Photographic Proof That America Can Make Streets for People Instead of Cars

Whitney Avenue in New Haven, Connecticut
Walking across Whitney Avenue in New Haven, Connecticut, got a lot more inviting with these sidewalk extensions and painted crosswalks. Before/after via Google Street View and URB-I

Need some inspiration to make your city’s streets safer and more inviting?

Here’s a good place to start: URB-I, a collective of urban designers based in São Paulo, has been collecting before and after images of street transformations using Google Street View’s time lapse feature. The stockpile has grown to include 1,000 places around the world, including 107 in the United States. Below we’ve curated a selection of street redesign porn from URB-I’s library.

Like this one from Chicago — a parking crater by W Monroe Street transformed into a park:

West Monroe Street in Chicago via URB-I

Also from Chicago — painted sidewalk extensions made the “Lincoln Hub,” a six-pointed intersection, safer for pedestrians:

West Wellington Avenue in Chicago.

A major expansion of pedestrian space on Market Street in Philly:

Market Street in Philly

What a difference some tables, chairs, planters, and bollards make by Gansevoort Street in Manhattan:

Gansevoort Street, New York City

Here’s the area around Beale Street in San Francisco with and without an elevated road:

Beale Street, San Francisco

More space for walking, less for cars on Broadway in Seattle:

Broadway in Seattle

A new public plaza by Griffith Park Boulevard in Los Angeles:

Screen Shot 2016-04-05 at 4.12.32 PM

It’s not just coastal cities on URB-I’s map — here’s a pedestrian-friendly overhaul of Indianapolis’s West Georgia Street:

West Georgia Street in Indianapolis

Another parking crater transformation — the Ohio River Scenic Byway on the Cincinnati waterfront.

Ohio River Scenic Byway, Cincinnati

And here’s the Detroit Riverwalk by Atwater Street:

Screen Shot 2016-04-05 at 4.13.45 PM

This collection barely scratches the surface of what you can find in URB-I‘s catalogue, which includes hundreds of international examples.

12 thoughts on Photographic Proof That America Can Make Streets for People Instead of Cars

  1. I find it humorous how few of the “after” photos of streets rebuilt for people show any people.

  2. What’s with the huge turning radius on Whitney Street? More space for pedestrians but cars moving the same speed as always.

  3. Maybe they were taken at times of low pedestrian activity specifically to show the street improvements instead of a mass of people? This reminds me of people complaining bike lanes are empty. Even in the busiest places, streets will be empty sometimes. In quite a few cases they may be empty for most of the day. That doesn’t mean these designs were a failure. If they get 100 people out in the course of a day compared to 10 before they’re a huge success.

  4. Yeah, it is a bit funny at first–though I wouldn’t necessarily read too much into it for a number of reasons:

    –> The images are from Google Street View. GSV often seems to prioritize going through areas at what are clearly non-peak hours. (Notice that for the most part there aren’t exactly throngs of cars in these images, either). The off-peak strategy is presumably to:

    *maximize GSV’s coverage per hour

    *cut down on how many faces and license plates they’ll need to blur post-production.

    –> This is related to a longer tradition of cityscape and architectural photography specifically *avoiding* times when too many people might be “in the way,” lest it “distract” from the focal point. For GSV, there’s an incentive to make as much of the surrounding streetscape as visible as possible in the final images–it is supposed to be a reference guide, after all.

    –> These projects almost always if not always have a safety element in mind to make it safer for people going by foot or bike or other non-motorized means. (And the resulting slower car speeds also benefit car passengers, as well, of course).

    Seattle is surely well aware that the space in front of a parking structure isn’t likely to turn into a lively neighborhood meeting spot. However, if the adjacent wider sidewalks, slower car speeds and separated bike lanes lead to a reduction in injuries across all modes of people who *do* pass through, it’s a win.

    –> This:

  5. Check the long shadows in several of the photos. Without knowing the compass orientation of the streets involved, I have to wonder if they were taken relatively early in the morning when both pedestrian and auto traffic was minimal.

  6. Most of them appear to be taken from Google street view images. So they were taken whenever the Google van came by.

    Maybe the initiatives were successful and maybe they weren’t. But it would have gone farther toward showing they were successful at bringing out people by showing the places with people.

  7. What I read into it is that it’s difficult to show a place is for people if you don’t show people, so you’re better off finding images of the places with people (which should be plentiful if the places are successful) instead of using sterile images focusing on architecture.

  8. Amazingly sad how little development seems to have changed around the newly designed streets. The NY’s Meat District has changed a lot, but look the shot from Los Angeles shows a landscape still totally oriented to cars. Perhaps a wider look would better show the impact?

  9. They’re almost certainly all GSV images as the very point of the project is to use GSV to make before/after comparisons of the changes. As such, they’re obviously going to also be subject to the GSV limitations outlined in some of the other comments.

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