Friday, June 10, 2011

Transportation Fridays: "Street: A Life"

by Betsy Harvey, MCRP, '12

Welcome to the RAPPS blog and my first in a series – “Street: A Life” – on streets and transportation planning! This post will give you a taste of what I will be writing about over the coming months, and next week I’ll launch into my first topic with an exploration of a unique practice from across the pond that is changing the way many are approaching street design.
As a future transportation planner, I love walking the New Brunswick streets: they are a restless mélange of humanity; walk out the door and you soon see the communities’ needs and passions and dreams: what they value, who belongs, where they’ve been. The past few weeks I have found myself contemplating the encroachment of pedestrians onto roads that are traditionally the dominion of cars. This is especially true of French Street in my neighborhood: pedestrians j-walk to the extent that crosswalks are rendered nearly obsolete, while bicyclists ride on sidewalks and roads while disregarding the direction of traffic. Non-auto traffic is encroaching on the roads.
            So despite the rules that govern our roads and millions of dollars spent to enforce them, street navigation is a constant give-and-take. Streets are a source of conflict – but also of innovation, of creation, of spontaneity, and of beauty. As our predominant public space – 3.9 million miles of public roads traverse the country – how we design and use them impacts tremendously the quality of our lives and communities.[1]
We must always be developing, therefore, innovative ways to think about and design streets. They can no longer be thought of simply as arterials that shuttle people in their cars from one place to another. They are dynamic, interactive public spaces in which much of our lives are lived. Their design and use, too often just an afterthought in the planning process, needs to be considered carefully so that they maximize traffic flow and minimize harm to people and the environment. After all, once a road is built, it stays.
My weekly posts will examine many of the new ideas and controversies concerning streets design and use. If this sounds a bit dull, don’t despair – I will be sure to branch into other pertinent topics, ssuch as history, psychology and the environment whenever the opportunity arises. In particular, I hope to explore street design and its use as a public space: What is its purpose? Who is it being designing for? Who belongs there (and who does not)? Why do we need it? How do we measure its benefits and costs? And rest assured that the discussion will not be restricted to goings-on in America; in fact, my first “real” post next week will start in The Netherlands. So stay tuned – and please feel free to add your opinion so we can get conversations going. Thanks for reading!

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