The County Board of Arlington VA has approved two new street types: a car-free street and a shared street. This is great news for mobility advocates! The move will allow for the Rosslyn neighborhood and the Courthouse neighborhood (where I lived for seven years) to use these street types as they redevelop, improving awkward and unsafe streets near transit. The two new street types can also be applied elsewhere in the County (Ballston or Crystal City, perhaps?) through a community planning process and action by the County Board.
What’s a car-free street? This is a street reserved for pedestrian and bicycle access only, typically with permanent or movable bollards that physically block vehicular traffic (the movable bollards allow for emergency and construction vehicle access). Most people think of a pedestrian mall, such as the ones in Charlottesville VA or Times Square in New York City. However, a car-free street doesn’t have to be that elaborate or involve a shopping experience. In Arlington, the intent is to provide greater and safer connectivity for pedestrians on short blocks/streets.
What’s a shared street? This is a street for all modes, including low-speed vehicular traffic and sometimes transit. Typically these are designated with special pavement or pavers, no curbs or graded separation, no painted lines or bike lanes, very low posted speeds (e.g., 5 mph), and they have a human scale (i.e., people want to be there). When people salivate over Europe’s lovely small alleys and pedestrian-friendly streets, this is often the type of street they’re talking about – one where cars are welcome, but every user sort of instinctively looks out for one another and “plays nice.” I love this type of street because everyone has access (my friends can tell you about times when I have gleefully pranced on shared streets in cities such as St. Augustine FL and Portland OR). Many streets in America already behave this way, even those in the suburban NJ neighborhood where I grew up: no sidewalks, no curbs, and a mix of low-speed traffic, kids on bicycles, dog-walkers, etc.
Kudos to Arlington for adopting these two new street types – I’m surprised it took this long, but glad it’s here. I look forward to enjoying these streets when I come back for a visit.