"Hoboken Daylighting" In Lieu Of Bump-Outs

Ian Sacs's picture

So, I'm out at a site visit with the city engineer last week and we're talking about ways to implement curb extensions to reduce pedestrian exposure to vehicular traffic.  We're discussing inexpensive ways to accomplish this, and then on queue, as is the right and obligation of all civil engineers, the ugly villain subject of all things bumped-out rears its head: drainage.

If you've ever attempted to retrofit an intersection with curb extensions (a.k.a bump-outs), you're certain to have run into the havoc that an ill-placed catch basin wreaks on a good-intentioned, simple, concrete extension.  Oftentimes, catch basins and drainage paths kill a curb-extension retrofit because the relocation of catch basins triple or quadruple the cost of an otherwise simple implementation.  Oh, the frustration!  Although I can't offer any magic solutions - and there's just so much ARRA can do for you - there are some ways to get some bang for a lot less buck.

First up is something I have never tried myself, but saw implemented quite effectively in Arcadia, California, a bedroom community of Los Angeles.  I observed a streetscapes improvement project along their main street, which apparently ran into a potential deal-breaker when it was learned that to get curb extensions and extended planters, all the catch basins along the corridor would have to be relocated to avoid ponding.  Instead of throwing hands and scales in the air and leaving things to rampant speeders, some innovative soul came up with a solution that I have not seen used anywhere else, but could perhaps make life a lot easier for those of us looking to retrofit existing streets.  They simply designed short concrete spans as removable panels (presumably for regular cleaning) to serve as a bridge between the existing curb and the new extension "islands".  This effectively allows the design to work around existing drainage infrastructure, and avoids the huge costs needed to relocate catch basins.  I never had a chance to ask that city's administration about the pros and cons of this solution now that it's been in place for several years, but I suspect that sweeping out detritus and occasional vandalism ("Dude, like, I totally bet you can't lift that concrete panel there, you wussy.") are highest on the list.  Anyone see this somewhere else?

As you likely already know, among other things such as keeping pedestrians off the street and six inches higher, curb extensions are beneficial because they physically prevent cars from parking too close to, or within, crosswalks.  But in Hoboken, our budget status is so deep in the hole we're not allowed to play with concrete.  Our residential streets are tightly packed with on-street parallel parking that , despite state statutes prohibiting parking within 25 feet of the line, oftentimes creeps right up and into crosswalks.  Since it is nearly impossible to enforce this throughout the city all the time, and there simply is no money to build curb extensions, we were looking for a simple, inexpensive, and definitive way to prevent cars from parking too close to crosswalks.  Enter the lowly vertical delineator.

"Hoboken Daylighting" Simply Involves Two Vertical Delineators Per Corner

Step 1: Tow car illegally parked at or in crosswalk.  Step 2: Install first pole approximately ten feet from crosswalk and approximately four feet offset from the curb.  Step 3: Install second pole an additional ten feet from the first pole at same offset from curb.  Step 4: Repeat elsewhere as requested.  The beauty of this "Hoboken Daylighting" concept is that it takes ten minutes to install, costs $40, and effectively prevents all but the most absolutely hell-bent, obstinate parkers from infringing upon the sight-distance area critical for pedestrian visibility (Yes, some people indeed drive over these, as unbelievable as it sounds, but I suspect these desperate individuals are members of a vengeful sect that attempts to summon the spirit of Robert Moses every December 18th by smashing two chunks of macadam over a flaming can of Pennzoil, so don't be deterred.)

Hoboken Daylighting Is Installed Here For Both "Critical Approaches"

Again, it ain't pretty, but it gets the job done in a dense urban environment where enforcement must be supplemented by physical preventative measures at critical approaches.  When we first started this program a few years back, the poles were a bit unpleasant to look at because there was no laudable track-record against which to contrast their aesthetics.  But nowadays, function has overcome form, and Hoboken Daylighting is requested by residents all around town.  We're now using an NJDOT system called Plan4Safety to identify highest incident intersections to balance resident requests with critical safety locations, all on a shoestring.  Since intersections in Hoboken are typically the convergence of one-way streets, we typically only install Hoboken Daylighting on the "in" approaches, not the "outs".  This is because drivers need line-of-sight with pedestrians and other vehicles as they are entering an intersection (truck turning movements is another issue).  I hope this is helpful to those of you looking for quick and cheap ways to improve safety at critical corners.  If you have questions about Hoboken Daylighting, leave them in the comments below and I'll answer them as best as possible.

Ian Sacs, P.E. is a worldwide transportation solutions consultant based in Finland.



street cleaning?

This sounds like a potentially effective way to make interim improvements during tight budgetary times. I am curious how street cleaning has worked out, though. The delineators would seem like an obstacle for street sweepers, which could making these locations potential magnets for trash.

I understand they haven't been in long, but with the leaves falling it should be possible to make some preliminary findings on cleaning already.

Ian Sacs's picture

street cleaning?

Generally, the two poles are not enough to effectively trap trash in these areas, so they're not trash magnets. We have had them in for over two years in some locations with no problems. That said, Hoboken does also have street cleaners, similar to BID staff, with carts, brooms, and dustpans, so these locations can also be kept neat beyond the reach of the street sweeper machine. ~ian

I wonder how long they'll

I wonder how long they'll last in snow removal season?

Similarly, how would the Arcadia covered gutters or Portland bump-out rain gardens fare in locations that recieve lots of snow and deicing salts?

Ian Sacs's picture

I wonder how long they'll

Hoboken receives 2-3 large snow storms annually, with little space for melting. These poles are plowed in during those times - along with cars - as our narrow streets are cleared. They've all survived last winter quite well. ~ian


I'm sure they'll get plowed right up!

PA Daylighting

There is also a small PA community using vertical markers in the middle of a road on a main corridor through their downtown center to keep the cars and trucks in line. It also makes it harder to speed.

The delineators come in colors!

Seems to me there is more potential for urban design that has yet been exploited, after all, you need something that is reflective and bright, but no reason is has to be traffic-cone orange.

Especially in some neighborhoods, it might be fun to see if you can get sponsors to do more with this. Sponsors could be recognized by paint on the asphalt, for example, since there isn't anything else that needs to go there.

Thanks, Ian, for a clever solution that can grow to be fun.

Bump Outs Have Their Place - But Is That Every Block In Hoboken?

Make a list of your 100 greatest streets, and odds are that none of the streets on the list will have bump outs - unless you're a traffic calming professional who's going to include new streets that use your favorite new tools. That doesn't mean that bump outs are bad (I have in my mind's eye a very good one in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, for example), but the bump-out formula that seemingly automatically transforms every intersection, isn't good placemaking.

Why not? Because most good streets will not benefit from drawing attention to the intersections, as opposed to what Jan Gehl calls "the spaces between the buildings." Those spaces, not the intersections, are usually what's important for urban design and placemaking.

Obviously keeping pedestrians alive and well is very important. There are many ways to do that, and all of them should be kept in the toolbox. A recent study by UConn professor Norm Garrick for the CT DOT suggests that controlling lane widths and what's at the edge of the lanes works best of all.

Of course bump outs as a modern tool started out in the suburbs, where the lanes were far too wide and the spaces between the buildings were ugly, impervious to just about any changes made in the road bed. But Hoboken has beautiful streets, with a public realm that needs many tools to preserve it. Bump outs work best on very busy streets (so that the bump outs have less visual prominence), or streets so bad that aesthetics are almost irrelevant. On great, quiet streets, they can be visually disruptive.

Garrick on lane widths

Can you tell us in a nutshell what Garrick says about lane widths? Make them more narrow? Proposed width? Thanks.

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