A Street’s Major Components and Their Maintenance

There are six visibly linear components to our cities’ major streets. For the most part each component stands alone, but all of the components are directly related to each other.  Maintenance of the first five shown below is provided by the City, County, a Metropolitan District or occasionally a Home Owner’s Association (or HOA).

  1. Median: Many streets do not provide medians, but they are common on new major streets. Generally, the median is maintained by City or County.  The appearance can be very beautiful or quite messy.  Successful medians are mitigated from the pollutant and chemical elements of the road by appropriate plant material or by raising the median to minimize pollution.
  2. Carriage Way: Commonly, the carriage way, or travel way, is comprised of asphalt or concrete where vehicles and bicycles travel and park.  The carriage way is often excessive in width allowing for greater than fourteen-feet (14’) for each lane of traffic. As a comparison, the Federal Highway Administration requires twelve-feet (12’) for lane widths for Interstate Highways. Therefore, common sense suggests that twelve-foot lanes are excessive for city streets. See The Road Maintenance Dilemma of Our Cities
  3. Curb & Gutter: The curb & gutter’s width varies between six-inches (6”) and thirty-inches (30”) and it includes the actual vertical curb which is six-inches in width and the pan which varies by cities in terms of width.  In some instances the pan is absent where not necessary, such as where drainage is away from the curb. Unfortunately, the pan is not included for vehicular travel ways, but it is included for bicycle mobility and on-street parking.
  4. Parkway: The parkway is an important area to the aesthetics of the street, especially for landscape architects. It is the most visible component and also one of the more fragile.  It is sometimes referred to as the parkway, scapestrip, parking strip, tree lawn, and road verge. Careful selection of plant material is needed for this area.  Plant materials need to be low maintenance, requiring minimal supplemental irrigation, and tolerant of pollutants from the street. Depending on the width of the parkway, turfgrass is often not a viable option due to the decreased width and irrigation needs.
  5. Sidewalk: A sidewalk along a major street is often more of a formality rather than serving functional purposes in suburban locales.  There are some major streets in suburban locations where pedestrians are just not present. The adjacent uses are not complimentary to each other and in a way, competitive to each other. Future redevelopment and revitalization may create that environment however, so it is important to include sidewalks. Sidewalks in these situations should be wide enough for two people to walk side by side, or a minimum of five-feet (5’) but preferably six-feet (6’).
  6. The image above shows major issues along a collector street in Northeast Colorado Springs. The image shows a lack of sidewalk, a failing wall, and considerable maintenance concerns beginning with the absence of landscape installation.

    Fence Strip: This is one of those areas that may or may not actually have a name, so I made one up, the “fence strip.”  It is the narrow strip of land between the sidewalk and a rear or side fence.  This condition is extremely common for development that occurred post-1940. 1940 is approximately the point in time when our communities began to funnel traffic to arterials and collectors, restricting or limiting development from fronting on to arterials and collectors.  Executive Director of the Walkable and Livable Communities Institute, Dan Burden, refers to the condition of homes and building turning their back to the street as “mooning the street.” The maintenance on this area is an enigma to the residents and business owners of where the condition occurs. It is an out-of-sight/out-of-mind condition where the fence impedes visibility to the “fence strip”.  It often appears as a contiguous mess of weeds, trash and overgrown plant material that is mistaken to be the responsibility of the municipality. More often than not, this area is the responsibility of each property owner.

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