5 Simple Fixes to Annoying City Problems
We all have a hard time with cities. You’d be hard-pressed to find someone who isn’t bitching about some aspect of their day-to-day city life that could be improved. What are mayors even good for if they can’t fix those damn potholes. Luckily, there are some cities around the world that have come up with clever solutions to everyday problems, which actually might get copied by yours one day, like…
Australian pedestrian buttons are incredibly accessible for the blind & deaf
Although they’re designed to keep us safe, traffic lights and pedestrian crossways can be an absolute pain to deal with sometimes. Not only do they seemingly inconvenience people at just the right moment, but they can also be incredibly dangerous to navigate, as drivers are the #1 threat to pedestrians due to how roads and signs are made.
They also could be designed much better with non-able-bodied people in mind, which is exactly what Australia is doing with their pedestrian buttons that are accessible for the blind & deaf. The way the PB/5 pedestrian button works is that it is an audio-tactile device that cleverly utilizes both a two-rhythm buzzer, a braille direction arrow, and a vibrating touch panel so that blind & deaf people can see or hear or feel where they need to go and when it’s safe to cross.
There’s also a microphone built into the button itself, which detects how loud the surroundings are and makes a beep loud enough for nearby people to hear. The button can also vibrate at multiple speeds, indicating to the person when it’s safe to walk.
This is especially important because the vast majority of crosswalks and traffic signals in most cities are not made with disabled people in mind. But that all might change soon, as more and more cities, such as New York City, come to adopt accessible traffic design. Let’s hope city officials can get off their asses or get more funding to make this a widespread reality.
Amsterdam’s underground trash eliminates garbage day
Trash day sucks. Most sane human beings hate the very act of doing it, and it’s easy to see why. In many cities, trash tends to pile up on the streets and sidewalks, which leaves them open to rodents and wildlife ripping them apart and spreading the garbage even further. It has become such an endemic problem around the world, leaving city officials little alternative.
That is until Amsterdam came up with one single brilliant solution: put your trash underground. Amsterdam has managed to eliminate trash day entirely, instead opting for a series of underground garbage bins that basically solve almost every major problem with trash.
Usually, what people do is leave trash outside in a bin, and garbage trucks come by once or twice a week to pick it up, creating a huge headache when the bins inevitably get overfilled for the garbage collectors. In Amsterdam, instead, people can walk up to an electronic bin machine, deposit their trash, and it is then stored underground. You can get access to these bins via RFID cards, which automatically unlock the bin when you walk past it. (Some neighborhoods don’t even use RFIDs.) The garbage cans are hoisted up by crane arms from garbage trucks periodically, making trash collecting a cinch.
Since the bins are underground, vermin, like raccoons, are locked out of them completely. It also encourages people to use smaller trash bags and take them out as they go about their day. There’d be a lot of rats with sleepless nights if New York ever adopted this.
Continuous sidewalks are the sidewalks you’ve dreamed of
Sidewalks are kind of a pain. On top of the fact that many are poorly maintained, they don’t actually center roads around pedestrian experiences. Pedestrians, in theory, should have the right of way in almost every situation and should be put first before cars for safety reasons, but you often don’t see this materialize much in urban planning spaces.
That’s where continuous sidewalks come in handy. The idea behind this is that instead of making parallel lines for crossways, forcing the pedestrian to look both ways to make sure that they don’t get run over, sidewalks simply extend across over the road, putting the burden on drivers to make sure pedestrians aren’t in the way.
And in some places, this is starting to happen. Nanaimo, British Columbia, for example, has already implemented many new continuous sidewalks for pedestrians and bicyclists to great effect. And since it’s relatively easy to create a continuous sidewalk, they can be implemented fairly quickly with little change in the overall design of roadways.
These are desperately needed because pedestrian traffic deaths are, unsurprisingly, rising in numbers. The CDC reported that a pedestrian is killed about every 88 minutes. That’s someone’s grandma biting the dust for good every Game of Thrones or Sopranos episode. Cities that focus on prioritizing the pedestrian experience over the driver’s make roadways a lot safer for everyone. Less worry for the driver and less of a chance for the pedestrian to experience a life-changing accident.
So continuous sidewalks might be a good implementation because given how vulnerable people often are to cars making turns or driving past crossways. Hopefully, somewhere down the line, we’ll be seeing more widespread use of them if we ever stop being so obsessed with car culture and making life worse for people.
Removing stop signs and road markers makes streets safer
It seems like nowadays, cities everywhere are trying to quickly implement their own haphazard solution to the problems plaguing urban planning, but with little to no avail. Two such hot-button issues that get tossed around a lot are traffic accidents and traffic congestion. Nobody likes spending 2 hours in traffic, but even worse, nobody wants to feel like they’re getting into a metal death trap every time they go to the store.
So how do we help ease these issues? By doing a very weird and non-intuitive solution: remove stop signs and road markets. We can already hear your complaints now. “Wouldn’t that make things far more dangerous, though? What the hell are you thinking.” It’s true, on paper, this does sound like a pretty bad idea, but turns out there’s a lot of evidence behind it that actually says the complete and total opposite.
Researcher Gary Toth and his team from Project for Public Spaces decided to put this idea to the test back in 2009 and analyzed towns in the Netherlands that removed pretty much all traffic signs, road and lane markings, and so on and studied how this fared with driver safety. The skeptic in you is probably going, “there’s probably a crash every minute,” but their findings said otherwise. When markers were removed, this actually made drivers far more likely to cooperate with each other, and use road space far more effectively, making lanes a lot safer.
If this sounds backward, it’s because all of what we know about driving has kind of basically been based on a lot of bullshit conventional wisdom that doesn’t actually live up to scrutiny. For example, even more research shows that when markers and signs were removed, drivers were far more cautious, reduced their speeds by 13%, and there was a sharp decrease in traffic accidents in places where this concept was implemented.
And none of this is exactly new either, which is the beauty of it. An engineer by the name of Hans Monderman came up with the idea back in the '90s, going against all conventions of urban planning that were held as sacrosanct. And in places that were built around Monderman’s radical new idea, driving has become a lot safer for everyone. Sometimes to add something big to the world, you gotta take it away.
Putting trees/bushes between cyclists and cars makes bike lanes better
If you’ve ever felt this piping hot flash of anger swell up within you while you try to bicycle through shit bike lines that are blocked off by endless rows of cars and aggressive drivers who want nothing but to see you end up as some smear on the road, then you’re not alone. Cyclists worldwide have expressed their grievances with how cities have casually disregarded them and their cherished bicycles, and enough is enough.
That’s why some cities have come up with a simple yet brilliant idea: use plants as bike lane dividers. The concept is that having something physical dividing cyclists and cars without putting up an actual wall, all while beautifying cities, does a lot more than silly white lines painted hopelessly on black pavement. The planters not only made bicyclists feel safer but also helped prevent accidents.
A few researchers have studied plant-based cyclist lane barriers in cities around the world and noticed that cyclists overwhelmingly preferred them over conventional ones. This also had the added benefit of making the area feel greener and healthier for its inhabitants. There’s actual science behind urban trees making people feel happier in their cities, so it’s basically like killing two birds with one stone instead of two cyclists with one car.