8 Ways to Create City Utopias for Peds and Cyclists (Or At Least Stop Killing Them...Us)


Photo credit Tim Green aka atoach @ flickr.

Without even knowing it, you are daily performing, probably at least a little bit, the death-defying act of pedestrianism. (And the most fatal area for peds? D.C.) Traffic fatalities have been relatively stable since the 1990s - around 5,000 pedestrian deaths annually, with 700 of those cyclists. Yes, accidents happen, but looking forward to Transport World 2.0 perhaps we need not kill so many pedestrians and pedalers, and instead start to create the livable cities that logically seem part of our bi-pedal birthright.

1. Take Away Right-on-Red Turns.


Back in 1984, the Institute of Transport Engineers found that letting motorists turn right after a stop at a red light resulted in energy savings and a freer flow of traffic. In the beginning of the national law's implementation, some data showed that more collisions occurred, and more bicycle and pedestrian fatalities. Now, most reports do not indicate right on red as the main culprit in bike and ped deaths. So why should we take them away? Cities have begun to deploy traffic cameras (see #2) as ways to increase safety and make money, and guess what, rolling right-turn-on-red violations (i.e. not truly coming to a stop) are the cash cow. Wouldn't it be simpler to simple reverse the decades of right on red and take the improvement in pedestrian and cyclist safety, knowing that as urban populations expand, traffic calming will grow to be more of an imperative?


Photo via Turtlemom @ flickr.

2. Install More Red Light Enforcement Cameras.

These cameras seem like a possible infringement on privacy and part of the move to a Big Brother world, where cameras peek out at you at every turn. The trouble is, at least in the case of red-light enforcement cameras, they seem incredibly effective: one Texas study from 2008 showed a 30% average decrease in collisions at intersections with the cameras installed. (Rear-end collisions increased 5% in that study, however.) Motorists are growing increasingly incensed with the enforcement cameras. In general, they do seem to show how many of us don't really obey the law (again, this goes for cyclists as well as other vehicle operators.)


3. Have More Parties.

Yup, it sounds silly, but Washington D.C. became a pedestrian utopia during the 2009 Inauguration. (Unfortunate that this particular group of peds weren't too good at carting off their trash.) There's a kernel of a good idea here, and that is, if cities have enough events where pedestrians ARE the main traffic, planners might begin to see that cars needn't always be top dog in the traffic lineup.


Photo credit wishymom (Stephanie Wallace Photography) via flickr.

4. Reign In Distracted Driving.

Guess what Webster's New World Dictionary chose as 2009's word? (Well, it's actually a phrase.) Yup. Distracted Driving. It is an epidemic. All of us trying to multi-task (cyclists are not immune, here) need to realize that smart phones and constant connectivity are making us more scattered and less safe. Cell phone bans while driving are becoming ever more common and yet difficult to enforce. Forcing distracted drivers to surrender one of their distractions - or even better, find a less demanding commute method - might do more than a ticket.


Photo credit tm lv @ flickr.

5. Support "20 is Plenty."

Statistics from a 2009 article in the British Medical Journal seem to indicate that reducing road speeds to 20 mph in city zones reduces fatalities up to 40%, and the reduction in fatalities benefitted young children especially. To get more kids to walk to school and play, we need to convince parents that streets are safe. To make streets safe, we need to drop speed limits.


Definitely the youngest participant, this 6-week-old baby seemed to enjoy the slow-paced and gentile Tweed Ride in Portland. Photo credit April Streeter.

7. Go On a Tweed Ride.

The sometimes blistering heat between bike drivers and car drivers seems softened during a tweed ride, that lovely, civilized bike jaunt brought to life in London a few years back and replicated in many other cities. Somehow, motorists can't help but be charmed by a bunch of weirdos out on a rainy day covered in damp wool. And even new cyclists can't fail to enjoy and appreciate the slooowwww, sedate pace of the ride, the stop for tea and crumpets, and the chance to see the sites of the city within congenial company. It's a public benefit.


This is a "sidewalk shed" design to replace ugly scaffolding chosen for NYC. Visual via the Urbanophile.

8. Look to the Big Apple for Inspiration.

Though always a mecca for people-watching, nobody guessed New York city would enter the twenty first century with such a people-pleasing approach to cycling and pedestrians. But the changes are happening so relatively quickly - the High Line park, the city's installation of separated bike lines, called bike tracks, Summer Streets, and the closings to motorized traffic in Times Square and Herald Square. People may complain that cycling and walking in New York are still a dangerous endeavor, but meanwhile the Big Apple is leapfrogging Portland and Seattle and providing inspiration for many other cities.

Read more about pedestrian and cyclist safety (or lack of it) at TreeHugger
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