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View Full Version : Whatever happened to the grid?



Titanium48
25-04-2006, 01:12 AM
This has always been a pet peeve of mine. In the first half of the last century, roads in our city (and most others) were constructed in a simple grid pattern, with straight North-South streets and straight East-West avenues. Combined with a logical numbering scheme, it allows you to always know where you are and where you are going.

In the second half of the 20th century however, things started to degenerate. First they started messing with the side streets, making them curve and end randomly at T-intersections (example: between 127 and 137 Av). All was not yet lost however, as the numbering system and street/avenue designations still give you a sense of direction and the major streets are still straight.

Next, the major streets got deformed and the side streets developed a maze-like pattern, complete with plenty of dead ends (which go by the fancy sounding name of "cul de sac"). On top of this, named but unnumbered roads began to appear (example: Millwoods). On the bright side, the numbers still give you an idea where you are (for the most part), but figuring out how to get where you want to go can be frustrating.

Finally, all semblance of order was disposed of and the idea of any street (major or not) going in a well defined direction fell out of favor. The cul de sac retained it's popularity, numbers were used sporadically if at all and finding your way around without a map became impossible. (example: Riverbend)

Looking at a map of the city, one gets the impression that those responsible for planning it have been on an ever intensifying psychedelic trip for the last 50 years, and it shows no sign of letting up. Why the insanity? What's wrong with numbered streets and avenues that go in straight lines?

RichardS
25-04-2006, 05:50 AM
I totally agree, but I will probably find myself in the minority. I like the grid. Many people do not as they do like a more natural "flow" to their environment. Rivers are not on a grid, forests are not square, and storms never follow a straight line.

I think you can get natural "character" without sacrificing the ability to organize your city and find a place without a map.

MylesC
25-04-2006, 09:11 AM
You certainly don't need cul-du-sacs from hades to make a character for a neighbourhood. Just look at, well, most of Edmonton that was built before Millwoods.

RichardS
25-04-2006, 11:31 AM
Tell that to St Albert... or the designers of Millwoods...:) It is their quaint "charm"...

My kingdom for addresses that make sense.

JimR
25-04-2006, 12:13 PM
I agree. Grids are the best.

However, I got into a fight with a bunch of people in an urban studies class one time in uni. Many people, especially of the female variety, said perfect grids are boring.

RichardS
25-04-2006, 12:20 PM
Must have been the same class I was in...

Titanium48
25-04-2006, 12:49 PM
I totally agree, but I will probably find myself in the minority. I like the grid. Many people do not as they do like a more natural "flow" to their environment. Rivers are not on a grid, forests are not square, and storms never follow a straight line.
I would certainly not advocate filling in ravines or building longer than necessary bridges to accomodate straight roads, but the rest of Edmonton is flat - there are no natural features to conform to. When the grid runs into a valley, just trim it back to the last intersections on high ground (example: Ritchie and King Edward Park near Mill Creek) or build a top of valley road (like Saskatchewan Drive in Strathcona) with a descriptive name that tells you where you are.

Away from the ravines, a park whose perimeter is square or rectangular can easily be designed to contain more "organically" shaped features, like an artificial stormwater management lake and meandering recreational trails. I appreciate a natural environment as much as anyone else and I think it is important to preserve some natural areas, but a subdivision is not a natural area, it is a designed space with a purpose.


You certainly don't need cul-du-sacs from hades to make a character for a neighbourhood. Just look at, well, most of Edmonton that was built before Millwoods.

Well said. The biggest character features in my mind are the narrow streets and the trees. There is no need to have 15m of asphalt on a local street. Cut it down to 9 or 10m, leave the sidewalks where they are and plant some trees in between. That will do a much better job of creating an interesting environment than psychedelic street patterns lined with nothing but row on row of garage doors. That's just a bad trip.

RichardS
25-04-2006, 01:47 PM
I would certainly not advocate filling in ravines or building longer than necessary bridges to accomodate straight roads, .

I sincerely hope that I did not convey that I supported filling in ravines...if that is the impression, I am sorry.

I meant to say that the correltation some people make is that nature is not bound by grids, why should we be in design.

LindseyT
25-04-2006, 02:18 PM
I understand that some people do prefer the slow pace of residential cul-de-sacs and cresents and I don't neccesarly disagree. I grew up playing street hockey with all the boys from my street and I question how possible it would have been with residential roads that are being used for short cuts between the perpendicular collector roads and street side parking.

However, the trend that I don't like is seeing collector roads take on an organic look. Most of the older suburbs, up until a decade ago, had a grid like pattern of collector streets (millwoods being the exception, but at least in that case there is a pattern). Look at the south side for example, 111st, 119st, 23 ave, 34 ave, etc. But now we are seeing places like Riverbend where these roads like Rabbit Hill and Riverbend Road twist and turn with no way to tell which direction you will go next.

Titanium48
25-04-2006, 02:22 PM
I sincerely hope that I did not convey that I supported filling in ravines...if that is the impression, I am sorry.

Sorry, I didn't mean to imply that. I just wanted to be clear that I'm not advocating such things either.

Nature is not bound by grids, but many things in nature have a simple yet highly ordered structure that makes them efficient. Streets need to be efficient as well, and the simplest pattern is the grid.

highlander
25-04-2006, 02:23 PM
I love the grid system, and I love theview down the middle of a perfectly straight street, with an arch of elms overhead.

If my street is typical, and I've seen no contrary evidence, there is no more traffic on grid streets than on 'millwoods' style roads, despite suburbanites fears of shortcutters. Because if the narrow width, drivers go slower down old-style streets than the newer kind.

The grid is actually what makes curves special.
In a grid, where there is an odd street (university ave) or a change in the grid angle, or a ravine/hill, or even a doubleblock for a school, there is a special place, a landmark, 'character' corners and lots, or a spot for a pocketpark.

In a completely curvilinear network, no curve or intersection is special, because planners decided that they all should be special.

LindseyT
25-04-2006, 02:23 PM
I understand that some people do prefer the slow pace of residential cul-de-sacs and cresents and I don't neccesarly disagree. I grew up playing street hockey with all the guys from my street and I question how possible it would have been with residential roads that are being used for short cuts between the perpendicular collector roads and street side parking.

However, the trend that I don't like is seeing collector roads take on an organic look. Most of the older suburbs, up until a decade ago, had a grid like pattern of collector streets (millwoods being the exception, but at least in that case there is a pattern). Look at the south side for example, 111st, 119st, 23 ave, 34 ave, etc. But now we are seeing places like Riverbend where these roads like Rabbit Hill and Riverbend Road twist and turn with no way to tell which direction you will go next.

CSR
25-04-2006, 08:07 PM
What recent studies ahve shown is that grid streets with sharp corners and lots of crossing intersections and on street parking actually slow residential traffic. People will drive more alert and cautiously, pedestrian accidents are lower.

When that breaks down is when too much traffic is funneled onto a road not big enough. This can happen because of poor planning leading to misalignment of roads or too many residents too far from the nearest arterial road, so the intervening residential road becomes a mini artery.

If the proper principles are followed, build in neighbourhood chunks no bigger than 16x16 blocks so those at the centre are no more than 8 blocks from the nearest main road. Make sure there are no through roads other than arterials from one neighbourhood to the other, and remember not all roads have to be through roads, even within the neighbourhood, and the grid system works fine.

However, the grid system, especially with boulevards, is more expensive for developers to build, with higher sidewalk, road and curbiing costs. It's easier to convince people they don't like the grid system ( when infact they do, they dislike bad grid systems ) than it is to convince them to pay more for a house, or to convince shareholders to accept a lower profit.

RichardS
25-04-2006, 09:31 PM
I grew up playing street hockey with all the boys from my street and I question how possible it would have been with residential roads that are being used for short cuts between the perpendicular collector roads and street side parking.

.

It is called a back alley....and the games there were vicious... :twisted:

ChrisD
26-04-2006, 12:15 PM
I understand that some people do prefer the slow pace of residential cul-de-sacs and cresents and I don't neccesarly disagree. I grew up playing street hockey with all the guys from my street and I question how possible it would have been with residential roads that are being used for short cuts between the perpendicular collector roads and street side parking.
There are many traffic calming devices/methods that can used to reduce shortcutting or discourage drivers from using those routes. Traffic circles, more frequent stop signs, hammerhead intersections, etc.

Titanium48
26-04-2006, 01:33 PM
Why would a grid based subdivision have higher road costs than a cul-de-sac and collector based one? Both are going to have inside corners where you have lots adjacent to more than one roadway. On a grid these can be minimised by using fewer cross streets (100m x 200m or 100m x 250m blocks instead of the traditional 100m x 160m).
Cul-de-sacs terminate in a large circle of asphalt and series of huge wedge shaped lots. Rearrange that circle into a straight road and the developer can sell twice as many lots, spreading costs among more buyers.
An abundance of roads that don't go anywhere funnels more traffic onto the long and winding collector roads, requiring them to be wider (higher land and construction costs) and devaluing lots along them. The more and longer collector roads that are needed, the greater the fraction of reduced-value lots that will be fronting on them.
As for boulevards, are grass and trees really more expensive than covering the area with gravel and asphalt?

Titanium48
26-04-2006, 01:40 PM
There are many traffic calming devices/methods that can used to reduce shortcutting or discourage drivers from using those routes. Traffic circles, more frequent stop signs, hammerhead intersections, etc.
Or just don't put down too much asphalt. A 9m wide road with cars parked along either side does a great job at keeping speeds down.

ChrisD
26-04-2006, 03:06 PM
There are many traffic calming devices/methods that can used to reduce shortcutting or discourage drivers from using those routes. Traffic circles, more frequent stop signs, hammerhead intersections, etc.
Or just don't put down too much asphalt. A 9m wide road with cars parked along either side does a great job at keeping speeds down.
Then lobby to change the roadway standards set by the municipality.

All public roads must be constructed to allow all types of vehicles from cars to garbage trucks.

lux
17-06-2006, 11:57 PM
What I find baffling is that the entire city is numbered based on a grid even though most of the streets no longer are built that way. What good is a grid... (and I will warn you now that this is a rhetorical question, to which if one were forced to answer, then one would answer "No good at all")...if the streets are not built on a grid? What is the use of having 9 completely unique unrelated disconnected roads all named with the same hundred-and-fifty-whatever street? Don't even get me started on streets like 9C or so on.

It is:
a) ugly, and
b) the most rediculous pretense
to name all of Edmonton's streets as though they are all part of an orderly grid.

Never too late to change the name of a bunch of our roads though!

KC
19-06-2006, 09:27 AM
Just some random points/thoughts:

- I love the grid system because it's intuitive and so represents intelligent design - it makes our lives efficient and our city very efficient. Fed Ex must love us. However, Whyte is also 82nd Avenue isn't it? Could we not have names for marketing purposes or wherever so desired but also have underlying grid numbers wherever possible? Maybe have streets, avenues and curvilinears.

- Cul de Sacs allow for more interesting lots and sizing. I love my outside-pie lot. I also understand that they minimize overall infrastructure. That may be wrong.

- Maybe postal codes (zip codes) which I believe were created to deal with the street kaos in most other cities, should also be nailed to our walls and listed under our 'named road' signs.

- GPS will soon eliminate a lot of the problems created by bad design (named roads, random street patterns, etc.)

Titanium48
19-06-2006, 02:24 PM
What good is a grid... (and I will warn you now that this is a rhetorical question, to which if one were forced to answer, then one would answer "No good at all")...if the streets are not built on a grid? What is the use of having 9 completely unique unrelated disconnected roads all named with the same hundred-and-fifty-whatever street?

Street numbers still tell you where you are and where you are going, even if you keep running into dead ends before you get there. I can find my way out of Millwoods eventually, but Riverbend scares me. Both are nightmares compared with the pre-WWII core though.

On an earlier point - ChrisD, many 9m and 10m wide roadways exist in mature neighborhoods and they do allow any legal-sized vehicle to pass through. Someone just needs to briefly pull over when they meet oncoming traffic.

ChrisD
22-06-2006, 11:12 PM
On an earlier point - ChrisD, many 9m and 10m wide roadways exist in mature neighborhoods and they do allow any legal-sized vehicle to pass through. Someone just needs to briefly pull over when they meet oncoming traffic.
These streets were built using different standards at that time. Much like our housing sizes and yard setbacks have changed over time, so has transportation standards.

I am not against reducing the width of streets in certain circumstances. Like you mentioned earlier, smaller rights-of-way with on-street parking does alot to reduce the speed of vehicles. It's a very effective way of reducing speeds imo.

gen1977
23-06-2006, 12:40 PM
When we were shopping for a house i didn't give a lot of thought to look in the "newer" areas built on hub systems (millwoods, etc) i wanted to have a numbered street / avenue and a back alley in an established neighbourhood ON a grid. ^_^