It’s January, the time of year when a lot of people adopt healthier eating habits and new diets. So if you’re one of those people, you probably stopped buying beer or ceased baking your weekly batch of chocolate chip cookies, or maybe you started bringing your lunches from home.
Whatever healthier habit you select, you’re most likely to be able to stick with it if the temptation to indulge is eliminated, right? You’re going to have a really hard time kicking your Mountain Dew habit if you’ve got cans of it sitting next to your desk at work. Even if you were to, say, put a sign on the cans that said, “Don’t drink me,” they would still be taunting you every time you looked at them. Even if you were to ask your spouse to remind you not to drink the soda, she wouldn’t be near you every single moment with that prompt at the ready. No, you’d be far more successful in your goal to give up Mountain Dew if you got rid of the cans altogether.
This is even more obvious in children (and really, adults are not so different from children). If you left your four-year-old to play alone in the kitchen and said, “Don’t eat any of the brownies sitting out on the counter,” there’s no way that kid isn’t taking at least one brownie. It’s human nature. Any parent who doesn't want their child eating the brownies would remove the temptation completely.
We face the same situation when we look at the streets in our cities. If every street we drive down is replete with wide lanes and large curving intersections, no amount of signage or even the threat of getting a speeding ticket is going to remove the temptation to drive fast at least some of the time. It’s basic psychology.
This is why, when people respond to car crashes by saying that we need to lower the speed limit or get more police officers out there handing out tickets, it makes me incredibly angry. If we don’t address the root cause of this problem — dangerously designed streets which induce speeding — then we’re going to keep seeing headlines every day about yet another pedestrian killed and yet another car crash claiming the lives of innocent kids.
There is no amount of signage or cops patrolling that will eliminate the problem of people speeding and it is offensive to those who have died and lost loved ones to suggest it. Furthermore, adding additional police patrols isn't feasible for most cities' already strained budgets — and it's certainly not attainable in the amount that would be required to even begin to cut down on dangerous driving (which would probably be a cop posted at every other block, 24 hours a day).
We have to design our neighborhoods in a way that completely eliminates the temptation to speed (and we have to design our high-speed roads in a way that keeps them separated from the activities of pedestrians).
The fix is simple: We must narrow our streets. On a narrow street, you are required to pay close attention to your surroundings and to drive more slowly and carefully so as not to hit anything. Don’t believe me? Just imagine how you’d respond if you were driving down this baby:
How fast would you be comfortable driving? 20 mph? What about if there were people entering and exiting the shops on either side and walking down the street. 15? Great. That's safe!
By designing our streets to account for the maximum amount of driver error — with wide lanes, large setbacks, curved turns, etc. — we have created more dangerous communities, because we have left no room for anyone else’s errors. There’s no room for the kid who chases a ball into the street. There’s no room for the senior citizen who walks a little slower, the dad who's pushing a heavy double stroller, the mail carrier wheeling a cart full of packages across the street…
We can achieve the goal of narrower, safer streets in a very simple and affordable way. It’s been done in cities across the country using nothing but paint and traffic cones.
But by clamoring for more enforcement or different signage every time someone is killed in a car crash, we're doing nothing but putting a band-aid on the situation — one that will fall off and let the wound get infected in a matter of days. We have to solve this problem at its root by designing streets that are safe for everyone.
(Top photo source: U.S. Air Force/Tech. Sgt. Sean Tobin)