City streets need only few things to make them safe, according to the famous urbanist Jane Jacobs. She says safe streets need people walking around, places for them to go, things for them to do and other people for them to interact with. Simple as that. But Jane forgot one more thing: a sock full of quarters.
This final piece is a critical element in maintaining the safety of a street or neighborhood. The antidote to crime and the fear it inspires is a community that asserts its own security. The social livelihood of streets and neighborhoods is what maintains safety and security. But in the absence of this social interaction, crime prevails. The fear of crime kills the street.
You really need to almost get hit by a car to feel like a true Johannesburg pedestrian. That's the way it goes here. A huge, sprawling greater metropolitan area of about 10 million people covering more than 600 square miles, the city is built for the car. And if you're not in one, good luck.
I've been here for a few weeks and I'll be here for a while longer. My main exposure to the city has been on foot. And I'm not alone. The World Cup is going on in South Africa, so there's a lot of excitement. There's also generally a ton of activity in this city, which is the economic heart of the country, and by extension the continent. These two situations combine to make the urban realm a bit hectic. And for those getting around on foot, that hectic atmosphere is often dangerous as well. But don't blame the World Cup, or Johannesburg's economic power. Blame the city's physical form.
City cycling can be hectic. Let's be realistic: most American cities are not meant for cyclists. It would be great if they were, but for now, our city forms are primarily designed for the movement of cars.
Because cities are made for cars, it's understandable that car drivers tend to disregard the fact that somebody might be riding a bike out there. (Interchange blogger Mike Lydon recently wrote an excellent piece about planning for bicycle networks.) Until our urban forms and public policies encourage the use of roads by a variety of transportation types, the burden is on cyclists to assert their role in the transit jungle. Communication is key to achieving this goal. Safe cycling (and safe transportation in general) relies heavily on communication.
On the bus this morning I was handed a survey asking me to detail my satisfaction with the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority's public transit system. As a daily bus commuter, I was more than happy to spend my two cents, but I'm a bit skeptical that those two cents will really do anything.
The survey included 29 questions, mostly of the "Yes or No" variety. They asked about things like the relative safety of the bus, its timeliness, its quality, the courtesy of the driver, and other general questions about my personal preferences for and opinions of the system and its service.
A bit of bizarre news caught my attention recently and it got me thinking. It was about these roads in Japan that had been designed to play music as cars drive over them. The engineers behind this idea cut thousands of grooves into the roadway, separated them by certain specific intervals, and then drove their cars. What resulted is a weird humming melody that reverberates in the cars as they drive. The video linked below showing the roads and their songs is awesome, but so much more could be done.
These singing streets are an impressive novelty, but this idea could be far better utilized to improve road safety. Using this same sort of groove-cutting, sound-producing method, it seems like road engineers could make major progress in the reduction of traffic accidents.