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Road improvements? No, road impairments

Mixing high speed traffic and people on foot or bikes is a recipe for disaster. The findings of a Palm Beach MPO study bear this out, showing the extraordinarily dangerous nature of the county’s arterial road network. Below is a map showing the hot spots identified. Thanks to Wes Blackman for reporting on this MPO meeting and recording it. [links to Wes’ blog and video recording of meeting here]

“Very similar intersections. Very similar land uses. Unfortunately, very similar outcomes.” –  consultant speaking  regarding Military Trail/Okeechobee intersection and Military Trail/Forest Hill intersection

 

The map is revealing, but it’s not surprising to readers of this blog. Discussions about road safety tend to focus on band-aid fixes but gloss over the more fundamental issue at hand. What’s not often discussed is the nature of these dangerous roadways and their adjacent land development pattern. The common denominator?

 

They’re all stroads.

What’s a stroad? It’s a word coined by Strong Towns founder Chuck Marohn to describe what he calls “The futon of transportation options”, in that it neither moves cars quickly and safely from point A to B (a road) nor does it provide an enjoyable human habitat for people to gather and enjoy life in public space (a street). When you put lots of people in a complex environment with cars moving fast, you get lots of crashes. Here is a video explaining what a stroad is. Stroads are low tax productivity yielding, high crash inducing, human meat grinders of junk infrastructure. No matter where you’re from, think of the ugliest, most generic road in town and it’s probably a stroad. With the exception of a couple blocks of urban Atlantic Avenue, where the sheer number of people walking are likely responsible for a spike in the numbers, every one of the segments identified is a stroad in varying degrees.

 

 

Palm Beach County is full of stroads and they’re difficult to deal with. These problems can’t all be put on the traffic engineers either because adjacent land uses have a lot to do with the stroadification of our county; it’s not just about the road’s geometry but what it is adjacent to. Look at Indiantown Road as a good example, a stroad-in-progress. It’s the result of many small decisions to diminish its efficacy as a road over time. Add a turn lane here, a traffic signal there. The new subdivision demands another light 500 feet away. Before you know it, cars are stopping, switching lanes, and turning so often that the road’s effectiveness as a high speed connection between two places is severely compromised. All these movements and differences in speeds make it a dangerous environment for everyone involved: drivers, bicyclists, people walking. And all these intensified land uses (yet low tax yielding) around it generate more traffic of various modes and more crashes. Since stroads aren’t streets and don’t operate at slow speed as streets do, crashes are very serious when they happen.

All this new car-oriented development along a stroad necessitates lots of turn pockets and traffic signals in order to access the strip malls and subdivisions that flourish in a car-only environment. With each new development, more degradation of the road takes places. Over time, it becomes more like Okeechobee Boulevard, with so much stop-and-go and traffic lights that it takes 15 minutes to drive 3 miles.

Changes to the roadway design are often said to be “improvements” or “upgrades”, but the question must be asked: Improvements for whom? A new traffic signal for Wal-Mart is a great advantage for Wal-Mart, but doesn’t serve people trying to get from point A to point B quickly; for those people, it is an impairment to the functioning of the road rather than an improvement.

At the next public meeting when the traffic engineer suggests a “road improvement”, ask that it be called a “road impairment” instead.

Many of these stroads were created over time in a process of degradation, from road to stroad. I’m reminded of an image posted on the Historic Boynton Beach Facebook page, depicting Congress Avenue in 1964. Notice the simple geometry and lack of signals, driveways, turn pockets, etc. It used to work as a road before it got ‘stroadified’ into the monstrosity that it is today, mucked up by all the subdivisions and forgettable strip malls that line it today. You can’t get anywhere fast driving on Congress Avenue, but nor can you walk along it without fearing for your life.

Congress and Hypoluxo, 1964

Congress and Hypoluxo as it looks today.

The best of the worst

stroad-diagramOver time, an environment is created that was never designed to safely accommodate pedestrians and bicyclists and never will.  The best that can be done now with many of these crash hot spots is to slap some special “countermeasures” in the road design to try and make matters a little less intolerable. It’s not an easy job, but it’s important to do what we can to make conditions a little safer for the vulnerable populations that tend to be victims of these poorly designed environments. All that can be done is to try to make it the best of the worst at this stage.

 

Let’s make these dangerous stroads a little less dangerous where we can. But most importantly, let’s stop building them in the first place. Rather than an inexorable decline, let’s build town centers and neighborhoods with great streets and keep our roads functioning as connections between these great places.


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Contextual design underpins new FDOT Complete Streets plan, allows 10′ lanes and cycle tracks

Great news for safer streets in Florida. Billy Hattaway, FDOT District One Secretary, has revealed more details on the progress of the FDOT Complete Streets implementation plan and by all accounts, it promises to be transformative. Mr. Hattaway had this to say in an email:

Our Complete Streets efforts are changing our approach to street/highway design from a “one size fits all approach” to a context based approach. Our designs will treat rural, suburban and urban downtowns very differently than our current approach. As an example, instead of having 12’ lane widths for all of our standard designs, we will be incorporating 10’, 11’ and 12’ lanes based on context.

Similarly, we will have different treatments for bicycle facilities, including shared lanes, our new standard 7’ buffered bike lanes, and cycle tracks, based on context, just as you described in your e-mail.

The implementation plan will be finalized by the end of this year, according to Mr. Hattaway, with much of the implementation work happening in early 2016.  Thank you FDOT for taking seriously the safety crisis on Florida’s streets. Bravo to Billy Hattaway for his leadership in making Florida a safer and more livable place. This is a huge step forward for Florida.

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True safety lies with design

Great article on the primary importance of good design to the safety of bicyclists, with photo examples of Utrecht, Netherlands. Having been able to cycle in Utrecht myself in 2007, I can attest to the extremely pleasant and safe conditions in this Dutch university town. Everyone rides a bike to get everywhere. It’s simply part of everyday life.

From the article:

“… the safety record of the Netherlands for cycling is almost entirely attributable to the physical environment people cycle in, and that it isn’t down to exemplary behaviour (either of people cycling, or of people driving), or down to clothing, or safety equipment, or special lighting, or any other kind of gimmick.”

Source: True safety lies with design


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Jaywalking enforcement campaign misses the mark

Delray Beach Police department has issued over 1,000 warnings to jaywalkers, and is now ticketing them, under the guise of keeping us all safe.  WPTV has the story.

Atlantic Avenue, to set the stage for readers unfamiliar with this street, is one of the most successful main streets in the state. Two narrow lanes, parallel parking, and ample street trees canopy over the most successful section of the street and send the message ‘this is a place for people first.’ Cars move very slowly down “The Ave”, as it should be. I would guess the average speed of vehicles is about 10 – 15 mph. Pedestrians pack The Ave, strolling, shopping and dining. They come for the ambiance, the restaurants, and the people watching. It’s a great place, and its success is reflected in the commercial rents that top $60 – 70 per square foot.

As part of the silly “Alert Today, Alive Tomorrow” (ATAT) FDOT campaign, the police department has apparently secured a state grant to pay for officers’ overtime pay. The police department has chosen to focus on the ‘jaywalkers’ (don’t even get me started on the term jaywalking, a term invented by organized motordom) crossing to and fro across Atlantic Avenue, issuing over 1,000 warnings and now fines of $64.50. Here is the marketing material from the ATAT website. Notice the list of  “Bicyclist Tips” and “Pedestrian Tips”. The underlying message: The streets do not belong to people – they are for cars.

What I find offensive about this campaign is the disregard for the urban environment in which it is taking place. Atlantic Avenue is a very rare thing indeed – a main street that has managed to not be overengineered to serve cars – and as Andres Duany has put it, if you can put together two to three blocks of good urbanism, you have a destination. That’s what Atlantic Avenue is and it is possible because of slow moving cars caused by a somewhat chaotic environment with lots of people, not in spite of it.

As if we hadn’t ceded enough public spaces to automobiles, in one of the most successful, people-centered places in the state, the enforcement effort is squarely put on people walking. Obey, or get ticketed. This campaign misses the mark. What it should be focusing on is the folks who are guests on this successful main street – the people behind the wheel of a steel box capable of generating a massive amount of force, so much so that as speeds approach 30 mph, the likelihood of a pedestrian surviving falls to about 50%. The person driving a vehicle, outfitted with airbags, seatbelts, and all manner of safety measures, is at very low risk of injury or death. The pedestrian on the other hand… They have every incentive to watch out for their own hide because to not do so could cost them their life. How about placing primary responsibility where it belongs – with the driver?

More importantly, though, FDOT needs to stop paying lip-service to pedestrians and bicyclists and get serious about letting cities design their places contextually.

Here are the questions we should ask:

  • The police department issued over 1,000 warnings to ‘jaywalkers’ in the past two months. How many tickets were issued to motorists?
  • What are the crash statistics on Atlantic Avenue between cars and pedestrians? Compared with the pedestrian traffic in this place, is it dangerous or relatively safe? Where are the most dangerous intersections in Delray Beach? (just a guess: Anywhere two stroads meet)
  • If there is a ‘problem’ with jaywalking, why is that the case? Where are people crossing frequently and why? Why hasn’t the city accommodated pedestrian preferences in those locations?
  • Who has more to lose in a collision – a car or a person walking? If a driver blows through a light on the Ave and hits a pedestrian, who gets hurt?

Throwing more enforcement money at the horrific pedestrian and bicyclist fatality problem in Florida is not the answer, even if the intention is good. It will take a serious rethinking of how we design our streets, not a public shaming campaign of so-called ‘jaywalkers’.

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  1. Chuck Marohn of Strong Towns wrote a fantastic piece, “Just Another Pedestrian Killed“, that I encourage everyone to read
  2. “Fighting Traffic” is a must read book if you haven’t picked it up yet. This lecture at CNU 20 was a great recap of the book which tells the story of organized motordom overtaking our streets.


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Palm Beach Post story: Hit and run crashes soar in Palm Beach County

It’s almost unfathomable. In the state of Florida, there are over 75,000 hit and run crashes yearly. And these crimes have nearly doubled since 2011 in Palm Beach County.

This excellent Palm Beach Post article tells the story of one such crime and its effects on the victim. Luckily, he lived to tell the tale, but many are not so fortunate.

Video interview with the crash victim: http://launch.newsinc.com/?type=VideoPlayer/Single&widgetId=1&trackingGroup=69016&siteSection=palmbeachpost_nws_loc_sty_pp&videoId=28419611

Thank you to Jorge Milan of the Palm Beach Post for covering this important story and highlighting the enhanced hit and run penalties that are in effect as of 2015. Media needs to continue to highlight these penalties anytime a hit and run story is covered.

A summary of the Aaron Cohen Law can be found here: http://www.aaroncohenlaw.org/a-summary-of-the-aaron-cohen-life-protection-act1

For a realtime account of the carnage pedestrians and bicyclists face on Florida roadways, be sure to follow @FLMassacre on Twitter.

Story below.

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Joseph LaRocca isn’t seeking eye-for-an-eye justice for the driver who fled the scene after slamming into his bicycle in Boynton Beach, leaving the 65-year-old man with a mangled left leg.

A little empathy would suffice.

LaRocca is part of an epidemic of hit-and-run crashes in Palm Beach County, the state and nation. In 2013, there were 6,128 crashes in Palm Beach County involving property damage, injuries or death in which the driver took off, according to the Florida Highway Patrol.That was nearly double the total of 3,381 hit-and-run crashes that took place in 2011.

While LaRocca didn’t suffer any serious injuries — a dislocated left knee cap that may require surgery — his case stands out for the sheer callousness of the offending driver.

LaRocca, who owns an orthopedic shoe store in Boynton Beach, said he was riding his bicycle on the sidewalk Jan. 10 when he was struck by a car near the Savannah Lakes Apartments on Gateway Boulevard.

As he lay on the sidewalk with his left leg gruesomely bent in a 90-degree angle and wondering if he would ever walk again, LaRocca heard the man get out of his car.

“I thought he was coming to help me,” LaRocca said.

But the man had no such intentions. Instead, the driver got out of his vehicle cursing, picked up LaRocca’s bicycle and hurled it to the side before jumping back into his car and making a quick getaway.

Boynton Beach traffic homicide investigators have identified a “person of interest” in the case but declined to provide further information because the investigation is ongoing, a police spokeswoman said.

“It was like I was a piece of garbage that was in the way,” LaRocca said. “I’d like for him to be held accountable. It would be very nice if he could take some courses in compassion. It’s like, really? How does somebody do that?’”

A deadly stretch in the county

The past three months have been particularly deadly in Palm Beach County thanks to hit-and-run drivers:

– Arnold Metellus, a 59-year-old Road Ranger, was killed Oct. 26 while standing next to the driver’s side door of a disabled vehicle on the east shoulder of northbound Interstate 95 south of Palmetto Park Road.

– Khiar Raymond, a 15-year-old student, was struck and killed while he and other teenagers walked back from a Boynton Beach High School basketball game on Dec. 2o.

– Jeffrey Collake, a 47-year-old homeless man, died New Year’s Day after he was hit by a vehicle while standing on the center median on Okeechobee Boulevard near the entrance to Florida’s Turnpike.

– Johnny H. Sanchez was killed Jan. 3 after a vehicle drove over him while Sanchez lay on Lake Worth Road.

The four deaths in three months are more than the total for 2013 when three people were killed by hit-and-run drivers within the county borders.

Karl Seifel has worked for the West Palm Beach Police Department for 29-plus years, including nearly 20 years as a traffic homicide investigator. Much has changed in that time but not the excuses people give for leaving the scenes of crashes.

“I’ve heard it all,” Seifel said. “Most of the time, it’s because they have a suspended license or they have an arrest warrant out for them or they don’t have a driver’s license or because they were drinking and driving. People panic.”

Often stupidly.

Seifel mentions a recent case in which a driver with a suspended license fled a crash caused by another driver, who was injured.

“Instead of just getting a ticket for driving with a suspended license, he’s now being charged with leaving the scene of an accident involving injuries,” Seifel said. “He can possibly get up to five years in prison for that.”

Stiffer penalties this year

Seifel said his main objective when investigating a hit-and-run crash is to find witnesses who can put the fleeing driver behind the wheel. But even when caught red-handed, some individuals who run from crashes will deny involvement no matter the evidence.

Take Anthony Halpin of West Palm Beach. Halpin is alleged to have been involved in two separate hit-and-run crashes on May 21. Witnesses saw the crashes and followed Halpin to his home. When a Palm Beach County Sheriff’s deputy arrived, he found a pickup truck parked in the driveway with heavy front end damage and another’s vehicle rear bumper attached to the pickup’s front bumper. The deputy also was in possession of a head light found at one of the crash scenes that fit perfectly into a vacant space on the pickup’s left side.

Halpin denied being on the road at the time of the crashes and said he wasn’t aware of any damage to his pickup truck even though he is the only driver, according to an arrest report. When the deputy asked why he had found the pickup’s head light at the crash location, Halpin turned speechless. He then advised that deputy “that he will pay for the damages.”

“I asked him what damages and he wouldn’t answer me,” the deputy wrote in the report.

Halpin was arrested and faces charges of hit and run involving property damage and hit and run involving serious injury.

If either of Halpin’s crashes had resulted in a death, he would be looking at a mandatory minimum of four years in prison thanks to legislation — known as the Aaron Cohen law — passed last year in Tallahassee. The law also establishes that anyone convicted of leaving the scene of a crash involving injuries can have their driver’s license revoked for three years.

Law enforcement authorities said the law hasn’t impacted rising hit-and-run rates because most people are not aware of the beefed-up penalties.

“We can have all the laws that we want, but the word has to get around to make it effective,” said Rep. Irv Slosberg, D-Delray Beach, a longtime traffic safety advocate.

The driver who struck LaRocca, the Boynton Beach bicyclist, could also face enhanced charges under the Aaron Cohen law’s “Vulnerable Road User” provision, which pertains to hit-and-run victims riding bicycles, motorcycles, scooters or animals.

“I could understand if he was in a hurry, goosed the corner and hit me by accident,” LaRocca said. “But to throw my bike out of the way, curse and then take off is despicable. I’d like him to get an attack of conscious, come forward and admit he panicked.”