There are many examples of parklets and there are many shapes and sizes, and they have many purposes. All of them abut the existing curb, all of them are parallel to the curb, and all of them are enclosed in some way or another to keep people in and (presumably) to keep intruding vehicles out.
We think that parklets are a GREAT idea – they can be relaxing places, they can be money makers for small businesses, and they can change the dynamic of a neighborhood by giving pedestrians a reason to visit and a place to linger. They are a win-win for everybody – provided they are designed to protect the very people that are encouraged to sit and linger. People should never be targets. (Above photo courtesy of oneironaut11 via Instagram.)
As you can see from the press coverage and video of the Los Angeles accident (HERE) a DUI vehicle impacted the end of a parklet that was being used for outdoor dining at a popular late night restaurant. Reports show that a diner, an employee, and a pedestrian were struck by debris and injured. All were taken to the hospital and all have been released. Significantly, the vehicle did not seem to strike any of the three – it was debris from the parklet itself and the planters around it that were propelled into the injured people.
Basic design and basic safety principles seem to not have been taken into account by designers of this parklet. See our earlier post on the topic of SAFETY BY DESIGN. Vehicle impacts are probably some of the best studied events studied in the world of transportation. In terms of building a fixed structure subject to impact by a 5,000 LB vehicle traveling at street speeds (say 30 MPH) designers and safety engineers have three main tools to deal with the impact energy; absorb the energy using attenuating materials and designs; rigidize and secure the structure to make it stronger than the effects of the impact; or do some of both.
This kind of approach can be seen in the design of modern cars and trucks. In a front end impact, the front area of the car crushes into itself, absorbing much of the impact energy. At some point, the crushing stops and the rigid cab of the vehicle remains as secure as possible to protect occupants, but if required, airbags deploy to attenuate the remaining energy that is pushing the occupants forward and into the rigid structure. From the video and press reports of this accident, more should have been done so that as the car struck the parklet and planters, those items were not propelled towards the seated customers by the front of the car.
As is evident from the slide show below, whatever the car struck was easily propelled forward and into the seating area. As the photos show, this was very loosely constructed and not at all engineered structure – there is no sign of rigidity, no sign of being well-secured to the street or sidewalk, and the car simply pushed planters, decking, seating and railing in front of it until it came to a stop with its front wheels off the ground. Lives were saved NOT by good safety engineering, but by debris that piled up in front of the car – no wonder people were injured.
The most obvious solution to the problem of parklets is to install inexpensive and effective safety barriers on sides exposed to oncoming traffic. It does not have to look like a castle or fortress, nor does it have to look uninviting. This approach stops the car BEFORE in comes in contact with the structure where people are sitting – simple, safe and proven. ASTM has a proposed standard for safety barriers in street and parking areas such as these, called WK13074. You can read all about it HERE. Steel bollards or barriers could easily have stopped that car before striking the parklet and the people – and done so for only a few thousand dollars.
Either you stop the car just in front of the parklet, or you have to build the parklet so strong that it resists the impact. Either way, the facts are quite simple -- you either stop the car, or everyone sitting, standing, working or passing near the parklet is at risk at any time.
SLIDE SHOW ( Photo credits and more information on the parklet damaged in this crash HERE)