December 11


Just Another Pedestrian Killed

By Mike Spack

December 11, 2014

Chuck Marohn posted a very interesting reaction to a 7 year old girl being killed by a drunk driver in front of a library in Springfield, MA.  This has been a hot topic on the internal ITE Forum.  Here are my thoughts –

  • State Street in front of the library looks like a pretty classic candidate for a road diet.  The paint to convert to a two or three lane section with bike lanes and maybe a bumpout for a crosswalk would have been in the same cost ballpark as the hedge/fencing/crosswalk removal that was implemented.  I spent five minutes trying to find an ADT for State Street, but couldn’t find anything on the city’s website or MassDOT’s.  Can anyone provide daily traffic volumes on the road?
  • This case is tragic, but the post presents a straw man argument.  The drunk driver (or a driver who was texting) would have probably run them over if there was a crosswalk, a 20 mph speed limit and warning signs.  No matter how pedestrian scaled and “safe” we make our system, a drunk or distracted person can still speed along corridors like this (and blow red lights and drive the wrong way down one-way streets).  Vehicles with auto-breaking/collision avoidance systems would have really solved the problem and avoided the collision all together (autonomous vehicle tangent – people are bad drivers?!?!).
  • Removing a crosswalk and forcing 7 year old’s to walk an extra four hundred feet and wait at a signal to cross the street adds about three minutes onto their trip (somewhere between 2 and 4 minutes).  That’s a very poor Level of Service F in our trade lingo.  It’s not very often our profession would consider a “solution” that would add three minutes of delay onto motorists, but the crosswalk removal solution Springfield implemented did just that to the pedestrians.
  • Chuck Marohn (civil engineer P.E. and AICP planner) is not the traffic engineer bashing zealot some have made him out to be on the internal ITE Forum.  He’s designed more lane miles in his career than I have.  He lives in my neck of the woods and one of my co-workers is friends with him.  His post is an over-reaction, but I largely support his efforts at Strong Towns to right-size our infrastructure (

I always thought of myself as a multi-modal thinking traffic engineer, but walking to work every day for about nine months now has made me even more aware of pedestrian/bicycle/vehicle conflicts.  I’ve walked through a lot of bad winter weather here in Minnesota and I don’t fault any jay walker for trying to cut three minutes off of their walk in a sleet storm.  Our profession needs to think about these situations….

  • I just got back from London (England) last night – their roundabouts, consistent signage, little chicanes, protected pedestrian islands made walking feel really safe: I had eye contact with drivers most times I was crossing traffic. Drunk drivers or drunk pedestrians seemed much less risky because people looked at each other.

    Got back to NYC and crossing six lane streets was much more of a cognitive load – I was checking pedx signals and the traffic signals (go straight, right turn, etc.) Then correlating that with three lanes of traffic. And the signage and laws are so unclear that you can’t tell if an avenue u-turn is legal or who has right of way.

    As an aside, Tokyo has worse main roads (four lanes in each direction) than NYC, but they still seem safer because the drivers seem more consistent. You don’t even need to catch their eye – they won’t make some crazy turn.

    We could do so much better.

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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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