The Role of Corridors in our Communities

Corridors serve many purposes in communities. They allow for different modes of transportation to operate safely and efficiently. They provide centralized locations for local businesses. They offer the opportunity for creating and reinforcing a community’s character through design. And recently, they’ve also become a focal point for advocates of healthy lifestyles.

Street corridors are vital for transportation. They help drivers visualize local transportation grids. City planners are increasingly trying to use these corridors to provide transportation alternatives as well. The City of Los Angles and the Los Angeles chapter of the Urban Land Institute have begun implementation and research efforts to encourage transit corridors. In recent history, attempts to expand and encourage use of transit systems have focused on stations and their immediate surroundings. By expanding the scope to focus on corridors, the City of Los Angeles hopes to increase the potential beneficiaries, and therefore to increase the supporters, of an enhanced transit network.

Corridors specializing in commercial activity have long been a hallmark of cities. The idea of a long thoroughfare along which one could walk and shop provided the basis for the idea of the shopping mall. While many shopping malls are becoming close to deserted, some cities are returning to corridors as an economic development strategy. San Francisco, for example, has started an initiative called “Invest in Neighborhoods,” through which city planners identified 25 neighborhood corridors for which they would like to prioritize programs and resources in order to support existing businesses, improve physical conditions, and increase the local quality of life and community capacity.

In connection with corridors’ roles in transportation and commerce, they can set the tone for a unified community character based on design. Through elements such as a continuous street front and uniform building heights and styles, the built environment along a corridor can provide that corridor with its identifiable appearance. This is true not just for major metropolises like Los Angeles and San Francisco, but applies equally to small towns. The National Main Street Center leverages a national scale of operations to help small communities preserve the unique character of their main streets, which can also serve as a tool for economic development and community pride.

A more recent trend involves focusing on how to design corridors in ways that encourage healthy lifestyles. The Urban Land Institute is forming a working group to identify best practices for developing healthy corridors throughout the United States and will provide three communities with support and advice on how to reinvigorate their commercial corridors in ways that promote healthy activity.

One corridor that exemplifies the roles identified above is 4th Street in Santa Ana between Lacy and Ross Streets. This corridor, pictured in the photograph above, is near and dear to RSG’s heart since our office is located therein. The corridor provides transportation for cars, pedestrians, and bicyclists, and it could serve as part of a planned streetcar route. Many small businesses in Santa Ana have their start in this corridor. The corridor also features many buildings reminiscent in their design of the city during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and the overall design of the buildings along the street creates a unified character for the area. A mixture of residential, office, and retail uses, along with centralized parking garages, the small size of the street, the large sidewalk, and slow traffic make it easier for people to utilize active modes of transportation while in the area.

In all of these ways and more, corridors contribute significantly to our communities. What are some of your favorite corridors? Which corridors do you feel could be easily improved to benefit your community most?

Written by Dima Galkin who is an Analyst at RSG.