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Is Safety One of the Goals for Traffic Engineers?

The Modern Transit Society web site has moved. To obtain this page in the latest version, change "" to "" in the URL (web address). Below is an archived version (September 2005).


Is Safety One of the Goals for Traffic Engineers?

An analysis of the goal of safety yields an unexpected result. Safety for all modes of transportation is one of the goals of the traffic engineer. However, it will be shown that this goal is subservient to other goals, and that danger to the public was increased.

Traffic engineers supported the destruction of guideway transit, the safest form of transportation. This had the result of making most transit users switch to cars.

The chance of a bicyclist getting hit by a car is equal to the average accident rate for the trip times the distance travelled (the trip length). By supporting prohibitions on expressways, traffic engineers increased both factors: the travel distance (often several mile detours were required) and the accident rate (because the expressways have a much lower accident rate than arterials).

Traffic engineers increased the danger to pedestrians by sometimes omitting one of the crosswalks at an intersection. It forces three intersection crossings at triple the accident rate (and wastes the pedestrians' time).

In other words, traffic engineers increased the danger to the travelling public, for the purpose of discouraging the competition to automobiles. Obviously, increasing danger was not the intent, but a by-product, that was ignored in making the desired result (destructions and prohibitions) politically more feasible.

The human cost is unconscionable. A recent article [Contra Costa Times, 9/19/88], states that "automobile accidents account for 50% of the cases handled at John Muir Medical Center's trauma center. When you add in 13% for motorcycle accidents, and 9% for auto versus pedestrian accidents, nearly three-quarters of the most serious injuries in Contra Costa County occur on the roadways." The article further states, "Auto accidents are ... the leading cause of death for children under 18." It cannot be denied that increasing the number of automobile trips by destroying transit greatly increased the accident rate - both to people who switched to driving automobiles, and to pedestrians and bicyclists who must now encounter more automobiles. Further health costs are caused by air pollution, but clean air has not been one of the goals of traffic engineering departments.

Safety is given consideration, but only within the context of other goals being satisfied. If safety was the main traffic engineers' goal, then they would not have supported destroying the safest form of transportation - trains. They continue to encourage the most danger causing form of transportation, automobiles, by promoting more lanes that encourage an increase in automobile usage, and encourage longer distance (and more dangerous) automobile trips.

Update: The conclusions of this page are echoed by the study Mean Streets 1998 by the Surface Transportation Policy Project which states:

"Part of the problem is that pedestrian safety has always been a secondary traffic engineering issue. The overriding goal of traffic engineering has been to improve roadway "levels of service" (LOS), so that more vehicles may travel at higher speeds. That often means designing roads with wide lanes [which increase vehicle speeds], large turn radii at intersections [which cause cars to zoom around corners], [additional] lanes [which increase crossing distances for pedestrians], and other features."