Thursday, February 13, 2014

Resources to Reduce Traffic Speeds in Your Neighborhood

Image courtesy of Health Resources in Action
Health Resources in Action recently created a new webpage of community Speed Reduction resources with plenty of ideas for neighborhoods hoping to slow down traffic on their street.

In addition to two brief fact sheets (Public Health Impact: Community Speed Reduction and Speed Reduction Fact Sheet: Opportunities to Improve Current Practice ), HRIA has put together a more lengthy technical report that provides a nice summary of the state of the practice and outlines key public health concerns related to speeding.

Why is speeding a problem?
Most advocates are aware that higher speeds lead to more severe injuries and fatalities, but the numbers bear repeating: the average risk of severe injury for a pedestrian struck by a vehicle is just 10 percent at an impact speed of 16 mph, but quickly reaches 50 percent at only 31 mph.
There are real costs associated with speeding crashes as well. According to the technical report, the cost of speeding-related crashes is estimated at over $40 billion per year, and a single fatality costs $6 million. Moreover, vulnerable (low-income, minority) communities disproportionately affected, as are young, old, disabled--people less likely to be able to recover from the financial challenges created by a speeding fatality.

What causes speeding?
The report points to three key factors. First, road design: roads that are designed to be "forgiving" to drivers (wide lanes, no on-street parking, no landscaping or street furniture to run into) provide cues that encourage drivers to speed, often without even realizing it. These physical features are far more important to driver than incidental features like, oh, speed limit signs. As the report puts it, "...a road that is designed to be driven at high speeds will be driven at high speeds, despite posted speed limits."

Land use may also play a role in speeding. The report highlighted one study that found that strip malls and big box retailers are major crash risk factors for bikes and pedestrians. On the other hand, commercial areas designed at a pedestrian scale lessen the risk of crashes.

Finally, the report cites a culture of speeding as a major part of the problem. More than 70 percent of drivers speed--despite the fact that most people say they disapprove of speeding. This is particularly true for speeding in residential areas, where nearly 90 percent of people "frown upon" speeding but almost half admit to speeding themselves.

What should we do about it?
Fortunately, there are many ways to combat the problem of speeding. Health Resources in Action recommends four key strategies:

  1. Design and retrofit road networks to ensure safe speeds for all road users (motorists, cyclists, and pedestrians), using techniques such as traffic calming or slow zones.
  2. Use automated technologies to enforce speed limits.
  3. Set speed limits for the safety of all road users.
  4. Improve data collection
They also provide six case studies of communities that are implementing these strategies. Over the next few days we'll review the findings from these studies to learn how you might apply them in your own neighborhood.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Uninspired Oahu Officials Miss a Crosswalk Opportunity

Photo courtesy of KHON
City officials in Oahu are up in arms over markings that have appeared in several local crosswalks in the last few months.Using white paint and a little creativity, someone has altered the city's standard zebra crossings to incorporate the message "Aloha" into the otherwise typical design.

Non-standard crosswalk markings are hardly unique to Hawaii; cities all over the world use crosswalk design to shape community identity, draw extra attention to a pedestrian crossing, or just have a little fun, as in these new "hopscotch crosswalks" in Baltimore.

Photo courtesy of NPR
Nonetheless, Oahu officials insist they must remove these "acts of vandalism" in the name of public safety. According to the City's Facility Maintenance Director, "It can pose a danger to pedestrians because people that are approaching it and driving in vehicles unfamiliar with that area may think it’s a marking on the road and not a crosswalk.” 

I would love to meet the driver who would mistake the above crosswalk for anything other than what it is...because I would immediately take away their driver's license. Someone that obtuse should not be allowed on the road. 

Certainly there are no shortage of by-the-book officials who consistently mistake "innovation" for "danger"--that's one of the key reasons tactical urbanism exists, after all. But at least some cities (Raleigh, for example) are beginning to recognize that the guerrilla tactics of their citizens might actually lead to something good for everyone. 

Many Oahu residents have said they like the new crosswalk design, and the City could choose to work with residents to officially sanction the Aloha crosswalks (and maybe add a little more charm to otherwise dull crossings). Instead, Oahu is choosing to spend $4,000 a pop to "fix" the problem. Sorry Hawaii pedestrians, you're not getting any aloha in your day anytime soon.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Video: The Rise of Open Streets

This short video from Streetfilms has been getting almost as much attention as the Open Streets movement itself lately. Here's a little bit about the film from its creators:

"The Rise of Open Streets" examines the open streets movement from myriad perspectives -- how it began, how events are run, how they shape people's perceptions of their streets, and how creating car-free space, even temporarily, benefits people's lives. And it looks not only at big cities like Los Angeles, but smaller ones like Fargo, Berkeley, and Lexington. We've interviewed some of the most important people in the movement, including former NYC DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan and former Chicago DOT Commissioner Gabe Klein, as well as former Bogota Parks Commissioner Gil Penalosa and Enrique Jacoby, from the Pan American Health Organization.

Take a look!

Monday, February 3, 2014

User-Friendly Complete Streets

Image courtesy of

As cities across the country jump on the Complete Streets bandwagon (it's public transportation, after all), they're on the hunt for good examples of Complete Streets documents: why reinvent the wheel, when it's hard enough trying to reinvent the street? One lovely model that any city would do well to emulate is Boston's Complete Streets website.

The site, clearly designed by someone who knows how to do these things, includes a number of features that set it apart from typical municipal websites:

  • Interactive graphics, like the one pictured above, provide detailed information and pictures about complete streets concepts
  • Social media components are integrated into every aspect of the site, encouraging users to tweet, share, and subscribe to stay informed about Complete Streets projects
  • Contact information is easy to find--including direct phone numbers and emails of several staff members responsible for implementing Complete Streets policies, not just the generic (or non-existent) email addresses available on typical sites, that rarely provide an easy connection to an actual person
  • Definitions of key terms in the Complete Streets vision are provided up front, so users are less likely to get lost in a morass of planning jargon
  • A dedicated page highlights opportunities for public participation, and includes a "pitch" describing why users should get involved with Complete Streets issues

Friday, January 31, 2014

More on Snowy Sidewalks

Photo courtesy of BBC News
Snow seems to be on the minds of many this week (though not so much here in Southern California). Here are a few stories about how cities with colder weather than us are addressing the problems that come along with all that white stuff.

Smart Growth America wonders, How do you shovel a bike lane? They offer some resources for folks looking to answer that question on their site:
Focusing on clear and accessible pathways and transit stops for people with disabilities, a booklet from Easter Seals Project ACTION describes the ways snow and ice present significant barriers to travel, innovative practices and design solutions to clear the way, and the Americans with Disabilities Act requirements for sidewalk maintenance. Some of this material was covered in a recent webinar, which featured Russ Decker of Aspen, CO, Donna Smith of Easter Seals Project ACTION, and Roger Millar, Director of the National Complete Streets Coalition.
Meanwhile, Grist's Ask Umbra offers some advice to a reader who wonders, What do I do about my treacherous sidewalks this winter? Hint: the best solution involves beet juice.

Finally, this story from the BBC describes how people in snowy climes are using "sneckdowns" (snowy neckdowns) to test potential street redesigns that favor pedestrians, like the one in the picture above:

After a winter storm, snow ploughed to the side of the road creates temporary neckdowns and demonstrates the principle in action.
"When that snow piles up at a lot of intersections in neighbourhoods, you see that space where they could put a kerb extension," says Eckerson. "The cars still can make the turn, including trash trucks and school buses, but you see the slow, more deliberate turn around the corner instead of cutting it."
It almost makes me wish we got snow around here...