Friday, April 29, 2016

If roads were code

I work in code all day and so I make mistakes all day. But I also fix mistakes all day. And this makes me think why doesn't everyone else also fix mistakes all day, specifically why don't we fix mistakes with roads. I mean, seriously, wouldn't that be wonderful? So many roads are poorly designed, or they were reasonably designed, but are now out of date.

Can't you imagine if we could just take an old road, save it as south-lamar_archive.road, move it to our archived roads folder and then quickly design up a new one. What would be possible? We could rapidly prototype new (or new to a region) ideas: super-wide highways, traffic circles, Michigan Lefts, multi-level, toll and HOV, peak demand flow.

We could burn through all kinds of civic trends and start getting a real understanding of what patterns work in different regions, and then refine them. And, of course, change it all as the region changes, as it grows in size and density, as technology changes, as patterns change.

Imagine if we had road building materials that we could lay out, drive-ready, at 10 miles a day. Imagine if you could re-do entire highway as it passes through a town over a weekend. You could try out all kinds of designs. You could start addressing needs and goals beyond throughput.

Instead of building to some grim calculus of cars-per-hour-per-lives-lost, you could engineer roads that made everyone safer, that actually promoted safety. Roads that reduced conflict, connected communities, re-opened regions to wildlife migration. You could have modular sections built off-site and then assembled. Roads could have integrated signs with digital paper; and cable car / moving walkway for cars style hookups that would turn existing cars into driverless; and built in lighting so we can drive without headlights; and rapid draining; and sound dampening. Roads could be built with clearance so people and animals can easily cross under the street; and to protect pedestrians (even if they're not paying attention) as a default; and to allow easy access to utilities without shutting down lanes.

I'd love if we could approach transportation infrastructure with hope and curiosity. And if every time we got it wrong, or not right enough, we could etch-a-sketch it and try again.