“The coronavirus shutdowns are making more obvious a pre-existing epidemic of reckless street design.”


A related story yesterday:

The future of work, and of commuting to work, surely will be different.

It should surprise no one that in New Albany, a political process currently being held hostage by mayor and city council president has no room for responsiveness on ANY matter of importance, much less the perennially abused street grid.

I doubt their automobile centrism has abated with quarantine. We’ll see. My own period of detachment from involvement with public affairs originally was slated to expire on June 30.

We’ll see about THAT, too. Let’s have a look at genuine leadership out in Oakland.

Drivers Not Wanted on Oakland’s ‘Slow Streets’, by Laura Bliss (CityLab)

The California city isn’t the first to experiment with car restrictions in the coronavirus pandemic, but its plan to discourage drivers is the most extensive.

Last week, Oakland, California, announced a bold answer to shelter-in-place coronavirus claustrophobia: To create more outdoor space and safer corridors for essential travel by foot or bike, the city would restrict access to vehicles on nearly 74 miles of city street — about 10% of the city’s street network.

“In this unprecedented moment we must do everything we can to ensure the safety and well-being of all families across our city,” stated Mayor Libby Schaaf. “Closing roads means opening up our city.”

The “slow streets” initiative, which began on Saturday and will roll out in four segments through the duration of the coronavirus emergency, comes in response to citizen concerns about overcrowded conditions in parks and on sidewalks during the coronavirus lockdown. It’s not really a “closure,” despite the mayor’s phrasing: Emergency vehicles like police cars, fire trucks and ambulances are still permitted to enter these new pedestrian corridors, as are delivery vehicles and residential traffic. In fact, no drivers will be ticketed if they do drive on these streets.

The change is mostly a firm psychological nudge, said Warren Logan, the director of mobility policy and interagency relations in the Oakland mayor’s office. Confronted by a pair of traffic signs and a barricade blocking one lane, drivers now have to think twice about entering these streets. Many will consider taking a different route. And all will hopefully drive more mindfully when they enter a slow-streets zone — an increasingly important concern in cities where the relative absence of traffic has inspired a wave of speeding violations. “When they do turn into the street, they do it carefully,” Logan said.

After a week in action, Oakland officials say the streets are working as planned — no collisions, no reported instances of unsafe gathering, and more families able to move (and dance) at spacious distances. As if out of an earlier era, small children are riding bikes in the middle of the street without their parents needing to worry. “This is an opportunity to remember that these are our streets, not just streets for cars,” Logan said.

The same flawed HWC Engineering campaign donations-meet-street grid bait ‘n’ switch that wasn’t working prior to the pandemic hasn’t grown any more sensible with sheltering at home. It was crap then, and so it remains. 

Have Coronavirus Shutdowns Prompted an Epidemic of Reckless Driving? by Daniel Herriges (Strong Towns)

Reports from many cities indicate a surge in aggressive speeding, and with it, automobile crashes. The statistics are remarkable and alarming in light of how much traffic itself has declined, with many businesses closed and residents sheltering at home …

… The most common tendency I’ve seen in reporting of this phenomenon is to blame “reckless driving.” In other words, it’s just that people who have sociopathic and destructive urges are out there on the empty roads playing Ricky Bobby and indulging them, to tragic effect. Is that the whole story?

This pat answer is consistent with our societal bias toward always talking about traffic violence in terms of individual behavior: either it was just a tragic accident, or the people involved should have been paying more attention. Mainstream media rarely interrogate how street design induces drivers to behave in certain ways. Yet we’ve written about this again and again on Strong Towns, because the evidence is clear: when you design streets to make high speeds comfortable, you make tragedy statistically inevitable.

Over 40,000 Americans die in traffic in a normal year. The number of pedestrians alone killed by U.S. drivers from 2008 to 2017 averages out to one every 1 hour and 46 minutes. If we’re appalled by the level of carnage on our roads while most of us are sheltering in place, we should certainly be appalled by the level of carnage the rest of the time. If we think there’s an epidemic of reckless driving right now, it’s just a continuation of the epidemics of reckless driving that we witnessed in America in 2019, and 2018, and 2017, et cetera. The status quo isn’t anything to want to return to here.

The coronavirus shutdowns are making more obvious a pre-existing epidemic of reckless street design.