A Project for Public Spaces piece, "Levels of Service and Travel Projections: The Wrong Tools for Planning Our Streets?" doesn't have a name for it, nor does Todd Littman at the Victoria Transport Policy Institute in pieces like "Reform Transport Engineering: Expand Beyond Just Roadway Level of Service (LOS) Ratings" and "The New Transportation Planning Paradigm." You'd think a name for the paradigm would show up in sources like this. But it hides nameless, innocuous even, as our standard traffic engineering and planning.
So since a name hasn't appeared, I propose hydraulic autoism. (Do you know a better term or a deeper historical analysis of the trend?)
In a nutshell, hydraulic autoism is this:
|1937 propaganda - via NYRB|
- The use of hydraulic metaphors and analysis: It's all about the free-flow of a fluid stream of cars. (This move to borrow from a hard science had analytic goals, of course, but it is also associated with making a professional guild more "scientific" and "respectable.")
- Its principal tool is a dredging operation: Widen and straighten the road.
- It prefers deep and wide channels to distributed networks: If streetcar-era grids are like river deltas with meandering, intertwined lowland shallow courses, the modern approach is for wide highways and arterials (like the picture!).
- Modern analytics based on "Level of Service" count delay, congestion, meanders, anything that impedes powerful free-flow for cars, as problems or noise to be engineered out of the system.
- People on foot are "pedestrian impedance"; they are noise in the system that cause delay. Other non-car users of the road are also noise. The roads aren't true public space for everybody, but are primarily for cars and their drivers.
- Road "design speed" should be much higher than posted speed limits. It should be possible for drivers to exceed posted speeds routinely and safely. Not to do this is to engineer a "dangerous" road. Roads should "forgive" a range of driver error. (Consistent with theories of pedestrian impedance, roads do not need to forgive a range of errors by people on foot or on bike.)
- A primary commitment to the drive-alone trip - autoism is about autonomy and individualism.
- These principles are formalized in the MUTCD, AASHTO publications, and other professional standards adopted by governmental agencies.
|One of the bibles|
|Another of the bibles|
Hydraulic autoism is a key tool in the broader city planning and development patterns of the Moses-Eisenhower school.
Named in honor of Robert Moses and President Eisenhower, this mid-century school of autoism dominated urban forms for most of the second half of the 20th century. It's still powerful today. Though other schools and visions have critiqued it, and cities are beginning to phase it out, none of the other visions have yet become themselves dominant.
What characterizes it?
- Loop and lollipop suburbs
- Local-collector-arterial functional road heirarchies
- Urban expressways, highways, and by-passes
- Interstate Highway System
- Exclusionary zoning that keeps employment and business destinations far from residential enclaves
- Because most destinations are too far for a comfortable walk, driving becomes the default mobility choice
- Drive-alone trips dominate; transit, walking, biking, carpools distinctly second-class
- A belief that gas should be cheap.
- Only capacity at peak matters; surplus capacity at off-peak is a null value; it cannot be used or relied on.
Give Yourself the Green Light via the Atlantic and Prelinger Archives
All this adds up to the belief and assumption that the only form of mobility that is meaningful is the drive-alone trip and that we have to shape our cities and streets around accommodating the drive-alone trip during rush hour. That's the only thing that matters.
Here's a similar thought:
The problem with treating #traffic like a hard science - like a liquid or a gas, instead of like people. Comments? pic.twitter.com/qWo89sjfWo— Brent Toderian (@BrentToderian) September 5, 2015