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Our Built Environment

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The Carillon – Doing donuts earns careless driving charge

I caught this article online today that made me shake my head a little. Most people I’m sure would see this as an excellent outcome; people ripping up and down main street and burning rubber on the largest parking lot down town are caught red handed and slapped with a fine. Justice was served and surely this will never happen again.

Nope, surprise. This is going to happen again. And don’t call me Shirley.

Steinbach’s solution to this problem is to partner with the RCMP to post a patrol officer on Main Street to enforce the traffic laws. But has anybody stopped to ask how it’s even possible that traffic laws are being broken so easily to begin with?

A bank doesn’t leave piles of cash lying around for prospective thieves to steal, in fact doing so may even tempt people who wouldn’t normally partake in such devilry to help themselves, hoping they might get away with it. No, a bank will keep its valuables locked up behind a heavy vault door, physically separating the contents from the outside world.

Why can’t we do the same with our built environment? Instead of very sternly telling people that they are not allowed to speed on our roads, why not make it challenging to do so in the first place, if not impossible?

Take a look at this cross section of our main street.

With some margin for error, this is fairly typical for stroads. 30 meters across with the vast majority dedicated to car traffic and parking. (With bonus parking off-street.) Now if you take away the cars, like maybe if it’s after dark and most people are home asleep, this suddenly becomes a drag strip. Without any other obstacles in the way, a prospective speeder finds it quite easy to simply press down on their 1998 Honda Civic’s accelerator pedal to the floor. Wow, what a thrill, very impressive.

Same goes for the adjacent parking lot. With no cars in the way using up those precious parking spaces, you are left with a huge vat of oil for frying donuts. Delicious, maybe. But not healthy.

Now let me introduce you to the concept of a “complete street”.
Maybe imagine an angelic chorus for effect.

This new street is exactly the same width from building to building as the existing one, but like a modern spin on Robin Hood what we’ve done here is take from the cars and give back to society.

There is only a single lane for each direction, and they are more narrow than they used to be. Heavy trucks are no longer permitted, and the speed limit is reduced to 30km/h. The street is broken up by frequent crossings, where the road must come up to become level with the sidewalk; a functional speed bump that lets the driver know that this is an environment for people and not a place where driving is easy and painless.

In fact, speed limits are now enforced not only by police, but by the road itself. Speeding here is simply hard to do.

With slower speeds comes less noise pollution. Less traffic noise makes for a more pleasant experience in general which invites people to spend time outside on patios. (Which of course the city will encourage by loosening patio permit requirements.)

Parking lots are also gone, done away with when the city decides to remove minimum parking requirements, which makes it possible for smaller but dense businesses to infill the once vacant land. More businesses means more people, which is necessary for a place to be prosperous.

It is unfortunate that our Main Street happens to also be a major provincial highway, which by definition forces it into the role of a stroad. None of these ideas make any sense when your first and only consideration for this road is how well it is able to move traffic from one end to the other.