Sunday, January 22, 2017

Streets are not Just for Cars: Protest Edition

Over at SCV they have a nice series of posts on a comparison of Salem's downtown with McMinnville's (post 1, post 2, post 3, post 4). Maybe there will be more to say later on it.

For the moment, it is not surprising that two frequent objections are
  • How do we accommodate all the through-traffic?
  • What about parking? We don't have enough parking downtown
On Chemeketa - Yes, in the NY Times (via the SJ/AP)
Yesterday we saw in stunning fashion one of the important roles of streets: For freedom of assembly and of speech.

While it is true that assembling in the streets shouldn't have to be considered a primary function of streets, not anyway in a just and well-functioning city and nation, it is an important one, and sometimes may need to supersede car traffic and through-movement.

Our autoism has distorted our sense of what a street is for.

A just theory of civic street function will include many purposes beyond moving cars.

The Strong Towns typology is an important move away from our distorted notions about streets:
  • A road is an efficient connection between two places. It is high speed and safe, which implies that it has limited access (intersections are inherently unsafe at high speeds) and highway geometries. It is essentially a replacement for the railroad which was, as its name suggests, a road on rails.
  • In contrast, streets create a platform for capturing value. A properly designed street will maximize the value of the adjacent development pattern in ratio to the infrastructure investment within the public realm. To do this, auto traffic will be slow and will (equally) share space with other modes of transport, including pedestrians, bikers and transit alternatives.
  • A STROAD is a street/road hybrid. And yes, I have often called it the "futon of transportation alternatives". Where a futon is an uncomfortable couch that also serves as an uncomfortable bed, a STROAD is an auto corridor that does not move cars efficiently while simultaneously providing little in the way of value capture. Anytime you are driving between 30 and 50 miles per hour, you are likely on a STROAD, which has become the default option for American traffic corridors. Cities wishing to be Strong Towns should have a active policy for reducing the amount of STROADS within the community.
We have too many downtown streets that share the properties of stroads. Outside of downtown, Liberty and Commercial, like Lancaster, are purer forms of a stroad, but in downtown our streets are asked to carry too much through-traffic and are not pleasant enough places for "capturing value." In downtown, the Liberty/Commercial couplet is still quite stroady. Even a street like Chemeketa is still configured so that cars are primary and people are not comfortable biking on it.

Even with sharrows Chemeketa remains uncomfortable for many
Strong Towns talks a lot about property tax base (or civic wealth) and building personal wealth, and so an important sense, primary sense even, of "value" here is property value and economic exchange, but the word is multvalent and also refers to non-economic values - art, food, fellowship, things in the cultural, even moral, realm that are values also.

People create the value, not cars
In downtown we should want more people, fewer cars. By-passes, as some of the commenters at SCV suggest are necessary, don't accomplish this. But making it easy for people to walk, bike, or bus downtown - and to want to stay there to spend money! - does do this.

Streets are not just for cars. As a single instance, the march in Salem (and in aggregate the largest protest ever in American history!) may seem like an exceptional event, a singularity rather than rule, but even so it's an important counter-example to autoist conceptions of street function.

No comments: