On the Dangerous by Design report

I’m commenting briefly on a report about walking conditions in the USA at


which has been cited in a New York Times article today.

I regard this report as generally good in its description of walking conditions. It is not intended to be about bicycling,

However, several of the partner organizations listed at its start — among them, America Bikes, the National Complete Streets Coalition, the Rails to Trails Conservancy — concern themselves with bicycling, and bicycling appears here and there in the report as an aside. I’ll make the following points:

  • The report repeatedly refers to “streets designed for traffic, not for pedestrians”. This is a wording problem and a conceptual problem too. Pedestrians are traffic. It would be appropriate to say “streets designed for motor traffic, not for pedestrians”.
  • Page 13 includes the wording “Metros such as Boston, New York and Minneapolis-St. Paul are investing to build a well-developed network of sidewalks and crosswalks and already have many people walking and bicycling.” Pages 7, 29 and 36 all include the wording that “we need to create complete networks of sidewalks, bicycle paths and trails so that residents can travel safely throughout an area.” A complete network for bicycling will be mostly on streets, and partly on trails, but should generally avoid sidewalks.
  • Page 30 gives a before-and-after comparison, describing a street as having “no safe space for bikes” though the street had wide lanes where motorists and bicyclists easily could coexist. Then, narrowing the lanes and adding bike lane stripes is supposed to have created safe space, when it actually removed space and encouraged unsafe maneuvers (motorist turning right from the left of bicyclists, bicyclists overtaking on the right). The street needed repaving, and better sidewalks and crosswalks, to be sure.
  • Bicycling issues are very different from walking issues. An area that is poor for walking due to the lack of sidewalks and crosswalks can be good for bicycling. Confusing the two modes and the ways to accommodate them leads to poor planning and design decisions.
  • I am pleased to see the Boston area, where I live, described as having the very best record of pedestrian safety of any city rated in the report. Strange, isn’t it — the Boston area has repeatedly been derogated as supposedly having the nation’s craziest drivers. Also, Boston has been on Bicycling Magazine’s “10 worst cities” list until recently, when its city government finally got interested in bicycling. Boston is by no means a bad place to ride a bicycle compared with many other American cities, and the city’s efforts may be described as having mixed success, but that’s another story.

3 responses to “On the Dangerous by Design report

  1. Pingback: ADOT 2010 Crash Facts @ Arizona Bike Law Blog

  2. A road diet was done on Mass Ave in Central Square over ten years ago, with two traffic lane removals, left turn lanes added, bike lanes added, wider sidewalks, and more benches and trees. For the last several years, this area is #1 in bike accidents and #2 in pedestrian accidents for the whole state of Massachusetts. Boston, at almost 5x the population doesn’t appear on either list. State stats also show narrower urban arterials have higher crash rates.

    T4America, like Walkable, Sustainable, and Biking lobbies are backed by companies who benefit from road projects, especially ones that are made more complicated with geometry and “traffic calming” features. These features increase greenhouse gas production and dependence on foreign oil by requiring motorists to slow down and speed back up more often or by more mph. Project implementation itself has a larger carbon footprint. Often, there is no established proof of increased safety for the various features. Thankfully, the FDA has some standards before public exposure.

    The primary motivation for T4America endorsing road reconfiguration is more costly projects, not safe projects. Consider that when reading their papers. Increased safety, true or not, is always a convenient way to promote any road project.

    Mass Ave. in Arlington is to be narrowed and made safer according to proponents, yet there is no current safety problem, nor do proposed changes have proven safety benefits. Sidewalk widening and lane narrowing will have the opposite effect – less safety because motorists and cyclists will have less room to coexist. Squeezed roadway exists throughout Cambridge, so seven of the state’s ten bike accident hot spots are in Cambridge. Most “traffic calming” devices are failures on the whole.

    • I agree that the record of safety in Central Square isn’t very impressive, but also I don’t think your comparison is fair. You are comparing one stretch of street with the entire city of Boston, and you don’t account for volumes of bicycle and pedestrian traffic. Also note that the crash rate in Central Square is in the context of the overall low rate for the Boston area. I am going to let Cambridge officials know of this exchange and give them the opportunity to reply.

      Your claim of failure for traffic-calming projects also does not ring true for me. Every project is different and must be judged on its own merits. My suspicion is that you have an axe to grind about the Arlington project. I can say based on what little I know of it that its placing a median on that very wide roadway will improve crossing for pedestrians.

      Also, I would appreciate it if you identify yourself by name rather than by an anonymous screen name. This country has a Bill of Rights, and nobody is going to come knock on the door in the middle of the night and lock you up for expressing your opinion!

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