Streets - Our Largest Public Space
Updated: Apr 30, 2019
We should all end 2017 feeling proud to be a part of the Columbus story. Because of Exhibit Columbus and other amazing events offered, we have had the opportunity to experience our downtown in a new and energizing way. Though, not as obvious, and often overlooked, our street network has played a critical role in each of these experiences. Streets are our first ambassadors. As you travel around the community, each street creates a different experience. You may feel proud as you drive over the new State Street Bridge, or stressed as you fight traffic on SR 46. One street may create the desire to stop, park and walk around. While another, may create stress, anger and the desire to get away as quickly as possible. Our streets are the backbone of our community and have the ability to create place, encourage health, and foster connectivity.
Many people think of streets only in terms of moving vehicles. They are the way we can get from one place to another as quickly and safely as possible. Cars are such a normal part of our lives that it is hard for us to imagine the fact that our main city streets were not created for them. The streets were built for walking and horses and later street cars and trains. Here are pictures of the streetcar track on Washington Street taken in 1893.
Other people have a tendency to think of streets simply as the space left over after buildings occupy a space. In Columbus, however, we have 262 miles of street and the street rights-of-way account for 2,416 acres, which is about 13.5% of our land use. Our total land area is 17,962 acres. This percentage is drastically higher when you exclude the undeveloped areas on the peripheral of the City and include parking lots. In most American cities, street rights-of-way account for about 30% of the land use in a downtown area.
Our parks account for approximately 700 acres, which is only 3.9% of our land use. Our public street right-of-way is over 3 times larger than our parks. Interestingly enough, many of our current streets were designed or modified solely to move vehicles that are used only 4% of the time. The rest of the time vehicles are sitting parked. We can’t afford to allow such a large piece of our community to be treated as an afterthought. We need to continue treating our streets as valuable public space.
On some level, we all know a great street, or a bad one, when we experience it. There is something about the good streets that make you want to stay, or come back. Think about which streets in Columbus make you feel this way. How about streets in the places you vacation? What makes them different? With so much of our public land area occupied by streets, we need to ensure each one is designed or redesigned to create the type of community in which we wish to live.
Unfortunately, there is no recipe that will be successful everywhere every time. There is a list of ingredients that make a great street such as proper scale, the presence of trees, authentic-feeling signage and lighting, protected sidewalks, flowers, accessible buildings, etc. But, the key is to put the ingredients together in a way that creates a public space that is safe and functional, yet an attractive, energizing, socially inviting public space that encourages physical activity and social connection.
We commend our current City Engineer and others for their willingness to try new recipes to determine what works for our community and to create a connected, attractive, engaging public space. And, we continue to challenge our community to ensure the ideals that built our downtown core into a destination attracting people from all over the world, also extend to each corner of Bartholomew County. The best way to compete for talent and visitors is to ensure our public spaces are rich and engaging everywhere, and our streets are one of our largest public spaces.