Mobility design

Sunday, August 7th, 2005

Toni Gold, an associate with the nonprofit Project for Public Spaces, has an essay in the Sunday Courant on the matter of Route 44 in Avon, site of a recent mass dissaster involving a dump truck and numerous other cars and a bus. What to do is the subject of a lot of talk. Another article in the paper reported that authorities are seeking to push up measures to fix this strange passage between the hills and Hartford. They want to “expedite” widening the road and constructing escape ramps for trucks, from 7 years into the future to 3. This is what “expedite” means in Connecticut.

Gold, however, makes an argument against “widening” and suggest that “narrowing” is the better way to go, including doing away with stop lights and adding roundabouts. I agree. There was one particular highway in southern New Mexico, US 82, which climbs several thousand feet from Alamogordo, home of Holoman Airforce base, into the Sacramento Mountains. It was an alternative to travel by train on the wooden trestles of the time. The highway has numerous escape ramps and in some stretches is only two lanes wide. It works pretty well, despite the traffic.

Gold’s main point is to design for safety not speed, to design with counterintuitive principles for the goal of “mobility,” which, in conventional definitions, puts the premium on wide, straight, and speed as criteria of deisign. “A road diet,” Gold writes, “is in order for Route 44: fewer lanes, narrower lanes, a median strip planted with the biggest trees possible and roundabouts at the two death-trap intersections to replace the traffic signals that are part of the problem.”

This is an important idea. The job, of course, will be to convince administrators to think deeply about design as intimately tied to human space and human life.


3 responses to “Mobility design”

  1. susan says:

    What’s a roundabout? I hope you don’t mean a rotary–those are deadly. The problem at this intersection is mainly that it is a thoroughfare for commuter (work) traffic, as well as for shoppers going to the malls (esp. the new one now).

  2. jim says:

    I found the rotaries to work extremely well in the U.A.E., much moreso than traffic lights. I’m not sure it would work where you have an intersection every hundred feet, but definitely where there are long expanses of pavement. Other advantages of the rotary: if it’s designed with a nice center, the center can be a place to have lunch or hang out; reduces dependance on electricity and is better fr the environment; MUCH easier to give directions when each rotary has it’s own uniqueness. In the U.A.E., I could tell someone to continue past the giant clay teacup but if they got to the ship-wreck, they went too far.

    Many times this year, probably due to the storms we’ve had lately, intersections that had no power or were just blinking yellow caused dangerous situations every time I had to go through one. This wouldn’t be an issue witht he rotaries, or “duwars” as they are called in Arabic.

    Steve, what happened to you? I mean, I expected you to damn the paved roads when you heard about the Avon tragedy. “If we just went back to dirt roads…”

    Peace,
    Jim

  3. Steve says:

    Jim, asphalt is a great paradox.