Stroads (street/road hybrids) are a constant presence in cities and towns across America. They usually look something like this:
At Strong Towns, we're firmly anti-stroad, but not because of how they look. It's because of the way they suck wealth out of our communities. Let me explain.
1. Stroads cost a lot to build.
Look back at that first photo and absorb how much pavement is present. With multiple lanes and large signalized intersections, stroads are downright expensive to construct and they're typically built all at once, creating a hefty up-front cost for any city. In contrast, traditional neighborhood streets have been constructed at much lower cost over decades. They may have started as dirt paths, then become cobblestone, then later — when it was clear that they were being well used — been converted to asphalt. The narrow width of the typical neighborhood street and lack of over-large intersections means that far fewer resources are needed to construct it.
2. Stroads cost a lot to maintain.
Again, look at all that pavement. The costs of keeping stroads smooth, intersections functioning, etc. really add up as time goes on. And because they're frequently used by semitrucks, they get even more wear and tear and need to be repaired sooner. In contrast, streets — which are much narrower — don't cost nearly as much to repair. Streets also make it easy to bike and walk, so they aren't just filled with heavy car and truck traffic. That means they need maintenance far less often.
3. Stroads don't make good use of land.
And again, with the pavement. Stroads are full of parking lots which go largely empty much of the time and multiple lanes which are infrequently at full capacity. Much of the land in a stroad-filled area is simply wasted space. In contrast, the land on a street is filled with homes, businesses, churches, parks and so on. There's still room for cars to drive and park, but those uses don't dominate the landscape.
4. Stroads produce very little in tax revenue.
Here's where we get to the real meat of it: For all the expense they incur and space they occupy, stroads are very low-performing investments. And that makes sense; when you've got so much land sitting empty, of course, it's not creating value for residents, business owners or local government. Stroads cost a lot, but they don't pull their weight when it comes to paying for the infrastructure they require. Streets, on the other hand, are far more economically productive. By using land to its fullest, streets are places where small businesses thrive and property values peak. For the lower cost of a street, you get a far greater return on investment in taxes — which means the ability to fully pay for the infrastructure that the street relies on as well as covering the necessary government services that our communities need (police, fire, schools, libraries, etc.)
5. Stroad environments offer little flexibility for repurposing.
The buildings that line your typical stroad — gas stations, fast food joints, big box stores, strip malls — are all really hard to repurpose. They're built for one use and when that business closes, they leave behind a pointless shell of a building. On the other hand, the buildings on a street are ripe and ready to become new businesses, homes, etc. when the existing owner or renter leaves. Most buildings on a traditional street have actually already been doing this for decades.
It's no contest: Streets are better for our towns than stroads by every metric. They cost less to build and maintain, make good use of land, produce a higher amount of tax revenue, and offer good flexibility for repurposing. When we build stroads, we're sinking municipal finances into infrastructure that will suck wealth out of our towns. When we build streets, we're investing in infrastructure that will create community wealth and value for generations to come.