InTransition Magazine
Article URL:
InTransition Magazine : Transportation Planning, Practice & Progress

Archive Edition

Archived editions: 

Pen Station

About Pen Station

  • Letters to the editor can be sent to Please include a daytime phone number for verification.

Brain Reacts to Graphic Arts Cues Along Roadways

To the Editor:

Reading Mark Solof ‘s reference to “Nudge” limits (“Travelers Behaving Badly,” Spring/Summer 2010) and Joseph Seneca’s discussion of the disconnect between design and long-term benefits (“Quantifying the Returns on Transportation Benefits,” Spring/Summer 2010), I am reminded that graphic design itself can create long-term behavioral and economic benefits, to an extent that costly modifications to infrastructure can often be avoided.

Some research indicates that reaction

times are slower to signs with

“negative” commands, such as those

that have a symbol or instruction with

a red line over it. The mind must first

process what is being denied, then

do the opposite.

According to many traffic managers, the cause of most vehicle accidents is the “nut that holds the steering wheel.” Ironically, if a, pecan or walnut is carefully opened, one finds a reasonable facsimile of the human brain, complete with corpus callosum and brain stem, cracked or not.

Indeed, the brain is the key component in what amounts to missile guidance. However, it sometimes lacks appropriate input from its target sensors, our eyes, and a clear presentation of the target, the roadway.

Eye cues along the roadway and right-of-way register on the retina, which transmits directional information to a cognitive-kinesthetic array in the brain that causes a neuro-mechanical reaction from the body to the accelerator, brake and steering wheel.

However, depending upon the imagery, the retina-neuron pathways differ. If the image is constituted of words and/or negative instructions, the signals are routed through later-developed frontal areas of the conscious brain for logical interpretation, then on to physical reaction. If the image forms a coherent pattern of basic security and affirmation, reaction is keyed to primitive areas that have evolved for survival and are present at birth. The latter reaction is intuitive and infinitely faster. Therefore, it is dangerous to rely entirely on the premise that drivers think.

Given that the windshield view is analogous to that of a widescreen TV, and that images that persuade intuitive reaction have been productive in law and commerce for decades (think OJ’s glove or 30 seconds of TV graphics that command $2.5 million), such graphic analysis at collision sites is overdue. Despite handbooks, regulations and formulae, collision sites are rife with negatives, conflict, camouflage, optical illusions and basics common to magicians.

In New Jersey there were 95,261 collisions on the municipal road systems and 85,488 collisions on the county road systems in 2000. Many of these roads can be made more safe within weeks without traffic signals. In municipal and county accidents, 50,182 persons were either killed or injured in one year. The grievous losses that permeate town life, suffered by residents are incalculable. The economic losses were estimated to be $55 billion per year, or about $97 million per municipality annually.

Yet, such principles as intuitive guidance via graphically corrected sites as practiced by the late town engineer Hans Monderman throughout Holland have reduced collisions to zero. Similar work in graphic arts is needed to be well integrated into current practices. Traffic management today requires brain management. Indecision, panic freeze and modified brains require it. Severe state and municipal budget burdens demand it.

R. Heinrich, AIA, APA
IQ Associates, Madison, N.J.

Reader Would Like to Hear More About Automated Parking

To the Editor:

The article about automated parking (“Automated Parking Saves Space in Tight Places,” Spring/Summer 2010) was informative, and opens up new design options. But it fails to address two obvious questions.

First, what is the actual entrance/ exit capacity? That is, at the busiest time, how many cars can be fetched and delivered per minute? (And I would think that psychologically, standing around waiting for my car to be delivered would seem longer than sitting in my car trying to exit a garage.)

Second, what provision is made for power outages? It would be unacceptable to have my car stuck in the garage just because of a power failure. Is there provision for a back-up generator? What additional cost and maintenance issues does this entail?

Steven R. Woodbury, AICP
Springfield, Va.

Editor’s note: The author of the automated parking article, Shannon Sanders McDonald, AIA, prepared the following response:

The entrance/exit capacity can vary depending on the facility’s design and how many bays are provided for these purposes. These entry and exit bays can be interchangeable if the circumstances require. Each manufacture can provide this information based upon simulations for their system. 

You are also correct that the person waiting for their vehicle might feel as if it is taking longer than if they were driving in a traditional parking facility, but I do not know of any studies that accurately compare this. Just from my own experience, the time required to get in and out of a traditional facility—walking to and from the car, driving around the facility and then paying for the vehicle—would be cumulatively longer in most situations than dropping your car off at an automated facility and waiting for the retrieval.

An interesting facility in Denmark has the drop-off and pickup point set up as a community center with TV and Internet connections, as well as a timer and real-time closed circuit footage tracking the car as it is parked and retrieved. Some have suggested a feature that allows users to call ahead and have their cars waiting, and this is a good idea as long as the driver sticks to their plans and arrives on time, since a standing car could cause a backup for everyone.

Since there are many moving parts and the systems are reliant on computer programming, redundancy is a crucial aspect of a well-designed system. Power outages in particular can be handled by a backup generator, which is a standard part of the total system of redundancy. In most automated parking garages, there are periodic checks of all moving parts and the computer software and hardware is monitored frequently. Experts who can respond to unique situations are on call 24/7.

Return to this Issue