Simple fix: smaller streets

Every so often, I will lay out some simple ideas that could make the city of Stockton more pleasant. Today’s simple fix? Make neighborhood streets smaller.

Real estate research shows that home buyers value neighborhoods with low traffic volume, slow street speeds, and minimal noise. But for some reason, development in Stockton has offered the opposite: wide streets that promote speeding and discourage walking. Anyone who has walked through neighborhoods in North Stockton can see that the streets are designed for cars, not for people. For example, take a look at this street in a North Stockton development…

Here is a street that was clearly built with cars in mind, not pedestrians. This excessively large lane in a residential neighborhood is about 30 feet across, a small river of asphalt (16 to 18 feet is considered optimal). Even with cars parked on both sides, a street like this invites motorists to pass through at high speeds. Additionally, newer developments tend to have more curved streets and turns, making it easy for drivers to speed onto a new street without seeing what is ahead. This creates an unpleasant, if not hazardous, environment for pedestrians. Sadly, this is the kind of street people see throughout newer developments in Stockton. So, then, what should a healthy neighborhood street look like? See below

As you can see, this street is narrow, which naturally makes cars go slower, meaning drivers are more attentive to pedestrians. Additionally, you can see from the sign on the right, parking is only permitted on one side. Coupled with the planting strips (the trees lining the road), keeping cars off of one side of the road keeps this street pleasant and inviting for pedestrians. These features help keep property values high as home buyers enjoy this type of environment. Furthermore, making narrow neighborhood streets gives developers more room for houses. It’s a win-win. So where is this model street? In Stockton, right near UOP’s campus. Older neighborhoods in the city are much more conducive to walking and are generally more pleasant.

How can the city promote this type of street design? It can mandate it by changing the city’s development codes. The city of Portland, Oregon has limits on street width and restricts many new residential streets to one-side-only parking. The benefits are obvious: nice streets, higher property values, slower cars and happier pedestrians. But the best benefit of creating streets the naturally promote slower cars? Never having to deal with speeding motorists like this again:

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Categories: Transportation

Author:David A. Garcia

David A. Garcia founded SCL in March of 2012. He holds degrees from UCLA as well as Johns Hopkins University and currently works as the Director of Community Development at The Cort Group in Downtown Stockton, and previously worked as a researcher/analyst for a congressional agency in Washington DC. The views expressed here are solely of the author.

4 Comments on “Simple fix: smaller streets”

  1. John
    April 6, 2012 at 6:00 pm #

    The Fire Department has criteria for the width of streets and no longer allows streets to be as narrow as the one you’ve pictured as “ideal” however the do allow streets to be more narrow than the ones you’ve correctly identified as being too wide.

    In this case the happy median is in the middle of the road.

    • Stocktonian
      April 6, 2012 at 8:44 pm #

      John,

      Thanks for the comment (and the clever pun). You make a good point: creating streets as narrow as the one pictured does make it difficult for fire engines to navigate (assuming the criteria for streets that the fire department has set is in regards to making sure their engines can get through streets quickly and safely). So while we probably won’t see new streets quite this narrow, other things can be done beside restricting road width to protect pedestrians and make neighborhoods generally more pleasant. These steps include incorporating planting strips to create a barrier between the pedestrian and the street and/or limiting parking to one side of the street. Either way, I think this is a constructive discussion city planners should have when creating acceptable street standards for new developments.

  2. February 20, 2013 at 9:54 am #

    I live in a newer development in the western suburbs of Chicago where the streets are significantly narrower than my old north Stockton neighborhood. As the village doesn’t restrict parking to just one side of the street, when cars are parked on both sides, there’s barely room for one car to pass between said parked cars, effectively making said streets ‘one ways’ in such situations (which accounts for perhaps the only benefit of snow, as cars are prohibited from parking on village streets when there’s more than 2″ of snow on the ground). The narrowness of my current neighborhood’s streets initially caused me to miss north Stockton’s wide thoroughfares, though I can certainly see what you’re saying about traffic speeds. One only needs to drive around the Tuxedo Circle area and compare traffic speeds to newer north Stockton neighborhoods, such as those around Cesar Chavez High School. Just curious… What’s your stance on roundabouts? During my last visit home, I came across a new roundabout on 11th Street in Tracy, CA, and have also experienced a number of them in the Sedona, AZ area, as well as in the English midlands and southwestern Ireland. They certainly do seem to cause people to slow down and think, which sometimes seems to be unusual driving behavior these days. ;-)

    • David Garcia
      February 20, 2013 at 7:54 pm #

      There can definitely be streets that are too narrow. When I lived in Baltimore I had similar experiences with two ways too small to fit two cars. On the other hand, the wide and curving streets found in Stockton subdivisions encourage speeding and reckless driving. The best type of street is somewhere in between those two examples, and there has been plenty of research on the relationship between street width and car accidents.

      As far as roundabouts, I think they work on a couple of levels. They force drivers to slow down and don’t require stop lights. They can also be nicely landscaped, potentially improving adjacent property values. On the other hand, I have noticed that newer roundabouts are often adorned with too much signage to make sure drivers are not confused. Combined with little to no landscaping, they turn out to be quite ugly (there are a few in Stockton that fit this description). But in any case, they are certainly preferable in both form and function to the chicanes installed in Spanos pictured in the article.

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