11/23/2010

Road Design

Posted by MJ

Interesting insight into a Traffic Engineer and his thoughts on current road standards.

...In retrospect I understand that this was utter insanity. Wider, faster, treeless roads not only ruin our public places, they kill people. Taking highway standards and applying them to urban and suburban streets, and even county roads, costs us thousands of lives every year. There is no earthly reason why an engineer would ever design a fourteen foot lane for a city block, yet we do it continuously. Why?
The answer is utterly shameful: Because that is the standard.
In the engineering profession's version of defensive medicine, we can't recommend standards that are not in the manual. We can't use logic to vary from a standard that gives us 60 mph design speeds on roads with intersections every 200 feet. We can't question why two cars would need to travel at high speed in opposite directions on a city block, let alone why we would want them to. We can yield to public pressure and post a speed limit -- itself a hazard -- but we can't recommend a road section that is not in the highway manual.


When the public and politicians tell engineers that their top priorities are safety and then cost, the engineer's brain hears something completely different. The engineer hears, "Once you set a design speed and handle the projected volume of traffic, safety is the top priority. Do what it takes to make the road safe, but do it as cheaply as you can." This is why engineers return projects with asinine "safety" features, like pedestrian bridges and tunnels that nobody will ever use, and costs that are astronomical....
Rather important lessons to rememeber especially when it comes to the city and future road projects. If you make it easier and more comfortable for people to go fast, they will. No matter how many speed limit signs you may try to put up. Mutliple wide lanes, no cars parked on the streets, trees removed etc all cause dirvers to feel more comfortable going faster and cause them to pay less attention.

3 comments:

Rocketboy said...

Reminds me of this:

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=18217318

A small town in Germany removes all of it's street signs, and intentionally blurs the lines between vehicle, bicycle, and pedestrian traffic. And it seems to work.

It's why in most parts of the world, traffic circles are safer. They don't do a great job here, due to in part, unfamiliarity with the flow of traffic in a roundabout, unfamiliarity with the safe way to traverse one.

It's not to say that they never work, DC has a lot of traffic circles with pass through. I wouldn't qualify them as 'true' traffic circles, as there are lights, but the still do a pretty cracking job of dealing with high traffic in an intersection with more that one cross-road.

MJ said...

I think circles do just as good of a job here. Everyone is just scared of the unknown and the fear mongers pounce on it. There have been no issues with the new ones in Hamburg or those on Harlem in Cheektowaga. I've hit the three circles on Harlem (one being a double circle (figure 8)) during evening rush hour several times with out a hitch. And if I were to be in an accident it would be a low speed side swipe instead of a twice the speed T-bone.

We just do a good job being scared of the unknown and assuming people are too dumb to learn new things. If someone can't navigate a traffic circle they probably shouldn't be behind the wheel to begin with.

One the fun side they always do remind me of "Hey look kids, there's Big Ben!"

I think the worst accidents I've seen in Lockport have been at the Rt 78 and 93 intersection. A section of road built to higway standards that gives pretty bad results. I've personally seen cars rolled over on their sides 3 times in the 7 years I have been here.

Laurie said...

even we North town people are getting used to circles this fall-
the newly opened circle on Audubon with mixed UB Buses, student and traffic use seems to be going well,
And while I've heard complaints about tire marks in the grass around the new circle in Grand Island, it still looks better than the old asphalt mess.

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