24 August 2010

THE INTERSECTION


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Here is a picture of an intersection I was crossing on foot today in San Marino, California.

The temperature was 102 degrees Fahrenheit. I had decided that rather then circling around the site in my car looking for the most optimal parking space, I'd just walk a block, cross the street and make the deposit I was planning on doing on my rounds. Just like one would hope that any able-bodied individual would do in a community that wanted to reduce its carbon footprint, while easing the traffic.

Naturally, I had to push a button to cross the intersection. In Southern California, the traffic engineers have decreed that pedestrians need to register their presence in order to cross a street. Otherwise no light will come on telling me that it is safe to cross. I, being the dutiful citizen that I am, pushed the button.

I waited a cycle for the traffic proceeding in my direction, and I waited for several cycles of traffic to cross where I wanted to walk. I waited for vehicles to turn left from the vehicle lanes traveling in my direction. After a minute and a half, over one full cycle of the traffic lights, the walk light allowed a little over ten-seconds for me to cross. I had to hesitate a bit; late left-turners were still streaming through, squeezing their time through the light. I hurried through when my time came, a quick trot after such a long wait. Of course the episode repeated several minutes later when I headed back to my car after doing my business. The signal took more then half the time I needed to do the errand.

This is an episode that repeats itself thousands of times a day for motorists, who make the decision to do a lot of extra vehicular maneuvering because it so difficult to do otherwise. Next time I do this, why would I want to walk instead of circling round the block several times? It would certainly save me time, and keep me from breaking a sweat. Who cares if I need to go through that same intersection several times? Take this episode, multiply by the episodes around the city, and times the number of sizable cities with cars around the world, day in and day out. Vehicle traffic flow has inserted itself as the primary design objective at street corners, necessitated by a design imperative to move more and more cars through more and more intersections.

Cities can make righteous statements about being walkable in their General Plans and Mission Statements, but it starts with the small things. Note to cities and traffic engineers: Less Trip-Ends equals less volume, equals less need for pedestrian hampering controls. Equals a more enjoyable and sustainable city.

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