Thursday, June 3, 2010

Salt Lake City, Utah

Beautiful colorful cars and buildings and a bright blue sky. And look at that big wide street. In fact, the back of the card brags about the width, stating that like all Salt Lake City streets it is: "132 feet wide, allowing ample room for parking on either side and plenty of room for driving."

Oh, if they just could have seen into the future. We thought that was progress, but we also discovered that designing everything for the automobile made it very difficult for people to walk anyplace, and actually ended up being detrimental to downtown businesses. It's also a lot of money for pavement (on land that could be used for something else),  a lot of radiant heat during hotter months,  and a headache for storm water management when it rains or there is substantial snow melt. A 132-foot wide street may be inviting for a car, but it likely to strike fear in the hearts of potential pedestrians. Do you see any crossing signals here? It makes me wonder what we are doing now in the name of progress, that will be seen as folly in the future.

It's difficult to redesign an urban grid, but in a situation like this it could be a great opportunity.  With 132 feet, you have plenty of room to add a planted center median to serve as a pedestrian refuge and also offset reflective heat from pavement.  You still have plenty of room left for wide sidewalks and bike lanes.


  1. I believe that if you do a little bit more research, you will find that Salt Lake City streets were not designed with the automobile in mind. It is my understanding that the width of the streets was determined by the Mormon founders – long before the automobile age – to accommodate the turning radius of a wagon pulled by four horses.

    Despite the spaciousness of the ultra-wide streets, which you seem to think are to blame for everything from global warming to the demise of downtown mom-n-pop corner candy stores, Salt Lake City is a very enjoyably walkable city!

  2. Anonymous,
    You seem to have misunderstood my post. I am fully aware of the original intent behind the street design. I never mention mom-n-pop corner candy stores or global warming, so I'm not sure where that came from. Allow me to clarify.

    The radiant heat from streets can be substantial, but not global. What it creates is urban heat islands, raising the temperature by 6-8 degrees in summer.

    It's a fact that wider streets result in higher traffic volumes and greater speeds. While this might not be a bad thing if you're driving through, it makes it more difficult to pull over and shop - at any store or business. The higher traffic volumes and speeds, especially combined with a longer crossing distance for pedestrians, create an environment that is pedestrian unfriendly. That said, I have walked in downtown Salt Lake City and it was a pleasant experience - but it would be even better with narrower streets.

    The point is really that there's a great opportunity here to add landscaping, center medians, pedestrian amenities, and bike lanes in a way that benefits everybody.



Related Posts with Thumbnails