Traffic deaths and urban design

An Iowa street, posted by a Montreal traffic engineer on

An Iowa street, posted by a Montreal traffic engineer on

Public Square, an online urban affairs news digest from the Congress for the New Urbanism, has listed its 10 most-read posts for 2016.

2016-08-cnu-chart-fatalitiesTop of the list is “The morbid and mortal toll of sprawl,” by contributor Robert Steuteville. The writer draws a link between high crash rates and wide, fast suburban roadways, based on a study of California cities. He suggests that if you choose to live in a post-1950 suburb with wide arterials and high speed limits, watch out. If your Main Street is narrow with lots of traffic lights — like Main Street, Vancouver or Columbia Street, New Westminster — you’re more likely to survive as a driver or pedestrian. It’s obviously an appealing argument for readers of Public Square.

“We have designed and built thoroughfares for 50-plus years to allow drivers to feel comfortable driving carelessly. These thoroughfares, built with “forgiving design,” encourage drivers to step on the gas in highly populated urban areas, and pure physics increases stopping distances and impact forces geometrically.”

Steuteville provides a graph indicating that in one recent year (2013), the US rate of traffic deaths was very high compared to rates in other rich countries. He does not explain why a diverse batch of countries including Spain, Slovenia and Belgium were in the same league as the US in the 2010 reporting year.


2 responses

  1. What’s interesting is the massive drop between 2000 and 2013 for every nation. Perhaps cars are better built, restraint systems are working and more sensors ate having an impact. But, in the end, won’t we be in autonomous vehicles in 15 or 20 years?

    • Aha. I did not mention in my very brief post that Steuteville makes reference to a spike in U.S. traffic deaths in the first half of 2016. He suggests that with lower fuel prices people have been driving further and increasing their chances of getting into a crash.

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