Granite City dinner experience

A while ago, I posted about inauthenticity in restaurant design. My partner in crime responded quite well. Well… once again I ventured into the world of chain restaurants with my family, and once again, I wasn’t happy.

This time, the culprit was Granite City. While the food was good (if not too much), and the service was impeccable, the whole dining experience was almost entirely ruined by the presence of three large flat-screen TVs in the main dining room. Not the bar, mind you. But the dining room! The place where I want to enjoy a special night out with the wife and four kids, talking about our day and learning from the surroundings. You know, typical – historical! – restaurant experiences. But no! This dining experience was characterized by all four children – even the one-year-old! – being transfixed on the TV screens. If there was any conversation, it consisted of a question and answer about the NFL All-Star game, and it’s related skills competition and ESPN commentary!

Here’s the question: why are there TVs in the dining room??? I realize TVs have been in bars for some time. But why have they migrated to dining rooms? Is it good for business? Do more families come because they know they’ll be able to spend an hour eating and not talking with each other? Have we come so far that not only can we not eat a meal at home without the TV on, but now we can’t even eat a meal out without three of them on (different channels, don’t forget!)!

Now, in the interest of self-disclosure, I own stock in Granite City. (My financial adviser said it was a good company with great growth potential.) Overall, it seems like a great company and restaurant. But why would they put TVs in the dining room? Why do they feel the need to distract us during dinner? Why would they work against quality family time? Why the compromise? What’s the gain?

I must admit, though GC has many things going for it, I’m reluctant to return and try to compete with three TVs for my kid’s attention.

The new slum?

Are suburbs the new slum?

Great article at theatlantic.com. Especially page three, where the author predicts the future.

For 60 years, Americans have pushed steadily into the suburbs, transforming the landscape and (until recently) leaving cities behind. But today the pendulum is swinging back toward urban living, and there are many reasons to believe this swing will continue. As it does, many low-density suburbs and McMansion subdivisions, including some that are lovely and affluent today, may become what inner cities became in the 1960s and ’70s—slums characterized by poverty, crime, and decay.

and

Despite this glum forecast for many swaths of suburbia, we should not lose sight of the bigger picture—the shift that’s under way toward walkable urban living is a healthy development. In the most literal sense, it may lead to better personal health and a slimmer population. The environment, of course, will also benefit: if New York City were its own state, it would be the most energy-efficient state in the union; most Manhattanites not only walk or take public transit to get around, they unintentionally share heat with their upstairs neighbors.

 photo by evetsggod on flickr 

One-way vs. two-way streets

The citizens of Richmond, Va., last year had a vigorous discussion about converting downtown one-way streets into two-way streets.

The Urban Richmond blog took some time to break down some of the arguments for and against such a conversion. The arguments are nowhere near cut-and-dried either way.

The blog divides up the arguments like this:

Reasons for converting to 2-way streets:

  • Slower traffic speeds.
  • Decrease “Vehicle Miles Traveled” by eliminating indirect routes (driving around the block to get to your destination).
  • Increased access to businesses.
  • Possibly: safer for pedestrians.

Reasons for maintaining 1-way streets:

  • Conversion is very costly.
  • 1-way streets allow for more cars, thereby decreasing congestion.
  • Easier than 2-way streets to time stoplights (timed lights improve traffic flow and decrease idling (& therefore pollution)).
  • Fewer turn prohibitions.
  • More on-street parking.
  • Possibly: safer for pedestrians.

The author of the blog lamented that so much of the information for or against conversion to two-way streets was highly partisan. But he did link to some studies he thought were more balanced:

Downtown Streets: Are We Strangling Ourselves on One-Way Networks?

Published by the Transportation Research Board, the article … argues that 1-way street networks provide many more possible types of street intersections. … 1-way street networks increase the variety and kind of conflict points creating more confusion for pedestrians and motorists.

A MICROSCOPIC SIMULATION STUDY OF TWO-WAY STREET NETWORK VERSUS ONE-WAY STREET NETWORK

This article says, “The additional turning movements for a one-way street network increase the occurrences of vehicular-pedestrian conflicts at any given intersection, and also result in a system-wide increase in vehicle mile of travel (VMT) as compared to a two-way street network.” In other words, you have to turn more on a 1-way street network, and therefore have more chances of running over people.

No Two Ways About It: One-Way Streets are better than Two-Way.”

The most convincing evidence produced in this paper by The Center for the American Dream of Mobility and Homeownership is that pedestrians were hit more frequently after streets were converted to 2-way in several downtowns in the U.S.

Urban Richmond would like to see more empirical data for the conversion of one-way streets to two-way, and so would I. Are there any more studies that any can point out that can help a citizen think rationally about the topic of pedestrian safety? And what do you think?

— Photo by z6p6tist6 on Flickr

Pedestrians and one-way streets

A recent letter to the editor in The News-Sentinel:

Traffic much better

Traffic flows much better now with Wayne and Berry being one-way streets than it will if changed to two-way traffic. It’s true, a lack of foresight in closing off the important north-south through street of Harrison was a mistake, but don’t try to correct that with another.

Making Wayne and Berry into two-way streets will impede traffic flow as cars will be making lefthand turns against and across oncoming traffic, clogging lanes that now flow east and west fairly well.

This also is not in the interest of public safety as this makes it more dangerous for motorists and pedestrians — $800,000 for counterproductivity and less-safe conditions?

— Roger Lindley

I’m glad to read local opinions by people like Mr. Lindley who care about the ramifications of changes to the urban landscape and I appreciate that Mr. Lindley mentions pedestrians in his analysis.

But studies bear out the simple fact that one-way streets are more dangerous for pedestrians than two-ways.

I’m going to quote from a long post on Streetsblog that discusses the safety of one-way streets:

One-way street networks can result in more pedestrian accidents, particularly among children. This effect has been noted in a number of transportation studies published in respected academic journals. I’ll cite and quote certain relevant reports and articles for your consideration:

First, from a 2003 study published in the American Journal of Public Health:

“Children 5-9 have the highest population-based injury rate in pedestrian-motor vehicle accidents.” Why? As the report goes on, “because in many pedestrian crashes the driver reportedly does not see the pedestrian before the accident. Higher vehicle speeds are strongly associated with a greater likelihood of crashes involving pedestrians as well as more serious pedestrian injuries…. In residential settings with large numbers of children, speed management appears to offer the greatest potential for injury prevention.

By way of explaining this effect, I’ll refer to two other reports. First from a 2004 report published in the Journal of the Institute of Engineers regarding one-way streets:

“Superficially, it would seem that crossing traffic on a one-way street is preferable to crossing a two-way street. As is often the case, the conventional wisdom is wrong. In fact, crossing a one-way street presents greater difficulties to the pedestrian than crossing two-way streets…. One of the inherent disadvantages with one-way streets is that they force additional turning movements at the intersections…[and] increase the occurrences of vehicle-pedestrian conflicts at any given intersection.”

Second, from a paper presented at the federal Transportation Research Board’s 1999 Urban Streets Symposium:

“In traffic engineering circles, the operational disadvantages associated with one-way streets are becoming increasingly recognized. The system…[causes] an increase in the number of turning movements and total miles of travel. One-way streets present challenges to the pedestrian due to speed and pedestrian expectations at intersections… there are simply more (typically 30-40 percent) more vehicle/pedestrian conflicts within a one-way street network than in a comparable two-way system.

Conversion to one-way avenues may well result in more traffic volume, higher speeds, more turning movements on Sixth and Seventh avenues. Where does this all lead?

Well, from the Canadian Journal of Public Health, a 2000 study conducted in Hamilton, Ontario, found that:

“Children’s injury rate was 2.5 times higher on one-way streets than on two-way streets” in Hamilton. Conclusion: “One-way streets have higher rates of child pedestrian injuries than two-way streets in this community.”

Certainly other studies may exist that disagree with the above, but one-way streets cannot be said to be automatically safer for pedestrians. Fort Wayne should pursue two-way streets as a way to slow down vehicular traffic and support pedestrian traffic.

Re: The world’s greatest neighborhoods

I’m always telling people that the world’s greatest neighborhoods are terrible places to park, and it’s no coincidence. … Part of the reason you don’t see much parking in back, of course, is that if this is a successful urban neighborhood, someone is going to come along with a more valuable use for that land than parking….

(G)ood pedestrian environments are places where it’s somewhat hard to drive — not, ideally, by design, but by happy side effect: you’ve built an environment so popular to enjoy on foot that, gosh darnit, there isn’t enough room left to park all those cars, and you have to drive slowly because of all the jaywalkers.

— From a comment by Matthew Amster-Burton on the City Comforts blog