Tag Archives: traffic safety

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staff comes to us with solemn, proud sincerity to assure us of the importance of pursuing “the 4 (now 5) E’s”: the outdated, decades long tactic of having us work on Education, Enforcement, Encouragement, Evaluation, and Engineering.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

It Must Be the Fault of the Pedestrian

By Dom Nozzi

October 7, 2017

A century ago, as Peter Norton points out in his book Fighting Traffic, nearly all of us would blame a motorist in a crash that injured or killed a pedestrian or bicyclist.

But today the situation is reversed.

The knee-jerk response in our age is to blame the pedestrian. To blame the victim. It is akin to blaming a woman for being raped because she dressed “too provocatively.” Or was walking alone at night.

In the very rare instances when a community decides to use effective tactics to reduce the number of times a motorist kills a pedestrian (by, for example, designing the street to obligate slower, attentive driving), many motorists will scream “WAR ON CARS!!” This creates an enormous political obstacle to the creation of a safer transportation system.

Such WAR ON CARS! screamers conveniently forget that tens of thousands of pedestrians are killed by motorists every year. And that not a single motorist has ever been killed after being hit by a pedestrian.pe

Sounds more like a war on pedestrians to me…

I refer to “effective” tactics to improve safety, because nearly all US cities are guilty of spending the past century using, over and over again, ineffective tactics: More safety signage. More safety lighting. More safety paint. More safety education. And more safety enforcement.

Since our roads are now more dangerous than ever following a century of repeatedly doubling down on those ineffective tactics, maybe it is finally time to realize that these conventional safety tactics are a failure.

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Filed under Politics, Road Diet, Transportation, Walking

Will the “New” Traffic Safety Plan in Grand Rapids Reduce Car vs Bike Crashes Significantly?

September 20, 2017

Grand Rapids, Michigan recently unveiled a plan it claims will result in a long-term substantial reduction in car versus bike crashes. Their claim is that the plan has already led to an 81 percent decrease.

I don’t buy it.

First, urging cyclists to be more visible, as the plan calls for, has been tried for 100 years. It has been ineffective for that 100 years and is likely to be even more ineffective in this age of info overload. It is also a form of victim-blaming.car

Educating motorists to drive safer or more attentively has also been tried for 100 years. Like urging cyclists to be more visible, more education for motorists has been nearly useless for that 100 years.

I think we need to try something else. Something effective. How about if we design streets to obligate motorists to pay attention and drive slower? There are many effective ways to do that. They are called traffic calming and road diets.

But those tactics are furiously opposed by motorists.

Oops.

I guess we’ll just get back to the ineffective tactics we’ve tried for the past century.

And then wring our hands when bicyclists and pedestrians keep dying (and more and more people travel by car…).

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The Time to Prioritize Transportation Safety is Now

By Dom Nozzi

As a member of the Boulder Transportation Advisory Board, I am alarmed by the recent uptick in serious injuries and deaths caused by vehicle crashes on roads in our area. The number is inexcusable.

One of the most common requests by citizens to our Board, the Transportation staff, and City Council is the need to reinstate the neighborhood traffic calming program that was defunded in the late 1990s. Speeding, cut-through vehicles are a serious problem for a great many neighborhoods. Such traffic discourages bicycling and walking; substantially increases noise pollution; endangers our most vulnerable (seniors, children, and pets); is a primary cause of loss of neighborhood quality of life; and fuels opposition to infill development.

What caused this state of affairs?

For several decades, we have been so successful in providing for fast, unobstructed travel by car that it has substantially undermined transit ridership, walking, and bicycling.

Many who venture out on a bicycle are soon reminded by an impatient motorist that she’s in the way and doesn’t belong there. “Danger” is an all-too-frequent reason given in surveys for not bicycling.

Wide travel lanes and multi-lane roads exert a nearly irresistible influence over a motorist. Even motorists who are not inclined to drive fast creep up to highway speeds. Amplifying this problem: large numbers of drug- or alcohol-impaired drivers, sleep-deprived drivers, and time-starved drivers. These factors are a dangerous mix, as they induce a great deal of high-speed, inattentive, reckless driving.

Making a street “safer” too often tends to increase vehicle speeds, which makes the streets less safe. One result: a disproportionate number of serious injuries and deaths in Boulder are suffered by pedestrians and bicyclists. About 40 percent of all children killed in motor vehicle crashes are killed while walking or riding a bicycle.

Measured by “years of life lost,” motor vehicles fatalities rank third. Since 1930 (!), over 30,000 Americans die in motor vehicle crashes annually.

Motorists are more likely to collide with pedestrians at higher speeds. At 60 miles per hour, the field of vision of the motorist is two-thirds less than at 30 miles per hour. In addition, the probability of a pedestrian being killed is only 3.5 percent when a vehicle is traveling at 15 miles per hour, but jumps to 37 percent at 31 miles per hour and 83 percent at 44 miles per hour.

Roadway geometry in safety-sensitive areas, such as schools, needs to keep speeds near 20 miles per hour.

Portland finds that traffic circles are most effective when constructed in a series. They are sometimes also located in the middle of the block. Circles reduce motor vehicle speeds. Circles reduce crashes by 50 to 90 percent, when compared to two-way and four-way stop signs and traffic signals, by reducing the number of conflict points. Seattle likes circles so much that they were building about 30 circles each year a few decades ago.

Despite the conventional wisdom, stop signs do not affect overall speeds or control speeding. Posting lower speed limits and enforcing them is not sufficient to achieve needed reductions in speeding. Modest physical reconfiguration of streets is the only reliable and cost-effective way to slow and control inattentive speeding.

Calming helps reduce neighborhood noise pollution. From a distance of 48 feet, a car traveling at 56 miles per hour makes ten times more noise than a car traveling at 31 miles per hour. Reducing average speed from 25 miles per hour to 12 miles per hour reduces noise levels by 14 decibels (ten times quieter). At higher speeds, every 12 to 15 miles per hour in speed increases results in a 4 to 5 decibel noise increase.

The Federal Highway Administration (FHA) notes that the importance of reducing traffic speed cannot be overemphasized, and has stated that traffic calming is one of the more cost-effective ways to promote pedestrian and bicycle use in urban and suburban areas, where walking and bicycling are often hazardous and uncomfortable. And as for children, Stina Sandels, a world authority on children and road accidents, says that the best road safety education cannot adapt a child to modern traffic, so traffic must be adapted to the child.

Fortunately, there are effective street design tactics to substantially increase road safety, and these methods can be deployed without significantly slowing emergency vehicle response times.

I urge Council to restore funding for neighborhood traffic calming (by adding new dollars rather than shifting existing dollars from the current city transportation budget). Since the City does not have the authority to introduce safe, speed-slowing designs on larger state roads, I urge Council to lobby the State legislature to give Boulder the authority to do so, as well as to stiffen penalties for driving infractions.

I also recommend more compact development in appropriate locations, sponsoring a transportation safety speaker series, and more street connectivity.

We have a duty to make Boulder streets much safer. Let us not delay doing so.

 

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Another Example of Boulder CO Being Behind the Times on Transportation

By Dom Nozzi

August 15, 2017

On July 20, 2017, the Boulder Police Department reported that they will step up enforcement and steep fines for pedestrians who do not activate warning lights when crossing the street. This is a form of victim-blaming akin to fining a rape victim for wearing provocative clothing. Why is the Boulder Police Department not stepping up enforcement of serious threats to public safety such as motorist speeding, motorist drunk driving, or motorist texting?texting

I believe the two most important issues that a community must address when it comes to community planning are the related topics of urban design and transportation.

Tragically, most citizens in Boulder CO are about 20 years behind the times when it comes to urban design. The above pedestrian enforcement issue is one of many examples of how most citizens in Boulder are about 50 years behind the times when it comes to transportation planning.

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The Deadly Stew of Transportation

 

By Dom Nozzi

April 18, 2017

American society mixes together a deadly stew in transportation: We combine forgiving road design (which forgives motorists for not paying attention) with very busy lives (which inevitably induces an epidemic of motorist speeding), sleep deprivation (which inevitably leads to falling asleep at the wheel), and a car-dependent community design (which obligates most of us to drive for all our trips — and putting all those huge, heavy, high-speed metal boxes on our roads inevitably creates frustration because all the boxes of our fellow citizens are always congesting roads).

Instead of continuing our century-long, single-minded effort to maximize the speed of cars (and therefore condition motorists to expect high-speed driving), we need to more universally design our street system to obligate slower and more attentive driving forgiving(thereby conditioning motorists to expect slower speed driving — at least in cities).

Forgiving street design is not the ONLY cause of distracted, high-speed, angry driving, but I believe it counterproductively amplifies existing societal problems, such as the desire to live in dispersed, car-dependent living arrangements. Forgiving street design makes dangerous driving more frequent.

We have ramped up education and enforcement efforts every few years since the 1920s to fight dangerous driving, yet we probably have more distracted, speeding, angry driving than ever before. Even if those levels are not the highest ever, they are certainly unacceptably high today.

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Are Cell Phones the Main Cause of a Recent Increase in Traffic Fatalities?

 

By Dom Nozzi

April 1, 2017

It is surprisingly difficult to isolate causes of crash/fatality trends in driving. One source has made the persuasive case a while back that the only good correlation we can find is based on the health of the national economy, of all things.

In any event, pointing to something like cell phones is a “pay no attention to the man behind the curtain” method that distracts people from a major cause of crashes: our roads are shockingly dangerous in how they are designed. And this follows over 100 16598647019_2c1634cb89_zyears of annual campaigns to make roads safer. Talk about a failed track record. Talk about a need to change course on our efforts to improve safety…

The US has seen over 30,000 people die on the roads EACH YEAR since the 1940s. Cell phones did not arrive until the 80s or 90s. The number of annual deaths is a crazy high number and should be utterly unacceptable to any civilized society. Given the American love of the death penalty, our failure to adopt universal health care, our 240 years of being a Warrior Nation, and our abusive criminal justice system, a great case can be made that the good old USA is one of the most uncivilized nations in human history (probably at least partly due, ironically, to our high level of religious belief – which is infamous for inspiring hatred, violence, and intolerance).

I agree that cell phones (and many other distractors) are very dangerous for a driver to engage in while driving. But we need to keep our eye on the ball. We’ve had over 100 years of failed efforts to make driving safe.

In sum, if no driver ever used a cell phone again, we’d STILL be seeing over 30,000 traffic fatalities in the US each year.

In my view, successfully reducing the number of drivers distracted by cell phone use is unlikely to produce the safety benefits we expect. Efforts to point to cell phones as a silver bullet solution to making our roads significantly safer is quite likely to distract us from the much more important, pressing fact that our car-happy transportation system is inherently deadly (largely due to car-happy, “forgiving” road design and a dispersed land use pattern that requires us to drive everywhere — and at high speeds).

 

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