Human-Centered Design for Streets

Jon Larsen, PE - CNU Utah Board Chair

Have you ever tried to pull on a door that needs a push to open? It happens to me on a regular basis. The problem is that a handle implies that you should pull the door to open it. Visual cues are more powerful than text. This is why people still pull on a handle when the sign says “push.” All that’s needed is a flat plate instead of a handle. Without even thinking about it, people will push the door open. If you have to put a sign on something that should be obvious and intuitive, it’s a sign of design failure.  

Human Centered Design for Streets 1

In 1988, Don Norman published a book “The Design of Everyday Things,” which popularized the concept of intuitive, human-centered design. When designing a can opener or a smartphone, human-centered design is a matter of convenience. When dealing with an environment where 2-ton vehicles and human beings are interacting, it’s a matter of life and death.

Human-centered design for streets means building streets that encourage human-centered (slow) speeds. Once speeds increase above 20 mph, the odds of death dramatically increase in the case of a collision. I recently wrote a piece for Strong Towns which highlights a tragic case of misaligned expectations between design and reality and offers some ideas to make our streets safer.

If we want safe, walkable streets, it won’t be by accident. It will be by design.

About the author: Jon Larsen, PE works as a traffic engineer, with an emphasis on travel demand forecasting and regional transportation planning. He currently serves as the CNU-Utah Board Chair.