‘Slow-speed design’ a must for cities

Your Turn in Sunday, The Greenville (SC) News

Dom Nozzi

Guest columnist, September 11, 2022

‘Slow-speed design’ a must for cities

Dangerous, high-speed, inattentive driving is an epidemic. Vehicle collisions with bicyclists and pedestrians have been at unacceptably high levels for decades in Greenville and SC.

Hostile, high-decibel conditions caused by high vehicle speeds lead to costly efforts to buffer homes and businesses from overwide roads. Houses and shops unable to tolerate these roads are abandoned or relocated.

High-speed vehicles are incompatible with a safe, livable community, despite efforts to protect against the speedways.

High-speed roads create a ‘barrier effect’ by making it impossible to bicycle or walk (or take a bus). Consequently, driving grows. Fuel consumption and air pollution rise. Public health declines.

Vehicles require an enormous amount of space. A car takes up so much space that roads become congested with only a modest number of motorists. Because roads are congested so quickly, citizens endlessly demand wider roads.

Growth in the size of roads leads to an inexorable, vicious downward cycle. Bigger roads inevitably lead to a decline in safety and quality of life. This grows the desire to flee the increasingly congested, dangerous, noisy in-town locations for the suburbs. And this leads to a growing demand to widen roads to enable a growing number of cars to travel at high speeds for greater distances.

To escape this spiraling cycle, the path is clear. Slow down vehicle travel.

The good news is that we can keep our cars. But we must be masters of our cars rather than their slaves. We need roads designed to obligate motorists to be better behaved (by driving at more modest, attentive speeds).

Slow-speed design involves reducing horizontal road dimensions. We reduce the width of travel lanes, reduce the number of lanes (road ‘dieting’), use landscaped sidewalk bulb-outs, use modest intersection turning radii, install chicanes (horizontal deflection devices), restore on-street parking, change one-way streets back to two-way, use woonerfs (‘living streets’), and install traffic circles. These tactics reduce car speeds while allowing for emergency response by fire trucks

Undesirable vertical interventions, such as speed humps, must not be used as they impede emergency vehicles, damage cars, and create noise pollution. Also, Greenville must provide travel choices so that folks are not required to make all trips by car. We need more homes mingled with small shops, offices, civic buildings, and pocket parks. This traditional, mixed-use neighborhood design reduces trip distances. Walking, bicycling, and transit become more likely. The short distances mean that streets do not need to be oversized.

Driving becomes optional, not required.

Motorists drive on ‘forgiving streets.’ Designs ‘forgive’ motorists for driving too fast or not paying attention. Forgiving design, predictably, has ironically led to an epidemic of speeding and inattentive driving. Forgiving design must be replaced with lower speed, attentive design, as described above.

Greenville must moderate vehicle speeds by designing roads that are smaller and obligate slower, safer, attentive driving.

Dom Nozzi holds a bachelor’s degree in environmental science from SUNY Plattsburgh and a master’s degree in town and transportation planning from Florida State University. For 20 years, he served as a senior town and transportation planner for Gainesville Florida, and was briefly the growth rate control planner for Boulder, Colorado. Today, he maintains a consulting practice.

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