Posted by: bgtwindad | November 28, 2010

A Town Begins to Come Alive

Originally uploaded by BGTwinDad

Remember that Parvia stuff I was blogging about some time ago? Well, I haven’t forgotten about it, though I have been distracted and torn away from it for several reasons and excuses. I have been able to work on it a little bit from time to time – at least enough to begin putting together a small street scene…

Honestly, I think one of the problems is that I bought too much to start with. That’s a “me” thing, not a “Parvia” thing. But the generous allowance they gave me in exchange for a fair review turned out to provide quite a bit of product – so much that I’ve been a little overwhelmed and unsure just where to start.

In my railroad layout, I am getting dangerously close to being at a point where I cannot go forward without working on the town streets a little, so I have lately been eying these modular street pieces. I expect to be able to use them in some fashion to prototype out the town streets and get a feel for where things should go.

To that end, I took some measurements and built up some basic structures.  In the title picture above, you can see the basic elements… the street blocks are a pavement gray and come pre-painted with a dashed yellow center line.  There are also solid gray or brown pieces that can be used, as well as various curves, angles and intersections.  The street pieces also have sockets along the edges to which various types of sidewalks or borders can be added to complete the streets.  I have not made use of them yet, but details galore are also available – everything from street lamps to mailboxes, from bus stops to trees.

Typical Parvia Street Segment

Critical to using the street pieces in planning a town is how closely they match the intended scale width of the planned town streets.  The parts as given are 3-3/4″ (50 scale feet) wide, and 1-7/8″ (25 scale feet) long, equalling two by four of the basic Parvia “squares”.

The border pieces vary according to their design.  The grassy sidewalk segments shown here are 12 scale feet wide each – roughly a 4-foot sidewalk in between two 4-foot grass areas.  This leaves a net 26 scale feet for the street, or two 13-scale-foot lanes.

13 foot lanes sound generous, but this street is remarkably similar to the residential street my house is on, down to the width of the grass between the street and sidewalk.

The set also came with narrower “city sidewalk” borders, which gives a correspondingly broader street… with the sidwalks being just shy of 6 scale feet (13/32″) each, the street is 38 feet wide.  With some creative striping, this would allow for two 7-foot wide parking lanes and two 12 foot driving lanes in a downtown district.

How does this tie in to my railroad layout?  Well, I have a tight space for my town.  I had therefore planned for 1/4″ (42 scale inch) wide sidewalks, a single 8 foot parking lane, and two 10-foot driving lanes.  That works out to only 35 scale feet, 15 scale feet narrower than the Parvia street.

There’s an important lesson here for folks planning realistic towns – especially modern ones – on their layouts.  Streets are wider than you think.  And the things that go along with them to make them look truly real are even wider.  Yes, there are narrow lane-and-a-half country roads out there, where you hope you don’t meet someone coming the other way at the wrong time.  But most town and city streets are actually quite broad.

Failing to account for this in the layout design, or to work out adequate compromises leads to unrealistically crowded street scenes, where parking is nonexistent, cars barely have room to maneuver, sidewalks are nonsensically narrow, and Heaven help us if there is a fire or a delivery to be made!

I won’t be able to fit my town using the comfortably broad Parvia streets, but I can lay out the streets, allowing for the space difference.  They will come in quite handy for roughing in where the main road will flow and for visualizing the overall streetscape. And, I’ve added another item for my “To-Do” list.  I normally use an open source layout design software package called XTrackCAD.  I think a parameter file add-on for this package that provides the various Parvia street pieces to proper scale would be a handy way to help layout designers work proper-width streets into their designs.  Especially since XTrackCAD has no internal method of “flowing” streets.

And then, with a little luck, my kids and I will finally have the time to sit around the table and dream up our own version of Key West, Florida…




  1. Interesting post. I had to fudge my street dimensions to get what I wanted, but I agree with your observation….they really are a lot wider than we think! Good stuff!

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