Friday, August 5, 2011

Designing our streets for everyone (updated 8/5/11)

Protect, don’t prosecute, pedestrians is the title of an opinion piece in the Post today by David Goldberg of Transportation for America. He writes about how the woman in Atlanta "who did not even own a car could be convicted of vehicular homicide in the death of her 4-year-old son, who was killed by a hit-and-run driver." They were trying to cross the street to reach their home after getting off a bus.
Nelson was found guilty of killing her son by crossing the road in the “wrong” place. But what about the highway designers, traffic engineers, transit planners and land-use regulators who placed a bus stop across from apartments but made no provision whatsoever for a safe crossing? Those who ignored the fact that pedestrians always take the shortest possible route but somehow expected them to walk six-tenths of a mile out of their way to cross the street? Those who designed this road — which they allowed to be flanked by apartments and houses — for speeds of 50 mph and more? And those who designed the entire landscape to be hostile to people trying to get to work or carrying groceries despite having no access to a car? Are they not culpable?

This phenomenon is not unique to metro Atlanta. Transportation for America researched 10 years’ worth of pedestrian fatalities nationwide and found this pattern again and again. The bodies line up like soldiers along certain corridors — the first clue that the roadway is not designed for the safety of the pedestrians who are obviously using the road.

This is a major issue in inner-ring suburbs across the country, places originally built as auto-only suburbia that now are home to many lower-income families who don’t have access to cars. Neither the public transportation system nor the highway designs work for those who live, work and walk in these areas. People are being punished and killed simply for being pedestrians. Our research shows that thousands of lives could be saved — and millions more lives improved — by retrofitting these dangerous roads, as many communities are trying to do.

Some in Congress, such as Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.), are attempting to kill the small slice of funding dedicated to projects that make it safer to walk or bicycle. As the vast majority of these dangerous roads were built under federal programs, fixing them to be safer should be a national project. A fund for safety retrofits should be part of the transportation bill under consideration.

Update: We just learned that last week the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) adopted a Complete Streets policy. These engineers understand that not everyone drives and that we need to change the way we design our streets:
Millions of Americans are walking, bicycling and catching the bus along roads that are not properly designed to accommodate them. Twenty-five percent of walking trips are on roads with no sidewalk or shoulder; bike lanes are available for only 5% of bike trips. This makes our streets more dangerous and encourages more people to drive to meet their needs.

Our transportation system should provide for the one-third of Americans who do not drive, including the elderly, the poor, and the young. Without walking, biking, or transit they have no opportunities for mobility.

Roads designed only for cars hamper development of compact, walkable communities. These streets deter people who might choose to drive less and avoid the high cost of gas if safe options were available.

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