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Rethinking Residential Streets

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In communities across the country, planners, engineers, developers, and local officials are trying to create more livable neighborhoods by taking a new look at design requirements for residential streets. Streets define the character of our communities and contribute to our sense of place -- whether a quiet village, comfortable neighborhood, or bustling city street.

While interstate highways and arterial highways properly assign foremost priority to traffic needs, the residential environment must respond to many other concerns. Residential streets are more than just conduits for traffic; they form the setting for our homes and are where neighbors meet and talk and children play. In some ways, residential streets should be considered as extensions of our front yards, rather than as transportation facilities.

Unfortunately, outdated regulations in many communities require residential streets to be designed to standards that are suitable for major roadways. When the automobile began to dominate our landscape in the 1950s, transportation planners and engineers developed techniques for handling large volumes of traffic at higher speeds. This work, combined with substantial public funding, produced the modern, efficient highway network this nation enjoys today.

But many of the design standards developed for highways were incorporated into local subdivision regulations and inappropriately applied to residential streets. Too often, the result has been residential areas designed with streets that violate the sense of neighborhood and that encourage high-speed travel through our communities. ...

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photo of Joe MolinaroJoseph Molinaro, AICP, is managing director for community outreach programs with the National Association of Realtors in Washington, DC. In this position, he oversees NAR’s smart growth and housing opportunity programs, conducts public opinion polling on growth and housing issues, and tracks state legislation that affects real estate.

-- bio updated 03/27/14

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