By Dom Nozzi
Civility needs to “go viral.”
Because in my experience, there has been a steep decline in civility in American society for several decades. And civility is one of the most essential elements for a culture that seeks to survive and thrive into the future. Without civility, a culture is on the road to collapse.
The first and most powerful step in restoring a reasonable level of societal civility in American society is to put our “stroads” on a road diet. This is necessary in several instances for every city in America.
A “stroad” is a delightful term coined by Charles Marohn of Strong Towns, and refers to those dangerous, multi-laned thoroughfares you encounter in nearly every city, town, and suburb in America. They’re what happens when a street (a place where people interact with businesses and residences, and where wealth is produced) is ruinously also designed to serve as a road (a high-speed route between productive places). They are enormously expensive to build and, ultimately, financially unproductive. They’re also very dangerous. And they are the futon of transportation” because, just as a futon is neither a particularly good bed nor a particularly good couch, a stroad is neither a particularly good road or a particularly good street.
Greenville makes this step obvious. Motorists are obligated to drive 15-25 mph smoothly on appropriately road dieted Main Street. This is contrasted with the 45-55 mph speeds motorists are allowed and enabled to drive on Greenville’s many stroads. Of course, on a stroad a motorist is not driving at those higher speeds smoothly. Instead, the stroad inevitably forces motorists to engage in “jack rabbit stop and go” travel, where motorists engage in short bursts of excessive speeds followed by frequently repeated stops and slow downs.
Despite the fact that nearly everyone expects a slow speed road to be frustrating and unpleasant to drive on (“WE ARE VERY BUSY AND NEED TO BE ABLE TO DRIVE FASTER!”), driving on Main Street in Greenville versus driving on the Greenville stroads leads to far better and more enjoyable motorist experiences.
On slow speed Main Street, nearly all drivers are more courteous, more calm, more relaxed, more happy and smiling, more polite, more well-mannered, more patient, and filled with civic pride.
The drive, even though slow in speed, FEELS like it goes by relatively quickly. This is because the drive is more aesthetically pleasing and enjoyable. Some drivers don’t want the driving experience to end.
On higher speed stroads, by striking contrast, drivers are more hostile, angry, stressed, impatient, hot-tempered, and enraged at any fellow citizen who DARES to get in the way by driving or turning too slowly, and ashamed to live in a city with such an oversized, strip-commercial roadway blight (this is exemplified by the fact that no one in Greenville takes their out-of-town guests to show off the higher speed stroad, whereas many show off Main Street to their guests).
The drive, even though higher in speed, FEELS like it takes a relatively long time. This is because the drive is ugly, frustrating, and stressful. Drivers can’t wait to get off the stroad.
The unpleasant, stressful, angering, impatient, hostile, uncivil, short-tempered emotions induced by stroads spills over into the stroad-driving motorist’s life beyond the unpleasant stroad experience and into the realm of family life, work life, social life, and interactions with fellow neighbors and other citizens.
Stroads in Greenville include – but are not limited to – the following:
Peter Hollis Boulevard
In sum, converting stroads to streets is an effective way to substantially promote civility (and happiness!) in American society.
We start doing that by removing excessive numbers of lanes on stroads. In other words, treating the failing stroad with a life-giving road diet.