streets – stroads – roads

I have been a follower of the Strong Towns blog since 2008, and founding member when it became a formal organization. It has strongly influenced my thinking about transportation, land use, and housing. I recommend to everyone that you check Strong Towns out.

What really got Strong Towns off the ground is the concept of stroad, a roadway which is neither a street nor a road, but something in between. As is said, it is the futon of roadways, something that is neither a comfortable bed nor a comfortable couch. Strong Towns defines streets and roads as follows:

  • Streets: The function of a street is to serve as a platform for building wealth. On a street, we’re attempting to grow the complex ecosystem of businesses and homes that produces community wealth. In these environments, people (outside of their automobiles) are the indicator species of success. Successful streets are environments where humans and human interaction flourish.
  • Roads: In contrast, the function of a road is to connect productive places to one another. You can think of a road as a refinement of the railroad — a road on rails — where people board in one place, depart in another and there is a high speed connection between the two.
from Strong Towns, Matthias Leyer, https://www.strongtowns.org/journal/2015/5/28/7q1s8gg7h11w0y9rlxrvxy7ow1zd6u

In the Sacramento region, and really almost everywhere, streets designated as arterials and most collectors (in the Functional Classification System) are stroads. They have speeds too high for people to be safe and comfortable. They are often called traffic sewers, that flush traffic in and out of central cities every day. But they are also populated by businesses and public amenities such as schools, with so many driveways and turning movements that they can’t possibly function as high speed roads.

The reason this concept is so important right now is that transportation agencies try to make stroads better by turning them into ‘complete streets’ but do so with a poor understanding of the difference between a street and a road, leaving roadways that accommodate all modes (walking, bicycling, motor vehicles) but still don’t really work. Most complete streets are still stroads. And much of the proposed Measure 2022 sales tax measure for Sacramento County is invested in this flawed concept. So the next two posts will address those issues.

For a good introduction to stroads, see the Strong Towns page Slow the Cars, or Chapter 2 of Confessions of a Recovering Engineer.

Author: Dan Allison

Dan Allison is a Safe Routes to School Coordinator in the Sacramento area. Dan dances and backpacks, as much as possible.

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