CityLab Article: Why Speed Kills Cities

This great article shares many facts about why slowing streets down is so important in urban areas.

CityLab, Andrew Small, August 8, 2019 — via LinkedIn
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Here are some quotes from the article…


“A recent report from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety estimates that rising speed limits in the United States have led to an additional estimated 37,000 deaths over the past 25 years. “We know that very small changes in speed can have big consequences for pedestrians,” says Jessica Cicchino, the vice president of research at IIHS. “A pedestrian struck at 25 miles per hour has 25 percent chance of being seriously injured—but that climbs to a 50 percent chance at 33 miles per hour.” Importantly, lower speed limits also reduce the number of crashes, as an IIHS study found last year in Boston after it lowered its default speed in 2017.”

“Speed kills in a more abstract sense, too. Building urban roads that can handle a large number of vehicles traveling at 35 miles per hour and up means making them wider, with fewer curves. High-speed highways and street-level limited-access urban thoroughfares famously do a host of bad things to those who live nearby or underneath these big hostile barriers. What’s less discussed is what they’re doing to the people inside the cars.”

“You move through a space and you dwell in a place,” Sennett told CityLab’s Ian Klaus last year. “It’s a distinction for me that has to do with speed and automobiles. When people start driving at a certain speed, they lose awareness of where they are. … Where this gets reflected in urbanism is the more we create spaces where people move fast, the less they understand about what those spaces are. At about 28 or 30 mph people, moving through an urban environment stop being in a place and are in space instead.”

“…simply dropping speed limits isn’t the answer; street design itself—not enforcement or signage—is the most powerful governor of driver behavior.”

“The time benefits one gets from boosting speeds in urban areas can end up being surprisingly modest: In downtown streets, the difference between a 25 mph commute and 45 mph commute is roughly an additional 48 seconds for every three-quarters of a mile traveled…”

“Billy Riggs, an assistant professor at the University of San Francisco School of Management and a planner who consults on the future of transportation, says autonomous vehicles, and lower speeds, could allow cities to devote less room to cars by redesigning street infrastructure. “It’s speed and uncertainty that requires such wide roads for human-operated cars,” says Riggs. AV-optimized streets would require fewer signals and intersections—and fewer conflict points between different travel modes. “If city traffic travels slow enough, you could imagine a yielding pocket for vehicles to engage with smoother and operating on much less roadway. A gracious road for pedestrians and cyclists is promising as a feature for autonomous vehicles.””

“The most stubborn barrier to slowing down the city may be the psychological one: It involves changing user expectations for how roads are supposed to operate. Some states have what are called level of service standards, which require roads to carry a certain number of vehicles per hour, or they place restrictions on cities from lowering speed limits. Riggs says that means city leaders need to expend political capital to fight for those changes. “If you talk at any public meeting about slowing streets, you have citizens who are going to be asking if they going to be delayed. There’s going to be friction as we apportion our street in a way that facilitates the future of traveling.”

“There was no one paying attention in that seat,” he says. “There is a tendency to want to travel faster than we should, and in unsafe ways. Hopefully, we’re going to be able to engineer out that risky behavior.”

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