Global Streets: Part 1

September 25, 2018

By Stephanie Livingston, PLA, EI

The National Association of City Transportation Official (NACTO)’s Global Street Design Guide, published in 2016, is a useful resource that shows how streets around the world are transitioning to become quality spaces for all.  In a sense, streets are outdoor rooms with the ground being the floor, building edges being the walls, and a canopy of trees or other overhead elements being the ceiling. As such, they form a dynamic backdrop for public life and can be a catalyst for transformation. 

Often comprising more than 80 percent of public space in cities, streets must be quality places for all, even the most vulnerable users. As streets shift from being carriers of automobiles to being spaces for all users, they should be reexamined to better balance diverse needs. Streets should support pedestrians, cyclists, transit riders, motorists, freight operators and service providers, and people doing business, with an emphasis on providing sustainable methods of achieving higher capacities and increasing social, capital, and economic development.

To meet these needs, streets have begun to require more holistic designs. Leaders, practitioners, and community members must consider universal access, safe speeds, prioritized spaces, diverse uses, context sensitivity, and strategies for timely change as they create successful spaces. Design elements can be thoughtfully placed within the space to support all these aspects. The success of streets designed for diverse users can be measured by a specific set of criteria that includes public health and safety, quality of life, environmental and economic sustainability, and social equity.

One case study highlighted in the guide involves Strøget, a street in Copenhagen, Denmark, which I visited earlier this year. After much public debate, Copenhagen began pedestrianizing the city in 1962, starting with its main street. When we visited this same street on a recent evening, it was flooded with pedestrians who were walking, shopping, and enjoying the atmosphere. While functioning as a pedestrian-only street, Strøget is subtly designed to also allow for deliveries by small trucks before stores open through the use of tactile strips to delineate the pedestrian and vehicular space during this time.

Considering the needs of both the public and private sector, Copenhagen has transformed its main street from one of mixed traffic, parking, and a small amount of pedestrian space to a productive public space with increased pedestrian volumes, outdoor café seating, and shopping and staying activities. The pedestrianization of Strøget not only transformed the physical space but also the opinion of Danes on their ability to have a rich and engaging outdoor public life, for which the country is now well-known and highly regarded.

For more information on this topic, look for “Global Streets: Part 2” coming soon. You can also hear Stephanie Livingston speak on this topic at the 2018 TCAPWA/SWANA Conference in Nashville (October 21-23).