This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Searching for a good definition of “human scale” with regard to street design, I came upon an unlikely source: an Oregon Dept. of Transportation document from 1999.  It’s a great reference about how to take the noisy dangerous highway that runs through your town and turn into a comfortable pedestrian-friendly main street.  One particular segment jumped out:


The idea of a bypass often comes up in discussions where there is heavy traffic on main street. It’s often seen as the one big solution to get through traffic out of downtown. However, in many cases traffic studies have shown that most of the trips on main street are local and may not be attracted to a bypass…

Bypasses are very expensive and generate much debate. The controversy that goes on while the community discusses a bypass may detract from other issues. If approved, people often think the problem will be solved and they don’t need to support other improvements to main street.

Also, if a bypass removes too much traffic, the economic vitality of the main street can suffer.

But of course it wasn’t all about why you shouldn’t build a tunnel.  They identify all kinds of good street design that is completely lacking on WA highways.  Starting on page 14 they talk about human scale, street ratios, and many other street design concepts that are really important for walkability.  They recommend 25mph speed limits in a main street area. 

Take a drive up Aurora from downtown – inside WA’s largest city – and you’ll see examples of everything ODOT recommends against.  Following Oregon’s laws this area would be a business district and have a speed limit of 20mph.  It would be designed for that speed  with a connected grid, no massive parking lots fronting streets, limited curb cuts, and appropriate street ratio.  I guess I’m just surprised because I had assumed every state’s road-building agency would be like WSDOT.  But it turns out even our closest neighbor has human scale figured out.