What would happen if a streetscape became a place where cars and people and bikes all shared the road? What if the road actually became more of a place… a melting pot of people, cars and bikes that looked more like a promenade than a typical traditional roadway?
Before long, DC residents will find themselves immersed into a new form of urban environment that is part transportation and part place making. The urban environment is called a “Woonerf”, based on a European model that essentially eliminates the curbs and creates an atmosphere that is inviting for multiple modes of transport, from pedestrian to cars.
The closest thing that Buffalo has to a Woonerf is Canalside. Canalside has become a place that is mainly dedicated to walking and chilling – because of the narrow cobblestone street surface, cars must slow down. This creates a destination where people feel safe to roam about without the fear of speeding vehicles. This is Placemaking 101. The Woonerf takes this concept to the next level. Gone are the sidewalks. Gone are the mess of street signs. What remains is a place that is visually appealing and safe, where people feel free to roam about.
The Cars Sharing Main Street initiative has done wonders for Downtown Buffalo. It has created a much more vibrant place, since it has allowed drivers back into the mix. I bet that if progressive planners had studied this sort of European Woonerf model, it could have been even better. While the photo below was taken just after the street opened to cars, today there is a bustle of activity in all directions.
Similarly, Niagara Street could have used some serious traffic calming methods – I’m still scratching my head over this one. These traditional American urban roadscape plans should be obsolete by now. We had an opportunity to turn Niagara Street into a vibrant thoroughfare, filled with people, bikes and cars. Instead, there are way too many lanes dedicated to cars, traffic turning lanes, directional signs, and the rest.
I’m not saying that Niagara Street should have been designed like a Woonerf. I am saying that we need to start researching best case transportation practices from around the world, and applying them to areas of the city that can benefit appropriately. Allen Street should become a Woonerf. Niagara Street could have become a much more narrow boulevard, which would have strengthened it as a business corridor. We need to learn from our past Robert Moses-esque mistakes, or we will continue to be led down the same transportation rabbit hole.
To learn more about the Woonerf model, visit BisNow.
Lead image: The Wharf