Would it be easier to speed-limit vehicles?

In my previous post, Yes, and lower speed limits, and many others, I’ve written about speed and and need to reduce vehicle speeds. This can be done in a number of ways, most effectively by redesigning streets. But street redesign is a multi-billion dollar undertaking just in our region, and that is a conservative estimate.

Thinking outside the box, what if we speed-limited vehicles instead? What if all vehicles were limited to the posted speed limit? Many newer vehicles already have most of the technology needed: cruise control and location awareness through GPS. They would need some modification to use the cruise control to limit the speed, not to what the driver sets it at, but what the speed limit is. Shouldn’t cost much money for the conversion. Old vehicles, of course, don’t have this technology, and would need a fairly expensive update. How expensive, I don’t know. I’m not a technology person, and can only express surprise that either researchers are not researching this, or that if they are, it isn’t making it into the media.

During the transition period, I can see two actions that would encourage conversion. One is similar to emission inspections, where once your car becomes unable to pass inspection, and it would cost more to fix it that it’s value, it is retired. Of course in California, that means the car is shipped to another state to keep polluting, and that is not a good solution. The other is that there would be a penalty for not installing the conversion. The penalty would gradually increase over time. There are very obvious equity issues about this proposal. Maybe a cash-for-speeders program to buy and retire vehicles without speed-limiters. And it is not as though our current system is without equity implications. People of color and low income are much more likely to be the victims of crashes as are others, and we certainly know that speed enforcement can and is used to oppress people of color and low income.

Speed-limited vehicles would be a huge investment, for the updates required of newer vehicles, and the addition of the technology to older vehicles. I strongly suspect that it would be much less than the investment of fixing all our streets. Of course, we eventually still want to fix our streets in locations that are not triaged out, to make them livable and economically vibrant places, but with speed-limiting, we would have more time to work on that.

I would exempt two-lane rural roads from speed-limiting. Though a lot of crashes do occur on these roads, the valid need to be able to pass slow moving vehicles remains, and the scheme would just not work here. All other roads, yes. It might even be possible to increase speeds on freeways, where variability in speed is as much of a problem as speed itself.

Of course cars-first people would scream that this attacks their god-given and constitutionally-guaranteed right to drive as fast as they can. But these are the car nuts, just like gun nuts, that claim a right to do what they want to do without any consideration of the effect on others. It is time we grow up and recognize that vehicles are deadly weapons that must be limited to reduce mayhem.

Will autonomous vehicles solve this problem? Perhaps. These vehicles will certainly have full awareness of the posted speed limits on every street (part of the reason they are bandwidth intensive). I suspect that most autonomous vehicles will be part of commercial fleets (buses, delivery vehicles, ride hailing). Given the legal liability of allowing these vehicles to exceed the speed limit, I don’t think companies will. Of course there will be private owners who hack their autonomous vehicles to exceed the speed limit, but in a world of speed-limited vehicles these will stand out and be dealt with. The real issue, though, is that there will be a very long period of transition in which most vehicles on the road are not autonomous.

I welcome comments from anyone more technologically savvy than I, who can help me better understand the technological issues and solutions.

Yes, and lower speed limits

I believe that stroads should be turned back into Streets, and roads preserved for their transportation function. I’m a Strong Towns member, and fully support the argument that the best solution to stroads is to reconstruct them into streets. #SlowTheCars is the right approach. Key to that approach is that changing speed limits doesn’t do much to slow cars, and that ticketing people for going the design speed instead of the posted speed is often just a pretext for profiling and oppression.

BUT. It will be a long while and trillions of dollars to accomplish that. Undoing the damage of the past is not easy, because the money it would take to fix everything has long since gone into the pockets of those who profited from unsustainable (socially, economically, environmentally) development. We will have to triage, changing the most dangerous places first, and those places with the best chance of becoming walkable, livable, and vibrant second. We may never, and perhaps should never, get to those places that are the model of the suburban experiment. Many suburban places will fail and go back to agriculture. Others will not. But spending a lot of money to fix a suburban stroad, adding sidewalks and bike lanes and street furniture, will be good money after bad because these places won’t ever be dense enough or successful enough to pay back the investment.

Back to speed. It will be a long while before we can lower the design speed of stroads and streets back to the correct speed. In most cases, that design speed should be 20 mph. Occasionally higher or lower, but mostly 20. In the interim, I think that we should reduce the speed of all urban streets, that are not arterials and collectors, to 20 mph. I am not suggested that this limit be tightly enforced, as the point is not enforcement but education and commitment. A community willing to lower the speed limit to 20 is a community willing to think about safety and livability, and to accept that the way we have done thing in the past is absolutely not what we need in the present or future. Setting speed limits to 20 is a message to pay attention and think about consequences. Portland and Seattle have recently reduced some speed limits to 20.

Continue reading “Yes, and lower speed limits”

J Street Safety Improvments

The City of Sacramento is going to use street rehabilitation funds (from SB-1) to create a separated bikeway on J Street between 19th and 30th, starting this summer. The city held a public meeting last night (January 25) to gather public comments on the design elements, which have not been finalized.

I like the proposal, and see it as a significant improvement over what is there now. The general purpose travel lanes would be reduced by one, from three to two, while bike facilities would be increased from zero to one. The separated bikeway, also called a cycle track or protected bike lane (separated bikeway is the correct term in California) would be installed along the right side of the one-way street. The project will improve pedestrians safety by shortening the crossing distance over general purpose lanes, but this is more a traffic calming and bike facility project than a pedestrian project. This project is intended to be a “paint only” project that fits with the funds available. Improvements needing concrete would come later, if at all. The separated bikeways would be “protected” with flexible delineator posts between the parking lane and the bikeway, which provides increased safety but not full protection.

Though the diagrams shown last night indicate that bus stops would be at the existing curb, and the bikeway with green paint would swing around the bus stop to the left, it appears that the city is rethinking that and will use a shared bus/bike lane for the length of the bus stop. There is talk of moving bus stops to better locations, and perhaps reducing the number of stops for better service times. The only bus currently using J Street is SacRT Route 30, which has a 15 minute frequency on weekday day times, 30 minute evenings and Saturdays, and 60 minute Sundays. This is a route whose ridership probably justifies 10 minute frequency day times.

The intersections will be daylighted by removing the parking spaces that currently are right up against the crosswalks and reduce visibility between drivers and pedestrians. I completely support that and feel that the safety benefits make the loss of a few parking spaces worthwhile. I’m not against on-street parking, in fact I like it because it slows traffic, but safety is even more important.

I would like to recommend some improvements to the project as presented:

  • Reduce lane widths from 11 feet to 10 feet. This is the most important action that could be taken to enhance safety. The best action for pedestrian and bicyclist safety is to #SlowTheCars (@StrongTowns). The narrower the lanes, the slower the traffic, and the slower the traffic, the less severe collisions that do occur, and the less collisions. The city currently has an 11 foot standard they don’t seem ready to change, but what better time than now to create a significant project with narrower lanes, so we can directly experience the safety benefits.
  • Reduce the speed limit to 20 mph, and stripe the street in a way that encourages this actual speed. Again, the city is reluctant to go below 25, but there is a growing national movement to 20 mph in urban areas. Goes hand-in-hand with the lane width reduction, and is very inexpensive to implement.
  • Stripe the separated bikeway and street in such a way that the shared bus/bike lane at bus stops can be converted to floating bus islands with the bike lane at the curb. This configuration keeps the bus in the flow of traffic, which greatly speeds bus times as they don’t have to wait for a gap in traffic to continue. I do not know how wide the islands need to be to accommodate bus shelters, but am looking into that and will report. Another advantage of the lane width narrowing is that it would provide another two feet for the islands. The separated bikeway “lane” is seven feet, and that seems fine to me. Since this is a “paint only” project, concrete bus islands would delay it for additional finding, which I don’t want to see, but the design should be ready for bus islands as soon as they can be funded.
  • Reduce the number of bus stops to one every three or four blocks. The increase in service speed makes the greater walking distance worthwhile, and since the walking environment will be more appealing and safer, this is a good trade-off.

The meeting last night was the only formal opportunity to have input to this project, but I encourage you to email Jennifer Donlon-Wyant with support for the project, for these improvements I’ve presented, or you own ideas. You can also comment here, but emailing Jennifer is the first step.

speed limits

I can be an incredible cynic sometimes, but here goes another one. Particularly true of drivers in the suburbs, and of suburban drivers in the urban areas, but more widespread than just that.

What drivers see
What drivers see
What drivers understand
What drivers understand

R Street suggestions

R Street, the part to be improved
R Street, the part to be improved

The City of Sacramento and CADA held a community meeting on November 23 on the R Street Phase III Streetscape project, presenting design alternatives for the section of R Street between 13th and 16th streets. Phase I is the already completed portion between 10th and 13th, and Phase II is the upcoming portion between 16th and 18th. Three alternatives were presented for each of the three blocks, basically representing three different levels of traffic calming and devotion of right-of-way width to pedestrians rather than vehicles. Alternative three for each block includes curb extensions or bulb-outs at most corners. All the alternatives include wider sidewalks.

I am glad to see the city moving forward on these improvements, with the already completed Phase I making a huge difference to the usability and appearance of the street. Though the most economically vibrant portion of the street currently is this section from 13th to 16th, it will unfortunately be the last to be completed.

Continue reading “R Street suggestions”