Charles Marohn makes 9 great points about how we need to think about infrastructure. I’d like to focus on two, although I encourage you to click on the link and read his entire post.
4. The most unsafe condition we can build is a STROAD. Our primary design goal must be to eliminate them.
A STROAD is a street/road hybrid. It is all too often the default design of our highway system. A STROAD combines elements of a street — intersections, turning traffic, dramatic speed differentials, parking, pedestrians — with the high speed geometries of a road. Professionally, we all understand that this is the most dangerous type of environment we could construct.
As engineers, we should primarily concern ourselves with the safe travel of goods and individuals. In our hearts, most of us believe this to be the only criteria that truly matters, with all other factors being subservient to safety. We have the professional clout to demand an end to STROADS in the name of safety. That this will help us improve travel times and reduce the costs associated with the first list (See #3 above) is a happy consequence.
Engineers have taken highway design principles and applied them to streets, even though the function and priorities of the two systems are completely differently. On highways, safety and the fast and efficient movement of vehicles is the goal. The goal of city streets SHOULD be to foster a living environment in which people and commerce can flourish. A city street designed with 6 lanes, and a speed limit of 45 mph is antithetical to flourishing city street life. We need to eliminate any new Stroad design, and work to correct existing Stroads.
Point #5 is in the same vein.
5. We must build differently within a city than we build outside of it.
It is professionally embarrassing how tone deaf we are to productive urban settings. While we make all kinds of compromises to travel time in our endless STROAD environments outside of town, we go to great lengths to resist changes to the highway geometry once we are within the city. Why?
We need great highways to connect our productive cities. Once within a city, we need to build great streets to maximize that productivity. As we eliminate STROADS (see #4 above) and construct great streets, we’ll not only improve safety but travel time as well.
And if we really set our minds to becoming experts in urban design, we may find that some crazy ideas could go a long ways in cutting our costs, making our cities financially more productive, improving safety, creating a better quality of life for people and significantly reducing travel times.
There is an important difference between a road and a street.
Why are we wasting money on creating non-productive environments? Good question. These Stroads are not productive from the get-go, and then cost millions and millions to maintain. Is it any wonder San Diego is in such financial trouble when it comes to street maintenance?
A main political theme this year in San Diego has been “fixing the streets”. Instead of really FIXING our streets, we are trying to maintain and improve the money pits we have built. Next time you hear talk of a “Sexy Street”, (Councilmember Todd Gloria’s term for a freshly paved street), we must ask ourselves — “What’s so sexy about a street that bicyclists and pedestrians are terrified to use, and a street that is putting us and our children into never-ending debt to maintain? There is nothing sexy about that – at all.