By Dom Nozzi
Design for motor vehicle transportation is a zero-sum game.
Almost inevitably, when conditions for cars are “improved” (“speeded up,” “made more efficient,”, etc.), conditions for all other forms of travel (bike, pedestrian, transit) are degraded. As a town planner in Florida for the past 20 years (where “growth management” is essentially a code word for ensuring that new development does not delay or slow down cars), “access management” was touted strongly — to the detriment of pedestrians, bicyclists, transit users and overall quality of life.
To reverse this ruinous, counterproductive model, the first task for a planner or designer seeking to determine appropriate design is to begin by determining where in the community the design will occur (so that the design is “context sensitive”).
One must know if the street is located in a suburban or drivable part of the community, or town center (walkable) location. If the former, access management tends to be appropriate, as the imperative is to minimize car travel delays and maximize car speeds. However, in a town center location, the pedestrian is the design imperative. In such locations, it is therefore essential that slow-speed and “attentive motorist” design be emphasized to maximize pedestrian comfort and safety.
Access management tends to undercut such a design objective, because motorists can driver faster and less attentively when access management is successful.
A quality pedestrian environment must include relatively short block lengths, as well as mid-block crossings and cross-access within blocks. Again, access management tends to undercut these essential design tactics in walkable locations.
As an aside, speaking as a bicycle commuter, I tend to find a reduction in driveways to be an inconvenience for bicycling. I understand the safety problems associated with too many driveways, but we shouldn’t forget unintended consequences.
When the words “safety” and “efficient” and “mobility” are used in the field of transportation, such words tend to be euphemisms for higher speed, unimpeded car travel. And the last thing a healthy, low-speed, pedestrian-friendly town center needs is faster, unimpeded, through car travel. Higher speed (“efficient”) car travel in a town center (not to mention excessive, under-priced off-street parking) drains the lifeblood out of a community center.
Again, be careful about where various designs are applied. Avoid “one-size-fits-all” solutions. What is beneficial for higher-speed suburbia is almost always detrimental to lower-speed walkable town centers, where transportation choice must be emphasized.
Be sure you are context-sensitive — that you are applying the right design tools to the appropriate locations of the community.
Visit my urban design website read more about what I have to say on those topics. You can also schedule me to give a speech in your community about transportation and congestion, land use development and sprawl, and improving quality of life.
Or email me at: dom[AT]walkablestreets.com
My book, The Car is the Enemy of the City (WalkableStreets, 2010), can be purchased here: http://www.lulu.com/product/paperback/the-car-is-the-enemy-of-the-city/10905607
My book, Road to Ruin, can be purchased here:
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