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Solutions for Urban Streets and Downtowns

These placemaking "photovisions" show how overdevelopment and aging or abandoned areas can be revamped and reborn

Cover of the Imagining Livability Design Collection

Click the image (above) for more livability tools, "before and after" transformations and to download the complete "Imagining Livability Design Collection."

The transformations presented here show real locations as they appeared during visits by AARP Livable Communities and the Walkable and Livable Communities Institute (WALC) between 2010 and 2015.

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WALC helped each community develop a vision for the future, and it created photovisions to reflect those changes and how each place could be made better. The "transformations" presented here are among those discussed in The Imagining Livability Design Collection, a 40-page "visual portfolio of tools and transformations." The collection can be accessed or downloaded by clicking the image at right.

Improving a Complex Intersection in DALLAS, TEXAS

The landmark Five Points intersection is the front door to one of Dallas' most diverse and transit-oriented neighborhoods. However, the intersection is complex, with five streets connecting near three-story apartment buildings, a school and retail establishments. The number of turns made by vehicles and the intersection’s high pedestrian use create numerous points of conflict and a high potential for crashes.

Dallas Texas Before Photo, Aerial View Of Street, Urban Street, Livable Communities

Photo by the WALC Institute

The Present

The Challenges

  • Most development in the area is scaled for cars.
  • Since the buildings don’t front the street, they fail to create a sense of enclosure and security for pedestrians.
  • Overly wide driveways encourage high-speed exits.
  • Vast expanses of off-street parking diminish a sense of place.
  • Sidewalks are "attached" to the curb with no buffer between pedestrians and the cars passing them.
Dallas Texas, After Rendered Drawing, Renovation, Urban Street, Aerial View, Livable Communities

Photovision by the WALC Institute and TDC Design Studio

The Possibilities

Envisioning a More Livable Future  

  • The Five Points intersection is much simpler and better managed with a modern roundabout.
  • Rush-hour traffic flow moves smoothly and efficiently and at safe vehicle speeds.
  • The roundabout’s truck apron accommodates oversized vehicles.
  • The placemaking value of the roundabout sets the stage for new buildings and businesses that honor the street and neighborhood.
  • Lanes are narrowed and turn lanes are eliminated, making space for on-street parking.
  • Off-street parking lots are redeveloped into more productive uses.

Redesigning a Downtown Street in AUGUSTA, GEORGIA

Located within feet of the Savannah River and a riverwalk trail, this street on the edge of downtown Augusta borders a former railroad depot that’s ready to be redeveloped. The plan presents an opportunity to create a stellar anchor point for the downtown, provide a destination for residents and visitors and maximize the value of the river and the depot’s proximity to the water.

Augusta Georgia Street, Before Photo, Storefronts, Urban Streets, Livable Communities

Photo by the WALC Institute

The Present

The Challenges

  • The street, which is overly wide for a relatively low volume of traffic, allows cars to pass through at high speeds, which reduces the commercial value of the adjacent properties.
  • The lack of a mid-block crossing creates a significant barrier for pedestrians.
  • This "placeless" street may be suppressing opportunities to redevelop the old rail yard and surrounding parcels.
Augusta Georgia, Urban Streets, Renovation, Rendered Drawing, Livable Communities

Photovision by the WALC Institute and TDC Design Studio

The Possibilities

Envisioning a More Livable Future   

  • The street becomes a shared space that better supports all roadway users at all times but can be closed to vehicle traffic for special events.
  • Street trees and lighting fixtures add character and are properly scaled for pedestrians and bicyclists.
  • Street parking, tree wells and bike lanes fit within the existing right-of-way.
  • Between 20 and 22 feet are allocated for two vehicle lanes — one in each direction, without a center line.
  • Bike lanes double as "valley gutters" to help with stormwater management.
  • Pervious concrete in the parking lanes also helps to manage stormwater.
  • Inset parking and tree wells help keep traffic calm.
  • New development doesn’t turn its back on the street, but rather faces the street and provides strong connections from the street to the riverwalk.

Making a Riverwalk Approach More Walkable in New Orleans, Louisiana

Residents and tourists alike walk this intersection near the New Orleans Riverwalk. However, despite the destination’s focus on pedestrian activity, there’s very little support for getting to it by foot or bicycle. Also, practically nothing about the built environment announces one’s arrival at this special place or draws people from the surrounding streets. Nonetheless, many people do walk and bicycle in the general area, including on the street pictured here, where vehicle traffic is relatively low most hours of most days. A sense of place and arrival can be created through some simple changes.

New Orleans Louisiana, Street, Cars, Buildings, Urban Street, Livable Communities

Photo by the WALC Institute

The Present

The Challenges

  • The one-way traffic and wide lanes lead to too fast vehicle speeds.
  • Sidewalks are narrow and are blocked in several places by utility poles and street trees. (In some spots two people can't walk side by side.)
  • Utility wires are unsightly and at odds with the area's historic character.
  • Crossings at the intersection aren’t marked.
  • The intersection is wide, and no visual cues are given to drivers that they should expect to yield to pedestrians.
  • Ramps don't meet the needs of people with disabilities.
New Orleans Louisiana After Photo, Rendered Drawing, Renovation, Urban Street, Livable Communities

Photovision by the WALC Institute and TDC Design Studio

The Possibilities

Envisioning a More Livable Future

  • Traffic on the street is restored to two-way, with a lane in each direction.
  • Street parking is kept on both sides of the street, but narrowing the travel lanes allows one side to be converted to head-out diagonal parking, which increases the number of spots available.
  • Since New Orleans gets very hot, street trees are added to provide shade and help reduce the urban heat-island effect.
  • The colored intersection draws attention to the space as a place for people.
  • The intersection is raised, which makes it easier for people to cross and helps keep vehicles slow as they pass through it.
  • Curb extensions shorten the crossing distance for pedestrians.

This article, "Solutions for Urban Streets and Downtowns," was adapted from The Imagining Livability Design Collection, which was published in Spring 2015 by AARP Livable Communities and the Walkable and Livable Communities Instiitute (WALC), written by Kelly Morphy and Robert Ping (WALC) and project managed and edited by Jeanne Anthony and Melissa Stanton (AARP).

Read another excerpt from the collection. »


Each issue of the award-winning AARP Livable Communities e-Newsletter contains a mix of inspiring examples, community resources and information about livability efforts from places near and far. Subscribe today!

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