Girard Boulevard: A Finished Complete Street, for Now

It’s been fun to be out of town as friends and colleagues send me photos of the new, wider, more Complete Streets compliant bike lanes on Girard north of Lomas:

girard new done
Photo: David Wilson

 

girard new done 2
Photo: John Fleck, Official Better Burque Staff Photographer

These pics and others give closure to a process of change that started a bit wobbly in terms of government/public conversation, but ends with both the views above and some lessons learned that can be applied in future Complete Streets project compliance.

Continuing to think down the road, so to speak, the work on Girard is done, for now, but there are still future considerations for Girard and all roadways as we tumble and flail into the era of autonomous vehicles.

In particular, I’m thinking about the 30 mph speed limit sign in the photo above.

I attended a conference panel on that antiquated, yet peskily still in place, speed limit determiner: the 85th Percentile. Much of the session was spent bashing the 85th Percentile idea, followed by panel attendees asking questions like: “Yes, it’s stupid, but engineering tells us we still have to use it and how can we possibly get around them/that?”

One of the panelists works for the firm Iteris, and while there was definitely a sales vibe to the presentation, the Iteris gentleman was compelling in his explanation of “connected vehicles” versus the far more discussed “autonomous vehicles,” and that AV is years away, while “CV” is not. According to the panelist, we’re about two years from initial application of things like this:

Advances in vehicle technology have made it possible to use connected vehicles to improve existing variable speed limit systems. Connected vehicles can continuously transmit information about speed and location. This can be used to get more detailed information about the traffic state. By including information from connected vehicles in a variable speed limit system there is a potential to identify bottlenecks also in between stationary detectors. Further, it is possible to use direct control of the connected vehicles to adjust vehicle speeds towards the new traffic situation.

Parsing the quoted prose, what this means is that “smart” cars in the quite near future will be tied into “smart” roadways with speed limit communication. Once communicating, roads will be able to tell cars how fast they can go.

And yes we are talking speed governors. Or maybe just dashboard alerts.

And my “take away” from the panel is that the Governor v. Alert question is the Big Kahuna as we enter the transitional era from CV to AV. For instance, Complete Streets projects like Girard currently only consider speed limit as an afterthought, if at all, because everyone understands roadway design and low enforcement = nobody cares (not to mention the 85th Percentile).

But what if the “connected” car cares? If so, and if we plan our future Complete Streets projects to include “smart” roads (i.e., install communication equipment) with ability to talk with CVs, we can drop, for example, Girard’s speed limit down to 20-25 with a decent chance to, at least somewhat, effectively slow traffic on that much more truly Complete Street.

Or we can just have alerts going off on CV dashboards that have drivers seeking any possible way to ignore or override. Or we could do something akin to taking the AR-15s from citizens, by going full, unalterable, speed governor.

It’s a fascinating future to ponder, one that engages one’s sense of human behavior when it comes to the “gun” that is a car. Will we take the driver’s “gun” or just seek to idiot light them into submission? My bet is that “freedom” will win until “they” take the accelerator from the dead, cold toes of most drivers.

We’ll see, whether we want to or not.

 

 

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