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Archive for August 16th, 2009

Emotionally Intelligent Bollards

One of the most universal, and seemingly intractable, problems in the world of traffic is controlling drivers’ speeds on local streets, particularly those with children present. The latest approach, in Leicester, England, combines hardcore traffic engineering — steel bollards — with a more humanistic side: They literally look like small children standing on the side of the road.

There is, admittedly, a bit of a Village of the Damned look to the bollards — and yet also something rather cheerful, something like foosball players — but perhaps, echoing Daniel Pink’s “emotionally intelligent signage” proposal, they may trigger some instinctual response, reminding drivers of the presence of humans (and, after all, studies have shown that images of humans, particularly human eyes, can be as persuasive as real humans).

Not surprisingly, the locals are a bit divided.

Sylvia Thomas, who lives in nearby Greenhill Road, said: “I can’t see the point of them. If they are there to calm traffic they don’t work, because one has already been knocked over.

“They are quite strange.”

Helen Evans, 44, from Knighton, said: “They look great. I think they’re cute – and hopefully they will make people drive more carefully and remember there are children around here.”

As to the first commenter, rather than viewing it a failed solution, the idea that one has already been knocked down might simply demonstrate the extent of the problem. And the bollards are merely one part of a wider strategy, including striping and a new 20 mph speed limit.

From another story came this comment:

The RAC told Sky News Online that there was a risk “the statues will become a distraction with drivers focusing on them rather than the road ahead.”

One way to deal with that issue would be to put a few in the road. But of course there’s also the issue that real pedestrians will become a distraction — do we ban them from roadsides? Do we strip any sign of life from city streets so drivers will not have their precious roads obscured, their perilous attention (probably already compromised by their phone) fractured any further?

In any case, I’ll be curious to hear of any before/after speed comparisons.

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Posted on Sunday, August 16th, 2009 at 10:21 am by: Tom Vanderbilt
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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.

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