Are you a lead foot or a careful driver? Do you boldly cross the street, or do you timidly wait and make eye contact with drivers? When there’s no bike lane, do you confidently take the car lane, or the sidewalk?
No judgement, unless you’re the lead foot.
In my last piece, I applied the lens of user interface design and user experience to something most people do every single day: walking, riding, or driving down the street. Streets, sidewalks, bike paths, and intersections are user interfaces. Start to see the built environment through this lens. …
Take a walk or ride your bike in an American city or suburb. Whether on two feet or two wheels, you’ll soon realize the streets weren’t designed for you. Narrow sidewalks, some with signs and telephone poles in your path. Where any bike lanes exist, most are only painted on, sandwiching you between speeding drivers and parallel parked cars. You play Russian roulette and hope you don’t get doored.
It’s so common you don’t think about it. We accept car-centric streets as a fact of life. When there’s a conflict with someone else on the road, we channel anger at the person. What about the way the streets themselves are built that allowed the behavior? What about the people and organizations who designed and built the street? …
Lately I’ve taken up a new hobby; building little street vignettes out of virtual LEGO® bricks, and using them to tell stories. I want to explore how using LEGO bricks can help us re-imagine safer streets in a fun, accessible, and shareable way.
Between 2011 and 2018 I worked for the LEGO Group, which took me on over 35 trips to Denmark. There I fell in love with Danish urbanism, cycling, infrastructure, and how their society prioritized peoples’ safety and comfort in creating walkable, bikeable spaces along with ample, reliable public transportation. This experience forever altered my perspective on how we could use space. …
The startup world is abuzz with “smart cities.” Just add tech, and everything will get better, right? Sensors, data, connected cars. It’s good the cost of collecting data is going down. But simply making cities “smart” isn’t going to solve their problems.
Enter the “dumb city.” Concrete, asphalt, street furniture, lighting, drainage and sewage. Infrastructure. The built environment has the power to change behavior. Design the street differently, and drivers slow down. People walking and biking feel safe, and buses work more efficiently. Perhaps getting the dumb city right is the smartest thing you can do.
Vision Zero acknowledges that people in the traffic system make mistakes, therefore infrastructure should guide safe behavior and be forgiving. This means making it more difficult to speed, and designing intersections that protect people walking and biking.
Cars, trucks, and other motor vehicles cause the overwhelming majority of traffic injuries and fatalities in New York City. Yet the NYPD’s “Vision Zero” enforcement targets people on bikes. If their goal truly is zero traffic fatalities, shouldn’t all of their effort be marshaled toward preventing the most harmful vehicles from … harming?
I wonder if this is a case of “strict father morality” and authoritarianism. They see vehicles navigating a system not designed for them not following the rules of that system to a T, so they single them out for punishment. If NYPD is going to enforce, why not target the vehicles that statistically kill and injure the most people? To do otherwise and call it Vision Zero perverts the name and renders it meaningless. …
For years, auto industry marketing has associated driving on the open road with freedom. It was a good con. Look around American metropolitan areas, and you’ll find fewer two lane open roads, more congestion, more frustration. Yet we can’t stop driving, because our environments are built to support driving and driving alone.
Living and working in a car-dependent development means you are not free to choose how you get around. You’re not free to choose to walk or ride a bike, and exercise during your commute. You’re not free to ride a bus or a train, and relax or read a book. You’re not free to choose a way to get around that makes you happier, healthier, and saves you money. If “freedom” is an American core value, is auto-dependency therefore anti-American?
Yesterday my partner recommended this episode of the TED Radio Hour podcast to help me think through the creative process I find myself in during this period of my life. The final segment stood out. It was about how both Einstein and Darwin developed their groundbreaking theories and books in parallel. When they got stuck, they’d switch tasks, work on something else, and revisit the original later. Not that I come close to them, but I find myself advancing creative projects in a similar way. It’s helpful to have validation that it’s possible to work like this and produce great work in the end.
Yesterday I found this video of a minute of Dutch traffic. It’s enough to make most Americans’ heads spin. Watch it, what do you notice?
…Or what do you not notice? I didn’t hear any honking, tire screeching, angry gestures, or yelling. Yet look at the number — and types — of vehicles that went by in a tight space during that one minute. People walking and riding bikes didn’t flinch when a car approached, because they trusted the driver would yield. Bikes crossed each others’ paths with alarmingly tight tolerances.
How might we build predictability, cooperation, and trust into our transportation system here in the United States?
Yesterday I attended my first (and possibly last) Bay Area Maker Faire. It was incredible to see the range of work from robotics and circuitry to cardboard art, drones, detailed cosplay and movie props, to hand made synthetic-free clothes.
The visit taught me that there’s pride and joy in presenting unfinished or un-polished work to the world. Un-ashamedly showing others where you are in your learning and building process. And gathering feedback and inspiration that will propel you on. Seeing this helps me chip away at my perfectionism, and encourages me to keep prototyping and demoing ideas and projects even at their early stages.
Right now I’m putting a pet project on the back burner. Part of me feels defeated, it’s a really good idea. But it requires buy-in from others with whom I have a history. They’re known to deliberate and delay making decisions. I simply can’t risk my time.
Even thinking of the potential meetings triggers learned helplessness, honed from experience. I know that I have to safeguard my own mental health. So I’ll work on projects I can control with people who are engaged and decisive. Only when I’ve built up some momentum and resiliency, can I look back at that idea. By then, it might appear small.