Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Waze Against the Machine

Steve Hendrix, writing for the Washington Post:

“It used to be that only locals knew all the cut-through routes, but Google Maps and Waze are letting everyone know,” said Bates Mattison, a city councilman in the Atlanta suburb of Brookhaven, Ga. “In some extreme cases, we have to address it to preserve the sanctity of a residential neighborhood.”

When population growth began to overwhelm a set of major intersections in his district, there was an increase of 45,000 cars a day on some residential streets, as app-armed commuters fought their way to nearby Interstate 85. In response, the city is posting signs to restrict left or right turns at key intersections.

Coincidentally, I was reading the 1979 Calgary inner-city plan today — I’m just one big ball of fun — in which the 1914 Thomas Mawson plan is referenced. On roads, Mawson wrote:

We ought to arrange our plan so that certain streets naturally become traffic routes and others remain mere means of access to the buildings which line them on either side, thus giving quiet and privacy to the residential districts.

This is the way most cities are built: wide roads invite higher traffic loads, while narrow roads dissuade all but those who need to drive them. Even cities like London, with its comparatively narrow streets in high-traffic areas, have this hierarchy in place.1

Waze, and other apps like it, subvert the natural flow of traffic and divert it into areas that simply aren’t built to handle the onslaught of vehicles. Instead of one large traffic jam, it creates several smaller ones in typically quiet, residential areas. This could be mitigated by suggesting detours along roads of a similar capacity or intent, rather than directing rush-hour traffic through some bungalows and playgrounds.


  1. While an area like Soho is bordered by roads of two lanes — like Shaftsbury — and three lanes — Oxford and Charing Cross, its internal roads are virtually all single-lane affairs with a narrow parking lane. ↩︎