Groundbreaking Manual Gives Communities Relief from Unsafe, Oversized Streets

Manual Representing Breakthrough on Walkable Streets Unveiled in Savannah

Tags for this image:
The groundbreaking manual for walkable urban thoroughfares jointly created by the Congress for the New Urbanism (CNU) and the Institute of Transportation Engineers (ITE) is a draft no more. After a final round of comments and revisions, the new guide was published this week as an official ITE Recommended Practice with a new name, “Designing Walkable Urban Thoroughfares: A Context Sensitive Approach.”

Available previously as a draft recommended practice, the manual provides welcome relief from conventional design guidelines that prescribe wider lanes and faster speeds to move more automobile traffic, with almost no regard for the environment created for pedestrians or the ability of the street to support sidewalk commerce such as sidewalk cafes and storefront businesses. As a recommended practice, it now carries the weight of ITE approval and can be used to find flexibility to create more context-sensitive streets within the parameters set by manuals such as the "green book" from the American Association of State Highway Transportation Engineers.

City officials, planners, advocates and others who want to use the manual to make their streets more pedestrian- and business-friendly can download it now. The manual can also be purchased from the ITE website.

As part of the release, representatives of CNU and ITE presented together at the ITE’s annual technical conference in Savannah earlier this week in a session entitled "Case Studies in CSS Design Implementation". Presenters included Lisa Fontana Tierney of ITE, Phil Caruso of ITE, James Daisa, Dan Burden and CNU President John Norquist.

At the session, Dave Waden and Sarosh Saher of the city of Elgin, IL both spoke about the Elgin Case Study during the session, a pilot effort to apply the manual to the challenges of a real city — Elgin, IL. In addition to helping Elgin tame key streets and turn neighborhoods into valuable destinations rather than pass-through zones, CNU seeks to incorporate lessons from Elgin in creating models for applying the manual’s solutions in cities across the country. (Click here for the powerpoint of the presentation.)

One of the manual’s breakthroughs is its acknowledgment that urban thoroughfare design should closely match urban context. It is the first such manual to prescribe specific design variations for each thoroughfare type such as boulevard or avenue across each of the six zones of the rural-to-urban Transect. Click here to learn more about CNU's Urban Throughfares project.

"Mayors and local leaders understand that streets should contribute positively to the community, not dominate the landscape. But for more than 50 years, the Federal government and transportation designers forgot this fact and made reducing auto congestion their only goal. The result was streets that were terrible places to be and that were degraded places for commerce," said CNU's Norquist."This resource revives urban street forms that create great value in traditional settings — main streets, boulevards, avenues — and makes them part of the street design playbook again all across the country."

Some key changes included in the new version of the CNU-ITE thoroughfares manual:

• Changes to ensure target and design speed of streets are identical and the collapsing of the two concepts in all descriptions and charts.
• The elimination of Chapter 11, a problematic proposed section on context-sensitive highways (which new urbanists argued have no place in urban neighborhoods) and the insertion of a few sections on transition zones throughout the document.
• The substitution of the phrase “Walkable” for “Major” in the title, reinforcing the intent of this report to provide guidance for walkable urban thoroughfares in environments that currently support walking, and those places where communities desire to create a more walkable context in the future. CNU members Ellen Greenberg and Phil Erickson also prepared a new introduction that better defines the purpose of the manual.
• A revised section on Emergency Response and street design prepared by CNU member Peter Swift and retired Milwaukee fire captain Neil Lipski.

CNU 18 attendees can also learn about it in a New Urbanism 202 seminar.

Also, take a look at how the City of Elgin, Illinois is putting the manual to immediate use. Elgin Mayor Ed Schock and his administration have struggled with state and county departments of transportation and seen “the imposition of designs that not only have not added value, but they’ve actually stifled and inhibited commercial development and industrial development in the interest of just moving cars. It’s been very frustrating,” he said. "That's why we're so excited to work with CNU and this manual to help us get streets that work for Elgin."

Media inquiries should be directed to Steve Filmanowicz, Communications Director of CNU, at 312.551.7300 x12 or