Asked about typical modern shopping corridors, Texas A&M Assistant Professor of
Landscape Architecture and Urban Planning
Eric Dumbaugh replied:
“from a traffic safety perspective, the modern commercial arterial is a perfect storm of bad planning and design. These roads are designed to support high operating speeds, making it difficult for drivers to stop quickly to avoid a crash, and the presence of commercial and retail uses on these roads means that drivers will routinely need to stop quickly in order to avoid crashing into pedestrians, bicyclists, and especially vehicles turning in and out of driveways.”
Proposals for planting rows of trees along the roads — a traditional technique for shaping pleasing public spaces — are often opposed by transportation engineers, who contend that a wide travel corridor, free of obstacles, is needed to protect the lives of errant motorists.
Increasingly, however, the engineers’ beliefs about safety are being subjected to empirical study and are being found incorrect. Eric Dumbaugh, an assistant professor of transportation at Texas A&M, threw down the gauntlet with a long, carefully argued article,
”Safe Streets, Livable Streets,”
in the Summer 2005 issue of the Journal of the American Planning Association. A follow-up article by Dumbaugh, in the 2006 edition of Transportation Research Record, will present further evidence that safe urban roadsides are not what the traffic-engineering establishment thinks they are.
Though engineers generally assert that wide clear areas safeguard motorists who run off the roads, Dumbaugh looked at accident records and found that, on the contrary, wide-open corridors encourage motorists to speed, bringing on more crashes. By contrast, tree-lined roadways cause motorists to slow down and drive more carefully, Dumbaugh says.
Dumbaugh examined crash statistics and found that tree-lined streets experience fewer accidents than do “forgiving roadsides” — those that have been kept free of large, inflexible objects. He points to “a growing body of evidence suggesting that the inclusion of trees and other streetscape features in the roadside environment may actually reduce crashes and injuries on urban roadways.”
Without mass transit, the average Portland area commuter would spend five hours more a year in rush-hour congestion, costing the region $98 million a year in lost time and wasted fuel, the Texas study says.
The overall cost (based on wasted fuel and lost productivity) reached $87.2 billion in 2007 — more than $750 for every U.S. traveler.
The total amount of wasted fuel topped 2.8 billion gallons — three weeks’ worth of gas for every traveler.
The amount of wasted time totaled 4.2 billion hours — nearly one full work week (or vacation week) for every traveler.
The study recommends strategies for dealing with it:
Get as much use as possible out of the transportation system we have.
Add roadway and public transportation capacity in the places where it is needed most.
Change our patterns, employing ideas like ridesharing and flexible work times to avoid traditional “rush hours.”
Provide more choices, such as alternate routes, telecommuting and toll lanes for faster and more reliable trips.
Diversify land development patterns, to make walking, biking and mass transit more practical.
Adopt realistic expectations, recognizing for instance that large urban areas are going to be congested, but they don’t have to stay that way all day long.
Fortunately, Lowndes County is not a large urban area, so it doesn’t have to be congested.
Note that none of the recommendations include “just build more roads.”
Two of them involve public transportation.
And land development patterns that include services next to subdivisions
could help a lot.
I attended a recent Valdosta City Council meeting in which inhabitants
of one subdivision were bitterly complaining because the developers wanted
to put a few stores on a lot next to the subdivision.
Maybe as the price of gas goes back up they’ll discover the attraction
of walking to the store to get eggs and milk….