Home > Design the Details, Safety Issues, Videos > We Are All Human, We Need Better Design

We Are All Human, We Need Better Design

Video Tuesday

[vimeo http://vimeo.com/24572222]

3-Way Street from ronconcocacola on Vimeo.

Some Reflection

This video has gone viral. It has already been posted on several blogs and many MyWHaT readers have sent me a link (thank you). Posts and emails that comment about it typically provide perspective like Boston Biker, which titled their post on this video: Everyone is Guilty. I prefer another perspective, because humans are odd animals and our actions don’t fit neatly into the ordered world of engineers: we need better design!

It’s clear that this intersection, though “normal” and “expected” for most North Americans, is not designed with a clear intention of what people need to do based on fairly predictable patterns of behavior. It leaves everyone struggling with expectations and assumptions in a busy place with numerous conflict points. If you use this intersection on a regular basis, I suspect you eventually find a comfort zone and act like some of the users in this video.

David Hembrow’s take on this video, on A View From the Cycle Path, is one that matches my initial response closely. As he writes:

I don’t see the behaviour at this junction as being about “bad habits”. What I see is simply a very badly designed junction which almost invites people to behave in the way that they do.”

He goes on to explain how Dutch intersections (where he writes from) primary goal is to remove points of conflict through design. This is counter to the standard here that seems to prefer to force a set of rules on people, whether they be natural or not. The goal in the Netherlands is to design the space with minimal conflict points in a way that functions intuitively to how the majority of people can be expected to navigate an intersection. The goal, as he labels it, is Sustainable Safety, which in part means you design so that you don’t need a police officer present 24/7 to enforce rules.

The base response for most people will be to look at this video and lament, “dang, people are so selfish!” (Or, perhaps another term). We probably are and I lament: what else would you expect?

We need to design spaces to clearly move us in the fashion and manner desired. That’s one of the main points of my tag-line: the intentional, efficient and inclusive design of our public spaces.

I believe infrastructure is not neutral; it is a communication tool.


What do you see at this intersection?


  1. June 14, 2011 at 9:04 am

    “infrastructure is not neutral” Love it. I agree that we need a new paradigm for designing transportation systems that fits the modern world.

    I think that in this era of cell phones and in-car TVs and ADD we need to consider whether or not our speed limits are too high for the amount of attention most people can pay. There’s just too much going on…

  2. Max
    June 14, 2011 at 9:35 am

    This reminded me of the time I spent in Finland. The cities I lived in were far more pedestrian/bike friendly than anywhere I’ve lived in the U.S. In one city there was a market square and mall/business area where traffic was stopped on all four sides and people on foot/bike crossed in every direction, even diagonally. Drivers were much less aggressive and stopped for pedestrians crossing.

    I remember one incident where I was waiting to cross an intersection and there were people piled up on both sides waiting. The light changed and one guy started crossing first and just as he did so a truck started making a right turn (illegal in Finland on a red light) and came very close to hitting him.

    The reaction of the other people around was swift and surprising. A mob ran into the street yelling at the driver and forcing him to stop the truck. Finns are normally so reserved so this was extremely uncharacteristic behavior of them. Based on my observations of traffic over there it was also extremely uncharacteristic driving (must have been a fudgie :P).

    It really made an impression on me because in the U.S. I see/experience this same sort of driving behavior all the time and nobody ever says or does anything like that group did, even when there is a large group waiting to cross. I would think as animated and aggressive as Americans are (compared to Finns), there would be the same angry mobs when drivers do this, so it must be a difference in culture. We are a car culture, they are a pedestrian culture. My Finnish family tells me that these Finnish cities pre-date cars and the pedestrian culture survived despite the increasing use of personal vehicles.

  3. June 14, 2011 at 12:53 pm

    I was Tweeted a link to the following article (Getouttamyway! (Thoughts On City Traffic) ) that elaborates on this video. Is it Ballet or chaos? It is rather amazin that there are only minor crashes in the video and no one seems overly perturbed…

    The post includes this image of traffic in Cairo. This is a street, not a parking lot! Any one ever hear of a bus system?

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