December 18, 2018
The 12 Days of Safety Myths
December 18, 2018
By Don Kostelec
The Safety House has so many lights strung upon it that it puts Clark Griswold’s abode to shame.
Context Sensitive Solutions. Complete Streets Policy. Active Transportation Plans. Corridor Studies. Environmental Justice. Heads Up. Vision Zero.
When we try to plug them into our communities, the results are the same as Clark’s: A massive build-up, great presentations, heightened expectations, drumroll, please…DRUMROLL…
I’m tired of the false promises. I’m tired of being strung along by the engineering profession, telling us that whatever their latest wave of buzzword practices will be finally be the solution that leads to safer streets for all road users.
The buzzwords seem to evolve but the actual engineering of streets doesn’t. In my nearly 18 years in this profession I feel like we’ve been exposed to three major phases of false promises.
Context Sensitive Solutions
This was the rage in the late 1990s and early 2000s. On the heels of major federal transportation legislation in the early 1990s, FHWA published its Flexibility in Highway Design manual in 1997. It states on page 15, Considering Scale:
- “People driving in a car see the world at a much different scale than people walking on the street… In many road designs, pedestrian needs were considered only after the needs of motorized vehicles. Not only does this make for unsafe conditions for pedestrians, it can also drastically change how a roadway corridor is used. Widening a roadway that once allowed pedestrian access to the two sides of the street can turn the roadway into a barrier and change the way pedestrians use the road and its edges.”
That was 21 years ago. They recognized the engineering process was predicated on first identifying and laying out the road for all the comfort needs of a motorist: Detailed vehicle level of service analysis, 85th percentile speed analysis, number of lanes, turning radii, etc. If a community was lucky enough to have sidewalks or bike lanes included, those features were last in line in the design process and simply slapped alongside the primary features for motorists. There was no integration of how the needs of people who walk or bike were influenced beyond the presence or absence of their own five-feet of space alongside the road.
Assessing the character or context of an area, both its human and natural environment, was identified as a key component to transportation engineering through that FHWA guide. It was meant to change the design paradigm and make the needs of not only active transportation users, but other facets of the environment, an input to the design and something that drove an authentic evaluation of the tradeoffs.