Thinking Outside The Box

How many people have ever used a roundabout? Or taken a flyover? I have. When I came here, I was somewhat puzzled by the absence of these two structures in urban infrastructure. Puzzled, but I adapted quickly enough.

According to this article, the venerable roundabout is making a return in traffic engineer’s good graces. But that’s only part – and a very superficial part – of the linked story. The truth is, cars are increasingly dominating urban life in North America and unless something (transit, better roads etc.) is done about it, the human, environment and social cost will start to stifle us. In Canada, larger cities like Toronto and Mississauga have the critical mass to change their urban planning policies and implement larger, better-funded and more extensive transit systems to ferry people around. “Build it and they will come”.

What I’m reading about here seems to turn conventional logic on its head. Remove road signs. Allow conventional traffic, pedestrians and cyclists to mix freely on the roads. And voila! Like magic traffic speed decreases, throughput increases and accident figures lower? Sounds a tad unrealistic. Although only two examples are linked there, I wonder if other cities have implemented his techniques with the same success. Personally, I think it’ll work only if civic authorities are willing to push some major changes simultaneously – for example – remove some of the lanes from wider roads and change zoning rules and restrictions. It seems to be somewhat ‘pie-in-the-sky’ to be able to simply plop down these techniques and expect some good to happen. In other words – a whole package deal – and not cheap for many municipalities here.

That’s unfortunate – cause we really need something better. Thinking of the 30-45 minute drive I used to make out of Brampton every morning, the cold uniformity and empty sidewalks of Mississauga and the deserted streets characterizing many suburbs awakens awareness of an important point. We need to try something. Cause the alternative’s not a pretty sight.

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