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Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Truth in Advertising

This is partially in response to the death of a young lady in Dupont on her bicycle the other day. There have been a lot of good threads on bike rights-of-way, and it got me thinking about how a lot of our roads are over engineered for cars and cars alone.

Route 1 in Laurel is called Baltimore Boulevard. I have a small problem with this. Sure, if you follow it, it will take you to Baltimore. But it is not a boulevard, it is a highway. A boulevard, by definition, is a straight, wide urban route with a median and trees, generally designed for parking and slow travel. Perhaps they should reconsider Route 1's odonym.

Baltimore "Boulevard" between Bowie Road and College Park is 4 lanes of high speed driving (when it's not congested) with no parking along the road and nothing but strip malls and a railroad abutting the right of way. Sidewalks, another staple of a boulevard, are a crapshoot on that stretch. Maybe they're there, maybe they aren't. In any event, you don't want to walk there if you can avoid it. Biking is even worse. I'd rather sit shotgun while driving through Sadr City, I'm sure it's slightly safer. Same goes for University "Boulevard" from end to end, College Park to Kensington.

A few weeks ago, Laurel2020 pointed out that improvements are planned for this strip to make it more pedestrian friendly. Nonetheless, developers are still designing roads like this all over the country. Over engineered, wider than they need to be, "traffic gutters" as Andres Duany would say.

What if we held developers and jurisdictions responsible when they named a street? Imagine if every boulevard was indeed a boulevard, wide and straight, low speed, tree lined, with a vista to some kind of a landmark? What if there were a set of regulations governing proper naming of streets based on their real function? Every 'avenue' must have buildings directly fronting the street. Every 'highway' must have shoulders. Every 'court' must come to a dead end or cul de sac. Every 'parkway'... wait for it... ought to run through a park.

These regulations could ostensibly govern a number of traits of a road: pedestrian functionality, lane width and number of lanes, street parking, landscaping, maximum speed limits, availability for interchanges and limited access, zoning allowances, whether or not it can be one-way, transit functionality, street frontage, curbs, storm run-off... anything. I imagine it would force a developer not to over engineer his streets in the new subdivision. If the "Boulevard" leading into the neighborhood has six lanes and no buildings or pedestrian facilities fronting the way, it would have to be renamed a 'highway'. And what potential suburbanite buyer would want to live in a neighborhood where the entrance road is a 'highway'?

Perhaps it's a little shaky. But, if properly implemented and enforced, I think it could ostensibly promote smarter development. At least it would mane I'm not crossing a 'boulevard' with five lanes of speeding traffic and no crosswalks every time I want to wet my whistle at the Greene Turtle.

UPDATE: Route 1 is Baltimore AVENUE, not Boulevard. The two are virtually synonymous, so just replace the word "boulevard with the word "avenue" (except University Boulevard) and ignore the fact that I'm a geographer who doesn't know the streets in his own neighborhood.

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