Narrow Streets For People 4: Organizing The Street

Narrow Streets For People 4: Organizing The Street
April 12, 2015

A basic characteristic of a Narrow Street for People is that it is one flat surface from one side to another, like this:

This distinguishes the form from the Arterial, which has a segregated roadway in the middle for vehicles.

March 22, 2015: Narrow Streets for People 3: A Shopping Center Example
March 15, 2015: Narrow Streets for People 2: Subtleties of Street Width

March 8, 2015: Narrow Streets for People

April 13, 2014: Arterial Streets and Grand Boulevards

You can make a street that is quite narrow, but if it is Arterial in form, the result can be quite unpleasant.

Paris seems to have quite a lot of this. Here we have a street that would be a quite nice Narrow Street for People, and can certainly allow for vehicle traffic, but instead here it is in the Arterial form — and worse yet, is being used as a long skinny parking lot!

Another long skinny parking lot in Paris.

Don’t do that. One flat surface from one side to the other. And no onstreet parking. Because, a long skinny parking lot is definitely not For People.

Curbs serve a number of purposes, for drainage, as property line indications, and also as Arterial roadway segregators. It is quite important to be careful using curbs. Usually, if they are being used productively, we find that they tend to be rather short, perhaps 3″ high, not the 6″-8″ high curbs typical of Arterials.

Here we have typical use of curbs in Kyoto, Japan. Note the small curbs at the side of the street. Here, it is being used as side drainage (note the drain on the right), and also as property line delineation. There is no “sidewalk” to speak of. Nobody would confuse this with an Arterial format.

Here we have another street in Paris, France. This is clearly a Narrow Street for People, and would not be confused for an Arterial. As in the Kyoto example, we again have curbs at the sides, for drainage. The small setback between curb and building can’t really be considered a functional sidewalk in any sense. The curb is much taller than the Kyoto example. Although this example is overall rather successful, I think we are beginning to imply a sort of Arterial segregation here. It would only take a little more “curb” and perhaps a little wider “sidewalk” and we would end up with what amounts to a cramped Arterial rather than a beautiful and spacious place For People.

This street in Limoges, France, is generally quite nice, but I think the use of curbs here is definitely becoming problematic. (Plus bollards, which we will talk about soon.)

This street in Yangshuo, China, is in many ways almost identical to the one in Limoges, including the use of curbs and proto-sidewalks. And yet, I find this Yangshuo street to be far less problematic. What is the difference? It appears that the main difference is that the curb height in Yangshuo is just a little less than in Limoges. Amazing how such a subtle thing can create such a different effect! This is why I say that curbs can be highly problematic.

Throughout Latin America, we tend to find quite large curbs, and something very close to a sidewalk on the sides. This might have a historical basis, as perhaps most roads were dirt (and mud on rainy days) and people wanted to “rise up out of the dirt.” However, today it produces a gross confusion between the Narrow Street for People format and the Arterial format, which is quite destructive.

Cartagena has many yellow bulidings. This one is a fine example. Very typical of Cartagena.
HDR of three handheld shots. Processed using Photomatix 4 beta details enhancer. Used the manual ghost removal on the approaching cars. Photomatix allowed me to brighten the buildings while retaining detail in the sky. Used PS lens correction to straighten the verticals a bit, then Nik Pro Contrast and a bit of Tonal Contrast. Used Nik Polarizer, as I don’t have a real polarizer for my 10-22mm. Burned the street, and did a bit of Nik Darken/Lighten center to darken the edges.

This street in Cartagena, Colombia is very nice in many ways; and yet we have this needless proto-Arterial segregation of the sort we often see in Latin America, of what would be much better as a proper Narrow Street for People with one flat surface.

Here’s a similar sort of result in Honduras.

This street is approaching an Arterial, due to the use of curbs. Vigan, Philippines.
Here’s part of the Village Square shopping center development in Burlington, Canada. Although this development is mostly rather successful, it does integrate these curbs and a proto-Arterial format, for no apparent reason at all. Just a stupid mistake. This is an overt no-car environment.

Compare to this street, from the same Village Square development.

Here we find no curbs at all. Also note the center drainage here, which eliminates the need for curbs for drainage purposes. I think the no-curb solution is far better, which is perhaps why this has become the “artists’ alley” while the curbed example is not.

Here’s another nice street in Italy. Note no curbs, one flat surface from one side to the other. Again we have center drainage, which eliminates the need for curbs for drainage.

To summarize, I would say that curbs can be very problematic, and you should avoid them. If you are going to use them, use them in the Japanese fashion, along the edges. Consider center drainage.

This example from the Netherlands again uses center drainage, and no curbs of any sort. This seems to work well, and may even have some engineering advantages since I suppose it would be easier to build one sewer in the middle, rather than two which are also cramped up against the sides, making construction and maintenance possibly more difficult.

Most existing Narrow Streets for People allow for vehicle access, as wheeled vehicles are very convenient for all sorts of real-world jobs. It might be nice to have some strictly no-car Places, but this is not really necessary or perhaps even desirable.

Once you introduce vehicles into a Street for People, this can quite reasonably make people a little nervous. They want drivers to behave themselves. They don’t want trucks zooming by twelve inches from their front door. The Japanese solution is often a paint stripe or a change in roadway surface, to create something like a “shoulder” along the side. However, the street surface is still flat, with no curbs. This seems to work quite well. Because there is no curb, there is no confusion with the Arterial format. However, when a vehicle appears, drivers just naturally understand that they are expected to stay between the lines. Also, the areas at the sides, or the “shoulders”, can be used by people walking when vehicles are present, and are perceived as a “safe zone” when vehicles are passing.

Also, unlike curbs and bollards, the paint stripe (or different color roadway surface) also allows vehicles to park on the “shoulder” for deliveries and pickups, which allows another vehicle to slip around the other side. Thus, the road is not obstructed. This is not possible with curbs and bollards.

This street in Tokyo, Japan, uses different roadway surfaces to delineate a “center” section and “sides.” (They aren’t really shoulders in the Arterial sense.) Note how the multiple vehicles visible here are using the side areas to stop for deliveries and pickups, which leaves the center section unobstructed. (The truck on the left seems to be delivering beer.) There is actually a very small curb, perhaps one centimeter, which is related to drainage (note drainage grates), but this is so low as to be perceived as equivalent to something completely flat like a paint stripe.

This street in Seijo, a residential neighborhood of greater Tokyo, Japan, shows typical Japanese use of paint stripes. Many people here own personal automobiles. But, at the same time, this is plainly not an Arterial format. (Note the use of curbs against sides, but nothing resembling a sidewalk.)

In general, I think the best solution is to have no segregation at all, not even a paint stripe. But, if you feel the need for something,  I think the paint stripe or different color surface is a far better solution than bollards, or anything involving curbs.

Presumably, where bollards are installed, it is because of the same perceived need for some kind of insulation or barrier from potential moving vehicles. I can’t think of any reason to use bollards in a place that is explicitly a no-car people-only place. What would you be blocking, a stroller? (Perhaps a bicycle?)

Streets in Paris seem to run the gamut from very successful to outright examples of What Not To Do.

Here we have a street in Paris that doesn’t seem like it would have very much vehicle traffic at all — perhaps a place that could have one flat unmarked surface, or at least no more than a paint stripe. People seem to perceive it as “a Place for People,” and walk down the middle of the street. However, we have both curbs and bollards! I find this quite off-putting.

Here’s another street in Paris which, in most respects, seems like a quite nice Narrow Street for People. Note the people walking down the middle. No curbs and center drainage. Plus, the use of what amounts to paint stripes. But, bollards here have advanced to the point of becoming something like anti-tank barriers. Eh?

Here’s another nice street in Paris, which is so popular that it would effectively exclude vehicles altogether except perhaps for a few early-morning deliveries or trash pickup. Center drainage, and also the use of something like a paint stripe. And, a wall of bollards, which seem entirely superfluous to me and definitely problematic.

Another example from Paris, of what is actually a quite narrow street, but with curbs and something very much like sidewalks implying Arterial segregation. Although a simple curb is enough segregation for a real Arterial, here we also have the use of bollards which also renders the “sidewalk” area completely unusable as a sidewalk.

After reviewing many examples such as this, I find that the sensible thing is to never use bollards at all. Either the job can be done with a paint stripe such as the Japanese example — which, as we have seen, allows people walking and multiple large vehicles like trucks to interact with really no problem at all — or maybe it would be best to step up to a full Arterial format with a segregated center roadway. Or, perhaps, just use an undifferentiated flat surface, there being no real need for anything at all.

A street in Paris that is one flat surface.

Taormina, Sicily, Italy. One flat surface.

France (I think it is Paris), one flat surface, use of different pattern roadway at sides. Center drainage.

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