Sunday, January 28, 2007

DSC_1084 - Waiting for GoodfellowThis is partly a test to see what the horrible new and improved Blogger is like and to see which name it decides publish this under. It was really great to log in and be told that today I'll be merging my accounts and as I have a Google account I'll be using that, despite the Google account being in my real name and my Blogger account being most definitely not, and that whole facets of me thing, which means different audiences are told different things about me, really is untidy. It was even better to be told this without a visible link to any FAQ or help section; obviously thought is considered subversive by the powers that be (and when did the Do No Evil guys become the PTB?).

So what else I have got for you today? Not a whole lot of stuff. There's the usual more pictures on Flickr, but none of the long passed snow yet because that would be too a la mode for this place. We also have some Poundbury news, sorry, that should read: we have some Poundbury news also. And the daily special is off because I've forgotten what it was going to be.

So the Poundbury stuff:

There are some videos on Youtube taken by someone driving round the Duchy Originals Suburb, not only giving some idea of the layout and the feel of the place, but showing the subtle methods of control implemented there. I actually looked at this a while ago and so haven't quite retained as much as I might, but the gist of it was that it was intriguing to see the way the place is used.

If you do watch them, turn your speakers off; Poundbury is a one tune town.

Watching the first tour again, a few points: Why is the couple with the pushchair walking down the road rather than on the pavement (and what does that say about the pavements)? Why are the some pavements such large expanses of gravel topped tarmac? It is more obvious in the later phases, where it is apparent that the area is not intended as parking, yet it's too large to ever be used solely as a pavement, so what is it for? At the moment it looks like they couldn't decide what to do with it (private garden? public green space?) and so just buried it in hard landscaping to avoid having to mow it. So other that the aesthetics of the thing, is it really a good idea to arbitrarily cover all available land with impermeable materials? And wasn't it a greenfield site? So hasn't the Prince of Wales, Defender of the Environment, just paved over a field, thereby increasing run-off, the need for mains drainage and the risks of flooding? I only noticed because I can visualise the towns and villages the development apes (complete with erratically abandoned cars, contorted roads and the necessary liberal interpretation of the highway code), and so can see what normally would exist in place of these redundant forecourt aprons of paving - either verges between the pavement and the road that had developed from the universal greensward, gardens pushing the pavement next to road, or impromptu parking (streams and ditches permitting).

Remind me to email it to Omega. I would stick a comment on City Comforts, but he seems to have gone off the outside world. But it really is his sort of thing. On street parking or in courtyards round the back, buildings on the property line and permeability all round. Note the use of the form and function to control traffic (roads which flow round the buildings, not vice versa; the use of the spaces including apparently odd parking; the multiple use aspect which means cars drive round people standing having a chat and the distinction between pavements and roads is hazy - which has more cars on it?).

I'm not sure I'm that keen on the use of speed humps and raised junctions, as they seem clumsy; there are probably other ways of inserting traffic calming features without making it so blatant, and because the function is so clearly understood that probably effects the results of them. Yes, they say "go slow" but they also say "you must" making the drivers more aware of the authority commanding them. The majority of drivers appear to accelerate immediately after crossing them to make up for the time lost in passing over them. I know the place already uses road narrowing, flexible parking, bends and general horizontal unevenness to worry the driver into slowing, but the vertical variation seems very uniform. The place says "we want you to go slowly here and we don't believe the conditions of the road would otherwise cause you to go that slowly". Which is another way of saying "we know better than you"; it doesn't tend to go down well.

The "where the hell's this go?" and the "I can't see" are also noticeable tactics deployed in Poundbury, and they are noticeable for being deployed. They are pre-existing in many other places, but because Poundbury is clearly new (despite the best efforts of the architecture) they must be the result of recent decisions. So they are equally as intentionally controlling as speed bumps, but less apparently so. Speed bumps are only ever speed bumps (unless the road's sagged over a gas main), but lateral diversions are just what happens.

I wonder if anyone has done trials using features similar to speed bumps but constructed it appear as just a normal road. Would people's reactions differ? Do speed bumps make a good road bad? How is an initially bad road seen? Is something which appears to be lumpy, uneven and unsafe, any more unsafe than the good road (which allows faster speeds and more confidence) or a good road made bad by speed bumps (which issues commands and so may cause an equal and opposite reaction).

I've realised I'm thinking of specific towns and villages here. The new roads ploughed through the old fabric all have problems with speeding and antisocial driving, creating barriers between sections of town. The old roads which clog easily, and wander up to the quarry, out to the church or down to the farm, don't tend have the same problems. The styles of driving and the uses of the roads differ. Old means go slow, give way, wave at people you know, wait for the lorry ahead to finish having a chat with the bus driver or for the wardrobe sitting in the middle of the road to move, dump your car pretty much wherever while you pop to the bank or post some letters, or stop suddenly to offer someone a lift, and above all look out for caravans backing into the road, tractors swinging out to pull in, Land Rovers lurching drunkenly back from the pub, using whichever parts of the road they feel are most convenient while the rest of population drive where they always have done and how they always have done. Yes, I am describing the occurrences which cause me to enter a largely second-gear style of driving know as "Swanage mode (partly it's the drivers, partly it's the town layout (where all traffic has to use the central one way system), and partly it's the result of living with tourism). And yes, travel in these areas usually is slow and perhaps frustrating, but one knows it's going to be like that so one expects to cope.

I know I've made it sound parochial and somewhat rural, but it happens everywhere it's allowed to. I've seen the same behaviours in London, although there everything is more hurried as people hoot quicker, the traffic wardens are ever alert and the fear [or perceived risk] of damage or loss is greater.

But where roads are designed to allow cars swift safe passage, flanked with double yellow lines and endless signs, the behaviour switches. The street ceases it be a place, instead becoming just a road. Those in the cars don't get out of them, because there's nowhere to stop, and even if there were (or they parked illegally), they'd have to time getting out between the speeding cars and then pray that someone doesn't drive into the back of it because there was no sign to warn them.

Admittedly I've no idea how one tallies this local streets for local people idea with that of actually going anywhere. Wherever the road enters a town, socially it should become that fluid and adaptable space if it is not to divide the town, yet in so doing it divides the roads at either end of the town.

It is very noticeable (by which I mean I noticed something was odd, but it took me a while to place it) that in Poundbury, there are no signs. There's no street furniture except bollards to try and reign in the parking. The lamp-posts are not, instead being lamps mounted on buildings. The lack of road markings and decisions over priority remove the need for endless "Give way" signs and warnings of roundabouts in 200 yards, and so the need for anything to support them. Apart from parked cars and bollarded aprons the streets are blank. And I'm obviously looking in the wrong place for the road names.

[The following was written largely about the later stages, although some it is true of some parts of the village]
Part of this lack of any disruption to the milieu of people, bicycles and cars bounded by the facing walls of buildings means that there are no trees. I know West Country villages tend not to have the regiments of plane trees which adorn parts of London, but usually there are some. It seems to be another product of the same mind which paved over any spare space. While the lack of greenery might be a result of the youth of the town, the perpetual continuation of masonry walls wherever traffic does not pass is surprising. Even where there are gardens, there are walls sealing them in. No fences overrun with climbers, no hedges, no front gardens except slots no bigger than the front doorstep. I know front gardens scream suburbia, but they don't have to be big and not every house needs one. But if chunks of central London manage it, then why not a satellite of Dorchester? At moment it seems as though the Prince of Wales has become Christo, and rather than wrapping the land in plastic, he has taken a roll of solidity and wrapped his fields in that, pushing up buildings from the hard landscaping like bubbles beneath wallpaper.

But thinking back to the Poundbury videos. The roads need more seemingly natural vertical variation to convincingly control traffic. The town needs more greenery (well, if it's going for the Ersatz-on-the-Twee look, it may as well have the roses round the door). The architecture could do with a bit more variation away from the every page of the Dorchestershire style book, preferably with a bit more functionalism and even a hint of modernity. But other than that, it seems reasonable; but not great. It just repeats the past, only with somewhat less understanding.

And having watched the videos again, it's very apparent the town is intended to be grander than the village and so everything appears to require a greater scale. Cars are parked end on rather than parallel to the road, the space provided for them to do this is about two car lengths. Add in the wide pavements and tennis court roads and suddenly the canyon has become a chasm, with distance between facing front doors somewhere in the realm of a minor hike. It starts to look like any other jaded neoclassical development (except usually land values mean they're denser packed). Watch how fast the traffic moves in the different stages.

So create to a town, he's built taller, but further apart than the village. Cities were once towns, which were once villages. The roads tend to stay the same except for radical adjustments. Yet Poundbury almost tries to keep the same density per unit area. If we build tall we'll disguise it by building far away (perhaps the PoW thinks we're all Dougals). And in so doing the place loses some of the point. Surely it wasn't all about the architectural style, was it?

I know watching a video of it is no replacement for actually exploring the place myself, but as I've yet to get there, it'll have to be for the time being.

You may also like to note the tags I've added to this post (even though there is nothing covering them in my template, and they look fairly ugly when I've seen them applied by other Bloggerites, so we'll see how badly it all goes wrong). I've no idea how they'll turn out as I don't know if it accepts the Flickrish quotes marks to bunch words together; if it does no doubt the last will be one of the most frequently used.

Turns out it uses Googlemailish commas to separate. it also sorts them into alphabetical order, so the last entered is not the last shown; the one I referred to above was BB.

But I think that's enough for now, especially as I'm writing like someone who hasn't had enough to drink all day and so has lost the ability to think.


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Anonymity test.
That looks like a failed anonymity test to me.
Not wholly failed; Google was threatening to put my real name email address in there.
I see. Look at you with your semicolon!

Interesting post, by the way. I mustn't start talking about traffic calming though. I might never stop.
Did I get the semicolon wrong then?

So as that's a risk I'm willing to take, you have a minute to talk traffic calming, starting now (though deviation is for once encouraged).
I don't think you got it wrong, no. I just liked it.

Traffic can be neither calm nor agitated, although those sitting in it certainly may be. Bath is something of a hotspot for such measures. We live here in a climate where not only do a high proportion of drivers have no idea where they are going or how to get there, but anyone with a little local knowledge who tries to save a few minutes by using minor roads sees them immediately designted 'rat runs' and clogged with speed bumps/tables and 20mph limits. The speed bumps are then removed as they are unsuitable for buses and emergency vehicles, only to be replaced by road narrowing, or my new favourite, bizarre roundabout-type constructions with no priority.

I find it amusing, though many would deem it infuriating.
Whereas they use nice prefab speed bumps round here, which seem to have been created by the designers of the Rubic's Cube in that once one panel comes loose the rest just slide out, with the result that soon the only thing left are the now bent bolts sticking out of the road (I have a hunch some of the locals help them on their way). And the great thing about the remaining bolts is that now people drive round them, so cars will suddenly veer across the road to avoid damaging their tyres while continuing at their old speeds.

They have also introduced mini-roundabouts where small suburban roads meet the main road. Which of course has meant that those who used to bomb round that corner still do, and the rest of the cars come to a complete standstill while trying to work out if the other drivers are using the current or old priority system. So the slower cars have got slower and the speeding cars end up more in the wrong, but no slower. Why do I suspect they'll be reporting average speed reduction, not those above the eightieth percentile?

But best of all is that the traffic control measures are all being applied to roads either built recently or improved recently to bring them up to modern design standards. Whodathunk that road designed to be easily driveable at 60 might allow people to drive near that speed regardless of speed limit?

And now I seem to be getting back into the contents of the post, so I'd better stop.
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