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Wednesday, August 21, 2013

What Happens When a Town Puts People Before Cars?



Nearly three years ago, a Minnesota man named Charles Marohn published a piece called "Confessions of a Recovering Engineer" on the blog of his not-for-profit organization, Strong Towns. In it, he describes the priorities that he learned in his training as an engineer: first comes speed; then traffic volume; then safety; then cost.
Following those principles, Marohn was designing wider, faster roads to cut through the hearts of American towns. He discovered that the people in those towns often pushed back, asking why trees and sidewalk space had to be sacrificed in order to widen the road, and how their children could possibly be safer with cars whizzing by at top speed.
Armed with the prestige of his chosen profession and a pile of studies and guidelines that explained why bigger was always better, Marohn would explain that "these standards have been shown to work across the world," and that people who objected to the loss of trees and yard space and peace for their families were simply wrong.
Then, unlike many engineers, he started thinking about the human consequences of what he was doing:
In retrospect I understand that this was utter insanity. Wider, faster, treeless roads not only ruin our public places, they kill people. Taking highway standards and applying them to urban and suburban streets, and even county roads, costs us thousands of lives every year. There is no earthly reason why an engineer would ever design a fourteen foot lane for a city block, yet we do it continuously. Why?
The answer is utterly shameful: Because that is the standard.
Marohn, as the title of his piece implies, has rejected the standards he learned in school. He now travels the country spreading the word that things can be done differently – that America’s towns and cities can build streets that are safe and operate at a human scale, the old-fashioned way, and that they can save money and bolster their economies in the process...

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