Thursday, January 25, 2018

Crashes on Lancaster and Commercial Show Design Flaws

Earlier this week the paper had two narratives involving driver error. One of the errors was wildly negligent, multiple and catastrophic, the other a more "minor" instance of carelessness that was lucky not result in catastrophe.

But both of them were made worse by our overwide stroads, Lancaster Drive near Chemeketa Community College and Commercial Street at Keubler. On both of the streets, design speed is high, reaction time short, and stopping distance long. The crashes were fatal in one instance and "merely" dramatic in the other.

The primary cause in each was driver error, but our roadway design and our approach to speeds and traffic volumes were contributing factors that compounded the primary driver errors and made the consequences much, much worse.

At slower speeds, this crash
would be likely survivable
From the piece:
A Salem woman was sentenced to roughly 18 years in prison Monday for killing two teenagers and injuring a third when she drove her SUV over a curb near Chemeketa Community College in 2010.

Sophia Downing was traveling on Lancaster Drive NE on Sept. 23, 2010, when her Chevrolet Blazer careened across a sidewalk, hitting three people standing near Winema Place NE....

In 2012, Downing was convicted of two counts of first-degree manslaughter, DUI, reckless endangering and one count of second-degree assault. She was sentenced to 25 years in prison, but the Oregon Court of Appeals overturned her manslaughter and assault convictions in January 2016....

Facing a new trial, Downing instead pleaded guilty to two counts of manslaughter and one count of second-degree assault in December.
Lancaster Stroad at Winema Place - note the closed crosswalks
via Streetview
Lancaster here is wide and straight, optimized for speeding. The crosswalks at Winema have been closed because of all the conflicts: turning movements and lane changing and speed. Immediately south of the image there is an enhanced crosswalk for access to the bus stop, and I believe that was installed only after and partially in response to Downing's crash. But it is retro-fitted into the road and the road's posted speed, and is in no way a fundamental and structural shift to the design of the road itself.

Not Even Flashing Lights and Sirens are Enough

Even the Ambulance is not safe at this giant intersection
On the other end of town, but also involving an oversized road, a driver missed hearing or seeing an Ambulance and crashed into it in the recently enlarged intersection of Kuebler and Commercial.

A driver hit the ambulance!
An editorial a day or two later stressed the problem of "distraction," but did not think at all about speed or size of the road. (Happily, it did argue "crash, not accident.")

The editorial doesn't talk about size or road or speed
The intersection and general roadway area is crazy busy. And the speeds are such that even minor errors in inattention can't be recovered from. Maybe the driver was blasting the radio and not paying attention at all, maybe the driver just looked down or away for a brief moment - either way, there wasn't enough stopping distance or time to make a correction, and the Ambulance was hit hard enough to be turned on its side. This was no fender-bender.

Asking People Voluntarily to Walk and Bike along these Roads is Unreasonable

Last summer, some errands took me out South Commercial. Just south of this intersection with Kuebler, at the driveway to Walmart some dingus had put a "road work ahead" sign in the north-bound bike lane. With all the turning movements at Walmart, an immediately adjacent bus turn-out, and the fact that the road is signed 40mph, there's no realistic way to "take the lane" and stopping also was treacherous. I just had to get up on the sidewalk and do something I hate: Ride on the sidewalk. 

In a 40mph zone, the bike lane was totally blocked,
and there were lots of turning movements at Walmart -
it was necessary to ride on the sidewalk for a ways!
Nobody likes strong-bodied adults who ride on the sidewalk! They're annoying as heck. They almost always feel like scorchers. They hog space, they go too fast, and drivers aren't generally looking for them. Biking adults generally don't belong on the sidewalks. The sidewalks are for people on foot and with mobility devices.

But there was no choice here.

Even with striped bike lanes, Lancaster and Commercial/Kuebler do not offer environments in which it feels safe or comfortable to bike or walk. (And of course just a few blocks north, past the light at Kuebler, a driver killed a teen trying to cross the street last summer.)

via Twitter
via Twitter
If we want to encourage walking and biking, we're not doing enough of the right things, and these two crashes are indices and canaries, not aberrations, all too expressive of our autoism. #slowthecars

1 comment:

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Today Strong Towns posted another relevant piece. Teasing it, they write, "Why do we design streets within our communities where, when human beings make poor decisions or mistakes (speeding or driving impaired), the results are fatal?"

"Speed kills, so why do we keep designing for it?"