By Dom Nozzi
October 15, 2002
“Low-Speed Urban Streets” are streets that are designed to obligate motorists to drive at a moderate speed. On such a street, motorists should feel uncomfortable driving at higher speeds – usually because the motorist is obligated to pay attention due to the narrowness of the street, the presence of on-street parking, the frequent presence of pedestrians and cyclists, and the proximity of street trees or buildings near the street.
In cities – particularly in town centers – low speed urban streets should be the default design. Higher speed street design should only be built through studies that justify special treatment.
Low-speed design should require modest dimensions for curb radii or lane width. A community street design manual should not merely indicate what the acceptable range of dimensions would be for such a street. Using a range leaves too much flexibility to authorize excessive dimensions.
My general concern is that nearly all engineers seem to have been trained to err on the side of larger, suburban street dimensions.
One of my most serious concerns these days is that too often, communities apply a one-size-fits-all approach to designing streets, buildings, setbacks, sidewalks, landscaping, parking, stormwater, etc. And that “one size” tends to be rather suburban, to the detriment of those seeking the more walkable, human-scaled, urban lifestyle.
That is why I am excited about the possibilities with regard to context-sensitive design.