We need design thinking. This has been a concept we’ve promoted here through our scholarship this year — and we’ve been astonished at the projects students have submitted to improve their communities.
Through my own “Design A Better Future” project, just how much we need design thinking has been reinforced in a rather tangible manner.
As I have begun volunteering with our local bicycle committee, I have been amazed at the many ways other volunteers have made an impact on our city. But despite progress, it is with great sorrow that I learned a teen I used to teach was recently killed while crossing the street in my old neighborhood.
This tragedy has strengthened my resolve to contribute however possible. As I work toward clarity and purpose, I have found myself yet again on another iteration of the design thinking cycle, this time with my commitment toward better design. Here’s what it currently looks like:
Look, Listen, & Learn:
As I have renewed my research efforts, I have sadly uncovered direct opposition to design when it comes to taking measures to make room for all people using our streets.
For instance, last summer a local paper ran a report with the tone that pedestrians “assuming right-of-way” are foolishly getting themselves hurt and killed:
“UDOT director of Traffic and Safety, says 94 percent of crashes are a “behavior decision,” not a road design. None of it matters if pedestrians don’t take advantage of safety features or if drivers are distracted or blow past them.” (Source)
Yet in the wake of this tragedy, a common response has been a demand to know more about how design can improve that road’s safety. Residents of the neighborhood even state that far from serving them, the surrounding roads have functioned as walls, compelling them to drive rather than walk even 2 blocks to the local rec center to stay safe.
This has led to more in-depth investigation into Complete Streets policies, one of which is currently being considered in my city.
Ask Tons of Questions:
- What do Complete Streets mean?
- What do Complete Streets not mean?
- What are the costs of Complete Streets policies?
- What are the obstacles in designing roads that permit all people to freely and safely navigate their communities (not just bicyclists, but pedestrians, people in wheelchairs, children on scooters, etc.)?
- What has been the impact of Complete Streets in other parts of the country?
- How do Complete Streets impact local economies, in addition to health, safety and environmental factors?
Understand the Process or Problem:
In response to my many questions, my research has been expanded to a more in-depth understanding of Complete Streets, including these informative videos from Streetfilms:
“It’s extraordinarily important that we find ways to make our communities more accessible to all the people that want to use them, and allow for kinds of transportation that are more sustainable in the long-run.” (from above video)
Benefits of Complete Streets I’ve found include (but are not limited to):
- Cost effectiveness:
- Provides long-term savings as it avoids the need for expensive retrofits later on.
- Many small road improvements that make a big difference come at little to no added cost.
- “allows for an efficient and optimal use of limited resources: time, fuel, land, public health, the environment, and money.” (source)
- Quality of Life:
- Encourages healthy active transportation, walkability, and even a sense of community as people have options to travel on more attractive, pleasantly landscaped areas.
- Gets residents out into their neighborhoods more often, promoting both exercise and social connection (“Complete Streets Help Create Livable Communities“).
- Vibrant local economies:
- Increases home values
- Provides “green dividends” that allow people more money to spend elsewhere
- Improves access and foot traffic to local business (source). (During a test ride for a new local bus system, transit co-vice chair Sherrie Hall Everett commented, “[Though the road is still] under heavy construction, and many have been concerned about the sidewalks being narrower…what I didn’t anticipate was how much more I noticed the stores, how much closer they felt and related to the street. I noticed the windows and what was going on inside and felt more of the energy of their presence”).
- Public transit improvements:
- Considers how many people have access to bus stops from their homes.
- Improves comfort and convenience of stops, speed of service, and measures that lower congestion. (source)
- addresses pollution through a combination of more active transportation, better public transit, and lowered congestion.
- allows people to complete trips (39% of which are three miles or less in metropolitan areas) in a zero-emissions manner (source)
More importantly for the context of our local concerns, I have also uncovered some important facts that debunk notions that it’s not about design. These I have turned into graphs, which has lead me to…
The most important finding is as follows: on average, 45% of bicyclists and 50% of pedestrians in the last decade had no contributing factors in the crash, a figure that has been on an upward trend. This means that even when they’re doing everything right, a significant portion of people who are walking and biking are still getting hurt.
Furthermore, pedestrian deaths and injuries have been on the rise in my state over the past 10 years.
Create a Prototype:
In this case, the prototype was an event where I attended and voiced some of what I shared above; our city Planning Commission met to review a proposed Complete Streets Policy for our city, along with feedback shared by another city department that seemed less than supportive of the policy. Below is a clip beginning with a moving response from one of the commissioners, Jamin Rowan, after hearing from all the community members and reading the other department’s feedback:
“It is time we demand to revisit those standards…It is not an amendment in our constitution to be able to get in your automobile and travel down the road as quickly and conveniently as possible. Our society and culture has operated upon that assumption. It has become a de facto amendment and I’m tired of it. And I think the people that we’ve heard from tonight are tired of it…I’m not in favor of defending old codes instead of defending the vision that’s outlined in this [Complete Streets] policy…Streets are one of our most valuable public spaces…This is one to fight for and not let it get watered down.”
Highlight & Fix:
Mainly, I learned that I should write down my talking points before making formal presentations. I plan to do so for the next phase of the design thinking cycle…
…Launch to an Audience:
Next week, I’ll be presenting to our City Council members.
I’m looking forward to continued iterations of this design thinking process. I hope to convey a strong sense that the quality of our communities and of our very lives depends on good design.
featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto
More to read:
4 Ways Utah is Dealing With Overly Wide Streets
4 Reasons We Must Build Our Streets For People (not just cars)