Street Scenes

“BRIGHTON and Hove has been named as one of the most dangerous places in the country for pedestrians.

The city has been named as one of the ten worst local authority areas in the UK for serious injuries and deaths suffered by pedestrians.

Council officials suggested a high number of visitors and commuters lay behind the city’s ranking but the report’s author suggested this was unlikely to be a factor outside the capital.

Pedestrians were twice as likely to suffer serious injuries in Brighton and Hove according to accident figures for 2010 to 2014 as they were in the country as a whole.” (Anon n.d.)

Why? What might the reasons for this be? I understand there are critical problems about how and why we approach matters related to moving around and looking after where we work rest and play.

I attended two meetings recently, both of which were about street matters.

The Checklist Manifesto, begins on familiar ground, with his experiences as a surgeon. But before long it becomes clear that he is really interested in a problem that afflicts virtually every aspect of the modern world–and that is how professionals deal with the increasing complexity of their responsibilities. It has been years since I read a book so powerful and so thought-provoking.

Gawande begins by making a distinction between errors of ignorance (mistakes we make because we don’t know enough), and errors of ineptitude (mistakes we made because we don’t make proper use of what we know).

Failure in the modern world, he writes, is really about the second of these errors, and he walks us through a series of examples from medicine showing how the routine tasks of surgeons have now become so incredibly complicated that mistakes of one kind or another are virtually inevitable: it’s just too easy for an otherwise competent doctor to miss a step, or forget to ask a key question or, in the stress and pressure of the moment, to fail to plan properly for every eventuality.

Gawande then visits with pilots and the people who build skyscrapers and comes back with a solution. Experts need checklists–literally–written guides that walk them through the key steps in any complex procedure.”(Gawande n.d.)

I understand an identical issue is happening with how we look after streets. A friend is about to have a lead water main replaced. But why? Would this happen with an aircraft? What would an airline do with similar repairs?

Participants in both meetings I attended and the newspaper article above discuss “ksis”.

But the Health and Safety Executive states something very different,

“Near-miss reporting

A simple, and potentially anonymous, system for reporting near-miss incidents is a very important way of identifying problem areas. This will help you highlight some of the less obvious hazards in a workplace, or identify areas where a problem is developing.

Some models suggest that for every accident there are approximately ninety near-misses.

If there is a good reporting system in place, the hazard could be dealt with before someone is injured.”(Slips and trips team – HSE 2009)

It is my direct experience that a huge area of directly related issues are being comprehensively mismanaged and muddled through. A huge area of infrastructure management is incredibly institutionalized and works on a philosophy of disjointed incrementalism.

This might be because it is believed to be too complex and therefore must be nibbled away at, but my experience, for example of the CROW manual (CROW 2007), and of the arguments of Gawande, are that “too complex” is a myth that is allowing extremely poor and expensive habits to continue.

Have highways engineers heard of systems thinking, (Meadows 2008) ecosystems, energy flows?

Maybe if they did we would seriously tackle “ksi”s?

Anon, Brighton and Hove named as one of ten worst local authorities for pedestrian safety. Available at: http://www.theargus.co.uk/news/13934669.Brighton_and_Hove_named_as_one_of_ten_worst_local_authorities_for_pedestrian_safety/?ref=mr&lp=8 [Accessed November 6, 2015].

CROW, 2007. Design manual for bicycle traffic – CROW. Available at: http://www.crow.nl/publicaties/design-manual-for-bicycle-traffic?Zoekterm=bicycle?page=1 [Accessed November 6, 2015].

Gawande, A., The Checklist Manifesto | Atul Gawande. Available at: http://atulgawande.com/book/the-checklist-manifesto/ [Accessed November 6, 2015].

Meadows, D.H., 2008. Thinking in Systems: A Primer, Chelsea Green Publishing. Available at: https://books.google.com/books?id=CpbLAgAAQBAJ&pgis=1 [Accessed January 19, 2015].

Slips and trips team – HSE, H., 2009. More: Near-miss reporting. Available at: http://www.hse.gov.uk/SLIPS/step/general/advanced/8E7F777B-3B84-49FE-A3D6-D0324E25A801/HSLCourseTemplate/28531/slidetype2_174026.htm [Accessed September 2, 2015].

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