Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

A "Vision Zero" agenda for DC

GGW has a piece "Vision Zero won't be easy," about traffic safety initiatives proposed by DC's mayoral candidates.  Vision Zero is a traffic safety initiative pioneered in Sweden, although I first heard of it through promotional initiatives by the Center for Transportation Studies at the University of Minnesota, which has developed a "Towards Zero Deaths" initiative in Minnesota.

More recently, a Vision Zero initiative has been promoted in New York City.  Towards the end of the Bloomberg Administration, "Neighborhood Slow Zone" policies were put in place for those residential districts that favored the change, instituting a 20 mph speed limit (past blog entry, "The Plight of Pedestrians").

More recently, Mayor De Blasio made traffic safety an issue, although the focus at first was more on blaming pedestrians for jaywalking.

Since then a more formal Vision Zero initiative has been created, and the State Legislature approved the city's proposal for reducing the prevailing speed limit on city streets from 30 mph to 25 mph.  The city did not have the authority to change the speed limit unilaterally.  This will go into effect next month, on November 7th ("Bill de Blasio signs law to lower speed limit to 25 mph during emotional ceremony," New York Daily News).

As Councilmember, Muriel Bowser did push an initiative a couple years ago that I thought was a bit too cute, to institute a speed limit of 15 mph on residential streets, in association with CM Tommy Wells ("Pedestrian safety and the proposed 15mph residential speed limit in DC: Part One").

I think a 20 mph speed limit makes more sense, and is in line with various urban speed limit reduction initiatives elsewhere such as in Graz, Austria and Montreal ("One more thing about Montreal as a bike city").

According to the UMN CTS report Evaluating the Effectiveness of State Toward Zero Deaths Program
Successful TZD programs have five characteristics: 1) an ambitious goal of eliminating traffic fatalities and serious injuries; 2) high levels of inter-agency cooperation in pursuit of the TZD goal among state departments of transportation, public safety, health, and other relevant agencies; 3) a comprehensive strategy addressing all 4 E’s – engineering, enforcement, education, and EMS elements of traffic safety; 4) a performance-based, data-driven system of targeting resources and strategies where they will have the greatest impact in reducing traffic fatalities; and 5) policy leadership from relevant entities, including the Governor, the state legislature, and the heads of state agencies.
According to the report, programs in Minnesota, Idaho, Utah and Washington have been in place long enough to have enough data to evaluate program impacts, and they found a positive impact on fatality reduction.

My proposed Vision Zero Agenda

In the comments on the GGW piece, I sketched out a pretty complete Vision Zero agenda for DC, which I don't think is hard to do programmatically, but is difficult politically.

1. Put signage up at the major entry points into the city, stating that the prevailing speed limit is 25 mph, unless signed otherwise.  (A big problem on city streets concerns suburbanites driving fast, and their lack of familiarity of driving in places where there are more pedestrians than cars.)

20 mph speed limit sign on Stanford Ave. at East Ave in the Town of Chevy Chase, Maryland
20 mph speed limit sign on Stanford Ave. at East Ave in the Town of Chevy Chase, Maryland.

2. Make residential street speed limits 20 mph. And prioritize pedestrian rights on residential streets. (This would be comparable to the "Neighborhood Slow Zones" in NYC; note that Chevy Chase and Kensington sign neighborhood streets with a 20mph speed limit.)

3. Change the roadway materials (like Belgian Block, etc.) for the streets around pedestrian predominated places e.g., commercial districts, parks, squares and circles, libraries, and Metrorail stations.

This will provide visual, aural, and physical cues for motor vehicle operators to drive at speeds congruent with the land use context and the presence of large numbers of pedestrians and bicyclists.

4. Change the speed limit around Metrorail stations to 25 mph (or 20 mph). (In the outer city, the Gray Administration upped speed limits on arterials to 30mph, from 25mph, although this was also done on 13th St. within the L'Enfant City.

5. Change winter snow clearance practices to support walking, biking, and transit use.

6. When possible separate through traffic from arterials that are also neighborhood serving.  See the past blog entry "Tunnelized road projects for DC."

While it would be expensive, for example, the commuter-through traffic elements of North Capitol Street-Blair Road should be put underground. There are other streets with similar conditions, e.g., 16th Street, where commuting traffic has a deleterious impact on the quality of residential life (ie. see the argument in Appleyard's _Livable Streets_ about how community interaction decreases with the increase in traffic).

7.  Collect, maintain and present detailed data on all traffic accidents of all types (comparable to the recent Washcycle/GGW piece on biking), and put it in real-time on the DDOT Dashboard. The traffic safety "data" presented on the DDOT dashboard is not actionable or useful.

For a time the Toronto Star had a data-assisted reporting project and one thing they did was map all traffic accidents and maintained the data in real-time.

8. Analyze all traffic accidents and incorporate the PEDSAFE and BIKESAFE Safety Guide and Countermeasure Selection Systems AND OTHER TRAFFIC SAFETY ANALYSIS PROTOCOLS to shape physical and programmatic changes as necessary, when structural-design problems have been elucidated.

9. Retrain police officers with regard to bike and pedestrian accident analysis.  Currently, officers are likely to presume that the motor vehicle operator is not at fault, unless the driver is impaired.

10. Legalize the Idaho Stop for bicycling ("Davis, California needs to legalize the Idaho Stop").  In return, require a bicycle endorsement on local drivers licenses. Consider license plates for bicycles. (If only to get motor vehicle operators to shut up.) Add refresher tests to drivers license renewals with specific questions on pedestrian and bicycle safety.

11. Develop and deliver a curriculum for traffic safety (bike, walk, transit, drive) for K-12 schools: elementary; junior high; and senior high schools.

12. Change the legal framework with regard to motor vehicle operation to require that automobiles--as the heaviest and most powerful mobility device--have the most legal responsibility with regard to accidents, comparable to the relatively new (20 years or so) Dutch policies.  See "Traffic safety and Stage 4 of moral development theory."

13. Up the penalties for motor vehicle accidents that injure, maim, or kill pedestrians or bicyclists. Generally, motor vehicle operators are charged and tried only when they are impaired (drugs or alcohol) but not for negligence. Charge enforcement practices and prosecute motor vehicle operators for negligent action which injures, maims, or kills.

14. Except for the fact that they probably have their hands full already, bring back the traffic enforcement division of the police department as a special unit, and move the unit to DDOT. (DC's traffic safety unit was subsumed into "Special Operations.) a few years ago.)

15. Give parking enforcement officers the training and legal authority to ticket for driving infractions. For a variety of reasons, busy police officers in cities don't spend a lot of time enforcing traffic safety even though many cities have dedicated traffic safety units.  Parking enforcement officers are on the streets all day.  Giving them the training and authority to ticket traffic violations would increase the "eyes on the street" focused on traffic safety.  More enforcement would reduce the number of infractions over time.

In comments on my original list at the GGW entry, charlie made the point that Vision Zero is about all deaths, not just pedestrian and bicyclists.  That's true, so I added point 16 and modified point 13.  For the most part, these changes will improve traffic safety generally.

The PEDSAFE and BIKESAFE "countermeasure" systems will identify general design and engineering problems.  But point 8 should be modified to include "AND OTHER TRAFFIC SAFETY ANALYSIS PROTOCOLS".  Note though that most of the countermeasures in such analysis programs are more for suburban settings.  DC's street design has safety built into its foundations.  The problem is that it was designed for the most part when the prevailing speeds for cars were 15 to 20 mph.

16.  Require specialized training for heavy vehicle operators (e.g., concrete trucks, dump trucks, etc.) with regard to driving in urban conditions, and with pedestrian and bicycle traffic.  Note that DC government does this for heavy vehicle operators, as does the Metrobus system.  This training needs to be extended to private sector operators.

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At 8:22 AM, Anonymous charlie said...

Well, I'd say your points are still too focused on protecting "vunerable" users rather than reducing traffic deaths.

(and nothing about injuries)

And the Idaho stop isn't about safety. It may be about making it eaier for cyclists, and to encourage them to use it, but very little about safety. I'd say mandatrory light/bell laws on bikes would be more useful.

(and in 20+ years, I've never been injured driving -- one accident 20 years ago, although I've had 3 bike related injuries)

In terms of #7 (traffic data), that is a powerful idea and should be tied into automated enforcement. It is very clear that red light/speed cameras have been about the cash, not safety.

I would mandate uber-type vehicles need to display something in the rear to show they are likekly to suddenly pull over. Very dangerous.

Calming road rage is probably the most useful thing, and the best way for that is better use of traffic police to move around. I've noticed that DC now has to have 8 cops on duty on Washington Circle thank to the badly designed changes.

As I suggested on GGW, crippling Euro type resriction on young drivers are the best thing. Say $2000 for a private driver course, even more prohibitive insurance, mandatory speed governors, until you reach 25.

I think we coud use some serious thinking power on how to best design urban streets. I have no illusions that state level DOT guidelines are useful is a built environment. (That said, they do focus far more on safety than Euro equivalents). However, I find most of the discussion here based on a general aniumus against cars rather than thinking about safety.

At 2:45 PM, Anonymous Richard Layman said...

well, remember the original post was about Vision Zero _in DC_. And traffic safety, in a place where likely a majority of trips are made by walking, biking, and transit means that the focus of such efforts should be rebalanced.

I do agree about "road rage." But one element is people driving way faster than they should.

I agree about the European approach to learning how to drive generally, although I don't imagine it's much of an issue with DC. After all, the cases of the youth dying in car accidents in DC that I am familiar with involved car jacking or joyriding (e.g., the two kids who died being chased in Maryland, after stealing a car in DC).

Similarly in the discussion in GGW, I commented that backover accidents aren't likely to be as much of a problem _in DC_ because most houses don't have driveways.

U R right about the Idaho Stop, sort of, but it should be part of a comprehensive agenda of clarifying and improving the rules of the roads for bicyclists vis a vis motor vehicle traffic.

I didn't explain further, but basically, I'd say that people who have the bicycle endorsement on a drivers license have more protection when using the Idaho Stop, vis a vis potential accidents.

ANyway, I agree that more needs to be included about motor vehicle safety, but I'd have to read a couple years worth of accident reports to get a handle on what's going on. There isn't good enough info being provided now to get a sense of this.

There is someone who lives in NW DC now, who used to be a traffic accident analysis person for the Austin, TX police dept., and I need to sit down with her about this stuff. We talk about getting together but we never manage to do so...

At 4:05 PM, Anonymous Richard Layman said...

(Technically, they died in MD.)

At 5:22 PM, Anonymous charlie said...

Yes, on further thought you are right about youth drivers (although out of state can be a problem) and other examples such as driveways.

Road rage is usually directly tied into infurating traffic sequences. Better -- not more lucrative -- enforcement can be helpful.

At 6:12 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

note that I did look at some motor vehicle accident "countermeasures" writing, and most of the recommended treatments, except for roundabouts, are standard practice in DC.

Personally, I don't think that a roundabout is an appropriate treatment for center cities, as it is more focused on facilitating motor vehicle movement.

This isn't the article I am referring to, but it does mention that most fatal crashes don't occur in urban areas.

2. The biggest problem is people not following the rules. E.g., the horrific crash in PG County a few weeks ago. While I don't have access to an accident analysis, it seems pretty clear that the driver ignored cues (queuing traffic) at the approach to a signalized intersection, and did not slow down, went around queued traffic, and ran into a vehicle stopped at the traffic light, at a very high rate of speed. Plus it was rainy/raining/had rained, which is a cue to slow down as well.

How do you prevent that?

At 6:39 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

This is te list of the basic set of FHWA recommended traffic safety countermeasures. Many aren't appropriate to the urban setting.

At 6:58 AM, Anonymous charlie said...

Yes, I agee with you that traffic safety/calming measures aren't particularly helpful in the city. I was going to say something similar on your urban roundabouts post, altough Key Boulevard has an example that works well.

(Contra, the new traffic measures on Washington Circle are a disaster)

And clearly, I don't think we have all the answers here, which is where DC could be a leader.

In terms of road rage, the point I was trying to make is the psychology of delaying people, which then turns into rage, which then turns into something stupid.

Off topic, you might like this on affordable housing:

As comparative studies go, you can't beat MGI. That said, in DC I don't think the suggestions work. We have a poverty problem, not an affordable housing problem. People making 30% AMI will never be able to buy a house.

At 7:23 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

It's not often when I've already read a cite you've passed along, but it happens I read this one, and yes, didn't find much "new" in it.

It happens I went to a session yesterday and one the week or two before on this issue, and slowly I am upping my game on this.

Mostly, I think that the public-nonprofit sector needs to be much more active with buy, build and hold.

I will be trying to write about the events I've seen lately this week and next. Derek Hyra, who moved to AU, said some really interesting stuff about microsegregation.

And a person from HUD Baltimore quoted Urban Institute research on Hope 6 which found basically that it was fine for improving buildings, but did little for the poor, especially in terms of improving circumstances.

In mixed income places, the big issue is how to get class mixing in a manner that is beneficial to all.

Hyra cited this paper, Mark L. Joseph’s “Is Mixed-Income Development
an Antidote to Urban Poverty?”

but I haven't yet tracked it down.

Basically, it is taking me much longer than I expected to get a handle on these issues for the Marshall Plan paper....

2. Note too that speaking of cites, Chi. Trib has an initiative riffing off Burnham, and the Dallas Morning News did a magisterial set of articles on poverty too.

3. Richmond, Dallas (Grow South) and some other cities have what appear to be interesting poverty initiatives, but there isn't much online, and whenever I contact press people, they never respond...

4. I guess, re CT and DMN (I remember an incredible special section in the Camden Courier Post about revitalization there years ago, and the Philadelphia Daily News had a "Rethinking Philadelphia" series that was amazing back 10+ years ago too) that the W. Post, because it is bifurcated as a national and a local paper, lets this kind of reporting-writing slide when it comes to the local scale.

At 7:24 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

oh, and I guess I haven't been to the Washington Circle area recently. Will have to check it out.

At 7:43 AM, Anonymous charlie said...

yes, as I said I find MGI reports useful for benchmarks and what not, but as policy guides can be very misleading.

The one useful part was a reminder that social housing is supposed to be a temporary solution, not a permanent one.

(In DC, it is permanent)

I still waiting to read something of Hyra's book on shaw, but I think he is falling into the constant confusion of wealth and income.

Housing, as form of wealth, only makes sense because you can leverage it. And you can only leverage it based on income right now.

Private owned slum housing can give the owner the chance to partake in appreciation. That is good. The problem in shaw is the highly tangled nature of property ownership -- ie plenty of horror stories of a house being owned by someone who died in 1947.

At 10:16 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

a totally different series, on tourism, from Vicksburg, as another example of newspapers doing great local enterprise writing

2. and the CT ran an amazing series on demolition and preservation around 2003 when I started getting involved in this stuff very heavily and later another series on zoning.


At 10:21 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

well, there are two types of social housing, and one type is for the "permanently" impoverished. The trick is can this be changed?

The problem is that public housing in the US has been focused on housing and not community building, and not on helping the impoverished build their capacity to participate in society socially and economically.

cf. Singapore,

2. wrt your point about Shaw and tenure relationships, that's not uncommon (was a real problem in the South), but houses being tied up in estates is a problem all over the city (and presumably elsewhere).

Another variant is the Chinese tradition of keeping the houses of ancestors for their souls, but not using the houses--which is why old empty Chinese laundries can be laggards in places like H St. NE...


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