December 21, 2004

I like these notions...

Wired has a fascinating article on a new theory of traffic engineering...

...We drive on to another project Monderman designed, this one in the nearby village of Oosterwolde. What was once a conventional road junction with traffic lights has been turned into something resembling a public square that mixes cars, pedestrians, and cyclists. About 5,000 cars pass through the square each day, with no serious accidents since the redesign in 1999. "To my mind, there is one crucial test of a design such as this," Monderman says. "Here, I will show you."

With that, Monderman tucks his hands behind his back and begins to walk into the square - backward - straight into traffic, without being able to see oncoming vehicles. A stream of motorists, bicyclists, and pedestrians ease around him, instinctively yielding to a man with the courage of his convictions...

It's about getting rid of traffic signals, crosswalks, road-markers...all the stuff that tries to make traffic flow faster and keep it away from pedestrians. It turns out this can be safer—situations that seem dangerously ambiguous force drivers to think, to slow down, and to move with care.

...The old ways of traffic engineering - build it bigger, wider, faster - aren't going to disappear overnight. But one look at West Palm Beach suggests an evolution is under way. When the city of 82,000 went ahead with its plan to convert several wide thoroughfares into narrow two-way streets, traffic slowed so much that people felt it was safe to walk there. The increase in pedestrian traffic attracted new shops and apartment buildings. Property values along Clematis Street, one of the town's main drags, have more than doubled since it was reconfigured..(thanks to Orrin Judd).

I'm a very urban person, and intensely aware of how some streets are pleasant to walk along and have flourishing businesses and restaurants. And others aren't. And the difference has a lot to do with cars. Ocean Avenue, the commercial street in my neighborhood, has heavy traffic and has never flourished. Nearby West Portal Ave, which has slow-moving traffic, and isn't a thoroughfare you would take to get somewhere else, is the most pleasant shopping-street on this end of town. Reading the article makes me think about how people often cross West Portal in the middle of the block, and how it feels rather acceptable to so so, because it's a pedestrian-friendly street.

* Update: Here are some pictures of Oosterwald.

Posted by John Weidner at December 21, 2004 9:07 PM
Weblog by John Weidner