Sunday, January 19, 2014

CPTED in covered parking

Sightlines into the underground Metrotown parking from upper mall levels

Beneath the behemoth Metrotown mall lies the second largest covered mall in Canada, a vast underground lot with 4,000 spaces. That might seem small compared to the world’s largest at the West Edmonton Mall in Edmonton (20,000), the world’s largest covered lot at Seattle’s airport (13,000) or the largest downtown underground lot in Chicago (9000).

Yet Metrotown is big. And it joins thousands like it around the world, some massive. Dubai is planning 40,000. You might assume the existence of widely used design safety standards in such places. You know what they say about assumptions!


Some municipalities do have design snippets (CCTV, lighting, security patrols), and the National Institute of Building Sciences also posts a few. But, realistically, those are a pittance in such massive expanses.

I’ve written about some great designs like lifestyle malls and creative wayfinding. 
As well, Randall Atlas’s book 21st Century Security and CPTED (2nd edition) has over 40 pages about parking lot security.

Walking through Metrotown I remembered teaching CPTED for the RCMP in the 1990s. We often used the Metrotown parking lot as our lighting test-bed, auditing the entranceways, examining the lighting and marveling at the vast expanses. I was impressed last week that Metrotown owners have instituted significant design upgrades over the past decade. The photos tell the story.

Dedicated pedestrian walkways. White painted ceilings.
Window glazed atrium safe areas adjacent to security office.

  1. Separate paths for pedestrians, color-coded with different light sources than the rest of the lot to enhance wayfinding.
  2. Sodium lighting (recall the yellow versus white lighting debate in the comment section of my blog on lighting ). However in this case lighting dispersion was more even and intense than years ago. White wall paint enhanced reflectivity. Looking out into the lot it was easy to see before walking to cars.
  3. Pedestrian entranceways from the upstairs mall were designed with transparent glass to allow clear sightlines from top to bottom.

The best feature had been enhanced from early years. It was the glazed atriums on each stairway level. Pedestrians walking down the stairs first entered enclosed safe atrium areas on each floor. These areas had tempered glass and were often next to the security office. This gave a clear view into the parking lot from within the safe areas.

If we are going to do more covered parking in the 21st Century, here's a starting point for minimum standards.

Clear sight-lines from atrium. Prevention education signs.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Medical magic to cut murders?

Awhile back I wrote about the murder rate gap between BC and Washington State and listed a few theories to explain it: An aging crime-prone demographic; handgun availability.

There was one theory I missed or, rather, ignored.

The Wall Street Journal, however, didn't: "In medical triumph, homicides fall despite soaring gun violence". Murder is down, says WSJ, due to a buffet of medical morsels; better medicine, quicker paramedic responses, the spread of trauma centers.

WSJ spares no marvel in the new buffet: doctoring skills brought back from the Afghan and Iraq wars; helicopters to ferry patients to emergency wards.

A week ago CBC Ottawa joined the chorus.

Apparently, says CBC Ottawa, murders are declining even though gun violence is up. For proof just look at jumps in attempted murder rates (I did). Those are the victims saved in the emergency wards by better medicine!

As Star Trek engineer Mr. Scott says in another fantasy show, "It's a fine bit of reasoning, indeed!"

Except it's wrong. The numbers don't add up to support the medical theory.

Statistics Canada rates for murder and attempted murder follow similar paths. The theory suggests they shouldn't. Look at the patterns.

Source: Statistics Canada
There might be something valid in 1975 when the rates crossed paths (but not accounted for in this theory about "recent" medical improvements). Afterwards, as one dips so does the other.

If the medical theory was right the gap between murder and attempts should widen. It doesn't. In fact the gap actually narrows since the late 1990s. Is medicine cutting those murders but having no impact on attempts? Only if police are not recording attempted murder victims, perhaps hiding them somewhere else in the stats? That's unlikely and the data do not support it.

I crunched the Ottawa crime stats to look a bit closer. Again, the data tell another story. Check out the chart.

Ottawa murder and attempts decline together
As murder drops so do attempts. Murders ebb but attempts don't flow as the theory predicts. There is something very rotten in the medical buffet. As the UNC School of Government blog concludes; "Medical progress, probably. Medical triumph, I doubt."

Medicine has improved. Better doctors and technology is incredible. That's good news. As well, we have methods to cut crime; SafeGrowth, CPTED, Ceasefire, problem-oriented policing, neighborhood reinvestment. That's good news too. But confusing matters with unproven theories is neither scientific nor helpful.

When will reporters and their editors start chasing facts and stop chasing slick headlines?  No wonder the public is so ill-informed about policing, crime and its prevention.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

In praise of sodium lighting

Our community center last night at the end of the street

Since 1970 the light source of choice in most cities has been sodium vapor, those yellowish streetlights you see glowing everywhere.

Sodiums are an efficient light source but many lighting engineers despise their color. According to one New York lighting designer "There is this negative subliminal response…the connotation is crime." Says another: "Yellow light muddies the colors of surrounding neighborhoods and makes people feel less secure because the colors around them are not true."

In fact there is very little actual research showing any of that. Most research says nothing about light color, only light quantity.

Regardless, it was only a matter time before a new lighting kid showed up on the block. In this case it was the LED - light emitting diode.

For example Seattle, like most North American cities, is converting to more cost efficient LEDs. They might be more efficient but they they produce a harsh, sharp image on everything.

A decade ago I was guest editor of a publication on lighting and CCTV. My thoughts then: If street lighting enhances architecture where pedestrians can appreciate the facades and details of downtown buildings, there may be problems lighting a downtown so bright it detracts from the aesthetics.

Whenever I see downtown LEDs they remind me I was probably right.

The photos in this blog demonstrate downtown sodium lighting. They show how well-placed sodiums provide adequate lighting and highlight the beautiful textures in downtown architecture.

High risk facilities like automated bank machines can be well lit with sodium
In none of these photos did sodium lighting detract from prevention or turn people off. There are no people in the photos because, at least in the photos I took, I had to wait for them to move aside in order to show the effect. Obviously, sodium lighting did not make them feel less secure. In fact, the opposite.

We know very little about the impact of color on night time behavior, especially crime. And since no one is apparently paying attention to the crime and social impact of LEDs, I hope we don't learn, too late, that brighter isn't always better.