Speed, urban transportation and geometry heuristics

Following up on this previous post, noting that “transport is mostly a real estate problem” – a few quick heuristics on cities, speed, and space:

Comparison of population/employee density and street area per person. Image from NYU Urbanization Project.

Comparison of population/employee density and street area per person. Image from NYU Urbanization Project.

Regarding speed: 

Speed requires space; faster travel occupies a larger area than slower travel.

Speed alters our perception of space. Faster travel makes large things seem smaller (hat tip to this post from GGW for the links). The properties of the space affect how we use it and what we percieve it to be; wider roadways within streets get used for faster travel.

Regardless of speed, cars require large spaces relative to their capacity. Even when parked (v = 0), cars require lots of space. By extension, building cities around requires a completely different spatial footprint.

Regarding space: 

There is a strong tendency for cities to devote about 25% of their land to streets. Street networks are for mobility, but also for access to land. Devoting too much land to streets is wasteful; too little makes it difficult to unlock the value of the land within a city.

Intersection density correlates with walkability and connectivity; wider instersection spacing correlates with the higher speed travel of cars.

Consider the relationship between the density of the network (intersection density), the tendency to use ~25% of land for streets (regardless of the density of the place), and street width on the kind of transportation.

Simply requiring some minimum intersection density for new developments via a code will still be subject to ‘gaming’ and open to unintended consequences.

Street networks are sticky and tend not to change once established; the cities that grow around them are path-dependent. However, transport networks can be layered – subways travel fast, require space and grade-separation, but deliver passengers to the street grid as pedestrians; just as freeways are layered above/below streets and deliver high volumes of cars to local streets.

While the physical space allocated to streets tends not to change, the use of that space can change a great deal over time.

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