“The STROAD design — a street/road hybrid — is the futon of transportation alternatives. Where a futon is a piece of furniture that serves both as an uncomfortable couch and an uncomfortable bed, a STROAD moves cars at speeds too slow to get around efficiently but too fast to support productive private sector investment. The result is an expensive highway and a declining tax base.”
Marohn says he coined the term in 2011 to wake up the people who design America’s roads. “I really was writing it as a way to push back at the engineering profession and get my fellow engineers to think about the bizarre things they’re building,” says Marohn. That was why he initially wrote the word in that annoying all-cap style, which he eventually dropped. “I figured engineers would read it and wonder, what was it an acronym for?” he says, laughing.
While Marohn came up with the neologism partly in a spirit of fun, he considers stroads a deadly serious problem. Not only are they dangerous and aesthetically repugnant, he argues that they are economically destructive as well. They don’t provide the swift, efficient mobility that is the greatest economic benefit of a good road, and they simultaneously fail to deliver the enduring value of a good street — which fosters community, good architecture, and financial resilience at the lowest possible cost…
Instead, stroads create hideous, inefficient, and disposable environments that quickly lose value.
These are many of the four to six-lane commercial thoroughfares that dominate American cities, at least the less dense parts, and suburbs. These roads are lined fast food restaurants, big box stores, car dealers, gas stations, offices, and big signs that try to catch your attention as you drive by. One twist that I like here is the suggestion that this is not necessarily good for cars either because of all the traffic lights and congestion.
Two places where I have seen depictions of such stroads:
1. I recently showed the documentary Jesus Camp in class and the film features several scenes of such roads. The roads don’t look very attractive – lots of cars and signs – and they are sort of stand-ins for everyday Americana. It is one thing to see it in a film and another to realize that you drive past this every day. But, as the film suggests, America is filled with these scenes and they all kind of look similar.
2. James Howard Kuntsler, a well-known critic of sprawl, makes a note of such roads. In different contexts, he points out the absurdity of trying to be a pedestrian on such a road that is clearly meant for cars (imagine crossing all those lanes at a traffic light or walking through all of the drives in and out of business) as well as the trivial amount of “nature” that planners try to add in to make it all look better. All together, these roads just encourage sprawl.
What is the alternative to this? In a perfect world, perhaps it is connecting denser downtowns and neighborhoods with pedestrian friendly streets (nodes) with a system of faster roads or mass transit (connections between the nodes).