We can learn from European traffic planning


People travel to Europe to see the sights, eat the food and hear the various languages, among other things. I recently traveled to live among the locals in western Europe, where I rented a tiny econo-box car to get around.

I started with trepedation, but ended up noticing many things that eventually made sense. Driving in Europe is like dancing; It takes confidence and quick moves to flow smoothly. Here are some observations that could help Alexandria.

Traffic control: Before the light turns green, the light turns yellow saying get ready to go! The left lane on highways is reserved for passing. Speed cameras are often noticable.

Right of way: I could have counted the number of stop signs on one hand. Everyone yields to the right, using traffic circles that cause everyone to slow down at intersections, yet keeping things moving not waiting for the required roll-back stop. Stop signs are not needed for pedestrians to cross the street, because the crosswalk is  treated as a temporary stop sign when someone is crossing the street.  Additionally, crosswalks are not always at the actual corners. This increases traffic flow and also visibility. I have noticed Alexandria doing this and applaud it.

Europe has bike lanes by default,  with excellent separation between the road and parking. If necessary, the roads are made one-way to accomodate one-lane of traffic, one parking zone and one large bike lane.

Parking lanes: Alexandria has too many stores and homes that have direct turn-on access to a major street. This is a danger to cars using the throughfare, the person pulling out and to bicyclists. Every 30 feet there could be someone pulling out quickly. Parking lanes are also used to separate traffic which will be turning right. Weve seen this used to good effect at Jordan and Duke streets here.

Mass transit: Its everywhere, heavily used and has precedence over cars. Bus lanes are on all thoroughfares, which are shared by taxis. The buses are sized appropriate to the route, efficiently planned and run on natural gas. The metro comes very frequently and emphasizes fold up seating, with plenty of standing room and excellent signage. There is sometimes a metro station every 3 blocks which, in Alexandria would be a strange sight, even though we are a very dense city. The metro trains stop at double sets of station doors, avoiding the Price is Right wheel issue of where to stand. This also protects patrons from falling onto the tracks.  

Support systems: Instead of running all the time and breaking down, escalators only turn on when someone steps onto one. Train and bus doors only open when you push a button indicating you need the door to open. Turnstyles only apply to entrance. These things drastically reduce wear and cost.

While I hate to see public officials take junkets around the globe, the next time they do, I hope they will pay attention to how they get around town and take some notes on how we can make our traffic systems smarter, safer and more efficient.

The writer is an Alexandria resident who ran for City Council last year.