Streets Glorious Streets

Good streets are the heart of sustainable places. That is a truth acknowledged by urban designers everywhere, so why do we keep making the kinds of vehicle-dominated, stressful places that nobody wants?

In 2019, the Place Alliance undertook a review of 142 significant housing developments in England and found an overall standard of design that was depressingly poor, with street design being one of the greatest failures. This is despite nearly 25 years of policy initiatives to identify and implement good street design.

The problem is that our streets are too often the result of uncoordinated changes and stakeholder battles for space and priority. The biggest losers end up being the walkers and cyclists that sustainable, low-carbon places most need to attract. This negatively impacts not just on people’s health, but on the health of local economies, town centres and high streets.

Instead, we need a collaborative approach which considers the street holistically and gives full weight to what local communities need from and feel about them. Changes to the urban fabric affect users emotionally as well as practically, and these twin effects are dynamically intertwined. As transport designers, we have to more deeply understand the ways that moving through a place contributes to what makes that place. These are some of the governing principles that underlie SYSTRA’s success in creating better transport solutions.

The Department for Transport’s next version of Manual for Streets 3 is due later this year. Delivering streets which support and encourage sustainable transport and create more liveable places will no doubt be key objectives of this new guidance. Let’s hope that it gives proper consideration to the practical problems of balancing different and competing demands for space in streets that have been too often neglected until now. Excellent sustainable transport is not just about carriage, carbon and cost – it’s also about making streets that people love.

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