Monday, February 1, 2010
Loafing around one day I stopped to eyeball the width of one of my neighborhood streets: four and a half car widths edge to edge, check. (Counting car widths has become this tic of mine.) But I realized I've only been counting asphalt, and not the other factor that adds to LA's already wide streets — the property setback.
Property setbacks in LA have always perplexed me much like the sidewalks in places like Century City, vastly overbuilt as they are to accomodate phantom pedestrians marching eight abreast solely in the imagination of some long-gone city planner. Why all the space? I wonder. All this grass, itself alone a topic of discussion? Why widen an already wide street when you know it'll only decrease drivers' sense of context and therefore encourage speeding?
A narrow street alone does not encourage safer driving; surrounding context is also critical. You see this idea at work when driving past planting medians or sidewalk corner bulbs: your field of vision suddenly contains objects other than empty asphalt + cars; you become more aware of your travelling speed; and most likely, you'll feel compelled to slow down. The property setback works against this principle, pushing buildings out of the driver's periphery, creating blank space before them, and in general turning the city into so many of JG Ballard's concrete islands.
So in addition to stripping out median asphalt in this photo I've also removed the planting strip on the left, chopping that property's setback in half. The result is a tighter hallway of buildings that just fits this neighborhood better — this is a quiet residential street, after all, and really shouldn't be treated like a shortcut for crazed commuters on time trial. See it narrowed!
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