Capital of the Czech Republic, Prague is a beautiful European city that has become one of the world’s most visited cities. Prague has a well preserved historic Medieval center with tight alleys, limited automobile traffic and human scale architecture. Beyond the city’s oldest quarters, however, the city continues to be a walker’s paradise. With an efficient public transit system, great architecture and safe street design, Prague is a city worth looking at when talking about streets designed safely for everyone. In the United States, this concept is called ‘complete streets.‘
Building heights in Prague are low by American downtown standards, but European cities like Prague still maintain some of the world’s highest population densities. Overall, European cities have much higher population densities than their American counterparts. Higher population densities can create more moments for interaction amongst city dwellers which in turn can create a more robust and dynamic city.
With a city core that dates back hundreds of years, Prague’s inner neighborhoods of Old Town (Staré Město) feature many streets that have limited traffic for automobiles (“shared streets”) or are complete auto-free zones. Limited automobile traffic has numerous benefits, but it also has its constraints.
Particularly in cities with many pedestrians, auto-free streets can be a way to alleviate pedestrian congestion on sidewalks. Auto-free streets direct traffic to more direct roadways, alleviating inner city congestion, where streets are usually narrower. This in turn, however, may create greater congestion on other roadways and may require drivers to park further away from their destination.
When you think of a boulevard median, you probably think some trees and grass. Prague’s Wenceslas Square (Václavské náměstí) is a wide boulevard with an equally wide median. We don’t often think as medians as opportunities for public gathering, but they are public space and why not use them for gathering? That is exactly what Wenceslas Square does.
In Miami, an almost identical boulevard dissects its Downtown- Biscayne Boulevard. Biscayne Boulevard has very wide medians. So wide that they have rows and rows of parking. If we converted this parking into public plazas, Downtown Miami could have a public gathering space that it so lacks. Prague’s Wenceslas Square serves as an inspiration on how to convert Biscayne Boulevard.
In the United States, streets are often view by transportation departments as untouchable streets for cars only. If designed properly, streets can serve not just cars but pedestrians, bicyclists, buses and even trains too! In Prague, trams share the road with all of these and in most cases the street is much narrower than a similar street in the United States.
Many American cities have starting re-opening streetcar lines decades after they wer shut down. Resistance sometimes arises when residents hear a lane of traffic may be taken away to put up a train. A change in mindset in how we see roads could allow us to better utilize our streets in the future. Prague provides a great example of a city that has great streets which makes it an enjoyable city to get around and live in.