topsâ€”are critical to maintaining mental, physical, and civic health during quarantine. After the pandemic subsides, I doubt we will readily part from them. Beyond our rekindled love of parks, there is a thirst for a radically expanded and verdant public realm, from living streets to sky gardens. Exciting possibilities are emerging in the overlap of urban design, architecture, landscape architecture, and horticulture.
This is a fun video exploring how we currently design streets for cars and how the Netherlands dealt with drivers. It’s sadly common that drivers steer their vehicles into buildings (maybe the buildings need to wear reflectors like cyclists?) throughout North America, despite the billions spent on roadways. Thankfully there are solutions to make streets safer for all users, as outlined in the video above.
You would think that cars regularly crashing into buildings would signal a problem to most people, but a lot of Americans and Canadians just accept it as normal. This is extremely rare in the Netherlands, and it’s due to safer street design that has come from a very different approach to road safety.
Urban planners know adding streets won’t make traffic any better, indeed adding capacity for more cars does the opposite: it makes traffic worse. The problem is that the average person (and politicians) don’t know this little quirk of urban planning. As a result we still build sub-urban areas to cater to old notions of traffic design instead of letting urban planners implement smarter, better solutions.
So what’s a solution to bad traffic? Road diets.
Today, we now know that bigger roads and extra traffic lanes do nothing to solve congestion. In fact, it tends to induce even more traffic. So we didnâ€™t fix the congestion issues, and on top of that, we built wide roads that are relatively unsafe.
Transportation planners in the 21st century recognized that many of the roads that were overbuilt could be redesigned to calm speeding and add space for newer multimodal transportation options. And thus, the road diet was born.
Depending on where you live you may think streets are for people or for cars. The correct answer is that streets are for moving people and not built for the need of inanimate objects. In an interesting series of videos the Toronto Star’s Christopher Hume examines the different urban design decisions between suburban and urban neighbourhoods. The urban areas that promote cycling and walking are understandably the most vibrant, interesting, and productive (economically and culturally). The impact non-car uses can have on streets is evident and something that every city can benefit from.
Unsurprisingly, Toronto’s most vibrant streets â€” Queen, College, Bloor â€” are generally narrow car-slowing thoroughfares lined with unspectacular buildings between two and six storeys tall â€” hardly the stuff of vehicular convenience. The major interruptions in these mostly intact streetscapes are largely the result of clumsy modern interventions beginning in the 1950s and ’60s. Decades later in what’s now Vertical City, we still have difficulty making buildings work at street level. Architects are slowly learning, but have yet to master the skills of contextualism. They prefer the silence of the vacuum and ignore the public realm whenever possible.