Prototyping Process Applied to Road Improvements

Minimum Viable Product – It’s all the rage in Silicon Valley.  Basically, get the first generation of a product out as fast as possible so you can get feedback from customers, improve the product by iterating, and work on growth.  Through my work at CountingCars.com, I’ve learned a lot about the product world in the last few years.  We’re using 3D printing to quickly prototype and work through multiple design alternatives.

Road PrototypingThis article about traffic projects in New Haven, Connecticut made me think of the Minimum Viable Product approach.  They’re using paint and temporary traffic control devices to alter their roads to be more pedestrian and bicycle friendly (multi-modal, or Complete Streets if we want to turn to industry jargon).

They’re making changes that cost tens of thousands instead of hundreds, documenting how they work, tweaking them, and applying lessons to other improvement projects.  Then they may go to larger cost ways of making the improvements more permanent.  Or maybe they’ll stick with the cheap way if it works.

My hometown, St. Louis Park, MN, did a similar thing this summer.  They closed off two city collector roads for a Saturday and had a big community festival.  Bicycling was highly encouraged in all of the promotional materials (me and my kids biked around).  As part of the festivities, folks from the city staff used chalk and tube delineators to mark off bike lanes on one of the collectors (Dakota Avenue).  They educated the residents about the potential change and got their feedback.  It was very effective.

I really like the idea of “failing fast” as a path to a good solution.  An unfortunate part of civil engineering is that we jump to multi-million dollar projects that we believe will work.  I’d prefer to see more tests done with paint and delineators to work out our designs before we jump to changing curb lines.

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