Global Street Design Guide

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Global Street Design Guide

A street is the basic unit of urban space through which people experience a city. It is often misconceived as the two-dimensional surface that vehicles drive on when moving from one place to another. Streets are, in fact, multidimensional spaces consisting of many surfaces and structures. They stretch from one property line to another, including the building edges, land uses, and setbacks that define each side. They offer space for movement and access and facilitate a variety of uses and activities. Streets are dynamic spaces that adapt over time to support environmental sustainability, public health, economic activity, and cultural significance.

Streets are like outdoor rooms shaped by multiple planes: the ground plane at the bottom, the buildings and the roadbed edges as the side planes, and the canopy plane like the ceiling of the room. Each plane is constructed of many individual elements that are often regulated or created by a range of different policies, codes, guidelines, and building practices.

Understanding the various portions of a street as either continuous or interchangeable offers a flexible approach to street design. While sidewalk clear paths, bike lanes, and travel lanes must be continuous and connected in order to function effectively, interchangeable elements such as parking spaces, trees, parklets, and transit stops allow a street to be adapted to serve its context. The terms below broaden the definition of street.


The entire distance from building edge to building edge.


Dedicated space with clear walking paths and universal access used for a variety of activities and functions. See: Sidewalks.


The space between the two sidewalks that can be designed to carry various modes of transportation and their ancillary facilities.

Transit Facilities

Dedicated space within the roadbed for different types of transit to travel on. See: Transit Facilities.

Service Infrastructure

The utilities and services provided within the space of the right-of-way.

Street Activity

Social interactions, neighborhood activities, and citywide events that take place within the street.

Street Furniture

The objects, elements, and structures placed within the street.

Building Edges

The collection of building facades, windows, setbacks, signs, and awnings that define each side of the street.

Travel Lanes

The dedicated space within the roadbed for motorized vehicles to move on. See: Travel Lanes.

Ancillary Lanes

Dedicated spaces for stationery cars, cycles, transit vehicles, loading and unloading zones.

Cycle Facilities

Dedicated space for cyclists to travel. This can be within or separate from the roadbed. See: Cycle Facilities.


Trees, planting beds, and green infrastructure within the sidewalk, between parking spaces, or in medians. See: Green Infrastructure.

Adapted by Global Street Design Guide published by Island Press.

Shifting the Measure of Success

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Shifting the Measure of Success