Fixing a Dumb Design

I was at Garrett Michael Barber Shop on 435 E 300 S. My barber, Matt, was a smart guy.

First he refused my request for a boring near-buzz cut, saying: ummmm… no, I’m not gonna do that… I’m gonna keep it longer… are you open to parting it?

I said, do your thing man, you’re the pro.

Mom, girlfriend, and work colleagues all agree – it was a good call.

While he was making it happen, Matt talked to me about city planning. He asked: do you study bike lanes and stuff?

Me – I study water, but a lot of my co-workers study biking and other transportation issues.

Him – ‘Cause we have that protected bike lane out there…

Me – Right. Has it been tough on business?

Him – It’s not that, business has been fine. And I don’t give a shit about the cars. I moved here from New York, I don’t even own one. I’m all for reducing driving and cleaning up the air. It’s just… it’s not safe. The bikes are protected from parallel traffic, so they get a false sense of security. But there are, like, four side streets per block around here. There’s no signage or anything, so there’s an accident between a biker in the ‘protected’ lane and a car pulling out from a side street almost every week. The collisions aren’t fatal, but they’re happening all the time.

Me (to myself) – Bingo.

distant car view       distant car view fixed

Stephen asked us to propose a simple solution to a “dumb design.” I new this was the perfect opportunity. When I went out to photograph a side street, the problem was obvious.

Consider the photo on the left. As a driver approaching 3oo South, you are focused on crossing car traffic. At the bottom of your vision, you see a big patch of green and two vague symbols in white. Green says, “Go. It is safe for you to drive forward.” Since you are focused on car traffic, you do. But this is a ‘protected’ bike lane, with bikers cruising along as if they own the space – which, in fact, they’re supposed to. The accident seems almost inevitable.

This is a dumb design. The visual cue is all wrong. A driver in a dangerous position to hit a cyclist should be seeing a color other than green.

In the image on the right, I’ve replaced the green patch with diagonal yellow and black hatches. The new message to the driver is obvious. “Slow down. Be careful. You don’t own this space.”

Now, what about the message to the cyclist?

In fact, the green is a well-intended attempt to inform the cyclist that they have right-of-way. Approaching on your bicycle, this is what you see:

bike view     bike view fixed

On the left, it is clear to cyclists that they have right-of-way.  But this is a nightmare scenario: bikers understand that they own the space, and behave accordingly, but cars do not understand. Again, the accident seems almost inevitable.

On the right, we see that cyclists can still be easily informed that they have right-of-way. At the same time, they also see the warning. “Be careful. Cars will be pulling through here.”

This is an incredibly simple fix to an unnecessarily dumb design. All it takes is some paint. Salt Lake City could do it tomorrow. And in the interest of building a bike-friendly downtown, they should.

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