better roads and safer streets

Better Roads and Safer Streets: A Guide for City Leaders

City streets aren’t just pathways for cars; public roads play an important role in how pedestrians walk, shop and meet throughout the city. Many city leaders take this into consideration, which is why they are motivated to build better highways and streets for transportation. And during the current COVID-19 crisis, fear of the pandemic is changing the way city leaders are improving their streets.

Even before the pandemic, traffic accidents have killed more than 1.2 million people globally each year due to road traffic crashes. In 2018, the United States recorded around 6,000 pedestrians were killed in road crashes, which was a four percent increase from 2017.

While most traffic initiatives focus on improving the behavior of pedestrians and drivers throughout the city limits, some projects can be made to improve the way drivers navigate city roads. Also, with cities around the world responding to COVID-19, leaders are considering the benefits of new bike lanes, wide-ranging streets and more.

running away from car accident scene

But the poor integration and design of complete streets can still cause accidents. For this reason, investing in quality materials (from the paint to the penetration grading of bitumen) and planning better integration can help leaders build more pedestrian-friendly streets and improve the safety of the public on roads.

Here are some of the most common engineering strategies to consider.

1. Shared Road Spaces

Although this design isn’t advisable for COVID-19 conditions, opening streets to enable pedestrians, cars and cyclist to mix within the same space improve road safety, especially in high-density areas with low volumes of slow-moving car traffic.

Shared road spaces don’t often have typical street elements, like level differences, signs and vertical curbs. They do, however, include elements that encourage cultural and social exchange (e.g. landscaping, street furniture, and gathering spaces), and promote pedestrian priority. This shared road design encourages all road users to exercise more caution, especially since cars will travel at lower speeds.

shared road spaces

2. Roads That Reduce Traffic Speed

Speed is the top enemy of pedestrians and drivers when it comes to traffic fatalities. Many city leaders and planners reduce the chances of collisions by lowering the speed limit in high-traffic areas. Many planners also implement low-speed zones with road plans that reduce traffic speed.

If city leaders wish to encourage pedestrian traffic for environmental and economic reasons, they can implement road designs that reduce car speeds on city streets.

The list includes:

  • Raised pedestrian crossings
  • Curb extensions
  • Curved roads to reduce car speeds
  • Speed humps
  • Low-speed zones

Another helpful strategy is to place different speed calming equipment near crosswalks and intersections that can help cars reduce their traffic speeds.

3. Pedestrianize Streets

In response to COVID-19, many cities, especially those with high pedestrian volume, are banning vehicles to enable pedestrians to move safely and freely without dodging cars.

Pedestrianized Streets

Pedestrian-only streets do more than keep pedestrians safe; they also boost land value, local air quality, public health and store sales. These streets should be easily accessible and strategically located from residential and commercial spaces. They must also be connected to parking, bicycle routes, public transit systems and other points of access.

4. “Complete” Streets

While many cities grew as vehicles rose in popularity, today’s city leaders are responsible for designing roads with pedestrians and cyclists in mind. Prioritizing the safety of mixed usage on public roads matters, which is why “complete streets” is a crucial consideration since it allows all road users to use the road safely and efficiently.

A great example is the use of pedestrian islands. Engineers can design roads in a way that encourages pedestrians to cross a busy street safely. Pedestrian islands prevent street-crossers from passing large vehicles along the way.

Safety features like this provide pedestrians with an area to stand safely as they cross a street. Instead of making them vulnerable to oncoming traffic, pedestrians can use the island to evaluate the current traffic situation before they cross the street.

5. Car-Free Days

Car-free days are days when cities shut down their streets to car traffic, which encourages people to explore the city by foot or bike, which can hopefully change their perspective on public spaces and streets. In 2018, more than 2,000 cities celebrated World Car-Free Day.

better roads and safer streets

Car-free days offer opportunities to transform, liven and revive neighborhoods. Vacant street corners and car parking spaces are converted into areas for sports and leisure activities, while pedestrians and cyclists take over the streets.

Regular car-free days can also decrease pollution levels and increase physical activity while promoting community building and social inclusion. So, instead of thinking about street or carport designs, it’s best to plan for more car-free days.

As cities continue to grow and deal with the current pandemic, city planners must find more ways to improve how pedestrians and drivers interact with each other – especially during a time when social distancing is the new norm.

Salman Zafar

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