Skip to Content
Streetsblog New York City home
Streetsblog New York City home
Log In
Streetsblog

How Engineers Deflect Criticism of Their Dangerous Designs

As people who've tried to make their neighborhood streets safer for walking and biking can tell you, engineers are amazingly adept at shutting down dissent.

Chuck Marohn at Strong Towns -- an engineer himself -- knows the drill inside out (it inspired this classic animation from 2010). In a new post, he explains:

Transportation engineers can be intimidating. They are hard to oppose. When a member of the general public shows up at local meeting to express concern over a project -- for example, their quiet local street being widened as if it were a highway -- they more often than not find themselves verbally outgunned by the project engineer.

There are a handful of ways engineers deflect criticism. Chief among them is to resort to quoting industry standards. Having a huge budget and all the clout that comes with it doesn’t hurt either. There are, however, a number of reliable threads that I’ve heard engineers use time and again.

This last summer I wrote a series that looked at child pedestrians being killed in automobile collisions, the finale of which included this line: The engineering profession -- with a growing number of notable exceptions -- employs a systematic approach to design prioritizing the fast and efficient (but not safe) movement of automobiles over everything else. As a general rule, engineers show a conscious indifference to pedestrians and cyclists, misunderstanding their needs where they are not disregarded completely.

That post from last summer was picked up by an engineering thread on Reddit, where engineers offered a series of predictable defenses. From "the standards won't allow it" to "it's the politicians' fault" to "you're not an engineer so you wouldn't understand," Marohn broke down the comments into five categories. Check out his full post to see them all.

Elsewhere on the Network today: Cyclelicious writes about how bikes are helping people cope with natural disasters all over the globe right now. And The Urbanist reports on why some Seattle bus routes are using the shoulder of highways.

Stay in touch

Sign up for our free newsletter

More from Streetsblog New York City

New York City Roadway at Risk of Dramatic Decline As Deadline Looms

Fewer than two dozen restaurants are in the pipeline for roadside seating, according to public records.

July 12, 2024

Opinion: Congestion Pricing Is A Compromise

Alternatives paths to cut congestion and pollution and fund the MTA make congestion tolls look like a cheap parlor trick.

July 12, 2024

Friday’s Headlines: Department of Victim Blaming Edition

Traffic deaths in the city are on pace to reach their highest number since at least 2013 — and DOT is reportedly blaming "jaywalking." Plus more news.

July 12, 2024

‘Suburban’ Queens Stalwarts Take Hard Line Against Housing — To Rest of City’s Detriment

“That's what they bought in the suburbs for, that's why they raised their family in the suburbs," said Council Member Joann Ariola, whose district contains 14 subway stations.

July 11, 2024

DOT Seeks New Camera Enforcement Contract to Better Catch Obscured License Plates

The city's current contractor has let hundreds of thousands of reckless drivers off the hook.

July 11, 2024
See all posts