Lemme tell you something about roads: They involve a lot of specialists working at all levels of bureaucracy who don’t always communicate with each other. And when they don’t–which is often–common sense is usually the first casualty.
The biggest problem is that the DOT, along with all the private sector folks suckling at their financial teat, see three types of roads: locals, which dump into collectors, which dump into the arterials that handle the heavy, through traffic. Works well enough in the ‘burbs, I guess, but not so useful in a place like Decatur, where streets of many sizes and configurations weave and connect their way through a variety of historic contexts.
The degree to which this three-sizes-fits-all thinking can undermine the joyful complexity of an interconnected, traditional urban place is, for a geek like me who obsesses over such things, extensive. And it’s not just me. Over time, all kinds of communities have gotten sick and tired of poorly designed thoroughfares being rammed through the places they care about most, with little regard for what makes them work or what makes them special.
Outcries drove the DOT to begin rallying, at least in their press releases, around the flag of “Context Sensitive Design.” They’re still not very good at it (they’ve always been much better at responding to the needs of cars than to the needs of people or the demands of place), but it’s been a veer in the right direction nonetheless. And now you hear a lot of talk about Complete Streets, which will push them even further into the 21st century. So there’s hope.
But I digress. For now, I want to point out what looks like some good, old-fashioned, specialists-in-silos craziness. Please join me as we tour East Lake Drive, just south of the tracks, where I speculate — from a reading of the clues — about what’s going on.