How To Make Roads Safer For All Users

Since moving to Utah, I have been absolutely shocked at the level of carnage  that people here are willing to  accept on this state’s roads and highways.  Hardly a day goes by when I don’t hear about another fatality, or two, or more.  Most are senseless, too, like this story that cost two young people in suburban Ogden their lives just a few days ago.

As a cyclist, I sometimes feel as though motorists are targeting me but they’re not.  The reality is that there is a small (but growing) subset of road users who will kill anyone who gets in their way, regardless of what they’re driving.  They need to be removed from the roads.  Permanently.  Forevermore.  By any means necessary.  Now.

But banning these selfish fools from ever driving again is not enough.  The numbers speak for themselves.  Thirty thousand deaths by motor vehicle each and every year, the vast majority of which are completely avoidable with a little common sense.   I think this is something worth discussing, so here are my thoughts.

Lower the speed limits already…

The speed limit on Utah highways is 80 mph.  In the cities, it’s 70 mph.  In many cases, that’s way too fast for conditions.  People can’t handle it.  When they get in trouble at those speeds, it’s game over.  When they hit someone at those speeds, there’s not much that can be done.  The proof is in the pudding.  The common sense solution if you want to save lives is to simply slow down.  Since most people won’t do it without a little prodding, prod them.  Lower the limits.

A true shared street with transit down the middle.  Bicycles and motor vehicles share a single lane each direction.  This works because speed limits are set low.

A true shared street with transit down the middle. Bicycles and motor vehicles share a single lane each direction. This works because speed limits are set low.  This is in downtown Salt Lake City.  It’s no more congested than any other street in the urban core.

And why stop with just highways?  There is absolutely no reason to drive over 20 mph through residential areas yet people do it all the time.  Then we hear about the 4 or 5 year old who darted in front of a car and how nothing could have been done to save him or her.  I call BS.  Something could have been done.  We just choose not to do it.  Research is pretty clear on this.  Lower speed limits save lives and they don’t lead to significantly longer trip times.  It costs virtually nothing to do this.  It’s a no-brainer.

IMG_20151014_121126648

Shared street in Indianapolis.  It’s a great idea.  Unfortunately, it’s only 2 blocks long.

Lower speed limits also make it easier to build shared streets.  They already do this in parts of Europe, Asia and down under.  We should do it here.  Shared streets (motor vehicle, pedestrian, bicycle) are vastly more affordable when compared to separate infrastructure for each class of road user.  There’s no reason why we couldn’t do this nationwide right now, today.  All it takes is a little courage.

Change motor vehicle marketing methodologies

I get the top down, pedal to the metal marketing most motor vehicle manufacturers prefer.  It sells.  Unfortunately, it also kills. The days when there were open roads in America is long gone.  Even rural freeways are jam packed with tractor trailers these days.  You can’t escape the crowds anywhere, not even in rural Wyoming or Nevada.

This Honda ad was banned in the UK for encouraging reckless driving. The tagline?  Keep Up!

This Honda ad was banned in the UK for encouraging reckless driving. The tagline? Keep Up!

Alcohol companies now encourage their customers to “drink responsibly” so why is it that automobile companies still encourage their customers to drive recklessly and put others at risk?  They shouldn’t.  The message needs to change.

Enforce traffic laws

Collisions and crashes just don’t happen.  There’s always a root cause.  It almost always boils down to driver behavior.  You say that maybe the road is poorly designed or engineered?  I hear you.  So slow down.  Trimming your speed almost always solves the problem of a poorly designed road.  It also mitigates the risk of the idiot coming the other direction, totally oblivious to it all.

No, most motor vehicle accidents (bad word) crashes and collisions are caused by pilot error.  Somebody is almost always at fault.  When lives are lost, whether due to inattentiveness or wanton recklessness, people need to be brought to account.  We need to stop saying “there’s nothing that could have been done to prevent this.”  That’s absurd.  There’s almost always something that can be done, and nothing changes behavior like real life consequences.

Takeaway

I am not willing to accept 30,000 deaths per year, many at the hands of self-entitled, arrogant fools who only think of themselves.  The roads belong to all of us.  They belong to me.  They belong to you.   We have fundamental right (more on that Monday) to use them as we need to.  We have a fundamental right to use them as we please.  It’s high time that we as a nation stopped prioritizing a machine (the automobile) over human life.  I’m not willing to accept it any longer.  This is an easy problem to fix.  It’s time to fix it.

 

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2 thoughts on “How To Make Roads Safer For All Users

  1. Hey, there. You’re totally right that traffic speeds need to be reduced. However, all the research shows that the way to make that happen is the opposite of what you’re suggesting here: good road designs make people slow down. Simply changing the sign does very little. This principle is at the heart of Vision Zero, which has made Sweden the safest place to get around (on foot, by bike, or by car) in the world. Here’s how the city of Bellvue, WA, puts it:

    “Will lowering the speed limit alleviate speeding in my neighborhood?
    Engineering studies show that speed limit signs are not the most significant factor
    influencing driver speeds. Research indicates that a reasonable and prudent driver will
    drive the speed suggested by roadway and traffic conditions, to the extent of disregarding
    the posted speed limit. A speed limit that is unrealistic invites the majority of drivers to
    disregard posted speeds.”
    http://www.ci.bellevue.wa.us/pdf/Transportation/Guidebook_Web.pdf

    You’re fortunate, though, that you’re in the same state as Salt Lake City, which is starting to install some modern, safer designs. You ought to be able to push your local leaders to follow SLC’s example. Good luck!

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    • Hi Brian, Thanks for your comment. I appreciate your position but I’m not sure I completely agree. That said, I could be wrong…for sure. That actually happens a lot 😉

      What I was trying to say was that regardless of whatever else we do, the culture needs to change. I’ve been to Copenhagen, Amsterdam and Malmo 8 times and while I agree that the road design is better, I think it’s more about the culture there and how much carnage they’re willing to accept. Those places simply do not tolerate the nonsense we do from motorists.

      In Sweden, for example, my hosts would not drink a single beer if they were driving. They would lose their license and they wouldn’t get it back. Couple that with how much work it is to get it one to begin with and it simply was not worth the risk to them. Everywhere I went, motorists respected crosswalks, too…not because they were better designed but because the penalty for not doing so was stiff. I saw the same thing in Chicago last summer. Cops were ticketing motorists for not respecting crosswalks. I think it works when applied consistently.

      I’m a big fan of Vision Zero, butI think we’re fooling ourselves if we think we can solve this with engineering alone. Take the guy in the Tesla yesterday, for example. Behavior matters. Besides, it took the Dutch 30 years to build out their small country AND they were totally committed to it. If we have to wait for infrastructure, we will all be gone before it’s done. I’m not willing to wait. We need to change the roads, for sure, but we need to change the culture more. I think it can be done. I think it requires a collective mindset, much like Stop de Kindermoord, that says we’re not going to accept this any more. That’s my goal. Thanks again. I appreciate your insight.

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