- a collection of notes and reflections on urban living from the perspective of a family of five in Tokyo. My epiphany was many years ago, but being hit by a motorbike and seeing my life flash before my eyes caused a sudden change that slowly made me reflect on whether American style auto-centric urban transportation of the Roosevelt era really is a capital G "Good Idea" for civilized modern cities in the 21st Century. This blog explores the good and the bad in urban planning and design, here and elsewhere. The goal is simple - not "death to all cars," just more walkable communities, quiet tree-lined streets, good public transport, traffic calming, Velib style bicycle sharing and a bit of common sense. The bolg is mostly theraputic, so I don't go wanting to throttle every dangerous driver I come across, but partly also out of a real desire to see positive change. This blog explores how it can be done, the people who do it, and how, in many small ways, this very old idea may at last have found its zeitgeist. Comments and suggestions welcome.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Livable streets - a "how to"

Who hasn't been inspired by these roads with high canopies of tree cover? Cars need wide roads preferably open for visibility at high speed. Everyone else however, enjoys a good canopy cover. This provides fantastic protection from sun, wind and also light rain - not to mention inspiring awe and wonder. Narrower streets are best for good canopy cover.

It is surprisingly easy to make a regular road livable and friendly. A few nice big planter boxes in the middle of the road is all it takes. This road is still accessible by car - but no longer a through road. There is also a special access for emergency vehicles. All of a sudden the stinking noisy screeching dangerous inner city roadside becomes a peaceful oasis - it is itself a part of the park.

Bollards have the same effect. A few of these bollards are removable to allow emergency vehicle through access as necessary (but chained so they cannot be taken far). Locals quickly put them back in place to stop regular traffic (because they have come to value life without high speed through traffic - gasoline-powered, electric or otherwise).

And who said that all roads need to be wide enough for vehicles? Why not have some roads that are just tracks - short cuts wide enough for pedestrians and bicycles. Cars must go around. This encourages people to get out of their comfort zone (lazy zone?) and walk, jog or ride.

In the West, road builders assume that pedestrians are there simply for pleasure, and therefore tend not to make (non-motor) paths straight. Pedestrian-only streets should be reasonably direct particularly if in busy areas - but on side areas it is not impossible to play a little with the design.

Just think - in the West you can drive a car from your street across the entire country with barely a bump in the road. Imagine if there was a similar network of car-free streets where the entire design goal was the efficiency and convenience of non-vehicular traffic. Why is it that pedestrians must "cross" a street? If we thought about it a bit, it could quite conceivably be the other way around - where the pedestrian has a straight and flat, unbroken path which automobiles must "cross" (and wait to do so). Design can assist in facilitating this perception in many ways other than these above, just as it is used now in the West to create the perception that roads "belong" to automobiles. But a picture is worth a thousand words, so hopefully these pictures will give people an idea of the incredible "traffic-calming" potential of these design features.

Incidentally, all of these streets are in inner city Tokyo.

No comments: