Slow Streets, a Vancouver-based planning and urban design group, recently initiated a study to determine whether a local street in a popular neighborhood should be considered a stroad and if so, how this was effecting neighborhood livelihood and productivity. This sort of observational study can be done anywhere with enough coordination, data and time. Slow Streets simply observed who was present on the street at different times of day and how those people reached the street. Then they provided analysis and recommendations for how to make the area safer for the majority of people who were frequenting the area on foot, by bike or by transit.
The study, "Is Hastings Street a 'Stroad'?" looks at a wide street running through a popular neighborhood called Burnaby Heights near Vancouver. The study asked, "Is Burnaby Heights not reaching its full potential due to a Stroad design?" As the report summary explains:
The lack of a comfortable and inviting sidewalk experience is problematic for the economic success of a retail street since everyone eventually ends up on foot whether it’s to visit or shop. Burnaby Heights features many of the urban design elements that support a vibrant and economically viable street, yet the potential is eroded by over 33,000 vehicles that travel down Hastings Street through the Heights everyday.
In their analysis of this neighborhood, Slow Streets observed and surveyed people walking down Hastings Street to find out how they got there, what they were doing there, and how they felt about the traffic situation.
They observed a diverse array of people:
As you can see, they found that most of the people outside had arrived on foot. In other words, people frequenting the shopping area were not using a car to get there. As Slow Streets explains in their report, "This goes against the common belief that prioritizing vehicles is vital for the success of the retail street." So, while thousands of cars are using Hastings Street as a thoroughfare to pass through at high speeds, hundreds of pedestrians are frequenting local businesses and spending quality time out and about in the neighborhood. The potential for increasing economic activity and improving the vitality of the area is high; all the elements of a lively street are present. However, the presence of speeding cars detracts from that considerably. During a similar, related survey in 2012, 43% of people walking down the street stated that "traffic related issues made their visit uncomfortable." The reasons for this include car noise and potential for dangerous collisions.
The report also tracks the excess of parking in the neighborhood, and the need to increase transit and bike access. Finally, the report makes recommendations for the neighborhood, including restoring consistent street parking, reducing lane widths, widening sidewalks, bringing in street art and redeveloping surface parking lots into residential or business ventures. The goal of slowing Hastings Street could be accomplished through a variety of short, medium and long term measures.
Implementing the Study
I got in touch with Darren Proulx, cofounder of Slow Streets, to find out how feasible it would be to replicate this study in other places. His answer? Very. About the process, he explained:
Overall we had a core team of 3 people and an additional 3 people working on odd tasks. Most of this work was done manually by being out on the streets. You could also set up a camera and count the results later. Some of the tasks such as producing a parking map can be [done] simply using google maps and a bit of manual counting."
Successfully implementing this study was mostly a matter of developing a good system, locating the necessary data already stored in government databases or on google maps, and then getting out there to do the count and surveys. The process took time, but, as you can see, the result was worth it. Darren and his team have a few tips for implementing a similar project:
Pick a small area to survey. Focusing in on just one or two blocks will make the project feasible.
Write a survey that is short and to the point. This will increase the likelihood that passersby will actually stop and agree to participate. Examples of surveys and other resources are available here.
Be transparent about your process. In presenting your findings, make sure to be clear about how many people you surveyed, what you asked them, etc. This will demonstrate the scope of your project to interested parties.
We're honored that the Strong Towns blog and Chuck were cited as references and sources for this report. We hope it inspires you to take action in your own neighborhood to tackle problematic stroads.