Reviving the Lost Art of Planning Great Boulevards
by Barbara Hadenfeldt
There's a future for boulevards.
Contrary to accepted professional wisdom, they are as safe as the wide thoroughfares and expressways that are so much a part of today's urban scene.
Classic boulevards grace cities around the world. Designed with a center roadway for fast traffic, they welcome pedestrians with tree-lined medians. Side access roads that permit slower traffic complete the design.
Though they are more complex, with many points of conflict between vehicles and pedestrians, boulevards are as safe and efficient as streets of comparable size designed primarily for fast-moving traffic, but with little regard to people's sense of comfort and enjoyment.
Allan Jacobs, professor and chair of City and Regional Planning, explores these issues in his latest book, "Great Streets."
He and graduate students Yodan Rofe and Elizabeth Macdonald have compared streets and boulevards in the United States with those in Paris and Barcelona, looking at traffic, accident rates, designs, and driver and pedestrian patterns.
Their study shows great boulevards can be among the most "positively memorable places," where people can drive, bike, walk, shop and stroll. Drivers travel slowly and cautiously along the side access lanes, aware they are invading what the researchers call "the pedestrian realm," while traffic in the center lanes remains free from the interruptions of parking and local traffic and deliveries.
Unfortunately, federal, state and local regulations intended to ensure safe and rapid vehicle movement by requiring extra-wide lanes, elimination of trees, and over-simplified pedestrian-vehicle interactions have often resulted in wide, characterless streets no safer than boulevards designed with people's comfort and pleasure in mind.
The team is presenting their findings to groups of California transportation planners and engineers to further test acceptance of design alternatives based on their research. Presentations in San Francisco include two approaches to redesigning Geary Boulevard, incorporating public transit lanes running along tree-lined medians separating fast center lanes from side access lanes.
A presentation is also scheduled for New York City, where officials are concerned about high accident rates on streets in the Bronx and Queens.
The research is captured in a 20-minute video, "Boulevards: Good Streets for Good Cities," which includes time-lapse photo studies of boulevards in Europe and the United States. The work was funded by the U.S. Department of Transportation and Caltrans through the UC Transportation Center and administered by the Institute of Urban and Regional Development.