Bad urban design makes for poor living conditions and when cars are involved it can mean lethal conditions. As people know all to well, the last century’s bizarre love of the automobile has given us a lot of issues that we need to deal with today. Some solutions are really complex (like climate change) while others can be solved easily through simple design tweaks. One fast and easy way to save lives is to lower the speed limits on cars. Another simple solution is to stop designing our streets to allow cars to travel at high speeds. Cars kill, but it doesn’t have to be that way.
Many people fear that slowing the speed limit in urban areas will dramatically increase journey time. However, average road speeds in cities are more determined by the frequency of intersections than speed limits. A safer speed limit can achieve more uniform speeds and reduce dangerous midblock acceleration, while adding little to overall journey times. Research from Grenoble, France has shown that a speed limit of 30 kmph (18.64 mph) rather than 50 kmph (31 mph) only added 18 seconds of travel time between intersections 1 km (.62 miles) apart. Lower speed limits may even reduce congestion in some cases, as they reduce the likelihood of bottlenecks. This has been observed in Sao Paulo, where lowering the speed limit on major arterials reduced congestion by 10 percent during the first month of implementation, while fatalities also dropped significantly.
More people live and work in cities than ever before in the history of humanity, as a result the transportation pressures on these urban centres as equally increased. In North America, the last century focused on making cities for cars instead of for people and as more population density increases in cities the urban design can’t keep pace. Making cities for cars has led to a really problematic situation. We know the future of cities is in human-scale design instead of car-scale design and the transition has been hard. In the USA cyclist fatalities have increased by 25% and pedestrian deaths by 45% since 2010.
The solution for safer cities exists and places are already implementing better design practices. You can make an impact today by getting rid of your car or just driving less.
Strategies vary from one city to another. Boston, for example, has reduced the city speed limit from 30 miles per hour to 25 mph. Washington, D.C. is improving 36 intersections that pose threats to pedestrians and enacting more bicycle-friendly policies. These cities still have far to go, but they are moving in the right direction.
There are many more options. Manufacturers can make vehicles less threatening to pedestrians and bicyclists by reducing the height of front bumpers. And cities can make streets safer with a combination of speed limit reductions, traffic calming measures, “road diets” for neighborhoods that limit traffic speed and volume, and better education for all road users.
The video above The Guardian explores the costs of subsidizing cars in cities and looks at alternatives to car-focussed design. In the UK Nottingham raised the price of parking to reflect the actual land costs. They then took that increased revenue to spend it on public transportation, which is a more effect way to move people in urban spaces. Which brings us to an important aspect of the video: argue for more efficient transit instead of arguing against the car. Car drivers get really defensive when you tell them they are traffic. It also turns out that in Nottingham the cost of parking didn’t negatively impact business at all.
Sitting in traffic is no fun and neither is being hit by a car. To solve both of these problems cities around the world are changing their intersections using colourful and bright paints. The idea is to help traffic flow better while providing safer spaces for pedestrian. The spin-off benefit is that the city looks cooler!
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia – Sebategna Intersection
The intersection update in November 2017 was the first under the city’s Safe Intersections Program, a multi-year initiative to improve pedestrian safety through street design
Since roughly WWII we’ve been designing roads and streets for only one purpose: the automobile. Before the 20th century roads were designed to move people around efficiently, today roads are incredibly dangerous for people who are outside of metal containers. Australians are starting to do something about this lack of safety on streets already and are looking for was to make how we navigate our roadways even safer.
The next step is to respond in ways that keep returning attention to the facts from best evidence. To repeat, whether you’re a driver, occupant, pedestrian or cyclist, roughly 90% of what causes death on Australia’s roads is driver behaviour.
For cyclists, the root cause of deadly harm is aggression and inattention. Drivers should be held to account and be pushed to change their behaviour and attitudes.
Simple inexpensive changes in the law have been found to have dramatic effects on driver behaviour. These changes also work with existing infrastructure, technology, road conditions and our cultural expressions of human nature
Another welcome measure is a recent initiative to reduce urban speed limits to 30km/h. This has just been implemented in one of Melbourne’s inner urban areas without too much fuss. According to the research behind it, you’re twice as likely to survive being hit at 30km/h as at 40km/h.