Monday, December 2, 2013

Must Read Books: Urban Street Design Guide

When it comes to urban design, transportation, and land-use, I’ve read my fair share of books. While most of them are good, some have the ability to transform your thought. For me, those books are Jane Jacob’s “The Death and Life of the Great American City” and Donald Shoup’s “The High Cost of Free Parking”.

Jacob’s book explores the complex fabric of city life. In her book, she spends a good amount of time talking about how urban renewal in the mid-twenty century and the prioritization of the automobile destroys that fabric.

Shoup’s book also explores the complex fabric of cities, and zeros-in on “free” parking and on-site minimum parking requirement as one of the most destructive forces on a city’s fabric. He talks about how minimum parking requirements came to be, and discredits the Institute of Transportation Engineer’s “Parking Generation” where most minimum parking requirements in North American cities are sourced from. He also gives some practical advice on using free-market economics to manage on-street parking, so that on-site minimum parking requirements can be reduced or eliminated. He also uses case studies to show how managing on-street parking can successfully revitalization communities.

While Jacob’s book covers high level land-use and the importance of city streets as public space, she doesn’t give practical examples of how to transform auto-oriented streets into public space and multimodal transportation corridors. This is where the National Association of City Transportation Officials’ “Urban Street Design Guide” comes into play.

This book –which was released in October– is a highly graphical, paint-by-numbers guide to designing streets for 21st century cities. While the NACTO has the same content available as a website, it is much easier to read as a book.

The book is divided into sections that address street design, intersection design, and design controls. Design controls include design speeds, safety, and performance measures of streets. Each topic shows a typical example of an existing design based on mid-twenty century ideas, then gives redesign recommendations based on street as public space and multimodal corridors.

Typical lane width on urban streets.

Recommended lane width on urban streets from Urban Street Design Guide.

For example, the topic of “Major Intersection” notes that “channelized right turns and other features create unsafe, high-speed turns”. One recommendation is to “use leading pedestrian intervals to give pedestrians a head start entering the crosswalk. Add pedestrian safety island where possible and eliminate channelized right-turn lane to slow turn speeds and create self-enforcing yield to pedestrians.”

The design guide cover everything from how to design a boulevard to storm water management. It also has a resource section in the back which links the recommendations with research. One of the best parts of the guide is on interim design strategies which shows how to cost-effectively redesign space. The interim strategies can be used for either trails to get public support, or while waiting for capital funding to be secured for a full redesign.

When some of the design recommendation are being applied in Metro Vancouver, many of the best practices have not. For example, while many municipalities in Metro Vancouver talk about how designing for pedestrians is the number one goal, sidewalks remain full of obstructions and intersection still contain unmarked crosswalks.

This book should be on the desk of every city planner and transportation engineer. Since the book is easy to digest, anyone who cares about creating great urban space should also read this book, as should local politicians. I think the BC Ministry of Transportation needs to read this book too.

“Urban Street Design Guide” now stand with Shoup’s and Jacob’s book as my recommended must reads for how to building thriving 21st century cities.


Unknown said...

Streetmix is a website that allows you to prototype various street layouts, making it an obvious accompaniment to this amazing resource.

John Evanochko said...

You've probably read this one, but if not, you might want to add to your reading list, if not to your library, "Health and Community Design, the Impact of the Built Environment on Physical Activity" by Lawrence Frank, Peter Engelke and Thomas Schmidt, Island Press, 2003.

J. Evanochko