September 24, 2005

No-Auto Developments

CoolTown Studios is touting a new development with "miles of pedestrian-only streets" as a way to "have our cake and eat it too" - create neighborhoods where you don't need to have vehicular traffic because entrepreneurs are working at or near home. But I think it's a mistake to consider miles of pedestrian-only streets as how we want to create pedestrian-appealing urban environments.

Yes, having residential garages in alleys out back instead of facing the street is a great idea. And I'm all in favor of creating neighborhoods where people don't have to drive everywhere! But truly vibrant pedestrian-appealing environments can have motorized vehicles as well. The key is proper design.

You want to make sure that there's good screening between sidewalk and street. You shouldn't have TOO many lanes of traffic - and if there are multiple lanes, you need an attractive median to create an attractive, boulevard ambiance. Of course you need good crossing areas that feel appealing and safe. And, no, you don't want to have traffic whizzing by too quickly.

But take a look at places like Newbury Street or Commonwealth Avenue in Boston's Back Bay neighborhood (and in parts of Brookline). Those are outstanding examples of how vehicular traffic coexists with thriving, vibrant pedestrian activity. You don't need to create no-auto environments to do that. "Pedestrian-friendly development" does NOT mean "auto-hostile development."

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