The local government of a community controls the streets, which are its arteries. If they are adequate for present and prospective use they permit a free flow of the traffic, which is the community's life blood. If they are carelessly or inadequately laid out, they may, and frequently do, bring about serious and costly congestion.
A comprehensive plan furnishes a program for street changes and development, with the most urgent steps first on the list. It shows what land must be preserved for principal streets and how the opening of new streets will affect traffic elsewhere. It enables transportation companies and business men to place terminals and new buildings at strategic points, where the traffic can be efficiently handled. It aids in making parks and playgrounds accessible to those who want to use them.
A system of wide, well-arranged thoroughfares is basic to good city planning. They should lead from the central part of the city to outlying territory, and there should be belt streets affording direct travel between one section and another without passage through the central business district. Nothing preventable should be allowed to interfere with the choice of the best routes for the main arteries of travel. Without a city plan and the machinery to enforce it, a whole section of a city may be crippled, and inconveniences may be heaped on thousands of people for years to come, by a new residential development in which the blocks run the wrong way or the main streets are too narrow, or by the arbitrary location of a factory or a cemetery.
If some cities were permitted by the Federal Government to develop their harbors on the same principles that they use in developing their land, extension of piers and other obstructions would soon make their channels impassable. An automobile map of a modern city and its environs will disclose to anyone not already convinced by disturbing experiences the expensive delays now put upon both the passer-through and the town resident himself by a lack of wise foresight in planning in the past.
The determination of principal routes for present and prospective traffic permits a consistent scheme for city development to be laid out to accommodate industry, business, and residence. The streets and thoroughfares to be used most can then be improved easily within a few years by applying each year's appropriations for paving in the right places. Without planning, heavy traffic is often diverted to less direct routes, because of isolated sections of good or bad pavement, and such a diversion may break down the light pavements on streets that would normally be but little used.
Under modern conditions, a community may be approached by highway, by railroad, by watercourse, by airway, or by a combination of these four methods. Highway approaches are of enormous importance in these days of the automobile, and thought should be given as to whether roads shall lead only through the heart of the town or shall avoid congested districts by appropriate by-passes. Railroads are usually the basic means of contact between the city and the outside world. Their freight terminals, spurs, and sidings should be located and arranged for economical handling and trucking of the city's outgoing products, and of incoming food, merchandise, building materials, and raw products for industry. Passenger stations, or a single union station, if considered practicable, should be convenient and well served by local transit facilities. Property bordering the tracks should be well maintained and give a creditable impression of the community to passengers entering and leaving. Water approaches may be made effective in serving commerce, and where that is not practicable, may be made invaluable in serving the health and pride of the community. The air approach involves landing fields, which, if properly provided and located, may be of great advantage.