prudent drivers as traffic calming

Now, on to why I brought up the topic of prudent drivers. A prudent driver on a two lane (one lane in each direction) roadway largely controls the behavior of irresponsible drivers. On wider roads, with two lanes or more in a direction, whether a one-way or two-way, the irresponsible driver can do as they wish, violating laws and endangering others. On the narrower roadway, the irresponsible drivers get irritated, and honk and cuss, but there isn’t much they can do about it. This difference in large part explains why fatality and severe injury crashes are rare on residential streets within neighborhoods, and are common on arterial streets with multiple lanes. It also explains why rural roads have such high crash rates, because the prudent driver there can’t really control other drivers. On two lane streets, prudent drivers set the tone; on multiple lane streets, irresponsible drivers set the tone.

We have proven, over the history of motor vehicle use in the US, that is is not possible to significantly change the behavior of drivers. Education doesn’t do it, enforcement (even when that used to be more common) doesn’t do it. Nearly all of the improvement in roadway deaths has been due to safer cars, not to safer drivers or safer roads, and now that improvement is reversing itself as more and more walkers and bicyclists are killed by irresponsible drivers.

I am not against education, if it is directed at the most dangerous behaviors, which it is not, and I am not against enforcement, if it is done in an unbiased manner, which it is not. Each state has an agency, usually called the Office of Traffic Safety (OTS), whose mission is to obscure the real causes of crashes and to blame walkers and bicyclist for their death and injury, and at the federal level, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) fulfills this function admirably. In this, they are often aided and abetted by the law enforcement agencies. The reason CHP is California is so opposed to automatic speed enforcement is because it would remove the mis-focus and bias that they otherwise rely upon.

Driver behavior must be controlled by roadway design. That is why I strongly believe that all multiple lane roads must be reduced. Two lane one-way streets must be converted to two-ways streets with only one lane in each direction (and any other lanes converted to pedestrian, bicyclist or transit use). Two-way roadways with two or more lanes in the same direction must be reallocated to other uses. Again, excess capacity would be converted to pedestrian, bicyclist, or transit use, or even to development as overly wide streets shrink to fit the real need.

I have no illusions about the huge change in traffic flow. Those drivers who have gotten used to having plenty of space for themselves (their cars) would have to figure out how to use less: fewer trips, shorter trips, slower trips. People would make different decisions about where they live, where they work, where they shop and recreate. As far as I am concerned, this is all to the good.

Our freeways are designed by the ‘best and brightest’ engineers to be as safe as possible, allowing errant vehicles extra space, protecting hard objects with guard rails and impact attenuators (crash barriers), and using ridiculously wide travel lanes, yet still have very high crash rates. Spending more money apparently doesn’t make freeways safer, and the explanation for this is risk compensation, the proven effect that irresponsible drivers will increase their unsafe behavior to maintain the same level of risk. Think about the daily news items about crashes that close freeways for significant periods of time, and how often they happen. None of these need to happen, and I’d argue that an irresponsible drivers is the primary cause of each and every one of them. This post is about local streets, not freeways, but it is worth remembering that irresponsible drivers are everywhere.

I don’t believe that one single death or severe injury for a walker or bicyclist is worth any amount of convenience for motor vehicle drivers. Not one.

So, I ask every transportation agency in the Sacramento region to:

  • cease widening roads, forever
  • analyze all one-way roads with three or more lanes to determine the most dangerous ones, and convert these within two years
  • analyze all two-way streets with more than one lane per direction for the most dangerous ones, and convert these within five years
  • analyze the remaining roads that are not one lane per direction, for the most dangerous ones, and convert these within ten years
  • complete conversion of all roads within twenty years
  • stop victim blaming

Walkable Sacramento #8: enforcement

Street redesign is the ultimate solution to the epidemic of serious injury and fatality of walkers, and intimidation of walkers by drivers, however, in the interim, while streets are being redesigned, enforcement can save lives and increase walking.

There are real equity issues with the enforcement of vehicle codes violations. Given that I do not have a way of automating enforcement of failure to yield, that must happen with traffic stops. These stops should be closely monitored to reveal and correct bias.

  • Enforcement will be focused on the three violations that most affect walker safety, in order of priority:
    1. Recognizing that failure to yield to pedestrians both leads to higher serious injuries and driver intimidation of walkers, failure to yield to a pedestrian in the crosswalk (CVC 21950) will be the top traffic enforcement priority for the police department. The goal will be elimination of this violation within three years.
    2. Recognizing that speed directly affects the likelihood of serious injury and fatality, make speed enforcement (CVC 22348) will be the second priority. Use automated speed enforcement whenever possible to eliminate the proven racial and income bias in enforcement.

Vision Zero and traffic enforcement

Sacramento essentially has no traffic enforcement currently, which has led to significant increase in:

  1. running stop signs (not talking about illegal failure to come to a complete stop, but running at full speed or slowing only slightly)
  2. failure by drivers to yield to pedestrians in the crosswalk (actually in the crosswalk, not just waiting to cross).

If these issues of non-enforcement and encouragement of unsafe behaviors is not addressed, the Vision Zero effort will fail, no matter what other actions are undertaken.

I have been watching patterns of driver violation in the central city for seven years, as my profession provides me the interest and skills, while my sense of preservation as a pedestrian gives me the motivation. I can state unequivocally that both violations have increased significantly over that time. While it once felt safe and even a bit welcoming to walk in the central city, it does no longer. Why? That is harder to say, but I think that the lack of enforcement of these laws by the Sacramento Police Department has contributed to the problem. Drivers know they won’t be held accountable for failure to yield, and so they don’t. Of course a few do, but with drivers in the other lanes on multi-lane one way streets failing to yield, pedestrians are at just as much risk as if no one yielded.

I have been wanting to delve into traffic enforcement data for the City of Sacramento and all other locales in the region, but that is a major undertaking I haven’t gotten to. A sampling of data below will provide some context. Traffic stop data for years prior to 2016 is not available online, so I can’t speculate about trends in the data.

California Vehicle Code (CVC) “22450. (a) The driver of any vehicle approaching a stop sign at the entrance to, or within, an intersection shall stop at a limit line, if marked, otherwise before entering the crosswalk on the near side of the intersection.”

Using data from Sacramento Traffic Stops, 2016 had 30001 stops, 2432 of which were for 22450, 8.1%. 2017 had 32267 stops, 2642 of which were 21950, 8.2%. Stand on any single corner in the central city, and you could see this many violations in a day. Clearly, this law is being only lightly enforced.

CVC “21950: (a) The driver of a vehicle shall yield the right-of-way to a pedestrian crossing the roadway within any marked crosswalk or within any unmarked crosswalk at an intersection, except as otherwise provided in this chapter.”

Using data from Sacramento Traffic Stops, 2016 had 30001 stops, 66 of which were for 21950, 0.22%. 2017 had 32267 stops, 43 of which were 21950, 0.13%. Stand on any single corner in the central city, and you could see this many violations in an hour. Clearly, this law is not being enforced.