We’re exploring the idea that San Francisco could function well if the majority of its streets were much narrower — essentially converting today’s sidewalks into traditional narrow streets, and re-using the pavement in between as buildable space for new houses and shops. In this post we’ll travel the world for some inspiration as to how the finished product might look and function.
Prague. At about 15′, this street is as wide as a typical sidewalk in San Francisco.
Überlingen, Germany. A nice residential street that leads to a wider street for cars. Both are important, but narrow streets should be the majority (maybe around 80%) if we want a pleasant city for people.
Versailles, France. About 30 feet wide but still manages to feel like a Place For People. Note the absence of on-street parking, the minimal height difference between street and sidewalk, and the use of stonework rather than pavement.
Prague again. You can tell a street is primarily a Place For People when you feel comfortable enough to walk in it.
Watling Street in London.
Residential streets in the Netherlands. These are one-way for autos, two-way for everyone else. Given the choice would you rather live on a street like this or a three-lane speedway like Fell?
Another shot of Amsterdam, this time a more commercial area. People of all ages feel safe riding a bike on a street like this even without a bike lane.
York. Looks nice to me.
Siena, Italy. Narrow streets can accommodate cars just fine. You just drive slowly. Faster crosstown traffic sticks to the arterials, which are typically no more than 1/4 mile away.
Quebec City. Note how the sidewalk is raised and narrow, sending a message that the center of the street is a Place For Cars. If we want it to be a Place For People instead then we need to feel comfortable walking down the middle. That means no raised sidewalks, which are best reserved for arterials with dedicated car lanes.
Dublin. It makes sense for certain streets to be “people-only”, with places to relax and have a bite to eat. Deliveries and garbage collection can take place during off-hours.
San Juan, Puerto Rico.
Parikia, Greece. This street might be too narrow for cars. Then again, who wants to drive in a beautiful place like this?
Marshall Street, Boston.
Elfreth’s Alley, Philadelphia. Narrow streets are not just an old European thing. America used to build beautiful Streets For People, too.
In the next post we’ll continue our tour in Asia. Mega cities like Tokyo are home to some wonderful modern neighborhoods that were built with narrow streets in the last 50-100 years.