“Engineers design streets for speeds well above the posted limit, so that speeding drivers will be safe—a practice that, of course, causes the very speeding it hopes to protect against.”


See also: Charles Marohn’s “The Five Ways Engineers Deflect Criticism.”

The title of this post is explained by Jeff Speck, right here, but before we consider the “questionable applications of data” on the part of traffic (or “transportation”) engineers, resulting in streets intended to accommodate automotive speed at the expense of wider societal safety, here is Speck again to metaphorically explain what HWC Engineering has done to his wonderful walkability plan for New Albany.

The relevant passage is in bold.

Speck: Resist the urge to make every street a highway

Urban design expert Jeff Speck — who has made repeated appearances in Des Moines — says transportation engineers often see every new street as a chance to build a highway.

That’s a mistake in an era when streets need to be designed to meet diverse community needs, including the ability to walk through an area without crossing four to eight lanes of speedy traffic.

Speck, who runs his own consulting firm and teaches at Harvard University, writes in a blog post in The Atlantic: “Even when traffic engineers have the best intentions, too many simply lack the tools to make successful places. In the typical American city, asking a traffic engineer to design a walkable street is like asking a hammer to insert a screw.”

Of course, HWC’s merry hammering at screws is occurring according to the wishes of a City Hall that brains long ago forgot. Speck’s New Albany streets study might as well have been written in Gaelic, insofar as Mayor Jeff Gahan is concerned. Sections applicable to campaign finance beak-wetting were retained for modification beyond recognition, and the rest was flushed.

The result?

Speck’s amazing and transformative principles of walkability now have been truncated to achieve entirely unrelated imperatives, like paving envy and federal monies (see “beak wetting,” above), as well as abject capitulation to trucking interests; hence the grainy, filler-stuffed sausage, and a two-way street grid plan stripped of most ancillary usefulness — but just as with the elevation of the Mighty Trumpolini, Nawbanians elected Gahan, and now you get exactly what you want, good and hard, in the form of a city being built according to his atrophied, sleight-of-hand, Mickey Mouse “vision.”

That felt great, so back to the point: Here’s how traffic engineers knowingly build streets fit only for speeding cars.

Why The Rules Of The Road Aren’t Enough To Prevent People From Dying, by Anna Maria Barry-Jester (FiveThirtyEight)

… In 2013, 32,719 people died in motor vehicle crashes in the United States, and 2.3 million were injured, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Those numbers were down from the previous year, but motor vehicle crashes remain a leading cause of death, and speed is a leading cause of accidents. The NHTSA estimates a $277 billion annual price tag for those accidents, with an additional $594 billion for “harm from the loss of life and the pain and decreased quality of life due to injuries.”

Given the social and economic toll of speeding, one might assume that we set speed limits with careful calculations aimed at maximizing safety. But that’s not exactly how it works, and a history of questionable applications of data is partly to blame.