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Archive for January 29th, 2009

‘Shared Space’ Comes to Montgomery, Alabama

Photo by John Tracy/Flickr

In an article in the latest Scientific American, titled “Removing Roads and Traffic Lights Speeds Urban Travel,” (concepts which are well familiar round here), I was intrigued to see a reference to a so-called “shared space” (a.k.a. “livable streets,” etc.) project in Montgomery, Alabama. In brief, the project entailed turning the city’s languishing ‘Court Square’ (pictured above) from a conventional signalized intersection to a cobble-stoned urban ‘plaza,’ with fewer obvious forms of traffic control. While these projects are becoming common in Europe, they can still be a hard sell stateside. So I got in touch with Chris Conway, an engineer with the city, to see how it had happened. Here’s what he told me:

“The project began as just a way to reopen an area closed during urban renewal in the 70′s, and bring our Court Square fountain into focus as the anchor of Capitol Hill. The urban renewal had essentially killed all commerce in the area it had intended to enhance.

In an effort to “renew the renewal”, we began looking at a concept to reopen Court Square as it had originally functioned. This was more or less a traditional roundabout around our historic Court Square fountain. Plans were drawn to implement the roundabout, but it just so happened that Dover/Kohl and Partners had just been engaged to do our downtown master plan at the same time.

[as a brief interjection, this serendipitous event is similar to the way one of Hans Monderman's first traffic calming experiments unfolded in the Netherlands, as described in Traffic]

We asked their traffic engineers, Hall Planning and Engineering to review the roundabout. Again, as it so happened, Rick Hall (who describes himself as a “reformed” traffic engineer) was in Paris when he received the plans and was inspired to recommend a European style plaza for the space.

[another brief interjection: Should someone form an 'Institute of Reformed Traffic Engineers'?]

This caused a quick redesign essentially scrapping the original plans. Rick’s concept was to remove all traditional traffic control letting drivers “intuitively” navigate the space in an attempt to make the space more than just a traffic control device, but a thriving “marketplace” that could serve the many functions it had once enjoyed. This was a low volume but historically attractive area, so although his ideas were “outside the box”, they were well received by our leadership.

The key points of Hall’s design, says Conway, were:

Lack of traditional traffic markings and control, forcing drivers to be more alert and aware at eye level with other users of the space – other motorists, pedestrians, bicyclists, etc.

Use of Belgian cobbles as a roadway surface to give a rumble effect to drivers as they moved through the space – again in an attempt to make them intuitively move slower.

No raised curbing within the plaza to accommodate street closings for fairs, marching bands for parades, and easy pedestrian navigation.

This wasn’t without some controversy, he notes. “Our traffic engineers were uncomfortable with the lack of “direction” given to motorists. Our drivers were also thought to be too unfamiliar with such a “complicated” intersection. There were fears that drivers would be going the wrong way and chaos would result.”

Hall, for its part, describes the lack of markings as a kind of symbiotic relationship. As they note on their website: “HPE designers assured the city that a design speed of 25 mph would make explicit pavement markings, or guide lines, unnecessary. The lack of extensive markings would, in fact, help manage the vehicle speeds to the pedestrian friendly 20 to 25 mph range. Rough pavement texture and traffic enforcement will also help manage vehicle speeds.”

And the safety? “Drivers for the most part act as Rick predicted they would. The occasional driver goes the wrong way, but since the plaza is wide open and the speeds are so low, no accidents have resulted. There has actually not been a single accident involving vehicles or pedestrians due to the plaza concept.

We have had one intoxicated driver drive his Hummer straight into the fountain at 3am claiming he never even saw the always well lit 30′ fountain. No injuries other than our wrought iron fence and his Hummer damage.”

As Monderman once told me, similarly about a drunken driver, “there’s not a street that can cope with that problem.” And blog readers will of course know of Hummer drivers’ particular aversion to pesky things like laws.

I’ve not been to Montgomery, and I don’t know what the space was like before, but judging by the historic photo below, it almost seems like ‘back to the future,’ an era before the passenger vehicle had monopolized or helped destroy every last inch of urban space. As Monderman put it, “when you want people to behave in a village, you have to build a village.” Montgomery’s project suggests that design and context can be strong enough to guide proper driving behavior — and it doesn’t hurt to design places that actually want to make you leave your car.

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Posted on Thursday, January 29th, 2009 at 3:53 pm by: Tom Vanderbilt
3 Comments. Click here to leave a comment.

‘A Culture of Accountability on Our Roads’

A bill in Maryland looks to fill that “big gaping hole” between felony manslaughter and a minor traffic ticket:

Del. Luiz R.S. Simmons, D-Montgomery, the bill’s chief sponsor, called it “cosmically absurd” that a driver can speed, run a red light and kill someone and not face criminal prosecution because his actions did not meet the high standard required to prove vehicular manslaughter. He said his measure would not criminalize “ordinary negligence,” such as taking your eyes off the road momentarily, but would be targeted at more serious deviations from reasonable care.

The legislation will create “a culture of accountability on our roads,” Simmons said.

Hear, hear.

This parallels a similar move in Washington State.

A bill to be introduced in the state legislature would make it a crime to kill or seriously injure a person with a car while violating a traffic law—a response to the killing of City Council aide Tatsuo Nakata by driver Ephraim Schwartz, who struck Nakata in a crosswalk while talking on his cell phone.

“The problem we’re trying to address is that there’s a big gap between a civil infraction”—a traffic ticket—”and a felony,” says City Attorney Tom Carr, who’s pushing for the legislation. “It’s my view that if you speed regularly through school zones and 99 percent of the time nothing happens, but one percent of the time you seriously injure somebody, that should be more serious” than a mere traffic violation, Carr says.

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Posted on Thursday, January 29th, 2009 at 9:17 am by: Tom Vanderbilt
4 Comments. Click here to leave a comment.
Traffic Tom Vanderbilt

How We Drive is the companion blog to Tom Vanderbilt’s New York Times bestselling book, Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us), published by Alfred A. Knopf in the U.S. and Canada, Penguin in the U.K, and in languages other than English by a number of other fine publishers worldwide.

Please send tips, news, research papers, links, photos (bad road signs, outrageous bumper stickers, spectacularly awful acts of driving or parking or anything traffic-related), or ideas for my Slate.com Transport column to me at: info@howwedrive.com.

For publicity inquiries, please contact Kate Runde at Vintage: krunde@randomhouse.com.

For editorial inquiries, please contact Zoe Pagnamenta at The Zoe Pagnamenta Agency: zoe@zpagency.com.

For speaking engagement inquiries, please contact
Kim Thornton at the Random House Speakers Bureau: rhspeakers@randomhouse.com.

Order Traffic from:

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Drive-on-the-left types can order the book from Amazon.co.uk.

For UK publicity enquiries please contact Rosie Glaisher at Penguin.

Upcoming Talks

April 9, 2008.
California Office of Traffic Safety Summit
San Francisco, CA.

May 19, 2009
University of Minnesota Center for Transportation Studies
Bloomington, MN

June 23, 2009
Driving Assessment 2009
Big Sky, Montana

June 26, 2009
PRI World Congress
Rotterdam, The Netherlands

June 27, 2009
Day of Architecture
Utrecht, The Netherlands

July 13, 2009
Association of Transportation Safety Information Professionals (ATSIP)
Phoenix, AZ.

August 12-14
Texas Department of Transportation “Save a Life Summit”
San Antonio, Texas

September 2, 2009
Governors Highway Safety Association Annual Meeting
Savannah, Georgia

September 11, 2009
Oregon Transportation Summit
Portland, Oregon

October 8
Honda R&D Americas
Raymond, Ohio

October 10-11
INFORMS Roundtable
San Diego, CA

October 21, 2009
California State University-San Bernardino, Leonard Transportation Center
San Bernardino, CA

November 5
Southern New England Planning Association Planning Conference
Uncasville, Connecticut

January 6
Texas Transportation Forum
Austin, TX

January 19
Yale University
(with Donald Shoup; details to come)

Monday, February 22
Yale University School of Architecture
Eero Saarinen Lecture

Friday, March 19
University of Delaware
Delaware Center for Transportation

April 5-7
University of Utah
Salt Lake City
McMurrin Lectureship

April 19
International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Association (Organization Management Workshop)
Austin, Texas

Monday, April 26
Edmonton Traffic Safety Conference
Edmonton, Canada

Monday, June 7
Canadian Association of Road Safety Professionals
Niagara Falls, Ontario

Wednesday, July 6
Fondo de Prevención Vial
Bogotá, Colombia

Tuesday, August 31
Royal Automobile Club
Perth, Australia

Wednesday, September 1
Australasian Road Safety Conference
Canberra, Australia

Wednesday, September 22

Wisconsin Department of Transportation’s
Traffic Incident Management Enhancement Program
Statewide Conference
Wisconsin Dells, WI

Wednesday, October 20
Rutgers University
Center for Advanced Infrastructure and Transportation
Piscataway, NJ

Tuesday, March 8, 2011
Ontario Injury Prevention Resource Centre
Injury Prevention Forum
Toronto

Monday, May 2
Idaho Public Driver Education Conference
Boise, Idaho

Tuesday, June 2, 2011
California Association of Cities
Costa Mesa, California

Sunday, August 21, 2011
American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators
Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Wednesday, October 26, 2011
Attitudes: Iniciativa Social de Audi
Madrid, Spain

April 16, 2012
Institute for Sensible Transport Seminar
Gardens Theatre, QUT
Brisbane, Australia

April 17, 2012
Institute for Sensible Transport Seminar
Centennial Plaza, Sydney
Sydney, Australia

April 19, 2012
Institute for Sensible Transport Seminar
Melbourne Town Hall
Melbourne, Australia

January 30, 2013
University of Minnesota City Engineers Association Meeting
Minneapolis, MN

January 31, 2013
Metropolis and Mobile Life
School of Architecture, University of Toronto

February 22, 2013
ISL Engineering
Edmonton, Canada

March 1, 2013
Australian Road Summit
Melbourne, Australia

May 8, 2013
New York State Association of
Transportation Engineers
Rochester, NY

August 18, 2013
BoingBoing.com “Ingenuity” Conference
San Francisco, CA

September 26, 2013
TransComm 2013
(Meeting of American Association
of State Highway and Transportation
Officials’ Subcommittee on Transportation
Communications.
Grand Rapids MI

 

 

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