The Traffic Network

and who has priority…

Times Square NYC features at the moment an experiment of the NYC DOT, an attempt to reclaim space for the pedestrian.  Of all Times Square users, pedestrians make up around seven times the number automobiles, yet the space devoted to them was previously 11%.  The current design turns Broadway around Times Square and Herald Square into a pedestrian zone, eliminating tricky intersections arising from Broadway’s diagonal cut through the uptown grid.  Not only does this reassign desperately needed space to the pedestrian, but studies showed that automobile traffic would experience a 17% improvement in efficiency through Times Square, a nice by-product for motorists.

I think inherent in any traffic system is a slight bias that emphasizes certain modes of travel over others.  In the U.S. we’ve consistently decided, in most instances, the way to deal with increasing automobile traffic is to build more highways or widen roads and thoroughfares, which in turn only encourages more people to drive and makes walking and cycling less advantageous and in fact more dangerous.  Public transit systems that rely almost exclusively on buses are likewise at a disadvantage, constantly stuck in the added congestion associated with increased personal automobile traffic.

An often overlooked solution is to create complete networks for other forms of transit beside the automobile, especially important for those people who cannot, or do not want to have to, afford a car.  The associated costs are also cheaper, as is the wear and tear on the infrastructure.  Here I stumbled upon a few examples of a complete network that encourages cycling and walking over driving, a bit of a relief particularly in the residential neighborhoods.  Faster-moving automobile traffic is kept on the larger roads, thoroughfares, collectors and arterials, while neighborhoods have the opportunity to breathe.  In other words, not every street needs to be a through street (for motorists,) which on the grid system is both an advantage and disadvantage.

example of limited access connector for bikes and pedsbike lane with parking and limited access street

some bike parking at the end of a street

What I enjoy about this example is that a complete network for pedestrians and cyclists exists, and is in fact emphasized.  Not only that, some of these disconnects for drivers use bicycle parking as a barrier for the street end.  Hamburg may already have a 9% bicycle modal share but the city has dedicated itself to doubling that in the short term.  I can imagine that it’s infrastructure like this that will help with that goal.  As a pedestrian or cyclist, these facilities help make a neighborhood feel like a place to gather, a place to meet people out on the street.  This in contrast to feeling like you’re in a neighborhood that was meant to be driven through, where the available facilities favor the motorist who’s merely passing through; this being the case in many U.S. cities it’s little wonder it’s 23 times more dangerous per mile on foot and 12 times more dangerous per mile on bike as compared to per mile in an automobile.  Check out this study, mentioned also in Tom Vanderbilt’s blog How We Drive in a related post about drunk walking and drunk driving.


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