IF YOU THINK the only purpose of intersections is to move cars past each other, you solve problems like a plumber: with bigger pipes. But wide, barren streets full of traffic don’t make a livable city. One solution would be nothing. No lights, no curbs, no sidewalks—just colored pavers. It works. Accidents decline, traffic slows, and property values rise. “You’ll never do as good a job as two people using body language and eye contact,” says Sam Goater, a senior associate at the Project for Public Spaces. But don’t rip out the infrastructure just yet. Urban designers have a good set of tricks to turn a city intersection into something more like a plaza and less like a freeway interchange. Cars pass, people walk, bikers bike, and everyone’s lives flow more smoothly.
01: Self-Driving Vehicles
02: Traffic Sensors
Induction loop sensors detect the metal bulk of a car and talk to signal lights. They’ve been in use since the ’60s and are crucial to traffic flow.
04: Protected Bike Lanes
05: Bike Rails
Bike rails may be just a few metal tubes welded together, but for any cyclist who has waited on tiptoes for the light to change, they’re a welcome addition.
06: Bike Signals
A light timed for cyclists gives them just a few seconds’ head start, but that’s enough to get up to speed before traffic roars to life.
07: Speed Tables
Raising the crossing puts drivers at eye-height with pedestrians. “It makes it obvious that pedestrians rule,” says Steve Mouzon, an architect and urbanist.
By stopping all traffic at once, scramble crossings provide better separation of cars and people, allowing foot traffic to move in any direction—even diagonally—in relative safety.
By reclaiming street parking, parklets offer pedestrians a bit of respite that, when well designed, can feel like a swanky sidewalk café, Mouzon says.
“One thing traffic engineers try to get rid of as quickly as possible is street trees,” Mouzon says. Bad idea. For a walkable street on a hot day, the more trees, the better.
11: Dedicated Shelters
On many bus routes, shelters protect waiting riders from the elements. Boarding goes faster if fares are collected on the street, not on the bus.
12: Induction Charging
Overhead wires mar the streetscape and don’t give bus drivers much leeway. Chargers embedded in the pavement can juice up electric buses as they roll.
13: Cool Stations
Subway stops often feel like caves—which can be great! Stockholm embraces subterranean chic, leaving bedrock exposed at some stops.
14: Sidewalk Cafes
Cute eateries are the key to a great street. “There are few silver bullets in urbanism,” Mouzon says, “but this is one of them.”
15: Corner Stores
The best use for a corner is, well, a corner store—anything people visit once a week or more. Bonus points to proprietors who face displays to the street and stock them with enticing stuff. One winner? Wine.
16: Third Places
“Your first place is home. Your second is work. The third place can be a coffee shop or a pub,” Mouzon says. It gets people out on the sidewalks.
This feature was written by Tim De Chant and illustrations by Mike Lee. Originally appeared in Wired.