NewYork,1928
St.Louis,1923
4 Ways Street Design Must Change [if you want to save human lives]
4 Ways Street Design Must Change [if you want to save human lives]
4 Ways Street Design Must Change [if you want to save human lives]
4 Ways Street Design Must Change [if you want to save human lives]
4 Ways Street Design Must Change [if you want to save human lives]
4 Ways Street Design Must Change [if you want to save human lives]
4 Ways Street Design Must Change [if you want to save human lives]
4 Ways Street Design Must Change [if you want to save human lives]
4 Ways Street Design Must Change [if you want to save human lives]
4 Ways Street Design Must Change [if you want to save human lives]
4 Ways Street Design Must Change [if you want to save human lives]
4 Ways Street Design Must Change [if you want to save human lives]
4 Ways Street Design Must Change [if you want to save human lives]
4 Ways Street Design Must Change [if you want to save human lives]
4 Ways Street Design Must Change [if you want to save human lives]
4 Ways Street Design Must Change [if you want to save human lives]
4 Ways Street Design Must Change [if you want to save human lives]
4 Ways Street Design Must Change [if you want to save human lives]
4 Ways Street Design Must Change [if you want to save human lives]
4 Ways Street Design Must Change [if you want to save human lives]
4 Ways Street Design Must Change [if you want to save human lives]
4 Ways Street Design Must Change [if you want to save human lives]
4 Ways Street Design Must Change [if you want to save human lives]
4 Ways Street Design Must Change [if you want to save human lives]
4 Ways Street Design Must Change [if you want to save human lives]
4 Ways Street Design Must Change [if you want to save human lives]
4 Ways Street Design Must Change [if you want to save human lives]
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4 Ways Street Design Must Change [if you want to save human lives]

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One of the stereotypes of engineers is that they are a conservative group of people. It's assumed that they go out of their way to make public infrastructure safe. Not just safe, but safe as safe can be!

When it comes to public streets, dangerous design is the norm.

The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) has encouraged engineers to change their philosophy and behavior for many years. This presentation describes four specific ways engineers need to change in order to remain relevant. And more importantly...to save human lives.

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  • 4 ways street design must change…but only if you want to be relevant.

    This is specifically targeted to transportation professionals, so there is some insider jargon.
  • Before we talk about how to improve street design, let’s consider why change is necessary.
  • There are lots of great history books on this topic. Modern American street design is not based on “best engineering practices” – it’s based on the expressed desires of the early 20th century auto industry. The car makers!

    Nowadays we’re accustomed to seeing all the expert advice come from civil engineers or transportation planners. It didn’t start that way. The foundation was laid by lobbyists, promoting their product. When people first started buying personal autos, they didn’t declare a “basic human right” to speed through busy neighborhoods.

    Don’t underestimate the power and influence of auto industry lobbyists. They changed the philosophy of engineering to promote high speed car travel. This wasn’t based on safety – it was based on selling more product.

    For a deeper dive, check out Peter Norton’s “Fighting Traffic”.
  • Newspaper cartoons like this used to be common. People used to be outraged by traffic crashes. The “modern-day Moloch”. Sacrifice your children to high-speed driving.

    In 2015, you’re most likely to read “pedestrian died after failure to yield”. People yawn. Another scofflaw jaywalker. Modern American society is programmed to think child sacrifice is just something we have to deal with. The price of progress.
  • For almost 20 years, FHWA and many state DOTs have talked about considering the context of a street before making any modifications. Even AASHTO – for 10 years – has talked about the importance of designing streets that are appropriate for walking and riding bicycles. And yet today’s new streets look a lot like 1995’s new streets.

    Maybe it’s all the constraints engineers have to deal with. Our industry likes to talk about context sensitive design in the abstract. “If only we could _____. But we can’t _____ because of the funding, design, and NEPA constraints.”

    Here are some specific examples…
  • “Transportation Alternatives Program” is a popular, but finite, source of money for bicycle and pedestrian projects. And all the safety trends like separated bike paths and road diets aren’t on the same level of importance as other transportation projects, right?
  • Planners have lots of ideas, but engineers have to follow the rules. If you use federal funds, you’re bound to AASHTO’s Green Book, which basically means wide, straight, fast highways. Right?
  • And since road diets are out of the question, bike paths have to be outside of public Right-of-Way, meaning you can’t get a Categorical Exclusion. Right?
  • Wrong. All of those assumptions. Wrong.
  • The alleged funding constraints…
  • …the design constraints…
  • …the environmental permitting constraints… all wrong.
  • There are many ways professional engineers can improve street design projects. I’m going to cover 4 that are critical.

    Critical for two reasons: (1) this will save human life, and (2) you want clients to hire you.

    And yes, I altered the title. Thanks for noticing. This is to remind you, the professional engineer, that your work should prioritize public safety above politics.
  • This may shock you, but AASHTO thinks you should use more than the AASHTO Green Book.

    The hardest part about this is that you have to BE AWARE of other design manuals. If you wait for your client to ask, you’re showing your ignorance. They’ll move on to another engineer.
  • All of these resources, except for the Virginia guide at the bottom, are regularly cited by FHWA and AASHTO.

    The internet is your friend. Find these resources. Get familiar with them. USE THEM.
  • Considering the way professional engineers use AASHTO as an excuse, this is a pretty compelling quote:

    “All roads, streets, and highways, except those where bicyclists are legally prohibited, should be designed and constructed under the assumption that they will be used by bicyclists.”

    In other words, anything that isn’t functioning like an interstate will have people riding bikes.
  • This is AASHTO, not an urban planning think tank in Copenhagen.

    Design and construct all your regular streets so that all your regular people can ride bikes.
  • Design manuals include steps for applying for exceptions. SO THAT YOU WILL APPLY FOR EXCEPTIONS.

    This does highlight the fundamental problem that American standards are *still* archaic. Safe design should be the standard, not the exception. But this is the situation we’re in. Let’s make the most of it.

    The standards vs. exceptions conversation is where engineers let their cautious personality interfere with good work. Don’t be afraid of exceptions – even if they delay your project! If you insist on taking the fast path (using dangerous design), your work will cause more injuries and deaths. Are you a cautious, conservative problem solver? Then stop making excuses about why you designed dangerous streets. Use the exceptions to create safer streets.
  • MUTCD is another manual that takes a lot of blame. They have an entire section that says you should talk with them. That’s how innovation happens. By reaching out and having a conversation.
  • It may bring some relief to know that most things engineers in Virginia think of as wild or extreme have already been tested by FHWA. An MUTCD exception is probably not going to be difficult.

    Guidance on NHS Design Standards and Design Exceptions: http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/design/standards/qa.cfm
    MUTCD Experimentation Process: http://mutcd.fhwa.dot.gov/condexper.htm
    FHWA Design Flexibility Memorandum: http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/environment/bicycle_pedestrian/guidance/design_flexibility.cfm
  • The transportation industry is terrific at using proven solutions. Solutions like more turn lanes, wider travel lanes, widening recovery zones, more stop lights – solutions proven to deliver more injury and death.

    Use proven SAFETY solutions. FHWA has a terrific resource on their website that focuses on nine. http://safety.fhwa.dot.gov/provencountermeasures/
  • Proven safety measures would included engineering features like roundabouts, road diets, and pedestrian-friendly intersections.

    Proven safety measures would NOT be things like double-left turns and free-flow rights.
  • This gives people heartburn. The reason FHWA lets you design narrow streets is that narrow streets are safer. And not just on any street, but the National Highway System.

    FHWA’s point is that you shouldn’t turn your community streets into highways just because they have a “U.S. Route” designation.
  • You’re human. You have an opinion. But don’t let your opinion interfere with street design that has been PROVEN to be safer than the industry status quo.
  • Speed kills. Every non-engineer knows this to be true. And yet streets continue to be engineered for high-speed traffic.

    Want to save lives right now? Redesign your streets for calm vehicle traffic.

  • The 85th percentile method is just one way of determining speed limits. This has been severely abused in the U.S., leading to high-speed corridors through populated areas.

    Here’s what happens if you stick with the 85th percentile:
    Neighbors notice that cars are speeding on a 25 MPH street, so they call local politician.
    Politician demands a speed study; engineers get to work.
    Engineers document that 85th percentile speed is 34 MPH, so they recommend increasing limit to 35 MPH.
    Neighbors left feeling furious that danger has increased.

    This might be hard for engineers to believe. Here’s an FHWA resource: http://safety.fhwa.dot.gov/speedmgt/ref_mats/fhwasa12004/
  • Let’s recap. There are four specific ways professional engineers need to change how streets are designed. (You can probably think of lots more, but let’s stick with the four I brought up.)

    Embrace diversity. AASHTO even wants you to explore other options.
    Test ideas. Some of the industry’s greatest accomplishments began as exceptions to rules.
    Protect the public. There are some engineering methods that are proven to improve public safety. Use them.
    Slow down traffic. Counterintuitive for traffic engineers, but status quo opinions don’t change facts. Speed kills.
  • My assumption is that you, the professional engineer, want to remain relevant. You want to improve human lives. You want to win more work and increase revenues. You want to delight your clients.

    Be relevant – design streets for people. Create places that are safe and comfortable for the basic modes of transportation – walking and bicycling.

    The NSPE Code of Ethics begins with this statement: “Hold paramount the safety, health, and welfare of the public.”

    If you elevate safety above politics, industry status quo, and your own opinions, then you will deliver great work.
  • 4 Ways Street Design Must Change [if you want to save human lives]

    1. 1. NewYork,1928 St.Louis,1923

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