Those small Parisian streets are also cheaper

It’s no surprise that the small streets I blogged about Friday are cheaper than the huge streets we have in the U.S. But just to refresh, here’s a Parisian street and one from my neighborhood in Salt Lake City, side-by-side:

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Any person looking at these two spots will obviously know that the Salt Lake street costs more; it requires more asphalt, paint and labor to build and maintain. That’s basically the same point I made earlier this year after visiting Scotland, and I think it’s an important one. Americans often travel to Europe and find it charming, but I don’t think enough people connect that “charm” to real, economic differences.

But that’s not the only point I want to make here.

While the Salt Lake street is more expensive because it’s bigger, it’s also more expensive per capita because the surrounding area is less dense. That means my neighbors and I pay more for streets than our Parisian counterparts and we each have to shoulder a higher percentage of the overall cost because there are fewer of us.

The absolute cost and the relative burden are both higher.

This idea is similar to the point I made the other day: suburbs’ lower densities mean they will eventually have higher taxes to cover infrastructure costs. Fewer people means everyone pays more.

However in that post, I was just talking about low density. That’s one problem, but in many places in the U.S. it’s also coupled with this other issue of more infrastructure — e.g. bigger streets — to maintain.

This is the most fiscally irresponsible situation possible. It’s like going to the grocery store without enough money to buy the basics, then loading up your cart with piles and piles of extras. The math just won’t add up.

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6 comments

  1. Zionita

    Third West would better be compared to the Champs Elysées, than some small residential street. Why compare one of the largest streets in SLC with one of the smallest in Paris? A better comparison would be s street near 800 E and 100 S or one in the Avenues.

    • jimmycdii

      Paris has one massive stroad, while every single street in SLC is of comparable size. 300 West is also a neighborhood street, not a grand boulevard. Though it could be redesigned to become a boulevard, not every street in SLC could experience the same transformation; even in Paris there’s not that much demand for boulevards.

      In any case, the Champs Elysees is the main drag in Paris. The same is not true for 300 West, nor am I aware of any plans to make it into the main drag.

      Also, 300 West is hardly “one of the largest” streets in SLC. In fact, the right of ways are the same on most streets. Those that have been redesigned to be more pedestrian friendly — Main, Broadway, etc. — are exceptions. 200 South, 400 South, 500 South, etc. suffer from the same problems. As does State, much of 400 West, etc. These kinds of streets abound.

      In Paris, they do not. Even the spurs off of Champs are small by average American standards.

      The problem with this, as I’ve argued in my two most recent posts, is that it has negatively affects the surrounding areas. And is more expensive.

      • Zionita

        Third West is one of the larger streets, but not as large as the freeway on-and-off roads. Most of the city streets are only 1-2 lanes in each direction. Only 400 S, Third West, 500 and 600 South are multi-lane roads.

        The Champs-Elysées is not the only multi-lane road in Paris. There are other roads with 8-12 lanes.

        It’s disingenuous to compare a street in Paris that appears to be one lane wide with one of the widest streets in Salt Lake City.

      • Zionita

        I agree with you that SLC roads are much larger on average, but it’s not a fair comparison to show one of the very largest streets in SLC compared with a tiny alley of a street in Paris.

      • jimmycdii

        I would recommend looking at other posts on this blog. Just this week I compared the very street we’re discussing to a comparable part of Vancouver. It’s part of an ongoing project where I compare SLC streets to places all over the world. I can see how one post would seem odd, but really, I’m pulling streets from all over the place, trying to make the point that the disadvantages of streets like 300 West a both legion and serious.

        I like SLC and I’m not trying to needlessly criticize it. But I’m not concerned with fairness — if SLC wants to succeed I think it’s going to need to fix at least some of these streets. Maybe that won’t be 300 West, but you can’t have a pedestrian-friendly city when only two streets — Broadway and Main — are pedestrian friendly. SLC has some serious disadvantages that other cities (Paris, Vancouver) never had. That’s not fair either but we have to confront that reality head on if we’re going solve it. Saying, “other cities have similarly horrible places” doesn’t lead to any sort of fix or improvement. It sounds like an excuse to do nothing.

        The point, imo, is that of all the cities I have been to in various parts of the world, I can only think of one, Brasilia, that had a less walkable, less pleasant downtown. Some, like LA, have horrible overall infrastructure, but still have fairly pleasant areas. And even the worst European cities tend to do better than SLC. I make this point because as a resident of SLC and a person who likes Utah, I want to see it improve. The Rio Grande neighborhood has no pleasant streets west of 500 West. That’s not the recipe for revitalization, as I point out in my recent posts on Pioneer Park. 400 West near Pioneer Park is better than 300 West, for example, but it’s still too-wide and a far cry from anything I’ve ever seen in a successful neighborhood.

        So, I guess we’re going to have to agree to disagree about it being disingenuous; in Paris small streets vastly outnumber huge streets, while in SLC, the exact opposite is true.

        (To that point, at CNU earlier this year I talked to some of the bigger stars about SLC’s streets. They all praised Main, but basically shared my feelings that that was the only good street in downtown. One guy liked Broadway, but there was a fair amount of criticism for that too, which I didn’t entirely agree with.)

      • jimmycdii

        Something else just occurred to me. I’m assuming SLC wants to revitalize west downtown, based on what I’ve read, people I’ve talked to etc.

        I would love to compare the small streets in this neighborhood to those in Paris. That would probably be more fair and accurate.

        The problem is that there are none of those streets in that neighborhood. Literally, not a single one. So, there’s not really a way for me to compare similar streets. Every street in the Rio Grande neighborhood is a stroad, so that’s all I have to work with.

        The only solution, then would be to write the neighborhood off as inherently inferior. I’m not willing to do that.

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