Greater Greater Washington

Posts about Road Safety

Roads


Who has the best anti-speeding ads, New York or DC?

We know that most elected officials are very concerned about people talking on airplanes but aren't willing to do much about distracted, reckless, and just speeding drivers who kill people on US roads every day. Can advertising persuade these drivers to be safe?


Image from NYC DOT.

New York's DOT created a series of ads that highlight the tragedy and loss that comes after a moment of inattention or the rush to get somewhere faster claims a life.


Image from NYC DOT.

Meanwhile, here in DC, the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) and Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) put together this 3-minute video about the dangers of speeding, featuring MPD chief Cathy Lanier, DDOT head Terry Bellamy, and others.

Former GGW contributor Stephen Miller hopes that New York's next police commissioner, former commissioner Bill Bratton, will show the same level of concern about speeding that Lanier and others at MPD seem to.

Perhaps what we need is DC officials' attitudes coupled with New York's ad-making prowess. The regional Street Smart campaign, which runs ads each spring, has recently garnered more mixed reviews or outright derision.

What kinds of ads do you think are most effective?

Bicycling


These videos teach bike etiquette with LEGO

How can we show cyclists, drivers, and everyone else on the street how to share? The city of Edmonton, Alberta produced these five six excellent videos using LEGO figures teaching the new rules of the road.

Interactions between cyclists, pedestrians, and drivers can often be contentious. Lighthearted videos like this can help everyone understand their rights and responsibilities in the urban realm.

Thanks to WABA for the heads-up.

History


"Good Roads" and the push for complete streets today

Today's push to improve streets for pedestrians and cyclists mirrors the push a century ago for paved roads. Both ideas stated small but grew to become popular movements by increasing public awareness.


1912 Good Roads map. Photo by Orange County Archives on Flickr.

Over 100 years ago, maps of "Good Roads" led the push for paved roads by letting travelers know which roads were likely to be passable. In Slate magazine, Rebecca Onion recently posted an 1897 map of "Good Roads" in and around Philadelphia. Onion says that maps like these were a necessity in a time where standards on road quality and the funding for infrastructure was haphazard and sometimes non-existent.

Efforts like this are still happening today. While most of our roads and highways are now paved, many communities recognize that our streets need infrastructure upgrades in order to help more people feel safe while traveling on foot or by bike, as well as driving.

In the beginning of the 20th century, the "Good Roads" movement pushed governments to pave more roads to accommodate the newly-invented bicycle. Today, there is a push to create protected spaces for cyclists to use. Many cities are adopting "complete streets" policies that seek to standardize our street infrastructure and emphasize that roads are safe and accessible for all users whether they're on foot, riding a bike, or driving.

Like the "Good Roads" movements, maps are an important tool in advocating for complete streets. Both advocacy groups and local governments publish maps that show where the best routes to bike are. This isn't a new idea, either. Bicycle maps were being published in California as early as 1896.

In every debate over a new bike lane or changes to street parking, opponents sometimes argue that the status quo is fine and question why it should change. "Good Roads" maps show that our infrastructure is always changing, and the desire for better and more accommodating streets is nothing new.

Roads


How will "connected vehicles" affect urbanism?

A consortium of Virginia schools will soon start testing vehicles in Fairfax County that can talk to each other and their surroundings. But what will "connected vehicles" (CV) really mean for transportation and urbanism?


Photo by Steven Mackay.

Researchers have attached tracking equipment to light poles and other roadside infrastructure in and around Merrifield, including stretches of I-66, Lee Highway, and Route 50. The roadside equipment will communicate with devices about the size of an E-ZPass installed in 12 "connected vehicles," including a bus, semi-truck, cars, and motorcycles.

The devices collect data such as acceleration, braking, and curve handling. Researchers hope that the new system will dramatically reduce highway crashes, increase fuel efficiency, and improve air quality.

"The intersection can say 'there is snow happening right here,'" explains Gabrielle Laskey of the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute. Conversely, if a connected car were to experience a loss of traction, it would relay that information to the roadside devices so authorities would know the precise location of hazardous conditions.


Left: a CV data collection unit. Right: an in-car CV display. Photo from the VTTI.

The research will focus on ways to improve both safety and mobility. "If we can detect initial braking, we can slow vehicles down and message the driver, saying something like 'Slow traffic ahead. Reduce speed to 45 mph' or 'Left lane closed ahead; merge right,'" said VDOT Spokesperson Cathy McGhee.

Study will involve area drivers and "regular" cars

The CV technology will go further than the Active Traffic Management System of overhead dynamic signs VDOT will soon install on I-66. The CV system "can give information directly to the driver and provide an additional level of information," said McGhee.

Although the CV roadside equipment is already in place in Merrifield, the connected vehicles are undergoing final road testing on the Virginia test track in Blacksburg. In January, those vehicles plus another 50 operated by VDOT will roll out on Merrifield highways.

In the spring, researchers will seek out drivers of an additional 200 "regular" vehicles through ads on Craigslist and in the Washington Post. Their cars will receive communication devices similar to test vehicles' which will notify drivers verbally or by tone through a GPS-sized display. Drivers who volunteer for the program will not need specialized driving skills. "We want to use naïve participants and make these devices as useful and available as a cell phone," says Laskey.

Over the next couple of years, a consortium of research institutions consisting of Virginia Tech, the University of Virginia, and Morgan State University will conduct 19 separate CV research studies, about half of which will have components in the Merrifield test bed, at a projected cost of $14 million.

One study looks at road signs that can switch from "yield" to "stop," depending on conditions. Another examines how to dim or shut off roadway lighting when it is not needed. And a study in Baltimore involves the use of smart phones and looks at safety and congestion issues related to public transit, transit passengers, pedestrians, and bicyclists.

The new CV technology can also work in conjunction with some current safety systems which use video to "see" non-connected items, such as a pedestrian in a crosswalk, then alert the connected vehicle. The system helps connected vehicles operate on the roadways before a fully connected or automated roadway system exists.

How will CV influence our transportation network?

CV technology could change the way we use and design our streets. Since connected vehicles will alert drivers to imminent collisions, CV technology is expected to drop the crash rate at least by 50 percent, according Thomas Dingus, director of the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, which is coordinating the public-private venture.


Dingus and a CV motorcycle. Photo by the Jessamine Kane-Wiseley.

Connected vehicles will be able to safely travel much closer together than cars can today, vastly improving the efficiency of existing highway infrastructure. At the CV system's public debut on June 6, Governor McDonnell noted that the technology "could do as much to help alleviate congestion as the building or widening of new highways."

Researchers say CV technology could be in widespread use within five years, which Virginia and Maryland should keep in mind as they decide how to spend billions in new transportation funding. Cars traveling closer together will require less space, so road widenings might not be necessary. On already wide streets, the extra space could be used for bike lanes, sidewalks, or landscaping. Building smaller streets not only costs less, but it frees up room for buildings and open space, making communities more compact and preserving land.

If you'd like to learn more about connected vehicles, USDOT is holding a public meeting in Arlington from September 24 to 26. The agenda includes information about the CV safety program and the Intelligent Transportation Systems Strategic Plan for 2015 to 2019.

Roads


Will leaders stand up against the death toll?

Tragically, people are getting killed on District streets, two in one day in February. Experts acknowledge that stopping these deaths is a major challenge. In something of a reversal from decades past, as demographics and living patterns shift, it's also a serious problem in suburban areas such as Montgomery County.


Photo by Hawkins on Flickr.

What is the D.C. Council doing about it? Adding police? Investigating thoroughly? No. In fact, in the budget the council passed this month, Chairman Phil Mendelson dedicated considerable future revenue to ease punishment for those whose dangerous actions put others at risk, while simultaneously restraining the police from expanding enforcement.

I'm not talking about murder and similar violence, though violence in our city is no laughing matter. This problem strikes far closer to home for most of us: distracted driving, speeding, unsafe right turns on red or through crosswalks, red-light running and other forms of unsafe driving.

Continue reading my latest op-ed in the Washington Post.

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Roads


NBC story on cameras actually discusses safety

Something astounding has happened: A news story about speed camera tickets actually discusses whether or not they deter drivers from speeding, one of the acts which makes roads unsafe.

Mark Segraves dug up some information on whether drivers get more repeat tickets at DC or Maryland cameras:

Segraves got data from DC, Montgomery, and Prince George's about the percentage of drivers who get multiple tickets, out of all the drivers who get a ticket from the cameras. Ticketed drivers are twice as likely to have multiple tickets in the Maryland counties, and 20 times as likely to have 5 or 10 tickets.

What would cause this discrepancy?

This could be because the fines were much higher in DC in Maryland (they decreased in DC thanks the last year's camera bill). It could be that the lower fines mean people are less worried about getting caught. Prince George's County Executive Rushern Baker thinks that's true. Anecdotally, I've heard from other drivers who say they're much more afraid of speeding in DC.

It also could be that different groups of drivers get tickets in each jurisdiction. John Townsend of AAA (who can sound entirely reasonable when he tries) thinks that the Maryland cameras are in neighborhoods where the same drivers ply the roads day after day. A possible counter-argument is that drivers who live nearby know where the cameras are, so they shouldn't get tickets.

Another possibility is that DC gets more tourists, who come in, speed, get a ticket, and then aren't around to get more. Martin Austermuhle muses that perhaps Maryland drivers are just worse.

One way to better analyze these possibilities would be to break the data down by state. Are DC drivers re-offending at the same rate on DC cameras as Maryland drivers on Maryland cameras? Are Maryland drivers (most of whom do commute) getting more or fewer tickets on DC cameras than the DC drivers do?

Or, to investigate Townsend's claim, what about just the DC cameras that are in neighborhoods? AAA mostly complains about the ones on freeways, but the most serious safety problems are where major streets cut through neighborhoods. Do people get multiple tickets at higher rates on those DC cameras?

Was it wise to lower fines?

The task force Councilmembers Tommy Wells (ward 6) and Mary Cheh (ward 3) put together couldn't find convincing evidence one way or the other, so the councilmembers decided to lower the fines because of the political blowback. I argued at the time that AAA is orchestrating a lot of that blowback, so if they want to trade peace for lower fines, they'll have to follow through.

Townsend hasn't. Instead, they've sent out a stream of press releases attacking the cameras, and given lots of juicy quotes to the press. He's called cameras "the mother's milk of additional revenue" for government, even though DC lowered the fines.

Townsend even complained about red light cameras after arguing in the task force for keeping the fines high. He told Ashley Halsey III, "The District collects nearly two-thirds, a stunning 61.6 percent, of the [red-light camera] revenue total for the national capital area."

Let's debate the actual safety, not the fake anti-government frame

Maybe cameras won't work. Mount Pleasant ANC Commissioner Jack McKay doesn't think they do. MPD does, but doesn't have good enough data to really prove it. It would be great to have a real debate about what measures will and won't make streets safer.

That's not the debate we are having, however. Instead, AAA is using misdirection. They aren't saying the measures don't improve safety; they are saying the whole thing is a government conspiracy to squeeze money out of drivers. And the non-revenue elements like bike lanes are a "war on drivers" and an attempt to force people out of cars.

This is a pernicious theme because it plays right into the press's existing biases to cover stories as government vs. the people. AAA doesn't want to talk about the people who get hurt from drivers turning right without stopping; they want everyone to blame the evil gummint.

For some reason which escapes me, most reporters seem to eat it up. Halsey led off his story with the extremely biased line, "The lucrative battle to keep drivers in the District from running red lights seems to be achieving more profit than success." It's amazing that there had to be a letter to the editor to point out that illegal driving is more than a revenue issue, it's a safety issue.

Let's look at that success, seriously. A debate about the cameras based on safety would be welcome. There are plenty of angles for reporters to investigate that relate to the actual safety, or the appropriate level of fines. Mark Segraves has taken one step toward that. Will others follow?

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