Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Without Highways? People Move On

MBA: Highway Removal from Streetfilms on Vimeo.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Dissecting the “War on Cars”

Apparently in this world, you have to pick a side. Bikes or Cars? Cars or Bikes? The Washington's Post Ezra Klein asks “Can’t I just be pro-transportation?” The recent hype in Brooklyn’s “Battle for Bike Lanes” makes me ask, “What are we fighting for?” Why does proposing bike lanes in cities across the globe result in what is deemed as a “War on Cars?” Wars inherently mean fighting, and in the communities in Brooklyn, where these infamous bike lanes were installed, the citizens were surved AND they wanted bike lanes. Propose a “War on Voting?”

Once more unto the breach, dear friends…

It is bad enough that road rage is an accepted behavior these days. Now rage a war between two parties that, by law, must share the road. Here are a few reasons why motorists call this a war.

They don't want to acknowledge that diversifying our transportation system and the design of our communities can simply be a sensible response to a world in which fuel prices are volatile, space is limited, and the drumroll of natural disaster and war makes the need for resilient systems ever more apparent.

Yet wars end, and change is continuous. "Does charging admission at movie theatres constitute a "war on film viewers"? Does charging for bread constitute a "war on eaters?" Where do we draw the line?

May I add, it was only a month ago where a motorist sped through a critical mass in Brazil injuring several. If this is truly a “War” the motorists are considered armed… and dangerous.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Distracted Driving – Is Technology Helping or Hurting Us?

A few years ago, I attended a transportation panel discussion held by Island Press in Washington D.C. The panel was discussing walk-to-school programs and the increased need for safe pathways to schools. A fellow attendee immediately jabbed at the panel demanding the reasoning for such advocacy, stating “Did you know that three children were abducted off D.C. streets last year?” Geoff Anderson, representing Transportation for America, quickly replied, “Do you know how many died in automobile accidents?”

In American roughly 40,000 people die in automobile accidents every year. Technological advances have increased automobile safety with airbags and better designs to minimize harm during impact. So, people take more chances. Aside from the advances, technology has also increased the amount of distraction while behind the wheel. Cellphones, texting, navigation systems all impact driver performance. This year, one of the automobile manufacturers will offer a dashboard infotainment system that allows the driver to flag songs, book a table at a restaurant and link five laptops to its wireless internet hub. Alarming? Yes.

Also alarming are Volvo’s vehicles designed to notify the motorist of pedestrians crossing near the vehicle. It is meant to spot all pedestrians in front of the car as well as off to the sides in a 60 degree angle. The technology will warn the driver with a red flashing light on the windshield if the car is on a collision course with a pedestrian. Do tell? If a motorist is unable to see a pedestrian within 60 degree line of sight from the front of the vehicle, why are automakers assuming that they will see the blinking red light on the dash? And, might I ask, will there be enough time to slow the vehicle and avoid a collision?

One of the comments from SF.StreetsBlog states “I feel that drivers in general are spending about 0% of their time looking for peds & bikes.” If the concern for pedestrians is completely removed from motorists, the new device may wipe all worries away allowing motorists to rely solely on technology to veer away from pedestrians in harm’s way. Maybe someone should invent a portable device for pedestrians that tests whether motorists are actually paying attention at the wheel?

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Neuroscience, Transportation and Zeisel's Inquiry by Design

Zeisel’s Inquiry by Design proposes research methods from a process-oriented design perspective. The book provides well-organized research methods and case studies as examples. Zeisel’s methods focus on the intended users of the space. He examines the operations of the inhabitants, and how they are impacted socially, physically and neurologically within space.

Zeisel acknowledges the barriers when trying to design for the real users. Often architects deal with the client at a high-level, not necessarily those that use the space day-to-day. The architect must walk a fine line providing the best services to the client yet designing a space that is functional and user-friendly for the actual inhabitants. This concept can be seen easily in the transportation realm, where pedestrians and cyclists are often not consulted or considered in the design of streets. Therefore, in the final design, the roadway is built for a single-user i.e. the motorist.

An Inquiry by Design is a rare book that blends design with cognitive studies, specifically examining how we impacted by our built environment. A new wave of designers and scientists are blending neuroscience and architecture; however, few seem interested in applying these techniques to the transportation realm. If the design of our environment links to our subconscious, a new area of research could examine how to entice people to walk and bike from a neurological perspective. We have the potential to monitor brain activity in conjunction with changes in the urban environment and therefore could examine the direct impacts on humans – while eliminating the biases from observation or survey methods.