Livability – a definition

Sustainability – The Brundtland Commission of the United Nations on March 20, 1987 wrote what is perhaps the most famous definition of sustainability:  “sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” While we can critique this definition in many ways, from this post’s perspective, the most salient point about it is its temporality. It is about future vs. present. We need a similar definition for here vs. there. 

Livable Streets by Donald Appleyard

I have been working with Bruce Appleyard on some issues around Street Justice and Livable Streets. He has written extensively on the issue, see e.g. Appleyard et al. on Livability Ethics. This got me interested in Livability definitions. I think the most useful would be something that spatially mirrored the definition of sustainability.


Livability, a definition (by me): (Livable development): “meets the needs of members of the local community, without compromising the ability of non-members to meet their own needs


To be clear, there is a natural tension between here and there, just as there is a tension between now and then. The job is to balance these, to differentiate between needs and wants. Within transport it is in many questions a case of through traffic vs. local movement. But how much of that traffic is necessary, as opposed to optional. Some traffic must traverse the neighborhood, and without a proper hierarchy of roads, uses streets designed in a different era for different purposes with different numbers of cars in mind. Every car moving on the street moving east-west is a barrier to someone attempting to walk north-south. The faster the cars, the fewer gaps in the barrier, the longer the delay for the pedestrian.

However in contrast with sustainability, where the balance needs to re-focus on the needs of the future relative to the present, discussion about livability in transport implicitly aims to focus on the needs of the members of the local community at expense of the wider region. In contrast with transport, housing discussions concern the needs  for a local area to accept more housing for the sake of the region, these are the debates about NIMBYism and zoning.

When travelers do not pay their full cost, the overconsume … they travel too much. This causes them to travel too far, traversing too many streets through too many neighborhoods, making neighborhoods less livable. They also thus consume too many resources (energy, clear air, safety) making them unavailable for future generations, making human life on earth less sustainable.

One solution is obvious, if politically difficult: charge travelers their full cost to society, the cost of the congestion they impose, the cost of pollution, the cost of energy, the cost of hazard, and even, if it can be quantified, the cost of disrupting social networks in local neighborhoods, which may be in part capitalized in the cost of real estate. We discuss this more in A Political Economy of Access.



The Alexandria – Moore Park Disconnector | WalkSydney

I wrote The Alexandria – Moore Park Disconnector for WalkSydney about a road widening project in my neighbourhood.

The help it needs is not making it wider so cars can speed through from not here to not there, but making it narrower, so people  on foot can cross from shops on one side to shops on the other. In other words, it should be moved down rather than up the hierarchy of roads.  People should be able to cross these streets freely and without fear. McEvoy should be a destination, not a detour

Read the whole thing, and if you are a New South Welshman, feel free to get in touch to help make Sydney a better place.

On Frederick Law Olmsted

I recently read A Clearing In The Distance: Frederick Law Olmsted and America in the 19th Century by Witold Rybczynski. Some quotes from the book below, and then some comments.

The report observed that “the present street system, not only of Brooklyn but of Portrait_of_Frederick_Law_Olmsted.jpgother large towns, has serious defects for which, sooner or later, if these towns should continue to advance in wealth, remedies must be devised, the cost of which will be extravagantly increased by a long delay in the determination of the outlines.” The chief drawback, according to Olmsted, was the undifferentiated grid plan with its network of intersecting, uniform streets. He had already spelled out his opposition to this characteristic nineteenth-century device in his report on San Francisco. “On a level plain, like the city of Philadelphia, a series of streets at right-angles to each other is perfectly feasible, and the design is as simple in execution as it appears on paper,” he had written, “but even where the circumstances of site are favorable [emphasis added] for this formal and repetitive arrangement, it presents a dull and inartistic appearance, and in such a hilly position as that of San Francisco, it is very inappropriate.”

Olmsted and Vaux proposed modifying the grid. Their solution … called it a “Parkway.” The parkway was a 260-foot-wide avenue divided into five traffic lanes, each separated by a row of trees. The two outside lanes were reserved for commercial vehicles ….  The parkway was an essential link. For him the “metropolitan condition” included cities and suburbs.

Unlike modernist city planners of the 1920s, Olmsted was neither a radical nor a utopian; he believed that it was possible “to realize familiar and traditional ideals under novel circumstances.” This attitude appealed to civic leaders, businessmen, and politicians alike and explains why his planning proposals were easily accepted.

[Describing the collection of architects at the White City of the Chicago World’s Fair] “Look here, old fellow, do you realize that this is the greatest meeting of artists since the fifteenth century!”

According to him, landscape architecture involved composition and perspective in which details were subordinate to the whole, contrary to decorative gardening, which treated “roses as roses, not as flecks of white or red modifying masses of green.”

Olmsted is a fascinating individual who went through many careers, a farmer, a travel- writer who visited the south before the Civil War, and of course later in life a landscape architect

He was not a transportation planner as such, though his development of parkways and multi-way boulevards did contribute in an important ways to transportation designs and should be used more. One could argue he anticipated the idea of complete streets, serving multiple modes of transportation in the same corridor, to improve not only aesthetic design, but efficiency and equity.

We recently did a study showing how the quality of environment, including the presence of trees, at transit stops affected riders perception of time. Nicer environments reduced people’s overestimate of wait time. A similar observation holds with driving experience, people prefer to drive on boulevards than channelized freeways. This isn’t surprising, but it doesn’t fit much into standard engineering design of either roads or transit stops and stations. Since we are designing for people, it should.

Olmsted also developed garden suburbs, and opposed the rectilinear street grid. I think it depends on how you use it, and what you do in residential neighborhoods should differ from what you do in commercial areas.  And what you can and should do depends in part on the transportation technology you are trying to facilitate. How you design for trains differs from pedestrians, and those, which need to be more direct, differ from automated vehicles, which we are only now beginning to think about.

On the Four Paths

Photo by Jesse Vermeulen, posted at Unsplash.

First Path

The 30-Minute City by David M. Levinson
The 30-Minute City by David M. Levinson 

In the beginning was the path. It was undifferentiated, shared by people and animals alike, and eventually wheeled vehicles pulled by humans and animals. While dating the First Path is impossible — the very first First Path must have been a path that was reused once, and slightly better than the unimproved space around it — it operated both in early settlements and on routes connecting nearby settlements.

Today’s version of that is the sidewalk or footpath. It is now used for people walking, sometimes for people moving goods, and occasionally for people on scooters and bicycles. It should not be used for storing cars, though it is. New uses will include low speed delivery robots, as shown in the photo from Starship.

When we see a raised crosswalk, we know the First Path is given the pre-eminance its venerable status warrants. When we see shared spaces, we know those harken back to the early undifferentiated path-spaces of earlier centuries. When we see pedestrian-only zones, we see a First Path that has grown up.

Starship Technologies

Second Path

The Second Path diverges from the first path with the emergence of the first street or roads with sidewalks (footpaths).  Spiro Kostof (1992) dates it to about 2000 BCE in Anatolia. And it is clear many Roman and Greek cities separated sidewalks from streets, which the Romans called Semita.

Post-Rome, sidewalks were rare, making appearances in London after the Great Fire, and in Paris after Haussman.

But to be clear, today’s sidewalk is not the second path, it is the first. The second path is the road which is largely free of pedestrians, intended for the movement of vehicles. Originally these were animal powered vehicles, as well as human. Later fuel-powered machines took over the street and roads.

It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.

Third Path

Cyclists Avenue Sydney Cyclists Avenue Sydney (1900)

The Third Path actually emerged well before the Second Path was colonized by motorized vehicles. It is for bicycles, and initially was paved in contrast with the unpaved streets and roads of its time. Given the first Velocipede was only 1817, and the first bike chain (which we associate with modern bicycles) was 1885, these came relatively quickly compared with the First and Second Paths. While ascertaining the first bike lane or separated bike path is tricky (there are many claims, differing in nuance), I have compiled some claimed firsts and earlies here (thanks to people who replied on Twitter):

While bike lanes have now been around as a technology for well more than a century, throughout most of North America and Australia, bike lanes are not provisioned, so bicyclists have the Hobson’s Choice of driving in traffic with much heavier and much faster automobiles and trucks on the Second Path, the roadbed or illegally in many cases on the First Path, the sidewalk.

With the advent of the smart phone, new modes are becoming feasible, most notably dockless shared bikes and scooters.

Regulations in many places limit the use of bikes on footpaths. The reasons for this are clear from the pedestrian’s point of view, bikes are traveling up to 4 times faster than walkers, and collision can create injury. Dockless shared bikes emerged in Australia in 2017, after a few years on the road in China. Their main contribution has however not been transport (they are used about once every 3 days) but instead as a the recipient of complaint about sidewalk clutter (unlike say cars, which are always parked perfectly). As a consequences they have been targets of vandalism. The obvious solution will eventually get adopted, geofenced corrals for parking bikes (shared and private), taking away one parking space per block perhaps.

Given the disparities of speeds on the first (5 km/h) and second paths (30-120 km/h), there is a clear market niche for an infrastructure network  for vehicles faster than foot and slower than cars. Physically, one imagines it generally lying between the existing kerb and removing a lane now devoted to the storage or movement of cars. And for many if not most urban places globally, this has been recognized and networks of third paths have been, or will be, built out.

This Third Path is important not just for bikes, but for electric bikes (which are becoming increasingly feasible with progress in battery technology) and electric scooters.

Fourth Path

A Fourth Path for buses (and other high occupancy vehicles) is also now considered. The first bus lane emerged in Chicago in 1940. The reason for bus lanes again is in part operational differences compared with existing road users. Buses start and stop in traffic much more frequently than cars. But a second reason is in fact the opposite, not because buses would block cars, but because cars would block buses. Buses carry more passengers than cars, and so should move faster, and can do so if they are not stuck in queues behind cars.


The Kerb – Once a nondescript piece of concrete now forms the edge (both physically and metaphorically) of the sharing economy: taxis, Ubers, autonomous mobility services. The Kerbspace differentiates and separates paths, but we now have new questions:

  • Who manages kerbspace? 
  • How is it regulated?
  • Is it even mapped?

Comp(l)ete Streets

The complete streets movement advocates for streets with sidewalks, bike paths, and are otherwise designed to promote safety and efficiency. The figure below is not exactly what they have in mind.

Justicia Urbana by Todorovic (

Antecedents to a Pedestrian Bill of Rights

Below are some sources that make points similar to what might be in a Pedestrian Bill of Rights. Feel free to share more, I will add to the post. These are not in a particular order.

A shared space street in Bern, allowing only bikes, pedestrians and transit.
A shared space street in Bern, allowing only bikes, pedestrians and transit.


The illustrated Charter of Pedestrian Rights  (PDF) in English by Mexican pedestrian advocates   says:

As pedestrians we have the right to:

  • Cross the street calmly and safely
  • A city that fits my needs
  • Adequate public transportation services
  • Organized urban centers
  • Socialize in public spaces
  • Play in the streets
  • Suitable street furniture
  • Spacious sidewalks
  • A healthy environment and enjoyment of the space
  • Walk calmly on the street.

National Street Service: Jaywalker’s bill of rights

  1.  The right to cross without intimidation from motorists, whether in the crosswalk or not
  2.  The right to medical care without cost for injuries inflicted by motorists
  3.  The right to fewer moving traffic lanes
  4.  The right to lower motorists’ speed
  5.  The right to pass by
  6.  The right to stop, sit, recline, and rest without harassment or intimidation
  7.  The right to avoid activities one finds dangerous or unsavory
  8.  The right to express needs and desires for the neighborhood
  9.  The right to determine one’s own safest, most suitable route

LA’s new Mobility Principles for transportation happiness:

  • Freedom to Get Around
  • Freedom from Disruptions
  • Freedom from Harm
  • Freedom to Connect
  • Freedom from Exclusion

Austroads – Level of Service Metrics (for Network Operations Planning)

Pedestrian LOS

  • Mobility
    • Footpath congestion
    • Grade of path
    • Crossing delay or detour
  • Safety
    • Exposure to vehicles at mid- blocks
    • Exposure to vehicles at crossings
    • Trip hazards
  • Access
    • Crossing opportunities
    • Level of disability access
  • Information Amenity
    • Traveller information available including signposting
  • Amenity
    • Footpath pavement conditions
    • Comfort and convenience features
    • Security
    • Aesthetics
  • The Right-Of-Way When Using Crosswalks: Motorists failing to yield the right-of-way at crosswalks is the No. 1 dangerous behavior contributing to fatal traffic crashes in San Francisco. Motorists “shall yield the right-of-way to a pedestrian crossing the roadway within any marked crosswalk or within any unmarked crosswalk at an intersection.” Motorists must always stop for pedestrians crossing at streets corners, with or without traffic signal lights and whether or not the crosswalk is marked by painted lines. Further, even if the marked crosswalk is the middle of the block, motorists must stop for pedestrians.
  • The Right To Unimpeded Use Of A Crosswalk: A crosswalk is the part of the roadway set aside for pedestrian traffic. Motorists and bicyclists must stop behind the line at traffic signals and stop signs.
  • The Right Not To Be Struck By A Speeding Vehicle: Motorists traveling at an unsafe speed is the second most dangerous behavior contributing to fatal traffic crashes in San Francisco. Speeding increases stopping distance and collision force. When a person is hit by a vehicle traveling at 20 miles per hour, there is a 90 percent chance of survival. The survival rate drops to 20 percent if a person is hit by a vehicle traveling at 40 miles per hour. Motorists approaching a pedestrian “within any marked or unmarked crosswalk shall exercise all due care and shall reduce the speed of the vehicle or take any other action relating to the operation of the vehicle as necessary to safeguard the safety of the pedestrian.”
  • The Right Not To Be Struck In The Roadway: While pedestrians should not jaywalk and always use crosswalks to cross a roadway, even if the pedestrian is within a portion of the roadway other than a crosswalk motorists must slow down. Motorists are under the duty “exercise due care for the safety of any pedestrian” no matter where the pedestrian is on the roadway. This rule also applies to bicyclists because, as a rule, bicyclists have the same duties and responsibilities as motorists.
  • The Right To Unimpeded Use Of Sidewalks: Adult bicyclists, and even teenage bicyclists, are prohibited from riding on sidewalks in most California cities. In San Francisco, it is illegal to bike on a sidewalk if the bicyclist is 13 years of age or older. Of course, bicyclists can dismount and walk their bike on sidewalk. At that point, they are pedestrians under the law.

Los Angeles Walks reports on Los Angeles City Council file Number 87-2261 —  Pedestrian Bill of Rights

which says “The People of Los Angeles have the right to:”

  • 1. Safe roads and safe places to cross the street
  • 2. Pedestrian-oriented building facades, trees, flower stands, trash cans, awnings, etc.
  • 3. Safe and comfortable bus stops and public transit stations
  • 4. Appealing use of landscaping and available open space
  • 5. Full notification of all street widening that impinge on public open space and sidewalks
  • 6. Access to streets and buildings for disabled people
  • 7. Clean surroundings, requiring removal of graffiti and advertisements from public property
  • 8. Have needs of pedestrians considered as heavily as the needs of drivers
  • 9. Public works of Art

Arrol Gellner offered a Pedestrian Bill of Rights:

  • 1. When traffic laws say pedestrians have the right of way, that shouldn’t just mean that if you’re hit by a car, it’s not your fault. People on foot shouldn’t have to fear, evade, negotiate or maneuver around cars, whether moving or parked, just because planners routinely put the convenience of people inside vehicles far above that of people using their own two feet.
  • 2. No pedestrian should ever find that the only way to reach that store or office on foot is to cross a huge desert of asphalt, with moving cars threatening on all sides. Any parking area with more than two rows of stalls should be required to have a pedestrian walkway running down the strip where cars usually face off nose-to-nose. If these walkways reduce the space available for parking cars, well, boo hoo. Cars already take up 20 times as much space as a person does. Enough is enough.
  • 3. No pedestrian should ever be expected to cross more than four lanes of traffic, whether or not there are crossing signals present. The vast six- and even eight-lane boulevards that are being imposed on more and more of our suburbs tear neighborhoods apart and form virtual Grand Canyons to people on foot.
  • Once and for all, planners should shake the wrongheaded belief that the way to fix traffic congestion is to make roads wider. This is like telling a 400-pound man with a heart condition that what he really needs is some bigger pants. The wider we make our roads, the more traffic will arrive to fill them up, and the more impassable our cities will become to people on foot.
  • 4. In dense urban areas, pedestrians should be free to shop, stroll or sightsee without constant threat of assault by cars, buses or taxis. Hence, planners should provide centralized public parking at the fringe of city cores, offer a shuttle service and make downtown blocks pedestrian-only zones. Sedentary car jockeys would benefit from having to walk a few steps to get where they’re going, and the rest of us would be blessed with a quieter, greener and less-polluted city.
  • 5. Lastly, American planners should recognize that, in relative terms, cars are a mere fleeting speck of technology, like the chariot, the man-of-war and the steam locomotive. We bipeds, on the other hand, are hopefully here for the long run. It’s just plain dumb to continue building an entire nation around a machine that’ll likely be obsolete in 50 years — especially considering that, no matter what takes its place, we’ll always want to get around on our own two feet.

Breines and Dean (1974) write about a  Pedestrian Bill of Rights in The Pedestrian Revolution: Streets without Cars:

  • The city shall not harm the pedestrian.
  • The streets belong to all the people, and shall not be usurped for the passage and storage of motor vehicles.
  • People shall have the right to cycle in safety; that means ample provision of bikeways separate from trucks, buses and automobiles.
  • To reduce dependence on the automobile, city and suburban residents shall have the right to convenient, clean and safe mass transportation.
  • People shall be freed from the heavy burdens of daily travel by having the opportunity to live near their places of work.
  • Urban residents shall have plentiful and generous open public places – outside of parks – for gatherings and ceremonies.
  • Pedestrians shall have the right to breathe clean air on streets, free of the harmful fumes of vehicles.
  • Standing room only on city streets shall end by providing benches for sitting and relaxation.
  • The sounds of human voices shall replace vehicular noise on city streets.
  • Concern for the welfare of pedestrians shall extend to the surface under foot — with paving congenial for walking — and shall include human-scale street furniture and signs.
  • Urban man shall have the right to experience trees, plants, and flowers along city streets.
  • Cities shall exist for the care and culture of human beings, pedestrians all!


Donald Appleyard (1981) included a “Statement of Street Dwellers Rights” in Livable Streets.

  • The Street as a Safe Sanctuary
  • The Street as a Livable, Healthy Environment
  • The Street as a Community
  • The Street as Neighborly Territory
  • The Street as a Place for Play and Learning
  • The Street as a Green and Pleasant Land
  • The Street as a Unique Historic Place
This is being updated as part of: Donald & Bruce Appleyard, Livable Streets 2.0, Elsevier. Forthcoming 2019.

Cage the Automobile

Is the purpose of bollards to keep people in or keep cars out? A reader writes:


Bollards done wrong, Egypt.
Bollards done wrong. It’s a long pedestrian street, would you bollard the entire street,  because they are proposing low risers. You will end caging the people like in Egypt.

After the attack in Toronto last week with a guy driving a van and killing 10 people and injuring 15, Montreal announced a new plan for Saint Catherine street making it pedestrian friendly, with a nice wide sidewalk showing young people walking, yet  when the mayor was asked if they planned for pedestrian safety from such attack she said ‘no, we did not.’

So the moral question: should we change our planning for pedestrians to ensure safety from a crazy person in a van, terrorists, drunk drivers,  just incapacitated drivers. This is not the first, and will not be the last, time a driver plows down pedestrians. By doing so we show weakness to terrorists? Are we converting the outdoors to a Zoo placing pedestrians in cages. Should the woonerf, for example, be like an open zoo.

It’s a moral and ethical question how much separation should we have in an era when crazy people uses cars as weapons to kill random humans. How many incidents and deaths will it take to change the approach for pedestrian environments to make it as safe as air travel.  If we  add more small obstacles, how much will they spoil the pedestrian environment and sense of freedom.


The crazy person in a van problem is only going to get worse with automation and especially connectivity, a remote control car bomb is even easier than a suicide.

This Delft Bollard is a casualty of the Car Wars.

In my view, cars should be in the cages, the people should be free. And then the cages need to be made smaller and smaller.

All urban streets in heavily pedestrian trafficked areas should have bollards or equivalent to keep the cars away from the people. Woonerfs are fine for residential streets, and if people want to encroach on shared space that is also fine, but cars should not encroach on people space. Just as we don’t let cars in most buildings, there should be outdoor public spaces where they are also prohibited.

We don’t need fences or chains like in the photo of Egypt, just lots of posts (trees, bike racks, benches, bus stops, street furniture, planters etc.) that make it impossible for a car to run down the sidewalk or into buildings. This furniture of course should not interfere with the free flowing movement of people, and might require taking lanes from the storage, or even movement, of cars. As with all good urban design, examples of this are in Delft, with some lowerable Bollards to allow service, emergency, and freight vehicles in when needed.


Delft defining Pedestrian domain.
Delft, lowerable Bollards on a bridge






Access Across America: Auto 2015

CTS Catalyst September 2016 just came out, and announces our Access Across America: Auto 2015 study: Study estimates accessibility to jobs by auto in U.S. cities. The article is reprinted below:

Map of Accessibility to jobs by auto in U.S.
Accessibility to jobs by auto

A new report from the University’s Accessibility Observatory estimates the accessibility to jobs by auto for each of the 11 million U.S. census blocks and analyzes these data in the 50 largest (by population) metropolitan areas.

“Accessibility is the ease and feasibility of reaching valuable destinations,” says Andrew Owen, director of the Observatory. “Job accessibility is an important consideration in the attractiveness and usefulness of a place or area.”

Travel times are calculated using a detailed road network and speed data that reflect typical conditions for an  8 a.m. Wednesday morning departure. Additionally, the accessibility results for 8 a.m. are compared with accessibility results for 4 a.m. to estimate the impact of road and highway congestion on job accessibility.

Map of U.S. showing reduced job accessibility due to congestion
Reduced job accessibility due to congestion

Rankings are determined by a weighted average of accessibility, with a higher weight given to closer, easier-to-access jobs. Jobs reachable within 10 minutes are weighted most heavily, and jobs are given decreasing weights as travel time increases up to 60 minutes.

Based on this measure, the research team calculated the 10 metropolitan areas with the greatest accessibility to jobs by auto (see sidebar).

A similar weighting approach was applied to calculate an average congestion impact for each metropolitan area. Based on this measure, the team calculated the 10 metropolitan areas where workers experience, on average, the greatest reduction in job access due to congestion (see sidebar).

Areas with the greatest loss in job accessibility due to congestion

  1. Los Angeles
  2. Boston
  3. Chicago
  4. New York
  5. Phoenix
  6. Houston
  7. Riverside
  8. Seattle
  9. Pittsburgh
  10. San Francisco

Metropolitan areas with the greatest job accessibility by auto

  1. New York
  2. Los Angeles
  3. Chicago
  4. Dallas
  5. San Jose
  6. San Francisco
  7. Washington, DC
  8. Houston
  9. Boston
  10. Philadelphia

“Rather than focusing on how congestion affects individual travelers, our approach quantifies the overall impact that congestion has on the potential for interaction within urban areas,” Owen explains.

“For example, the Minneapolis–St. Paul metro area ranked 12th in terms of job accessibility but 23rd in the reduction in job access due to congestion,” he says. “This suggests that job accessibility is influenced less by congestion here than in other cities.”

The report—Access Across America: Auto 2015—presents detailed accessibility and congestion impact values for each metropolitan area as well as block-level maps that illustrate the spatial patterns of accessibility within each area. It also includes a census tract-level map that shows accessibility patterns at a national scale.

The research was sponsored by the National Accessibility Evaluation Pooled-Fund Study, a multi-year effort led by the Minnesota Department of Transportation and supported by partners including the Federal Highway Administration and 10 state DOTs.

Related Links

Follow the Red Brick Road |

This blog is about streets and yet we rarely talk about pavements, the road surface itself. The most common materials are bituminous asphalt and concrete, with asphalt more common on low volume local roads and concrete on higher volume freeways. The general reputation is that concrete is stronger and longer lasting but more expensive and more difficult to construct and takes longer to set.

At St. Anthony Main, Minneapolis, the Street is Brick and the Path is Asphalt.
At St. Anthony Main, Minneapolis, the Street is Brick and the Path is Asphalt.

For a brief window in the late 2000s, concrete actually had a price advantage, which explains the surface for the Marq/2 project in Minneapolis. They have other properties and claims made about them. For details on the pavement wars see and (seriously, visit their sites, then come back (better yet, visit their sites from 10 or 12 years ago at (concrete) (asphalt)). Grammatically, if there were only two choices, the concrete folks would be more accurate. However there are more than two choices.

Plank Path at Mill City Museum
Plank Path at Mill City Museum

A third choice is plank roads. These were once common (in the 1840s and 1850s) when forests were still virgin and it was an improvement over dirt, and more cost effective, were it to last. Sadly it did not last. To recall the days of plank roads the Mill City Museum had a plank section installed just outside on West River parkway. Sadly recalling the earlier experience with plank roads, it too rotted before its time, and the other disadvantages (rough surface compared to asphalt) led to it being pulled out on the auto path, though it remains for the bike/walk path.

Woonerf in Delft
Woonerf in Delft

A fourth choice is brick. Fans of the Woonerf, as I have been since reading Streets Ahead, know that many neighborhood streets in the Netherlands have either retained or been restored to a brick or cobblestone surface. This encourages vehicles to slow down and connects the walking, playing, parking, and driving surfaces into one. There are many designs.

But this is Minnesota, we can’t have brick-clad Woonerf here, can we?

Yes, yes we can. Once our roads were brick too. The vernacular design differs with the local Midwest environment, but the underlying logic remains the same.

In many places, the asphalt is simply laid over the brick. (How many, I don’t think anyone knows, as the records, if they remain, are on paper in boxes at an archive.) In some places they have been uncovered. Some examples from St. Paul are below. In some places, like some streets and alleys in the Minneapolis Warehouse District, they were never covered.

Berkeley Avenue, St. Paul (via Google Earth)
Berkeley Avenue, Saint Paul (via Google Earth)
Pillsbury Street, Saint Paul (via Google Earth)
Pillsbury Street, Saint Paul (via Google Earth)

While snow and ice are harder to clear from brick than say asphalt, that too is a traffic calming measure. And there is no requirement that on residential streets snow be plowed to the surface. A compacted snow pack over residential streets will help preserve the pavement compared to scraping them with metal blades.

The merits of respective building materials can be argued, but eventually, about the time we have flying cars and real hoverboards, the more attractive brick will again dominate asphalt and concrete for residential and shopping streets. In the meantime, we can prepare for that day and try to resurface and uncover more and different road materials to help create better looking  neighborhoods and living streets for people.



Cross-posted at

Main Street – Grand Marais, Minnesota |

Grand Marais (French for Great Marsh) (map), on the North Shore of Lake Superior, has the benefit of being primarily a tourist town (the “coolest” small town in America, apparently). It’s nominal population of over 13oo belies its importance as a regional hub in the summer for tens of thousands of vacationing Minnesotans. The core of the town is only a few blocks, but it abuts Lake Superior, and so most of the downtown is within two blocks of the waterfront. There is a co-op grocery, a handful of restaurants, another handful of bars, two pharmacies (that collude on their operating hours and are incapable of actually filling prescriptions — you have been forewarned), some gas stations, as well as hotels and apartments. At the confluence of the Highway 61 running along Lake Superior and the Gunflint Trail (which connects circuitously to Seagull Lake), it is the most active place along Highway 61 between Two Harbors and Thunder Bay (and arguably, more active than the latter). It is also the County Seat of Cook County, Minnesota.

There are lots of people out and about on a Saturday afternoon. The core of downtown is south of Highway 61, and is quite walkable, with preference for pedestrian, but not much traffic between the Highway and the Lake except for people parking and unparking their cars. Sven and Ole’s local pizza (Minnesota-style, in case you were concerned about too much spice) is mobbed.


Can't be a respectable Main Street without pennants livening it up.
Can’t be a respectable Main Street without pennants livening it up.
Grand Marais Liquor Store, Proudly featuring local craft beers
Grand Marais Liquor Store, Proudly featuring local craft beers
Cook County WholeFoods Co-op. Twin Citizens will feel at home.
Cook County WholeFoods Co-op. Twin Citizens will feel at home.
The Grand Marais Lake Front
The Grand Marais Lake Front
Public Parking at the Grand Marais Co-op
Public Parking at the Grand Marais Co-op
Free Parking is copious in Grand Marais
Free Parking is copious in Grand Marais
Bookstore with important dog accommodation instructions
Bookstore with important dog accommodation instructions
World's Best Donuts - Grand Marais, Minnesota
World’s Best Donuts – Grand Marais, Minnesota. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.
S. Bally General Blacksmithing. Horse-Shoeing Wagons Plows and Farm Machinery
S. Bally General Blacksmithing. Horse-Shoeing Wagons Plows and Farm Machinery
Historical Industrial Building in Grand Marais
Historical Industrial Building in Grand Marais

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