December 19, 2004

Surprise: Making Driving Seem More Dangerous Could Make It Safer

"Hans Monderman is a traffic engineer who hates traffic signs. Oh, he can put up with the well-placed speed limit placard or a dangerous curve warning on a major highway, but Monderman considers most signs to be not only annoying but downright dangerous. To him, they are an admission of failure, a sign - literally - that a road designer somewhere hasn't done his job," starts an intriguing profile in this month's Wired magazine.

"Monderman is one of the leaders of a new breed of traffic engineer - equal parts urban designer, social scientist, civil engineer, and psychologist. The approach is radically counterintuitive: Build roads that seem dangerous, and they'll be safer." One component of this idea is to trim back wide, superhighway-type road design and return to a more human scale.

In one Dutch village, "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." Thsoe on foot, bicycle and motor vehicle have shared the space without serious accident since 1999.

This trend is actually making its way across the Atlantic to a few select portions of the New World. "In the US, traffic engineers are beginning to rethink the dictum that the car is king and pedestrians are well advised to get the hell off the road. In West Palm Beach, Florida, planners have redesigned several major streets, removing traffic signals and turn lanes, narrowing the roadbed, and bringing people and cars into much closer contact. The result: slower traffic, fewer accidents, shorter trip times," the Wired article notes.

Narrowing the roadbed. Not exactly what we ended up with on Rte. 30, where recent construction has made the street even more offputting and threatening to non-motorized travelers.

1 comment:

  1. Waiting for the #9 at the intersection of inner-city, State Highways 26 and 217, I tried picturing a roundabout. The highways are 4-lane, the intersection a 4-way signal with signalled left turn lanes all around. Hwy 217 is 'used car mile', the intersection Fast Food Central, the bus lines busy, the surrounding neigborhoods hidden behind asphalt and Strip Mall-O-Rama. In other words, it's a pitiful looking place. Jammed traffic from all directions, commercial brickabrack. The topography is flat and the intersection would lose no historic or architecturally valuable structures.

    Hwy 26 was once proposed to become a 'cut' running beneath Hwy 217. The problem with a roundabout in this situation must be managing through- and turning traffic. That is, how is the right lane dedicated to perform all turns of direction? And, what is the rules for the Left Lane turns and through-travel?

    I'm thinking Roundabouts are more logical for low-volume intersections, where traffic can enter and exit mostly from a single right lane. Roundabouts are a hard-sell.