I was reading a plan for a streetscape design (doesn’t matter for where) and I saw a street map with orange dots showing “bumpout opportunities.” The plan was mostly images and didn’t describe this feature.

Were these opportunities because the community had indicated their desire for slower turns, shorter crosswalks, additional landscaping, or they needed space for bike parking?

Or did someone think, “A bumpout would fit here, let’s install one.” (In other words, “because we can.”)

This post is less about questioning the rationale behind constructing bumpouts (also called curb extensions), but about questioning why and how we decide to build stuff.

Do we build things because there’s a need for that thing, or because someone thinks that thing is needed? This discussion leads us to talking about the role of public participation in planning. Often I see public participation used as a way to measure support for an idea that seems like it will become real regardless of which way the vocal public feels. Organizations should measure, instead, the demand for a solution of a problem, from which they can attempt to discover, understand, and propose fixes or improvements to the problem.