As cities continue to figure out how they are going to be smarter and more connected, one thing they’ll have to get up to snuff on will be how they either partner closely or outsmart apps that are changing the ways people get around cities. This includes drivers too, and with the “Waze effect” being a real thing that Mobility Lab is greatly concerned about for neighborhoods and walkability, planners are now starting to consider rerouting the people who have been rerouted by technology.
City planners are contemplating redesigning roads that eliminate shortcuts or use one-way streets that prevent computers from using them as an alternative to a main thoroughfare.
Seattle’s already begun this process. Its traffic engineers have spent years remaking streets so that it’s impossible to speed. They’ve rebuilt residential intersections as roundabouts and allowed parking on both sides of the street to cut the useable driving space down from 36 feet to 12 feet.
But sometimes these plans backfire. And municipal authorities are aware that the bots are always one or even 10 steps ahead.
Neighbors in one San Francisco neighborhood say they’re living that particular digital standoff.
The city spent 16 months and $3.1 million to reconfigure the intersection of Bosworth and Diamond streets in the Glen Park neighborhood. The heavily-used intersection includes bike lanes, lots of pedestrians, children and parents walking to an elementary school a block away, a stop for tech buses heading to Silicon Valley workplaces, a BART subway stop and multiple bus routes.
The work was part of a Vision Zero plan to reduce the number of traffic fatalities to zero. It cut the number of lanes in each direction from three to two, widened the sidewalks, took out bus stops so buses now stop in the roadway and added a planted median and turn lanes.
The new design is meant to be safer for pedestrians, better for transit and to discourage speeding by drivers.
An unintended consequence has been an increase in drivers using mapping software that sends them down the narrow streets that traverse the neighborhood’s steep hillsides, said resident Katherine Murphy. She’s angry at the city for presuming everyone would play nice and only use the main intersection.
“Do they just have their heads in the sand that people are using technology?” she said.
Hallenbeck likens it to efforts to dam small streams. “The water often finds a new route around the dam. And that’s what is happening in San Francisco. People are finding a new path of least resistance.”
Neighbor Lexi Olian isn’t enjoying being part of that downstream effect. She’s now seeing cars on side streets that used to be empty except for people who actually lived on those blocks.
“Everybody’s talking about how great walkable communities are,” she says. “ But they won’t be walkable if traffic is zooming through.”