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Traffic Posts: Part of a Complete Street Design

Traffic posts are part of an overall approach to safe, effective street design.  The three most basic components of an effective street network are: proper width, proper pattern, and proper placement of physical elements.

The Changing World of Street Design

The priorities of most urban areas have evolved greatly over the last 50 years or so.  From the 1950s through the 1970s, the major priority for city planners was efficiency.  The idea was to create conditions in which the largest number of people could move in the least amount of time.  While this philosophy is advantageous in many respects, it can exact a high price in terms of public safety and quality of life.

Today, efficiency is but one of many factors that planners consider when designing street networks.  For example, concerns about global warming, coupled with rising rates of heart disease and other lifestyle-related ailments, have influenced officials to create multi-use streets that encourage people to walk or use bicycles rather than drive.  This movement has in turn inspired designers to create narrower roadways that encourage slower, more careful driving.  These modern roads usually incorporate pedestrian and/or bike paths as standard features.

Traffic posts play an important role in supplementing the traffic control objectives of today’s narrower, multi-use streets.  They remind drivers of lower speed limits, announce the presence of bike and pedestrian lanes, and alert motorists that they are traveling through residential neighborhoods where children are likely to be present.

With America’s population aging, the traffic posts of the past are giving way to high-visibility markers that incorporate retro-reflective materials, LEDs, solar-powered flashing beacons, and other enhancements.  Use of these products is expected to increase dramatically due to demographic changes in the driving public.

Principles for Creating Street Networks

Cul-de-sacs are a necessary evil to public planners.  The more cul-de-sacs that are present in an area, the more drivers are forced to use wider, higher-capacity streets that are unfriendly to pedestrians, children, and bike riders.  When possible, cul-de-sacs should be avoided in favor of short, highly connected streets based on the familiar city block pattern.  This approach reduces driver frustration and stress from dealing with numerous dead ends and other mobility impediments.

Design and Placement of Physical Elements

Consistent with a multi-user approach to street design is the inclusion of multiple streetscape features that enhance user experience, whether the traveler is driving, walking, or riding a bike. Some of the more commonly used features include the following:

  • Benches for pedestrian or bus rider use.  To maximize convenience and safety, benches should be placed well away from traffic lanes and include visibility-enhancing features such as retro-reflective signs or lighting.
  • Trash cans.  These offer a convenient place for bikers and those on foot to dispose of litter.  This benefits not only them but also the whole community.
  • Bike racks.  These are important to encourage cyclists, who depend on racks as a secure place to keep their bicycles when not in use.
  • Public-use bicycles.  These are increasingly common sights in mid-sized to larger cities. Public bikes are designed with highly accessible features that make them easy for even novice riders to operate.  They are usually prominently marked with the city logo and/or highly distinctive features that discourage bike thieves.
  • Planters.  These can serve double duty as both protective bollards and as ways to beautify the surroundings.  Along with planters, street designers often incorporate statues or other works of art for public communication and traffic management purposes.
  • Informative and/or educational traffic posts.  These markers serve non-traditional functions, such as telling visitors about an area’s local history or culture.

Conclusion

The placement of traffic posts is one of many topics addressed by street designers.  As the developed world continues to evolve, these professionals will continue to play an important role in public safety and welfare.