The Key to Slowing Traffic is Street Design, Not Speed Limits

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On September 8, Wiley & Sons will release the second book in the Strong Towns series: Confessions of a Recovering Engineer: A Strong Towns Approach to Transportation. Chapter five is about building great streets and how it is essential, if we want places that are prosperous and productive, that we focus on how streets build wealth for a community instead of how efficiently they move vehicles. It is impossible to build a place that people want to be in if they don’t feel safe there.

That should be self-evident but, for many reasons, it is not. This is particularly obvious when there is some type of violent collision. Instead of investigating the factors of the street design that contributed to the crash, those in transportation professions are most often heard resorting to platitudes that put sole responsibility on the driver or the person walking or biking.

“Be hyper-aware of your surroundings.”

“Always obey the speed limit.”

“Speed is a factor in 30 percent of crashes.”

“Safety is a shared responsibility.”

And yet, we know that people are sometimes going to make mistakes. Even conscientious drivers make mistakes. People walking, going about their business, are going to make mistakes. No one is going to be hyper-vigilant every moment that they’re out in the world. And why should we have to?

We can’t regulate our way to safety. We must design our streets to be safe.

Two simple photos reveal what it means to design a street to be safe, versus counting on the speed limit alone to do the job. This image was created by planner Wes Craiglow of Conway, Arkansas, and shared on social media by the “Transportation Psychologist,” our friend, Bryan Jones. We first shared it back in 2015, but it remains timeless, so here it is again:

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