Stopping Traffic Violence

 

All people deserve to be able to get to where they're going without fear for their safety.  The paramount duty of designing and engineering a transportation system is ensuring people are safe.

 

Unfortunately, too often our streets and roads are unsafe, leading to unnecessary serious injuries and death.  In Snohomish County, more than 40 people die every year in traffic crashes.

Many of these crashes involved behavioral issues such as intoxication, speeding, and not wearing a seatbelt.  However, many jurisdictions from around the world have proven that when transportation and public works departments focus on engineering and designing roads and streets to be inherently safe, then these behavioral problems do not result in the tragic loss of life.

By designing streets to be calmer, slower, and more predictable — and by designing streets for the safety of the most vulnerable users of the system: people walking, biking, and with disabilities — drivers have more time to react.

This approach to traffic safety that prioritizes roadway engineering is called the "Safe System Approach" (also known as "Vision Zero").

Behavioral modification efforts, such as enforcement and education, are not traditionally considered part of the Safe Systems Approach.  That's because its fundamental, underlying philosophy is that roads and streets can and must be designed and engineered to be inherently safe, rendering enforcement and education strategies unnecessary. 

 

Still, enforcement and education, of course, are still necessary as a matter of harm reduction.  Behavioral modification strategies can provide a bridge from today's unsafe roads to a future with inherently safe streets.  Because enforcement can have a negative impact on people of color (such as racially-motivated pretextual traffic stops that lead to escalated interactions with police), it's important that behavioral modification strategies are used minimally and effectively.

The Federal Highway Administration and Washington State Department of Transportation are making a big moves to encourage the widespread adoption of the Safe Systems Approach.  As the national movement builds, Snotrac works with local jurisdictions to implement these best practices.

A Few Best Practices for Designing Safe Streets
  • Calm traffic through lower speed limits, narrower vehicle lanes, fewer vehicle lanes, curb bulbs and chicanes, and speed humps and tables.

  • Give pedestrians a head-start at signalized intersections.

  • Build sidewalks on both sides of the street.

  • Eliminate driveway curb cuts, and implement land uses patterns with buildings that go up to the sidewalk rather than surrounded by a parking lot.

  • Establish dedicated and protected space for people biking on arterial streets. Use concrete curbs, jersey barriers, and planter boxes to physically protect bike lanes.

  • Create networks of calmed residential streets where people of all ages and abilities can feel safe walking and biking in the street, designed for 15 mph traffic.

  • Don't give up on safety at intersections.  Implement "protected intersections" for people biking.

  • Shift enforcement from police officers to traffic cameras.

A few things Snohomish County jurisdictions can do:

Here in Snohomish County, the county and cities can be more proactive in implementing the Safe System Approach by:

  1. Adopting Vision Zero / Safe Systems Approach as policy, and establishing safety of all roadway users, especially vulnerable users, as paramount over vehicle throughput.

  2. Establishing strong ADA Transition, pedestrian, bicycle, complete streets, and safe routes to school/parks plans.

  3. Creating 4-year early implementation plans of ADA, bike, and pedestrian infrastructure, based on its long-range plans.

  4. Seeking local, regional, state, and federal funding for the 4-year plans.

What Snotrac does:

  • Provide thought leadership through guest speakers and presentations to community groups.

  • Review jurisdictions' transportation plans and funding priorities.

  • Review planned engineering designs of specific roadway projects.