In October 2014, Toronto Public Health released Healthy Streets: Evidence Review, a report that examines the available health research related to complete street designs. TCAT was on the project team led by Urban Design 4 Health, Ltd. that prepared the report. TCAT’s role was to conduct jurisdictional interviews with 10 leading North American cities who are implementing complete streets.
There were several findings of note, one of which – the benefits of narrow lane widths – has received some recent media attention (1, 2, 3). The research team conducted an in-depth literature review on 25 design elements, including narrow lane widths, and found that while “wide lanes may provide safety benefits in rural areas, the opposite is found in urban areas.”
A review of engineering guidelines, in a recent briefing note titled Traffic Lane Width of 3.0 m in Urban Environments published by the National Collaborating Centre for Healthy Public Policy, found that narrow lanes in urban areas do not cause urban congestion as “the most recent conclusive data suggests that lane widths from 3.0 m to 3.9 m have no impact on the capacity of streets where traffic flow is interrupted by intersections…”
The practice of narrowing lane widths in cities and reallocating this space to improving pedestrian and cyclist safety is increasingly become accepted as standard practice (e.g. NACTO Urban Street Design Guidelines).