By on December 17, 2006

debrink_oosterwolde222.jpgIn the late 70s, Dutch traffic planner Hans Monderman experienced the kind of insight that gets people sent to an asylum. ”Let’s eliminate all traffic signals and signs and remove the divisions between the road and sidewalk where cars and people interact. There will be fewer accidents and traffic flow will improve.” Monderman’s approach seemed completely radical: roads that seem dangerous are safer than roads that seem safe. The concept was a smack in the face of convention.

Accepted traffic planning methods date back to 1929, to Radburn, New Jersey. The residential area was launched as ”The Motor Town of the Future.” It was, in effect, a study in near total human/traffic non-interaction. The reasoning was obvious: cars are big, fast and hard; people are slow, soft and fragile. Segregate the two and people can walk safely and cars can move quickly from A to B. The result became a model for road planners in all developed nations and a blueprint for the world.

radburn322.jpgThe system had an unintended consequence: endless stop-and-go. Where drivers and pedestrians [eventually and inevitably] interact, they both face countless interruptions to their natural flow. They have to stop. Monderman’s counter theory: go slower to move faster. To help road users go with the flow, Monderman recommended bringing cars and people into greater proximity– without signs or signals. Monderman argued that human contact through the windshield creates a self-regulating and efficient traffic flow, as users negotiate with one another for right of way.

Monderman’s ideas were met with near biblical outrage. The Dutchman persisted, until the Netherlands gave him permission to test his theories. In several Dutch towns, engineers ripped out signs and signals, flattened sidewalks and created radical new road-flow patterns. The result: a statistically verified reduction in accidents and fatalities. Monderman’s success with ”human contact flow” has lead to changes in roadways throughout the European Union and the U.S.

cinci-1222.jpgAn American named Walter Kulash added to the growing ”liveable traffic” (r)evolution. The Senior Traffic Engineer at the Orlando community-planning firm of Glatting Jackson Kercher Anglin Lopez Rinehart Inc. saw that outdated planning had created islands of inactivity in both suburbia and urbia. At night, downtown areas are abandoned. During the day, outlying residential districts are desolate. People spend a lot of time driving from one to the other, usually negotiating traffic snarls.

Kulash believes in creating more efficient habitats, by manipulating street geometry and introducing mixed use of space. Working with planners intent on transforming West Palm Beach from a dead end darkworld to a 24-hour address, Kulash helped create a liveable town out of what used to be shops and parking spaces. Developers have seen property values increase three and four-fold after Kulash’ interventions. His traffic-calming and urban design methods are helping create numerous ”liveable traffic spaces” across North America, where people work, live, shop, play AND drive.

Monderman’s flow generation and Kulash’ traffic calming principles could trigger a shift in automotive tastes. Transportation analysts estimate that the average U.S. vehicle travels roughly 30 miles a day. Encouraged by the ”New Urbanism” planning scene, drivers may finally abandon the idea that their cars must be capable of transcontinental transportation, and shift to lower speed plug-in hybrids and electric vehicles. Rising gas prices and increasing environmental/political consciousness will only accelerate the transition.

A year ago, I asked Walter Kulash’s opinion about a car platform bound for the U.S. Kulash said that the new car fit within his critical ”effective turn-radii” requirement; it would be able to get around the new townscape with ease. In other words, Kulash is creating roads where big cars are as out of place as a sumo wrestler in a ballet troupe.

cinci.jpgTo conform to American tastes, these vehicles would have to be small on the outside, yet feel big on the inside. The Nissan Versa understands the equation. But the genre needs a premium player to overcome the stigma of ”small = cheap.” In that regard, the long-delayed SMART car is the one to watch. Originally planned as an EV city runner, the Smart cars now sip gasoline. Don’t be surprised to see the platform get new drivetrains as DCX reaches for profit opportunity.

The rise of car sharing companies like Flexcar and Zipcar also show that a growing percentage of drivers are willing to abandon the gratification of ownership for the ease and economy of more practical personal transportation. Where these companies are going, the majors should follow. American carmakers would be wise to adjust their future products to match this merging of urban and suburban environments.

The Big Two Point Five should build products that exploit the new, more people-friendly asphalt paths through our streetscapes. By catering to the switch from gas-guzzling land yachts to economical, environmentally-friendly runabouts, Detroit may discover the economic reinvention it so dearly needs.   

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75 Comments on “The Road Ahead...”


  • avatar
    dror

    I live in NYC and always preferred large cars; 6 month ago I got rid of big V8 in favor of a Mazda 3, it took me some time to get used to it, but now I’m very happy with it and wonder why did I wait so long.
    Traffic is getting heavier year to year, it become impossible to drive a car in midtown at any time during the day.
    Analysts predicts that at 2030 we will have rush hour all day unless some changes will take place like charging premium to enter Manhattan from anywhere below 60th street, it worked just fine right after 9/11.
    I thing a similar thing was done in London, mass transit will improve as well if it can flow better with less “one driver cars” in metro areas.

  • avatar
    tom

    The problem with revolutionary ideas is that they take time. You can’t change that sort of thing over night. If you implement that sort of thing in a big city, the distances will be the same at first and it’s gonna take really long until people move into the new residential areas, shops open and so on.

    I’m all for revolutionary ideas, but they’ll have to be proven on a larger scale before they can be implemented everywhere. It’s not enough to work in some small Dutch towns, where the infrastructure is similar to Kulash’s vision anyway.

  • avatar

    While I agree with the comment above about radical ideas taking time to bcome realities, I’m all for experimentation, whether the subject is traffic or health care financing. As for the predictions of all-day rush hour in NYC, and the like, we need desperately to stabilize the US population. The population has about doubled since Eisenhower, and at the current rate, we’ll be pushing half a billion by mid-century.

  • avatar
    carguy

    America’s traffic problem has it root in the post-war urban renewal process that moved residential dwellings out of metro areas and into surrounding suburbs. While this created more private living space for families, it also created the bedroom suburb where the car was a dominant means of transportation from going to work to getting a gallon of milk. Cities that refused the urban renewal process, such as Manhattan, still have traffic but car ownership is not essential as the population density makes public transport a true alternative to car ownership.

    While smaller cars are a good start, there needs to be a recognition by US town planning authorities everywhere that urban sprawl is getting us stuck in traffic for too much of our lives. We need a housing density that makes public transport effective and start to plan cities around people rather than cars.

    I’m a self confessed autophile, but there is no joy in getting to work via an hour of stop and go traffic – I’d rather be on a train reading the morning paper.

  • avatar
    Matthew Potena

    No traffic rules? We have had that in New Jersey for years! We have “traffic circles”, called roundabounts across the pond, where each road (usually a 4 way intersection) feeds into a circular road with an island in the center. Generally, its every man for himself when in the circle. The only time it slows down is when you get someone who thinks it’s safer to come to a complete stop prior to entering the circle. The way to drive a traffic circle in NJ is similar to running a guerilla war! Personally, I think that the State’s quest to eliminate traffic circles in NJ will cause more delays, not less.

  • avatar
    HEATHROI

    The problem with revolutionary ideas is that they take time.

    Actually revolutionary ideas do happen overnight. Evolutionary ones take time. The real problem convincing authority to give up its authoritas.

    Kenny Galbraith came up with idea of Private Affluence/Public Squalor but never figured for a moment that if you increased public goods then you would have more squalor at the expense of affluence.

    the Kalash/Monderman is an excellent start but the next step would to privatize the road network.

  • avatar
    tom

    Actually revolutionary ideas do happen overnight. Evolutionary ones take time. The real problem convincing authority to give up its authoritas.

    Okay, you got me there. Of course it’s easy to get rid of all traffic signs and so on. But for it to work like Kalash imagined will take very long. That’s what I was trying to say.

    the Kalash/Monderman is an excellent start but the next step would to privatize the road network.

    Now that would be horrible. Do you think privatly owned roads would be fixed as often as public roads? And I can’t imagine the delays it would cause if you had to pay a toll on every right/left turn you make because the street you’re just entering is owned by some other company than the one you’re coming from.

  • avatar

    There is nothing less conducive to community spirit than the new America mainstreet. When I see the endless parades of Chilis, Home Depots, Starbucks, Toys R Us, Wal-Marts, etc. that passes for commercial architecture, I understand the democratic capitalist ethos, but decry the psychological effects of such dehumanized spaces (most don’t even have sidewalks).

    As someone who’s always lived in semi-urban areas with sidewalks, driveways, wide streets and interesting architecture (Providence, Midtown Atlanta, Manhattan, Windsor[UK], etc, I like to believe that most people would choose this kind of traditional neighborhood over cookie cutter suburbs. It’s a question of money.

    It’s FAR cheap to build the Radburns than the Providences of the world. Which makes it FAR cheaper to live in them. The trick is to convince developers that they can make more money building mixed use developments than housing farms and their outlying strip malls.

    Anyway, this article tells me that different disciplines are moving in the same better direction. Stein is right: car design will follow.

  • avatar
    Jonny Lieberman

    For this in terested in more about Walter Kulash and similar attempts at integrating humans into their environments check out James Kunstler’s “The Geography of Nowhere.” He spends a great deal of time talking about land rendered useless by automobiles. And not just roads and parking lots (which are useful) but the little Island of nothing created by onramps, etc.

    He has a good blog, too.

    http://jameshowardkunstler.typepad.com/clusterfuck_nation/

    Also, Robert, do not criticize the cookie cutter chain restaurants unless you want to be called a altte-drinking volvo commie. Applebee’s somehow = America…

  • avatar
    NamDuong

    Everyone needs a Volks Rabbit or an A3! Traffic problems solved!

  • avatar
    HEATHROI

    Actually, yes, private roads would be fixed more often and better still safer and quicker because private companies have an incentive to please their customer – to make money. What incentive does the DOTs have?

    As for the idea that tolls will cause a headache for drivers, again, it would be in the interest of the road companies to develop a system of interoperability. Illinois uses a transponder system on its road network and Im lead to believe that some eastern states do the same using a link system.

    Thr train networks could go back to private as well. New York’s subway system was developed by private enterprise until the city squeezed them out and in the early 19th century it was entrepreneurs who developed the turnpike system.

  • avatar
    HEATHROI

    and also what would be better for residents to own their own streets this might do wonders for community spirit and meeting your neighbours

  • avatar
    tom

    Actually, yes, private roads would be fixed more often and better still safer and quicker because private companies have an incentive to please their customer – to make money. What incentive does the DOTs have?

    Polititians want to be re-elected, private organisations don’t. And why should they please you? What other choice do you have but to drive to work on their roads?

    But you’re right about the transponder system…that at least would make it easy for the drivers.

  • avatar
    WaaaaHoooo

    You know, certainly traffic patterns, flows, requirements, and controls change over time. The article was fine in that regard until the last sentence which states the Big 2.5 need to change. It’s not just a big 2.5 thing, its basically every company. Smart cars have been around for 5 to 7 years, but are they here? Blame Smart or MB. Nissan’s been building Micras for how long and not selling them here? Blame Nissan. There’s a reason why these vehicles are not sold here. Probably because it’s not worth the effort ….. yet. To take the Big 2.5 and only the Big 2.5 to task for that is simply unfair.

    That being said, a lot of this harkens back to the 1% Solution thread a few days ago where everybody wants everyone else to, as I said, “zip it and do precisely what I say” so the world will be a utopia. I know it would if you all would just follow my rules to the letter.

  • avatar
    HEATHROI

    Politicians certainly do want to be elected but seem to more in tune with their campaign contributors than with their voters. After Katrina sunk New Orleans, American society turned up to help from giant corporations to guys with boats and the Government turned them back, in case we all need reminding.

    Private organisations don’t. And why should they please you?

    I remember reading something recently, forget where exactly but some bloke talked about a death watch, whatever they meant by that.

  • avatar

    @WaaaaHoooo

    Don’t think you can read the ending of my article as taking the majors to task – rather pointing out an emerging opportunity!

    And utopia actually means nowhere, so we’re both in agreement on that one. Won’t happen.

    Yet people have become intensely aware of the health benefits that come from reexamining how we live, eat, breathe and work. There are already strong pressures influencing decision making, private and political, in these areas – and this won’t go away.

    London seems to be moving ahead forcibly, with severe tolls to be paid by owners of SUVs and trucks who wish to enter the center of the city with their cars. They are to pay the equivalent of USD 47/day starting in 2009.
    Clearly this will influence car design – but also the public’s attitude to the larger cars, something that will be just as influential as tolls levvied.
    (And if you think public censure is without power, then just try firing up a cigarette in an LA restaurant!)

  • avatar
    HEATHROI

    Ken Livingston’s London is just the world that should be avoided where smokers and SUV drivers are held as social pariahs because the powers that be take every opportunity to squeeze the taxpaying driver (and smoker) and for them on to the squalid antiquated public transport system that is patently disfunctional yet costs insane amounts every year.

    In fact i would go as far as to say that this is the rough equivalent of 15th century proscriptions of surviving black death peasants daring to cloth themselves as their lords did.

  • avatar

    @HEATHROI

    Well, as a non-smoker I have to confess I don’t mind bars and restaurants having breatheable air!
    BTW – you should be aware that the insurance industry has a heavy hand in this legislation – due to the liability claims that can be brought against cities (or bar owners) for not ensuring that people living and working in them have clean air and water.
    (China is expected to pass particularly draconian (pun intended) legislation when it comes to acceptable drive-trains for city traffic.)

    We can close our eyes to what’s going on, or we can begin designing cars and transportation solutions that match emerging requirements.

  • avatar
    HEATHROI

    Sorry Stein but to the argument that laws create positive effects is like saying slavery was terrible as idea but good in practise because it created low cost, high quality cotton for everybody, (that is an extreme example of course)

    It’s not a surprise that the Insurance Industry is lobbying for new rules enforcing ‘behavior modification’ but it seem to me simpler for insurance companies not to pick up the tab for high risk clients

    Incidentally the best way of reducing smoking would be increasing an individuals wealth as studies show smoking is primarily a ‘working class’ pursuit and as income increases the incidence of smoking declines.

  • avatar
    carguy

    Stein – Excuse my etymological curiosity, but I always thought the word draconian comes from a 6th century BC Greek ruler by the name of Draco. How is it a pun when used used in reference to China?

  • avatar
    HawaiiJim

    Maybe Stein’s pun was that the dragon is China’s symbol.

    At any rate, I don’t share the view that laws can’t create positive effects. And I am basically civil libertarian, for example I think motorcycle helmet laws are a bit hard to justify, particularly if we don’t require auto drivers to wear helmets given the many auto deaths from head injuries.

  • avatar

    @carguy and HawaiiJim

    Chinese rule is best characterized as “exceedingly harsh” and we’ve already seen how they institute new regulation overnight – with their “cleaner coal” stipulations, for instance.

    No dragons intended.

  • avatar
    Luther

    What incentive does the DOTs have?

    DOT has every incentive to keep roads in disrepair. The Ruling Class knows that their serfs will give up more of their earned property for better roads. The Ruling Class will rob you with a promise to fix the roads and of course instead of better roads they will hire their entire extended family/supporters into more do-nothing Government yobs.
    (They also have every incentive to keep your children stupid/Gov’t-worshipping with their public education system. The serfs will give up more of their property to educate their kids. It has an added benifit to the Ruling Class in that stupid/Gov’t-worshipping people can be suckered out of their property more easily.) I think Wal-Mart should get into the road building business.

    The Traffic Circle is a great idea. For those posters that live in N.J., Who has the right-of-way in a N.J. traffic circle ? Seems to me it is just a free-for-all there.

  • avatar
    jerseydevil

    Fine, fine, fine article. Bravo! I applaud this kind of thinking.

    If i am lucky, I will be able to sell my beloved but aging Golf III, and join a car sharing service. In philadelphia it is called Philly Carshare. http://www.phillycarshare.org/index.html.

    Then I wlll have am entire fleet of cars to choose from, not just one! I cant wait. For way less then even the cost of insurance on my car, i get to choose from all sorts of vehicles, pretty much whenever i want. Its a dream come true.

  • avatar
    Luther

    The town of Reston, Virginia is a planned town with the concept of self-containment and therefor managable traffic. It did not quite turn out as planned though because people ended up commuting in and out of Reston. It still is a very nice place.

    http://www.reston.org/

  • avatar
    jerseydevil

    Luther:
    THE TRAFFIC CIRCLE IS A GREAT IDEA? ARE U MAD? I grew up not far from a HUGE circle in NJ -the one in Maple Shade connecting RT 38, 73 and Kings Hwy — I recall the traffic even in the 60’s would be tied up for miles every day! It was replaced – thankfully – a long time ago. And the traffic cleared up magically! Now of course, its all tied up again, more because of the endless ex-urbs and general suburban sprawl. But thats another story.

    But traffic cirleles! ON NO – they are a blight on humanity!

  • avatar
    tom

    Trafic circles are indeed a great idea. However, they only work up to a certain limit of traffic. If there’s more than that, it won’t work…

  • avatar
    Luther

    jerseydevil:

    Maybe I should have qualified my statement:
    Traffic Circles are a great idea… Except in N.J… LOL

    I lived in Moorestown for awhile (Not far from Maple Shade). I never figured out the traffic circle right-of-way so I tried to avoid them. I also lived in Europe for many years and the traffic circles worked perfectly.

    If you ask 10 N.J.ites who has the right-of-way in a traffic circle you will get 10 different answers. This may have changed since I lived there though.

  • avatar
    Robert Schwartz

    Anyone who has ever negotiated a traffic circle in Massachusetts will recognize what a bad idea this is.

  • avatar
    Robert Schwartz

    Above there is a picture of the Cincinnati water front with Paul Brown Stadium and Great American Ballpark. There is also a drawing labeled “Cincinatti[sic], in Kulash’s dreams.” As nearly as I can tell, they are the same scene from slightly different perspectives. What was the point? Over the last ten years or so, The area was rebuilt with new facilities (Paul Brown and GAB) and with better integration with the downtown street grid. Did Kulash plan that? They did not abolish I71 or US50

  • avatar
    philbailey

    Traffic circles work perfectly if drivers are properly trained to work together and therefore show a good degree of self discipline and driving skill. Which is why it works in Europe and not in New Jersey. Even in the UK however, some circles have now been endowed with traffic lights, because at rush hour, giving way to your right takes half an hour.

  • avatar
    Luther

    Driving in Europe is like neurosurgery. Driving in the U.S is like a frat party.

  • avatar

    I’m skeptical that privatizing road networks would create some sort of capitalistic traffic utopia. Corporations wouldn’t necessarily have an incentive to keep roads in good order since there aren’t many viable alternatives. Commuters have to use the roads even if they are in poor shape. The archaic nature of the US energy system is a perfect example of this: maintain things to a barely usable level and no more.

  • avatar
    Matthew Potena

    Traffic entering the circle has the right of way over traffic already in the circle.

  • avatar

    maintain things to a barely usable level and no more

    edit: grin, yeah, that’s how we do things here.
    not trying to start a flame war, but as I see it “adequate and no more” is the way _everything_ is done nowadays.

  • avatar
    quasimondo

    As an out of towner who had to adjust to traffic circles and jughandles in New Jersey, I tell you from personal experience that they are a blight upon urban design. Who has the right of way in a traffic circle? First come, first serve, and it all depends on how well your car accelerates, and the speed of your reflexes to hit the brakes, and the horn.

    I dunno about you, but Monderman’s idea scares me. No lights, no signs? It reminds me of a YouTube video some guy took of a traffic intersection in downtown Ho Chi Minh City. One word: Chaos. Another word: Gridlock. It’s a fine idea if you want to frustrate a driver to the point that he’d rather set his car on fire and take a Schwinn to work, though.

  • avatar
    ref

    Those ideas about sign-free roads can work pretty well in areas where there isn’t that much traffic – villages or quiet corners of a city. You cannot do that in a larger city or on busy areas of road. Besides, I think the idea behind that theory is not so much speed, but safety. If the situation on the road ahead is a bit confusing, you have to drive a bit slower, a bit more careful.

    About traffic circles – I’m from Berlin, and there is one particulary large traffic circle in this town, around the Siegesäule (To get the idea, check this

  • avatar
    Adamatari

    As long as it works.

    If removing traffic signs and signals makes us safer, or at least works in certain environments, do it. I don’t care what it is if it works. I think if it works in town in the Netherlands than in similar towns anywhere else there is reason to believe that it would work. Just make sure you know how and why, because I’ve heard about traffic in China, India, and other places where it’s very anarchic and dangerous.

    As much as I love cars I think that we do need to move away from a car centric cuture and way of life. I lived in Boston for a while myself, didn’t have a car, and rather liked it. However, Boston was built before cars so it was done right the first time and public transport there will actually take you where you want to go in fairly good time. A couple things that must be kept in mind about public transport – it has to come often (at least every 15 minutes) and it has to run early and late. Boston had that.

    I think it will be much harder to fix the suburbs and strip malls of today. The hard question is how to turn areas that have been built in that fasion into usable, walkable towns – restoring formerly walkable towns and streets is easy in comparison. Once the roads and suburbs are there it becomes very hard to change back. That said the obvious first step is to restore those walkable places… Here in Florida (Pinellas county, Tampa Bay area) there are a few pockets of usable space (parts of the beaches, downtown Dunedin, downtown St. Pete, etc.) but the area as a whole is a commuter nightmare. The roads get bigger and bigger but the traffic just gets worse and worse.

    I think current zoning laws and urban/suburban planning are in a sort of evil feedback loop that’s hard to fix. If somebody has an idea on how to do it better than more power to them – the current state is near intolerable.

  • avatar
    Voice of Sweden

    dror:
    December 17th, 2006 at 8:56 am
    I live in NYC …
    … unless some changes will take place like charging premium to enter Manhattan from anywhere below 60th street

    Been there done that. Differentiated cost depending on time of day – free at night. Charging fees via cameras reading registration plates or radiowave-transponders.

    http://www.stockholmsforsoket.se – In English – Read More

  • avatar
    cheezeweggie

    I moved from an old suburb to a newer suburb farther “out” about ten years ago. It is much quieter and I still have deer occasionally forage in the back yard. I must admit that we feel isolated in the fact that we must drive to get anywhere. When I lived farther “in” we had treelined streets and sidewalks. You could always walk to the grocery store or to a sandwich shop. The new developments have sidewalks, but only within each development. The old existing township roads between the developments are still narrow and dangerous for pedestrians or even bicycles. I really do miss walking to the store on a warm summer night.

  • avatar
    philbailey

    Potena:
    Sorry, old chap, but you’re wrong. In Europe, traffic already in the circle has priority. Which is why it takes so long to enter. If New Jersey is doing it the other way around, then no wonder it’s a nightmare.

  • avatar

    @quasimondo

    I dunno about you, but Monderman’s idea scares me. No lights, no signs? It reminds me of a YouTube video some guy took of a traffic intersection in downtown Ho Chi Minh City. One word: Chaos. Another word: Gridlock. It’s a fine idea if you want to frustrate a driver to the point that he’d rather set his car on fire and take a Schwinn to work, though.

    Sounds like what people were telling Monderman when they were protesting his suggestions …
    Traffic calming also means adjusting street layout to impede unrestricted traffic speed build-up. If you don’t, you do not get the “negotiation” through the windshield that determines right-of-way.

    @Potena
    Traffic-in-the-circle has right-of-way throughout Europe. Works perfectly. NJ should give it a look. The description above of winding a way through the cars sounds like a prescription for frustration.

    BTW – measurements of the time people spend waiting to enter the circle, compared to the time spent waiting at regular traffic-light controlled intersections, show that circles create more flow and less waiting time.

  • avatar
    Steven T.

    Great article. I hope TTAC runs more “nontraditional” think pieces. These are important discussions that are all but ignored by the enthusiast magazines and trade journals such as Automotive News.

    I’d argue that the single biggest reason Detroit has lost its dominance in the U.S. auto biz is because it stopped paying attention to what was actually going on out there on the street. Instead of helping people solve their changing real-world problems, Detroit has all too often fixated on creating the next fantastic styling exercise.

    Look at the late 1950s. The Big Three spent enormous amounts of money creating rolling palaces. Some of them even looked good (my favorite is the 1957-58 Chrysler 300 letter series). Alas, despite much-bragged-about market research, Detroit’s investment in big cars ultimately went down the toilet. A growing portion of the public was moving to the suburbs and sought smaller, more utilitarian transportation. The VW beetle became a strikingly popular symbol of the public’s disgust with the Big Three.

    Similar patterns can be seen in the late 60s and 70s. Indeed, the only thing that saved Detroit from rapidly advancing foreign automakers was the passage of CAFE standards that forced the Big Three to downsize its fleet. (Not that any Detroit executive worth his salt would admit this.)

    So yes, I hope that Detroit does start paying more attention to innovative planning tools. However, I’m not optimistic. When given a choice, Detroit almost always scurries back to the styling studio in search of more adolescent glitz.

    Today’s big SUVs and trucks were designed with much the same attitude that created befinned abominations such as the 1958 Buick. It’s in the gene pool.

  • avatar
    Voice of Sweden

    Planners in Sweden now admit that roundabouts increase peoples uncertainty and thereby decreases speeds. This leads to more accidents, but less fatal ones. The total sum of damage thereby decreases, i.e. fewer people killed etc..

    A recent trend is really tiny roundabouts replacing small town 4-way crossings.

    There are also some really LARGE ones:
    Valla Roundabout

    Roundabouts makes you appreciate nice handling cars more than trafficlights does.

    And, for the arty of you, here’s the latest trend:
    The Roundabout Dog
    Ordinary people making art statements in roundabouts – and to everybodies surprise the government agency decided to leave the dogs alone as they were/are!

    Finally:
    In most of Continental Europe, the default priority is to give way to the right, but this default may be overridden by signs or road markings. In France, priority was initially according to the social rank of each traveler, but early in the life of the automobile this rule was deemed impractical and replaced with the “priorité à droite” (give way to the right) rule, which was employed until the 1980s. At a roundabout, “priorité à droite” works this way: traffic already on the roundabout gives way to traffic entering the roundabout. Most French roundabouts now have give-way signs for traffic entering the roundabout, but there remain some notable exceptions that operate on the old rule, such as the Place de l’Étoile around the Arc de Triomphe. Traffic on this particular roundabout is so chaotic that French insurance companies deem any accident on the roundabout to be equal liability.
    Priority

  • avatar
    Luther

    measurements of the time people spend waiting to enter the circle, compared to the time spent waiting at regular traffic-light controlled intersections, show that circles create more flow and less waiting time.

    Think of it as every lane to the circle is right-on-red. The traffic flows more evenly than a light-controlled intersection. It is also beneficial to have a “zippy” car (low-end torque) with a manual transmission and excellent brakes. It is driving neurosurgery which is more invigorating than it is frustrating (In Europe anyway).

  • avatar
    pauln

    I’ve been following these experiments and thinking about how this is applicable to other locales. The reason this approach works, I believe, is because traffic signs make us feel passive, or reactive, kind of like how you felt all through middle school, everyone telling you what to do. Studies have repeatedly shown that 70% of traffic signs are ignored (try looking at ALL the signs out there, you’ll be amazed at how many you’ve never consciously noticed). When all signs, and even curbs are taken away, it engenders a sense of mindfulness and social awareness of what you are doing in your environment. You become aware of your options and choices, and negotiate with all the other players. Like a good playground (without parents) or a good party.

    In my own older neighborhood, of gridded streets, there used to be very few signs, including most intersections, because folks were presumed to know the rules for uncontrolled intersections (slow down and if there is any, traffic to your right has right of way). In the last 15 years the neighborhood organization has successfully lobbied for endless signs, traffic speed humps, etc. And has it made any difference? No. But they’re lobbying for more.

    What it has done is alienate drivers from the sense of connection to the neighborhood, because they feel isolated from what is really happening on the street, and they’re losing the social mechanisms to appropriately respond.

    That being said, I don’t yet see how this system will work in a large, anonymous city setting. But the possibilities in small towns and neighborhoods is very compelling to me.

  • avatar
    Terry Parkhurst

    This is a wonderfully thought-provoking piece. It reminds me, to a degree, of the “urban village” concept which then Mayor Norm Rice was touting in Seattle, about 15 years ago. The idea that the average length of a daily commute is about 30 miles, is also the reason that compact electric cars still could be the urban vehicle of choice. Thing is, as Marshall McLuhan wrote, the modern automobile is a “mechanical bride,” a fashion and personal statement, especially in America where you oftentimes are defined by what you own. At some point however, cars such as the Nissan Versa and Honda Fit, will succeed because they will be viewed as statements such as “I am secure enough in my masculinity to know I don’t always need to be seen in a sports or muscle car,” or “I am not so stupid as to drive a four-wheel drive truck in the city without being a contractor.”

  • avatar
    Paul Niedermeyer

    And the perfect vehicle for the urban village: (along with the Smart): the Honda Step Bus, as shown at the LA auto show. Seats five.

  • avatar
    jthorner

    It has long seemed to me that the era of zoning, planning boards, redevelopment zones and the like has done at least as much harm as it has good, and probably has been a net negative.

    The mixed-use ethos was standard operating practice across the USA before the professional planners came on the stage and started trying to dictate land use decisions for what they thought was the greater good. One of the dictates of planning doctrine has been that use types need to be segregated through zoning laws. We must not allow the factory owner to build their home next to the factory and certainly the farm shouldn’t be in between the apartment buildings. Wikipedia has a relatively unbiased review of the history here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zoning

    This idea that various elites know best what to do with various pieces of land is less than 100 years old, dating to it’s start in the 1920s.

    Unfortunately the New Urbanists of today are right in their view that mixed-use is a better way to go, but wrong with their idea that their ideas of strict design guildlines and such are the way to unleash positive change. When a body of laws doesn’t produce the promised result, the simplest solution would be to get rid of said laws. But alas, one then runs into the problem of trying to change the status quo.

  • avatar
    leighzbohns

    @ Terry Parkhurst:
    It reminds me, to a degree, of the “urban village” concept which then Mayor Norm Rice was touting in Seattle, about 15 years ago.

    Let’s not forget how hard the neighborhood groups fought in the mistaken belief that they could hold back the ocean of development by sheer force of will. Now, we have no good mass transit (the bus sucks. I ride it all the time), and anonymous lowest-bidder condos and townhouses are invading the neighborhoods like ringworm.

    In the past 48 hours I have commuted smart and stupid: Yesterday, I pulled off a nice bus/bike to northgate. I bet it was faster to ride to the bus, catch the bus, travel on the freeway, and then ride a few blocks past all the lines of cars waiting to get into the mall and look for parking. Tonight, I drove my beater to west seattle, which was easy, but trying to park within two blocks of my house on queen anne took 15 minutes.

    I wish I could just get rid of the car, but there’s often no other option to get to certain places.

  • avatar
    Pch101

    A thought provoking piece, it’s nice to see a discussion of cars and urban planning here that is not typical in either enthusiast mags or on auto websites.

    While I do see some merit to the ideas of Monderman described here, I do have to question whether these would work in a modern context. Today’s car are faster,quicker and more insulated from the outside world of the cars of yesteryear, which may make them more comfortable and efficient, but also feeds a greater sense of disconnect with the outside world, which is contrary to what Monderman advocated. I have to wonder whether road rage is promoted in part by improvements to cars, which increases our isolation from the road and therefore heightens the sense of intrusion felt when interacting with other cars.

    Traffic calming efforts attempt to reduce the speed variance between vehicles and pedestrians. While technological improvements have made it safer for drivers to increase their speeds relative to other vehicles, this doesn’t help the pedestrian who has to contend with the car. We all know who wins those contests, and with that increasing sense of isolation among drivers, I can’t see pedestrians having much leverage in the “negotiation” that occurs between themselves and cars.

    I’m not sure what the answer is, but I can’t imagine that the Big 2.5 are going to jump into the small car game with both feet, New Urbanism or not. Even though we may not like it, the only way that you will get the American consumer to demand small cars en masse will be to make fuel so expensive that they have little choice but to think small. The Europeans and Japanese aren’t driving small cars because they are superior eco-minded envirocrusaders, but because at $6-7 per gallon, they haven’t got much choice.

  • avatar
    Areitu

    This seems like one of those concepts that is so blindingly obvious, it just took someone insightful and bold to notice and put it into words.

    Aside from unforseen kinks, I see this as a way to have your cake and eat it to. Petrolheads like us can drive around when we want and not get stuck somewhere while everyone still enjoys the convenience and idependence of driving.

  • avatar
    nichjs

    I concur, a great article off the beaten track – bravo.

    All this talk of “circles”, I can’t resist linking to a rather amusing intersection in Wiltshire, England: “The Magic Roundabout”. You can even get T-Shirts of the thing…

    http://www.swindonweb.com/life/lifemagi0.htm

    ps. gimme a roundabout over a stop sign any day!

  • avatar
    geeber

    Interesting article…but when approaching the entire subject of urban planning, a few important facts must be considered that always seemed to be missed.

    One, the most important consideration for middle-class families with children on where to live is not the number of sidewalks or how close the stores are. It is the quality of the school district. The crappy conditions of virtually all urban school districts keep many residents out of the city. Here in Harrisburg, there are beautiful neighborhoods with older, nicely built homes on individual (but not huge) lots. They are located on tree-lined streets with lots of nice sidewalks.

    In other words, something that would find the approval of most urban planners, and something that even people who prefer the suburbs would consider acceptable. (Studies consistenly show that the majority of people aspire to a single-family home on an individual lot.)

    But no one – including my wife and I – will consider them because we absolutely will not send our children to the Harrisburg School District.

    Second, when looking at car, many of us DO still consider the ability of the car to take a long – if not necessarily a transcontinental – trip. As someone once said, in America 100 years is a very long time; in England, 100 miles is a very long trip.

    We routinely visit my family (about 50 miles away) and her family (about three hours away, and not all of it on interstate highways).

    And, no, we are not taking a Honda Fit, we are not taking the train or a bus, and we are not renting a larger car every time we go to visit relatives.

    Third, lots of people don’t want to live in urban or even suburban areas. They like living in rural areas; they don’t care if there are any sidewalks nearby; and they don’t care if they have to drive to the store. They want isolation. One of the fastest growing areas around here is a very rural county north of Harrisburg that doesn’t even have a stop light within its borders. People aren’t moving there for sidewalks or urban living. They don’t WANT anything to be close by or convenient.

    StevenT: Some of them even looked good (my favorite is the 1957-58 Chrysler 300 letter series). Alas, despite much-bragged-about market research, Detroit’s investment in big cars ultimately went down the toilet. A growing portion of the public was moving to the suburbs and sought smaller, more utilitarian transportation. The VW beetle became a strikingly popular symbol of the public’s disgust with the Big Three.

    Have to disagree…big cars were still quite popular in the 1960s and early 1970s. And what replaced them was not the VW Beetle, but the intermediates (Chevelle, Fairlane/Torino) and the personal luxury cars (Cutlass Supreme, Monte Carlo). Which, while easier to handle and slightly more economical, weren’t exactly fuel sippers or all that nimble.

    Steven T: Indeed, the only thing that saved Detroit from rapidly advancing foreign automakers was the passage of CAFE standards that forced the Big Three to downsize its fleet. (Not that any Detroit executive worth his salt would admit this.)

    CAFE only fueled the rise of SUVs and accelerated the switch to trucks to replace full-size cars.

    The Ford F-150 was already the best-selling vehicle in the country by 1981 – or two years after the second fuel “crisis.”

  • avatar
    fellswoop

    Traffic entering the circle has the right of way over traffic already in the circle.

    You’re kidding, right?

    Don’t you have the same signs we have here in MA that say “Yield to Rotary Traffic”?

    I think you could get a traffic jam going with about 8 cars if the people IN the rotary were all yielding to people trying to get into it. Thats like a demented kiddie pool or something.

    If everyone used their turn signals correctly (laughable pipe dream, I know) rotaries wouldn’t be that bad at all.

  • avatar
    dolo54

    I live in nyc and have thought about how the city could deal with its traffic. Midtown is already impossible to drive across during the day and on weekend nights as well. While fees may offer some sort of short-term solution, I would hate to see the city go London’s route, where driving is an absolute nightmare. Plus charging fees just makes people bitter… it’s already a rich person’s city for the most part and to disenfranchise even more people doesn’t appeal to me. I did have an interesting idea – expand the fdr and west side highways, build parking lots/structures all around midtown and downtown outside the city on the east and hudson rivers. Then limit traffic inside to strictly public transportation. That means once you get to manhattan, you park your car then catch a bus or train or some sort of urban golf-cart or pedi-cab. The city’s pretty narrow, and you can easily drive around the island, so if you need to go to say, 34th and 3rd ave, you park on the east river at 34th street and take the transport of your choice to your destination. If you are going to 34th and ninth ave you drive around the south side to west 34th, park and go from there. What do you new yorkers think of that? The alternative in 20 years is going to be going nowhere fast at all.

  • avatar
    ZoomZoom

    Traffic entering the circle has the right of way over traffic already in the circle.

    fellswoop:
    December 18th, 2006 at 2:29 pm

    You’re kidding, right?

    Yeah, that IS insane. It’s like people who try to get onto the elevator without first letting the exiting riders vacate the space! I hate when that happens…it’s so rude.

    There are some roundabouts in communities near me. It’s about damned time!

    In Michigan, boulevard driving is a major time-saver. Roads such as Telegraph, Woodward, and Gratiot have timed traffic lights. If you drive the speed limit, you should make several green lights before you have to stop for a red. They do that by preventing left turns. No left turns at intersections. You always go “through” or turn right. To turn left, you still have to turn right, then take a “u-turn” lane.

    Rush hours are still bad, and of course you are always at the mercy of being knocked “out of time” by any single inattentive slowpoke in front of you. But for the most part, boulevards seem to work well.

    Great think piece! And on a car site, too. That’s why I come here.

    We have a lot of pre-planned mixed-use type communities sprouting up here in central Florida. Central Florida is exploding in growth, and not all of has been good or sensible.

    Mixed-use communities (also called “Planned Communities”) are a start; at least we’re thinking about the problem.

    However, there’s a conundrum with the current state of affairs. Real estate prices and property taxes are quickly becoming confiscatory in Florida.

    This puts planned-community real-estate financially out-of-reach for a lot of people. These are often the people who are going to work at the local Publix grocery store or Washington Mutual bank.

    They often would not be able to affort to buy property in a community such as Celebration in Kissimmee or Avalon Park in East Orlando. In the odd circumstance, they might be able to find roomates or maybe afford the mortgage on a modest place in the community, or they might be able to afford an apartment if the community includes an apartment complex (which is becoming more and more rare; everything’s going condo) but many upscale communities either don’t have affordable housing, or they have it but with an uncomfortably low amount of square footage and fewer amenities.

    My point is that with rare exceptions, the people who can afford to live in the community can afford it BECAUSE they work someplace else.

    And the people who work there have to live somplace else.

    So EVERYBODY has to drive.

    So we’re only fixing half of the problem. Which, for a lot of people, fixes none of the problem.

  • avatar

    @ZoomZoom

    You’re pointing out a problem that deserves serious attention – in that the ideally planned communities can prove prohibitively expensive to those needed for the places to work.
    Fortunately, the people who develop planned communities have become aware of the problem, and are now zoning the areas with dwellings in a variety of price classes.

    Guess we also have to take into account that it takes time for things to change.

    Matthew Potena above complains about NJ not getting the traffic circles right – if what he writes is what NJ drivers think: that traffic entering has the right of way over traffic inside — then I can understand his frustrations. :-)

  • avatar
    nyc

    dolo54.

    First, the people who drive in Manhattan are the privledged, the common man (the one you’re trying to help) takes the train. Tax the drivers and improve public transit.

    Second, those park and ride facilities need to be farther out. Rather than expanding the FDR and the west side highway (which block access to the rivers), tear them down and build the parking lots in NJ or the outerboroughs. Residents of Manhattan already bear the brunt of everyone else driving into the city. After all, I don’t go out to NJ and drive through their neighborhoods every day (or ever).

  • avatar
    dolo54

    Well I think anybody who can afford the rent in lower manhattan is somewhat privileged. I’m more interested in improving the city for everyone as opposed to a temporary solution (an entrance fee) which will only keep out the relatively less wealthy. Actually I would disagree that those who drive in Manhattan are the privileged… most are just people from outside Manhattan, tourists basically. Creating a fee system that keeps out more tourists would hit businesses as their clientele might decide not to come to the city.

  • avatar
    Steven T.

    Geeber:
    “. . . big cars were still quite popular in the 1960s and early 1970s. And what replaced them was not the VW Beetle, but the intermediates. . . .”

    I see your point, but I don’t think it is an either-or proposition. Look at the overall trend line of the 1955-1985 period. The mid-50s saw the high water mark of Alfred Sloan’s hierarchy of brands, where prestige was measured in body length, tail fin height and cubic inches. Here is when premium-priced big cars were at the zenith of their popularity.

    In typical boom-bust fashion, Detroit assumed that the good times were only beginning, and each of the Big Three attempted to one-up the other in its premium-priced offerings. For example, the Edsel launch was hugely expensive in its own right, but it was just one element of Ford’s aggressive expansion effort.

    As we all know, the Edsel was a flop. But what is not commonly discussed is that the premium-priced field as a whole saw a dramatic contraction in the late 50s and early 60s as buyers switched to imports and compacts.

    No, big cars didn’t go away, but the paradigm shifted — Sloan’s hierarchy of brands was challenged for the first time. And even though bigger cars did make comebacks in the late-60s and 70s, each time a recession left imports and smaller cars with a larger share of the market.

    “CAFE only fueled the rise of SUVs and accelerated the switch to trucks to replace full-size cars.”

    That was one side effect. But surely you wouldn’t argue that GM, Ford and Chrysler would have better weathered the early 1980s if each hadn’t invested heavily in FWD small cars to compete against the imports. Those investments were primarily made as a result of CAFE. At least for a Detroit executive, nothing concentrates the mind better than a governmental edict.

    The battle between “bigger is better” and “small is beautiful” has yet to be concluded. I argued above that big trucks and SUVs are the modern equivalent of the late-50s Buicks and Edsels. The look has changed, but the underlying design philosophy has not.

    You might argue that “bigger is better” is still a viable business model for the Not So Big 2.5. Would you bet your pension on that assumption? I wouldn’t.

  • avatar

    Ah, the wonderful 50s, when roads were wide and distances between cars were those of a quarterback’s pass down the field to his wide receiver in the end zone. You couldn’t build them big enough.

    I agree with you, Steven T, wouldn’t stake my pension on “bigger is better” as a viable model for car design. But there are lots of truly inspiring and interesting things car manufacturers can do to make car ownership something people will be willing to pay a lot for, anyway.

    And to all the nodding heads who keep repeating the mantra: “The big cars are the ones to build because they give the biggest margins.” Wake up – the portion of the market that wants these is shrinking, and fast. Those margins are all being eaten up by incentives and ludicrous strategies such as DCX filling up parking lots with sold/unsold cars to smoothen their statistics.

    From an engineering standpoint, where’s the biggest challenge:

    1. Building a bloated car that lurches along on its platform, containing every doodah you can think of, being pulled by out-of-date engine technology? Delivering 8-14 miles to the gallon, if you’re lucky?

    2. Creating smaller, more agile yet safe vehicles that aim to break the 100 miles/gallon barrier?

    For my money, the moonshot is in the second category.

  • avatar
    nyc

    I’m saying (poor spelling notwithstanding, was a bit tired yesterday) that we need both. Better transportation certainly but one has to realise that New York has huge streets and that simply blocking all of streets to private traffic would really be a waste of space. Sidewalks could be expanded and light rail should also be put in to suplement the trains and busses, but avenues such as 10th and 11th will still have a huge amount of capacity. A fee system with good park and ride facilities could help to generate the cash to improve the transportation network and reduce demand while also not closing off all streets to traffic.

    For the record I don’t own a car and I’m not exactly fond of people who drive in Manhattan. Just trying to be pragmatic.

    Also, where are all these garages going to go? How can you expand the FDR and West Side HW?

    Put ’em on the other side of the river.

  • avatar
    dolo54

    Yeah compromise is always good. I know that the city has planned various projects off the east river, including an east river park, and also this huge Guggenheim museum designed by Frank Gehry was approved by the city, only to be canceled due to the museum’s financial problems. They were going to create the structure off the island and into the east river.

    Another solution may be to create elevated pedestrian spaces through the city, or elevated roadways (ala metropolis). In any case, when it comes to city planning I think it’s best to think big, as incremental improvements generally have to be swept aside eventually. The really big projects (like the brooklyn bridge) last for ages.

  • avatar
    Glenn A.

    Traffic circles require competent drivers to work, thus, they don’t appear to work in the United States (sorry to be so blunt).

    However, when they are present and there are competent (i.e. well taught) drivers present, the traffic flow doubles (UK statistics).

    Once traffic gets beyond a certain point, however, nothing helps and the Brits then add traffic lights to get ONTO the traffic circles (called roundabouts).

  • avatar
    Glenn A.

    I understand that in France, for awhile, anyway, it was possible to get on a train – have your (small-ish) car also put on the train – go at high speed between cities – get your car and then drive about at your destination, rather than driving yourself.

    What a novel idea. An efficient high speed rail system is far more efficient than individual cars.

    Making it work would be the trick and even the French with fuel costing 3X as much as the US can’t do it.

    So instead, our culture could do what I am already doing – which is to utilize an appropriately sized efficient hybrid vehicle which is very aerodynamic, and carpool to work, using this car also for my long-distance journeys. It’s a 2005 Prius.

    We have already built up the expressways over the past 1/2 century, and the rails are mostly gone in vast areas of the country. May as well use what we have instead of tearing up the expressways and putting rails back in, I guess.

  • avatar
    geeber

    StevenT: I see your point, but I don’t think it is an either-or proposition. Look at the overall trend line of the 1955-1985 period. The mid-50s saw the high water mark of Alfred Sloan’s hierarchy of brands, where prestige was measured in body length, tail fin height and cubic inches. Here is when premium-priced big cars were at the zenith of their popularity.

    In typical boom-bust fashion, Detroit assumed that the good times were only beginning, and each of the Big Three attempted to one-up the other in its premium-priced offerings. For example, the Edsel launch was hugely expensive in its own right, but it was just one element of Ford’s aggressive expansion effort.

    As we all know, the Edsel was a flop. But what is not commonly discussed is that the premium-priced field as a whole saw a dramatic contraction in the late 50s and early 60s as buyers switched to imports and compacts.‘

    The medium-priced market came roaring back in the early 1960s, led by Pontiac, with Oldsmobile and Buick following. Even Chrysler Division experienced a recovery after 1961…and one reason was that it was the only Mopar division to offer a true full-size car after the disastrous downsizing of the full-size Dodge and Plymouth for 1962.

    The full-size Chevrolet set sales records after 1961, and hit a peak in 1965, when over 1 million Impalas were sold – and that doesn’t include Biscaynes and Bel Airs on the same platform.

    People wanted compacts and intermediates all right…but with Chevy II, Falcon, Chevelle and Fairlane names on them. They wanted their big cars to stay big.

    Steven T: No, big cars didn’t go away, but the paradigm shifted — Sloan’s hierarchy of brands was challenged for the first time. And even though bigger cars did make comebacks in the late-60s and 70s, each time a recession left imports and smaller cars with a larger share of the market.

    If you are saying that the domestics needed to address new market segments while maintaining their big cars – I agree.

    If you are saying that they should have allowed their big cars to dwindle away while focusing on smaller cars – I disagree.

    Prior to 1977, every time a domestic auto maker downsized its full-size cars, it took a beating. When it added a smaller model to the line, it met with success.

    Steven T: That was one side effect. But surely you wouldn’t argue that GM, Ford and Chrysler would have better weathered the early 1980s if each hadn’t invested heavily in FWD small cars to compete against the imports. Those investments were primarily made as a result of CAFE. At least for a Detroit executive, nothing concentrates the mind better than a governmental edict.

    Front wheel drive makes sense for Escort-, Tempo- and Taursus-size cars.

    But it is not needed for bigger cars. GM’s slide really began in earnest when it downsized the full-size Oldsmobiles, Buicks and Cadillacs to front-wheel-drive platforms. There was still a very healthy market for Olds 88s, Ninety Eights, LeSabres, Electras and DeVille/Fleetwoods prior to the downsizing of those cars. In 1983, the full-size Oldsmobiles alone accounted for something like 3 percent of the entire car market.

    According to the late David Holls, a GM stylist, GM was urged to this by the federal government to show that it was a “responsible” corporate citizens.

    Today, popular perception has it that the Taurus saved Ford. Which is not true, as that model only broke even on its development costs. What saved Ford in the 1980s and led it to record-breaking profits were the full-size trucks and the Panther cars, which surged in popularity after GM downsized its big cars to front wheel drive in the mid-1980s. (Remember those Lincoln ads from the mid-1980s poking fun at the downsized GM big cars?)

    By the mid-1980s, tooling for those vehicles had long been paid for, so it was pure gravy for Ford by that point.

    Steven T: The battle between “bigger is better” and “small is beautiful” has yet to be concluded. I argued above that big trucks and SUVs are the modern equivalent of the late-50s Buicks and Edsels. The look has changed, but the underlying design philosophy has not.

    You might argue that “bigger is better” is still a viable business model for the Not So Big 2.5. Would you bet your pension on that assumption? I wouldn’t.

    I wouldn’t bet my pension on a company that only made cars the size of the Honda Fit, either.

    I agree that GM and Ford must meet the demand for smaller cars like the Honda Fit and Nissan Versa. Ironically, in Europe both offer very attractive vehicles for this segment.

    But I disagree that EVERYONE will be driving those cars in the future, or that they will constitute the biggest segment of the American market. I look at how my wife and I live – and we don’t have any children – and how her brother, wife and two small children live and travel, and can’t see how either one of us will be purchasing a Honda Fit as even a second vehicle any time soon.

  • avatar
    geeber

    GlennA: Wasn’t there a similar service – I believe it was called AutoTrain – available to people travelling to Florida for several years?

  • avatar
    dolo54

    yes the Auto Train. It seems to be still in service. I heard at one point they were planning another route from NY to DC.

  • avatar

    This is a beautiful article and has wonderful comments.
    I wanted to live in a mixed-zoning area but could not do so without committing financial suicide. The last time we had mixed zoning in Northwest Ohio (as far as I can tell and at least around my area of interest) was about 100 years ago when many cities were being established. It does not make economic sense to buy a 100 year old house when one can get a far better, larger, newer, and resellable cookie-cutter house for around the same dough.
    Sure enough, I have to drive to the strip malls to shop.
    I have lived in this community for a year and just this week got to know the people around me (delivering holiday cookies).
    (Why do strip malls offer driving right near the front doors? Why not make that front door area into parking spaces and have parking behind that?)
    I think many of us are in remorse for the dearth of the community water well. It has transformed into the community coffeehouse, but even those are scarce nowadays.

  • avatar
    MW

    Interesting article and comment thread. The one comment I would add is that my town has successfully “calmed” traffic on several major arteries by removing lanes to add treed medians and street parking. Given that many Americans are not trained to “see” anything smaller than another car when driving (take it from a former motorcyclist), it seems sensible to let something other than living people bear the brunt of civilizing drivers’ behavior. I like the approach outlined in the article, but I’m not sure I want to be one of the pedestrians coping with a vision-impaired elderly person or a hostile redneck wielding life-or-death power over me.

  • avatar

    @MW

    It takes two to tango, right? Monderman and Kulash are using broken lines geometry for the roads, to have motorists reduce their speed – in order to make their concept work. It’s all down to whether people want to collaborate, or keep having things be as they are now – which is wildly dysfunctional.

  • avatar
    MW

    “It’s all down to whether people want to collaborate”

    I’d like to collaborate, but my family would get tired of having to push my wheelchair around after a while. Seriously, a bicyclist was nearly killed by a hit-and-run driver near my home a few years back, and several people were seriously hurt in a nearby town when an elderly driver plowed into a crowd at a street festival. Many Americans simply cannot be trusted to handle a deadly weapon (i.e. a car) around others. That may be lamentable, but asking people to put their lives at risk simply isn’t reasonable. That’s why I suggest letting inanimate objects break up the geometry and create the impression of danger. A historic building that straddles a curve on a nearby road has been hit four times in the past three years. Better it than me.

  • avatar

    @MW

    Many Americans simply cannot be trusted to handle a deadly weapon (i.e. a car) around others. That may be lamentable, but asking people to put their lives at risk simply isn’t reasonable.

    But people do handle cars around others, all the time. The safety you feel when passing a meeting car is an illusion – as is the sense of being protected just because you’re up on a sidewalk, right next to traffic zipping past at 40-50 miles an hour.

    Remember sitting at a sidewalk cafe in LA, and one of us lit up a cigarette. A woman at the table next to us shouted out that we had to extinguish the cigarette. She was quite livid – “Are you trying to kill me?”
    Right next to us cars were zipping past, close to where we were sitting. Exhaust fumes being one thing, one of them could have jumped the curb.

    As you can understand, I do not accept your argument – and as I have observed Monderman’s solutions for real, I see that they are indeed safer, and more navigable, than the conventional “pretense” safety created by signs and signals and barriers that are no such thing, once an accident does happen …
    Of course, you’ll have to drive slower.

  • avatar
    EJ

    It would have to be a gated community: access for Hummers and Suburbans not allowed, it says at the entrance.


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