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Narrow Streets Bullet Point Sheet

Design Safety | Width/Safety Relationship | Bullet Point Sheet | Support Resources

“…when the road is designed for speeding, people take advantage of the invitation, and more mayhem results. Traffic calming reverses this approach by providing physical cues including street trees, narrower streets, traffic circles, and intersections designed for pedestrians to slow down rather than speed up”
(Congress of the New Urbanism, Charter of the New Urbanism, 2000).

“…some statistics suggest that property values are inversely proportional to street width” (Andres Duany, Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, and Jeff Speck, Suburban Nation: The Rise of Sprawl and the Decline of the American Dream, 2000).

“Streets should be safe, interesting and comfortable for pedestrians. Improving traffic flows should be only one of the many considerations in platting streets and designing neighborhoods” (Peter Katz, The New Urbanism: Toward an Architecture of Community, 1994).

”For over 60 years, America’s streets have been built at a scale that precludes pedestrian uses, undermines social interaction and denigrates the historic, cultural and aesthetic character of our communities. Streets are primarily designed to meet the needs of a mobile society and its businesses, encouraging the ever more rapid transport of people and products. But more and more neighborhoods have learned what works for transport doesn’t necessarily work for community” (Pam Neary, “Designing Streets: Weighing Community and Mobility”, Groundwork, Summer 1998).

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“Properly scaled and designed streets can create more attractive communities and can contribute to a clearly defined sense of place” (American Society of Civil Engineers, National Association of Home Builders, the Urban Land Institute, Residential Streets, Second Edition, 1990).

“Overdesign of streets should be avoided. Excessive widths or an undue concern with geometry more appropriate for highways encourages greater vehicle speeds”

According to a report dated August 8, 1995, from the City of Madison’s Joint Subcommittee of the Transportation Commission and Plan Commission:

By allowing local streets in new subdivisions and the reconstruction of local streets in existing neighborhoods to narrower standards, the Committee believes that several important objectives will be supported.

  1. Narrower streets contribute more to improved neighborhood livability and the character of neighborhoods than do wider streets.
  2. Narrower streets use less land, and therefore, contribute to a more compact development pattern. Narrower streets allow more land to be used to accommodate the City’s increasing population and business expansions, while reducing the amount of land which has to be devoted to transportation facilities.
  3. Narrower streets may allow additional land to be used for trees and shrubs along streets. In existing neighborhoods, reconstructing streets to narrower standards may reduce the need to remove existing vegetation along the street.
  4. By avoiding the over designing of local streets, construction and maintenance costs are minimized which means the City can save developers and home buyers land and money. New neighborhoods can be developed less expensively
  5. Narrower streets reduce traffic speeds and discourage non-local traffic from using neighborhood streets.
  6. Narrower streets will result in less land area in neighborhoods being covered with impervious surfaces which contribute significantly to the pollutants in storm water run-off which reach the City’s streams and lakes.
  7. Narrower streets will avoid the possibility of a neighborhood being dominated visually be pavement.
  8. Narrower streets and reduced corner radii create a more pedestrian-friendly environment within neighborhoods.

The subcommittee recommended that the City’s local street standards be reduced to achieve these objectives.

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“Rather than continuing to build local roads like highways and subsequently hobbling them with speed bumps, municipalities could instead control their traffic by once again allowing narrow roads and artful intersections” (Andres Duany, Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, and Jeff Speck, Suburban Nation: The Rise of Sprawl and the Decline of the American Dream, 2000).

“It is logical to assume that vehicular speeds increase with straight, wide streets of low average daily travel contributing to more severe accidents” (“Residential Street Typology and Injury Accident Frequency”, 1997).

“Narrow streets and difficult intersections are useful in communicating to drivers that they do not, in fact, own the roads. Under ideal circumstances, drivers passing through well-designed residential neighborhoods are made to feel that they are borrowing the street space from the people who live there” (Andres Duany, Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, and Jeff Speck, Suburban Nation: The Rise of Sprawl and the Decline of the American Dream, 2000).

“The findings support the theory that narrower, so called “skinny” streets, are safer than standard width residential streets” (“Residential Street Typology and Injury Accident Frequency”, 1997).

“Residential streets, narrower than those in most typical suburbs, slow traffic and allow for wider sidewalks” (Peter Katz, The New Urbanism: Toward an Architecture of Community, 1994).

In Longmont, Colorado, “There were fires in the older part of town during the study period that have alley access and narrow streets, but no injuries were attributed to those fires. It is suggested, therefore, that the municipal or county government look at the larger picture of public safety issues and ask if it is better to reduce dozens of potential vehicular accidents, injuries and deaths or provide wide streets for no apparent benefit to fore related injuries or death” (“Residential Street Typology and Injury Accident Frequency”, 1997).

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It is obvious that increased traffic speed leads to an increase in frequency of potential traffic related hazards. “Traffic speeds on residential streets are generally affected by the following:

  • Open width or clearance of the street-a street with wide lanes invites faster movements.
  • Horizontal and vertical street alignment-straight streets with long sight distances tend to encourage increased speed.
  • The number of access points to the street-streets with many obvious potential conflicts points tend to inhibit speeding.
  • Number of parked cars or other obstructions on the street-barriers effectively decrease traffic speeds as each barrier may pose a potential conflict.
  • Signs and signals at controlled intersections-obvious speed controls within the immediate vicinity of the control device help limit speed”

(“Residential Street”, Second Edition, 1990).

“…analysis illustrates that as street width widens, accidents per mile per year increase exponentially, and that the safest residential road width is 24 feet (curb face)” (Swift and Associates, Residential Street Typology and Injury Accident Frequency, March 31, 1998).

“The best examples of good residential streets can still be found in many older, traditional neighborhoods. These are streets that encourage people to walk, ride bicycles and use transit. They accomplish this through design elements such as narrower road ways and travel lanes, shorter blocks, T-intersections, terminating vistas, multiple connections, landscaped buffers and medians and ample sidewalks.” (Dan Burden, “Street Design Guidelines for Walkable Neighborhoods”, New Urban News, July/August 1999).

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“Narrower streets-as little as 26 feet wide-and tight, right-angled corners are a lot easier for walkers, and probably safer as well, because they force drivers to slow down. One objection: fire departments worry about getting trucks through. But that hasn’t been a big problem in old nabes in cities like New York and Boston” (“15 Ways to Fix the Suburbs”, Newsweek, May 15, 1995).

“Wider residential streets experience higher speeds for both the average and 85th percentile speeds” (James M. Daisa, P.E. and John B. Peers, P.E., Narrow Residential Streets: Do They Really Slow Down Speeds?).

“…wide streets encourage speeding and increase the risk of traffic accident injuries and fatalities” (John Anderson, “Framing the Debate on Streets and Public Safety”, New Urban News, July/August 2000).

“Narrow and safe residential streets are an essential part of a pedestrian-friendly neighborhood…” (John Anderson, “Framing the Debate on Streets and Public Safety”, New Urban News, July/August 2000).

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