I was walking along the streets of San Francisco today, minding my own business, when I was gobsmacked by a headline in one of our crack newspapers (I mean crack in a good and legal way, of course). Anyway, there it was in big letters:
MILLIONS DEVOTED TO DEADLY TRAFFIC
Imagine my shock and horror at the sudden realization that right here in in my beloved but flawed country there was a secret cabal —a huge one—devoted entirely toward creating deadly traffic.
Suddenly I wanted to be in a Fiat zipping down the Autostrada. They don’t have such cabals in Italy—or I am innocent enough to assume Italy is free of such persons of murderous intent.
Then I realized that the headline meant that millions of (largely worthless) dollars were being devoted to deadly traffic. I felt relieved. Temporarily.
Then I though, “why devote millions of dollars to something deadly? Why not fix things? Why not teach people not to be such idiots on the road?”
Of course, the old way of road design is to remove the dangers that might be perceived by drivers not paying much attention to the road. This plan of action fails nearly 100 percent of the time. With no danger, you can do your nails while traveling at an even higher rate of speed. It’s fun and intoxicating, evidently.
What’s odd is when you want to make a race track safer, you add narrow curves that only allow one car through the racing line at a time. When you think you will make an ordinary road safer, you widen and straighten it.
The current cutting-edge thinking in street design is to go back to the sanity of making people think that danger lurks at every corner and they’d better pay attention or else someone is going to die. Some places in Europe have removed all signs, all markings from the road, and let bikes, pedestrians, cars and stray cats all share the road—with phenomenal success.
I can’t wait for cutting-edge thinking to overtake my community. Dutch engineer Hans Monderman should come and have a talk. His approach, according to Wired, is “radically counterintuitive: Build roads that seem dangerous, and they’ll be safer.”
Good luck Hans. There are a lot of idiots in suits to convince on this side of the pond. and not all of them are firing on more than a couple cylinders. It’s that cabal the papers are talking about, I’m convinced.
Read: Roads Gone Wild