Cities Skylines: All Roads Lead to Rome

In this series, I will be discussing Cities: Skylines. This discussion will be heavily influenced by Jane Jacobs’ The Death and Life of Great American Cities. Jacobs blames the automobile-centric planning of  the 1950’s for the decline of many American cities.

Being a fan of city sim games, you probably already know that Cities: Skylines truly is the successor to SimCity 4. CS is extremely accessible to new users but hides challenges of complexity within the pretty colors and details. Laying the foundations of trade and industry is incredibly important in a world that is interlinked by train and boat.

Sure, you can load up a new city and start laying down roads without thinking very much. It takes a bit more planning and insight to avoid gridlock. I’ve seen a lot of focus on making cities appear a certain way ie: avoiding grids. Proper planning, in not only layout, but also zoning helps to alleviate some of the grid stress. And, if you’ve played the game, you should know that using roundabouts in key areas can help. They can also cause traffic within an unplanned system. Using a short tunnel or an elevated roadway to avoid an intersection altogether while still providing an alternate higher capacity route allows for unimpeded point A to point B travel for cims.

I think of traffic as water and the roads as pipes. Allowing for proper throughput using appropriately placed traffic lights as well as roundabouts while utilizing one way streets can ensure flowing traffic in the most densely populated areas in a city. It’s essentially a system of gates and locks. It is also most efficient when bottlenecks are avoided and multiple outlets are created.

“Traffic congestion is caused by vehicles, not by people in themselves.”

I recently read that a city is only as great as its sidewalks. Approaching C:S with this perspective, I created fantastic bike paths and pedestrian thoroughfares where, in the past, I would have placed a highway. The result? High capacity sidewalk networks spanning the length of a city. Thousands of bicycles coming and going, stealing cars from the roads and opening up the most dense areas to breathe. Focusing on more realistic zoning patterns along with the building of vast sidewalk networks gives goods and services open lanes allowing dense commercial centers to climb higher and appear more realistic.

“You can’t rely on bringing people downtown, you have to put them there.”

Semi-closed systems and mixed zoning are great ways to avoid gridlock. Mini commercial/business centers at the heart of large residential areas keep neighborhoods local. Modern American cities in particular have suffered from their automobile centered design. In reality, some municipalities have begun deconstructing highway systems in favor of pedestrian friendly strips of parks or mixed use zoned neighborhoods where rivers of automobiles once ruled.

Recently, criticisms of I-70 lane expansions in Denver have further opened up the debate. One side sees the highway as a barrier, balkanizing neighborhoods and socio-economic status (the other side of the tracks). The other side seems to be a bit more pragmatic in its approach and sees the expansions as a way of alleviating traffic along major corridors.

My perspective is that the more highways or highway lanes you provide, the more people will use them. Creating more traffic, and adding to the problem. Designing cities for more local commutes makes them more sustainable in real life. In Cities: Skylines, time spent planning will repay in bunches. To say the least, it’s a much more complex issue in real-life but, in C:S tunnels/bridges or simply public transportation can be the answer. Express routes to jobs centers are especially useful.

“…the destructive effect of automobiles are much less a cause than a symptom of our incompetence at city building.”

Designing these systems with a point A to point B transport in mind can save headaches as your city develops. Using mass transit stations as hubs in central/high density areas of a city with transfer points branching out to where the jobs actually are is one fairly obvious strategy. Bus stops every other block for one route and express routes to far off destinations with park and ride style highway on/off ramps along the way. Each stop in close proximity to dense commercial districts. Basically, we’re talking about traditional regional and local routes.

It’s actually pretty simple in Cities:Skylines. Train stations and metro/subway stations can be surrounded by commercial zones and other attractions. Providing buses with transfer stops at the stations will help. So, try this strategy for more realistic cityscapes. You will see vast acres of low density residential zones dotted by high density, multi-story buildings.

More to come…

-Jane Jacobs, The Death and Life of Great American Cities