Do Shiny New Roads “Only Make Idiots More Dangerous”?

We hear the arguments again and again from DOTs: they need to widen highways and expand interchanges to improve safety on the nation’s roads.

Streetsblog Network member The Political Environment, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, sees it differently: 

3371733664_98b68c311e_m.jpgPhoto of the Marquette Interchange in Milwaukee by TracyJ_Brown via Flickr.

[M]ost fatalities on the road are caused by speed, alcohol or other factors tied to driver inattentiveness or indifference, and spiffy new lanes and perfect pavement only makes these menaces more dangerous.

Twice in the last two weeks — once on Madison’s beltline heading west and once in the gaudy new Marquette Interchange — I was nearly sideswiped by motorists on my right who changed lanes without looking… I find the new Marquette more hazardous for motorists who want to exit westbound at 26th or 35 St. as they have to move quickly to the right into traffic coming from behind coming downhill from high ramps feeding in from the Hoan Bridge or I-43 south.

The new Marquette induces speeding — smooth pavement, gravity, the perception that the whole machine’s alleged efficiencies are there to make your trip faster have created a Death Valley in the interchange just past the Marquette University campus.

It’s the stupidity factor that kills people on the highways, and I am convinced that WisDOT’s rebuilding and redesigning schemes only make idiots more dangerous.

A recent article in Popular Mechanics came to a similar conclusion.

More from around the network: WashCycle writes about the advantages of lefty bike lanes; Cap’n Transit wonders what to do about transit labor costs; and the National Journal wonders whether reducing vehicle miles traveled should be a national transportation goal.

  • We should value people more than property.

    Instead of a primary focus on the number of crashes, we should focus much more on the number of injuries and fatalities. It’s clearly important to reduce the frequency of crashes. However, if the trade off are low-speed, low severity crash types for a smaller number of higher-speed, higher-severity crash types, we’ve hurt safety.

    If more people die or get hurt, safety has been harmed. If we have fewer fender benders, property has been saved. Usually this false victory is simply reframing “convenience” into “safety”. It’s sad that it’s so politically convenient to accept more tragic human harm. It’s even more sad that this is the political reality when there are so many models that have demonstrated sustainable success with reducing traffic injuries and fatalities.

  • v

    on the other hand, i hit a pothole the other day and flipped over the handlebars on my bike. and then yesterday swerved to miss one and almost got hit by a car.

    i guess i’m kinda clumsy though.

  • > i guess i’m kinda clumsy though.

    take your lane

  • Ugghh…. More blind belief that left side bike lanes are actually a good thing. If NYC didn’t run so many buses I could easily say that there is never enough reasons to put a lane on the left as a matter of default.

    While there are some advantages those advantages are more than negated by the disadvantages. The disadvantages include:

    1 – They violate a basic rule of the road where slower traffic is to stay to the right and faster traffic to pass on the left. They also reinforce a riding technique that is illegal in many places without the lane (riding on the left side of a one-way is illegal in many places and where it is, it is only legal where one needs to make a left as is the case in New Jersey).

    2 – They promote illegal contraflow riding. Many left side bike lanes are ridden in the wrong direction by many riders. (As an aside, left side bike lanes in other countries and in Minnesota are typically designed and intended for contraflow riding on one-way streets. Germany and other European countries come to mind. This technique would seem to violate rules already established in other places).

    3 – They expose cyclists to faster and therefore more dangerous motor vehicle traffic traveling in the left lane.

    4 – They are often used as a “cop-out” when designers are not allowed to put a bike lane outside of the doorzone on the right side of the street. This was the case in Hoboken where designers put the bike lane in the doorzone on the left because the left door is less likely to open. (It could be also argued that this design violated New Jersey’s last bicycle facility design manual.)

    5 – The driver of a parked car is less likely to be aware of an approaching cyclist as he pulls away from the curb and into the left side bike lane. Drivers have much less situational awareness on the right side and right rear of a car and the blind spots are bigger.

    6 – If the street transitions to one-way to two-way operations it is very difficult to transition the bicyclist from the left to the right.

    Now, there are times when a bike lane needs to be on the left side of a one-way street, like when approaching a bike path into a park or a major bridge but to place the lane on the left as a matter of practice does not in my opinion compensate for all of the problems that the practice creates.

  • I \v/ NY

    its common knowledge that the more comfortable and safe motorists feel inside their car the more risks they are willing to take in driving.

    and then of course streets are designed for motorist safety first and foremost… traffic engineers are more concerned about the safety of a careless motorist careening off the road at high speeds than the innocent pedestrian walking down a sidewalk. hence why street trees are purposefully not placed along many roads. the tree could protect the pedestrian from impact but is seen as a dangerous object in traffic engineers eyes.

    and arent pedestrians actually called something like “traffic impediments” in traffic engineering literature?

  • Oh yeah! One more!

    7 – While a passenger side door is less likely to open, the passenger does not have the aid of the mirrors to look to the rear before s/he opens the door into a doorzone left side bike lane.

  • Trees in traffic-eng literature are Fixed Hazardous Objects, or FHOs.

    (I vastly prefer left-side bike lanes.)

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