05 June 2013

Advertising Municipal Ineptitude

Ignoring the Bull
Cities use various methods in order to draw attention to themselves. Tourism campaigns, posters on busstops to advertise events or municipal services. City Branding is also a thing. Countries and organisations do the same. Usually the money is spent on highlighting positive angles.

What often goes unnoticed is that cities have a tendency to spend taxpayer money on broadcasting the sad and undeniable fact that they are completely inept at keeping the streets safe. They try, unsuccessfully, to thinly disguise their incompetence as "safety" campaigns.

Consider the simple idea of school crossing guards. It's a concept well-known around the world. Hey, I used to be one back in the day (and I remembering hating having to do it). I was waiting at the crosswalk by Lulu and Felix's school in Frederiksberg yesterday morning. Waiting for the lovely kids to step out and block the cars and bicycles to allow us to cross.

Then I realised... the concept of school crossing guards are merely an advertisement for municipal ineptitude. The city is telling us in no uncertain terms that they have completely given up on making streets safer - and quite possibly they are unwilling to do so. They even enlist children to help get their message across.

Let's face it, if a city had safe, human streets with intelligently low speed limits and a sincere will to prioritize pedestrians and cyclists then they wouldn't need school crossing guards.

Unfortunately, most traffic eningeers and even some planners still dictate the status quo of our car-centric streets. Even in Denmark. The police don't help much either.

Ignoring the Bull
To further my point, the City of Frederiksberg slapped these stickers all over the city recently. They read, "Cross at the Intersection". The helpful arrows direct you anywhere between 100-400 metres to the nearest intersection. They are placed in locations where people try to cross the street.

This city is the most densely populated city in Denmark. 90,000 people in the heart of Copenhagen. 65% of the households don't own cars. Most of the local mobility is done on bicycles, on foot or by public transport. Most of my daily errands involve going to local shops, schools, football facilities, etc. But never mind all that... the City still caters to the automotive minority as though it's 1963. This is another recent example from Frederiksberg.

With it's placement as a municipal island surrounded by Copenhagen, Frederiksberg is riddled with "parasites" - motorists who merely feed off the roads leading through the city without contributing anything to the life of the city or its neighbourhoods. The way the City allows the parasites to flow freely through its veins - despite an entire catalogue of ideas about how to stop or restrict them - is shockingly so last century.

Ignoring the Bull
Fortunately, the citizens are on to them. Someone added a text to one of the stickers, reading: "Frederiksberg loves cars more than you".

Ignoring the Bull - Frederiksberg
It's not, however, like it's the first time. Here's a "keep the cars safe from squishy humans" campaign from a couple of years back. Stickers (badly stuck so pedestrians can trip on them for added drama) reading, "Watch out for yourself" or ""take care of yourself" were stuck onto pedestrian crossings.

Given the population density and car volume in Frederiksberg, the entire city would be a 30 km/h zone - if it were placed in almost any other EU country. Just in: By September 2013, 37% of Paris streets will be 20 or 30 km/h zones.

Car Friendly Traffic Campaign
The City has also previously allowed the greatest car sales organisation in Denmark - The Danish Road Safety Council - to place these stencils on cycle tracks in the city. They read "Watch the side streets" and we've written about this car-friendly campaign before. The cars coming off the side streets have to watch for traffic but the City boldly declared to all that they were unwilling to do anything about anything.

This is not the first city to spend money advertising their incompetence, nor do their ridiculous car-centric campaigns match the fantastically stupid Pedestrian Flag programs in the US, where certain cities declare their ineptitude to the world.

Of course, in New York it's bigger and better. The city there employs high-end marketing techniques to broadcast the message that they are helpless.

It's not all bicycle/pedestrian related either. An expensive campaign in the US focuses on the high death rate of young people in automobiles. No mention of removing traffic engineers from their posts and starting a class action lawsuit against them - no, no... just start a funky campaign - Alive at 25.

Sadly, Ignoring the Bull is still rampant.


SteveL said...

There used to be a sign at a motorway access point in bristol saying do not cross here -3 people died in the last 12 months.

Of course the other way was an underpass you wouldn't do at night.

Now -which shows a progressive council -they have added pedestrian crossings, as well as a OK-ish cycle route.

Miles Bader said...

Sounds like the city has kindly marked all the best spots in which to install guerrilla crosswalks...

A bit of paint ... then just rotate the arrows on the city's signs, and voila!

oweneagle said...

I would say that the biggest example of this over here in the UK, is our lovely bikeability program...

"No we can't build any high quality dedicated cycle infrastructure, but here have some training so you can 'take the lane' ."

Geert Van Damme said...

with the same argument, most red pedestrian-lights in city centers are a symptom of car-centric city planning. (same for red bicycle-lights).
Shouldn't the default be a green / orange (flashing) light?
Green when it's positively safe to cross the road, (flashing)orange when you need to be very careful, but it might be ok to cross.
At dangerous/difficult crossings, there might still be a red light, but it should be the exception.

Miles Bader said...

@Geert Van Damme
The whole problem is the attitude that pedestrian behavior must always be bound by absolute and strict regulations in the same manner as automobiles are. This is a car-centric attitude; pedestrians are not the same as automobiles.

The color of the lights doesn't really make much difference...

crapbournemouthcyclist said...

Just down the main road from me is a crossing guard. Dressed head-to-toe in dayglo with a large reflective 'lollipop'.
Not just that - 20 yards either way up the main road are road signs with flashing amber lights which warn drivers that they are approaching him (presumably in case they don't notice his clothing or sign?).
BUT... the worst part... he isn't helping children cross the road on their own - they are ALL accompanied by their parents. He's there to help ADULTS cross the road.
No - this isn't a satirical comedy program. It's the reality of UK road safety.

crapbournemouthcyclist said...

BTW - when I say 'main' road - it's a shopping centre road used arterially which runs less than 1/2 km parallel to a proper arterial road.
You can see the crossing in this pic...

crapbournemouthcyclist said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Miles Bader said...

Incidentally, this brings to mind a stupid/evil practice that seems depressingly common:

Putting in roadside fencing to keep pedestrians from crossing, not because it's a particularly dangerous location, but simply to keep the road clear so that cars can travel faster without care.

A particularly egregious example is a newly widened road (to two lanes, from one) near a major rail station near me. There's extremely high pedestrian traffic, and almost zero car traffic, and yet they decided they'd fence off the road, without any real attention to common travel patterns. It's completely idiotic.

I'm very proud of the populace's reaction though: as they're prevented from easily crossing where they want to go, they simply walk in the middle of the road instead! Some drivers seems extremely disturbed by this, but nobody pays them any mind. And this, mind you, is in Japan, which has a (rather undeserved) reputation for mindless obedience...