Strategic Design and Policy for Improving the Livability and Multi-modal Use of U.S. Urban Arterials and Commercial Highways

Michael Larice, University of Utah



NITC Project Type:  This project fits under two NITC project areas:  3.2 Research Projects and 3.4 Education Projects. 

Background:  The problem of urban arterial street development, design and livability is perhaps the most understudied aspect of contemporary urban transportation. Arterials have enabled miles and miles of parking lots, vehicle-oriented uses, and unattractive urbanism. These areas are resistant to most reparative planning and design techniques, save for cosmetic design guidelines and public street investments that induce minimal change. Real land use repair almost always focuses on large landholdings like former shopping malls, where small islands of urbanity can be created with great effort. Street alignment and design change is most usually associated with catalytic transportation projects that are high cost and long in evolution.  The sprawling, high traffic urban arterial is thus a class of urban problem without a ready solution.

Research Purpose: There are two aspects to this research proposal:  1. An urban design research studio that will involve graduate students (city planning and architecture) in researching case studies, classifying urban arterial types, and examining strategies for urban arterial redevelopment; and 2. Faculty research that will result in a book examining the problematic of the urban arterial / commercial highway - and strategies for catalytic change.    

The central focus of this research is to classify the multiple types of urban and suburban arterial by morphology and development type, to research and assess case examples of successful and unsuccessful attempts to modify this form, and to provide designers and planners a toolkit for realistic measures to attack this ubiquitous problem. The intention of this approach is to help increase multi-modal transportation and improve livability of those residents, uses, and properties adjacent to urban arterials.  The urban design studio will look at a variety of cases before examining a 19 mile stretch of commercial highway (State Street) that traverses several municipalities in the greater Salt Lake City region. State Street is an apt proxy for multiple urban arterial types that exist across the United States (dense urbanism, highway commercial, suburban residential, vehicular big box/fast food/car dealerships/strip malls, etc.  In addition to looking at how the street developed morphologically over time and space, we will also analyze a limited number of arterial streets which intersect with State Street, in order to broaden the analysis to other evolving types of arterial. In this method, we also compare these street sections to other places in the US, to verify that they have some validity outside of the study area. The classification examines traffic numbers, street configuration, land use, building types and size, lot sizes, and surrounding development types. The primary data sources are GIS maps provided by the municipalities and counties, historic maps and County recordings of property, aerial photos (contemporary ones in Google maps), and site investigations in person. This work is especially relevant toward developing methods of analysis and methods of reparation for problems of the commercial arterial; a very common problem in most US cities. The analytical techniques have applications for practice as well as education. 

Request for NITC Support:  In preparing and discussing this proposal, several matching fund partners have been identified with likely funding amounts determined.  These are:  The Utah Department of Transportation ($50,000), the Wasatch Front Regional Council ($10,000) and the municipality of Salt Lake City planning agency ($5,000), and potentially other municipalities along State Street, eg, South Salt Lake City, Midvale, Murray, Sandy, Draper.  Our proposal request to NITC is for $65,000.  The research will pay for Faculty and Student Travel, Research Assistants, conference presentations, mapping and documentation graphics (as well as university overheads).  

Project Leaders:  Michael Larice, PhD is an Associate Professor of Urban Design and City Planning at the University of Utah.  His research interests focus on high density urbanism, urban livability and streetscape design.  He has created urban design curricula and taught at the Universities of British Columbia, California-Berkeley, Pennsylvania and Utah.  He teaches urban form and theory, urban design methods, urban design case studies, and urban design studios.  Prof. Larice is a registered architect and has worked as a streetscape designer on several projects around the world.  He has previous grants that supported research on dense livable neighborhoods, Asian urbanism, and slum upgrading.

Brenda Case Scheer, AIA/AICP is the Dean of the University of Utah College of Architecture + Planning.  Dean Scheer has prioritized social and civic responsibility, with students and faculty heavily engaged in outreach and service learning programs, as well as new interdisciplinary activities. She is a registered architect and certified planner. She is a noted scholar, with multiple research grants and contracts. Her most recent book, The Evolution of Urban Form: Typology for Planners and Architects, was published in October 2010. Her research focuses on design and planning policy. The mission of her research is to provide theory and guidance to designers and policy makers who combat sprawl and protect significant places.

Project Details

Project Type:
Project Status:
End Date:
January 31,2014
UTC Grant Cycle:
Tier 1 Round 1
UTC Funding:

Other Products

  • Brenda Scheer: A Classification and Analysis of Urban and Suburban Arterial Development: Toward an Understanding of the Strip (PRESENTATION)
  • Michael Larice: The Challenge of the Urban Arterial (PRESENTATION)
  • Scheer, B. and Larice, M. 2013. A Classification and Analysis of Urban and Suburban Arterial Development: Toward an Understanding of the Strip. International Seminar on Urban Form. Delft, Netherlands. October 2012. (PUBLICATION)