Choosing Safer Streetscapes

Choosing Safer Streetscapes

Streets and parking lots have become an integral part of our urban landscapes, because cars are integral. This sometimes offers us convenience and at other times sets us up for long commutes and deadly encounters. The early streetscape of St. Paul was defined by electric streetcars and has since been transformed by the expansion of the road system, driven by Ford’s mass production of the automobile, resulting in a culture that treats personal vehicles as the norm to get from A to B.

Thankfully, groups like Smart Growth America have taken notice of the dangers of automobile oriented transportation planning and regularly share findings in reports like Dangerous by Design, highlighting what roads in the country are most dangerous and why. Looking towards solutions, SGA invests in expansion of a Complete Streets approach, promoting safety and easy access. The American Association of Retired Persons also offers some great tips on how to safely and efficiently integrate parking.

When does streetscape design bring benefits and when does it cost us time and sometimes lives? Here are a few of SGA’s insights related to Street Networks and Easing Traffic:

  • Providing travel choices – walking, bicycling, and public transportation – can reduce the demand for peak-hour travel in cars, the # 1 cause of daily traffic
  • Public transportation fits more people in the same road space, reducing traffic
  • Well connected streets with short blocks create more choices, increase direct access, and diffuse traffic
  • Dangerous streets lack designated areas for different modes and high speeds in pedestrian zones

As the City of St. Paul evaluates how to best build in transportation infrastructure to the Ford Site, they will be looking at ways to promote safety, relieve traffic (on-site and in the surroundings), establish new grid connections, and determine how different modes of transportation might weave together without getting in each others’ way.

Past ARISE research on the Ford Site suggest that we can create a safe and well connected development, easing traffic in the broader Highland Village area if we:

  • continue the existing grid
  • include enclosed parking within/under denser buildings
  • share parking for public and private uses with designated times
  • provide on-street-parking
  • design for complete streets with many separated transportation options
  • maintain the freight line to move commercial product by rail instead of truck, combining use of the line for freight and passenger rail
  • design site for mixed-use with a wide range of destinations close by

Planning for safety and easy access can also translate to improved health from opportunities for exercise and reduced pollution. Check out the ARISE website for more info on what a transit oriented design could offer.

While many people are dependent on personal vehicles for transportation, the Ford Site development is a great opportunity to institute new (and in some ways historic) planning tactics, to promote access and safety. Now is a great time to call for transportation infrastructure and options that promote care of people before their vehicles.