(14b) How to re-organise a street to make it safer and nicer for little money?

This article is to demonstrate how I think a street can be re-organised without a large cost or major works while it will improve the safety of pedestrians but also result in a space where people can rest and children can play while it may even improve traffic. How I came to this? Simply by walking the street and experiencing first hand why so few people use the middle part of a street although it is intended as a save walking area.

Figure 1 - Situation of area as can be found on Google Maps
I will describe the Stalingradlaan / Avenue de Stalingrad in Brussels (most streets have two names in Brussels, i.e. in Dutch and French while foreigners often pronounce the names in something that sounds like English and thus it is not always easy to understand). Figure 1 shows how the street looks like on Google Maps.

I like this street. Indeed, on both sides there are beautiful buildings such as the Zuidpaleis / Palais du Midi (indeed, even houses have two names) that is a large impressing building that houses many restaurants, bars and shops at ground level (see Figure 2B). But also many other buildings are worth viewing.
Figure 2 - (A) House with wood and (B) Zuidpaleis / Palais du Midi

But while it is a wide street with quite a big distance between the houses on each side, the street is not organised as multiple driving lanes in each direction that allow lots of fast traffic. Instead, it is more developed as a place for people who live in a city and want to relax while a parallel street is more used for busy traffic.

Indeed, both sides of this street have wide footpaths that allow that restaurants and bars have a terrace where people can eat and drink and watch the passing traffic while shops have space to install small markets and sell some goods such as vegetables; nevertheless, there is still sufficient space for easy walking and for the presence of trees and even parking space (although that should be minimal as it blocks the views).

In addition, there is a middle walking area with on each side a one-way lane for cars but also space for bicycles. Thus, there is quite some space for pedestrians while motorists (cars and bicycles) are not completely banned as they are part of a city. The middle lane even has some decoration with at one end a big horn (Figure 4) that attracts children and some adults as it amplifies their voice when they speak in it while at the other end there is a fountain with a statue of a woman on top of it (Figure 6). Figure 3 illustrates the current situation as described above.
Figure 3: The upper figure shows the current situation of the Stalingradlaan / Avenue de Stalingrad while the lower figure shows its traffic. The red blocks are the location of buildings while the green dots illustrates the presence of trees. The dark grey represent streets and the long white lines on the side suggest the presence of cycling lanes while parking space is present on both sides of each lane. The light grey areas are footpaths with the presence of terraces and markets. The yellow spots are two monuments, one a fountain with a statue of a women, the other a speaker . Finally, the blue area shows the middle walking space.
The lower picture demonstrates with white arrows the general traffic (one-way traffic on each side) while the red arrows show where pedestrians need to cross two streets in the middle area.

Still, although the middle area is intended for pedestrians, it is not much used. Indeed, two streets interrupt this area and are quite dangerous while the crossings interrupt the easy passage for both pedestrians and cars. Indeed, imaging a busy time and the arrows illustrate it can become quite messy that is stressful for everyone. Cars can drive straight ahead or turn to the right (same side) or to the left (other side) while pedestrians have to be careful while crossing as cars can come from both sides. In addition, if many cars use the passages, they can block each other in the short streets that do not allow many cars.
Figure 4: Main entrance to the street with the horn (or speaker) with steps so people can reach it to make some noise. The picture shows a nice street with trees on both sides.

Now, imagine two minor adaptations as Figure 5 illustrates. The only difference with Figure 3 is the closing of the two streets that go through the middle area. At ones, there are fewer arrows present that reflect the traffic in the lower pictures and as a result the traffic seems more fluent. The closing of these two streets should not be a major problem for traffic as the whole length of the street is only about 500 metres. Thus, a driver on one side who needs to be on the other side only needs to drive until the end of the main street (maximum 500 metres), follow the roundabout and then return to the street where the person needs to be. In addition, as these side streets are short, they are often used as a connection between the parallel main streets and thus the side streets at the roundabout allow the passage from one main street to the other parallel main street without the need to drive in the lane on the other side. Further, as cars can't cross the small piece of middle area, they will not block drivers and cyclists who want to drive straight ahead and thus traffic may be smoother. Still, one of these streets can remain for short passage of emergency cars while closing the other street allows a few extra trees.
Figure 5: Closing two small streets may improve traffic and safety while result in a larger walking area.

In addition, because pedestrians no longer need to worry about crossing two streets with traffic (plus cross twice the main streets, first to enter and later to leave the middle area), it is more likely more people may use the middle area, certainly when there are also benches under the trees where people can sit and talk with friends and neighbours. It may even be possible to place some small furniture so children can play or some equipment to do some sport. As a result, maybe more people will use this middle section so it becomes more like La Ramblas in Barcelona (although there too pedestrians need to cross streets but as that street is very long, they don't need to cross about every 100 metres). Still, certain teenagers should not start to claim the middle part as theirs but grandparents, parents as well as children should be able to use this area together. If even the car parkings may be removed, the middle section may become sufficiently wide so people can even use it for some roller skating (but cyclists should use the cycling lanes on the side of the street and not drive in the middle area except for the smallest children when they are still learning how to cycle). And more people would result in more income for the local businesses (e.g. people buying ice cream or a drink) although I am in favour of closing times in areas where people live to prevent too much noise during the night and thus to avoid conflicts.
Figure 6: Side of the roundabout with in the middle a fountain with a statue of a woman. The above picture shows the shade when walking under the trees while one or the other side of the footpaths next the buildings will receive sunlight and thus people can choose to walk in the heat of the sun or the coolness of the shadow.

An example that a small change can result in a big difference

That closing one passage can make a huge difference and improve traffic is illustrated by the redevelopment of another major street in Brussels, i.e. in front of the Park of the Basilica of Koekelberg. In the past, cars coming from the main road but also from a side street could cross the busy intersection via a short passage to drive into the opposite side street while since the redevelopment drivers who want to enter the opposite side street only need to drive a little further until they reach a roundabout where they can return and so reach the side street. As a result, traffic is more fluent as cars driving straight ahead or into the opposite side street no longer block each other. In addition, some of the streets that end on the roundabout are now reduced from two to one lane so buses have now their own bus lane and transport of local people who use public transport is faster.

Figure 7: Here the street that I use as an example to demonstrate a change that is useful. The middle with 'X' shows the place that has been closed for traffic so drivers need to drive a little further till the roundabout and return when they want to enter the opposite street (and another roundabout further down the picture on the right for drivers from the other direction). As a consequence, cars that want to enter the opposite side streets no longer block the main street so traffic is more fluent.
Figure 8: Schematic view of the traffic in Figure 7. This demonstrates the - what I think - good use of round points whereby everyone can reach the other side without any crossing while even driving in the wrong direction can be quickly corrected. These are one-lane streets plus bus lanes (yellow). Red areas are above-ground tram lines while the thin red line is an underground tram line so trams and traffic don't interfere. The thin blue line in the middle is a street under the ground. The red 'X' indicates a street closed for cars as can be seen in Figure 7.

In conclusion, I think a minor adjustment can improve quality of life for many when traffic becomes more organised.


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