Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Traffic Philosophy

Note: I actually started this post back in late April but saved it since I was still organizing my thoughts about it. I give it to you now as some food for thought.

A month or so ago, there was a car accident at the busy corner near my house. A drunk driver was turning right and pulled out too far, into the far lane, and hit a car that was traveling the opposite way. The lady in the car that was hit left on a backboard in an ambulance, and the drunk driver was unharmed. This intersection is near the Clintonville Community Market, which is a very busy area with lots of pedestrian traffic. There are also a lot of very young children living in the area. Yet for whatever reason, there is no stop sign for vehicles traveling down Calumet at this corner - and cars tend to fly down Calumet.

After the accident was picked up, I was chatting with my neighbor, who is pretty active in our neighborhood association.

He was saying that there was a petition at one point to get a stop sign put in at that corner, making it a four-way stop, but that the city refused to do it because of some sort of automobile-centric traffic plan that the city engineers insisted upon.

And that leads me to this point: what is more important, traffic or people's safety? There are over 40,000 automobile-related deaths each year, a figure that continues to climb as cars get more and more prevalent. Yet we keep being told that more roads are the way to fix this problem - to reduce the congestion and speed people on their way.

Paul Dorn of The Bike Commute Tips Blog once posted that he thought (and I paraphrase) building more roads to control traffic is akin to building more cemeteries to control the plague. I agree with this remark. It always seems that traffic planners' only suggestion is to create more roads for cars, thinking that this won't lead to more cars being on the road.

I tend to think differently: if we want to control congestion in our cities, then the thing to do is to make driving LESS attractive as an option for transportation. Traffic planning should be considered with the following hierarchy:
  1. Pedestrians - those with no vehicle.
  2. Cyclists - those with non-powered vehicles.
  3. Mass transit - those powered vehicles that transport many people.
  4. Motorcycles and scooters - small powered vehicles.
  5. Automobiles - large powered vehicles.
Now keep in mind that I realize this hierarchy isn't perfect - some categorization for things like e-bikes and carpool motorists would need to be done. But the point is to encourage people NOT to drive cars.

This accomplishes many things (some of which the Bike Nazi addressed in his top ten reasons to commute by bike), including:
  1. Traffic congestion is reduced.
  2. Less pollution is pumped into the air.
  3. Less oil is used for transportation.
  4. Frustration and bad feeling on the road is decreased... thus leading to -
  5. Fewer accidents.
  6. Less city resources dedicated to roads and traffic, and therefore better used for things like schools, public works, etc.
The list can go on and on. It's really a no-brainer... but no politician is going to touch this sort of thought in the Midwest unless he's on the way out of office and has nothing to lose in his political life.

So.... thoughts?

3 comments:

  1. We have to start on a local level with a grass-roots organization. Prove changes work, then demand them as more people get on board. This flies under the radar of corporations that would prefer to keep us driving. Berkeley's bike boulevards are an example. Oakland is following slowly by striping (and planning to stripe even more) streets for bike lanes.

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  2. It takes thousands of calls, letters etc. to get a politicians attention. Until then?????

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  3. To be honest, I like what's going on up in Toronto. My post from today will tell more.

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