Narrow Streets Around the World, Vol. 1

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.

City Ravine

Geneva, Switzerland.

'Tudor' Lane

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.


Bath, England.


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.

Narrow streets of Old Town Prague

Prague again. You can tell a street is primarily a Place For People when you feel comfortable enough to walk in it.


Westminster, UK.

Watling Street

Watling Street in London.

13629 (Dylan Passmore)

13574 (Dylan Passmore)

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?

Narrow street

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.

Narrow Street at Durham

Durham, UK.

City of York, England

York. Looks nice to me.



Typical Narrow Streets

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.


Sirmione, Italy.

Narrow street in Sassari

Sardegna, Italy.

Old Quebec

Narrow Street

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.

Narrow street, Hyeres old town.

Hyères, France.


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.

Narrow streets of Old San Juan

Colorful Narrow Streets

San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Paroikia, narrow streets

Parikia, Greece. This street might be too narrow for cars. Then again, who wants to drive in a beautiful place like this?


Benasque, Spain.

Boston - Marshall Street

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.

  2 comments for “Narrow Streets Around the World, Vol. 1

  1. Ellen Shatter
    December 7, 2015 at 7:49 pm

    Narrow streets are great places to walk in hot weather. The narrowness of the streets and the height of the buildings (no more than about 5 or 6 stories max) keep the streets cool. It made the streets of the center of Madrid bearable in May.

  2. Samuel
    February 29, 2016 at 9:30 am

    If you want to find narrow streets, try Lisbon. Believe me, those are narrow streets!

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