This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.
In the US our streets started out slow and safe before cars existed, and have become increasingly dangerous. We’re lucky in Seattle in that much of our roads were built before modern road standards. These standards have pushed roads to be wider for visibility and to fit large fat fire engines, remove stop signs in favor of signals prioritizing the faster road, and provide gentle curves in order to accomodate faster speeds. Let’s look at two streets.
This is in one of Seattle’s many “streetcar suburbs”, built over 100 years ago around streetcar stops before cars were much more than a toy. There’s one lane for cars, shared by both directions, two lanes for parked cars, two areas for trees and plantings, and two sidewalks. A car driving here can go around 5mph and feel very safe, and at about 8mph they start feeling in danger of hitting an opening car door. As a result, there’s little car noise and streets are very safe. Even if an accident occurs, the car is travelling a maximum of 10mph. There’s an alley between streets for garages and garbage (and playing soccer, or learning to ride a bike). There are turning circles every few blocks. Yes, it takes a while to get around at 5mph, but in the city you aren’t often travelling far. Arterials are built for 30mph, but I think we would be better off with narrower arterials as well.
This is a suburban street in Atlanta. I’ve had to zoom out a bit because it’s not very interesting up close. This street was designed for cars. Your car can get from your driveway down the street at 30mph, and onto the main road where you can drive 50mph until you hit the freeway and drive 70mph. It’s also just a few blocks from where a local woman and her children were hit crossing the road – that wide one on the left. Charges were dropped on the drunk, medicated, partially blind driver that killed her son and injured her and her infant. But she was charged with vehicular homicide for jaywalking and is facing three years in prison. There were no crosswalks within half a mile of her bus stop, and her home was across the street. She was tried by a jury of her “peers” who only drive cars and don’t take transit.
When you build sprawl you necessarily move destinations further from origins, and car trips become longer. When car trips are longer the logical decision is to design roads to speed up these trips. But speed kills. Which road would you prefer to cross with your children?