Creating Great Public Spaces


Project for Public Spaces

PPS has a radical idea – transportation can create great places, not destroy them.

Way to Go!
Three simple rules to make transportation a positive force in the public realm.

By David Burwell
Mae West famously summed up her philosophy of life in the words “too much of a good thing is wonderful!” That also appears to be our attitude towards transportation–especially our cars.

Project for Public Spaces has a radical idea–transportation can create great places, not destroy them. We see the vast amount of urban land dedicated to cars, traffic, and parking lots as a huge opportunity to create public spaces that serve community. Transportation can be the handmaiden of this transformation. But we must follow some simple rules. These include:

Rule One: Stop Planning for Speed 

 Speed kills sense of place. Cities and town centers are destinations, not raceways. Commerce needs traffic‐‐foot traffic. You can’t buy a dress from a car. Even foot traffic speeds up in the presence of fast‐moving cars. Access, not automobiles, should be the priority in city centers. Don’t ban cars, but remove the presumption in their favor. People first!

  Rule Two: Start Planning for Public Outcomes

The wide sidewalks and pedestrian-friendly crosswalks of the Champs Elysées in Paris are transportation improvements with a public benefit.

Cars were first introduced into cities as a public health measure–removing the dirt and filth of a transportation system based on raw horsepower, in the literal sense of the word. Cars also allowed us to separate people from the pollution of mills and factories, another public benefit. Great transportation, such as Grand Central Terminal, grand boulevards, cozy side streets, rail-trails, the wide sidewalks of the Champs Elysées, are transportation “improvements” that actually improve the public realm. Think public benefit, not just private convenience.

 Rule Three: Think of Transportation as Public Space

The wide sidewalks and pedestrian-friendly crosswalks of the Champs Elysées in Paris are transportation improvements with a public benefit.

Transportation is public space to be shared by pedestrians, bikes, transit, and cars.

Yes, the road, the parking lot, the transit terminal–these places can serve more than one mode (cars) and one purpose (movement). Sidewalks are the urban arterials of cities–make them wide, well lit, stylish and accommodating with benches, outdoor cafes and public art.

Roads can be shared spaces with pedestrian refuges, bike lanes, on-street parking etc. Parking lots can become public markets on weekends. Even major urbanarterials can be retrofitted to provide for dedicated bus lanes, well- designed busstops that serve as gathering places, and multi-modal facilities for bus rapidtransit or other forms of travel. Roads are places too!
Mae West was right in one sense–huge amounts of a good thing can be wonderful. It depends on what “good thing” means. Transportation–the process of going to aplace–can be wonderful if we rethink the idea of transportation itself. If weremember that transportation is the journey, but community is always our goal.


David Burwell is the director of PPS’s Transportation Program.