A closer look at “Measuring Sprawl”: Street connectivity in Trenton, NJ

trenton-njThe Trenton, NJ MSA has a strong legacy of transportation investment. Photo via Flickr.

Trenton, NJ, received high marks for compactness and connectivity in our recent report, Measuring Sprawl 2014, and stood out as number one overall in street accessibility, one of four key factors examined in the report. As Measuring Sprawl 2014 explores, a high rating for compactness and connectivity correlates to a rise in several quality of life factors, including greater economic mobility, lower combined spending on housing and transportation costs and greater options for the type of transportation to take.

How did Trenton build and sustain its accomplishments in street accessibility? And how can other cities learn from Trenton’s successes?

Factor in focus: Street Accessibility
Measuring Sprawl 2014 used four factors to evaluate development: density, land use mix, street connectivity and activity centering. Every major metro area in the country was evaluated on these factors, which were then combined to create a metro area’s overall Sprawl Index score.

One of the four factors is street accessibility, which is measured by combining a number of factors regarding a Metropolitan Statistical Area’s street network. The factors are average length of street block; average block size; percent of blocks that are urban in size; density of street intersections; and percent of four-way or more intersections, which serves as a measure of street connectivity. Together, those factors point to a city that is easy to navigate in any form of transportation.

Street Accessibility in Trenton, NJ
In Measuring Sprawl 2014, Trenton, NJ, had the highest score for street connectivity among all small- and medium-sized metro areas nationally. Those results were a key contributor towards the city’s overall ranking as the seventh-most connected metro area overall, ahead of many similar-sized areas including Burlington/South Burlington, VT and Boulder, CO.

Greater Trenton, comprising the historic city center of Trenton and a number of smaller cities surrounding it, has a long history of investing in transportation. As early as 1904, the New Jersey state legislature appropriated $2 million to improve roads while other states with similar programs spent far less. Since then, the character and layout of Trenton’s historic assets—its interconnected network of city and town centers and neighborhoods—have served as a foundation for reinvestment within the existing city grid.

Today, Trenton’s Transportation Master Plan focuses on maintaining the existing transportation network, using investments to support downtown and supporting multimodal options for all the neighborhoods. The metro area predominantly uses county bonds to maintain its road network and make improvements to its rail and bus service. The plan also places a high priority on key objectives to reach these goals, such as improving and maintaining the city’s transit infrastructure, encouraging transit-supportive land uses and avoiding increases in street capacity unless addressing a critical transportation problem.

Trenton’s commitment to investing in street connectivity has been a major contributor to its high ranking overall. Other communities interested in improving their scores can use Measuring Sprawl 2014’s four key factors as a guide, and policies like these from Trenton as a great model to follow. Read the full report to learn more.