Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Building safer streets means building walkable communities

How to make streets safer, and reduce the amount of people who are injured or killed due to the use of motor vehicles, is changing. Old ideas of reducing the injury and death rate due to motor vehicle usage focused on building safer cars, and roads with wide lanes, wide shoulders, and centre barriers. Other conventional ideas to improve traffic safety include graduated licensing, distracted driving laws, and anti-impaired driving laws.

The problem with building seemingly safer roads is that the design actually encourages more risky behavior and higher speeds. Regulating behaviour is hard to do, and there has been mixed success. These conventions ideas are focused around driving.

Todd Litman at the Victoria Transportation Policy Institute has released a new report titled, “The New Traffic Safety Paradigm.

He found that how we design our communities plays a larger role in reducing per capita traffic crash rates than focusing on conventional traffic safety ideas.

For example, building safer roads requires narrower lanes, not wider lanes as conventionally thought.

Building walkable downtowns, and communities with a variety of housing options within easy walking or cycling distance, reduces traffic crash rates. Building a connected street network that encourages walking with wider sidewalks, and cycling with protected bike lanes, reduces traffic crash rates. Building high-quality public transit reduces traffic crash rates.

Let’s say someone goes out to a pub with their friends and have a few. If they are in a community that is walkable and transit-friendly, they could walk or transit to and from the pub.

If their community isn’t walkable or transit-friendly, they would likely drive to the pub. The risk of making a poor travel decision when they leave the pub is increased.

The following table from Litman’s report shows that walkable communities that manage driving demand are safer communities with lower traffic fatality rates.

Traffic Death Rates For Selected Cities (Welle 2014 and USDOT Data). Select graph to enlarge.

Communities with 50 transit trips a year or more per capita are safer with reduced traffic fatality rates.

Transit Travel Versus Traffic Deaths in the U.S. Select graph to enlarge.

Langley City is a compact, walkable community though much of our road network was designed based on conventional ideas. I’m proud of the work that the City is now doing to design streets that encourage walking and cycling. Combined with our strong downtown and TransLink’s plan to improve transit service, Langley City is on the path to becoming a safer community with less traffic crashes per capita.

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