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.

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