After decades of designing streets to move large numbers of vehicles as efficiently as possible, cities are finally rediscovering the benefits of designing safe and livable streets that balance the needs of all users. It is time to change practices and redefine what constitutes successful streets. Streets should not be evaluated in isolation or as transportation projects alone. Instead, each design presents an opportunity to ask what overall benefits can be gained.
Public Health and Safety
Every year, millions of people die unnecessarily from preventable causes, such as traffic violence or chronic diseases related to poor air quality and lack of physical activity. Street design must promote safe environments for all users and offer healthy choices that facilitate active transportation, such as walking, cycling, and using public transit. Streets should improve access to healthy food options, mitigate noise levels, and provide landscaping and trees that improve air and water quality.
Quality of Life
Cities around the world are competing for the title of ‘most livable city’—a recent measure of success—acknowledging the value of quality-of-life measures in attracting and retaining residents and businesses. As people experience a city through its public spaces, the livability of a city is highly dependent on its streets. Shaping how safe, comfortable, efficient, and vibrant a city’s streets are will affect how livable it is and how connected its citizens feel. Streets can encourage social interaction, and designs that offer natural surveillance and help build stronger, safer communities.1
In the face of unprecedented climate challenges, street projects provide an opportunity for local actions to improve the environmental sustainability and resilience of a city. Promoting sustainable transportation modes through well-designed streets can lower carbon emissions and improve overall air quality. Incorporating trees and landscaping can improve water management, foster biodiversity, and increase access to the natural environment.
Great streets attract people and business. Street projects that increase safety, improve public realm quality, and welcome multimodal use have positive economic effects such as higher retail sales and increased property values. Investment in streets has long-term economic benefits.2
In an era of increasing inequality, cities must ensure that their most valuable public spaces offer safe and equitable use to all, regardless of ability, age, or income, empowering the most vulnerable users with safe and reliable mobility choices. A city serves its citizens better through street design that increases access to jobs and schools, benefits individual health, improves sanitation, and encourages strong communities.
1. Jane Jacobs, The Death and Life of Great American Cities (New York: Vintage Books, 1961).
2. CABE, Paved with Gold: The Real Value of Street Design Briefing. Publication (London: Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment, 2007).
Adapted by Global Street Design Guide published by Island Press.