Thursday, April 16, 2015

Our Troubles with Speed

Radar installation on Rural St, near South High
You probably saw the front page story today about Senator Prozanski's bill to increase the speed limit on the interstate.

Maybe we're not dumb?
From the piece:
At a Senate Committee on Business and Transportation public hearing Wednesday, the committee first heard supporting testimony for SB-459, which would raise the speed limit to help Oregonians who travel Interstate 5 stay consistent with speed laws on I-5 in Washington and California....

Sen. Floyd Prozanski, D-Eugene, told the committee that it didn't seem prudent to keep Oregon's speed limit at 65 mph when the "states to the north and south of us have speeds in excess of that limit." Some segments of the interstates in Idaho allow speeds of up to 80 mph.
Without going to far into this, a couple of things are interesting. As committed to hydraulic autoism as are ODOT folks, even ODOT says, "speed kills," saying "that states that have increased speed limits have typically experienced a 3 percent increase in fatalities."

Here we are dealing with a crude calculus of death: In death rates, what is an acceptable cost to using the road? And even though ODOT is saying we should want to lessen the rate, we are still plainly saying that there is an acceptable death rate. (Bear in mind we're also undertaking a large effort to install cable barriers on the interstate - why would we do this and increase the speed limit at the same time, eh?)

Also interesting is that Prozanski is usually a great ally for bicycling, not normally in thrall to autoism. So this is an interesting bill perhaps also for ironic reasons.

In any event, the banality of the idea of increasing the speed limit in the interstate is a reminder of how much we struggle with our local streets.

At top you see a radar installation on Rural Street SE, very near South Salem High School. This is at the base of a small hill, the road is actually pretty wide, and of course, teen-age drivers. This is another situation where there's a mismatch between the road design and experiential cues on the one hand and the posted speed limit and school zone on the other.

If we were serious about reducing speeds, we wouldn't rely simply on signage and the good intentions of drivers young and old. Instead, we would engineer the road to make it difficult to speed.

This huge road says: Please, go ahead and speed!
It's all too easy to speed here.
With traffic calming measures we would bring the "design speed" down to match the desired posted speed.

But because of our idolatry for car flow, we insist on measures, like temporary radar installations, that we know will fail to create an enduring change.

In the paper there's also a letter to the editor about near-miss bike crash at the intersection of D Street and 23rd. This is on one of our signed bikeways - theoretically, anyway, one of the main routes to the Kroc Center.

Sandwiched between Center Street and Market Street, D Street could easily stand to have auto through-traffic calmed or even diverted some. From a "street heirarchy" standpoint, it doesn't need to serve so much east-west through through-traffic. It could instead serve more local access.

And with that would be an increased emphasis on conditions for people on foot and on bike.

At Council during the CIP hearing, City staff talked about the possibility of applying for a Transportation and Growth Management grant to fund a more detailed plan for family-friendly bikeways, for the "bike boulevards" championed by the Salem Bike Boulevard Advocates.

This intersection at D and 23rd would be a candidate for some redesign.

One important element of bikeway design is speed. You may recall that the City of Salem was not in favor of a new 20mph urban speed limit. Portland embraced it, and is installing signage and limits on their bikeways.

They knew better
 in 1937
Persuading the City to support more 20mph zones, to support more general reductions in speed, and to support engineering and design consistent with lower speeds will be more effective overall than simply multiplying stop signs. All in all, we have to get over our fascination with speed. Speed kills.


Mike said...

The city has a radar/speed limit combo on 16th St just north of D St. The street is a properly sized residential street. People park on street too. And yet the speed limit is 25.

Why would the city set the speed limit to anything higher than 20? It could even be 15 mph. So even where a street is designed properly (obviously before cars became an object of worship) Salem wants people to sped.

Walker said...

There you have it, folks, a perfect example of why we are doomed. The Legislature passes a faux low carbon fuels bill that will do nothing to reduce carbon emissions and will only pump money into the pockets of politically well connected agribusiness interests, but at the same time proposes to raise carbon emissions even more by raising highway speed limits, so that we spend even more money and emit even more carbon just forcing air out of our way (wind resistance rises exponentially as speed rises linearly, as all bicyclists learn quickly!). The fake concern for climate in Oregon is really depressing -- at least the denialists are consistent, they close their eyes and plug their ears and shout "LaLaLa I can't hear you!" At the top of their lungs, and then act like idiots to match. But the environmental community has not even that excuse -- they acknowledge that we're dooming the future with our use of fossil fuels, but then their idea of a response is to raise speed limits and encourage even more petrochemical use to turn even more land over to fueling motorized coffins. So depressing.