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30 November 2010 @ 01:17 pm
built priorities  
One of my hugest peeves about the urban built environment, especially any area that has been substantially engineered in the last 50 years or so, is that its priorities are all wrong: we design for cars first and other uses a distant second. And we design for cars to go fast, even if we really want them to go slow. And then we throw up a speed limit sign and expect people to think that applies to them. This is stupid.

So, I'm happy to hear the same opinion from a civil engineer. One down ... an entire profession to go.
I'm feeling: aggravatedaggravated
pir on November 30th, 2010 06:30 pm (UTC)
It's been interesting to see the results of road designs that go completely against the standard assumptions. Take away the road furniture, barriers, etc, and it can get safer if done properly.

They recently finished taking out a lot of stuff and clearing up the intersection by Oxford Circus in London (the busiest shopping street in the world, as I understand) and it's helped a lot.

ruthless compassion: martini handsaroraborealis on November 30th, 2010 06:41 pm (UTC)
Oh, nice!

The other counterintuitive design that's coming into favor is called a woonerf, and it involves almost no infrastructural guidance for how people should use it -- it requires cars to slow way down, and everyone to negotiate their way through. Bad for a highway, but awesome for neighborhood streets!
veek on November 30th, 2010 06:51 pm (UTC)
*walks around saying woonerf! woonerf? WOONERF.*
ruthless compassion: laughteraroraborealis on November 30th, 2010 06:51 pm (UTC)
Right? I need to come up with more excuses to use that word.
(Deleted comment)
veek on November 30th, 2010 07:04 pm (UTC)
Woonerfs, or woonerven!
Kcatkcatalyst on November 30th, 2010 07:22 pm (UTC)
Huh! Ok, thank you for that word, and I can testify that woonerfs sound like an awesome idea and may be great for residents, but they're kind of terrifying if you're a pedestrian from out of town (and out of country), with small children, who's never heard of them.
ruthless compassion: martini handsaroraborealis on November 30th, 2010 07:32 pm (UTC)
Yeah, they're incredibly hard to "sell" to laypeople, because they fee terrifying. People are used to feeling safe, and that the built environment is caring for their safety (or they want it to, anyway), so the lack of guidance is scary. That's part of what makes woonerfs so safe, is that everyone is completely freaked out while traveling along/through one, at least until everyone's accustomed to the negotiations that make them work. But it's hard to sell people on the difference between feels safe and is safe.
Kcatkcatalyst on November 30th, 2010 07:43 pm (UTC)
Well, sure. But in my case, the problem wasn't the distinction between feeling and being safe-- I had no information on conventions or habits of drivers. Trying to read the street blind not only made me feel unsafe, but left me with no guide to what my risks were or how to mitigate them. Letting people figure it out may make everyone safer for the most part, but it does so at a cost for outsiders who lack experience in the unwritten conventions.
harimad on December 1st, 2010 03:45 am (UTC)
I've heard of this before. It's led me to look at every sign, posting, and street paint and ponder "Is this necessary?" I hate signs that, when it comes down to it, tell you to follow the law, such as poles-and-posters in the middle of crosswalks reading "Yield to pedestrians."
whynotkaywhynotkay on November 30th, 2010 06:56 pm (UTC)
I specifically bought my last car with the smaller engine size (there were two choices), because I already am in enough danger of exceeding the speed limit at all times and already accelerate faster than most of the cars on the freeway... why would I want a BIGGER engine? That's just asking for trouble.
drwexdrwex on December 1st, 2010 08:16 pm (UTC)
Interesting opinion
I've been watching the struggles around putting in things like speed humps (what is the proper name for those things anyway?) in places like Cambridge and lately around Tufts. I know ambulance drivers hate them, for one. I now wonder if the hump is someone's "to code" way of trying to undo some of this damage.
ruthless compassion: martini handsaroraborealis on December 1st, 2010 08:28 pm (UTC)
Re: Interesting opinion
Speed bumps are narrow -- about the width of a wheel -- and give a sort of "badump" feeling as you go over them. Speed tables are newly popular, and they tend to be the width of a crosswalk or a whole intersection.

Both are tools for something called traffic calming, which are infrastructure changes designed specifically to slow traffic through the built environment.

Other examples of traffic calming tools are narrowed lanes, adding curves to straight roads, adding vertical elements (like tress) along the sides of the road, and adding medians. There are lots of others, too, but they're all about giving drivers environmental cues to slow down.
drwexdrwex on December 1st, 2010 08:33 pm (UTC)
Re: Interesting opinion
Ah, speed tables. Got it. Thank you.

The comment about narrowing streets made me think of this: http://www.good.is/post/los-angeles-reimagined-with-narrow-streets/

I can't remember if I sent it to you before; I think I saw it in a Photoshop blog some time ago.
Shakespeare Fiendaerynne on December 2nd, 2010 09:15 pm (UTC)
Re: Interesting opinion
Although the interesting thing about speed bumps, at least, is that they generally cause drivers to slow down at the speed bump, but speed up between bumps. I don't know if speed tables have the same effect but my guess based on my instinctive reactions as a driver is yes.

It is much more effective to narrow the roads, put the sidewalks on the same level as the road surface (i.e. no curbs) and place center islands in the middle of intersections.