Wednesday, 23 March 2016

Removing clutter from the roads

In the suburbs the roads aren't too cluttered, except when you pass by the large businesses near arterial roads, but as you go closer and closer into the city centres, they do become much more cluttered. There are simple ways to remove much of this clutter.

There is one regulation change that is very important here. The establishment of zonal signed regulations. This is a crucial step in making things non cluttered. 30 km/h (and 60 km/h) speed limit zones can be established very quickly and cheaply. Signposting 70 km/h on a major arterial road isn't too cluttered especially given that you don't have many side distributors on them, but in the areas that should be part of the 30 km/h zones, you only need two signs, one on entry, and one on exit. And because you can restrict the number of side streets with filtered permeability, you would need even fewer signs. All you need to do to modify a normal regulatory sign into a zonal regulatory sign is to add a supplemental plate with the English word ZONE. The words looks similar in different languages if they use the Latin alphabet, and given how few words that is, just one, it isn't really clutter.

First, we can check for what signs are really needed. Are any parking regulation signs redundant? Have any businesses put up too many signs, or the wrong signs? These can be removed pretty quickly.

Next, we can check the signs that remain to see if they still make sense and if they can be simplified. Traffic signals that control the different turns independently of each other in Canada (except for a few examples in Quebec) either have a no turn on red sign, with the arrow pointing in different directions depending on what you need, or a sign saying "X turn signal". The right turns on red should be prohibited anyway to motor vehicles, so the turn on red sign is not needed at each signal. By using amber and red arrows rather than the amber and red circles, we have a more precise signal that makes it clear what it's function is that can be understood at a glance. And because we can get rid of the supplementary signs, and in Alberta and Saskatchewan, get rid of the second red aspect, the poles are less cluttered.

Another example is that we often put signs up dictating who goes first. This works on roads like access road-distributor road, but not on most access road-access road junctions. A simple raised table with nothing else works fine. It makes people more cautious, as they may need to give way at any time, it equalizes the streets, and needs fewer signs.

Speed limits should mainly be based on the default speed limits. Distributor roads should almost always be 50 km/h roads, except for a few distributors with limited access that would be 70 km/h roads, and because side roads are few and far between, the few 70 km/h limit signs are not clutter. The limit signs themselves could be improved. They could be simple signs, with just a circular sign with a red border and the speed limit in kilometres per hour, and in the transitional period, a sticker underneath that says km/h to make it clear what it's regulating.

Parking regulation signs are very common. However they don't have to be nearly so common. We can make two simple rules about how parking works. On 30 km/h urban or 60 km/h rural zones, or other areas where such a limit (or less, for example a woonerf) applies, parking is allowed unless otherwise prohibited. On all other roads, it is prohibited unless otherwise signed. Very simple to understand. The creation of parking pays, clearly delineated areas that only have space for parking where it is to be allowed, raised off the road a couple centimetres (about 5), connected with a rolled or angled curb, paved in grey brick with curb extensions covering everywhere that parking may be interrupted (intersection, fire hydrant, bus stop, etc), would make it easy to know where to park, and pretty much impossible to misinterpret.

The signs themselves can also be decluttered. A simple parking bay sign for a road that would ordinarily have parking prohibited could look like this:
  It is very easy to understand, and applies for all the bays between curb extensions. You can add supplementary plates to indicate that it is for loading or unloading, that it can come with a time limit, I suggest looking at this website to see how I got the idea: The guy who came up with the improvements for the UK uses very similar signs, except that we would use a slightly different means of indicating the parking part and we use white rather than blue.

Other means of decluttering the signs is to use more symbols rather than words. Often they are smaller and simpler, and of course are language independent, so the words can mostly go away. This goes for all signs.

Businesses that are located in the pedestrianized zones have a couple advantages. People can more easily walk in to shop. You can't do that easily with a car, you have to find a place to park your car, often pay for the parking, and of course parking itself takes time, as does going from the lot or space to the business. And because you are at walking pace in the pedestrianized zones, you have more time to read the signs. In other areas, where you see sign after sign asking you to drop into the parking lot to shop or buy something, you have more clutter to deal with, already while having the task of driving, let alone the act of deciding whether you want to buy something within the next exit or two, then having to decide what you might want, and this makes it more dangerous. I also see in the US on urban freeways, due to lax control over signs, they've popped up next to them, distracting drivers. When I was on vacation in Washington State, I saw loads of them. This happens in other places too. Another place to declutter.

We should minimize the number of objects we have near the travelway. This makes things simpler, and we don't have objects near moving traffic, including moving pedestrians, that often cause disruption. We have utility lines, but those can be buried underground. Good thing sewers are buried! We have lots of signs to place, and so consolidating signs, removing them when possible and otherwise getting rid of the need for signs also removed a lot of poles. We can put poles out of the way of pedestrians by creating boulevards, often in the space between cyclists and motor traffic on distributor and through roads, if it's of suitable width. By moving transit stop related things onto dedicated space, often between the cycle track and roadway, or sometimes between bus lane and the rest of traffic on some bus roads, we can reduce the clutter for pedestrians and cyclists.

Another thing that we can use is that Sustainable Safety demands that we have self explaining roads, IE, fewer specific regulations, laws and signs are needed to explain what to do because the road design already tells you that. In the 30 and 60 km/h zones, they are supposed to be low volume low speed roads, so you don't need signs to let you know that you should expect things like speed bumps. In Edmonton for some reason, we use a large diamond warning sign at each and every speed bump on most roads that have them, so that's not good.

We can even declutter what people wear. I don't mean your fashion, but we don't really need helmets or high viz on cyclists, and the only time when I would think a pedestrian should wear a high viz jacket is when they are a construction worker or in a similar profession or walking on a hard shoulder, setting up things like warning triangles or fixing their tire. Most people don't need them otherwise. It isn't really a bugbear with clutter, but it is an example of it.

We have a lot of streets with a lot of obstacles in them, pointless signs and things that can be easily and cheaply fixed (maybe except for the utility relocation). Why not make them easy to understand, and meet one of Sustainable Safety's demands for self explaining streets?

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