May 16, 2005

Livability vs. Traffic Flow

Do you have to sacrifice traffic flow in order to create a livable community? Some Sacramento officials think so, according to the Sacremento Bee: "City of Sacramento residents may have to accept sitting in traffic longer to make their hometown a better place to live, say those working on the city's general plan update. They also may have to put up with a longer hunt for parking spots in the central city."

Well yeah, if you design solely to speed massive quantities of traffic, you end up with 12-lane highways (aka "traffic sewers") that don't generate much appeal to the streetscapes around them. Likewise, if your sole aim is to provide street-level parking lots for massive amounts of drivers, you'll end up with acres of asphalt and a cruddy sense of place.

But does that mean you need massive highways and acres of asphalt to keep traffic moving? I don't think so. Building lots of wide roadways doesn't guarantee the free flow of traffic - just look at Los Angeles, the freeway capital of America, which also suffers from the worst traffic congestion in the U.S., according to a recent traffic study.

The city council is trying to make Sacramento among the most "livable" communities in the nation, while also facing an expected population hike of 200,000 in the next 25 years. What they ought to be talking about in their new master plan is giving people alternatives to driving. Of course not everyone will want or be able to walk or take public transportation to work. But if the option is there, that can help ease demand for roadways and parking lots.

Design so that SOME people can live, work and shop in the same neighborhood. And, make sure the city is a park-once, walk-to-many destination, so that once people drive to the central city and park, they are encouraged by streetscape, ambiance and sense of place to do a lot of walking to different shops, restaurants and entertainment venues..

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