Urban Local Streets; Supporting a People-Centred Approach;

from Local Streets to People Streets; in Support of Brownfields; the Opportunity for Greening;

In a posting on an upcoming international conference in Stockholm on “Future of Places”, it is noted; “why cities need to embrace a people centered approach in order to achieve positive urbanization and avoid falling victim to the negative attributes often accompanying urbanization” and “the inability of cities to manage growth to best utilize limited space….in pursuit of sustainable urban development.”

On another thought, venture capitalists, corporate turnaround hawks, and activist shareholders come into corporations, look at invested, idle capital at hand, look at potential returns that could be generated, and conjure up opportunities for increasing their financial gains from the idle capital.  Why should cities not do the same, look at their streets, and maximize the revenue from that asset?

City Land used by Streets, not used for Development or Public Places

The other day I was watching a webcast on CycloLogistics, the movement of goods by bicycles, by bicycles with trailers, and by cargo bikes.  In the presentation there was a slide that compared the amount of urban land that are set aside for streets in a number of countries.  Canada stood way out of scale compared to the USA and really way out compared to European cities.  About 700 square metres of land was used for streets per person, about 25% more than the USA and 3 and more times than European cities (World Watch Institute 2011).  The Canadians participating in the webcast got defensive and tried to explain the out of proportionate use of land for streets.  They claimed it was the vastness of the country with the small population.  Of course, there is a bit of truth in that.  Multiply the Canadian population to bring it up to the USA level and the statistic would decline significantly.

It seems that the Canadian participants missed the point and the value of the statistics.

43 % of the land area in a city block is street space

Just take the statistic into any Canadian city and see the validity of it.  For example, take a 100 metres by 100 metres city block (centre line measurements).  The land used by local streets would typically have 20 metres wide right-of-ways on each side of a block and a 6 metres wide laneway in the middle running in one direction.

So, looking at the amount of land used up by each block from the centre lines;

59%    5,900 square metres are available for development – homes and commercial;

5%      500 square metres taken up by the laneway; and

36%    3,600 square metres taken up by roadways.

A very significant amount of a city is not available for development.  Roadway takes away a majority of that before park, school, and other public use of land come into play.  41% of the land space in a block is used up by the streets and only 59% is available for homes and businesses.

One municipal staffer thought that overall 15% of his city’s lands was dedicated to street space when parks and other public land uses were brought into the calculation.  In a local brownfield development, which included 7 streets, public pressure for reducing street right-of-ways ended up with a more compact urban development.  The brownfield planner estimated that local streets only occupied 8% of the land.  That is quite a difference from typical neighbourhood blocks with local streets.  A lot more land was available for development, residential and commercial.

A popular neighbourhood cycling street

A popular neighbourhood cycling street, Cycling over a raised pedestrian crossing,
During cherry blossom time, A street well traffic-calmed,
Ontario St, Vancouver, BC, Canada
©Photograph by H-JEH Becker, 2013

Increasing the Land Reserve for Development; Increasing the Monetary Positive Cash Flow to Municipalities from the Capital Asset Investment in Local Streets

What if the streetscape for local streets were changed?  How much more land could become available for development.  How much more would the revenue intake be for municipalities each year?


What if the street right-of-way were narrowed?

10% more land would be available for development if a 16 metres right-of-way streetscape configuration were used.  Such a configuration could provide a 3 metres walking lane, a 3 metres bike lane, 6 metres of motorized lanes and 4 metres of separation between lanes and with property lines, while providing room for underground utilities.

15% more land would be available for development if a 14.5 metres right-of-way streetscape configuration were used.  Such a configuration could provide a 3 metres walking lane, a 4.5 metres bike lane also used by the city’s service and emergency vehicles, 3 metres of motorized lanes, and 4 metres of separation.

26% more land would be available for development if a 10.5 metres right-of-way streetscape configuration were used.  Such a configuration could provide a 3 metres walking lane, a 4.5 metres bike lane also used by city’s service and emergency vehicles, 0 metres of motorized lanes, and 3 metres of separation.

What is in it for?

The City residents? – A more liveable neighbourhood.

Streets designed with a people-centred approach lead to liveable urbanism and to the benefits that come with these types of streets.  Dedicated car parking on a property could also increase.  Sidewalks on each side of streets could become two-way, walking lanes with increased human interactions.  Narrower streets and walking lanes work well with low motorized traffic levels interfering with people’s movement from neighbouring properties to walking lanes.  Off-centre street designs provide greater flexibility fitting street functions into lifestyles and preferences of neighbourhoods.

The City? – Opportunities for increased revenue, while also reducing maintenance costs of streets.

Cash inflow – revenue side opportunities:

Property taxes on freed-up, leased-out city’s right-of-way lands now surplus from narrower streetscapes.

Leasing income from leased-out ,surplus right-of-way lands with opportunity for scaled leasing rates based on final use and densification resulting from it.

Green space, urban farming, etc. for single homes.

Increased densification rate scale based on number of floors of building.

Income from selling air rights, if street-level property is retained for people passage or landscaping.

Cash outflow – reduction on the expenditure side:

Less road surface space to maintain; less refurbishing of street space with time; and less cleaning during wintery weather periods.

Landowners who lease freed-up road space? – Opportunities for greater property valuation, borrowing power on the property, and higher densification.

Development opportunity and permitted density will increase with addition of leased property.

Air rights opportunity above the leased street lands will increase permitted density

Borrowing power – Property valuation will increase improving borrowing capability.

Property valuation – Right of use of leased street lands will increase selling price of landowners property.

A Question for a City?

Is increased cash inflow generated by turning away from wide streets, another opportunity to satisfy the increasing residents’ and businesses’ demands for more services from the city during a period of restraint income from traditional municipal funding options?

Something to think about.  The liveability of a city with increased sustainability and greening is at stake.

©H-JEH Becker, Velo.Urbanism, Third Wave Cycling Group Inc., 2013