Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Sharing the Streets

A few things I have come across in the last month have led me to think more about the role of the street in land use planning and the increasing demands on this most public of places.  Foremost among these was the Museum of the City of New York’s exhibit on New York’s street grid, which just closed and which Ken Stahl blogged about here a few months ago.  The exhibit drove home the role of the street grid in shaping the city’s development patterns (and the incredible uniformity it imposed upon that development). A recent post at Better! Cities & Towns, What is a block?, shared interesting thoughts on the interaction between public streets and private property, the legal and physical implications of the boundary line, and the definition of a block.

Last month, a “Complete Streets” provision included in the Senate transportation bill was struck from the final version during the conference process.  The provision would have required that federally-funded street projects include certain measures to more safely accommodate all road users, including pedestrians, cyclists, and public transportation users.  The coming years are likely to see more heated battles over the use of streets, for pedestrians, bicyclists, and bus rapid transit (in New Delhi, India a BRT corridor is being attacked as unconstitutional).  Looking ahead, an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal last week argued for better highway planning and design to accommodate future development of “driverless” cars.  

Decisions regarding how roads will be designed (or redesigned) and what uses will be favored have a profound impact on future development patterns, energy use and climate change, and broader issues of community identity.  The use and design of streets has figured prominently among planners, but seems to have a less central role in land use law.  Like a number of land use issues, these decisions have both local and national importance.  They also affect the land uses of private property owners, who may object to changed road uses and their impact on commercial traffic, deliveries, and other interests.  It will be interesting to see what unique contributions land use scholars will make to these debates.

- John Infranca

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