Monday, April 21, 2014

Shared-Use Streets

One of the things that I’ve been thinking about lately is how to make urban streets safer while promoting their multi-modal use. In theory, there is a transportation hierarchy with pedestrians on the top, followed by cyclists, than transit user, and finally motorist. In practice, this isn’t the case.

On the rare occasion when two pedestrians have a time/space conflict on a street, there is usually no bodily harm. While there are a few known cases of bodily harm and even fatality when a pedestrian and cyclists collide on a street, most of the time the only result is bad feelings. On the rare occasion when two cyclists collide on a street, there is a higher case of bodily harm.

When a motor vehicle and a pedestrian, or a motor vehicle and a cyclists collide, you are almost guaranteed bodily harm for the pedestrian/cyclists with a higher chance that the collision will result in a fatality. The risk of a collision, and a fatal collision, is higher at higher speeds.

Pedestrians and cyclists colliding with each other is a rare occurrence due to their slower travel speeds.

When higher speed motor vehicle traffic is desired, the best solution is to separate pedestrians, cyclists, and motorists. For pedestrians and cyclists off-street trails, sidewalks, and separated bike lanes/cycle paths should be built, but what about when you want to slow down motor vehicle traffic?

While it sounds counter-intuitive, one of the ways to make roads safer is to raise the perceived risk to drivers by introducing ambiguity into who has the right-of-way. This is one of the reasons why roundabouts are safer than traffic lights. It is also why you don’t often hear about people being mowed down by vehicles on Granville Island or in your typical parking lot.

In areas where slower vehicle speeds are desired, speed limits could be lowered to 30km/h. In addition, drivers could be notified that pedestrians and cyclists have equal right-of-way on the street eliminating the notion of jaywalking for example. By fuzzing who has right-of-way, no road users would feel like they have guaranteed right-of-way. This would make all road users more aware of each other and would actually result in a safer street. It would also build streets that promote walking and cycling.

Would you make the Langley Bylaw or 200th Street a shared-use street? Certainly not. But could you make shared-use streets in places like Downtown Langley or Fort Langley? Certainly.

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