This street, in San Jose, California, is 60 feet wide

The land underneath is worth $2.7 million—nearly $250,000 per house

No wonder housing is so expensive

In the United States, residential streets are typically 50 feet wide. That’s much wider than in most other countries. In Tokyo, for example, the average street in post-1990 development is just 16.4 feet wide.

Street widths are normally dictated by subdivision codes and local street design manuals. In Dallas County and the City of Dallas, for example, they specify a 50-foot right-of-way as the minimum for all residential streets.

In Maricopa County (the city of Phoenix, AZ), nearly two-thirds of residential streets are precisely 50 feet wide, as specified in local development standards and design guidelines.

In Cook County, the City of Chicago mandates a 66ft right-of-way—a historical anomaly that is based on the 66ft length of a surveyor’s chain.

Wide streets are not just a historical artefact. They are still mandated by subdivision codes today.

On low-volume residential streets, most of this width goes to waste.
A single lane can handle two-way traffic—a “yield street.”
And on-street parking is rarely fully occupied.

But the economic consequences are immense, especially in coastal counties and other places where housing is expensive and land is scarce. Wide streets reduce the amount of housing that can be built, and push up housing prices. At the extreme, the value of land under residential streets in Santa Clara County, home to the city of San Jose, amounts to $146,000 per unit.

In most residential subdivisions, there is little or no through traffic.
Narrow streets work successfully in San Francisco, Philadelphia—and many countries around the world.
So there is little reason to require a 50-foot right of way. Local governments might even ask—why regulate street width at all?

How wide are your streets? How much is the land worth?