Distracted driving has long been a concern of traffic safety advocates and transportation professionals, and the pandemic has potentially made things worse. Reports by data and insurance companies suggest distracted driving contributed to the dramatic recent surge in traffic deaths. Fortunately, a growing body of research shows how road design and the built environment can help make crashes involving distracted drivers less serious.
Cities have rapidly implemented new street design and management strategies in response to the challenges posed by the pandemic. These emerging best practices can provide a roadmap for other cities to follow as they respond to current needs, reopen their economies, and adjust to the more permanent changes to daily life.
As the economy recovers from COVID-19, how can we emerge with a better, stronger, and more resilient transportation system? Three recent reports analyzing the impact of the pandemic on transportation and personal attitudes toward transportation may offer some clues.
Unlike other risk factors such as speed or impairment—where more is not safer—increasing the number of sharp curves on a road segment appears to lower the risk of crashing, according to a new paper in the journal Accident Analysis & Prevention. Curves carry a level of inherent risk—they’re more dangerous than a straight segment of road, independent of other risk factors. As this paper points out, a decrease in a curve’s radius can make it safer, as can an increase in the number of sharp curves on the road itself.
Bicycle Level of Traffic Stress, a system for rating bicycle routes from low- to high-stress based on factors like vehicle speed and separation from traffic, has been gaining traction nationwide as an approach for identifying needed investments, evaluating the overall completeness of bicycle networks, and even making project ranking and selection decisions. However, a recent study indicates parents’ perspectives about “low-” and “high-stress” environments don’t always align with transportation practitioners when it comes to the safety of their children.
Road design often is not as science-based as we like to think, according to a new study in Accident Analysis & Prevention. Years of biased or misreported research findings inform many of the design practices that are common today. And while there is plenty to be learned from safety research, especially in recent decades, it may be worth revisiting some long-held assumptions and rethinking how research informs practice.
Last week, Smart Growth America released the latest edition of Dangerous by Design, a biennial report examining trends in pedestrian fatalities. The report looks at changes in the occurrence of pedestrian deaths nationwide overall and ranks states and metropolitan regions according to how dangerous they are for pedestrians. At the same time, a national committee of traffic engineers called on their colleagues to consider pedestrian and bicyclist safety when setting speed limits, and a researcher reports on why pedestrians break the rules, blaming poor roadway design.
To get people on foot adhering to traffic rules, according to one new study, road designers likely need to consider not only the immediate walking environment (sidewalks and crossings) but also the entire traffic safety climate of an area. According to the study, pedestrians tend to break the rules and make mistakes more often when they perceive city traffic as less “safe” and less “harmonious.”
Gerry Forbes, author of the Transportation Association of Canada’s excellent and too-little-known “Speed Management Guide,” suggests in a new ITE Journal article that speeding has some attributes of an addiction. He compares speeding and several addictive substances on dependence and harm, suggesting speeding is right up there with cocaine and heroin. Probably more interesting than this provocative framing is the remedy Forbes suggests. He rejects the idea that speed management is simply a matter for law enforcement.
Phoenix has an exceptionally high rate of pedestrian fatalities compared to the rest of the country. It looked like the city was ready to tackle this problem, with a city staff naming 11 intersections and neighborhoods to study that had poor and unsafe pedestrian conditions. However, the citizen committee named to guide passage of a design guide to make the streets safer has become so frustrated with the lack of progress that they have quit en masse. What have other cities done when they have found themselves with a mounting pedestrian fatality rate and a reputation as a dangerous place to walk?