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As you've probably heard, most major American cities have been undertaking big initiatives to improve walkability/other types of transport.
Most of our cities, though, have extremely wide streets compared to cities elsewhere. This is discouraging to foot traffic and really all kinds of traffic besides cars. It's great to widen sidewalks, add on-street parking, bike lines, etc, but it's still a bit of issue that the distance between two adjacent buildings is still pretty wide.

I was wondering if any cities have ever done things to simply make their streets narrower before, or if anyone has ideas for such a thing. I think that it would be possible to just build in front of certain buildings facing really wide streets, as long as the old building isn't historic or having some special value for being like that. Has anyone ever done something like that?

One thing that I see in my city is a few parking decks which face the sidewalk. Obviously there's no reason that it needs a public frontage, so it would seem like a good idea to just build something in front of it to narrow the street and make the neighborhood denser. What do you think?
Also, I'm aware that this idea would be a bureaucratic mess. I'm just wondering if something similar's ever been done before.
 

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on the road
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Narrowing streets in modern areas is a crime against space, lighting and even healthy.

Setbacks should be, if ever modified, increased, not decreased. The wider, the better.
 

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Margela Schurkel
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In my opinion commieblock quarters e.g. in Berlin need street narrowing the most.

Tear down those buildings:



And turn them into something like this:

 

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Narrowing streets in modern areas is a crime against space, lighting and even healthy.

Setbacks should be, if ever modified, increased, not decreased. The wider, the better.
True, lets build street that take 10 min to cross as a pedestrian. That will create create free spaces of highest living quality. :cheers:
 

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I was wondering if any cities have ever done things to simply make their streets narrower before, or if anyone has ideas for such a thing. I think that it would be possible to just build in front of certain buildings facing really wide streets, as long as the old building isn't historic or having some special value for being like that. Has anyone ever done something like that?
In Berlin I know of examples where they brought at least the buildings closer to some very broad avenues again by infill development.

One thing that I see in my city is a few parking decks which face the sidewalk. Obviously there's no reason that it needs a public frontage, so it would seem like a good idea to just build something in front of it to narrow the street and make the neighborhood denser. What do you think?
Also, I'm aware that this idea would be a bureaucratic mess. I'm just wondering if something similar's ever been done before.
Parking decks need fresh air supply. The cheapest way is to simply leave it open on some sides. But its perfectly possible to have them within blocks, yes. The problem for your idea would be that parking decks are only a few buildings among many probably.
 

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So making the neighborhood denser just for the sake of it, and bragging rights on internet forums? How is that supposed to improve the quality of life of citizens (all of them, not just a certain category)?

European cities are already very dense as they are, and impending the vehicle traffic even further ain't gone help in anything. (You may say less cars, less pollution, but the truth is more traffic jams = more pollution, while freer flow of traffic = less pollution)
 

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Not Cwite There
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A good human scale environment does help encourage people to walk either the entire journey or to access transport, simply because the walking environment is less hostile. Good planning should also ensure plenty of street-level activity to foster accidental encounter on walking trips. Narrowing streets is quite common in some European places and there have been some good examples.

Certain places take the concept a bit too far though. There are some trunk roads that need to be kept consistent and free-flowing, and chronic congestion caused by a man-made pinch point is just as annoying for pedestrians as a hostile uncrossable road. Some roads have been narrowed / restricted so much that buses struggle to negociate corners and bus stop bays are too small.
 

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on the road
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A good human scale environment does help encourage people to walk either the entire journey or to access transport, simply because the walking environment is less hostile. Good planning should also ensure plenty of street-level activity to foster accidental encounter on walking trips. Narrowing streets is quite common in some European places and there have been some good examples.
It is not the business of the government to "foster accidental encounters" of any kind. That is social engineering of the 9th level.

You reasoning would essentially render all places like Barcelona, a claustrophobic city packing 2,1 million people in a very crowded area, with few, if any, real open spaces or green parks within - not at the edge - the urban agglomerated area.

Protected walkways in busy/wide roads are usually enough (e.g., a pedestrian walkway a few meters retracted from the road lanes and separated from it by trees or other landscaping elements.

Many of these "ultra-dense, low-rise" neighborhoods of European cities have problems like apartments that don't get sunlight because it is obstructed by other buildings, and they usually lack things green/open areas every couple blocks as it is common in US, for instance.

I really don't see a point in turning areas with plenty of space into prison corridor-like alleys full of aligned buildings with no lateral setbacks.
 

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Look at that parking lot!
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Wide streets and large open spaces (unless covered by trees and vegetation) make any city look impersonal and sometimes even desolate. It's no secret that dense cities are "cozier" (it also depends much on the street layout - a too regular and rectangular street network doesn't help much, it feels monotonous and harsh - the more irregular and curvilinear, the more pleasant and interesting). Cities with many huge avenues and a rigid geometry may look nice from far above, but much less at street level. Of course these aesthetic considerations are in plain contradiction to practical issues like traffic flow.
 

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Love me, love my dog...
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I've seen several examples where a four-lane street is reduced to two lanes by widening sidewalks and/or adding a median or other aesthetic upgrades. It can make an area a much nicer experience for pedestrians by slowing traffic and making it easier to cross. Drivers who want to go faster can use another thoroughfare - all roads don't need to be as wide as possible.
 

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So making the neighborhood denser just for the sake of it, and bragging rights on internet forums? How is that supposed to improve the quality of life of citizens (all of them, not just a certain category)?

European cities are already very dense as they are, and impending the vehicle traffic even further ain't gone help in anything. (You may say less cars, less pollution, but the truth is more traffic jams = more pollution, while freer flow of traffic = less pollution)
That logic is flawed. It bases on the assumption that demand for car mobility is not flexible but it is to a mention worthy extend. Traffic jam leads to more polution per car but usually unless you horrendously over dimension all of the road infrastructure (and not just parts) you'll always end up with bottlenecks. If you create a larger road infrastructure you might even end up with larger traffic jams in the end in total.

If however feasible alternatives to car mobility exist, traffic will regulate itself and adapt to the given capacities of the road. Yes, there will be traffic jams, but they will be limited by the flexibility of the people to switch to alternatives if they get worse, which is a regulatory effect on stabilizing the extend of traffic jam.

That is the one side, the other is the simple fact that you can design a road which is reduced from 4 to 2 lane in a much nicer way, so that it is a really great place for pedestrians offering a great quality of life, instead of a terrible, polluted noisy concrete canyon.
 

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Journeyman
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Countless examples of four lanes going to two plus a turn lane and bike lanes. Seattle has done a few. They're controversial of course, mostly beforehand...turns out the turn lane can be more helpful than the second lane used to be.

Nearly ubiquitious in some cities is bulbing out corners maybe 6' or so.

Bus stops can also be bulbed out, so the bus just stops in the lane rather than pulling out.

With the astonishingly overdone widths in places like Salt Lake, a pedestrian island will do wonders.

As for building buildings out front, it doesn't seem easy on a large scale. On a small scale, if you have 10' on each side, many shops and restaurants will happily extend out with seating, solariums, etc. In other places they might landscape. New buildings would love to get built to the new line.

But on a large scale, like 30', you'd probably give the land to the adjacent owner, or provide a large right of way around their property, because that's part of its value. They could renovate/expand and make it worthwhile. A freestanding 30' building would be very expensive/sf. Everything would happen over a period of many years at best...you'd end up with a lot of blank sites. In central Paris they might make good use of that land right away.
 

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I love the reaction of some car drivers who are pissed off that their short cut "to" downtown has been messed up. They don't realize that Decatur Street in Atlanta "is" downtown, as much as one can find in the suburban mess that Atlanta is. The sidewalks were small and crowded the traffic immense and crossing dangerous. So the place was redistributed to give sufficient place to pedestrian at the cost of 2 car lanes, in the heart of downtown. And people complain about it?
 

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ONE WORLD
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London made most of its streets narrower during the nineties and noughties, taking out many lanes or increasing the kerb so cars had to squeeze through. Basically research had found that the wider the street, with more lanes, the more cars used them - rather than easing congestion they created it. Narrowing the street made the cars queue much longer - to about 3-5 mph in the central zone, but it also forced drivers to find alternative routes (known as 'ratruns'), ie through alleyways and little used sidestreets. On top of that all bus routes started getting their own bus and motorcycle only lanes. The height of all this came with the Labour govt that even even converted one of the main motorway lanes, the M4 into a bus/taxi/minibus one (the Conservatives undid this a few years later).

Note the new granite paving on the left where a traffic lane has been reclaimed:



The congestion charge made that all absolete anyway as traffic and car usage fell significantly in the centre. Now its changing again, to include bike lanes - narrowing it all even more), and getting rid of street clutter - after a pilot scheme in Chelsea got rid of all bollards and warning / hazard/ road signs (which for years had been increasing dramatically due to lawsuits) found that accidents were dramatically reduced as drivers became less confused or distracted by signs telling them how not to be confused or distracted.

Another pilot scheme is the 'shared surface', where there's no distinction (no kerb even) between pavement and road and pedestrians and vehicles share the same space. Thanks to huge success in the Netherlands, and France where the busiest areas are devoted to this scheme. I first saw one in Nantes, where the main pedestrian strip coincided with a large road crossroads - the pedestrians just kept on walking and the cars slowed down, weaving between each other. In other words cars are much warier, as are pedestrians- and the traffic keeps moving constantly with no need for red lights.

The biggest opposition to this shared surface came from the Blind Association, not the drivers, until the council installed special studded areas to delineate the two areas.





Before:





After

 

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Love me, love my dog...
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I love the reaction of some car drivers who are pissed off that their short cut "to" downtown has been messed up. They don't realize that Decatur Street in Atlanta "is" downtown, as much as one can find in the suburban mess that Atlanta is. The sidewalks were small and crowded the traffic immense and crossing dangerous. So the place was redistributed to give sufficient place to pedestrian at the cost of 2 car lanes, in the heart of downtown. And people complain about it?
I know...they can easily cut over to a parallel street that is still 4 lanes if they want a faster route. I don't understand the resistance to something that is obviously good for the city, but oh well.

I also don't understand the swipe at Atlanta about downtown...downtown Atlanta is not suburban, no matter how you look at it. If you are familiar with the city you know downtown is separate from the suburbs and totally urban. Anyway...
 

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Journeyman
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We can't always have the same Atlanta debate. Some people consider it less urban; others fully urban. Why not let it be.
 

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We can't always have the same Atlanta debate. Some people consider it less urban; others fully urban. Why not let it be.
My point exactly. It is constantly brought up out of the blue by people who don't know any better without any provocation. It's crazy and it would be more pleasant on these sites if members could consider mhays' request.
 

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I also don't understand the swipe at Atlanta about downtown...downtown Atlanta is not suburban, no matter how you look at it. If you are familiar with the city you know downtown is separate from the suburbs and totally urban. Anyway...
Sorry, if I stirred up some controversy there, it was not my intention. I am not terribly familiar with Atlanta, just heard about its reputation of being one of the sprawliest places in the US. If you say that this is only a matter for the suburbs and does not exclude an urban and alive downtown area, I'll just take your word for that.

PS: I love those examples above from London. The difference is breath taking. Suburbanist will hate it.
 

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Ölm
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I was wondering if any cities have ever done things to simply make their streets narrower before, or if anyone has ideas for such a thing. I think that it would be possible to just build in front of certain buildings facing really wide streets, as long as the old building isn't historic or having some special value for being like that. Has anyone ever done something like that?
I don't know of any example here where there were actually buildings being built to make the streets narrower. But there are hundreds if not thousands of examples in Switzerland where the space for cars were narrowed to make more space for bicycles and pedestrians.



 
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