Taking the streets message to Washington

At the annual conference of the Transportation Research Board in Washington this week, the Congress for New Urbanism is determined to "Occupy TRB."

CNU is running a booth during the gathering, releasing a 32-page booklet called Sustainable Street Network Principles,  and trying to get specialists to broaden their views of what a transportation system should accomplish.

CNU President and CEO John Norquist has been making the "case for congestion" during the event. On Streetsblog, Ben Goldman wrote that "it's hard to miss the booth handing out copies of a bright blue pamphlet filled with illusrations of busy tree-lined streets, where bicyclists and buses work their way through a bustling urban bazaar."

The goal of Norquist and CNU is to help transportation specialists understand that streets play three simultaneous roles:  transportation thoroughfare, commercial marketplace, and public space. "Typically, US DOT and StateDOTs tend to look at roads only in the dimension of movement, and even in that one dimension, their rural-style forms fail in the city," Goldman quoted Norquist as saying.

The booklet is a summary, in everyday language, of Designing Walkable Urban Thoroughfares, a publication that CNU earlier produced through years of collaborative effort with the Institute of Transportation Engineers. CNU sees the street network as a fundamental part of human civilization, serving as a setting for both commerce and culture. 

"For the first time, the CNU has compiled a set of principles and key characteristics of the sustainable street network into a document that is practical, inspirational, and beautifully illustrated," CNU said in announcing the new publication last week.

Among the statements in the booklet:

We assert that current transportation engineering addresses only limited individual components of the region’s street network. This results in a fragmented and inefficient system that fails to adequately engage the social, environmental, and economic aspirations of communities.

We advocate a return to the historic understanding of the street network as a fundamental framework for safe, livable communities, where the human scale of the individual and the act of walking represent the basic unit of design.

The booklet proposes the following principles:

• Create a street network that supports communities and places.

• Create a street network that attracts and sustains economic activity, serving a rich combination of housing, shopping, and transportation choices.

• Maximize transportation choice. 

• Integrate the street network with natural systems at all scales. Stormwater treatment can be integrated into street design; stormwater flow and wildlife habitat zones can mesh with the street network.

• Respect the existing natural and built environment. This includes local and regional characteristics, such as architectural features, climate, geography, topography, and history.

• Emphasize walking as the fundamental unit of the street network.

• Create harmony with other transportation networks. There should be flexibile mobility and easy and legible movement between different modes of travel. 

Sustainable street networks are inherently complex, the booklet says, pointing out:

One flaw of contemporary network practice is a branching hierarchy in which local streets only flow to collectors and collectors only flow to arterials. The conventional dendritic pattern creates highly specialized streets that skew traffic volumes toward the arterial system and encourage high speeds throughout.

By contrast, sustainable street networks connect all types of streets with one another. Boulevards, mews, avenues, and alleys all intersect. Individual streets can be less specialized, vehicle speeds can be reduced, and the network can function more efficiently.

"The U.S. has the world’s highest level of vehicle miles travelled (VMT) per capita, but has higher traffic fatality rates than any developed nation," CNU emphasizes, adding, "The current policy has been a safety, environmental, societal, and fiscal failure. Therefore, the CNU Project for Transportation Reform calls for the nation to completely reform the design and operation of regional transportation infrastructure."

CNU communications director Ben Schulman says the response has been favorable, with more than 1,000 hits in the first week on the interactive booklet.  

For more in-depth coverage on this topic: 

Subscribe to Better! Cities & Towns to read all of the articles (print+online) on implementation of greener, stronger, cities and towns.

• See the October-November 2011 issue of New Urban News (as our print newsletter was known for 15 years). Topics: HUD’s Choice Neighborhoods, Parking reform, transit-oriented parking policy, Obama vs. Congress, West Virginia town revitalizes, suburb remakes its center, ecological dividend, cul-de-sac makeover, thoroughfare manual, and much more.

• Get New Urbanism: Best Practices Guide, packed with more than 800 informative photos, plans, tables, and other illustrations, this book is the best single guide to implementing better cities and towns.

• See the September 2011 issue of New Urban News. Topics: Walk Score, sprawl retrofit, livability grants, Katrina Cottages, how to get a transit village built, parking garages, the shrinking Wal-Mart, Complete Streets legislation, an urban capital fund, and much more.

• See the July-August 2011 issue of New Urban News. Downtown makeover, agrarian urbanism, bike sharing, bike-ped issues, TIGER III livability grants, unlocking remnant land value, selling the neighborhood, Landscape Urbanism vs. New Urbanism, new urban resort, granny flats, The Great Reset.