Pursue more flexible application of residential street standards


Narrow residential streets can help localities calm traffic and make neighborhoods safer places to walk and bicycle. They also are more sustainable than overly wide streets, which increase storm drainage, snow removal and resurfacing costs, and local heat island effects. In many communities, formal or informal residential street standards require streets to be unnecessarily wide, in part out of misperceptions that this will increase safety (the opposite is true), and in part in an attempt to meet requirements of emergency service responders (primarily fire departments). Now, many communities in the United States are partnering with their fire departments to reassess residential street requirements and change their local standards to permit narrower streets in certain situations.

State DOTs can play an important role in helping communities that wish to modify their residential street standards to allow narrow streets. Local residential street standards are often established through state guidance. States can assess their current residential street standards and, if appropriate, allow more flexible application of the standard.

State DOTs generally have a role to play in local street design, although the specific nature of that role varies from state to state. In some states, the DOT has jurisdiction over "local" public streets and thus controls design standards directly. In these states, the DOTs can revise standards for low volume, local streets to guide development of narrower street cross-sections in certain situations. In other states, cities and counties have jurisdiction over their own streets. In such states, a wide variety of standards may be in place, including informal systems based on general interpretations of the AASHTO Greenbook. In these states, DOTs can provide a valuable service by developing a recommended local street design practice guiding development of more efficient, sustainable local street systems.


States should review the residential street standards in use in their state (whether state or local) to determine if they have become an obstacle to the development of compact, walkable communities. If the standards are outdated, the State should initiate a process to actively engage fire safety, paramedic, traffic safety, and community health professionals to develop modern standards that meet neighborhood design goals while still providing for access by emergency responders. The objective should be to replace inflexible minimum requirements with comprehensive standards that allow for streets that are appropriate to their context, while retaining an appropriate focus on emergency vehicle accessibility, response times, and traffic safety.


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