Nelson Street and Fanshawe Street are pretty horrific roads to try and cross as a pedestrian – largely due to the high speeds that drivers travel at along them. You’re effectively stuck at trying to find one of the (very rare) signalised pedestrian crossings, or taking your life into your own hands by sprinting across when it looks clear.
I’ve amusingly thought that one good way of raising enough money to build the City Rail Link would be to place permanent speed cameras near the top of Nelson Street and just after the Beaumont Street intersection for eastbound cars along Fanshawe Street. You’d certainly make an absolute killing!
One of the primary reasons why cars travel along these streets so quickly is because all the cues are telling drivers that they’re basically still on the motorway. Take a look at the road-markings on Fanshawe Street:Three wide lanes with the “bumpy dots” (I’m sure they have a technical name) separating them. Exactly what you’d see on the motorway.
As for signage, head along Fanshawe Street towards the city a bit more and – once again – you pretty much find the type of sign that you’d see on the motorway:Big overhead gantry, hard median between traffic heading each way, very wide lanes. Everything’s telling the driver’s subconscious that they’re still on the motorway.
Nelson Street is pretty similar with its signage, although it hasn’t (yet) had the motorway lane markings:Further down the hill there’s another overhead gantry – solely there to direct people to Sky City and its carpark. Once again, decked out just like a motorway sign.
Subtle cues are important when defining the type of street environment you’re attempting to create. The most recent post on Human Transit touches on this issue, when discussing street signage in San Francisco:
The motorist faces a stopsign. That means they should be looking at the crosswalk in front of them, and the other traffic approaching. What’s more, they should be stopped, or stopping, which means that their focal length should be short; they don’t need a sign that’s meant to be read at high speeds. Yet high speed is implied by the green sign’s large typesize, high position, and “freeway font”; the green sign has the same color, font, and typesize typically used on California freeways….
…Then there’s the question of focal height. A sign placed very high, like the green sign here, is pulling the driver’s eye away from the ground plane, which is where the squishable pedestrians and cyclists are. Extreme type size also encourages reading the sign from further away, which means focusing further away, which means a greater risk of not seeing the pedestrian in front of you.
In short, the message of the green sign (“read me from a distance, like you’re on a freeway, driving fast”) contradicts the message of the stopsign and crosswalks.
Motorists choose their speed and focal length based on a range of signals, not just explicit commands and prohibitions. These signs may be appropriate on high speed multi-lane streets, where you may need to change lanes to turn once you’ve recognized a cross-street. But what are they doing at stopsigns?
The signage and road-markings on Nelson Street and Fanshawe Street are telling drivers that they should be driving fast, that they’re basically on a defacto motorway and needn’t bother looking out for anything but whether the car in front of them is braking.
This is fine on a real motorway, but not along streets in our city centre. Changing the signs and the street markings would be really cheap, but help to minimise the reinforcement of these streets as defacto motorways, which they clearly shouldn’t be.