COVID-19: The Recovery will Happen in Public Space

A New Model Streets Manual to Rewrite Los Angeles' "DNA"

Megan MacIver
Mar 24, 2011
Dec 14, 2017
Grand Avenue in L.A.: the new Model Street Manual aims to make streets more welcoming for people

L.A. County has begun to rewrite the “DNA” of its streets with a new Model Streets Manual that will set guidelines to support improved safety, livability and active transportation options.

This effort was supported through a grant from the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, through its RENEW initiative. RENEW stands for “Renewing Environments for Nutrition, Exercise and Wellness." It’s inspiring to see a health-focused organization embrace a leadership role in Placemaking by broadening the scope of its concern to include planning for the built environment.

There is a growing understanding that streets configured to support an active lifestyle can lead to positive community health outcomes.

As Streetsblog reports, team lead Ryan Snyder of Ryan Snyder Associates has said the manual is like "the DNA of our streets, and it defines everything from where to place bike lanes to how wide a roundabout should be."

Our Gary Toth and Pippa Brashear joined a team of local and national experts to contribute to this a new Model Streets Manual and each led a chapter in the manual, in addition to contributing to other chapters.

Please Plagiarize While the guide is primarily targeted to the 88 cities that comprise L.A. County, the team hopes the information about making streets for people will reach as many communities as possible: in Snyder’s words, cities can “use it, adopt it, steal it, and plagiarize it.”  Toth said the guide was written in such a way that it can provide a base of valuable information that each city can adapt to suit its specific context.

By summer 2011, it will be available for free download on L.A. County’s website.

Downtown L.A.

The Manual has 12 Chapters (here’s a list of them from Streetsblog):

The manual covers a broad range of street design elements at many scales, from land-use to textured surfaces and raised pedestrian crossings.  Pippa led the development of the “Re-Placing Streets” chapter and Gary led the development of the Transit Accommodations Chapter.

  • Street Network Design: In terms of safety and livability, networks with numerous short blocks in a grid achieve much better outcomes than street networks with long blocks and numerous cul-de-sacs.
  • Traveled Way and Intersection Design: Bike lanes and narrower car lanes can improve safety and “modern roundabouts” improve the comfort of intersections. Streets should be physically designed for slower speeds.
  • Universal Pedestrian Access: Without precise design guidelines, obstacles to mobility, like utility boxes, start to crop up. A four-zone system — representing the curb zone, furniture zone, pedestrian zone, and frontage zone — can ensure that there’s always a passable sidewalk.
  • Pedestrian Crossings: Simply put, pedestrians must have the ability to safely cross the street. Real and perceived safety is important and is not well reflected by crash data, i.e. “maybe no body gets killed here, because no one feels safe enough to cross.” Planners should use treatments that are proven to reduce crashes. Transit stops should always have good crossings, because trips typically begin and end on opposite sides of the street. Above all, evaluate the success of new crossings using performance measures.
  • Bikeway Design: All streets are bicycle streets, and so all should be safe for bicyclists. Existing manuals tell us how to design roads for cars; this one will accommodate all users.
  • Traffic Calming: “Design streets that self-enforce the behaviors that you’re looking to enforce.” Some of the physical measures that can achieve “self-enforcement” include: lane reductions, medians, refuges for pedestrians, bulbouts, curbless flush streets, flush medians, streets trees, lateral shifts, shared spaces, bike lanes, textured surfaces, back-in angled parking, valley gutters, roundabouts, mini-roundabouts, impellers, chicanes, medians, yield streets, pinch points, raised intersections, raised pedestrian crossing, and speed humps.
  • Transit Accommodations: Planners should think beyond the station as merely being a portal to the service. Rather, transit should be integrated further into the community, using stops to anchor local activity. Use street treatments to enhance access to transit vehicles and provide accommodations for everyone arriving at stations. When it comes to travel lanes, think beyond the car to bus lanes, BRT, and streetcars.
  • Streetscape Ecosystem: Utilize street features to help irrigate landscaping. Make irrigation equipment highly visible to educate everyone about the relationships between all the parts of the ecosystem.
  • Re-placing Streets: Streets should be more than just a conduit for goods and people. Designs should “support activities and destinations in the streets” with design elements built at the human scale; provide a feeling of safety; invite activities on both sides of the street; and reward slow movement by lowering speeds.
  • Land Use & Urban Design: Land use is “the great definer of street character and influences travel patterns.” Key design elements should focus on things like setbacks and ways that land uses can complete the public space — ground floor uses.
  • Retrofitting Suburbia: The goal of retrofitting suburbia is to “suggest ways that existing cities can think about getting ready for a different economic and demographic future.” In neighborhoods with poor connectivity, break open sound walls and cul-de-sacs so that pedestrians can move more freely. Break through long blocks with additional and safe crosswalks. Above all, “high quality economic development comes to high quality streets.”
  • Getting It Built: First, the public engagement process should become an authentic two-way process, in which the public are experts.


Megan MacIver
Megan MacIver
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COVID-19: The Recovery will Happen in Public Space