Corridor Urbanism
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Corridor Urbanism

Mount Vernon Road is Dangerous By Design

And the city’s proposed redesign keeps it that way.

The intersection of 15th Street and Mount Vernon Road SE through the gates of Oak Hill Cemetery, June 2, 2021. Photo by Ben Kaplan.

On Wednesday afternoon, June 9th 2021, two boys ages 12 and 8 were struck on a VeoRide scooter on Mount Vernon Road SE near the intersection of Mount Vernon Road and Camburn Ct. The boys are still in the hospital, with life-threatening injuries. The boys did not stop before turning onto Mount Vernon Road from an alley, and were struck by Dennis Lee Candler. Candler was ticketed for driving on a suspended license and a failure to provide proof of liability insurance.

I’m not here to argue that Candler deserves harsher punishment for hitting the two boys. I’m not here to blame a 12 year old boy (witness accounts say he was controlling the scooter) for making a bad decision. Twelve year old boys have made bad decisions since the dawn of man, and will make bad decisions until we snuff ourselves out as a species. I’m not here to blame Veoride either. VeoRide requires you to be 18 to rent one of their scooters or e-bikes, but it’s an app on a phone, making this requirement uneforceable. Mount Vernon Road is a dangerous road by design, and a crash like this is the natural result. Mount Vernon roads terrible design increased the severity of this crash.

Mount Vernon road is a stroad, a term coined by engineer Charles Marohn of Strong Towns to denote trafficways that try to be both roads (moving traffic quickly from one destination to another) and streets (centers of productive human activity). These kinds of streets are especially dangerous for cyclists and pedestrians. Mount Vernon Road has no bike infrastructure of any kind, narrow sidewalks, and four vehicle traffic lanes where speeding is incredibly common. But it’s also a street that cuts through century old neighborhoods, has multiple human-scaled commercial centers, and is mostly residential. Mount Vernon Road deserves to be a productive and safe street for the residents of the neighborhoods it serves.

Unfortunately the city of Cedar Rapids action plan for Mount Vernon Road preserves it as a dangerous traffic sewer. It keeps Mount Vernon road at four-lanes of vehicle traffic, even though it’s well within Federal Highway Administration daily traffic counts for a road diet. The action plan does not include any bicycle infrastructure, and actively discourages using Mount Vernon road as a bicycle route. Mount Vernon Road is the southeast side’s commercial corridor, and is the most direct route — on a bike, car, scooter, or sneakers — between commercial areas. The action plan also keeps speeds on Mount Vernon Road high. The risk of severe injury or death for a pedestrian or cyclist increases substantially as vehicle speeds rise.

Simply put, the action plan is inadequate and should be trashed.

We cannot undo that damage Mount Vernon Road’s dangerous design has already caused, but we should expect a redesign of the road to address the failing’s of the current road and be an improvement.

Mount Vernon Road needs bicycle infrastructure (what if those boys had skipped a stop sign and pulled out onto a protected bike lane?), and it needs to be designed so that traffic moves at an appropriate speed for a residential street (what if those boys had been struck at 20mph instead of 40mph?).

Something terrible happened Wednesday. A horrific crash occurred and two kids are in the hospital fighting for their lives. The design of Mount Vernon Road contributed to the severity and tragedy. We can choose whether we let this happen again. A slightly longer drive to the grocery store is an easy tradeoff to save kids lives.



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