On Changing the Deadly Road Design Paradigm

By Dom Nozzi

Traffic engineer Charles Marohn is doing heroic work. Tellingly, he gets significant pushback when he repeatedly insists that conventional engineers should be held responsible for recommending roadway designs they know are unsafe in their never-ending efforts to promote higher-speed, higher-volume roadways.

 I faced similar pushback from my colleagues in my town and transportation planning career. It is a threat to a worldview that engineers and planners have subscribed to their entire lives. And as Kuhn notes in his Structure of Scientific Revolutions, nearly all of these conventional thinkers will go to their graves subscribing to that paradigm, regardless of the evidence and logic of the situation.

An important way out of this tragic, downward spiral that conventional traffic engineers are promoting is for citizens and elected officials to give traffic engineers permission to revise their design paradigm. Without such permission, engineers face termination, reprimand, or hostility if they step outside the accepted paradigm.

Why is permission not granted?

Because citizens and officials are trapped by a single-minded, 100-year campaign to create a car-dependent world that requires maximum motor vehicle speeds and maximum motor vehicle roadway volumes. Most citizens and officials have almost no choice but to make nearly every trip by car, which tends to obligate them to insist that free-flowing, higher-speed motor vehicle travel be enabled by engineers. Anything else is seen as a dire threat to their way of life.

The double standard is that such citizens and officials often DO often want engineers to step outside the danger-promoting paradigm if the neighborhood of the citizen or official is to be affected.

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