Last week's headlines about a student being impaled on a fence pole understandably grabbed a lot of attention. It was horrific. Fortunately there were no deaths.
There's a follow-up in yesterday's paper.
But it's also an engineering and design problem, not simply the vagaries of chance, accidental fortune, and poor judgment by the young. Whether we are talking about suburban arterials or rural roads - and there are of course important differences between them - in too many cases it is all too easy to drive at speeds in excess of what is "reasonable and prudent."
A little over a year ago there was an article about the intersection of Orchard Heights and Doaks Ferry, and the same concerns about "catching air" were raised.
Richard Chesbrough who lives near the intersection thinks some drivers are tempted to push that limit when cars speeding east on Orchard Heights Road.Sound familiar?
"They hit that steep rise just before the intersection and they catch air," Chesbrough said.
It cannot be repeated too much: That design on Orchard Heights, the wide, wide road, is all about car through-put at 40mph, not about the safety of the walking and biking public or about the independent mobility of school children or others who might not wish to drive everywhere. It's about our roads as a fire hoses, pumping out cars.
To say the intersection is safe may also minimize the ways that roads are designed for speeds in excess of the posted limit, often designed for 85% of motorists to follow the limit. So here the road is likely designed for 15% of people to exceed the posted speed limit. Straight segments and broad avenues often implicitly encourage motorists to flout posted limits. We say and post signs with one thing, but design for another.
The same thing is true here on Ballantyne. When we design for the 85th percentile, we are designing for 15% to exceed the limit!
According to the paper:
But in South Salem the temptation is there as urban streets quickly give way to less-traveled roads — many that have steep, rolling hills.There's a common misunderstanding here. The basic rule is not "55mph." According to ORS 811.100 the basic rule is not a numerical default, and instead depends on judgment about what is "reasonable and prudent":
According to city of Salem traffic engineer Kevin Hottmann, there is no speed limit on Ballyntyne Road S, meaning the basic rule of 55 mph applies. The traffic control unit for Salem Police had not yet calculated the speed that the vehicle was traveling before it collided with about 300 feet of chain-link fencing, but police received unconfirmed reports that the car had been going about 80 mph....
“You’re taking a 2,000-4,000 pound instrument and accelerating it to get airborne,” he said. It’s especially dangerous, he said, if you’re a 16-year-old with limited driving experience. “Kids will be kids. At that age they believe they’re invincible.”
Violation of basic speed rule...(1) A person commits the offense of violating the basic speed rule if the person drives a vehicle upon a highway at a speed greater than is reasonable and prudent, having due regard to all of the following [list follows, which includes weather, visibility, width of road, etc.]Given the limited visibility, it's highly likely that 55mph isn't prudent here under any circumstances! Farm equipment or a stranded motorist could be on the road just over the crest of the hill - not to mention a person on bike. 55mph is certainly too fast for a lot of rural roads, but it's probably not difficult at all to drive the road at 55mph - until something bad happens.
Our roads are designed for speed and through-put. They are not designed for careful, and deliberate progress or for the safety of all road users.
And it's not just about speeding. The expectation among drivers is for unfettered movement on hills. As a commenter on another blog recently put it about the way people on bike impede autoists:
Driving to and from town can be a hazard when coming up behind a Cyclist barely moving up a hill in the car lane. Cyclists should lobby for Bike lanes on [a rural road] not only for their safety but also for the safety of motorists trying to pass them when they yield the road to motorists.This isn't a person at all interested in "hill topping." Nevertheless, the idea is that nothing, not hills, not people on foot, on bike, on horse, slow moving farm equipment - nothing should impede people in cars. And when impediments arise, they should be designed out of the traffic lane and and moved out of the roadway for cars.
In fact, at times even the hills should be removed!
Under the doctrine of "forgiveness," because we want to design roads that "forgive" minor driver errors, an extreme solution is to smooth out the hills - just as we remove right angled turns and create more sinuous curves, just like we are doing on Market Street at Swegle. Get out the grader and road cutting equipment. Widen the road and smooth the curves and get anyone not in cars - or even slow moving cars - out of the way. Let us go fast.
|Market and Swegle:|
Engineering "forgiveness" will result in faster speeds
We should design streets for slower speeds and for all users of the road, rather than designing roads for higher speeds that "forgive" errors and hope drivers obey the posted speeds.