is narrower always better?

SB |

mc:t  2015.02.24


An international perspective on streets


One of the big takeaways that I got from my City Planning master’s program is that  wider multi-lane streets are bad… especially for pedestrians. And I definitely agree! They are scary, intimidating and down-right unnerving to cross. The worst part. Starting to cross a six-lane street when the signal says to and just when you get to the center of the street, the 14-second countdown begins. It’s as if you have 14 seconds until it is okay for a vehicle to ran you over! Planners’ aversion toward multi-lane streets and love for narrow streets is somewhat unilateral. Some streets in Calgary are without doubt intimidatingly large. But current international experience has made me realize that this anxiety is the lesser of two evils and allowed me develop a new found respect for wide streets.


macleod trail

Macleod Trail, Calgary


Ever so often, international travel brings us much needed perspective and I would like to share one of such with you. Recently I went back home to Ghana for vacation, and as would be expected, I fell back into old habits, partook in activities that were normal to me when I lived in this country, such as driving. I have held a Ghanaian driver’s license for the better part of 4 years, and as such it was only natural that I would have no qualms about getting into the driver’s seat. Little did I know that while living in Alberta, I had developed certain expectations of streets that simply did not characterize those in Ghana. What followed was the scariest 15 minute-drive of my life and very nearly required the use of a crowbar to pry my hands from the wheel once it was over! Why was this such a tense experience for me?

The answer is very simple. While one may be intimidated by large streets, extremely narrow streets, like the ones found in Ghana (two-way streets that are barely 6 meters wide), are not exactly a great alternative, being just as, and possibly more intimidating in the opposite direction. This experience caused me to think about Calgary’s wider streets and how they are infamous amongst planners. Is this aversion towards wide streets simply a sentiment born out of not knowing what else (and far worse) is out there? Is narrower truly better, or even safe in absolute terms?

ghana street

Kumasi, Ashanti Region, Ghana



From my experience in Ghana, I tend to prefer wider streets especially the relatively pedestrian-friendly ones in Calgary! While it is tense crossing these streets, every second walking along a Ghanaian street is a far more nerve-wracking experience which includes constantly checking over your shoulder to ensure that you don’t get run over by a passing vehicle. Several reasons coupled with the uncanny narrowness of the streets account for this. The absence of pedestrian consideration in street planning is one. If there are a hundred streets in Ghana, I would say only 20 of them have minimal elements that enhance pedestrian safety. While Calgary streets have sidewalks and crosswalks on literally every street, pedestrian lights that give cue to cross on almost every street, separate lanes for bicycles and bridges that give pedestrians access across larger streets, majority of the streets in Ghana cannot boast of any of these elements. And if jaywalking was as much of a crime in Ghana as it is in Calgary, 98% of Ghanaians would have had several fines to pay. Another reason is the almost absence of adherence to street regulations by drivers, cyclists and pedestrians. And even if you do get caught… well let’s just say it’s kind of easy to get out of situations like that.



Don’t get me wrong. I love my country and there are so many things that make it incredible and amazing but as far as street design and traffic regulations go, she can stand to learn quite a lot from Calgary. Obviously, street sizes in all places must have a healthy balance between the two extremities but I guess all I am trying to say is….things aren’t so bad in Calgary when it comes to streets!



Don’t believe me? Watch the video below.



Previous Article   Simon Says