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Slow streets, Livable streets = More friends, More Smiles

March 3, 2013

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NOTE: Experimenting with a Sunday post. We’re committed to at least 5 post a weeks, so likely to see a Wednesday or Thursday become a new off day–In case you were wondering…

Livable streets

This past week I had a chance to sit down with Dave Barrons for a taping of his Investigating Community Resilience show (to be aired in April). We discussed social capita; its role and how it can be strengthened. You can view previous ICR shows I’ve appeared on here and here.

As followers of this blog know, I’m a bit obsessed with streets and their impact on our lives. My discussion with Dave, although not intended to be about streets, had the subject pop back into the discussion on a regular basis. Streets simply dominate our public lives. I believe the single, narrow design that has arisen with the rise to dominance of the automobile has deep repercussions in society and that they mostly go ignored as the inertia of history pushes forward.

As part of the ICR show, Dave and I watched StreetFilms’, Revisiting Donald Appleyard’s Livable Streets (Vimeo)Donald Appleyard (PPS) was a scholar of neighborhoods and produced poignant research into declining social cohesion and interaction in them with increases in traffic volume and speeds. Basically, if you live on a street deemed unsafe, uncomfortable  or unappealing due to cars, the less people you are apt to know (and the fewer smiles you’ll see on kids faces (A-Cities)).


An Appleyard quote speaks to the tension of streets as common space. Where, the public realm is used, and expected to be used, for more than simply passing through.

People have always lived on streets. They have been the places where children first learned about the world, where neighbors met, the social centers of towns and cities, the rallying points for revolts, the scenes of repression… The street has always been the scene of this conflict, between living and access, between resident and traveler, between street life and the threat of death.”

TC Connection

Last Tuesday night at the Planning Commission meeting, several public comments alluded to this social deficit described in Appleyard’s work. Residents were there out of a deep concern that the Corridor Master Plan’s current draft (TC) works against community goals. The president of Slabtown Neighborhood Association, after meeting the week before, explained how they were unanimous with their concern that West Front St., if allowed to be widened and further designed to accommodate cars as a priority, will create a division between them and the adjacent Kids Creek neighborhood, not to mention neighbors in their own neighborhood.

I wrote about the question of speed and the corridor plans on Wednesday, mainly as a safety concern, but the bigger issue is the social fabric of the community.

Wednesday’s post generated one message from our friend in D.C., Mike Grant, who is also a little puzzled by the designs:

I almost couldn’t believe it when you wrote that the plan calls for widening those streets so of course I had to look it up and, sure enough, in regard to 14th it says, on page 61, that (my paraphrase) adding bike lanes was considered but that was rejected because that would require widening the road as well as making the sidewalks skinnier.  However, then later in the same paragraph it calls for widening the road generally, presumably to accommodate the center turn lane. Appears (consistent with what you wrote) that the priority here is to move as many cars as quickly as possible through there.  Which I don’t think is consistent with probably parts of the same corridor plan that call for that area to be more ped/bike friendly, as well as the City’s Master Plan calling for that area to be denser, mixed-use, which would really by definition require fewer cars and lower speeds to be successful.

Engage and Represent

The Corridor Master Plan has yet to become an official document. The Planning Commission is currently reviewing it and exploring how best to take it to the next level. Last Tuesday, we reviewed the W. Front St. and 14th St. sections.

This coming Thursday (3/7), the PC will review and discuss the 8th St. section of the document. The meeting starts and 7pm on the second floor of the Governmental Center. The packet and the draft plan are both available online (TC)

Also this week, on Tuesday (3/5), the Planning Commission has a regular meeting and Old Town Neighborhood Ass. will be presenting their recommendations for streets in Old Town. Letter is in the packet (PDF).

Two meetings, lots of street talk. 


Have an observation to share?

Messages will be reviewed and considered for a follow-up post similar to how a readers comment was used in the above post or last Thursday’s post


Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are that of the author and do not represent the opinions of writers previously published here or any of the organizations, committees, commissions or other affiliation the authors may belong to, unless so stated. 

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