At the end of the day, policy in this area has to be driven by common sense
and a firm knowledge of behavioral psychology and culture. Reinforced of
course by the crown jewels of traffic engineering and street design.
Here is my 1 2 3 take of the foundation points on this important issue:
1. Cars make us drivers impatient. We are also insulated by our steel
capsule, line of vision, internal noise controls, and thus divorced from the
real world. That is part of what cars are all about (you just have to look
at the ads), speeding us along like a magic carpet from place to where we
want to go.
2. Thus, 9 people out of 10 - me included sorry to say- are going to
drive pretty much as fast as they think circumstances will "reasonably"
permit. And this is, much of the time at least, simply too fast in a city
3. There are parts of the world, not many sadly, where there is a 'slow
car culture', which specifically can take the form of smilingly yielding
priority to pedestrians, cyclists and even other cars and public transit
vehicles. I know that I for one do that just about all the time - but the
demon of speed is still there itching in my psyche and ready to roar out
when the circumstances permit.
4. Thus, culture helps, but it's not that of the majority - so we can
hardly count on that
5. And fear of retribution helps too - but many divers tend to "work
with that" in various ways. Not all of them necessarily nasty per se, but
the result is very simple: they take their chances and speed mains and
kills, no matter how pure our thoughts may be.
6. And yes Martin Cassini, ill-placed traffic signals do indeed often
make things worse. Drivers will play them, and knowing the cycle will speed
up beyond the limit in order to make it through just in time (or a bit later
but what the hell, eh?).
7. Posted speed limits: Just part of the environment. For most people
they are not credible, or reasonable. A vague part of the landscape. So they
are an eventual reference point but not a heavily determinant one.
Now that we have seen what an evil person I am - I am the Joe Average at the
wheel - the next question is what do we do to deal with me.
Here is what I propose, building on some of the points suggested here in the
last two days, but also on the very large body of work and information that
is underway on this for decades, going back to Donald Appleyard's Livable
Streets and Jane Jacob's Death and Life, and winding all the way through the
good work that has been done by many people and places, with a nod for sure
to our greatly regretted Hans Monderman.
1. So we know, people, most people at least, are going to drive as fast
as they can, if they can. Even on a city street. Or at the very least, too
fast to be safe in a world of darting children, wobbling cyclists, old
people in dark coats, and that other driver how is also going too fast.
2. So we have to restrain them physically and psychically - and the only
restraint that works is street architecture. We work by shortening the
straight lines, narrowing the road way, alternating surfaces, popping in
uncomfortable speed bumps, and using lights and visual, aura and tactile
signals and tricks to force slowing down.
3. IT also helps greatly to have large numbers s of pedestrians,
cyclists and playing children and chatting adults out onto the street, so
that it comes clear to all that this is a shared space for all. In French we
call it 'occuper le terrain", possibly "make it ours".
4. Truly English friends, the mindless propagation of intrusive tracking
technology to handle every 21st century problem that emerges involving
people is not an advance toward a more civilized world. Just because we can
do it, should not be taken to mean that we should.
5. But traffic police, laws and courts who strike hard on miscreant,
parked and others are certainly part of the solution set.
There you have my rough and ready speed control toolkit. I have observed and
worked with these issues for a long time, and I can't get any brighter on
this than what you have here.
PS I still love Robert Stussi's wonderful little Homage to Hans Monderman
clip, at 90 seconds and you'll see it on the internal left menu at
And as the terrific man on the street
being interviewed put it: "And statistically we can prove it, dear sir". We
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