By Dom Nozzi
March 16, 2018
Some believe that our future will be one where most or all cars are self-driving. If that were true, pedestrians could behave more like they did historically. They could cross streets with much less need to be vigilant because they could be confident that self-driving cars would stop when detecting a pedestrian in the street. Such a world would return historic power to pedestrians — power that has been handed over to motorists over the past century.
In my opinion, however, such a world of self-driving cars is unlikely.
I’m therefore much more interested in our ending the practice we have followed for the past century in street design: designing streets to enable and therefore encourage inattentive, excessively high-speed motoring. If we are serious about making our streets safe — as we must be if we consider ourselves to be civilized — we need to move away from the past century of street safety failure, which has focused, over and over, on more safety lights, more safety signage, more safety education, more safety enforcement, and more safety paint. To be effective, we need to design our streets to obligate slower-speed, attentive driving. That means streets that are more narrow and human scaled in their dimensions, have more friction with things like on-street parking, have a continuous wall of active and abutting buildings and canopy street trees, are more alive with (sometimes unpredictable) pedestrians, and have less of the “safety” features such as tall highway lighting, paint, signs, and clear zones.