Sploodge Monsters should not design your house

COMMEMT & ANALYSIS: Picture this: it’s the year 3200. About a hundred years ago an alien race, the Sploodge Monsters, started settling on earth. They’d engaged an extremely effective public relations company, so the settlement was welcomed.

However, it should not have been. Sploodge Monsters resemble jelly fish, and get around through a weird sound-related propulsion. They’re also about the size of elephants, so their houses are huge. Over the century since their arrival, urban centres have changed beyond recognition, as houses have been demolished and replaced or gutted and rebuilt to suit the needs of the Sploodge Monsters.

Humans who started pushing back against the displacement were met with confusion: surely humans can live in Sploodge houses? It’s roomy enough, and as for the sound-propulsion-friendly floors that humans find so wobbly to walk on, well surely they’ll get used to it.

And as for the enormous toilets with the weird spouts and dips designed to accommodate Sploodge anatomy, special ladders have been invented to adapt these for human use, a massive advertising campaign was launched to instruct humans on how to manage their needs with the Sploodge-specific plumbing, and a lot of hand-wringing takes place every year about all the unfortunate flushing deaths (which are actually sucking deaths as Sploodge toilets are upside down… it’s complicated).

Some Sploodge Monsters have responded to human complaints by building houses custom made for humans. Yet mysteriously, these specially provided homes are unpopular or avoided altogether among humans, and most Sploodges argue there’s no point providing for humans’ housing needs, they just ignore what they’re given.

Now, just to reiterate: Sploodge Monsters move around through a weird sound-based propulsion system. They have twenty sticky tentacles instead of two arms with hands and fingers.Their sensory organs are located in the tips of five further, shorter tentacles spaced evenly around their bodies.

Would you like to live in a house designed for you by a Sploodge Monster?

Say a Sploodge architect realises their limitations and asks a human to help. That human is not an architect, has none of the specialised knowledge of door width requirements, placement requirements for plumbing, electric outlets, wall thicknesses, and so on that a trained architect has.

Would you like to live in a house designed by a Sploodge Monster architect with the advice of the lay human?

Or would you prefer to live in a house designed by a specialist human architect?

Earth was invaded by something like Sploodge Monsters about a hundred years ago, when cars roared onto our planet and took over. Transportation networks were adapted or newly built first and foremost to serve cars.

Engineers who only drive are as equipped to design decent cycling infrastructure as a Sploodge architect is to design a human house. Those who only drive and design infrastructure for cyclists are likely to do more harm than good, as they serve us with goods that are useless, near useless, outright dangerous or inadequate.

Consulting with cyclists, or even being a cyclist yourself if you’re a road designer, is a good idea, but it’s not enough in and of itself.

Cycling infrastructure must be designed by specialists in cycling infrastructure design, not by specialists in road design. It may cost to hire a specialist consultant right at the beginning design phase of a cycling infrastructure network, but it costs more to invest in cycle lanes that are avoided by cyclists due to inadequacy, ridiculous demands for something kin to gymnastics to use some complicated, winding route, or outright danger due to poor design.

No more Sploodge Monster architects, please, and no more amateurs. Cycling deserve better.

Nadia Williams is a postgraduate researcher investigating the role of social dynamics in cycling uptake and safety. She lives car-free with her family in Dundalk.

IMAGES: Stills from Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

Nadia Williams is a postgraduate researcher investigating the role of social dynamics in cycling uptake and safety. She lives car-free with her family in Dundalk.

11 Comments

  1. Absolutely correct. We have a complete lack of engineers and planners in this country with the requirements and skills needed to design and implement safe segregated cycle infrastructure. The consistent hang-wringing by officials tasked with building projects such as the Clontarf to city center cycle-route is just one case in point. It’s astounding & infuriating to watch them in action and carsplain why they can’t do what’s actually needed to provide safe segregated cycle infrastructure. Just get some Dutch urban planners and designers over here and pay them to do it.

  2. This blog is by a civil engineer who works on road planning/design in the UK. I think this shows that the best solution is to use indigenous engineers with knowledge of cycling needs. As an example, in a recent post he pointed out that preformed kerbs in the UK come in fixed diameters and when he sees a plan which specifies a turning circle of 4.5m (for example) he knows when it is built it is going to be a bodge with big gaps between sections which can catch wheels or a ‘curve’ that is really made up of three or four straight sections put together with angles between them.
    http://therantyhighwayman.blogspot.ie/

    I don’t think you really need to import Dutch engineers, although consulting with some is a good idea. If cycling is prioritized properly from the top the engineers actually spec’ing the project can do a good job. Even the Dutchest of Dutch engineers is not going to deliver good cycling infrastructure when they are told that cycling comes behind maintaining car speeds, numbers and convenience of parking and that their design needs to take that in to account.

    If you are going to get in foreign consultants, which is not a bad idea in itself, make sure they are actually competent to consult on an engineering project (ie: they are engineers). Don’t hire the likes of Michael Colville Anderson, not unless your plan is really to get back uncosted and unworkable advice so you have cover when you ignore it and do whatever you wanted to in the first place.

  3. @Eric
    Yes, I agree.

  4. Nailed it Nadia. We have a civil engineering and roads engineering profession who – in the main – are collectively unfit to advise on the design of public roads.

    So now we have correctly identified the problem – what systems do we need to implement to get around this fundamental problem?

  5. I think we need to be kinder to our road/traffic engineers. It is the road authorities who set the design parameters’ brief for them to follow. If motorised free-flow is the aim; or to permit parking alongside business premises or residential streets; or preserve existing multi-lane carriageways then it will be a pear-shaped design for people walking and cycling.
    The political decisions generally seek to preserve this free-for-all.

  6. Building infrastructure for bicycles is cheaperr than building for cars. Through the health benefits of cycling the country saves money by not spending so much on health related problems. Hence, these costs are earned back multiple. In a video an engineer explained that spend 50 milion costs was earned back 5 times, as 250 milion.

  7. We have some truly abysmal road design. I have no idea who designed them, but a road designers they are not. Not only do these people not cycle. They must not drive either. A child wouldn’t produce the gibberish these guys produce.

  8. Eric:
    “Don’t hire the likes of Michael Colville Anderson, not unless your plan is really to get back uncosted and unworkable advice”

    I always found the Copenhagenize pronouncements a bit opaque (Dublin pre-60s being the city with the third highest level of cycling being a case in point; one of them replied on Twitter to me that they’d seen it in some old data, and then never replied when I asked what data that was), but I had assumed they had a proper engineering division when they were brought in to advise on cycle routes in Dublin. Just assuming; I’ve no dealings with any representative of Copenhagenize.

  9. “Dublin pre-60s being the European city with the third highest level of cycling” was their claim. I left out “European”.

  10. Nadia Williams March 28, 2018 at 1:44 pm

    @Shane – I think the solution would have to be proposed by people who really know their stuff with VRU-first (Vulnerable Road Users) roads network design. It could be that guidelines need to be changed, or it could be that roads engineers’ training needs to be changed. Something, however, definitely needs to be changed, as the idea “it’s like a damn alien designed this” came to me in response to trying to negotiate the rare instances of cycling infrastructure provided here!

  11. Ford Prefect had a point. It is relatively common for car fans to complain that they get nothing for their taxes. This always irritates me because it should be quite obvious that car drivers get a lot. If I look out my window I see four lanes devoted to cars. There is a thin strip on each side for cyclists, which is probably about 10% of the road. This is an ‘advisory’ (dashed line) which means it’s for cyclists but you can drive in it or park in it if you want. There are footpaths on each side which are actually quite wide. Pedestrians have maybe a third of the space that cars have. There are big chunks cut out of the footpath for parking bays though. At the corner there is a four way junction with traffic lights. Needless to say cars get the lion’s (or any superior being’s) share of the priority here. I’d be interested to know what percentage of public land is devoted to roads and parking (let’s include footpaths under parking here too).

    A lot of our cycling infrastructure can be understood better if you imagine that the engineers were told to add something for cyclists so that we can say we did something. The primary goal, and absolute requirement, is that this doesn’t hamper car drivers in any way, including taking away space for driving or parking. The secondary goal is to make things better for drivers, for example by getting cyclists out of the way, off the road and on to the footpath. The tertiary goals are that it should be as cheap and as easy as possible to put in place. Making things better for cyclists is a nice to have, but by not means essential. It seems clear that a lot of road engineers don’t understand what cyclists need but even those that do have no real chance.

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