Question of the Week: How Can I Encourage City Leaders to Not Widen a Neighborhood Street for Cut-through Traffic?

Every week, we take one of the best questions submitted to the Strong Towns Knowledge Base, and we answer it here. This week’s question: How can I build a coalition of strong citizens in my town?

The Knowledge Base is a crowd-sourced repository of your questions and answers about how to build a strong town. We on the Strong Towns staff chip in when we can, but we can’t get to everything—which is why we encourage all of our members and readers to head on over and add not only questions, but comments with any additional advice, useful links, or wisdom you have to offer!

When local governments propose to widen a neighborhood street, that usually means they believe the existing street can’t adequately serve the amount of current or future drivers using it. This approach, as you’ll learn in this article, does not alleviate congestion and, in the process, creates dangerous streets.

In this article, we’ll give you the information you need to confidently discuss neighborhood street widening projects with your city leaders, including: 

  • Why cars cut through neighborhoods 

  • Why widening streets won’t alleviate congestion

  • Why wide streets hurt community wealth

Why Cars Cut Through Neighborhoods 

Before you contest a street widening project in your neighborhood, it helps to understand why drivers are cutting through it in the first place. Your city likely has a hierarchical street network, meaning most vehicle trips are funneled into a small number of major routes.

As congestion worsens on those routes (think rush hour), drivers seek an alternative. The result: drivers cut through your neighborhood, hoping to avoid traffic. 

Your city leaders, noticing that the major route is congested, may consider widening the neighborhood street where drivers cut-through. Their thinking is logical: widen the street, and therefore improve traffic flow. However, as you’ll learn below, widening a street won’t alleviate congestion.