The Other Guilty Party in a Traffic Crash: Road Designers

The design failures of the intersection where an Arkansas cyclist was struck this week are highlighted at around the 2:15 mark.

When a bicyclist is killed or injured, many times you can assign fault to the motorist — after all the car itself is what makes the situation so perilous.

But Tim McKuin at Network blog Move Arkansas posts a reminder today that in many crashes there’s another guilty party: the people responsible for dangerous road designs. McKuin relates a scene all too familiar in our cities, a car-bike crash on a poorly designed road:

The first thing that I noticed when I walked up to the scene of the accident crash was that the cyclist was blaming herself. Yes, it sounds like she could have avoided it had she done what the walk/don’t-walk signs were telling pedestrians to do. However, this crash was not her fault (and nor was it the driver’s). The real blame lies with the design of the intersection and the road with their complete lack of any space for cyclists. The official River Trail route through this section forces cyclists to break the law by riding on the sidewalk and the wrong way down a one-way street, and the street design here encourages drivers to mash the gas pedal like they’re out in the boonies instead of in the middle of an urban space with mixed transportation modes.

Cantrell Road is 6 lanes wide just to the east and west of this intersection. That’s about 75 feet, curb to curb. The posted speed limit is 40 mph, but it seems that most drivers treat that as a minimum rather than a maximum — not because they’re evil law-breaking speed demons, but because the road design itself encourages faster speeds.

The green space between the sidewalk and the Episcopal School is about 20 feet wide. That’s over 100 feet of total width to play with (including the sidewalks), yet some how no one could find room for cyclists. It makes no sense. We need to shrink the space for cars here, carve out ample space for bikes and pedestrians, and beef up the public transit infrastructure. And we don’t need to do it by spending $15 million on a cantilevered bridge around Dillard’s. There is plenty of space in the Cantrell right-of-way for good, 21st century street design.

I imagine if crash victims could hold agencies responsible for their injuries due to conditions like that we’d see local government being a lot more responsive to the needs of pedestrians and cyclists.

Elsewhere on the Network today: Transportation for America looks at how the partisan divide is shaping the reauthorization process. Andy Nash Network uncovers a 1958 Jane Jacobs article that called for a new way of thinking about transportation in cities. And Grid Chicago explains that the city seems to have forgotten the statewide complete streets policy when it comes to the Fullerton Parkway bridge project.