This is a great book by Jeff Speck that not only explains some of the things that contribute to good urban design and great cities, but also provides examples of things that don't work and explains why. While many of the topics are becoming common in newer guideline documents, the book helped reinforce the need for these features within the city and why we need them. Jeff also did a TED Talk on the subject, you can watch it at the link below, or read on for some of the key things I took from it.
Some key things I took from it include:
- Where do people want to live: increasingly in compact communities with many social opportunities, they want to live, work, eat, drink, recreate without the need to travel
- Buildings: consolidating service such as schools is a bad idea, it means less people can walk. Frontages should be welcoming and bring people in from the street. Building types and costs should be mixed, different classes of society use the street at different times and more people on the street creates greater vibrancy.
- Land Use: the car has allowed us to sprawl and create remoteness, this was fine initially but the freedom it once gave is now replaced by long commutes and self imposed congestion. What once provided benefit to the few, now has left a legacy of sprawl that negatively restricts the mobility of many. Cities bring the uses together providing opportunities without the need for a car for those that live there. A whole city does not have to be walkable, a vibrant downtown core of even just a few blocks can reflect positively on the whole city attracting people and business.
- Pedestrians: Small blocks are important, they provide route choice, more building frontage and interest, they provide friction to vehicles to slow them down, wide streets are harder to cross, road diets can help but face political challenges. What makes a sidewalk safe is protection from moving vehicles via either street trees or parked cars, ideally both. Front access to buildings should not be provided whether there is a suitable rear entrance to limit conflict points. where possible four-way stops are a better pedestrian solution than traffic lights with push buttons.
- Cycling: climate plays a very small role in the rate of cycling, policy should be based on encouraging cycling for all, not just the few, design for the less experienced cyclist, the cost of cycling infrastructure is significantly less than automobile infrastructure, bikeways also increase the value of property and therefore tax revenue, as with so many things almost paying for themselves. dedicated space is a must, marked routes will not attract new cyclists.
- Transit: neighbourhoods should be built around transit nodes and parking requirements removed or relaxed, transit typically works best in neighbourhoods that were originally built around rail, for transit to work there must be walkable destinations at each end fo the trip, good transit also increase real estate value, transit may not be feasible in some cities where driving is easy and cheap. Transit will not reduce vehicle use based on principle of induced demand, it will increase mobility.
- Traffic, induced demand is very real problem, more roads leads to more traffic, only way to reduce traffic is less road space or road pricing. The challenge in doing anything to reduce demand is primarily political. One-way streets were originally implemented to speed up travel to and from the suburbs, today they cause confusion and reduce friction which is a concern to safety. Lane widths in cities need be no more than 10ft (3m), narrow lane help slow traffic down.
- Parking: While parking may be free to the car driver, everybody pays for it in the form of the price paid at the restaurant, shop or cinema, pedestrians, cyclists and transit users are subsidizing car drivers. Parking in the downtown should be paid for to control demand and increase turnover, residential parking should be permit based. Parking requirements should not dictate a change in land use, this may just lead to empty buildings and is of no value to the city. In-lieu fee's are a good solution and allows for shared-use parking. All parking should be controlled by the city. don't provide parking on the main streets, it creates a "missing teeth" effect, always locate it to the rear or consolidate parking in one location
- Environment: while cities may seem polluting, per person they are less polluting than the suburbs, people drive less and typically live in smaller homes.
- Greenspace: should be provided in limited for in the city and encourage activity, i.e. small pocket parks and playgrounds, street trees provide many benefits, they also increase property prices, reduce heat island effects, capture CO2 before it reaches the atmosphere and absorb significant volumes of rainwater, reducing drainage requirements.
- Health: living in the suburbs result in driving almost everywhere, people are becoming obese and this is at least partly related to our previously planned land use patterns. Living in a city encourages people to walk as a mode of transportation and thus get there exercise without even trying.
- The economic benefits of a walkable city are massive, they attract people, which attract companies, the features that make a city walkable increase property prices, which in turns raises property tax revenue for the city