Rethink roads

“The measure of a civilization is how it treats its weakest members.”

— Ghandi.

Approximately one-third of the population does not drive: children, elderly, the disabled, the poor and some by choice, and the number is going up as baby boomers age. The poor simply cannot afford to own and maintain a car, which averages more than $7,000 a year.

This population travels by getting rides, cabs, buses, walking or biking. However, we have designed our roads almost exclusively for the fast-moving car to the detriment of other modes. The engineering institutions have prioritized the convenience of driving over all other modes, even in urban areas where many other modes are commonly used.

[sc:text-divider text-divider-title=”Story continues below gallery” ]

On Dec. 8, Terri Bradtke, 54, was a casualty of this prioritization. She was killed walking across Rocky Ford Road to the bus stop, near the intersection with Candlelight Drive. Bradtke had Asperger’s syndrome and was suffering from bad knees but worked every day at Kindred Health Care.

She would make the daily trek across Rocky Ford at 6:10 a.m. This road has five lanes, and given the current volume of traffic on that section, it is considered by engineering standards as the highest level of service (for cars) — an “A.” However, making it an “A” for cars may make it an “F” for walkers.

Engineer John LaPlante, a major contributor to national engineering standards, says a city should design streets to a level of service no higher than “D”; this provides reasonable service to cars with far less risk to other mode users.

Such a strategy would suggest we repaint Rocky Ford as a three-lane road with a center turn lane and maybe make the outside lanes into bike lanes. Applied citywide, 25th Street, Washington Street, Central Avenue, State Street and 10th Street/south Taylor Road all have four-lane sections that may not be warranted and are hard for walkers to cross. These roads could be repainted to three lanes for substantially improved safety to all users. Studies show around a 29 percent crash reduction with this treatment.

About 40 years ago, a number of European countries on the same track as the U.S. — accommodating cars — saw the light and redirected their engineering institutions to focus on accommodating convenient and safe walking and biking. In The Netherlands, 52 percent of work commutes are made without a car; their child deaths have dropped from more than 400 in 1971 to 14 in 2010, and a person is 15 times less likely to be killed walking there than in the U.S.

The secondary benefits are:

A much healthier and safer population.

A more peaceful, quiet city.

A more dense city where destinations are closer.

Less pollution, oil dependence and family expenses.

More discretionary income that is spent locally.

Those without a car are far less marginalized.

Everybody wins. “Context Sensitive Design” and “Complete Streets” are U.S. programs that emphasize a reprioritization so roads work for all users.

Many feel Bradtke needed to walk down to the corner of Middle and Rocky Ford, adding 850 feet (the equivalent of three football fields) to her walk. However, not only is this inconvenient, but even that intersection is not comfortable to cross.

Tragically, this is Rocky Ford’s second casualty of the vulnerable population. Ten-year-old Logan Thompson also died crossing it near Briar Lane in 2010. Logan would have had to add 1,200 feet (about four football fields) to his travel to use a crosswalk.

Gatlinburg, Tennessee, has provided midblock crosswalks every 200 feet or so to cross the four-lane road that passes through it. Drivers move slowly and stop for pedestrians. A relatively new National Association of City Transportation Oficials standard recommends crosswalks every 300 to 400 feet.

In our own city, Brown Street has numerous mid-block crosswalks. Drivers know to expect pedestrian traffic and tend to drive slower. I’m continuously impressed with how many drivers stop for pedestrians at the midblock crosswalk in front of the jail on Second Street.

A practice of providing midblock crosswalks and enforcing pedestrian rights-of-way within them wherever large gaps exist, while reducing road widths (with paint) where traffic volumes do not warrant the current size, would help us provide safer passage to those most vulnerable in our community.

Laurence Brown is the director of the Columbus Area Metropolitan Planning Organization.