“We can’t eradicate dangerous human errors, but we can design our road systems to protect us.”


No matter your station in in life, here’s a reminder that if you fancy yourself “progressive,” but believe city streets are meant for the convenience of high-speed, pass-through traffic, and not to better serve the needs of a healthy neighborhood occupied by humans, then I’ve got some jarring news.

Turns out you’re not very progressive at all. That’s because street grid design is a social justice issue, too.

Beginning today, a new rule: any candidate for public office who fails to display a solid grasp of these issues won’t get my vote. We may be perfectly aligned otherwise, but if a candidate feels it best for cars to speed from one end of the city to the other on a street corrupted into a highway, sorry, no go.

In the following, the author focuses on speed limits, which as we know are only partially effective. Other design elements are probably more important. The point is to begin at the beginning: speed kills, and if safety is the goal, we should be doing what it takes to reduce vehicular speeds in neighborhoods.

Hey, Neighbor! Slow Down, Speed Matters, by Alli Henry (Walk Arlington)

Alli Henry is the Program Manager for WalkArlington. As an engaged Arlington resident, she spends her days advocating for creating walkable, livable and equitable neighborhoods.

It’s no secret – speed plays a major role in traffic related injuries and fatalities. With national traffic deaths on the rise, cities across the US are embracing safer street policies and lowering speed limits.

Most vehicle crashes can be prevented by avoiding dangerous behaviors like distracted driving, driving under the influence and excessive speeding. Yes – we’re all human and we make mistakes, but human error shouldn’t result in life or death situations. Studies have proven lowering speed limits is a highly effective tool in creating safer environments for all users (i.e. vehicles, bikes and pedestrians) to share the streets.

Boston and Seattle, recently joined a growing list of US cities that have reduced speed limits on arterial (fancy word for major roads) and neighborhood streets in the name of safety initiatives, such as Vision Zero. As highlighted in this Vision Zero video, “No loss of life is acceptable. The road systems need to keep us moving, but it must also be designed to protect us at every turn.”

Speed Matters
It’s no coincidence progressive cities are reducing speed limits to 20-25 mph. Research has determined that traveling above 30 mph puts our most vulnerable users at higher risk of serious injuries and death. A recent study published by Smart Growth America, identified people of color, lower-incomes and older adults as being the highest risk populations.

The graphic below, created by the City of Seattle, illustrates the varied chances of a person walking surviving a collision with a vehicle. Pedestrians have a 90% survival rate if stuck by a vehicle going 20 mph. Sadly, chances of survival are reduced to only 50% when a vehicle is going +10 MPH faster (30 mph).

There’s no single solution to make our streets safer; however, there are proven fixes we can collectively pursue. In addition to speed reductions, tougher school-zone enforcement, installing protected bike lanes and implementing “Complete Streets” are all becoming increasing popular tools.

What’s next?
It’s simple, take action! We must demand safer streets and holistic collaboration from our elected officials, engineers, urban planners, enforcement officers, educators and citizens. After all – we’re all in this together and every day we delay taking action leaves our communities and loved ones vulnerable.