Opinion: To End Traffic Deaths, Cities Must Put Safety Over Speed

Eliminating road deaths requires an overhaul of U.S. infrastructure and regulations to prioritize the safety of people in cars, on foot, and on bikes.

2 minute read

October 24, 2023, 10:00 AM PDT

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction


Yellow pedestrian crossing sign with black stick figures of mother and child crossing white crosswalk with blurred green trees on city street in background.

pimonpim / Adobe Stock

In an opinion piece for The New York Times, Jamelle Bouie outlines the challenges to stemming the mounting number of traffic deaths on U.S. roads, including the size of vehicles and the design of roads and infrastructure.

“It is difficult to overstate just how much the design of modern trucks and S.U.V.s threatens pedestrian safety,” Bouie writes. “In a 2020 study of pedestrian crashes in Michigan, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found that at residential and city speeds of 20 to 39 miles per hour, 30 percent of crashes with S.U.V.s resulted in pedestrian fatalities, compared with 23 percent for cars. At 40 miles per hour or higher, all crashes with the S.U.V. killed the pedestrians, while just over half the crashes with cars resulted in pedestrian fatalities.”

Meanwhile, the lack of safe pedestrian infrastructure on many streets puts pedestrians and cyclists at even higher risk. “Pedestrian infrastructure is often worst in places that are most disadvantaged. Compared with more affluent neighborhoods, these communities have fewer parks, sidewalks, marked crosswalks and other measures to calm traffic. They are also more likely to have wider roads and sparse streetscapes, which encourage speeding.”

For Bouie, “the path to drastically reducing pedestrian deaths is a steep one. It would require our cities to completely rethink their vehicle and pedestrian infrastructure, with an emphasis on reducing traffic speeds and redesigning streets to force drivers to slow down.” It also calls for improving public transit and multimodal infrastructure that offers people realistic, efficient, and affordable ways to get around without cars. “America’s City Councils, city planners and traffic engineers would, in short, have to prioritize safety over speed and the efficient movement of vehicles.”

Saturday, October 21, 2023 in The New York Times

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