Street Reclaiming

Encouraging Community Interaction on Neighborhood Streets


TDM Encyclopedia

Victoria Transport Policy Institute


Updated 17 April 2015

This chapter discusses ways to change the way neighborhood streets are perceived and used to favor more efficient transport.



Street Reclaiming is a process for increasing the social, cultural, recreational and economic activity in neighborhood streets. It is intended to change way that people think about and use public streets to encourage interaction and increase residents’ involvement in their community. It involves reducing vehicle traffic volumes and speeds, Streetscaping, Complete Streets, Reallocating Road Space, and creating more attractive street environments. This concept is described in Engwicht (1999), City Repair (2003) and the report Reclaiming City Streets For People: Chaos Or Quality Of Life? (EC 2009), and reflects the recommendations of other urban planners for creating more pedestrian-friendly, socially active streets (Jacobs, 1961; Appleyard, 1989; Lennard and Lennard, 1995). It incorporates aspects of Traffic Calming, New Urbanism and Vehicle Use Restrictions, with emphasis on community-based decision-making by residents, rather than conventional “top-down” planning organized by professionals and government agencies.


Street Reclaiming is based on the assumption that each community resident must take responsibility for their contribution toward traffic problems by reducing car use and speeds in their own and other neighborhoods. Street Reclaiming activities include:


·         Creating street- and block-scale organizations and events, such as neighborhood organizations, parties and festivals.


·         Incorporating design features that encourage community interaction into sidewalk areas and front lawn, including benches, art displays, and planters.


·         Physically reclaim streetspace by changing materials (e.g., from asphalt to brick), creating gateways, installing street furniture, artwork, holding markets and fairs, and implementing traffic calming design features.


·         Psychologically reclaim streetspace, by engaging in social and recreational activities along and within streets, to encourage residents and visitors to consider it an outdoor living space. This includes painting the road surface, banners overhead, landscaping and banners on the side of the road, seating, etc.


·         Creating local activity centers, including pocket parks, bus shelters and corner stores.


·         A commitment by residents to reduce their car use and speeds.


·         Traffic Reduction and exchange of treaties – setting up sister-relationships with other streets in the city with exchange of agreements to put less traffic in each other’s neighbourhood.


·         Promoting specific techniques that residents can use to reduce their car use.


·         Improving neighborhood services and alternative travel options.


·         Traffic Calming and traffic Speed Reduction programs.



How It Is Implemented

Street Reclaiming is usually initiated by local residents or a neighborhood association. Some physical changes are implemented by local governments.



Travel Impacts

A major objective of Street Reclaiming is to reduce total automobile use. Engwicht suggests that personal travel reductions of 30-50% are possible among residents committed to Street Reclaiming principles. Because the concept of Street Reclaiming is new, there is little empirical experience to determine whether such travel impacts are feasible and durable, and what factors determine effectiveness.


Table 1          Travel Impact Summary

Travel Impact



Reduces total traffic.


Can reduce per capita vehicle travel.

Reduces peak period traffic.



Shifts peak to off-peak periods.



Shifts automobile travel to alternative modes.


Encourages residents to use alternative modes.

Improves access, reduces the need for travel.


Supports higher-density land use.

Increased ridesharing.


Encourages use of alternative modes.

Increased public transit.


Encourages use of alternative modes.

Increased cycling.


Encourages alternative modes and improves cycling environments.

Increased walking.


Encourages alternative modes and improves walking environments.

Increased Telework.


Encourages use of alternative modes.

Reduced freight traffic.



Rating from 3 (very beneficial) to –3 (very harmful). A 0 indicates no impact or mixed impacts.



Benefits and Costs

Street Reclaiming helps achieve virtually all TDM objectives. It reduces motor vehicle traffic volumes and speeds, and therefore reduces road and parking facility requirements, provides consumer savings, and increases roadway safety. It can increase travel choice (especially nonmotorized transport), and encourages local services within neighborhoods. It supports urban infill and therefore more efficient land use. These can make neighborhoods more Livable and improve Public Health by reducing traffic, improving street environments and encouraging community interaction.


It is uncertain how durable these TDM benefits are over the long run (for example, whether Street Reclaiming programs continue after organizers leave a neighborhood), and to what degree they spill over to other geographic areas (for example, whether residents will reduce their driving and speeds on streets outside of their neighborhood).


Engwicht emphasizes the psychological, social and cultural benefits of creating more pedestrian-oriented street environments that encourage cooperation and interaction among residents, and give vulnerable people (children, elderly, handicapped, low income) greater mobility and opportunity. He argues that this can result in more creativity, enjoyment, health, and economic security within a community.


Street Reclaiming programs rely primarily on residents’ efforts and behavior changes. Costs include planning and construction for changes in street design, and reduced mobility for motorists (although this is voluntary, so the cost may be minimal).


Table 2          Benefit Summary




Congestion Reduction


Reduces automobile use.

Road & Parking Savings


Reduces traffic. May require street improvements.

Consumer Savings


Reduces automobile use and increases travel alternatives.

Transport Choice


Increases travel choice, especially nonmotorized modes.

Road Safety


Reduces traffic volumes and speeds.

Environmental Protection


Reduces vehicle travel and improves urban environments.

Efficient Land Use


Reduces automobile use, improves urban neighborhoods.

Community Livability


Reduces traffic, and encourages community development and interaction.

Rating from 3 (very beneficial) to –3 (very harmful). A 0 indicates no impact or mixed impacts.



Equity Impacts

Street Reclaiming has a variety of equity impacts. Generally, it benefits street residents and people who value nonmotorized transport benefit most, while people who want to drive fast through a neighborhood are worst off. It tends to reduce the external costs of motor vehicle traffic such as congestion, accident risk, noise and air pollution. It tends to benefit people who are economically, physically or socially disadvantaged, since they rely more on nonmotorized and are particularly vulnerable to traffic impacts.


Table 3          Equity Summary




Treats everybody equally.


Mixed impacts. Is largely voluntary.

Individuals bear the costs they impose.


Reduces automobile externalities.

Progressive with respect to income.


Generally, benefits alternative travel.

Benefits transportation disadvantaged.


Benefits non-drivers.

Improves basic mobility.


Reduces lower-value vehicle trips.

Rating from 3 (very beneficial) to –3 (very harmful). A 0 indicates no impact or mixed impacts.




Street Reclaiming is most appropriate in neighborhoods where residents and businesses want to change their streetscape and their travel habits. It is implemented primarily by neighborhood associations, but may also involve local planners and businesses.


Table 4          Application Summary





Large urban region.


Federal government.


High-density, urban.


State/provincial government.


Medium-density, urban/suburban.


Regional government.




Municipal/local government.


Low-density, rural.


Business Associations/TMA.


Commercial center.


Individual business.


Residential neighborhood.




Resort/recreation area.


Neighborhood association.






Ratings range from 0 (not appropriate) to 3 (very appropriate).




Incentive to Reduce Driving



Relationships With Other TDM Strategies

Street Reclaiming includes aspects of Traffic Calming, Pedestrian and Cycling Improvements, Streetscaping, Complete Streets, Road Space Reallocation, Smart Growth and Parking Management. It supports and is supported by most other TDM strategies.




Street Reclaiming requires the support and initiative of residents on a street, and some activities require support from local officials.



Barriers To Implementation

Barriers include rigid zoning and traffic regulations, resistance from some residents, and lack of funding.



Best Practices

Engwicht (1999) describes Street Reclaiming activities. He recommends:

·         Residents should lead the planning process.

·         The planning process should encourage community interaction and creativity.

·         All aspects of street uses (transportation, aesthetics, social interactions) should be considered in street design and management.

·         Street design and management should encourage community interaction.

·         Street reclaiming should encourage people to take more responsibility and control of their streets.



Wit and Humor

Don’t be afraid to try something new. Remember, amateurs built the ark. Professionals built the Titanic.



Examples and Case Studies

European Pedestrianized Streets (Beatley, 2000)

Many European cities have become increasingly pedestrianized, woonerf residential streets (in Dutch, woon means “residential” and erf means “yard) where vehicles traffic is slowed to walking speeds. In the United Kingdom they are called “Home Zones.” There are now an estimated 6,000 woonerf in the Netherlands and an increasing number of British residential areas are implementing Home Zone programs, including traffic calming, low vehicle speeds, and pedestrian improvements.



Community Planning Charrettes (

The organization Walkable Communities has participated in dozens of community planning charrettes, in which residents and experts work together to design and organize roadway improvements, many of which include Traffic Calming.



PARK(ing) Day ( and

On PARK(ing) Day people transform parking spots into small parks. PARK(ing) Day seeks to create awareness about the need for more open spaces in cities and challenge the way people think about how streets are used. These places where cars would sit all day became active places of recreation, interaction and play. PARK(ing) Day seeks to create awareness about the need for more open spaces in cities and challenge the way people think about how streets are used. 



Living Streets Initiative (

Living Streets turn public roads into quality environments that encourage walking, cycling and social interaction. The UK the Pedestrians Association is sponsoring a Living Streets initiative with a 10-point plan detailing ways the government and local authorities can make streets more pleasant.


Living Streets give priority to pedestrians and cyclists, and create safe places for people to walk, cycle, play and meet friends. Cars and other motor vehicles are not excluded but the street is designed to make drivers aware that they are driving in an area where pedestrians and other users have priority. A Living Street encourages better driving behaviour and discourages heavy trucks and through traffic. Any street that is not a motorway or expressway can become a living street.


As part of the scheme, residents who have their streets developed as Living Streets sign a Community Contract declaring that if their street becomes a living street they will consciously reduce their speed in other residential streets.



References And Resources For More Information


Christopher Alexander, et al (1977), A Pattern Language, Oxford University Press (New York).


Donald Appleyard (1981), Livable Streets, University of California Press (Berkeley).


Timothy Beatley (2000), Green Urbanism; Learning from European Cities, Island Press (


Dan Burden (1999), Street Design Guidelines for Healthy Neighborhoods, Center for Livable Communities, Local Government Commission (Sacramento;


Stephen Burrington and Veronika Thiebach (1995), Take Back Your Streets; How to Protect Communities from Asphalt and Traffic, Conservation Law Foundation ( Guide provides justifications and information on implementing traffic calming.


City Repair (2003), Placemaking Guidebook, City Repair Project (


DfT (2011), Shared Space, Local Transport Note 1/11, Department For Transport (; at


EC (2009), Reclaiming City Streets For People: Chaos Or Quality Of Life?, European Commission Directorate-General For The Environment (; at


David Engwicht (1999), Street Reclaiming; Creating Livable Streets and Vibrant Communities, New Society Publishers (, available through Detour Publications (; summarized at


Reid Ewing (1999), Traffic Calming; State of the Practice, FHWA and ITE (available free at


Jane Jacobs (1961), The Death and Life of the Great American Cities, Random House (New York).


Todd Litman (1999), Traffic Calming Costs, Benefits and Equity Impacts, VTPI ( Report details various costs and benefits of traffic calming.


Living Streets Initiative ( is a campaign to create streets that give priority to walking, cycling and play.


City of Portland ( provides excellent information and materials on traffic calming and pedestrian planning.


Project for Public Spaces ( provides information on “placemaking” and community redevelopment techniques.


PTI, Slow Down You’re Going Too Fast, Public Technology Incorporated ( Good introduction to traffic calming available on-line.


Seattle (1996), Making Streets that Work, City of Seattle ( Handbook for residents describes how to request various street improvements, including traffic calming.


Shared Spaces (, by the Auckland Council.


Walkable Communities ( helps create people-oriented environments.

This Encyclopedia is produced by the Victoria Transport Policy Institute to help improve understanding of Transportation Demand Management. It is an ongoing project. Please send us your comments and suggestions for improvement.




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