Tag Archives: complete streets

street violence

A man was run over and killed by a car on the sidewalk just outside my office building recently. Not only was it a tragedy, but there was some small irony because he was a prominent local safe streets activist.

Here is what the Mayor of Philadelphia had to say:

My administration, through its Vision Zero initiative, remains committed to preventing all traffic-related fatalities and serious injuries by 2030, and the death of Peter Javsicas is a stark reminder of the importance of that mission.

Tacky. People are dying from violence on our poorly designed streets every day, and if anything is being done about it the pace of change is imperceptible to me.

Here is what the Philadelphia Police had to say:

A police captain on Tuesday afternoon said he didn’t expect charges to be filed because the crash was an accident. It was not immediately clear Wednesday, after the pedestrian’s death, whether charges were being considered.

Because people being killed on the streets of Philadelphia every day (and this was not even the street, it was the sidewalk) is not the kind of thing the police are paid by us taxpayers to take an interest in. Now, I want to say the Philadelphia Police have been there for me when I have experienced other types of crimes, and have always treated me courteously (yes, I am a white male just in case you were wondering), so I don’t necessarily blame individual officers. But there is a whole institutional and political culture that does not treat reckless driving and traffic violence as serious crimes, when they are killing people just like any other type of crime, and they are disproportionately deadly to children, the elderly, and people with disabilities.

Here is what the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia had to say:

The circumstances of the crash — a vehicle encroaching on the sidewalk, sacred space for people on foot — is easily preventable. A parking protected bike lane on the north side of JFK Boulevard would have eliminated the right lane, providing a space cushion of nearly 15 feet from the between the sidewalk and the travelway.

Instead of running into people on the sidewalk, the driver would have smashed into parked cars. Secondly, bollards on the sidewalk: this exposed street corner could have also absorbed the impact of the crash. Bollards were cited recently in saving many lives last month in Times Square.

Is this tacky, trying to score some advocacy points off the man’s death? Just from what I have read about him, I don’t think he would think so. And I wouldn’t think so either if it were me. And it could easily have been me. Or my wife and our baby daughter. Or my son’s entire kindergarten class out for a lunchtime walk.

NACTO on stormwater streets

NACTO has a new guide integrating stormwater management and multi-modal transport ideas on streets. This is significant because NACTO is not just a bunch of hippies or even hipsters, but a transportation industry group that has real influence on the design approaches that end up getting incorporated into federal, state, and local design criteria and technical specifications. And this is how engineering business gets done – once design criteria are written into the codes, whether they are good or bad, engineers are going to follow them because this is the most efficient and lowest risk thing to do, and in some cases there are no alternatives.

May 2017 in Review

Most frightening stories:

  • The public today is more complacent about nuclear weapons than they were in the 1980s, even though the risk is arguably greater and leaders seem to be more ignorant and reckless.
  • The NSA is trying “to identify laboratories and/or individuals who may be involved in nefarious use of genetic research”.
  • We hit 410 ppm at Mauna Loa.

Most hopeful stories:

Most interesting stories, that were not particularly frightening or hopeful, or perhaps were a mixture of both:

  • Some experts think the idea of national sovereignty itself is now in doubt.
  • Taser wants to record everything the police do, everywhere, all the time, and use artificial intelligence to make sense of the data.
  • The sex robots are here.

September 2016 in Review

3 most frightening stories

  • The U.S. and Russia may have blundered into a proxy war in Syria. And on a loosely related war-and-peace note, Curtis LeMay was a crazy bastard.
  • The ecological footprint situation is not looking too promising: “from 1993 to 2009…while the human population has increased by 23% and the world economy has grown 153%, the human footprint has increased by just 9%. Still, 75% the planet’s land surface is experiencing measurable human pressures. Moreover, pressures are perversely intense, widespread and rapidly intensifying in places with high biodiversity.” Meanwhile, as of 2002 “we appropriate over 40% of the net primary productivity (the green material) produced on Earth each year (Vitousek et al. 1986, Rojstaczer et al. 2001). We consume 35% of the productivity of the oceanic shelf (Pauly and Christensen 1995), and we use 60% of freshwater run-off (Postel et al. 1996). The unprecedented escalation in both human population and consumption in the 20th century has resulted in environmental crises never before encountered in the history of humankind and the world (McNeill 2000). E. O. Wilson (2002) claims it would now take four Earths to meet the consumption demands of the current human population, if every human consumed at the level of the average US inhabitant.” And finally, 30% of African elephants have been lost in the last 7 years.
  • Car accidents are the leading cause of death for children ages 5 to 24. The obsession with car seats may not be saving all that many lives, while keeping children out of cars as much as possible would be 100% guaranteed to save lives. And one thing that would be guaranteed to help us create more walkable neighborhoods and therefore save children’s lives: getting rid of minimum parking requirements in cities once and for all. And yet you don’t hear this debate being framed in moral terms.

3 most hopeful stories

3 most interesting stories

  • Monsanto is trying to help honeybees (which seems good) by monkeying with RNA (which seems a little frightening). Yes, biotech is coming.
  • Some people think teaching algebra to children may actually be bad. Writing still seems to be good.
  • There have been a number of attempts to identify and classify the basic types of literary plots.

vehicle speed and pedestrian injuries/deaths

Here is the hard data on a person’s probability of survival when hit by a car traveling at a range of speeds. You should go to the link and look at the graphs, but here are a few highlights I picked out:

  • For the average person hit by the average vehicle, you need to get speed down to the 30-35 mph range to have a 75% survival probability, and the 20-25 mph range if you want a 90% survival probability. 15 mph would get you up to about 95%.
  • All people are not average. A 70-year-old struck at 30 mph has something like a 60% chance of living, while a 30-year-old has more like a 85% chance (I’m eyeballing a tiny graph, these numbers are not exact.)
  • All vehicles are not equal. Getting struck by a pickup truck or SUV is more likely to be deadly than a car. Again just eyeballing, if you’re hit by a light truck vs. a car at 30 mph, the average person’s odds of survival would drop from something like 80% to 75%.
  • Those numbers are for death. Obviously, the risk of severe injury short of death is higher. Again using the 30 mph example, the risk of severe injury for the average person hit by the average vehicle looks to be around 50%.

I think our first instinct is to look for someone to blame – and it’s obviously true that better driver behavior, pedestrian behavior, or both could prevent accidents. But police enforcement is obviously part of the answer. It upsets me when I hear the Philadelphia Police openly say they don’t enforce traffic laws because they have “real crimes” to attend to. Sure, their job is to keep the population safe from violence on our city’s streets – well, this is violence on our city’s streets! And it disproportionately puts children and the elderly at risk compared to other forms of crime.

Finally, better design of streets, intersections, and signals is a big part of the answer. Nearly perfect designs exist in places like Denmark and the Netherlands, but well-trained and well-intentioned U.S. engineers are either ignorant of them or cynically assume they can’t or won’t work here, or that they are not affordable.

I assume these same police and engineers would not go out on the streets and shoot old people and children in the head, because that would be unethical, so why is knowingly allowing the preventable deaths of old people and children through ignorance and negligence any different? And why does the public largely accept this and assume it can’t change?

autonomous vehicles at intersections

Some people are raising questions about pedestrians. Well clearly, you can’t do this around pedestrians. It has to be elevated, underground, or on the edge of town. Notice I am not suggesting we send people through underground tunnels or over bridges. It is time for we flesh and blood humans to reclaim the surface of our cities!

January 2016 in Review

I’m going to try picking the three most frightening posts, three most hopeful posts, and three most interesting posts (that are not particularly frightening or hopeful) from January.

3 most frightening posts

  • Paul Ehrlich is still worried about population. 82% of scientists agree.
  • Thomas Picketty (paraphrased by J. Bradford Delong) says inequality and slow growth are the norm for a capitalist society. Joseph Stiglitz has some politically difficult solutions: “Far-reaching redistribution of income would help, as would deep reform of our financial system – not just to prevent it from imposing harm on the rest of us, but also to get banks and other financial institutions to do what they are supposed to do: match long-term savings to long-term investment needs.”
  • Meanwhile, government for and by big business means the “Deep State” is really in control of the U.S. In our big cities, the enormous and enormously dysfunctional police-court-prison system holds sway over the poor.

3 most hopeful posts

3 most interesting posts

  • There are some arguments in favor of genetically modified food – they have increased yields of some grains, and there is promise they could increase fish yields. 88% of scientists responding to a Pew survey said they think genetically modified food is safe, but only 37% of the U.S. public thinks so. In other biotech news, Obama’s State of the Union announced a new initiative to try to cure cancer. In other food news, red meat is out.
  • Not only is cash becoming obsolete, any physical form of payment at all may become obsolete.
  • The World Economic Forum focused on technology: “The possibilities of billions of people connected by mobile devices, with unprecedented processing power, storage capacity, and access to knowledge, are unlimited. And these possibilities will be multiplied by emerging technology breakthroughs in fields such as artificial intelligence, robotics, the Internet of Things, autonomous vehicles, 3-D printing, nanotechnology, biotechnology, materials science, energy storage, and quantum computing.”


car-free cities

The Guardian has a nice run-down on the state of car-free developments around the world:

  • “Oslo revealed plans to ban all private vehicles from the centre by 2019″
  • “Helsinki has ambitious plans to make its “mobility on demand” service so good that nobody will want to drive a car in the centre by 2025”
  • “Paris’s car-free days have successfully reduced high pollution”
  • “New cities – such as the Great City on the outskirts of Chengdu, China, and Masdar near Abu Dhabi – plan to focus on mass transit or electric cars as alternatives to gas-guzzling private cars.”
  • “Venice is often cited as the largest car-free city, but they have it easy, with canals and rivers instead of streets.”
  • Hamburg, on the other hand, is currently making waves by enforcing an auto-ban on a number of urban roads to develop a network of route for pedestrians and bikes that link parks and open spaces together.”
  • Madrid, too, is focusing on the city at a human level, and recently hatched a plan to pedestrianise the urban core and expel cars by 2020.”
  • Dublin and Brussels are also toying with the idea of kicking the habit through city centre diesel-car bans, with similar ideas proposed by Liberal Democrats in London following the VW emissions scandal.”
  • Milan is offering public transit tokens to residents for every weekday they surrender their cars”
  • Rome is slowly progressing with parking bans.”
  • Copenhagen. Unsurprisingly, large swathes of the Danish capital have been closed to vehicles for decades, with bicycle infrastructure reaching into every corner.”
  • “Every week in the Colombian capital [Bogota], over 75 miles of urban roads are shut to vehicles.”
  • “In Hyderabad’s IT corridor (dubbed “Cyberabad”), a recently launched weekly car ban marks a first for Indian cities”
  • in South Korea, a Suwon neighbourhood recently trialled a full month ban in September 2013, which inspired the wealthy Sandton area of Johannesburg to hosts its own car-free experiment last month.”
  • “Portland hopes to [have] 25% of trips made on two wheels by 2030.”
  • “While modal share for cycling just scrapes an average of 2% in the US, in Davis [California] it’s 20%.”
  • “Alongside the expansion of the subway system, segregated bike lanes are slowly creeping into North America’s fifth largest city [Toronto], and there are whispers around a potential car-free street during rush hour.”

Here in Philadelphia, we’re asking if a bike lane is still a bike lane several years after the paint wore off…

November 2015 in Review

What did I learn in November? Let’s start with the bad and then go to the good.

Negative stories (-10):

  • The World Economic Forum’s 2015 Global Risks Report came out. Some of the top risks are interstate conflict, water crisis, failure of climate change adaptation, unemployment and underemployment. Hmm, that “interstate conflict” items might be what we used to call “war”. And I think there might be one underway right now in the Middle East, which Jimmy Carter says we are getting all wrong. And it just might be caused by the other items on the list. And speaking of war, there is a new book on the Vietnam War aimed at the middle grades, but it seems pretty harsh for that age to me. (-2)
  • I noticed that Robert Costanza in 2014 issued an update to his seminal 1997 paper on ecosystem services. He now estimates their value at $125 trillion per year, compared to a world economy of $77 trillion per year. Each year we are using up about $4-20 trillion in value more than the Earth is able to replenish. The correct conclusion here is that we can’t live without ecosystem services any time soon with our current level of knowledge and wealth, and yet we are depleting the natural capital that produces them. We were all lucky enough to inherit an enormous trust fund of natural capital at birth, and we are spending it down like the spoiled trust fund babies we are. We are living it up, and we measure our wealth based on that lifestyle, but we don’t have a bank statement so we don’t actually know when that nest egg is going to run out. (-3)
  • This crop of presidential candidates is easy for comedians to make fun of. I enjoy it but think it may be a contrary indicator for the health of the country. (-1)
  • Bicycle helmets are not making U.S. bicycle riders any safer. This is why we need streets designed on the European model to be safe for driving, bicycling, and walking. It’s 100% known technology and there can be no excuses! (-2)
  • In current events, we had the awful, shocking terrorist attacks in Paris. I suggested that the long-term answer to violence caused by angry young men anywhere is to understand why they are angry, address their legitimate grievances, and give them productive work to do. Short term, we also have to detect and disrupt any plots involving nuclear or biological weapons, of course, because we can’t afford even one. (-2)

Positive stories (+9):