Design Safer Streets

Isaac Wang
Oct 24 · 3 min read

America has some of the most dangerous streets in the world.

Every single year, ~35,000 people die from motor vehicle accidents.

The #1 cause of death in children is car accidents, according to a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM),

This is nothing new. You can sift through years and years of data, and it paints the same picture.

Our society has a tendency to blame it on ‘bad driving’ and ‘cell phone usage’, suggesting more conscientious driving would prevent 35,000 deaths a year.

It’s worth noting that cars are inherently dangerous, but it’s a risk we’ve accepted. We’re moving 3000 pound metal vehicles at really fast speeds. It should be no surprise that lots of people get killed every year. Many of the people killed are not the drivers themselves. They’re other people, like cyclists and pedestrians.

So what can we do about it?

There’s loads and loads of literature on this topic, but the short answer is we have to look at street design.

  1. We have to design skinnier streets. (Data suggests optimal lane widths of 10.5 feet)
  2. We have to look at our Active Transportation infrastructure.
  3. Traffic Calming in Critical Areas

SKINNY STREETS: The Skinny Streets movement is built on large amounts of data suggesting that narrowing streets leads to much more conscientious driving, subsequently reducing car-related accidents and death.

ACTIVE TRANSPORTATION: Driving and walking are not the only 2 options of commute, so we ought to re-design our infrastructure to support other forms of daily travel. As data suggests, lives depend on it. We have to look at segregating the physical spaces that cars occupy from the spaces that non-drivers occupy.

I recommend taking a walk down El Cajon Blvd one day (on the sidewalk) and just take a mental note of how you feel as you’re walking. It’s legitimately hostile towards human beings.

There’s a very good reason why most sidewalks in America are empty and why most bike lanes in America are empty. It’s a miserable experience!

It feels like I’m gonna die. Other people clearly feel the same way.

But if you’ve been to other countries, you know that’s not the case. Cyclists and pedestrians are everywhere. The spaces that cars occupy and the spaces that people occupy are often segregated by physical barriers.

Have you seen those useless things called ‘Sharrows’, where they paint a bike symbol on a travel lane for cars? San Diego has plenty of ineffective Sharrows. Let’s never use those again.

If I have a protected bike lane, I don’t share the road with cars. See below.

A rendering of a protected bike lane being used by Charlotte biking advocates. Rendering by Jessi Flynn

If we re-design our streets to accommodate other types of mobility, we’re gonna have fewer people die.

TRAFFIC CALMING IN CRITICAL AREAS: Making cars drive slower in critical areas is a cornerstone to safe street design. The technical term is: Traffic Calming Devices.

This is the world of: roundabouts, curb extensions, speed tables, pedestrian refuges, rumble strips, chicanes, etc.

I can nerd out about this stuff all day, but just remember there are solutions.

Many of these solutions can also be executed very quickly. Rapid prototyping of urban design concepts is known as Tactical Urbanism.

Why Design Safe Streets?

Our neighborhoods in San Diego City Council (District 5) have a lot of families and a lot of schools. Imagine if your kids felt safe enough to walk and bike to school. Yeah! That’s what they do elsewhere in the world.

But I don’t blame you for driving your kids to school, because our streets are terrifying and dangerous. The data supports it. We need to re-design the majority of our local infrastructure to support safer streets.

If I’m on City Council, I guarantee safer streets will be a priority, because urban street design is my passion.

#MAPS #MakeAmericaPedestrianSafe

Paid for by Isaac Wang for City Council 2020 FPPC ID# 1416799