Design Solutions & Challenges

What simple fix can save 3,320 lives a year?

Naomi Grunditz
Written by Naomi Grunditz

It’s only too common. A car along a four-lane road slows near a corner. The car behind it or next to it doesn’t understand why the vehicle in front has slowed. Perhaps the rear driver feels irritated and speeds up, swerving into the adjacent lane and passing the stopped car. It’s too late to see that the first vehicle has halted for a pedestrian crossing the street. Maybe the speeding car breaks in time, or passes before the pedestrian is hit. Unfortunately, sometimes it doesn’t.

This tragedy occurred just this week in St. Paul, prompting Bill Lindeke to write a thoughtful article about the danger of 4 lane roads. Lindeke takes issue with the general consensus that these incidents are unavoidable and rare accidents. Neither statement is true.

The DOT itself reports that, when properly implemented, road diets benefit pedestrians through “reduced crossing distance and midblock crossing locations, which account for more than 70 percent of pedestrian fatalities.” Road diets could save the lives of 3,320 pedestrians a year. So what are we waiting for?

Suggestions of road re-design invariably stir up controversy, especially concerns over increased traffic, writes Lindeke.

The problem with this reasoning is that there’s no such thing as a free street. Particularly in a walkable city, achieving a high traffic volume always come at a cost. In this case, the cost is increased accidents and far less safety for pedestrians, bicyclists, and people living in these urban neighborhoods.

Street design is always about tradeoffs. Slow speeds that are good for local business are bad for high-speed through traffic. Four-lane roads that improve “stacking” (i.e backups at an intersection) are dangerous for people on foot or on a bicycle. A turn lane that is good for throughput is bad for anyone trying to cross the street. A bike lane can sometimes come at the expense of an on-street parking spot, etc. etc. Everything is a matter of choices and tradeoffs.

Isn’t the trade-off of 3,320 human lives worth an extra five minutes on your commute? Visualizing the real cost behind this issue is the only way to break the complacency and false security with driving that powers the status-quo on American streets.

About the author

Naomi Grunditz

Naomi Grunditz

Naomi is editor of Ecocities Emerging and manages Ecocity Builders' print and online media. She is also a member of the Strategic Planning Committee for the Ecocity World Summit. Naomi has a degree in Sociology and Urban Studies from Yale University. She is interested in the intersection of the built and social environments and experiential aspects of the city.

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