In the early 1900s, cars and their drivers were depicted in editorials, cartoons and accident reports as reckless murderers / Photo: via Peter Norton

My Feb 14th, 2013 post to the PPS Placemaking Blog exploring America’s epidemic of pedestrian fatalities and the injustice that follows, specifically as a result of the media’s portrayal.  

In 2010, the last year the National Highway Safety Traffic Administration (NHSTA) published such figures, a startling 4,280 pedestrians were hit and killed in traffic and 70,000 were injured.

I introduce what I call the Accident Axiom and it’s two corollaries.

This axiom has two corollaries: the Inherent Risk Corollary and the Reckless Driver Corollary. The former states that in this world of unavoidable accidents, pedestrians and cyclists are senselessly putting themselves in harm’s way by traversing concrete and asphalt. If they get hit, it is a deserved consequence of their poor decision making. And the latter states that those rare instances when a driver is at fault, it is the result of that driver being a reckless and careless individual, a deviant member of society. All blame is attributed to the individuals involved. The road network and driving culture are given immunity.

And I finish the article with a list of approaches and resources to combat this injustice.

There are many things that can be done to keep pushing the message back to a place that values human life first, and speed and efficient movement of automobiles second. On the policy side, get a Vulnerable Users Law introduced into your state legislature. Vulnerable Users Laws shift the burden of evidence onto the more dangerous individual. Drivers are responsible for cyclists, cyclists for pedestrians. I’m a huge fan of these laws, because pedestrians are put on a pedestal. They’ve been popular in Europe and are catching on in the United States.

Read the full article at:

Analysis of Nebraska Crosswalk Laws

The OWH and OPD needs to brush up on Chapter 60 of the Nebraska State Statutes. Many of this year’s pedestrian victims have been labeled as at fault for their own death or injury when they were fully within their rights under the law.

• Section 616 clearly states that any intersection where sidewalks are present on opposing legs are “crosswalks” even if they aren’t “marked crosswalks” (those with paint/signage) and that a pedestrian has the right-of-way whenever in these spaces unless the traffic signal and/or crossing signal (if present) is red.

• As of two months ago, Section 6,109 requires 3’ of clearance when passing a pedestrian walking or jogging in the roadway.

• Section 6,124 clearly states that a pedestrian can be in the signalized crosswalk even if the signal indicates DON’T WALK, if they initiated the crossing beforehand.

• Section 6,153 clearly explains that a pedestrian may enter an unmarked crosswalk even if a car is in view, so long as there is ample time for the car to stop. This also justifies pedestrians entering unmarked crosswalks where there are poor sight lines, as other sections indicate it is the drivers responsibility to drive at a speed in which they can react to hazards.

• Section 6,154 gives pedestrians the right to cross at a midblock location so long as the adjacent intersections are not traffic controlled. These pedestrians must yield to other vehicles; however, this does not excuse excessive speed or reckless driving on the part of the driver.

• And based on legal precedence: “Violation of a statute is not negligence per se, but is merely evidence of negligence.” Vanek v. Prohaska, 233 Neb. 848, 448 N.W.2d 573 (1989). In some cases a pedestrian may in fact violate these laws because they have little other option but to. For example when a sidewalk or trail is under construction without detour or when no sidewalk exists, or when no legal crossing point is provided without going more than 1/2 mile (more than 10 minutes) out of the desired course of walking as is often the case on major suburban arterials.

• And on that last point 10minutes may not seem like a long time, but remember: 30 minutes of cardiovascular activity is considered a daily workout; these individuals may be elderly or disabled making it more like 20-25minutes; and Omaha prides itself on being a 20minute commute city so adding 10minutes to someone’s commute is a big deal.


David M Nelson
Transportation Associate
Project for Public Spaces

Comment originally appeared at:

In the Wake of Sandy, Stirring in the Dark

A version of this post also appeared on the PPS Placemaking Blog.

On the eve of Halloween, I ventured across the East River to cycle through the eerily dark and silent streets of lower Manhattan.  With Sandy’s storm surge freshly receded and my sister refugeed on my futon in Bed Stuy, we hopped on bikes and rode into the Financial District to gather clothes, cosmetics and valuables from her apartment one block from South Street Seaport.

This week the internet has been abuzz with articles on the relief efforts, the role of climate and ecology in the storm’s severity, and the stark illustration of how a NYC that commutes by car is a NYC in constant gridlock.

I have been very conscious of all of that, but what I noticed most was how social behavior has adapted to this nearly disparate nighttime landscape of the city below 34th Street.  There are no traffic lights, no street lights.  There just aren’t any lights at all.  For the most part, streets signs and traffic control devices are simply meaningless or invisible.  Save for the few with traffic cops, intersections are this bizarre dance with cross and opposing traffic.  Intuition prevails: minor streets stop for major streets; cars stop for bikes; everyone stops for pedestrians.  The natural order of transport, untamed.

Without any moon and with the light pollution uptown blocked out by the midrises and highrises inbetween, electric light has become an important part of human interaction.  Stirring in the shadows of your peripheral vision was at once routine and unsettling.  We quickly fell in step with the apparent norm when approaching others: each party shines a light at the other, makes an immediate judgement that the strangers are twilight wanders like yourselves, and passes by cordially cautious.  It all feels very rehearsed and official, as if we all did it in elementary school libraries right after practicing stop-drop-and-roll.

As we crossed the Brooklyn Bridge, the incredible darkness was all consuming.  Then suddenly, the awe and anxiety terminated by the tower of City Hall, lit like the surface of a star, as though we were astronauts reaching the point of orbit where the sun suddenly bursts forth from Earth’s horizon.  The glowing vista telling us we had arrived.  The ride down Broadway was unpopulated.  It is only when we reached the rear entrance to my sister’s building did our interactions begin, talking with the staff loading a truck with the piles of garbage bags filled with 32 floors of rotting refrigerator contents, and squeezing past other tenants in the fire stairs meagerly lit with a single glow stick.  Everyone simply deferred to trust, assuming all of us belonged there and no one was up to mischief or criminality.

The Financial District was the darkest of all, perhaps reflecting it mostly daytime population.  The reds and blues of cop cars and the up-lit columns of the Stock Exchange’s cut through the darkness.  Those columns had attracted a few handfuls of twenty-somethings and I wondered if they had anything to do with Occupy.

When I had my sister safely back in Brooklyn, I switched companions.  My girlfriend and I rode back, this time to trek uptown from the bridge.  Chinatown, Little Italy, and NoHo were perhaps where the de facto traffic pattern was most pronounced crossing the big streets of Canal, Delancey, and Houston.

We were now taking the familiar route of my afternoon commute.  In the hard hit East Village, we passed by a few resilient restaurants and bars operating by candlelight.  Here was also the best examples of how electric light had become part socializing.  Glow sticks and LEDs were accessories with purpose, a part of the individuals’ advertised identity.  My favorite was the very flamboyant individual with a large medallion blinking orange, green and purple.  On Saint Mark’s Place between 1st and Avenue A, we found ourselves in the midst of a crowd.  As soon as we were about twenty feet away, someone off in the shadows pressed play.  We were comically startled.  A dozen people started dancing to the harmonies of Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrel.  There was a very apropos vehemence to the lyrics “Ain’t no river wide enough.”  We headed towards the Williamsburg Bridge.  It was nearly 2am.  It was time to go home.

Reflecting on the sights and sounds of the evening on the chilly climb up the bridge, I was struck by adaptability and endurance of the urban experience. People were defining new norms for social interaction, on the fly. Behavior toward key aspects of city life–individuality, mobility–were adapting to extreme conditions. And, as it turns out, even in the dark, people are still fundamentally attracted to people.

Saddle Creek Model Building

As part of Heather’s and my Saddle Creek | N Belt Line Corridor Study, we built a 200 scale model of Saddle Creek Road from Leavenworth to Decatur Street.  We hand cut 14ply chipboard for each 10’ contour representing 180’ of elevation change from Walnut Hill Reservoir at the highest point to the intersection Leavenworth and Saddle Creek at the lowest.

The conceptual tool was necessitated by the complex topography of the ridges to the east and west.  Topography will be a critical factor in proposed land use and circulation patterns, as well as devising ecological runoff management strategies.

The process of constructing the model revealed the continuing deviation of the landscape from its natural form resulting from a legacy of grading the hills to match the rectilinear grid.  Further, the historic right of way of the Missouri Pacific and Belt Line Railroads along with the postion of viaducts and tunnels was revealed.  This alignment will likely inform the placement of proposed streets to add permeability to the road network in a way that compliments the existing form of the land.


A proposed section for a revamped Easton Avenue in New Brunswick.  The design aims to substantively impact the human scale quality of the street environment with minimal investment of time and capital.  Gaps in street tree planting would be filled, parklets would occupy intermittent parking spaces during the warmer months, and sharrows and bike boxes would encourage cycling without adjusting curb lines or lane widths.

This section is part of an ongoing studio process that will ultimately be presented to the Mayor and other stakeholders at the Bloustein 20th Anniversary Symposium.


The use of a figure ground diagram of downtown New Brunswick showcases the affect of redevelopment on density and building pattern.  The Civic Square Building (home to Bloustein) is featured in red.  Additionally, the major infrastructure systems-the Northeast Corridor and NJ 27-are also highlighted with use of a gray line and aligned text respectively.

The tshirts were sold to help raise money for the Rutgers Association of Planning and Policy Students’ annual scholarship. 


The first three pages from the New Jersey Bike Walk Coalition 2012 Summit program. One of my responsibilities as a member of the organizing committee was to design all the print materials including program, posters, and other informational material.

The design emphasized consistency and fonts and colors were sampled from NJBWC’s logo.


A few slides from the 20x20 presentation I gave at the 2012 Greater Omaha Young Professional Summit, entitled ‘Be A Citizen (Urban) Designer.’ 

The goal of the presentation was to introduce the audience to a set of urban design tools and understanding that would enable Omaha’s very vocal young professionals to have more substantive critiques of private and public development.  All of the photos and graphics (except for aerial maps) are my original work.

Over 400 people attended were in my session of a conference of 1,500.

An ongoing side project working on site analysis and concept synthesis for the Saddle Creek | North Beltline Corridor.

  • Blue: Significant & Historic Property
  • Orange: Abandoned & For Sale Property
  • Yellow: Parking
  • Green: Greenspace

With so many large parcels prime for redevelopment Omaha needs to take a proactive approach to parcel acquisition and development coordination before incohesive piecemeal projects are built.  A new Saddle Creek Road could include a north-south second phase to the current Alternative Analysis, a daylit Saddle Creek stream to help meet the sewer separation mandate, and an extension of the Field Club Trail into North Omaha.  Additionally permeability and developable frontage would increase from the addition of a new street paralleling Saddle Creek to the west (suggested name: Alden Aust Avenue).

Many thanks to Heather Weed for helping me so far with the project.

A performance study of the public plaza in front of the Civic Square Building (where I go to school).  Using the techniques pioneered by William H Whyte in his studies of successful public spaces, individual stopping activities were recorded and coded by color throughout the day.  The aggregated data and supporting observations revealed that:

  • large swaths of the plaza are devoid of activity due to a blatant lack of physical and programatic elements
  • bike parking was significantly undersupplied
  • many stopping and social activities were predicated on the smoking of cigarettes
  • existing furniture is often occupied despite being dirty and awkwardly sited

The study and accompanying graphics were undertaken to fullfil the professional paper requirement of the MCRP program and evolved from an assignment initiated in Methods of Planning Analysis II.