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Bad Design 101: Eastside Prep “Parking” Blocks

22 October 2011 4 Comments

I visited Eastside Preparatory School this week, and as I was hanging out with a few teachers who were greeting students as their parents dropped them off, the welcoming crew complained about a peculiar feature of their driveway. Can you figure out the purpose of the parking block in this picture?

These yellow parking blocks aren’t being used in parking spaces. They’re lined up on the edge of a long but narrow area hatched with white lines, which marks a “walking space” along the side of the driveway. The parking blocks are supposed to prevent cars from entering the walking space, and I suppose they succeed in that mission. But I didn’t see people limiting their walking to the white striped area, so it’s not obvious why that region needs such a beefy border of parking blocks. The walking space doesn’t need to be there and neither do the parking blocks.

The real problem is that parents use that driveway to drop off their kids, and the parking blocks happen to be perfectly placed to trip students as they exit their cars. I didn’t actually see anybody trip over a parking block, but the welcoming crew was simultaneously greeting and warning students as they disembarked. I’m pretty sure the welcoming crew would like to reduce the amount of warning required in the welcome to 0%.

Sometimes good design means leaving things out completely. Otherwise someone will have to spend time and money removing all those things that shouldn’t have been there in the first place.


  • Laurie Benaloh said:

    I find it fascinating how two people can have such different takes on the same situation. I had assumed that the yellow parking blocks were to remind students to stay close to the curb, not in the driveway, instead of your interpretation of keeping cars out of the pathway. Whenever I’ve been out there (including a week of drop off), I didn’t hear anyone warning students to be careful and I haven’t seen anyone tripped over the blocks. However, whenever there is something new, I think it’s wise to bring it to people’s attention, just like when the school year starts, there are reminders to drivers around public schools that students may be present early in the morning and when the school year ends, there are reminders that “School’s out”, reminding drivers that students may be around at any time of day.

    Perhaps the “walking space doesn’t need to be there and neither do the parking blocks”, but I believe they both add to the safety of our campus. The parking blocks have made it much easier for me to remind students to stay to the side.

  • Dr. Tae said:

    If the goal is to keep people out of the driveway and inside the hatched area, the affordance is all wrong. There’s nothing about the design of the hatched area that suggests people “walk or stand here only”. The parking blocks are too far apart (easy to walk between them) and too low (easy to walk over them) to imply or enforce containment (fences would be better for that). They’re much more likely to keep cars out than people in, but without both happening there isn’t much benefit. If anything, I would say younger kids would be more likely to see the parking blocks as enticing yellow balance beams to play on (and I saw them as something to skate on). If students must be reminded or warned constantly about what to do in that area, then the design of the area isn’t very good.

  • Theron Cross (@torquedu) said:

    Update – the offending recycled PET has been removed (and there was much rejoicing – yay).

    The broader point of designing with human behavior in mind is well taken. It’s not that the hashes and parking curbs were a terrible idea; the problem was with the unintended consequences and the associated inaction to make it better. I have no idea what went into the planning and implementation of that placement of that curb, but I do know that there was a sense of finality to it (the curb was staked in, after all) – as in, “that’s done, what project do we take on next?” Good design doesn’t stop looking for ways to improve, and it doesn’t marry itself to mediocrity.

    I think I’ll have my physics kids do a “Bad Design 101” blog post.

  • cee said:

    My first thought was that anyone who’s ever walked with a child should recognize that those ‘barriers’ are nearly irresistible balance beams.