To See the Future of Cities, Watch the Curb. Yes, the Curb

By Aarian Marshall : wired – excerpt

When Greg Rogers left his gig as a Washington, DC, lobbyist in 2015, he did what any savvy, mid-20s kid with a car and a light wallet might: He signed up to drive for a couple of ridehailing services. “Living the millennial dream means quitting your job, driving for Uber and Lyft, and trying to figure it out,” he says…

Space Wars

Rogers, the driver-turned analyst, was inspired by his struggles to come up with a new curbside management concept, one that Washington and other cities are beginning to take very seriously. He calls it “shared use mobility zones,” and you can think of it as flex-space: At certain times of day, the city reserves the curb for specific functions. During rush hour, maybe, it’s a pick up stop for a microtransit service. In the afternoon, it’s a spot where trucks can pull over and drag in deliveries without double parking. At night, it’s a designated point where a for-hire car can meet passengers pouring out of the bar on the corner. “The best part is that cities can adjust based on what their goals are,” says Rogers.

And even though Rogers hasn’t actually approached any local governments about his personal zoning idea, cities are acting on similar notions: In October, Washington rolled out a year-long pilot program modeled on the concept of flex-space. Monday through Thursday, a stretch of Connecticut Avenue in the busy Dupont Circle neighborhood is a great place to shop or grab lunch. Thursday through Sunday, 10 pm to 7 pm, it’s one of the most zoo-like nightlife spots in the District.

That’s why the city reserves four blocks on those evenings for ridehailing pick-up and drop-off zones. “Folks were spilling out into the travel lane,” says Evian Patterson, the DC Department of Transportation’s director of parking and ground transportation. Now, just a few months on, he says the city has seen safety improvements. The traffic has gotten better, too. San Francisco and Fort Lauderdale have similar pilots in the works…

Or, faster transportation overall. In 2015, Chicago’s government reserved curbside lanes on a major downtown thoroughfare for buses only, painting them a bright red. In the following year, moving and stoping violations on the road fell. Standing and parking violations almost disappeared. Bus riders were getting to where they needed to go, closer to on time—and so was everyone else… (more)

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Almost every speed limit is too low

By Alex Mayyasi : qz – excerpt

“We all speed, yet months and months usually pass between us seeing a crash,” lieutenant Megge tells us when we call to discuss speed limits. “That tells me that most of us are adequate, safe, reasonable drivers. Speeding and traffic safety have a small correlation.”…

This “nationally recognized method” of setting the speed limit as the 85th percentile speed is essentially traffic engineering 101…

Luckily, there is some logic to the speed people choose other than the need for speed. The speed drivers choose is not based on laws or street signs, but the weather, number of intersections, presence of pedestrians and curves, and all the other information that factors into the principle, as lieutenant Megge puts it, that “no one I know who gets into their car wants to crash.”.

So if drivers disregard speed limits, why bother trying to set the “right” speed limit at all?…
This is important because, as noted in a US Department of Transportation report, “the potential for being involved in an accident is highest when traveling at speed much lower or much higher than the majority of motorists.” If every car sets its cruise control at the same speed, the odds of a fender bender happening is low. But when some cars drive 55 mph and others drive 85 mph, the odds of cars colliding increases dramatically. This is why getting slow drivers to stick to the right lane is so important to roadway safety; we generally focus on joyriders’ ability to cause accidents—and rightly so—but a car driving under the speed limit in the left (passing) lane of a highway is almost as dangerous.

Traffic engineers believe that the 85th percentile speed is the ideal speed limit because it leads to the least variability between driving speeds and therefore safer roads. When the speed limit is correctly set at the 85th percentile speed, the minority of drivers that do conscientiously follow speed limits are no longer driving much slower than the speed of traffic. The choice of the 85th percentile speed is a data-driven conclusion—as noted lieutenant Megge and speed limit resources like the Michigan State Police’s guide—that has been established by the consistent findings of years of traffic studies…

If people and politicians do want to reduce road speeds to improve safety, or make cities more pedestrian friendly, Megge says “there are a lot of other things you can do from an engineering standpoint.” Cities can reduce the number of lanes, change the parking situation, create wider bike paths, and so on. It’s more expensive, but unlike changing the number on a sign, it’s effective…

In its 1992 report, the US Department of Transportation cautioned, “Arbitrary, unrealistic, and nonuniform speed limits have created a socially acceptable disregard for speed limits.” Lieutenant Megge has worked on roads with a compliance rate of nearly 0%, and a common complaint among those given traffic citations is that they were speeding no more than anyone else. With higher speed limits, Megge says, police officers could focus their resources on what really matters: drunk drivers, people who don’t wear seat belts, drivers who run red lights, and, most importantly, the smaller number of drivers who actually speed at an unreasonable rate.

It seems counterintuitive, but it’s a formula Americans should love: Raise speed limits, make roads safer…