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Does the livability of a residential street depend on the characteristics of the neighboring street network?
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Does the livability of a residential street depend on the characteristics of the neighboring street network?
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    Shortly after the advent of cars, a conflict arose between moving traffic and residential livability. The typical response was to push traffic off residential streets and onto nearby major roads. This line of thinking evolved into a more hierarchical approach to street network design and what are known as arterial roads designed to carry the vast majority of vehicle traffic. With many researchers – notably Donald Appleyard with his influential Livable Streets research strand – identifying traffic on residential streets as an underlying issue behind poor livability, this solution makes perfect sense. However, is the relationship between residential livability and traffic moderated by the character of the nearby arterial road? In other words, would living near a big, bad arterial road offset the livability benefits of living on a light traffic street? Alternatively, would residing near a more “livable” arterial neutralize some of the problems associated with living on a heavy traffic street? This first part of this project sought to answer these research questions via a residential study of 10 Denver, CO, neighborhoods where we first selected 10 urban arterials that could be partitioned along two dimensions: high/low traffic and high/low design quality. Within each of the 10 surrounding neighborhoods, we selected comparable residential roads to fit Appleyard’s heavy, moderate, and light traffic descriptions where we then surveyed 721 respondents living along these 30 residential streets. Our results suggest that the surrounding street network – and in particular the character of the nearby arterial road – influences residential livability across a number of livability measures. When controlling for income, high levels of traffic as well as low levels of urban design on the arterial both detract from the livability of those living in the surrounding neighborhoods. Some results even suggest that residential streets with heavy traffic near a low traffic/high design arterial are just as livable, if not more so, than residential streets with light traffic near a high traffic/low design arterial. By no means should this be taken as a call to increase traffic on residential streets; rather, planners and engineers looking to promote residential livability need to begin taking a broader, network perspective to understanding livability. Livable residential streets can only be part of the solution; we also need more livable arterial roads. The second part of the project examined: i) how residents perceive and use arterial roads, and ii) what specific characteristics of arterial roads associate with residential satisfaction. Using factor analysis and ordinal logistic regression, the results suggest that arterials perceived as being vibrant are associated with increased residential satisfaction – above and beyond other features of the residential environment – whereas arterials with perceived illicit activity and trash are associated with lower residential satisfaction. Our study includes three different measures of residential satisfaction, and the specific influence of the arterial road depends on whether one focuses more narrowly on satisfaction with the neighborhood street, satisfaction with the neighborhood, or overall sense of happiness living there. The results of this study point to land use policies, enforcement of social norms, and the design of pedestrian and transit environments as measures to maximize the contributions of commercial arterials to neighborhood livability. The appendices include additional details on the survey and survey methodology as well as examples of how these issues were integrated into assignments for graduate level civil engineering and urban planning classes.
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