October 22


What are all of these kids
doing at a public hearing? It is already 9:30 p.m. It has to be past their bed
time. “Dad” parades all of the kids up in front of the City Council during the
public comment period. He asks the Mayor which one of the kids the Council
would like to have killed by traffic coming out of the proposed residential
sub-division. This really happened and different variations on this theme
routinely happen as neighbors try to stop development.

As a consultant traffic engineer,
I speak at a lot of public hearings to help developers address traffic related
opposition. While most of the resistance to new development and re-development
projects boil down to resistance to change, local residents claiming that
traffic will get worse with the new development is a common objection. Public officials and developers should be
armed with real data when confronted with this awkward situation.

First of all, I don’t want you to think I take traffic safety lightly.  Fatal crashes on Minnesota’s roadways are
a significant problem. They are so serious
that the Minnesota Department of Transportation, Minnesota Department of Public
Safety, Minnesota State Patrol, Federal Highway Administration, and the Center
for Transportation Studies at the University of Minnesota have
banded together in a Towards Zero Death campaign. These organizations
are cooperating to reduce the deaths on Minnesota roads
through education,
enforcement, and engineering measures.

The good news is that road deaths around the nation are declining. The number
of deaths on the nation’s roadways has dropped from 50,894 deaths in 1966 to
42,636 in 2004. This doesn’t look like a big change, but it is if we look at
the statistics in terms of how many miles Americans are driving. According to
the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the current fatality rate
is 1.46 deaths per million vehicle miles traveled in the United States.  In 1966 there were 5.5 deaths per million vehicle miles traveled. The almost 4
fold decrease in the fatality rate is due to things such as improved roadway
design, traffic control standardization, crumple zones in vehicles, seat belts,
air bags, faster emergency response, drunk driving enforcement, and a host of
other measures. These initiatives by the car manufacturers, transportation
engineers, and enforcement agencies have had a large composite effect. This is
great news, but this data still won’t calm down the parent who thinks their
child is going to be killed by traffic from the next subdivision. We need to
turn to fatal crash statistics within neighborhoods. 

Within neighborhoods,
pedestrian crashes are rare and don’t follow a cause/effect pattern that can
easily be identified or corrected. The National Highway Traffic Safety
Administration published a technical report in 2003 titled Pedestrian
Roadway Fatalities
. The report found that of the 18,118 pedestrians killed
by vehicles in the United States between
1998 and 2001, 2,580 (14%) of
them occurred within urban neighborhoods.  The rest of the fatalities
occurred on higher function roadways outside of residential neighborhoods. 

More encouraging is the
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Traffic Safety Facts
(2003) report that found:

1993, there were 768 pedestrian fatalities in the 0-14 year age group. From
1993 to 2003, the number of pedestrian fatalities in this age group decreased
by 49 percent, with the 4-7 year age group showing the largest decrease.”

Even though we are driving
more and we are building more subdivisions, we are doing it in a safer manner. 

I sifted through Mn/DOT’s
crash records to wrap my arms around Minnesota’s pedestrian crash statistics. According
to Mn/DOT’s crash data, there were approximately 275,000 vehicle crashes from
2002 to 2004. Of those 275,000 crashes, 3,772 (or 1.3%) involved
pedestrians.  Of those 3,772 crashes involving pedestrians, 843 occurred
on local urban streets resulting in: 2 fatalities, 813 injuries and 28
incidences of property damage with no apparent pedestrian injury. The remaining
2,929 pedestrian related crashes occurred on higher order streets. This data
reinforces the small number of vehicle/pedestrian crashes that occur in


  • Living in the San Francisco Bay Area, it is very interesting how crazy drivers can go on both the highways and in the streets. I remembered over ten years ago, I was walking home from school. As I cross the street, a car from out of no where almost ran me over. Luckily I stopped before the car hit me. They didn’t even stop to say they were sorry and just drove by. I think some of the kids stayed because they were once a victim of near fatal accidents and maybe want to voice out their own opinion. At a different time, I saw a fatal accident where it could have been avoided if a stop sign have been implemented on the intersection. Apparently, the car crash occurred because of the blind intersection and the speed of the car on the non-stop street. I believe that streets can be greatly improve if a few traffic adjustments can be made, but as we all know, there are only so much we can implement with the money budget we are given.

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    Mike Spack

    My mission is to help traffic engineers, transportation planners, and other transportation professionals improve our world.

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