Perhaps more than the Historic Garrison District or the Loyalist Burial Ground, Fredericton’s roots as a British military townsite are reflected in the orderly grid pattern of streets that criss-cross the city’s core. Regent St, Smythe St (“Smyth St” and “Brick Kiln Rd” at the time), Waterloo Row and Woodstock Rd, and so on – all go back to a cookie-cutter town plan set out by military engineers here and elsewhere throughout the British Empire.
For centuries, Frederictonians grew up, played, commuted and shopped along grid streets like these. They would’ve been pretty easy to remember what was where, and to give directions. Getting around traffic jams (horse and buggy accidents?) would be relatively straightforward – just turn away and go down the next block. You could quickly find out and take short cuts – just zig-zag at the intersections. Planning expansions would be pretty predictable – just make the street longer.
It also lent well to making interesting streetscapes. Ceremonial sites or buildings like schools or City Hall could get landmark locations at corners or at the end of a roadway. The Burial Ground mid-block interrupting Carleton St (“Charleton St”) provided a dignified vista looking up and down the street. Regular placement of parks every few blocks ensured everyone had good, predictable access to commons in which to meet and play.
Newer developments, however, follow a more unpredictable plan. Fredericton’s neighbourhoods outside the original Town Plat favour patterns with crescents, bays and cul-de-sacs – or in road design-speak, warped parallels, loops and lollipops, or lollipops on a stick. Because these newer areas are planned and built by developers on privately-owned land, they want to make sure that more area is used for money-making homes, and less on unprofitable spaces like streets: while the Town Plat’s rectangular grid needs about 31% of the area for roads, loopy subdivisions use only about 27%.
These suburban plans focus on making car traffic faster: with grids come intersections, each of which forces cars to slow down and, at high volumes, congest into gridlock. Suburban plans design streets to feed into collector or arterial roads, wider and with few intersections so cars can drive faster. They also focus on privacy and making it harder to get to individual streets: while grids make it possible for cars (and pedestrians) to take short-cuts and pass any which way, suburban plans force drive-through traffic to one or two main roads, and limit traffic along smaller ones to only those cars actually going to/from points on that road.
In many of Fredericton’s new developments, however, using a non-grid suburban pattern can make getting around difficult. Connexions between subdivisions are often winding and complicated. For example, Crocket St in the city’s Northside, is a residential street with homes lining both sides of the road. But because it’s the only road connecting Cliffe St and Canada St as a route from Marysville towards the city centre, it carries a disproportionate amount of traffic, well over and above that of the residents who actually live there: according to the Capital City Traffic Study Update, 7 300 vehicles a day. (By comparison, Woodstock Rd, a major thoroughfare as provincial Route 102, carries 7 050; Clements Dr, as Route 105, carries 7 350.) Future developments off of Crocket St, in the usual suburban pattern, will increase the load.
What’s more, suburban plans, with their dead-end streets and limited options for routes, force pedestrians onto those busy arterial roads to get around – potential safety hazards for children walking to school, and discouraging strolls to a park, convenience store or work. By limiting the options for short-cutting, they also increase the distance pedestrians need to walk to get from any given point A to point B. It also makes it harder to adapt zoning to mix in amenities: commercial areas or parks tend to be segregated away from residential streets to those arterial roads. The winding roads also make it hard to provide fast bus routes, and slow down emergency vehicles rushing to respond within the neighbourhood.
A problem with conventional subdivision loop and curl street patterns is that they inhibit walking and are disorienting and confusing to pedestrians as well as to drivers. They provide tranquility, safety and security at the expense of connectivity. They control traffic well but often create bottlenecks at peak times in predictable spots. By the 1990s the problems of suburban sprawl were becoming evident and a new movement called “Smart Growth” evolved to promote the design of communities that are more compact, with a mix of land uses, well-connected streets and sidewalks, and public transit that would encourage a change in travel behaviour so that the residents would walk and bicycle more and drive less.
Source: Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation: The Fused Grid: A Neighbourhood and District Layout Model
One way to get the benefits of grid patterns – an open network of paths, able to mix amenities with residential areas, and shortened and simplified commuting – and suburban patterns – limited traffic on residential streets – is a pattern of quadrants, or a Fused Grid. There are blocks of crescents and cul-de-sacs like in the suburbs, but each has multiple access routes to an open grid of bigger streets that keep traffic moving, keeps amenity areas within a five-minute walking distance, and opens the potential for efficient, criss-crossing bus routes to the area.
Perhaps some of the problems with getting around Fredericton’s suburban neighbourhoods could be improved with elements of a fused grid network. If future roads and subdivisions were planned along these lines, our communities could be safer, easier to get around – by car, bus, on foot and by bike, whatever your fancy – and more adaptable to changing amenity needs like parks, schools and commercial areas.
The combination of continuous and discontinuous street grids:
- Optimizes the use of land for streets
- Secures tranquil and safe neighbourhoods
- Increases the potential for social interaction
- Optimizes infrastructure
- Assists district and regional traffic flow
- Encourages walking while positively discouraging short-distance driving
What do you think? How are the streets in your area? Do you always find yourself taking a long-way around, or do you have lots of short cuts to take? Is there only one road in and out of your area – and do you get traffic jams? What would make getting around your neighbourhood and to the rest of town easier?