Episode 29 – Fatality Statistics, Bikes & Pedestrians, Speed Humps

Topics: NHTSA Fatality Statistics 2008, Speed Humps, Bicycles and Pedestrians in the Motorized Environment


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Episode 29 – 2008 Fatality Statistics, Bicycles & Pedestrians, Speed Humps

Hello and welcome to Talking Traffic episode number 29. My name is Bill Ruhsam and I host this podcast and its sister website Talking Traffic dot org. Today is Monday April 13th, 2009. Episode 29 is a three-parter because I’m going to tease you with information to think about rather than go deeply into depth on any of it. There’s good reason for not digging deeply into these topics, which you will find out if you keep listening. First, as a teaser, I have a friend who’s been bugging me to do an episode on Road Diets. A road diet is when you take an existing (say) 4 lane road and replace two of the lanes with parking or landscaping or bicycle lanes some other feature. The purpose of this is to increase safety for all modes of travel including bikes and pedestrians by reducing congestion and vehicle speed while at the same time installing elements that are known to increase the usability of a roadside environment for non-motorized users. Coincidentally at the same time an article in Newsweek came out describing NY city major Bloomberg’s plan to entirely close down sections of Broadway in Manhattan. There’s a lot of meat for discussion here and I’d like to hear what you have to say about it. Let me know by sending emails to bill at talking traffic dot org and we’ll have a full episode on it later.

Now, in the words of Casey Kasem, On with the countdown!

The first topic of today’s podcast is the most straightforward. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration released their preliminary 2008 fatality statistics for the United States on April 6th. The basics of this release are this: 2008 fatalities dropped both absolutely and relatively compared to 2007. 37,313 people died on our nations roadways last year compared to 41,059 in 2007. That is a 9.1% reduction in fatal crashes!

Also, the crash rate dropped as well. In 2007 there were 1.36 fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles traveled. In 2008, that dropped to 1.28 which is a 5.9% decrease. The reason these percentage decreases are different is because the number of vehicle miles traveled also dropped between 2007 and 2008. If you ever want to read some fun reports, keep track of the Bureau of Transportation Statistics. Link on the show notes.

These numbers are good things, but as I stated very clearly in Episode 24, 37,313 people dying on our roads is a national catastrophe! The entire population of houghton, Michigan, POOF every year. But it’s very humdrum to most people because the problem is so diffuse. 37,313 people per year over the whole country doesn’t work out to very many on a local basis. I urge you to not be complacent about this! Demand safety improvements from both your governments and from your vehicle manufacturers. However, the most important and easiest way to reduce these crashes is to become more aware of your environment when you’re on the road.

This dovetails nicely into my second topic, about Bicyclists and Pedestrians. First, some setup

You’ll notice that I try not to use the word “accident” on this blog or podcast. That is because there’s no such thing as an “accident”. The word implies that no one is at fault, that it was truly a random act. Well, if you get swallowed up by a fissure in an earthquake or hit by a meteor, I’ll allow that as legitimate use of the word, but if you are in two-vehicle collision, somebody made the final mistake. Maybe both somebodies. The easiest way to avoid these incidents is to practice safe defensive driving, to be aware of your surroundings and to always be looking ahead. As a pedestrian or a bicyclist, it’s even more important to have a situational awareness. I was in a discussion with a colleague on one of my professional listservs this week about the responsibilities that pedestrians and bicyclists have to avoiding dangerous situations. I took exception to the exact phrasing of the statement because it seemed to imply that bikes and peds had all of the responsibility to avoid the motorized vehicles around them. My response was a bit snippy about how we need to be doing better, as a profession, to educate the pilots of these 2 ton deadly weapons as to their responsibilities for the people around them. I stand by that statement, thus this podcast, but I also hearken to something my father taught me when I was a child, as we were walking across A1A in Florida to go to the beach. “You may be right, but you’re also dead right”

Cars and trucks drivers have a safety cushion by virtue of being a large steel cage with numerous internal safety features. Pedestrians usually have the benefit of being physically separated from automotive traffic by some sort of distance, be it a shoulder or a path or a sidewalk unless they’re crossing the road. Bicycles have none of that, being required to travel inside the same pavement width that larger, faster, deadlier vehicles are. I will never stop trying to educate drivers in their responsibilites, but bikes and peds need to have a healthy respect for their own mortality. This is a good attitude to have until we can make a dent in the American opinion that “cars come first”.

My last topic today is on Speed Humps. Speed humps are a typical traffic calming measure on residential streets such as within individual subdivisions. I talked about these in episode 11. Speed humps are like speed bumps but longer. Some people also call them speed tables but tables are slightly different in design. For this discussion Speed Tables and Speed Humps can be considered interchangeable. They typically can be driven comfortably by cars at a speed between 20 and 25 miles per hour, it depends on the design. They are installed because of an actual or perceived speed problem on a street. If you want to hear this traffic engineer rant in his car, you should hear me complain about speed humps around Atlanta that cannot be traversed comfortably at the posted speed limit of the street!

Speed humps have a significant problem. They can delay emergency vehicles on their way to your residence. Just how much this delay can be is open to discussion. The Institute of Transportation Engineers Journal had an article which listed a delay of between 1 and 9 seconds per hump. These are hard numbers from a study conducted by reputable professionals. Now, you could look at that and think, “Well, there’s only 3 speed humps between me and the nearest arterial street. That’s only 15 seconds on average.” Fifteen seconds is probably within the statistical error for emergency response times. However, what I became aware of recently was a study by an Ambulance group in London, England that claims paramedics were actively avoiding traffic calming measures and thereby adding up to 2.5 minutes to response time. Additionally, the study says that some paramedics were delaying necessary and important medical procedures because they felt that traversing the speed humps would detrimentally affect their patients.

This study was published in May of 2003 and the ITE Journal study I mentioned earlier was from 1997. I haven’t done an exhaustive literature search to see if there have been studies more recent then they are, but I believe these give everyone food for thought, no? Will installing that speed hump in your neighborhood mean more danger, not less? I’ll leave that for now as an exercise for the listener.

So, as I said, three topics for you all to think about. Crash fatalities going down, but not enough, Pedestrian, Cyclist and Motorist awareness, and the possibly detrimental affects of speed humps. Have fun.

Thanks for listening. This episode of talking traffic is released under a creative commons 3.0 attribution non-commercial no-derivatives license. Distribute it all you like, but be sure to credit me and talking traffic dot org. If you want to share your opinions on these topics, by all means leave a comment on the show notes or send an email to bill at talkingtraffic dot org. The music you hear is by Five Star Fall and can be found at Magnatune .com

Until next time, keep a wary eye out and be safe.

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