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24 Things CityMakers Must Do Stat To Design for Our Lives!

Last week, we took our best stab at distilling the vastly important Smart Growth America, Dangerous by Design report into what we believe are the main takeaways, both in terms of the key evidence-based findings and the critical design and policy guidance that came out of the report. We also aimed to translate these directives into specific, actionable urban design recommendations that citymakers must - and can - start implementing STAT. But there was so much to dig into with respect to SGA’s findings that - lest we threatened your weekly productivity - we decided to save the “how to” section for this week (tell your boss, you’re welcome!). Together, we can go from Dangerous by Design to Safe by Design! Let’s do this thing. And, if you happen to be attending MOVE in London next week, please hit me and Andy (our CTO) up! We’ll be exhibiting in the Startup Village in booth P62 on Feb 12th and 13th! Hope to discuss how data, predictive analytics, and design can save lives - and make people happier and more prosperous!

So without further ado, here 24 things citymakers can start doing STAT to Design for Our Lives in 2019 and beyond!

1) More Parks & Public Spaces

The presence of parks and public spaces is a big part of ensuring pedestrian and bicyclist safety! As we have noted before, these people-magnets reduce the odds of a collision by 26.5% on average (as tied to a one point increase in State of Place)! However, one must remember that not all parks are created equally! They must be accessible, well-designed, well-maintained, AND well-programmed. Don’t think you have enough land for a park? Well, you’re in luck. All of the following options were correlated with lower rates of collisions! Don’t know where to start? Go call our friends at Project for Public Spaces, STAT!! They are the gurus of creating awesome public spaces people love - which now, decrease the odds of a collision to boot!

  • Urban Parks! Like my beloved, Tompkins Square Park in NYC, these are the true, dynamic centers of urban life. Not only do these types of inclusive neighborhood cores attract people of all ilk, that volume of people makes collisions less likely (drivers are more aware of the presence of people and naturally, subconsciously slow down - which is a much more effective way to getting people to do what we want than simply (en)forcing them) .

  • Playgrounds! Remember, these can be for adults now too! And just like with urban parks, when designed well, these are natural speed killers - and life-savers!

  • Plazas, Squares, and Courtyards! Oh My! I know what you’re thinking - we’re not Europe…But these can be created DIY style. Times Square lacked an actual square until super-star transportation planner, Janette Sadik-Khan transformed it, first with semi-permanent, affordable urban design. You can do it!

  • Other semi-formal public spaces like pocket parks and pop-up parks! Think tactical urbanism! Not only is this now entrenched trend here to stay (yay!), as our friends at Street Plans have shown, not only are these the ultimate “lighter, quicker, cheaper” fix to create awesome places AND engaging the community, they’re now a key way to saving lives! What’s not to love?

2) Pedestrian and Bike Amenities

While it may seem obvious that providing more pedestrian and bike amenities reduces the odds of a collision (in fact, by 11.2% on average based on a one point increase in State of Place), you all still aren’t doing it?! Why? There are no excuses. Not only are these features literally life-savers, they are exactly the kinds of features people want! Read - these features are essential to building the walkable neighborhoods that young and old alike are flocking to! So developers, listen up, you need to get into the safety game too! No excuses. You can create safe, awesome places - AND boost your bottom line (remember, State of Place literally quantifies the ROI of making places better - and shows you the best way to maximize the bang for the buck!). So get in on the action and consider any or all of these features below (all significantly correlated with fewer collisions):

  • It’s the sidewalks, stupid! Seriously, all things sidewalks are key and yet SO many of our streets are missing these! Overall, nearly 25% of the blocks in our 8K+ block database do not have sidewalks; and 45% of blocks in which collisions occurred (based on our work in Durham) were missing sidewalks. But it’s not enough to just provide a sidewalk. It’s gotta be, like, complete! Nearly 1 in 5 blocks in our database have incomplete sidewalks; and nearly 3 out of 5 blocks in which collisions occurred were guilty of the “where the sidewalk” ends syndrome. Come on, seriously, we are literally doing a half-a**ed job! This should be EASY PEESY (not like we’re battling a demogorgon…)! And don’t forget, sidewalk condition matters too! Design for the most vulnerable - young kids, parents with strollers, the elderly, and folks with disabilities - and all will follow.

  • Buffers! Ever walk on a pencil-thin sidewalk along a 6+ lane road? It’s gotta be one of the scariest, most undignified things I’ve ever done - and it’s what countless people must do daily because we are failing them - and putting them at serious risk for their lives. A whopping 82% of streets in which collisions occurred lacked a sidewalk buffer (while 1 in 3 overall lack these “protectors)! This doesn’t have to be complicated. They can be landscape strips, trees, bollards (when appropriate), bike lanes, or on-street parking (again, when appropriate). Let’s give pedestrians and bicyclists the simple saviours they deserve!

  • Bike Lanes! Speaking of bike lanes, this is just as basic as the sidewalks. Their presence not only makes it more likely people will actually bike, they also help save lives - of pedestrians and bicyclists alike! The best are off road, but bike lanes with buffers are a good second bet. And yet sadly, only 7.2% of blocks in our database have bike lanes and more than half of these are just painted lines and 25% are sharrows (we can do better). Only 3.9% of blocks in which collisions occurred had bike lanes. Also, don’t forget the bike racks! They matter too…

  • Curbcuts! Oh what a difference a slope can make! But remember, it’s not just their presence that matters - where you place them is equally important. There are SO many curbcuts that are simply placed at the corner of an intersection, forcing many - again, mostly the most vulnerable among us - to essentially walk into the middle the street (even if ever so slightly) to be able to cross the street. Don’t skimp on the curbcuts - put them on both sides of the curb!

  • Pretty up those sidewalks! Turns out that making pedestrians feel special - even by doing something as simple as installing decorative or unique sidewalk paving - helps keep them safer too! It’s likely that these people-centered design features help remind drivers that streets - especially these kind - are for people and again, they naturally just slow down and pay more attention. It’s kinda really that simple. If you unapologetically build people-streets instead of car-streets, drivers will just “get” it and do better.

  • Art Matters! Creative placemakers rejoice! Public art also helps make streets safer - and helps bring people together. Win-win.

  • Let them eat…al fresco! Who doesn’t love eating outdoors (polar vortex aside, of course)?! Well, turns out this also helps promote a safer street - traffic wise. Once again - think giving off the impression that the street belongs to people! Drivers will get the (slow down or stop) signal…

  • Places to sit! Not only is this one of my all time favorite recommendations that the grandfather of urban-design behavior gifted us after his seminal study of what makes for successful public spaces (I’m talking about William - Holly - Whyte, for the unindoctrinated), this simple fix, namely, providing benches and other street furniture also helps make streets safer for pedestrians. Once again, it’s all psychological. Benches provide the affordance to sit, people then sit, and then, when there are a lot of people sitting, that once again gives cues to drivers to slow the — down!

3) Traffic Safety

Ok, I guess all of these seem somewhat obvious but that clearly hasn’t been enough to get awesome - safe - places people love DONE, so here goes. Again, better traffic safety (this is referring specifically to the design of the intersection and midblock) helps save lives to the tune of — for every one point increase on the State of Place Index for traffic safety, the odds of a collision fell by 10.7% on average. And once again, the key to unlocking this safety is decidedly simple. No excuses! Here are the many options to consider:

  • Fun crosswalk markings!! Hooray! Tactical urbanism to the rescue again! I am SUCH a believer in simple fixes and turns out that simply creating crosswalks that - yes, SPARK JOY!! - makes us both happier and safer! Citymakers, Get To It! Even if you have to go all guerilla style, you are literally one trip to Home Depot away from potentially saving a life!! And yet, nearly 90% of the blocks in our database don’t give any love to their crosswalks (don’t get too excited, the 10% that do aren’t too special, but you gotta start somewhere), and only 1.4% of blocks in which there were collisions contain some sort of unique crosswalk paving treatment.

  • The Narrow Sea! It’s not just what Daenerys needed to cross to begin to make her claim on the seven kingdoms! ;) We have to minimize the amount of time pedestrians are in the crosswalk. Think curb bulb outs, medians with pedestrian islands (if you have particularly wide streets - which should be the exception), fewer vehicle lanes, etc. But once again, we’re making it just as difficult for pedestrians to cross the street as it is for Dani to claim the Iron Throne — 96% of blocks in our database lack curb bulb outs - and only .3% of blocks in which collisions occurred had them (that was like 1 block, so yeah). Come on guys! Let’s make our streets drama-free - we got plenty of other (ostensibly) safe outlets for that!

  • Stay Calm and…Slow Down! Yup, back to basics. Lower speed limits still do work - but please, please, don’t rely simply on this alone. In fact, better designed streets (read, safer streets) tend to have lower speed limits, making for a whole is bigger than the sum of its parts effect. For example, 40% of streets with speed limits less than 35mph are also only two lanes and 42% also had sidewalks on both sides of the streets. So please don’t think that you can look at this list and say, yes, we will just lower speed limits and all will be OK. Lowering the speed limit CANNOT be done in isolation - it’s NOT a silver bullet (in fact, it leads to inequitable enforcement policies). That said, traffic calming features also help make streets safer, like the aforementioned curb bulb outs and medians.

  • Go car free! Sure, sure, sure. I know, you can’t do this on all streets (YET…said in the voice of Mr. Burns in an ironic twist). But there’s kinda no sure fire way of ensuring there are no collisions than by, well, getting rid of the thing doing the colliding in the first place!! And yet, only .7% of blocks in our database are pedestrian-only streets. Sad.

4) Proximity

Want a safe, walkable place? Give people places to walk to! The presence of non-residential locations reduces the odds of a collision by 3.7% on average (as tied to a one point increase on State of Place). There are literally tons of combinations of different, fun places that can get people walking (to them), but prioritize those that offer more of a “third” place experience, including:

  • Restaurants - think unique, local experiences

  • Coffee shops - the kinds you could linger in for hours

  • Corner stores - not the 7-11s of the world but the tried and true, everyone knows your name, bodega-by-another-name type community magnets

  • Community centers - these are ripe for a comeback with all of the new co-housing popping up and small living trend gaining a foothold! These include co-working spaces too!

  • AND, put all of these near higher density housing - uh, so there’s like enough people to support these community gems!

5) Density and Form

The building blocks of the urban fabric - it’s no wonder these matter. Density reduced the odds of a collision by 9.3% and Form by 5.6% on average (for every one point increase on the State of Place Index). But you might be thinking, once these nuts and bolts of the block are put in place, aren’t we up a creek without a paddle? Nope! There’s still hope. Consider the following fixes:

  • Smaller Setbacks! Putting buildings closer to the streets create a sense of “enclosure” - or how I like to put it, help one feel like a street is hugging them, as opposed to suffocating them or ignoring them. Huggable streets not only help pedestrians feel loved, they also naturally slow down drivers! Another win-win!

  • Parking be gone! Again, I know, I know. But you gotta make some sacrifices. Or at least put the parking behind the buildings or in garages. The presence of surface parking lots and the size of those parking lots matter to safety. Accept the evidence. Deal with it. Ignore this advice at your - residents’ - peril. Is the convenience of drivers really that worth it? Those same drivers become pedestrians at some point. Let’s do right by them too!

  • Get rid of driveways! Driveways are one of the most dangerous places to be a pedestrian, especially those in commercial areas. Think about those large strip malls and big box compounds with all of those driveways interrupting the sidewalk. These are incredibly dangerous because drivers don’t expect pedestrians to be crossing on them. Plus, they are often completely inaccessible, making it particularly dangerous for our most vulnerable pedestrians. Think back alleyways as an alternative for drivers to access commercial centers - since you’re gonna put those parking lots in the back of the buildings anyway, no? ;)

Ok, wow! That’s a LOT of options for you, and I didn’t even list them all here. Citymakers - and the private sector - have no excuses. There are SO many ways to Design for Our Lives - from cheap, quick, DIY measures to more bold - but doable - “place-overs.” It’s not just realistic, it’s a requirement. You’ve got people’s lives in your hands. But don’t worry, we’re here to help no matter what fix is best for you - in fact, that’s one of the things the State of Place software helps you do - figure out what changes are within your reach - budget wise, feasibility wise, and design wise - AND which changes are going to have the biggest bang for your buck, unlocking obvious economic value, but also now, literally saving lives! We’d love to hear more about how you're tackling the Design for Our Lives Challenge! Schedule a time to chat with us for dig into all those 8K blocks of urban design data yourself today with your free trial! :)