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New tack

I’m going to try something different for a while, because I’ve got deskwork up the yin-yang and way too much on my plate to spend time writing my usual longer-ish entries. So, I’m going to point to articles I find really worth reading, or other short stuff like that. At least for the next little while…

First off, here’s an article from last January’s NYTimes, A Path to Road Safety With No Signposts by Sarah Lyall (January 22, 2005). It’s about Hans Monderman, a Friesian (Dutch) road engineer and his heretical ideas about traffic. Taking the author on a stroll along a road unmarked by boulevard kerbs, traffic signs, lights, or signals, he steps out into the busy traffic without looking, and remarks:

“Who has the right of way?” he asked rhetorically. “I don’t care. People here have to find their own way, negotiate for themselves, use their own brains.” [More…]

That sounds stupid at first, but there’s an interesting principle behind this. According to Moderman, “it is only when the road is made more dangerous, when drivers stop looking at signs and start looking at other people, that driving becomes safer.” Read the rest of the article — full of interesting ideas to help us rethink traffic issues, calming, etc.

Moderman, his fans say, has “rethought a lot of issues from complete scratch. Essentially, what it means is a transfer of power and responsibility from the state to the individual and the community.” One of my sisters lives very close to the Dutch border in northern Germany, and her area has many streets like the ones described in the article (especially once you drive a couple of kilometres into Holland itself). Their “behavioural design” at first gave me the willies, admittedly, but it is a fact that you’re much more careful driving down those roads. Overall, there’s a net increase in civility, a keystone of civilisation and civic spaces like towns and cities.

Actually, this article is interesting to think about together with the new US Census report on how cities grow in daytime due to workers commuting into cities. This all has a tremendous effect on traffic patterns, and it’s generally not taken into account in census data that just tracks the resident population of a place. Many of the cities where daytime population swells are also the places most expensive to live in. Interesting implications for city planning, taxation, etc.

Must blog about this some more in relation to what I’ve been reading in Jane Jacobs’s Dark Age Ahead. She has a lot to say about the duncity of the typical road & traffic engineer, about traffic, and community in general… But what was that I said earlier about short blog entries??

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