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A World of Improvements

Global traffic tweaks that can make urban streets safer, and some of the places they’re used.


San Francisco:
Smart parking meters

Ever been sideswiped by a car on the prowl for parking that swerves at the whiff of a free spot? UCLA professor and parking-policy guru Donald Shoup advocates adjusting curbside parking prices by location and time of day to ensure that there’s always at least one empty space on every block. The result is less distracted cruising.

Sidewalk cafés

Putting streets on “diets”—narrowing roadways, widening sidewalks, and turning over a lane to bicycles or metered parking—keeps cars from roaring to the next stop sign. Filling up those newly ample sidewalks with slow-moving activity—as the French do—subliminally alerts drivers that they have to coexist with pedestrians.

Bus stops at far sides of intersections

If a bus stops before a light, passengers get off and step in front of it to cross the street—sometimes into the path of impatient drivers trying to get around the sight-line-obliterating behemoth. Move them to the far corner, and the problem is solved.

Pedestrian-sensitive traffic signals

Instead of forcing walkers of every age and agility to sprint across the street, sensors hooked up to lights keep watch on the slowest shufflers and wait for them to reach safety before opening the traffic sluice.

Photo-illustration by Jesse Lenz  

Malmö, Sweden:
Raised crosswalks

Speed bumps that double as pedestrian crosswalks offer an immediate deterrent to would-be speeders: the certainty that rushing will scrape the underbelly of their car.

Photo-illustration by Jesse Lenz  

New Zealand:

Ubiquitous in Europe and maddening if you’re trying to get somewhere in a hurry, traffic circles do a good job of slowing cars. They can be diabolical for pedestrians and bikes, though, since traffic never comes to a complete stop, and they take up too much space to be practical in dense downtowns.

Portland, Oregon:
Bike Boxes

Widening bike lanes at stoplights to create the one-foot-on-the-ground area known as the bike box does several things at once, all for the price of a can of paint. It moves cyclists into drivers’ sight lines, allows them to turn before motorized vehicles get a chance, and prevents cars from making a jackrabbit start as soon as the light turns green.


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