A Minimal Amount of Thought
April 24, 2015

There are some things in this world that are obviously done without a whole lot of thought put into them. Perhaps the people doing them were not looking at the big picture, perhaps well intentioned rules and regulations were misapplied, or some might be genuine mistakes. Many of them remind me of this meme;

I have compiled a short list of some things that I have noticed that could have been significantly better with a minimal amount of thought.

1. The Sidewalk to Bushes

The sidewalk network around where I live is patchy. This is common;

I understand why - modern rules to make our neighbourhood more 'walkable' dictate that it is the responsibility of the property owner to install and repair sidewalks as they renovate or rebuild. But, being a fifty year old neighbourhood, the result is patchy. My wife and I walk around my neighbourhood often, and it feels uncomfortable (as if we are tresspassing) to walk across a neighbour's front yard where there is no sidewalk. Rather than walk in a pattern like this;

We choose to just walk on the street, which makes the whole point of having a sidewalk useless and a waste of money. You could argue that one day every property owner will eventually renovate, resulting in a network that is fully built out, but that could be decades away and does not really help me now or guarantee it will even be done during my lifetime. What about the sidewalks (like the example given) that run into a fence, a tree, or a bush? Do those owners want a sidewalk tearing through their landscaping?

A sidewalk is only necessary if we want to segregate where people walk from other traffic. We live on a residential street, barely a slow moving car comes through every few minutes, and it is quiet and safe for children to play and people to walk. Besides, when we have this spacious street in front of our house, why would I want to be forced to the side on a measily skinny strip, that emphasizes the dominance of the automobile in the middle?

What would I do instead?

Just declare the area a home zone - a shared street where all modes are considered equal;

The streets around here already function as a home zone - I can walk outside after school hours and see kids playing and people walking - so I would just acknowledge these streets as home zones. A very cheap solution would be to paint some kind of visual marker to distinguish between the segregated arterials that are designed to efficiently move traffic from A to B from the safe and pleasant streets that are the living room of the community.

2. The Misaligned Crosswalk

It is not a big deal for a person on foot that can step over the curb, but what about a person in a wheelchair? In any case, it looks unprofessional - like a slapped on afterthought. It would have taken the same amount of effort to have painted the crosswalk lines closer to the curb ramp.

3. The Hidden Crossing Button

We expect the lights in a room to be controlled by a light switch in the same room, so intuitively we expect the crosswalk button to be close to the actual crosswalk, but I have often encountered this;

If you were walking down the street from the top right and then wanted to cross, you would have to detour some distance to the side to reach the button. This is not the worst example I have seen - there are cases of buttons being hidden behind trees that take some effort to hunt for and poles awkwardly placed in the middle of a skinny sidewalk. Silly stuff like this;

Regardless of if the pole or the sidewalk came first, they people building this were well aware of what they were doing, and could have worked around it with a minimal amount of thought.

4. The Uninforming Bus Stop

When you plan to take transit, there are two basic pieces of information needed to make a trip - 1) how often do vehicles stop here, and 2) where will it take me? Yet, I spot this silliness all around me;

That yellow sign in a bus stop. It says "BUS STOP". If I were in the area and wanted to get back home, I would want to know some basic information. Does this bus come every five minutes, or just twice a day? Where will this bus take me? Is it even somewhere I want to go? You can argue that you can look this information up online, but what if you are a low-income resident that cannot afford a computer and an Internet connection? Or a tourist without a car?

I would consider this a minimally functional bus stop;

There are two sheets of paper behind a plastic screen. One shows the times the bus will arrive, the other shows a map. If you are going to spend the money on a metal pole and sign, it will not cost very much more to attach a plastic sleeve that you can slide a piece of paper into showing some very basic information about that stop.

5. The Street That Was Cut In Half

I have mentioned this before, but in my neighbourhood there is a street that suddenly ends as a railroad passes through it.

You can clearly see that at some point the street crossed the track, and was recently removed.

Here it is at street level;

An intimidating 'No Trespassing' sign. If you look where the sidewalk ends, you can clearly see the grass has worn down to dirt, showing there is enough demand here that plenty of people are ignoring the sign and crossing it anyway.

Being a law abiding citizen that does not want to trespass, I will have to take a detour so that I can cross over the railroad legally;

The detour adds an extra 934 feet on to my trip downtown. That is adding on nearly 1/5 of a mile to a trip that should only be 1 mile anyway.

I would like to know who thought it was a good idea to break the street grid like that. The argument can not be for safety - otherwise how am I allowed to cross safely along the other streets?

The fact that I have to take a detour feels like it is literally dividing the neighbourhoods on either side. They could have solved this simply by pulling out the pavement in the middle, but leaving the sidewalk with a sign saying "Look both ways before crossing";

In the meantime, the locals residents will continue to cross the track on foot, wearing a dirt path through the grass. Extra effort was taken to pull up the sidewalk, with the result inconveniencing everybody and benefiting no one.

6. The Sidewalk to Nowhere

An engineer's job is to solve a problem. A dumb engineer can copy a template out of a book, an average engineer understands that things need a little customizing to fit the situation at hand, while a good engineer would be looking for ways to save their client time and money. We have built miles and miles of sidewalks to nowhere. Here is a roundabout in front of an office built on the edge of town;

The engineer thought there would be people walking here, so they decided sidewalks were neccessary.

Where are you going to walk to?

Not the engineer that decided these roads needed sidewalks, the city council that reviewed and approved the plans, or the contractors that were out there pouring the cement ever question if anyone would be out walking around these rural roads? And we have miles and miles of this stuff, without a minimal amount of thought applied to if anyone would use it, or if the money could be better spent installing sidewalks where someone would use them (such as around our neighbourhoods within walking distance of downtown.)

Conclusion

Perhaps we should make an effort to spot and report things that look out of place; things that look like afterthoughts. Either they were done without stepping back and looking at the big picture, or I imagine a contractor or engineer haphazardly rushing through a project wanting to get home. In any case, nobody checked their work or questioned their logic, which not only looks unprofessional for your city, but also demonstrates a lack of accountability. There are so many things that could have been made significantly better if only a minimal amount of thought was applied while doing it. We all need to show some kind of pride in our work, and in the long run, we either have to live with the consequences, or it is going to cost us more time and money to correct them.


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Toby Dougherty • 04.27.2015 • 20:29 PM (MDT)
Great piece as always. The only portion that I don't think is as cut and dry is the sidewalks around the new developments. While it may look foolish to install a sidewalk along a new street and roundabout in the middle of nowhere, it looks just as foolish when the area surrounding that property develops in future years and it is the only property without a sidewalk. There are many examples of this in my community. Properties in newly developed areas begged out of the sidewalk requirement by claiming "there is no one around to walk to our property, so why make me put in a sidewalk?" Now many of these properties are no-sidewalk zones. A few years ago the city tried putting legal agreements in place for properties that were the first to develop in an area. The agreement stated the property owner was required to install sidewalks when the city determined it was necessary. This sounds good, until they city tries to enforce and then all heck breaks loose as the property owner cries foul. So now the city is requiring all properties to install sidewalks, no matter how isolated.
Toby Dougherty • 04.27.2015 • 20:03 PM (MDT)
Great piece as always. The only portion that I don't think is as cut and dry is the sidewalks around the new developments. While it may look foolish to install a sidewalk along a new street and roundabout in the middle of nowhere, it looks just as foolish when the area surrounding that property develops in future years and it is the only property without a sidewalk. There are many examples of this in my community. Properties in newly developed areas begged out of the sidewalk requirement by claiming "there is no one around to walk to our property, so why make me put in a sidewalk?" Now many of these properties are no-sidewalk zones. A few years ago the city tried putting legal agreements in place for properties that were the first to develop in an area. The agreement stated the property owner was required to install sidewalks when the city determined it was necessary. This sounds good, until they city tries to enforce and then all heck breaks loose as the property owner cries foul. So now the city is requiring all properties to install sidewalks, no matter how isolated.