Saturday, September 13, 2014

The Way Ahead to Modern, Safe, Streets--AAA, AARP and CROW


     …or tackling our poor highway safety performance now costing 15,000 fatalities a year compared to the safety rates leading nations like England, Norway and Sweden

Alert!  U.S. streets unsafe for all who walk, bike and travel by car!  With twice the fatality rate per vehicle mile of England, Sweden and Norway more than 15,000 die in the U.S. from poor safety performance.   Once first in highway safety, the U.S. now ranks 15th (Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development).

In different ways, sets of letters reflect policies and street designs the United States must adopt if we are to decrease the truly gruesome results of trying to get from here to there by foot, bicycle and car on our streets and highways—particularly for walking and bicycling modes increasingly in demand and growing as the historic carcentricity era slowly recedes into history following an undeserved overwhelming dominance for more than a century.

Ironically, car drivers complain about bicyclists and walkers clogging urban streets while they themselves and their passengers die at an alarming rate!  Moreover, the changes in safety infrastructure addressing walk and bike safety—cycle track and roundabouts—directly reduce car occupant carnage too.  Decision makers call this “win win.” 

AAA   AAA (the American Automobile Association) truly gets it as the leading representative of auto interests for decades.  Their recent study found the costs of vehicle accidents in large metropolitan areas were twice the cost of congestion and even in small metros were far higher than congestion costs.  AAA simply calls for a White House Safety Summit and for that Summit to adopt a “0 Fatality Rate” policy and put the nation to work on highway safety in an effective way.

AARP   With the U.S. in just a few decades experiencing an increase of their senior population growing from 10 to 20 percent, the American Association of Retired Persons, AARP, developed policies of interest to the older generation and when it comes to transportation “livable streets” and safe streets lead their policies.   Seniors drive less and walk and, potentially, bike more.  But obviously unsafe urban streets, AARP became a leader in the “complete streets” movement which in most cases means at least a recognition of the problem and minimal treatments to address the needs of the walk an bike modes.  Still, AARP does take the unusual step of touting and strongly supporting intersection safety, particularly replacing traffic signals with modern roundabouts.  Half of all senior driver deaths on American roads occur at intersections compared to less than a quarter of all fatalities—and roundabouts cut serious injuries and fatalities for car occupants and walkers as well as providing improved safety for cyclists.  Seniors lack one physical element important for their safety, a decreased ability to judge approach speeds so important to merging and intersection entry decisions, a problem cured by the lower speeds and reduced conflicts afforded by the roundabout.

CROW  The CROW  manual clusters all the knowledge about road safety in the Netherlands  and the aptly titled CROW “design manual for bicycle traffic”, already popular in England, is quickly becoming the design guide of choice for street cycle design in the United States.  The CROW bicycle design manual is critically important as it contains the design for urban and rural roundabout designs with pathing for cyclists which cyclists identify as the safest type of intersection.  The Dutch design manuals only include single lane roundabouts—if more than a one lane roundabout is required then bike and vehicle modes are separated, far easier in a nation with no hills and valleys than the typical American landscape.  Still a Swedish study does show that properly designed there is a safety gain for cyclists at a two-lane roundabout over a traffic signal—and less delay and other benefits.

These three sets of letters show some of the ways the United States need to go to bring safety to our streets for all modes.  The French, for example, may have the best comprehensive highway safety programming in a nation with the highest number of roundabouts in the world.  In 1970 France had a third higher rate of fatalities per vehicle mile  than the U.S. but today their rate is a third less than the U.S.  If the U.S. could attain the French highway fatality rate, 5,000 less Americans would die each year on the streets and highways.  It is all about safe streets.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Winooski Circle NOT a Roundabout

The Winooski circle can best be described as a traffic circle, an oval or a traffic circulator (Daryl Benoit's description--he is former CCRPC staffer).  What Winooski's facility is not--it is not a modern roundabout

Best example, take three of the 120-foot diameter Shelburne Street roundabouts (as designed for construction in 2017), or three of the Montpelier downtown Keck Circles, or three of the Middlebury roundabouts—three of these fit inside the Winooski facility with plenty of room to spare.   Or, drop six of the 90-foot diameter full-service Manchester Center Grand Union roundabouts, still room to spare inside the Winooski circulator.  Take two of the two-lane 172-foot diameter Brattleboro Keene Turn roundabouts and they fit easily inside the Winooski facility.  

Big diameters means high speed, means higher crash rates.  Solution to Winooski--tear out the middle area and put too normal sized two-lane roundabouts and provide lots of resulting unused space to the businesses which front the north/west/east sides of the street.  This means, for example, no more going through the sidewalk "squeeze" at Sneakers, safe walk mode crossings all round, and much slower speeds.  Besides the inside area gets no use at all now. 

Current roundabout practice for urban areas with walk and bike mode use are 90-130 feet diameter for a single laner and 150-180 feet diameter for a two laner.  All 10 Vermont busy street roundabouts (plus two under construction) conform to these diameter ranges. 

Roundabouts are all about safety and cut overall serious injury and fatality rates by about 90%.  Ditto for single lane roundabouts for walk mode.  Seniors are particularly vulnerable at intersections when walking or driving.  While a quarter of all fatalities in the U.S. occur at intersections, more than half all senior driver fatalities occur at signed or signaled intersections.  Except for depth perception senior drivers ability equals that of younger drivers.  Not a single walk fatality has yet occurred at the more than 4,000 U.S. roundabouts since the first roundabout was built in 1990 in Las Vegas.  No wonder AARP advocates replacing existing traffic circles with roundabouts.  But here in Burlington our walker fatality rate at our 75 signalized intersections is about one per decade plus lots of serious injuries during recent years.

The Burlington Walk Bike Council seeks a demonstration roundabout next summer at an all-way stop intersection so all our residents can have some first hand experience with a roundabout without having to go to Middlebury, Manchester or Montpelier downtowns.  Also on VT 15 there are roundabouts in Cambridge, Hyde Park and a new one under construction in Morrisville (Waterbury US 2/VT 100 on Main Street also under construction).

Finally, for New York State Department of Transportation “roundabouts first” policy dates from 2005 and now is the approach of other state departments in Virginia, Rhode Island, Florida and Maryland.  Vermont was the first to have a state law requiring consideration of a roundabout at any dangerous intersection because of the safety improvement offered by the roundabout.  It’s the law!

San Francisco and Seattle Trail Walkable Manchester Center, VT?

Yes, up to the last few years the current three-roundabout corridor in Manchester dwarfed major cities like San Francisco and Seattle when in came to walk-mode safe single lane modern roundabouts.  Actually just about any downtown with one of the roughly 4,000 roundabouts nationwide tops New York City which has a zero tolerance of the roundabout which aided several European nations including France pass the United State in highway safety performance over the last two decades (the U.S. once first in 1970 now ranks about 14th and seems to continue falling).

Transportation Alternatives, a pro-walk/bike and safe streets organization in New York City told Vermont's walk/bike summit earlier this year one cannot find a single roundabout in that City while the rest of New York state whose roads are a state responsibility operate on the first U.S. state policy of "roundabouts first" in place since 2005.  If  New York Mayor Diblasio truly pursues a "0 fatality rate" on his City streets he must abandon the City's "0 roundabouts" policy as the U.S. roundabouts cut serious injuries and fatalities by about 90%--single laners with proper design cut walk/bike mode fatalities by about 90%.

Yes, Seattle is the home of traffic calming circles on local streets dozens of them--but hardly a roundabout to be found on a major busy street intersection.  Ditto for San Francisco home of an aggressive bike organizations.  San Francisco?  Well it is one of 22 U.S. cities with special federal programming for major cities with extraordinarily high walk mode injury rates. Again in spite of roundabout training (one in 2007 by the New York State  roundabout leader Howard McCulloch at a Firsherman's Wharf hotel) had nary a roundie at that time.

So, if you want to see roundabouts in a community place there as the result of a 1995 plan for the self-proclaimed "5th Avenue in the Mountains" take a trip to Manchester Center, VT--its Main Street truly walkable.  The other half of their plan for Depot Street removes the only remaining traffic signals and will likely include cycle track (protected bike lanes) thereby creating an ideal shopping experience in a walkable/bikable environment--New York City, San Francisco and Seattle take note!