Charles Marohn on traffic safety

September 6, 2013

We don’t often just quote at length verbatim around here – OK, we do, but we don’t like to. Anyway, I just ran into this  insightful section on traffic safety from Charles Marohn’s blog on Strong Towns with which to send you along grimacing to your weekend:

An engineer designing a street or road prioritizes the world in this way, no matter how they are instructed:

  1. Traffic speed
  2. Traffic volume
  3. Safety
  4. Cost

The rest of the world generally would prioritize things differently, as follows:

  1. Safety
  2. Cost
  3. Traffic volume
  4. Traffic speed

In other words, the engineer first assumes that all traffic must travel at speed. Given that speed, all roads and streets are then designed to handle a projected volume. Once those parameters are set, only then does an engineer look at mitigating for safety and, finally, how to reduce the overall cost (which at that point is nearly always ridiculously expensive).

In America, it is this thinking that has designed most of our built environment, and it is nonsensical. In many ways, it is professional malpractice. If we delivered what society asked us for, we would build our local roads and streets to be safe above all else. Only then would we consider what could be done, given our budget, to handle a higher volume of cars at greater speeds.

Reading Marohn’s blog sometimes makes me feel like I’ve discovered one of the great secrets of the world. It’s well worth following.

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Category: Infrastructure, Road safety

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