Will Boulder’s Traffic Safety Program be Effective?

By Dom Nozzi

October 24, 2017

Whenever I hear about a call for “more education” to improve traffic safety, I know that the issue is not one we are serious about solving (and the call usually comes from the political right wing). It is telling that we don’t hear calls for “more education” when it comes to robbery, murder, terrorists, etc.

Given the fact that all cities have, countless times, doubled down on more education for traffic safety for the past century (and our roads are now more dangerous than ever), traffic safety education campaigns probably suffer more from diminishing returns than anything I can think of.

It is a safe bet that all Americans, when they were children, were told over and over and over to LOOK BOTH WAYS or BE CAREFUL or WATCH OUT FOR CARS whenever crossing a street. For Boulder to aggressively push a HEADS UP campaign (or LOOK BOTH WAYS) at crosswalks is condescending, patronizing, and a shameful example of victim-blaming. It is treating adults like children.lo

Most all of us in traffic safety are well aware of the fact that road engineering to slow cars and obligate motorists to be more attentive is far and away the most effective tactic for traffic safety (using traffic calming interventions and other means of reducing space allocated to cars). No other tactic comes even close to improving safety, to the point of the other tactics almost not being worth even mentioning.

One thing that has really bothered me in my 4.5 years on the Boulder Transportation Advisory Board is how often staff comes to us with solemn, proud sincerity to assure us of the importance of pursuing “the 4 (now 5) E’s”: the outdated, decades long tactic of having us work on Education, Enforcement, Encouragement, Evaluation, and Engineering. Please. Doing this sets up a false equivalence which strongly implies that each is equally important. A much better way of stating this is that there is one big E (engineering), and 4 secondary E’s that are almost not worth considering.

I understand why the City of Boulder is pushing education so hard for its “Toward Vision Zero” traffic safety project (as it has done every few years for the past century). It is because politically, it is utterly impossible to push effective engineering solutions such as road diets (given the Folsom Street debacle that many people are still furious about years after it erupted).

It is so very easy, politically, to push education. Zero opposition from citizens. Who would oppose such a nice thing? When all you have is a hammer (education), all of your problems look like nails…

To its credit, the City has restarted funding for traffic calming, which can be very effective. But that was only after a huge number of citizens demanded it. Staff opposed restoring funding, and it is likely that the City will (intentionally?) continue to okay the construction of speed humps, knowing that humps are furiously opposed by some for their noise pollution and car damage and opposition by the fire department. Knowing, in other words, that humps are a poison pill that has a chance of killing traffic calming again.

It must also be said that even though traffic calming is effective, its effectiveness is substantially muted by the fact that it will not be applied to the major roads in Boulder, which are very hostile, dangerous death traps.

Frankly, given the large number of traffic deaths and serious injuries Boulder has suffered recently, I don’t know what it will take to get the City to take serious action to meaningfully improve traffic safety.

The education push in 2017 shows Boulder is not serious.

Given the above, I continue to recommend that the City suspend and discontinue its Toward Vision Zero program until the City is ready, politically, to seriously pursue it. As it stands now, the Toward Vision Zero program is giving Vision Zero a black eye by being almost entirely a lip service program.

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Filed under Road Diet, Transportation, Walking

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