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Second Generation Traffic Calming

I found an excellent article via a post at Kottke.org this afternoon entitled Why Don’t We Do It In The Road

Traffic, transportation, and rail travel has been a peripheral interest of mine ever since I wrote a paper about the decline of Amtrak in 10th grade. This article is fascinating for a few reasons, but mostly because it makes so much sense, and it challenges the basic beliefs of traffic engineering in America.

A new school of traffic design says we should get rid of stop signs and red lights and let cars, bikes and people mingle together. It sounds insane, but it works.

Something I observed in Sweden and Germany, but have only seen in a few places in my travels through America is the Traffic Circle. The roundabout made an appearance in Golden, CO during my 3rd year of college, and it was met with much consternation from the locals. I was a bit upset with them as well, but for a different reason.

A roundabout forces you to slow down and merge into the traffic that is travelling around the circle. You then drive until your exit, and merge out. It is very simple in concept, however the planners in Golden completely missed the point.

Two of the three traffic circles were designed in such a way that you didn’t really have to slow down to head through them. So people were seeing the oncoming cars not slowing down and then they were stopping IN the circle (never do that). It was chaos for a couple months. But after the initial breaking in, I think people were probably pleased with the lack of 3 pointless stoplights that could have gone in there.

Of course, the author also points out that:

When it comes to reconfiguring streets as community spaces, ground zero is once again Holland and Denmark, where planners are removing traffic lights in some towns and cities, as well as white divider lines, sidewalks and speed limits. Research has shown that fatality rates at busy intersections, where two or three people were being killed every year, dropped to zero when controls and boundaries were taken away. (This is food for thought among alternative-transportation advocates in the United States, who extol northern Europe as a model precisely because so much space in these countries is dedicated to segregated pedestrian spaces and bike lanes.)

Those segregated pedestrian and bike lanes were something that I loved about bicycling around town in Sweden. You could get to anywhere on the bike paths. Compared the US, where you are risking life and limb heading out into the streets on your bike…. which is pretty much the whole point of the article.

Categories: Trains.