This is a fascinating & provocative article from law professor Gregory Shill: Americans Shouldn’t Have to Drive, but the Law Insists on It. The first line of the piece sets the stage: “In a country where the laws compel the use of cars, Americans are condemned to lose friends and relatives to traffic violence.”
Let’s begin at the state and local level. A key player in the story of automobile supremacy is single-family-only zoning, a shadow segregation regime that is now justifiably on the defensive for outlawing duplexes and apartments in huge swaths of the country. Through these and other land-use restrictions-laws that separate residential and commercial areas or require needlessly large yards-zoning rules scatter Americans across distances and highway-like roads that are impractical or dangerous to traverse on foot. The resulting densities are also too low to sustain high-frequency public transit.
Further entrenching automobile supremacy are laws that require landowners who build housing and office space to build housing for cars as well. In large part because of parking quotas, parking lots now cover more than a third of the land area of some U.S. cities; Houston is estimated to have 30 parking spaces for every resident. As UCLA urban planning professor Donald Shoup has written, this mismatch flows from legal mandates rather than market demand. Every employee who brings a car to the office essentially doubles the amount of space he takes up at work, and in urban areas his employer may be required by law to build him a $50,000 garage parking space.
Cars and car ownership are massively subsidized on a state, local, and federal level and our laws and regulations have built a nation where cars are mandatory and “driving is the price of first-class citizenship”.
Why are we taxing bus riders to pay rich people to buy McMansions and luxury electric SUVs?
And this speed limit thing is just eye-poppingly fucked up:
The National Transportation Safety Board has determined that speed is a top risk factor in motor vehicle crashes. Yet the most prominent way of setting and adjusting speed limits, known as the operating speed method, actually incentivizes faster driving. It calls for setting speed limits that 85 percent of drivers will obey. This method makes little provision for whether there’s a park or senior center on a street, or for people walking or biking.
As a matter of law, the operating speed method is exceptional. It enables those who violate the law-speeding motorists-to rewrite it: speed limits ratchet higher until no more than 15 percent of motorists violate them. The perverse incentives are obvious. Imagine a rule saying that, once 15 percent of Americans acquired an illegal type of machine gun, that weapon would automatically become legal.
This thread reminds me of when I lived in Beaverton, Oregon. Just two thirds of a block from the largest, busiest intersection in the state: OR 8 at Murray Boulevard. Murray is 7 lanes of traffic (two of them bicycle only). OR 8 is 9 lanes of traffic (two of them bicycle only). Plus a railroad parallel to the highway, and obviously the trains DNGAF. I'm not entirely sure how many points of conflict that is, but I've been through that intersection by every mode possible in every movement possible, and there's not really a way to negotiate that kind of intersection without some level of apprehension.
I cross seven (!) lanes of traffic regularly walking to lunch from work, and that's just the signaled light of one "parkway" in the walk. (There's two deserts of parking lots to cross, and a two lane 4-way stop sign neighborhood street people mistake for a "parkway" as well.) I have right not to have to drive to lunch, but it clearly crosses my mind almost every day that should I get hit by some idiot running a red light or a stop sign I know how many people will blame me for “unsafely walking” a suburban area not built for it. (Some of the same people that also seemingly fear that my urban home environment isn’t “safe” either because while much safer from cars has more pedestrians they distrust. How have we blasphemed pedestrianation so completely?)
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California’s first Diverging Diamond Interchange (DDI), a traffic design engineers say will reduce collisions and improve traffic flow, is coming to the Central Valley.
The DDI will replace an existing interchange on SR 120 at Union Road in Manteca, in San Joaquin County. That part of the city contains a popular shopping and entertainment center, as well as new housing development, and more growth is expected into the future. Improvements at this crossing have been in various planning stages for over fifteen years.
A recent groundbreaking ceremony marked the beginning of construction on the DDI, and it is expected to be completed by the end of 2020.
The DDI, said Caltrans District 10 Director Dan McElhinney at the groundbreaking, “slows everybody down but gets everybody mobile.” That is, it keeps cars moving through a complicated merging pattern instead of requiring them to stop at an old-fashioned intersection.
It also avoids interactions between cars and other road users by removing pedestrians and bicyclists from the roadway. Instead, engineers will build a long, looping, separated path for them, dropping down into a short tunnel to cross under the road and then climbing up to the interchange to cross over the highway at the same level as vehicle traffic.
The basic concept of a DDI is that motorists enter from the right side of the road, cross over to the left side as they go through the interchange, and then cross back again to the right to exit (see a simulation here). Engineers love the design because it supposedly improves traffic flow by removing the need for traffic signals at on and off ramps. They also say its diverging diamond shape will prevent congestion by reducing stopping points.
Koosun Kim, deputy director of Public Works for the city of Manteca, said one of the main reasons that a DDI design was chosen is because it is expected to reduce collisions. The existing interchange has 26 potential conflict points; the DDI design has only fourteen of them.
Kim said concern for the safety of pedestrians and bicyclists is why the city decided to build a separate path for them.
“If you look at what it’s like right now–it’s very dangerous for children,” he said. There is a school located on one side of the existing interchange and a shopping center and movie theater on the other. Children often cross the interchange on the only currently available space, which is the shoulder.
Usually DDIs locate pedestrian walkways in the median or along the sides of the road, and place bicycle lanes next to vehicle traffic. The Manteca DDI will instead include a separate twelve-foot-wide bridge on the east side of the overpass. To get through the interchange, pedestrians and bicyclists will have to drop down from street level, follow a tunnel under the freeway ramps, then climb upward on a circular path to the bridge, where they will cross over with vehicle traffic, but behind some kind of barrier. Then they will have to repeat the sequence, backwards, on the other side, as illustrated in the top image.
A staircase will be provided as a shortcut for pedestrians who want to avoid the longer ADA-compliant loop. Security measures, including cameras, lighting, and emergency call buttons, will be added to the tunnel.
For bicyclists and pedestrians, the trip across the interchange will be about twice as long as it is for vehicles, and that much longer than the current, dangerous shoulder crossing.
The project will also encourage more and faster vehicle traffic in other ways. It will widen SR 120, building “auxiliary lanes” from Airport Way to Main Street, and widen Union Road to four lanes between Daniels and Lifestyle streets.
The city of Manteca is fully funding the project with a combination of Redevelopment Agency funds (the interchange improvement was assigned RDA money before the agency was dissolved), local development fees, and Measure K, the half-cent sales tax approved by San Joaquin County voters.
DDIs have been built around the country, but this will California’s first. Manteca’s design is expected to be the model for other California cities that are considering similar construction projects. There are at least four in the works: in Modesto, San Bernardino, Ceres, and San Diego.
Caltrans hopes so. “We hope to see many more like this,” McElhinney said at the groundbreaking.
Oregon cyclists will be able to treat stop signs and flashing red traffic lights as “Yield” signs under a bill that narrowly passed this week in the legislature after 15 years of grassroots advocacy.
The bill, if signed by Gov. Kate Brown, would make Oregon the fourth state to legalize a version of the so-called “Idaho Stop,” named after the tuber-famous state that first legalized the practice. Delaware lawmakers passed a similar law in 2017 and Arkansas did the same earlier this year.
Oregon State Rep. Barbara Smith Warner led the charge to get the 31-28 vote for passage, according to Jonathan Maus at Bike Portland. Smith explained that allowing cyclists to yield rather than stop “was about ‘usability’ and that, unlike driving a vehicle, bicycle riders constantly need to start and stop under their own power.”
The Idaho Stop has been shown to provide safety benefits as well. The year after it passed 1982 in its namesake state, cycling injuries dropped 14 percent. Overall, studies have shown, cities in Idaho are about 30 percent safer for cyclists than other cities. That law allows cyclists to treat red lights like stop signs as well.
For decades Idaho stood alone with this well-known and successful policy. Now, in the last few years, it has finally begun to gain traction in other places. In addition to Arkansas, Delaware and Oregon, Utah also took up the issue before it died in the House earlier this year.
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Baby, meet bathwater: Nashville Mayor David Briley is moving to end his city’s e-scooter program after a scooter rider was killed by a car driver last month.
Briley instructed city lawyers on Friday to draft a bill terminating the e-scooter pilot program, although he said a smaller number of public scooters could return if companies met stringent safety guidelines.
If Nashville’s Metro Council approves the measure, and a ban is gaining support, all 4,150 devices would be removed from city streets within weeks.
“It’s pretty clearly a failed experiment,”Briley told NewsChannel 5. “The way it’s worked out here in Nashville has just not been good for safety of people on the sidewalks, people using them, and it’s really just not worked out.”
Today, I notified Nashville's seven scooter companies of my decision to end the pilot period and ban e-scooters from our streets. We have seen the public safety and accessibility costs that these devices inflict, and it is not fair to our residents for this to continue. pic.twitter.com/1IBmZRsRgF
The relationship between Nashville officials and scooter companies was rocky from the start.
Two days after Bird introduced 100 e-scooters to Music City in May, 2018, the company received a cease and desist letter from the city for “obstructing the public sidewalk.” City officials pointed to users parking scooters on sidewalks and leaning against trees and illegally riding the devices on sidewalks.
Yet riders argued that bike lanes infrastructure was unsafe and the streets were too dangerous because of speeding vehicles. Two scooter riders were hit by a car within the first month of the pilot program.
Bird temporarily pulled its fleet, set up shop in Memphis, and came back to Nashville later that summer once the city implemented new rules and regulations for riding and parking on sidewalks.
But complaints continued to roll in. The city received 200 online incident notices in the first seven months of the program, and 630 in the first year, largely requesting scooter removal.
Injuries also began to rise. The Nashville Fire Department responded to 43 emergency calls for scooter-related crashes compared to 15 in March, four in February, and 12 in January, according to The Tennessean. The Vanderbilt University Medical Center treats one to two scooter related injuries per day, the Tennessean reported.
Yet a Center for Disease Control study that tracked scooter hospitalizations in Austin found that scooters are generally safe once people figure out how to ride them — a third of riders reported injuries on their very first trip.
The scooter ban comes with an ironic backdrop: cars are far more dangerous to East Tennesseans. In Davidson County, which encompasses Nashville, there were 33,419 traffic crashes last year including 9,146 injuries and 78 fatalities according to the state Department of Safety and Homeland Security. In the first three months of this year, there were 7,859 crashes including 2,145 injuries and 15 deaths, state records show.
One of those fatalities was 26-year-old Brady Gaulke, who was struck by a car while riding a scooter on a downtown street on May 16 and died from his injuries three days later. The driver was not hurt.
Gaulke’s family launched a petition to outlaw scooters in Nashville — and a week later Briley threatened to ban the two-wheeled transit devices unless the companies that own them address problems within 30 days.
“Based on what I have witnessed firsthand, the recent influx of scooters in our city is causing us to be less safe and more visually cluttered,” Briley wrote in a May 23 letter to the transit companies.
Scooter companies including Bird, Lime, and Lyft, responded they would work with the mayor and Metro Council to curb abuses, but urged against an outright ban because it would be detrimental to transit in the region.
Five of the city’s seven scooter companies met with Briley in mid-June and shared 19 recommendations in an open letter including the distribution of free helmets, more safety training, and capping the number of scooters. The seven companies currently each manage between 500 and 1,000 e-scooters on city streets.
But that didn’t placate city officials.
With a ban, Nashville may allow one or two companies to reintroduce a much smaller fleet of scooters in to the city after they receive approval by the Transportation Licensing Commission.
“If these devices return in the future, it will be after a public process, on our terms, with strict oversight for numbers, safety, and accessibility, Briley tweeted.