Design Not Thinking

The Turning Radius

If design is the execution of an idea, then this picture is a testament to the importance of correctly executing an idea.

This is a wonderfully clear example of how NOT to design a bike path in a dense urban environment, the picture brilliantly captures the side effects resulting from bad design decisions. To be fair, it could have been the implementation of the design that went wrong, either way, it’s a classic Design Not Thinking moment, so let’s learn from it.

The Big Picture

Integrating bicycle and vehicle traffic on the same road is an ongoing and continuously refined experiment worldwide, and New York City is an active participant in this search.  The protected bike path initiative New York City has committed itself to is a perfect example of this evolutionary process.  The previous iteration, the unprotected version, had the bike lane adjacent to the car lane, leaving parked cars up against the curb.  The problem with that solution was that it was too easy for motorist to ignore the bike lane and just treat it as an extension of their driving lane or temporary parking lane.  Quite honestly, it was very close to vehicular anarchy.

The Original idea

Protect the cyclist from the motorist by physically separating her with a line of parked cars.  Simple enough.  Make sure you allow for a ‘load’ buffer, or better known by cyclist as a door swing area, to complete the cocoon effect created by a curb on one side and tons of steel parked on the other side.

Where the Design Stopped Thinking

As we all know, the weakest link of a chain is what will cause the whole chain to fail.  The weakest link of the protected bike line is the intersection.  Cars, trucks and busses making right hand turns, especially from an avenue on to a narrower street has always been tricky, even before the introduction of bike lanes.  Just image now.  So this is why this design mistake is so egregious and difficult to accept. By starting the protected bike lane parking at the very beginning of the turn-in street they have reduced the turning radius for vehicles making a right hand turn so severely that large trucks and buses can no longer make the turn without backing up.  The chaos that ensues is many things; stupid, ridiculous and flat out dangerous are the first words that come to mind.

Why not allow for a large vehicle turning radius?  Start the parking area 20 feet further down the road.

If the big idea behind a protected bike lane is indeed to protect the cyclist, then why not check all design decision against that very idea?  Sadly, and ironically, there is a Ghost Bike Memorial already at this intersection.

Design thinking is just that, conceive and execute an idea correctly so that it fulfills its purpose.  Iterate, verify and evolve, all so that the final outcome is true to the original idea.  Anything less is design not thinking.

The Visual Explanation

In conclusion, Design Not Thinking is:

Whereas Design Thinking would be:

Paolo Bertolotti, NY