Envisioning a Safer Street
Your street doesn’t feel safe. How could you change it to make it better? You don’t need a traffic engineering degree to come up with workable solutions that you can share with your neighbors, elected officials, and agency staff.
Let’s start with the basics: Streets and sidewalks are asphalt and concrete, but they’re not set in stone. They’re public space, and they should accommodate everyone’s safety and accessibility needs. In reality, they often don’t. But: how our cities use that public space is a policy decision, and we can change it.
Below we’ll outline a fun, engaging way to explore and visualize options for making a street safer and more accessible using Google Streetview and a free tool called Streetmix.
Step One: Get the facts.
Pull up your street in Google Streetview, or go out and take some photos. If you can do so safely, bring a tape measure and get some numbers.
Key questions to answer:
- How many driving lanes are there? Roughly how wide are they?
- How many parking lanes are there? Roughly how wide are they?
- Are there bike lanes? Roughly how wide are they?
- Sidewalks? Roughly how wide are they?
If you like maps and databases, you can find all of this information (and a LOT more) in DDOT’s Roadway Centerline Database map tool.
Step Two: Visualize better options.
Take your numbers from step one and open up Streetmix.net.
Streetmix lets you move and resize the elements of your street by dragging and dropping the various elements. It’s pretty intuitive. If you’ve gotten this far, you’ll be able to figure it out. Start by mocking up your street as it is now. Save it so you can refer back. Now, start moving things around. What happens if you replace a parking lane with a bus lane? Widen the sidewalks? Add a protected bike lane?
Explore some options, and invite your friends and neighbors to do so as well.
This video offers a great explanation of a “Road Diet” which is common way to make more space for biking and walking on a street, and may give you some ideas:
Step Three: Reality Check
There’s no single or linear way of looking at a street and figuring out how to improve it. While it’s important to envision something radical, there are some constraints and minimum requirements to consider, some of these are more flexible than others. Take a look at your Streetmix designs and make sure they’re in line with these guidelines:
|Preferred width||Minimum Width||Notes|
|Standard Bike Lane||6 ft||5 ft|
|Sidewalk||6+ ft||5 ft|
|One way protected bike lane||7+ ft||5 ft||Great protected bike lanes are wide enough to comfortably ride at speed, to allow safe passing, and to ride next to someone to carry on a conversation.|
|Two way protected bike lane||12+ ft||8 ft|
|Driving Lanes||10 ft (11 ft max)||10 ft||Wide driving lanes have no place in an urban environment because they encourage speeding. Driving lanes should be reduced to 10’, especially on multi-lane roads, to make room for other street users.|
|Parking Lane||7-9 ft||7 ft||Narrower for cars, wider for truck loading zones.|
Step Four: Consider scope and timeline
Rebuilding an entire street to expand sidewalks and add high-quality protected bike lanes can be transformative when done right. Sometimes ripping up the whole streets and starting over is the best way to make a street work for its most critical needs. But doing so can also take a decade of planning, engineering and construction.
For quicker results, we can leave the curbs in place and redesign the space between them. Many streets are overbuilt—that is, there are too many, or too wide lanes for driving and parking. Removing or narrowing driving lanes and removing car parking frees up street width for new protected bike lanes, bus platforms, street cafes, and sidewalk extensions built on top of the existing asphalt. See the Road Diet video above for more details. Projects like this are less expensive and easier to execute, so they can be completed on a shorter timeline (as little as a year).
More Detailed Reading: Design Guides & Resources
For inspiration on great street design or more details and guidance on more complicated things like intersection design, explore these resources:
- Urban Bikeway Design Guide – NACTO
- Urban Street Design Guide – NACTO
- Montgomery County Bicycle Facility Design Toolkit
- Separated Bikeway Planning & Design Guide – MassDOT
- Intersection Design
- Choosing the Right Bike facility
- DDOT’s Roadway Centerline Database – a comprehensive database of information about DC’s streets block by block. Look here for street widths, lane count, traffic counts and much more.
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