Can Civil Engineering affect Social Change?

I’ve been on vacation recently and had time to ponder things in a peaceful manner.  My family went to a cabin in the Poconos of Pennsylvania.  Thankfully it had a pool for the kids or they may have gone nuts. Oh wait, we did have 30″ lcd tvs but it was NOT hi-def. But i digress….  I had a couple of incidents that made me think about how much we do to GREEN a project, but how much do we do to encourage common sense, maybe even politeness?

One day was spent at a local water park called Camelbeach, located at Camelback Mountain.  The water park was a blast. And with anything that is outdoors in the summer, tempers can be short and people can loose their mind.  But what got me started pondering was this:  The park had been open for about an hour – so plenty of people but no real lines for any of the rides.

One particular ride, the tube slides, makes you grab a tube and literally walk up the side of the mountain about 200 feet.  There are 4 tubes and on the ground are painted lines indicating where to stand in line for each.

We get to the start of these painted lines and there is no wait so we have to walk another 150 feet or so to get to the platform. Along the way, 3 young peoples run past us. Not 30 seconds later, we’re standing behind them in the short line. What do you think happened next?

My wife asked the kids if they really just cut in front of 2 little girls (my kids are 6 & 8).  They had no reaction as if they had every right to be where they were. Mind you we wouldn’t gain anything by being in front or behind them; maybe 10 seconds in the scheme of going down the tube… But it was clearly rude.  Now, did the layout and design of the ride accommodate that behavior?

Another instance happened at our local McDonalds which fronts on a major highway like most places of fast food do. In this case, however, all access is from the rear. Now add in that the drive thru for McDonalds is predominantly placed on the left hand side (facing the building from the highway) to accomodate a single loop should access be from the main highway.

But it’s not in this case.  The circulation requires you to drive past the window and around the building to the speaker. Then collect your food and repeat the loop again to exit.

Total distance maybe delays you an extra 15 seconds.  But in our world of gotta have it 10 minutes ago, most people enter through the the exit area to circumvent the initial loop. What ultimately happens is that people trying to exit are branded as being in the violators way. Yeah, i was obeying the directions and didn’t budge. Now, was I rude or was the person entering through the exit rude?  I suppose in this case, there is an additional safety factor as well.

So, there are 2 examples of site design that provided opportunities for folks to behave rudely.  Has the ability to behave like this increased? Maybe on a total count, but not sure if the percentage has increased – certainly feels like it has increased.  What I do know is that both cases could have been addressed during the design phase by the civil engineer.  And sometimes there is an effort that just doesnt work. In the McDonalds case, they simply designed it so that the circulation was one way and had a DO NOT ENTER sign.  Yeah, people follow those…

Suffice it to say, the vacation actually made me forget about these incidents until i had to drive to work in Philly… The bottom line?  Can we change people’s bad habits, maybe even the little ones, through site design?  I think we can; certainly without creating a council or organization to document such aspects. It’s just common sense added to the process….  What do you think?


About Kevin
Hi… I am a husband, father, brother and neighbor. I am employed as a Civil Engineer and have enjoyed playing the drums for the last 30+ years.

One Response to Can Civil Engineering affect Social Change?

  1. Matt Anderson says:

    Nice post. Drive-thru design is a tough act to get it correct because of planning, traffic, and site design issues. The push-pull between engineer and planner occurs on nearly every project. Local planners in the Chicago area have pushed the building to be on the frontage with parking in the rear which makes for odd drive-thru quick-serve restaurant design.


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