We all know what a great street looks like. Whether it has grand buildings or modest homes, iconic landmarks, or some well-placed trees, a well-designed street creates a place to be, not merely pass through. A street can delight at any scale.
We also all know what a great street feels like. It is comfortable, interesting, and scaled to us. More than anything, a great street feels safe. Safe to walk. Safe to stroll. Safe to be present.
But a great street doesn’t just feel safe. It is safe.
When we treat streets like their primary purpose is moving automobiles, we end up with bad streets. We end up with streets that are hostile. Dangerous. Violent. Streets where people don’t want to be.
Like a house with too many hallways, a street designed primarily to move traffic is an anti-place. Such a design is misaligned with the goals of the neighborhood. Over time, anti-places struggle to sustain their wealth. They are not loved, and places that aren’t loved ultimately lose their capacity and decline.
Bad street design robs our cities of wealth and prosperity. It makes us feel powerless, like we are forced to accept something none of us want, at costs completely disproportionate to the value provided, and for reasons that are wholly unclear. It is the worst kind of mindless futility. It is wrong.
Fortunately, no city is stuck with bad street design. While federal, state, and regional authorities often impose inflexible controls on streets they fund, the vast majority of streets in any community are free of such impositions. They are controlled by the city. Controlled by us.
We have all the authority we need to build streets that are safe and productive. At Strong Towns, we are helping public officials, professionals, and citizen advocates take control of their local streets, establishing a body of practice and an approach to street design that reflects the values and priorities of the community. We literally wrote the book on safe and productive streets, a confession from a real recovering engineer.
To build safe and productive streets, we know that we must:
Recognize that dangerous street design, not driver error, is the primary cause of vehicle crashes involving fatalities and traumatic injuries.
Acknowledge that the insights applied to highway safety, commonly known as “forgiving design,” are unsafe when applied to local streets. Cities reduce their liability by building streets that are actually safe, not by mindlessly following industry standards.