The Stroad To Hell Is Paved With Good Intentions

Cars drive near the dangerous intersection of Flamingo Road and Pines Boulevard June 27, 2001 in Pembroke Pines, FL. According to State Farm Insurance Company 357 accidents have taken place at the site in the past two years. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Cars drive near the dangerous intersection of Flamingo Road and Pines Boulevard June 27, 2001 in Pembroke Pines, FL. According to State Farm Insurance Company 357 accidents have taken place at the site in the past two years. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Photo: Getty Images (Getty Images)

Please enjoy a new word for those non-places where you have a high-speed road that still has tons of turn-offs, businesses, and red lights like a street. It’s a stroad, and it’s just as bad for drivers as it is for the safety of everyone else.

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As an American, I am all too familiar with stroads. I just never had a good word for them until this video popped up on one of my feeds. It’s from a YouTube video uploaded by NotJustBikes, using the word from the group Strong Towns. Here’s the video, which spend the first half discussing what’s wrong with stroads:

Here’s how Strong Towns defines what a stroad is, a term it claims it coined in 2013, though I found it in use by the same group in 2011. Here’s Strong Towns now:

“Stroad” is a word we coined in 2013 to explain those dangerous, multi-laned thoroughfares you encounter in nearly every city, town and suburb in America. They’re what happens when a street — a place where people interact with businesses and residences and wealth is produced — gets combined with a road — a high-speed route between productive places.They are enormously expensive to build and, ultimately, financially unproductive. They’re also very dangerous. This video (revamped from an older version) explains the problem with stroads and how to solve it:

And here’s Strong Towns in 2011:

Americans do not understand the difference between a road and a street.

[...]

The value of a road is in the speed and efficiency that it provides for movement between places. Anything that is done that reduces the speed and efficiency of a road devalues that road. If we want to maximize the value of a road, we eliminate anything that reduces the speed and efficiency of travel.

The value of a street comes from its ability to support land use patterns that create capturable value. The street with the highest value is the one that creates the greatest amount of tax revenue with the least amount of public expense over multiple life cycles. If we want to maximize the value of a street, we design it in such a way that it supports an adjacent development pattern that is financially resilient, architecturally timeless and socially enduring.

[...]

In the United States, we’ve built a 45 mile per hour world for ourselves. It is truly the worst of all possible approaches. Our neighborhoods are filled with STROADS (a street/road hybrid) that spread investment out horizontally, making it extremely difficult to capture the amount of value necessary for the public to sustain the transportation systems that serve them.

The thing about stroads is that we have proven that they’re bad. Look at what happened during the Covid shutdowns of 2020: traffic fatalities went up by huge amounts even though fewer cars were on the roads.

It’s clear that the only thing keeping us from crashing into each other was traffic jams themselves. Once we got a chance to actually drive freely on our Covid-emptied stroads — too wide, too fast, too close to driveways and sidewalks and businesses — we started killing people at record rates.

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If the first half of the video lays out what’s wrong with combining the high-speed infrastructure of a road with the low-speed requirements of a street, the second half details what it looks like when you separate the two. It spends a lot of time in the Netherlands, where high-speed car traffic is kept away from people walking, biking, shopping, or whatever else. This is because in the Netherlands, well, it’s pretty flat and easy to get around by bike, but also because the government regulates that thoroughfares either get to be roads or streets but not both. Either cars are going fast and people aren’t around to get hit by them, or people are around doing whatever it is they’re doing and cars have to go slow.

Not Just Bikes explains that even in the Netherlands this hasn’t always been the case. These regulations are a pretty new development — only three decades old. Something like this might not happen immediately in America, but it’s something that we could start to implement.

Raphael Orlove is features editor for Jalopnik.

DISCUSSION

seancurry
Dake

It seems like a natural evolution (though it does suck). This is all of Houston to a tee thanks to no zoning laws in Texas.

Numerous roads were built decades ago. People move outward, the suburbs grow and the roads are widened because of commuter traffic. Then because there’s traffic, business start opening. Because businesses start opening, more housing is added and more lights and more traffic until it’s jammed. Then the whole thing moves out another layer to the next road and starts over.