The Power of the Grid


Recently on Henry Morgenstein’s “Essays”, he calls attention to the planning truth that goeth unspoken: the power of a healthy grid of streets.

If you have a grid of ten street by ten streets – you can all envision that – if you seek to go by car from one corner of the ten street grid to the other far corner, there are 184,000 possible ways to do that.  You heard correctly, 184,000 ways to get from point A to point B.”

He continues, applying the analogy to Traverse City.

The point of all this?  If you make one major road — the Old Town by pass for instance — they’ll all come roaring down that wide & welcoming way — and it will soon be stinky, clogged, overcrowded, noisy….

But if you leave the situation alone, some will come down tenth, some will go down seventh, some will take State, others Cass, others union.”

Traverse City residents and fearful fearless leaders have heard this here before … and here (MW). The lesson repeated over and over and over and over is: maximize your grid while treating all your streets as livable streets (StreetFilms). Do it responsibly, of course. Slow our 2-3 ton beasts down and stop investing in “car cannons”– those arterial speed zones that border and divide the community. The attempt to “solve” our traffic problem with more arterials is insane in the full Einsteinian sense of the word.

To flip the approach, start thinking about people cannons (MW).

Henry concludes with a call for sanity. Balance.

For at least the next 20 years, let us focus all our resources on making towns navigable by foot, by car, by trolley, by bus, by train, by tram.  It is not so much that we will ban cars as that we will make the alternatives enticing, fun, inexpensive, readily available, safe & warm.  Everything that cars are now.


Of course, isn't this how we arrived at our current problems?




Contributions greatly appreciated.



  1. Katie
    January 25, 2012 at 9:40 am

    Gary, thanks for sharing this. It is the most straightforward, simple way of explaining the issue that I’ve seen. There are at least a couple of City Commissioners who view possible BLA as a good thing because Cass and Union are too busy…BLA bypass would be another way to go and theoretically take 6000 cars off of them…..ergo, it must be a good idea. This very simple schematic demonstrates the fallacy of that thinking. (without even getting into the chaos that would result at 8th Street). Hopefully others will strive to understand the issues, as well, and a healthy discussion and study will take place.

  2. Chris
    January 26, 2012 at 6:58 pm

    Nice post that clearly outlines how an effective grid system can distribute traffic along many streets. Unfortunately we cannot fully extrapolate this example to Traverse City due to the fact at least four main thoroughfares through our downtown area (Front, State, 7th, 8th) are one-way streets. One-way streets serve to undermine the benefits of a traffic grid and restrict the flow of traffic on certain streets and divert it toward others. Likely if TC had a truly open traffic grid the idea of a new road would be moot.

  3. Mike Gaines
    January 27, 2012 at 10:11 am

    The addition of the ‘highly efficient’ diagonal road in the graffic also eliminates about a third of the usable blocks in this ten-by-ten grid example.

    Are cars and the required roadways to support them really the highest and best use for a given community area?

  4. January 27, 2012 at 10:15 am

    To perhaps state the obvious, the efficiency also eliminates considerable amount of homes, businesses and associated community amenities, not to mention lessens the quality and value of the remaining properties adjacent and in close proximity.

  1. No trackbacks yet.

Send MyWHaT a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: