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Where The Streets Have Too Many Lanes

In a piece in the The Oklahoman urban design guru Jeff Speck walks the streets of Oklahoma City and sees a traffic mirage:

“The jaw dropper for me is the city’s traffic count map,” Speck said. “If you walk the city, and you look at the streets, you would think because of the size of the streets that traffic is two to three times what is actually experienced. There is a shocking disconnect between the size and speediness of all of your downtown streets with a few rare exceptions…

…Speck showed the downtown street configurations to traffic engineers outside the state and their first response was to guess the street grid was set up for a downtown density and traffic volume comparable to Chicago or Manhattan.

They said this is a street network that will support three to four times the density it is handling,” Speck said. “Then you look at the traffic counts, and only a few carrying 10,000 a day. And 10,000 cars a day is easily handled by a two-lane road.”

I don’t know much about Oklahoma City (I’ve never been), but what’s with the highway-grade, six-laned streets? Is this is a relic of some oil boom? Was the city trying, through sheer boosterism and asphalt, to imagine itself as some Chicago of the plains? Evidently, it once had angled parking downtown; that, like two-way streets, were done away with by overzealous traffic engineers. It begs the question of when and how cities should downsize — or perhaps “rightsize,” to use that corporate euphemism of the 1980s.

(Via Planetizen)

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This entry was posted on Tuesday, March 24th, 2009 at 4:02 pm and is filed under Cities. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

4 Responses to “Where The Streets Have Too Many Lanes”

  1. Yokota Fritz Says:

    My guess: asphalt, labor and land are all cheap in Ok City. Transportation used to be cheap.

  2. Jeffrey W. Baker Says:

    I grew up there so I feel free to comment! Walking anywhere just isn’t in the culture there, or rather it wasn’t until recently. People in OKC drive to absolutely everything starting with high school and ending at their funerals. There are no restaurants without parking, for example. If you want to eat, you drive. The blocks outside of the core downtown area are one mile on each side, with pure residential development within a block. The businesses and cultural places are at the intersections. So your average walk to the nearest thing is a mile, if you’re lucky, and probably much more. What’s worse is there’s no sidewalks on the man streets outside downtown.

    Anyway, once you have that kind of non-walking culture in the suburbs you destroy the walking culture downtown. The mid-20th century development downtown is all “big”, mostly big parking garages. There’s a big indoor mall, a big botanical garden, a big stadium, etc.

    What’s happened recently is a series of improvements called MAPS which have somewhat revitalized the downtown area. They dammed up the local river to give it that San Antonio feel, and installed a lot of retail and dining in an older industrial district. You can walk around in this area, and although it’s not some old-world walkers’ paradise, it is quite serviceable. The only real problem is the only way to get to that district is to drive and park in one of the colossal garages on the periphery.

  3. jeff Says:

    Too often road way maintenance funding is tired to lane mileage. It has proven problematic for state and municipal DOT’s that have wanted to have road diets, but perhaps there was a similar ‘spend it or lose it’ mentality that went into the construction.

  4. Todd Scott Says:

    Detroit suffers the same fate of overbuilt roads. We built our road network for 2 million people. Then we built the interstates. Then 1.1 million people left the city. That explains most of our overbuilt roads. Many of these wider roads had street car lines.

    In Michigan, our road funding formula is based on road mile, not lanes. However, each state’s STP funding is based on the total lane miles for their federal aid roads. Road diets on a federal aid road could reduce a state’s STP funding share.

    The question I have is can we count bike lanes miles. That would encourage road diets on federal aid roads.

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Traffic Tom Vanderbilt

How We Drive is the companion blog to Tom Vanderbilt’s New York Times bestselling book, Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us), published by Alfred A. Knopf in the U.S. and Canada, Penguin in the U.K, and in languages other than English by a number of other fine publishers worldwide.

Please send tips, news, research papers, links, photos (bad road signs, outrageous bumper stickers, spectacularly awful acts of driving or parking or anything traffic-related), or ideas for my Slate.com Transport column to me at: info@howwedrive.com.

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