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.