Roads vs. Streets

The conceptual site plan for Gold Hill Mesa.
The conceptual site plan for Gold Hill Mesa.

In the past year, my Collaborative Design Group colleague, Mark Tremmel, and I have given multiple presentations on Gold Hill Mesa. In this time, we have started what has turned into somewhat of a routine as a part of the presentation. The bit starts in the middle of the presentation when Mark references how the design of the “road” was designed to meet the site’s slope, solar aspect, and for maximum pedestrian interaction. I’m convinced that Mark does this on purpose, just to set me up, or watch me cringe for a minute, though he has yet to admit it.

Anyway, this is where I jump in to correct Mark by saying that at Gold Hill Mesa, we have “streets” rather than roads. There is a saying that I personally live and design by:

Roads are for cars; Streets are for people.

A Street in Gold Hill Mesa designed to the context of the place.
A Street in Gold Hill Mesa designed to the context of the place.

One difference between a street and a road is the speed of travel. Roads have faster speeds and are a means of vehicular travel between long distances. County, State, and Federal Highways are examples. Other modes of travel are not as conducive on roads. On the other hand, streets may have on-street parking and are meant for traveling shorter distances. Often, they also have on-street parking, bike lanes, and sidewalks.

One of my college professors used to classify roads by how the drainage works. He would say that if it has curbs, it is a street. If it has parallel ditches, it is a road. Very clear; cut and dry, or is it? What do we call the “streets” by that definition that are in the city, but people do not dare traverse them, or that are not meant for people, bikes or other modes of transportation? Chuck Marohn of Strong Towns refers to them as “stroads“.

Noun. Portmanteau of “street” and “road”: it describes a street, er, road, built for high speed, but with multiple access points. Excessive width is a common feature. A common feature in suburbia, especially along commercial strips. Unsafe at any speed, their extreme width and straightness paradoxically induces speeding. Somewhat more neutral than synonymous traffic sewer.”

Bottom line, let’s build both roads and streets in the future and understand why each is built. If it’s a street, make it for people. If its a road, please don’t pretend that it’s a street.

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3 Comments

  1. John – Nice article. I would agree that people should stay off roads of high speeds, however, in a rural area there are very few “streets” and a lot of “roads”, whether it be dirt, chip/seal or asphalt and they go on for miles and miles. People use these roads for lots of activities such as riding bikes, walking, and even (and this is where my kansas roots come in) riding horses. Really there is no choice, but alas, cars still use these spaces for higher speed travel (50mph+) albiet a fewer cars. When you figure out what to call a street that you cant use, maybe then you can focus on a road, that you can (but probably shouldnt). My guess, is that curbs should not be in the definition at all. – Andy

    1. Hi Andy, and great hearing from you!

      Yes, I thought about going into the conversation about the transect and how the types of streets differ per transect zone (rural-to-urban transect: http://www.transect.org/). You are absolutely correct, the answer is that there really is not a great answer for the “streets” in the lower T-zones, T-1 through T-3, which I think is what you are referencing. I think that it is another classification though, not road. I still have a hard time referring to the rural thoroughfares as roads and generally refer to them as “lanes” or something that evokes a rural characteristic. I have referred to them as “trails” in some communities.

      Thank you for your contribution to the discussion and I hope that you are doing well!

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