November 12, 2005

Another Pitch For Narrower Streets to Breathe Life Into a Downtown

"When is a downtown not quite a downtown?" asks Jason Hardin at the Greensboro (N.C.) News-Record. "Maybe when some of its roads look more like highways than main streets."


"Many streets are wide, multilane routes with one-way traffic. This tends to encourage higher speeds. And that, in turn, helps to make roads such as Market, Eugene and Edgeworth streets and Friendly Avenue unpleasant to walk along," Hardin notes.

He points out that streets with one lane of traffic each way and on-street parking gave cakner traffic, making a more pleasant walking environment. For some reason, that's a concept many planners today haven't yet grasped. Either that, or they're purposely designing traffic sewers and think it's fine to make a pedestrian-hostile atmosphere.

It takes great care to make a good walking environment when you've got multiple lanes of traffic each way going along at a fast clip. It's not impossible, mind you - Commonwealth Avenue in Boston's Back Bay comes to mind. But look at all the walker friendly design that's gone into that boulevard: most notably, the gorgeous, linear park along the median; but also plenty of buffer (including trees) between pedestrians and cars, and street-scape friendly architecture with varied building facades (instead of one long wall) and plenty of bay windows looking out onto the street.

In fact, unlike Framingham (where the goal seems to be to make our major shopping thoroughfares ever wider for increasing lanes of cars, graduating from simply unpleasant-to-cross to downright life-threatening), Greensboro has already done a "major makeover" on one street, East Market, "that converted it from a six-lane artery to a much more pedestrian-friendly street," Hardin says. "A similar project is under way on Greene Street, which will go from four lanes of one-way traffic in parts to a lane in each direction."

If you want a business district with strolling shoppers and a sense of place, you can't have highways running through them.

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