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Stop Sprawl
Street Design Guidelines for Healthy Neighborhoods

by Dan Burden, Center for Livable Communities
1414 K St. #250, Sacramento CA 95814-3929

Have you been wanting to make your streets safer, but not quite sure how narrow to make those streets and intersections? Or, as likely, how to convince your Public Works Department or state DOT to design for safety rather than moving more cars? Or how to overcome fire department opposition to narrower streets? Well, Dan Burden has ridden to the rescue with his "Street Design Guidelines for Healthy Neighborhoods."

Wide streets, with wide lanes, entice motorists to speed, while narrower streets calm that traffic to safer speeds. Children, pedestrians and bicyclists are safer; even motorists and their passengers suffer fewer and slower crashes. Safer, gridded streets, with sidewalks, nearby destinations and public transit entice residents to walk, meet neighbors and build a sense of community. And increase housing values.

But can fire trucks negotiate those streets? Yes, counters Burden, the son and brother of firemen, and shows how to demonstrate that to fire departments. But DPW and DOT engineers claim that they have to design to the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials' (AASHTO) "Green Book" to avoid lawsuits by errant motorists. Burden shows that these safe streets are consistent with the Green Book with appropriate excerpts from the 1994 edition.

This 52 page guide covers trails, alleys, lanes, streets, avenues with parking, main streets without medians, boulevards and parkways. For each of these, it gives sidewalk and pavement widths, number of lanes, average speeds, trees and appropriate nearby land uses. The problems with conventional (post-WW II suburban) design are detailed: designed to be safe only for drivers and make them feel comfortable driving 30-45 mph; tolerates unsafe street and intersection speeds which endanger pedestrians and bicyclists while decreasing their access to neighbors, shopping and parks; compromises liability and risk; eliminates room for trees; and frustrates traffic law enforcement.

Burden's 25 principles for healthy neighborhood street design:

1. Limited neighborhood size which includes schools, parks and small commercial districts.

2. Rectilinear or grid pattern to interconnect streets and mix of street types.

3. Short blocks.

4. Trees, on-street parking and minimal front yards to create the feeling of a more enclosed space, or "outdoor room".

5. Rectilinear streets with short blocks disperse traffic.

6. Narrow streets, neck downs, tight curves to reduce vehicle speeds.

7. 9-10 foot wide travel lanes.

8. Narrower intersections with smaller turning radii to reduce vehicle speeds.

9. Tee intersections afford terminating vistas and fewer possible vehicle-vehicle and vehicle-pedestrian conflicts.

10. Tight curves with prominent buildings or other terminating vistas to slow traffic.

11. On-street parking to slow traffic and shield pedestrians.

12. Nature strips, landscaping and trees in the center and along the curb.

13. Sidewalks on both sides of the street.

14. Curbs to deter parking on sidewalks on most streets.

15. Street furniture, such as benches, waste containers, flower and shrub planters, trees, bollards, lampposts and kiosks, and pocket parks to encourage walking.

16. Street lighting.

17. Bus stops with benches and shade, and with bulbouts: sidewalks widened into the parking lane to prevent parking at the bus stop and to facilitate bus reentry into traffic..

18. Well-marked crosswalks, with medians on wider streets.

19. Low curb radii where streets intersect to make turns tight and slow.

20. Trimmed landscaping or set-back buildings to provide adequate sight triangles at corners.

21. Bikes supported with bike lanes on wider streets, and bicycle signal preference or speed tables and medians where bike trails intersect streets.

22. Remove snow from sidewalks.

23. Emergency vehicles have more access routes with gridded streets and alleys.

24. Underground utilities under streets, walks or trails.

25. Design conflicts "should be resolved in favor of the non-vehicular users".

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