People Centered Neighborhood Design

Traditional Vermont neighborhoods retain their real estate value and are desirable places to live and locate a business in part because cars take a back seat to people. The three most important people-centered design features of these neighborhoods are placement of garages behind the houses (sometimes with alleys or shared driveways), narrow streets with on-street parking to help slow traffic, and an integrated sidewalk network to make walking just as easy as (or easier than) driving.

In a commercial area designed for pedestrians, shops are near the sidewalk and they let shoppers know what they have by displaying their wares in the windows. By contrast, in a suburban highway strip, stores are at the back of parking lots, use large signs to let shoppers know what they have, and use predictable layouts that are the same in every town. These suburban strips feel very hostile and unsafe to pedestrians.

Your community can accommodate cars but not let them dominate the design of a community. Consider these techniques to achieve people-centered neighborhood design:

  • Maintain a connected street network instead of cul-de-sacs, loops and dead ends.
  • Use traffic calming measures to keep drivers from speeding through residential areas. These measures include islands in the middle of intersections, curb bump-outs at corners, curving streets, trees along the edge of the road, etc.
  • Require garages to be level with or behind the front façade of a house.
  • Require parking lots for commercial and civic buildings to be in the rear or to the side.
  • Allow on-street parking.
  • Keep streets narrow. Pedestrians should be able to comfortably cross a commercial street even if it means not putting in turn lanes. (One travel lane and one left turn lane in each direction can be accommodated, but right turn “slip lanes” are particularly discouraging for pedestrians.) Residential streets less than 30 ft. wide are usually fine. There is a common misperception that wider streets are safer, when actually narrower streets cause drivers to slow down, reducing the potential for accidents and injury.
  • Require sidewalks on at least one side of residential streets and both sides of commercial or mixed-use streets.
  • Use pedestrian/bike bridges and paths to provide alternative routes for non-motorized travel.