By Dom Nozzi
April 10, 2018
For me, the reason this photo is so powerful is that it is emblematic of a number of troubling and tragic aspects of American transportation.
The photo shows that as far back as 60 years ago, Binghamton NY had a Vision Zero objective in place. But when we think about it, ALL US cities – including Binghamton and Boulder CO (my home city) – have had a Vision Zero objective for about 100 years (or for at least as long as cars have been around). In other words, all cities have always worked to achieve Vision Zero – at least subconsciously. The only real novelty is that a growing number of cities are now openly stating that objective, rather than just having it in the back of our minds.
Adopting a Vision Zero objective is little more than “putting old wine in new bottles.” I say that because:
- Despite the fact that all US cities – including Binghamton and Boulder – have had an objective of zero traffic deaths or serious traffic injuries for a century, our roads are more dangerous than ever.
- The reason our roads are more dangerous than ever is because all US cities – including Binghamton and Boulder – have managed their roadway systems for the past century with three overriding goals: (a) Maximizing motorist speeds; (b) Deploying the failed Forgiving Street design strategy; and (c) Stubbornly sticking to the same old song and dance of more safety signage, more safety lighting, more safety paint, and more safety enforcement for safe roadways.
Maximizing motorist speeds and using the Forgiving Street design (a design used by all federal, state, and local traffic engineers) results in excessive dimensions for roads, an excessive number of overly wide travel lanes, excessive sizes for clear zones and vision triangles and shoulders, and oversized intersections (as well as an over-use of turn lanes). Inevitably, this has led to an epidemic of speeding and inattentive driving, which creates extremely dangerous, deadly conditions for a roadway system. More safety signage, more safety lighting, more safety paint, and more safety enforcement have only a trivial impact on making such a dangerous roadway system safer – particularly because our doubling down on such strategies every few years for the past century has led to greatly diminishing returns.
Given these three goals/strategies Binghamton, Boulder and all other US cities have been saddled with for the past century, it is nearly certain that our roadways will continue to grow increasingly unsafe and our ability to achieve Vision Zero will continue to diminish.
I remain convinced that Boulder should put our Vision Zero objective on hold unless or until Boulder is politically ready to adopt effective tactics to reach Vision Zero. As it stands now, Boulder is not politically ready, and having a Vision Zero objective under such conditions will give the City’s Vision Zero program a black eye.
What are the effective tactics for achieving Vision Zero?
- Abandon the deadly objective of maximizing motorist speeds and using Forgiving Street design. Such a goal and design substantially undermine a large number of important Boulder transportation, safety, and quality of life objectives. Replace this with the goal of designing roads to obligate slow, attentive driving — driving which is conducive to safety as well as nearby residential and retail development. In other words, transform roads into streets. This is most effectively achieved by removing excessive travel lanes (ie, road diets and various horizontal traffic calming treatments such as bulbouts and raised medians), removing turn lanes, reducing the width of travel lanes, reducing the size of shoulders and vision triangles, eliminating super-elevations on turns, removing double-yellow lines, installing more on-street parking, reducing the size of turning radii, reducing the width of driveways, installing more canopy street trees, and pulling buildings up to front sidewalks. See this, for example.
- Remove more of the large financial subsidies for car travel to further reduce excessive, low-value car travel. For example, eliminate minimum parking requirements and reduce the amount of underpriced or free parking. There are many more ways to reduce subsidies that I will not list here.
By using these effective tactics for reducing the speed, space, and subsidies that we pamper motorists with, Boulder and other cities will have a much better chance of achieving Vision Zero.