A Street has 2 Sides

Good urban design recognizes that the street has two sides.  It doesn’t separate people on one side from shops on the other.  Because in a world designed for automotive superiority, streets become barriers much too often.

In short, a good street encourages jaywalking.

What are you waiting for?
What are you waiting for?

Comments 21

  • Your observation reminds me of shopping at Clay Terrace. It’s virtually impossible to cross the street to get to to shops on the other side. I’m always highly annoyed when I’m there.

  • Jaywalking didn’t exist until streets were forcefully reserved for automobiles. Streets have been around for thousands of years and used as social gathering spaces and a means to travel……only relatively recently have they been restricted to motor vehicles and become a division line for humans and a barrier to safety and life for people. Progress?

  • Perhaps a good street/ busy commercial corridor could also have periodic Pedestrian Crossing points. Mass Ave is terrible for crossing and even driving. More specifically, parking. And now that I think about it, its hardest to leave a parking space without crossing a lane of traffic. I always try to find a parking space on the side going in the direction I want to go when I leave…

    • “terrible for crossing and even driving” and yet it works great.

      Actually, the parking issue is where Mass Ave excels. The awkward angles mean that any parking activity briefly stops both lanes of traffic, giving people time and space to cross. This is an unintended but very useful feature.

      This is what is missing in places like Clay Terrace. Because the modes of travel are so segregated and confined, the 2 sides of the street can’t interact like they do on Mass Ave.

    • Congestion should be viewed as a positive aspect for urban environments. A mix of people, bikes and cars create the vitality that exists on Mass Ave. If our focus is simply transporting vehicles, then we end up with highways……not the best for people.

  • Not to change the subject, but the above photo reminds me of how ugly and anti-social the 3 Mass Ave building is. UUUURRRRGGG!!!

    • yep, it’s bad. Wide, uninteresting shop fronts. Tinted glazing. Lack of shop entrances or even basic awnings.

      If I remember correctly, 3 Mass Ave was put in before the Regional Center Guidelines were approved, so I hope that the new guidelines will help pedestrianize future construction.

      • Yep, a couple years before adoption of the Regional Center Design Guidelines and also JUST before the expanded Chatham Arch and Massachusetts Avenue Historic District was approved in 2006. If either of those were in place, 3Mass would surely look better than it does.

        On the other hand, if IHPC had jurisdiction over the project, it’s unlikely the building would be 10 stories tall.

  • I love your concept that a good street encourages jay walking. I’m going to use that.

  • The illustration doesn’t fit your concept – it’s simply an unmarked crossing. Now if you had an image showing a desire to cross mid-block on a super-block (e.g. 900 El Camino Real in Millbrae, Calif.) then you would be on point.

    P.S. I’ve made the crossing there (900 ECR) from the OSH store to the parking lot across the street en route to the Trader Joe’s. The light cycles at either end of the block are long enough that a ped-direct (aka jaywalk) can be done without scampering across.

    • Oh wow, I have no idea where these places are. But yes, mid-block crossings can be important as well. When you find people risking injury to cross busy streets that is a good sign that the street design will need some improvements for pedestrian access.

  • I was hoping, and suggested, that Mass Ave’s parking be changed to reverse angle parking when all the recent work was done. The sidewalks on Mass Ave are too narrow. Yes, I know people still go there, but it could be even more vibrant and active. Reverse angle parking would’ve allowed a couple more feet on each sidewalk. Just south of the location in your photo is an area where the sidewalk is just a couple feet wide next to the old building at the corner of New York & Mass. There are several other places where the sidewalk narrows to just a few feet because other obstructions as well.


    • I agree, there are some places where the sidewalk is just too narrow along Mass Ave. It is sometimes hard to even walk my bike to the parking rack. Anything we can do to expand the sidewalk by a few feet would be appreciated.

    • I am not certain as to how many spaces might be lost with angle vs 90 degree parking, but MAMA would throw a fit! I personally agree that wider sidewalks would be a huge benefit…….perhaps the city will fund parking garages and then we can widen the walks?

    • Shameless promo for my own blog here, but I featured an article on this portion of sidewalk on American Dirt a couple years ago:


      I thought it was ironic that the accommodation for wheelchairs to access this building simultaneously made it almost impossible for them to get through the sidewalk.

      Based on the slow absorption rate for the street-level space in 3 Mass, it seems potential retailers have often made the same judgment that people here on Urban Indy are making.

  • I have to say, I’m so glad that BillyBoy’s comments get cached in my Google Reader feed. Never forget how to laugh…

  • Could’ve gotten into a lot more detail than this: how the two sides of a street affect a sense of enclosure and comfort, how short distances across streets allow shoppers to consider crossing for other shops, how narrow streets are more pedestrian friendly, how jaywalking used to be legal, etc.

    • All good and valid points. I think these are especially important when merchant associations are trying to attract shoppers for the holiday season. You can really boost sales of adjacent shops when the environment is set up for a “park-once” type of district.

      • I don’t think merchant associations do as much as one or two unique destination shops or the general comfort of walking through a place. What makes a place walkable isn’t based on how it’s marketed by a merchant assoc. or ease of parking, it’s based on a few key urban design techniques. Read Jeff Speck’s Walkable City.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *