Urban street patterns form planar networks whose empirical properties cannot be accounted for by simple models such as regular grids or Voronoi tesselations. Striking statistical regularities across different cities have been recently empirically found, suggesting that a general and detail-independent mechanism may be in action. We propose a simple model based on a local optimization process combined with ideas previously proposed in studies of leaf pattern formation. The statistical properties of this model are in good agreement with the observed empirical patterns. Our results thus suggest that in the absence of a global design strategy, the evolution of many different transportation networks indeed follows a simple universal mechanism.