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,

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.

parklets for Sacramento!

3876 Noriega St (from San Francisco Planning Department)
3876 Noriega St (from San Francisco Planning Department)

SABA (Sacramento Area Bicycle Advocates) and Sacramento Metropolitan Air Quality Management District are partnering to create demonstration parklets in Sacramento.  This is exciting! SABA has a couple of posts on their Facebook page, and I’m sure there will be a lot more discussion.

A parklet is a small space serving as an extension of the sidewalk to provide amenities and green space for people using the street (Wikipedia). They can remove the tension between street furniture and sidewalk life on the one hand, and sidewalks as a transportation route. Though Sacramento has wide sidewalks in some areas, it also has narrow sidewalks in a number of areas that are highly popular. As an example, 16th Street between P Street and O Street, right next to where I live, has a narrow zip-zag sidewalk, fenced cafe seating for restaurants, and a lot of people and a lot of bikes. There is a tension here, between cafe seating, bike parking, and the sidewalk’s function. A parklet would allow more street life without taking away from any of the other functions.

Parklets are often sponsored by the adjacent business, but since they are in the public right of way, they are open to all users at all times. Cafe seating is different in that the business has a permit for the exclusive use of that area, so it is often open only to customers and only when the business is open. Cafe seating and parklets are actually a great complement to each other, creating vibrant street life that neither alone could.

San Francisco has an official Pavement to Parks parklet page, with details about the spectacularly popular program and a series of photos. The photo with this post is one of my favorites. San Francisco Great Streets Project has a series of pages on parklets, with before and after photos, though it is not up to date.

additional street changes

Note: I’ve updated this post to add some detail to the descriptions and photos to illustrate the treatments. I will be adding separate detailed posts on some of these treatments.

Following on my earlier posts about changing streets in downtown/midtown Sacramento, here are additional street changes that might be used in some places:

  • r2-1_20Reduce speed limit: Reduce speed limits throughout downtown/midtown to 20 mph. Of course simply reducing speed limits does not ensure that actual speeds go down, unless other measures are taken. The removal of three-lane and one-way streets will help a great deal, since these are the streets that most encourage speeding. Other changes suggested below will also slow traffic. I think, however, that the primary change will be a change in attitude, in cultural values. Once a place becomes more livable, people will focus more on being there instead of going through there to somewhere else. I see the whole pace of life in downtown/midtown as being slower, living at the pace of a walker, or even the pace of a casual conversation, rather than at the unnatural pace of a motor vehicle.

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