GDBD: Bad Design

Everything around us was created and designed by someone. How well did they design them? For my undergraduate course at Emory College of Arts and Sciences, I was tasked with finding a bad design around campus. Fortunately, bad designs are often easy to remember because they can induce strong, unpleasant experiences that linger in one’s head space.

A few weeks ago, I had a strongly negative experience trying to walk along Clifton Rd @ Wells Fargo to and from my Covid-19 booster shot appointment. I remember walking back from CVS at Emory Point at night and feeling frustrated about not knowing when I could cross a street safely. Most streets have signal buttons that one can press to change the pedestrian sign to ‘can cross,’ but I stumbled upon an opposing sign that was hidden from my view, thus I would have to rely on giving up my right of way, waiting for low traffic, and my intuition to safely cross.

In daylight, crosswalk sign ahead covered by overgrown shrubs.
In daylight, a closer view of crosswalk controls and signs covered by overgrown shrubs.

However, in addition to the covered street signs, if we look closely in the previous images, the crosswalk does not align with the sidewalks and is offset further into the street intersection. We can also see that the opposing side has dried and dead patches of grass, indicating high foot traffic in the unpaved area, thus some walkability issues are present — why are people walking on the grass and not the sidewalk?

In daylight, a pedestrian cross the street but not using the provided crosswalk.

Why is this a bad design?

This crosswalk is a bad design. Whoever designed and painted the crosswalks at this intersection did a poor job and failed to keep in mind the safety and accessibility of pedestrians. Naturally, the terrain distorts the intersection, but the crosswalks at this intersection form a clean square, thus making me wonder if the designer prioritized aesthetic and symmetry over actual utility. A crosswalk’s primary design intent is to provide pedestrians a safe and controlled area through which one can walk and cross a street; however, these elements are missing despite the crosswalk’s presence. It is interesting to see poorly painted crosswalks along this route given its presence on a college campus and its close proximity to various medical centers and the CDC; these areas typically have high foot traffic from students and professionals, especially those living at or near Emory Point, thus it is necessary to have safe walkways. One would think that safe and accessible spaces are a high priority given the setting as various college students and professionals commute to, through, and from campus by foot.

Overall, there is explicit effort to help pedestrians cross streets, but this crosswalk design hurts the user more than it helps. It poses potentially more danger than safety. Pedestrians must consciously and confusingly decide whether to walk along the crosswalk, which requires stepping into the potentially hazardous street, or follow the natural path and step through the grass, which may require weaving through cars stopped at red lights.

Epilogue

To make pedestrian life even more inconvenient, a few steps after successfully crossing the street from the previous dilemma, unsuspecting pedestrians are met with an irregular manhole cover that aims to trip them. You can imagine these issues being amplified at night with inadequate lighting. Perhaps the bad crosswalk design prepares users with an attentive eye for the approaching tripping hazard?

In daylight, a manhole cover that becomes a tripping hazard.

Check out my next post for a good design at Emory University!

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A human at the intersection of visual arts, computer science, and data science.

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Randy Truong

Randy Truong

A human at the intersection of visual arts, computer science, and data science.

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