Streets, roads, courts, avenues, boulevards—cities use these words to name a range of street types. But in transportation design, each one describes a very specific type of thoroughfare. In this Brief Look, we’ll see what makes a thoroughfare a multi-way boulevard and why they are great placemaking solutions.
The term “boulevard” is broadly used to describe a street or promenade planted with trees. For planners and engineers, however, a boulevard is also a highly valuable piece of roadway that can accommodate multiple users and types of movement within an urban design framework. We generally refer to this as a multi-way boulevard.
A multi-way boulevard contains three essential elements: central through lanes, parallel frontage lanes (coupled with an inviting pedestrian realm), and landscaped tree lawns (to buffer low speed users from through traffic). Beyond these core ideas, there can be a good deal of variety in the specific design, such as the location of transit and additional pedestrian or bicycle facilities.
One of the biggest challenges facing urban designers and traffic engineers is designing a roadway that accommodates the expectations of transportation officials while at the same time providing a safe, walkable environment that promotes pedestrian, bicycle, and transit uses. This is where the central through lanes provide the needed vehicular capacity, while frontage lanes create a calm, multi-use environment that lends itself to urban commercial and mixed-use development opportunities.
Multi-way boulevards come with many more benefits: they are aesthetically pleasing, accommodate on-street parking without interfering with through traffic, and create opportunities for buildings to interact with the sidewalk. Nonetheless, some challenges may exist in their application. Their higher cost and potential need for additional right-of-way must be acknowledged before design implementation can begin. Furthermore, a lack of existing engineering design standards means that only those with a strong understanding of roadway design can develop them.
From handling high volumes of traffic to providing fully functional pedestrian infrastructure, multi-way boulevards are a serious option for designing and redesigning large-scale thoroughfares in urbanizing areas.