Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Complete Streets, Ecuador Style

I was browsing through some of my non-American transportation pictures when I came across this photo of an amazing street in Baños in Ecuador. Isn't it great?

But before I break down the details of what makes this street so awesome, a note on why I was looking at streets in Ecuador in the first place: So often when we point to examples of the best complete streets, we're showing places in affluent (read: white) neighborhoods in Europe or the US. At the same time, we're often working in neighborhoods that don't exactly share those demographics. It's worth noting that Copenhagen and San Francisco don't have the monopoly on walkability.

For the record, I'm just as guilty as the next planner of doing this-- thus my perusal of South American streetscapes. Which brings us back to the street above. First, let's look at land use: two stories of residential over street-level storefronts. This keeps the density relatively high while maintaining a "human scale:" the buildings are probably about 35 feet high and are proportionate to the width of the street. The variety of commercial uses on the ground floor serve residents in the neighborhood, making it easier to accomplish daily errands without driving.

About those commercial uses--notice how they're set up with outdoor displays, café seating, and windows to engage people walking down the street. You can see at a glance that this street would be interesting to explore. Importantly, those outdoor displays and café tables aren't blocking the sidewalk, and neither are the planters and benches on the other side of the travel way. I especially like how there are decorative tiles in the street furniture zone of the sidewalk, but not in the pedestrian pathway. Decorative paving looks great, but it can be tricky to navigate (e.g., try walking on cobblestones in heels).

Along those lines, you can see that at each corner the sidewalks have two curb ramps, one for each crossing. If you spend much time looking at curb ramps in cities around here (wait, is that just me?), you'll find that they're often done on the cheap, with one ramp at the point of the corner to serve both crossings. This spits the user out into the center of the intersection, forcing them to shimmy back over to the crosswalk--only to repeat the same thing on the other side of the street. Yet one more subtle way that pedestrians are told that their convenience isn't a priority...

Finally, notice how narrow the roadway is. On this street, the space devoted to vehicles isn't even a third of what is given over to pedestrians. There's no on-street parking, and it's a one-way street. Business owners often balk at implementing these types of changes, arguing that losing that on-street parking will destroy their businesses. What do you think, do those businesses look like they're suffering?

My favorite part of the picture is how the two police officers are just hanging out in the middle of the street. Clearly this is a place where cars have to drive slowly enough that it's possible to have a conversation (or take a picture) in the center of the road without having to fear for your life. I'd love more streets like this in our country.

1 comment:

  1. It helps that Baños is a big tourist town. Many folks come to the town on chartered buses (as well as regular intercity bus service), so they don't have cars to start with.

    It's a fun place! At the base of an active volcano, with hot springs (hence the city's name). Totally worth a visit!