So: traffic is fast, most of the day. Faster than anything else people use on their daily commutes. It is also heavy and hungry for space. Most of the space needs of each car in traffic are in the stopping distance to the next vehicle ahead. Traffic is even more space hungry off the road, because every car needs a 9’x18’ stall to be in while their pilot and passengers do their business at their destination. The same amount of space is needed in every parking lot again for circulation. My bedroom is smaller than a parking space, and most historic townhouses in cities are narrower than 18’. The scale of the landscape built for traffic is unusable by walkers, bikers and transit riders. They are all secondary or discouraged parties.
If you want to live in America, buy a car. If you are an average American, it will only cost you as much as your income taxes.
The reason strip malls are not downtown walking streets is that they advertise a wanted commodity to people in traffic: parking. That is their first sell. The window-shopping of the Victor Gruen storefront changed once the audience changed from walkers to traffic. America is no longer built for people, but cyborgs: people in cars.
This is not news. What to do about it is a far more useful meditation. Walkability and bikability are easy answers, but how can they compete? Traffic shows the way.
We think transportation and land use are separate professional domains and practices., but traffic actually affects land use a great deal. The size of zoning blocks are large enough and uniform enough that they can only be navigated with traffic, not on foot or bike. Most zoning codes speak of setbacks, maximum building sizes, occupancies, minimum lot sizes in a valiant fight against the overcrowding and Yellow Fever epidemics of the 1880s. Finally, many zoning codes include parking minimums for all commercial, industrial, and some residential land uses. Sometimes these parking standards are based oh good research and reasoning. Sometimes they are not Reasonable or nonsense, these parking minimums are an implicit acceptance and endorsement of traffic as the default transportation mode.
So what if biking and walking affected land use as much as traffic?
On street parking and tree lawns between the roadway and sidewalks would be mandatory. Roadways would carry one bike lane wide enough to pass (8’), one parking lane (7’), and one through lane in each direction (9’). That makes for a 50’ wide road, the same as a four lane highway, but with much slower speed and safer to cross. Roadways may or may not be delimited by markings and signage, and there may or may not be between the roadway and sidewalks. Block lengths would be under 400 feet and preferably 200 feet long, to increase the numbers of intersections, and choice for walkers walking though the city. Intersections would be regulated by four way stop signs, not signals. Longer blocks would have walking passthrough as pocket parks or shopping arcades. Buildings would be built to the sidewalk, and about four stories at the sidewalk face. Since the road + tree lawn/bike rack/restaurant seating + sidewalks is 90 feet wide, you need the buildings to be about 45 feet at the sidewalk to let walkers feel welcome. The only parking would be on the street and in back of buildings ($2,000 a space). As land and rents become expensive enough, buildings can develop with parking underground at ($40,000 a space). An advantage of having parking behind or under buildings is that the curb cuts would be limited to side streets off the high street.
As the highway trust fund dwindles and the people resist their taxes being spent on endless government boondoggles, Allowing, welcoming, and developing walkable places as routinely as we build drivable places today would be one way to get more for less. The per square foot valuation of walkable places is exponentially higher than drivable commercial or especially residential, even in counties known for their allegiance to traffic. The largest single family home lots offer the least value density of all, despite the stature of their occupants.
If counties and states would like to prosper into the next century, they might want to think of their audience as people, and not traffic.