Safety by design


Right up to the crosswalk

The Mass. Ave. crosswalk at Lafayette Street is often boxed in. See this view north facing the CVS.

I sometimes get off the bus here from Arlington Center so as to walk home along the Alewife Greenway. More often than not there is an SUV like this one parked right up against the crosswalk.

This is a problem if you want to get across the street in one piece. The SUV blocks my view of oncoming cars, and also theirs of me.


Far-lane vehicle peeks around the SUV, but near-lane vehicle is hidden. View is NE from within the crosswalk.

That makes it impossible for those drivers to obey the law requiring them to yield to crossing pedestrians. The SUV in the second photo hides another oncoming car.

(Even Google’s street view shows a car parked similarly at this location, right up against the crosswalk.)

Faced with this, pedestrians can be cautious. (Drivers  could too, actually, by slowing down at sight-obstructed intersections.)

Drivers could, on the honor system, be courteous and not park this close to the crosswalk.

Residents could ask Town Meeting to adopt a bylaw making it illegal to park within 10 or even 20 feet of a crosswalk. (Yes, this is apparently perfectly legal now, though the Google car is slightly over the line.) That would still leave the problem of enforcement, but at least pedestrians would have the law on their side.

Caution, courtesy, and enforcement all have their place, but there is a fourth ingredient. Look at what’s planned for this crosswalk after the street is rebuilt.

Lafayette Street crossing as planned

Planned Lafayette Street crossing

The new design physically precludes vehicles from parking at the curb close to the crosswalk. Think of that as a “gross” safety effect of design: physical prevention.

Design can also create safety in more subtle ways. Anyone standing in the raised curb extension here will be more visible to motorists.

This encourages safety by making it easier for drivers to respect the law giving pedestrians in crosswalks the right of way.

Curb extensions also slow traffic a little by making the street feel less “fast,” discouraging unsafe habits.

What’s great about design solutions, when they are available, is how forgiving they are. They make it easier to be cautious and courteous. They do not require enforcement.

The strength of good design is that it is passive and does not require human virtue or care to contribute to safety.

3 comments so far

  1. dr2chase on

    What, you don’t trust the ever-so-courteous and careful Boston drivers to slow down as much as impaired visibility demands? :-)

    Yeah, this drives me nuts, too. It’s like all the dropouts and rejects from human factors school designed all our roads for us back in the good old days.

    Note that after this was done to Trapelo Road in places, one or two of those bumpouts had a car plow right into them. Makes me wonder why anyone would object to robot cars, those at least would assimilate new information.

    • Adam Auster on

      Against stupidity the gods themselves contend in vain.

      Drunk drivers will still find ways to kill people however you design things.

      Still I think it is possible to make streets inherently safer, if not absolutely safe.

      • dr2chase on

        Much-less-lethal drunk drivers is EASY. Put them on bicycles instead. It’s possible to kill a pedestrian on a bicycle, but not nearly as easy as doing it in a car.

What do you think?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: