Tajha Chappellet-Lanier here, recalling a night a few months ago when I went out to dinner on Lighthouse Avenue in New Monterey. I was probably a little grumpy about something else, but I decided to direct my ire at the roadway itself—and there was plenty to complain about. The drive to my destination felt crowded, and parking at the restaurant was tricky to squeeze into. Once I did manage to parallel park I had to wait several minutes until it was safe to open my car door and get out. A little early, I considered walking across the street to run a quick errand—it was right there!—but abandoned the idea when I realized it meant waiting for an elusive walk signal.
“What is going on with this road,” I ranted to my boyfriend over sushi. “Why are there four lanes of traffic? And parking?! And why does it take so long to cross the street on foot. Someone should do something about this!” At face value Lighthouse Avenue has many of the necessary accouterments to make me want to spend time there—restaurants, bars, shopping, etc.—and yet the roadway itself feels hostile. Having traveled along Lighthouse Avenue for much of my life, I suddenly felt like I was seeing design flaws—but I didn’t quite know how to talk about them.
A few days later, listening to a podcast before bed, I found my answer. An episode of the podcast 99 Percent Invisible introduced me to the concept of “stroads.” In short, the idea goes like this: In urban planning, streets and roads are two different things. A road is all about mobility—about getting people, usually traveling in cars, from point A to point B as quickly and efficiently as possible. A street, on the other hand, is a destination in and of itself that’s usually lined with businesses and features less (and slower) traffic. There’s no value distinction between the two—both serve their own important purposes.
A “stroad,” meanwhile, is a portmanteau developed by land use planner Charles Marohn to describe a roadway that has both the features of a street (businesses, places to go) and a road (long blocks, more permissive speed limits) and in trying to do everything it ends up as the worst of both worlds.
Suddenly, armed with this concept, my experience of Lighthouse made sense. “Babe,” I said, shaking my near-sleep boyfriend awake. “Lighthouse Avenue is a STROAD!”
Learning the difference between a street, a road and a stroad has helped me see the built environment differently. Like reporter Delaney Hall says in her 99PI story, “now that I know the word ‘stroad,’ I cannot stop seeing them everywhere. It’s like I have magic glasses on.” So for this week’s cover package, I shared those magic glasses with the rest of the Weekly staff and we went looking for examples of good streets, good roads and bad stroads all over Monterey County.
Staff Writer David Schmalz takes a look at how Seaside has invested in making a street out of Broadway Avenue, while Fremont, a former highway, remains a perfect example of a stroad. Rey Mashayekhi looks at the transformation of Main Street in Salinas, and Celia Jiménez explores how King City is revitalizing its downtown. Last to mention but certainly not least, Pam Marino compares and contrasts Monterey’s Alvarado Street with Lighthouse Avenue, and in doing so answers some of the questions I found myself asking that night at dinner.
This week, we share our magic glasses with you in order to take a look at some of Monterey County’s streets, roads and stroads and ask what’s going wrong—and what’s going right—in our urban design, and how the streetscape can impact downtowns in Monterey, Salinas, Seaside and King City.
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