Faster Isn’t Better, and Cars Aren’t Safer

Much of the Streetsblog Network
seems to be distracted by the inauguration — who isn’t? — but we’ve
got some new stuff up there for you to think about if you can tear
yourself away from the wall-to-wall coverage.

1801508204_09abe29a51.jpgPhoto by happyshooter via Flickr.

From Detroit’s, some thoughts about how the American fetish for speed can actually prevent us from getting where we need and want to go:

Accessibility/new mobility — being able to readily get between locations — is more valuable than high-speed mobility.

Also, WalkBikeCT offers up an essay from Todd Litman of the Victoria Transport Policy Institute debunking the safety myth that surrounds travel by car,

air-tight excuse you’ll
so often hear from people who have just used their car for a short trip
that they could have easily made on bike, on foot, or, gasp — on the
bus. I know this excuse well, it’s one I’ve heard from many a friend,
and one I’ve shamefully employed myself on occasion.

The only real problem with this excuse is that it’s not actually true. Driving is not safe. It never was, and it isn’t now. Over 40,000 Americans die each year from automobile collisions. Any mode of travel that kills 40,000 people per year cannot rightfully be called "safe".

Also, the National Journal’s transportation blog challenges its experts to come up with improvements to the stimulus package, and Kaid Benfield at NRDC’s Switchboard looks at how transit has helped create an urban renaissance in Charlotte, NC.

  • bikerinsf

    …when planners continue to build roads to increase speed of cars, they continue to endanger car drivers (and bike and ped)… could it be argued that if Planning Departments are not building complete streets with reasonably moving traffic, they are being negligent and could be liable for any injury or death, be it car, bike, or pedestrian-related…

    …call it the ‘Better streets through lawsuits’ campaign?

  • Donovan b

    This is a great conversation to engage in. has it right that we need to reevaluate the meaning of mobility. We put so much emphasis on improving access for cars that we forget that other modes could do a better job with less space and lower cost. And getting around by bike or foot in a city is so much more enjoyable than in a car when you have the facilities designed for you – my year in Copenhagen disabused me of any lingering thought otherwise.

    I’m a little concerned by Todd’s piece, though. Not that I think he is wrong, but his reasoning is faulty enough that it wouldn’t stand up in a heated debate with an engineer. Mainly, we lack valid exposure data for any mode beyond cars, and perhaps transit, so making any meaningful safety comparisons is next to impossible. I hope no one continues to argue that driving is safe, but we need the sort of data collected across Europe to show just how much safer walking and biking can be.

    A last thought on risk. If we focus too much on it, we risk (no pun intended) staying with the status quo. Getting more people cycling, for example, could very well mean more bike accidents, in part because the newest riders have the least experience. Rather, we need to break completely from the myopic perspective of the traffic engineer and acknowledge there are a multitude of public policy goals that need to be balanced, including healthy lifestyles, climate change, limited resources in terms of limited street right-of-way, and plain quality of life in a city. Noisy cars degrade our everyday life and having fewer of them, and having those move more slowly, will improve the overall quality of life of residents.