Organizing Streets By Speed

Our transportation options are expanding tremendously.  Innovations in new mobility ranging from dockless bikeshare, to dockless e-scooters, to hoverboards, to terrestrial drones, to microtransit, are bringing a wide range of new players into the streetscape.  All of these modes are going to need to integrate with existing pedestrians, cyclists, transit, freight vehicles, and – of course – the automobile.  The question is where each mode should live and what areas of the street should be open to each mode.

Historically, we have divided the street by mode: pedestrians on the sidewalk, bikes in the bike lane, cars/freight/transit in the vehicle travel lanes.  A few mixes have been allowed (bikes on sidewalks or in vehicle travel lanes for instance).

The proliferation of mobility options is forcing us to reconsider how we organize the street.  And given the speed at which new options keep arising, reorganizing the street each time a new option arrives, or creating designated lanes for each mode is becoming unfeasible.

What if, instead, we reframed our current thinking of streets to go from a separation by modes, to a separation by speed.

Modified from image created by Sabrina Ortiz, Univ. of Oregon

Our sidewalks can continue to be defined by the speed of pedestrians.  Into that can now also be introduced terrestrial drones and low speed hover boards.  The former bikelane can now become a zone for anything moving up to 15 mph.  E-scooters, faster moving hoverboards, low speed delivery vehicles, low speed AV microtransit shuttles could all exist in this area.  Further into the street we could have a zone of 15-35mph that accommodates legacy cars, AVs, transit and freight.  And finally, we could potentially have a zone (on some streets) that accommodates the highest speed vehicles – and with connected vehicle technology could act as a dedicated (or at least prioritized) lane for high occupancy and high speed transit and freight.

Reframing the street this ways can give heightened status to a range of lower speed mobility options and increase the real-estate for these modes on the street.  It can create more efficient street flow in much the same way a boulevard does as it separates travel by speed.  It also provides a model that easily accommodates new mobility modes as they arrive.

As mobility changes, our streets will need to change as well – a great opportunity to improve the experience for all users and to re-balance the space currently given over to the automobile.  New, better options exist.  We need to make street that work for them.

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One comment

  1. Gary R. Collins, AIA

    All the Dick Tracy futurist infatuation with so-called AV transit alternatives miss the issue by a mile. Historically, American cities have been built largely for commerce. Business first, people a distant second. AV modes do nothing to change that paradigm to make cites over, to remodel them for people first, commerce second. We have yet to fully decide what we expect of cities in order for them to be truly friendly for everyone – children and the elderly included. We have sprawl in large part because families have found cities inimical to child rearing within the hectic pace of most central city environments. Urban re-design must trump urban palliation.

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