Ecology of the Street

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Ecology of the Street
Panayotoya, Tzveta
Luoni, Stephen ( Mentor )
Place of Publication:
Gainesville, Fla.
University of Florida
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University of Florida
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University of Florida
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Ecology of the Street

TzveLa PanayoLova

Ecu. (('kJ, ck'J) (LLoeco-< Or orko-< orkos.

OE wc, house. village, L vicus, group of houses,
vria, country house, fornn) comb r6ngform
1. environment or habitat (ecooape)
2. ecology, ccological

-leoa (01 je) (ME -iogre < OFr < L -iogia < Or
1. a (specified) kind of speaking
2. science, doctrine, or theory of

street (sr[t) n. (ME < OEstr/t, akin to Qctrstrasse
< Eady WOnic lonword < LLStWa < L strata (v.,),
paved (road), fem. Ofrraltu: sec STRATUM>

The English word "street", or the similar sounding German word "strasse", come from the Latin word "strata",

which means paved (road). Ancient Rome created one of the first examples of paved roads. Modern streets

use Roman military road construction techniques that implement layers of flat and crushed stone, gravel, coarse

sand mixed with lime, and finishing surface of mortar and lava or paving stones.

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Figure 1. Roman Paved Road

The users and the scale of events that took place on the street historically determined the road standards. The size

of carriages or carts in use and the safe passage of two horses or two pedestrians regulated the minimum width

of the street.

The development of street standards ceased in the middle ages only to quickly reawaken to address the invention

of the bicycle, the train, and later, the car. Street and city planning standards had to be reevaluated to

accommodate new technologies of movement and life. Compacted American cities in late 19th and early 20th

century started decentralizing along railroad and electric trolley lines. Homes and businesses moved away from

the core of the congested cities. By the 1920 cities extended to the point were distances became unwalkable.

After the Second World War the raise of family income, governmental policies, and sub urbanization enforced

the dominance of the car and the sprawl of cities. New programs provided massive investments for highways,

suburb housing, and promotion of automobile use. At the same time, public transportation systems and inner

city housing were neglected.


WW4 -


Figure 2. Road Cross-section

Since World War II car-oriented streets grew wider, with little to no accommodation space for pedestrians. By

1950, the negative effects of heavy and fast traffic were recognized but the modern vision of cities "that must

adapt to cars" (G. Pompidou) persisted.

Desire for safety from traffic in neighborhoods led to the creation of cul-de-sacs. This new formation

eliminated though traffic and also contributed to the isolation of residences and communities. In addition,

modern American zoning codes brought further separation of uses, as areas for shopping, recreation, and

housing were not mixed. As a result, even the most trivial needs require a car trip. Elderly people, children,

and others incapable of operating a motor vehicle suffer from limited accessibility beyond the home.

Modern transportation requirements of the car have marginalized pedestrian life on the streets and accessibility

in urban and suburban neighborhoods.

What is the street of today? Is it a line that serves an efficient connection between point A and point B? Is it a

public realm that connects the house, the neighborhood, and landscape? Is it a network dictated by the demands

of the car and its consequent pollution and noise?

The street historically evolved from a path, created by people, to a concrete lane dominated by cars. The car

has become privileged over pedestrians. It is not safe for either children or adults to socialize even on a

residential street. Instead of being a space that sets the stage for communication, the street has become

mono- functional in its accommodation of the car.

Rather than operate as a monolithic landscape, successful streets tend to be organized as a working ecology.

The ecology of the street creates a shared condition that is pedestrian friendly, incorporates landscape, while

allowing passage of the car. The street is not viewed solely as a conduit for cars but rather as a network

that facilitates the comfortable coexistence of all modes of transportation.

A successful example of an ecological street is the Dutch woonerf (pl. woonerven) meaning a living yard. The

woonerf overlaps domestic yard and landscape with the street, bringing together playing children,

pedestrians, vehicles, and bicycle traffic. This street typology calms traffic without the use of speed bumps, humps

or turn about, using integrated design to privilege humans over cars. Woonerf allows conversion of the street into

a safe, and inhabited public yard for residents, while accommodating vehicular circulation.

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Figure 3. Road Cross-section

The concept of a shared street originated in England. Woonerf was first applied in the Netherlands in 1976. The

wide use of this system in the Netherlands in the 70s was due to the ease with which woonerf design could

be incorporated in the many street reconstruction plans that took place during the Netherlands's reclamation of

land from water. The concept of the "living yard" is well known and has spread quickly in Europe. It is applied

as "shared streets" in Germany, "no car areas" in Denmark and Sweden, and "home zones" in England. Woonerfs

are also used in high-density countries such as Israel and Japan. (Traffic Calming: State of the Practice, 10)


In order to create a woonerf curbs are eliminated or broken at least every 25m (83') as sidewalks are constructed

as one surface. Pedestrians occupy the entire width of the road, from building to building. Play and communication

is allowed everywhere. Traffic approaching from right-hand side is given priority. Vertical elements should

not prevent visibility and cars cannot drive faster than 8-12 mph. Such low speed allows eye contact,

which, according to Baillie, a British woonerf researcher, is a "key element in safe mixing of traffic".

Figure 4. Woonerf Design

Woonerf design should prevent car traffic in the immediate vicinity of the house's front facade. Two-way traffic

is more preferable in woonerfs. Drivers knowing that there might be incoming traffic tend to slow down. In a

shared street, cars "may not impede pedestrians", who in turn "may not unreasonably hinder the progress

of drivers". (Liebman) Narrowing a residential street or slowing the traffic usually does not lead to

congestion problems. Cars find other ways to move though the city. The neighborhoods in return acquire more

space for miscellaneous uses. Public space for outdoor activities bring more users to the street and create a

safer environment.

Shared streets use aisle narrowings, furniture, planters, trees, and ground texture to control traffic. To establish

a woonerf in the Netherlands 60 percent of the neighborhood residents need to give their approval. Local initiative

is important since happy residents are willing to take care of the woonerf and enforce the "living yard"

regulations. The Dutch government lends planters areas to residents for a nominal charge. The sense of

territorial ownership by residents and constant maintenance provides for the survival of a communal

residential landscape. By the beginning of the 1990 2700 Dutch streets were turned into woonerven showing a

50 percent reduction of injuries. (Liebman, 1)

Woonefs are not only safe; they also provide for rainwater recycling. Rainwater runoff can be collected and treated

in the woonerf planters or green areas. Plants successfully perform decoration and purification tasks at the

same time. A woonerf can easily become the integrated water treatment garden and flood control for a

residential area.

Although the shared street is a great residential concept that is applied worldwide, there are no American

woonerfs.Woonerf implementation in the United States is a legal and costly problem. American views on

private property, community, responsibility, and car ownership often make the shared street concept unacceptable

to both municipals and homeowners. In Denmark, residential committees own the streets. Each family contributes

a sum of money adequate to the cost of a new refrigerator to establish a woonerf. American examples of

private street ownership are known in St. Louis.

Woonerfs are not inexpensive to create. To install a general traffic calming device ($ 7 per square meter) is four

to five times lass and much easier than creating a woonerf ($30 per square meter). Thus speed bumps and

humps have proved to be more appealing to the average developer. (Harvey, 11).

American town planning suburbanization created an elaborate cycle of car dependence. United States is probably

the only country where one can phone, fax, eat, watch a movie, and even go to church without stepping out of

the car. "The automobile dependency that is associated with today's accessibility patterns is also a large

contributor to the increasing levels of congestion that are threatening that accessibility." (Handy)

Changes in transportation, housing, retail patterns and zoning along with increasing public awareness and action

are the leading factors needed to establish a healthy shared community. Woonerf is an ecological street

that integrates traffic, pedestrians, and landscape in a working network. The streets of our neighborhoods do

not need highway design standards used for a four-lane road. Streets could be restructured to actively use the

land, foster communication and integration of uses, and enhance the environment for the life of its residents.


Figure 5. Woonerf


1. Brief History of traffic Calming. Traffic Calming: State of the Practice. Online. Available URL
tcsop/chapter2.pdf >2001

2. de Wit, Teun, and Hillie Talens. Traffic Calming in the Netherlands. CROW. Online. Available URL
nl/english_old/html_e/publ_eng/papers/Traffic%20in%)> 2001

3. Europe: where it all started. The community Guide to Traffic Calming.Online. Availabe URL
task_forces/transportation/docs/trafcalm/CASE9.HTM> 2001

4. Handy, Susan. A cycle of Dependence: Automobiles, Accessibility, and the Evolution of the Transportation and

Retail Hierarchies. Berkeley Planning Journal Vol.8 (1993), pp. 21-24

5. Liebman, G. Three Good Community-Building Ideas from Abroad. Online. Available URL >2001

6. Linking Bicycle/Pedestrian facilities with Transit. FHWA. Case study #9. U.S. department of Transportation.

National Bicycling And Walking Study

7. Royal Dutch Touring Club. Woonerf. Amsterdam: ANWB, 1980

8. Southworth, Michael, and Eran Ben-Joseph. Streets and The Shaping of Towns and Cities. New York: McGrawl

Hill, 1996

9. Street Design. LGS. Online. Available URL< >2001

10. Homburger, W. Residential Street Design and traffic Control, Institute of Transportation Engineers, Prentice-Hall,

Inc., New Jersey, 1989


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