Tuesday thoughts on where the money went...

A couple of quick things on our off-day (we try to publish here at STB Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays).

First, I was told yesterday that, of the collection of photos that showed overbuilt streets, the configuration in this picture "didn't look so bad."

My response is that this would be not bad if the design objective is 30+ MPH traffic meeting head on without the need to slow down. If you adopted a more reasonable standard that would design for neighborhood speeds and, understanding the very low volume in these neighborhoods, very low speeds when cars met, you could literally cut this driving lane in half.

Here is a picture of one such street in Walker, MN, that we have posted here in the past.

This street from Walker is still a little wider than it needs to be. A car can park on each side and two cars can still meet, although the closeness will prompt them to slow down. With the very low volume of these streets, the width could be reduced even further so that, on the relatively rare occurrence that two cars meet head on, they would have to pull over and let one other pass. Before big budgets and auto-centric design mania, the yield design was quite common.

My larger point is less about the street widths (I'll write more about the urban design later in the week), but more about the overall expense of it all. If you can drive 10 mph faster due to the wider streets, after a quarter of a mile you would save a minute and a half (and that assumes there are no stop signs or other intersections). Is it worth literally tens of millions of dollars in added expense for a few seconds a day?

Of course not, but as I'll show later this week, that is not the only cost.

One other observation. It would be argued vehemently by the Brainerd fire department that these wide streets are necessary so fire trucks can get access quickly in an emergency. It is a public safety issue, which has been argued at every level of this debate across the entire country. It is interesting to observe that Brainerd spent all this money ensuring that the streets had great emergency access but, as a result, do not have the money to maintain their fire department or the response time of a full-time staff (but they do have a jaws-of-life for when those high speed cars collide).

Communities looking for a different approach would do well to get a copy of a new book by the Institute of Transportation Engineers on a context-sensitive approach to neighborhood street design.