Death by concrete truck is a problem that we can't ignore any longer

Econic in London
© Mercedes Econic/ Concrete mixing trucks can be designed to be more pedestrian friendly.

Yes, North American roads are badly designed. But so are the trucks.

After yet another headline screamed Woman who died after being hit by concrete truck on Eagle Road has been identified, Twitter urbanists and transportation planners noted that this particular road was a pedestrian nightmare, and that "the design of the road needs to be investigated as contributory to the crash."

Of course, Don Kostelec is right, and we talk about this a lot on TreeHugger. But there are others complicit here as well, including the concrete industry and the truck manufacturers. In an earlier post, It’s time for a concrete plan for replacing concrete in construction, I noted that concrete mixing or ready-mix trucks were a particular danger on the roads.

For building construction, the aggregates and cement are delivered to the Ready-mix people who mix the concrete to order and deliver it to construction sites in cement mixers -- again, heavy trucks that have to drive through city streets on deadline. They only have so much time between mixing cement and when it starts to set. They are deadly.

Commenters were particularly incensed by this, suggesting that it "destroyed any credibility that the author may have had," and they can just add sugar to the mix to keep it from setting. But the fact of the matter is that it takes a lot of concrete to make a building, there are a lot of trucks, they are in a hurry, and they are not pedestrian-friendly. If you google "killed by cement truck" or more accurately "killed by concrete truck" you get dozens of them.

83 year old man died after being struck by a cement truck in New Braunfels
Driver of concrete truck that crushed car, killed 2 found not guilty of motor vehicle homicide
Elderly man fatally struck by cement truck two blocks away from his Brooklyn home

There are no data that I can find separating out concrete, cement or ready-mix trucks from the general carnage on the road, and of course, these trucks are just a subset. But it is still a serious problem that nobody is addressing.

This particular recent death in Brooklyn is particularly galling. Look at the photo in the Daily News. This is a moving wall, taller than just about any person walking in front of it. I don't know how anyone can look at this photo and not ask why these are allowed in cities.

When a woman was killed in Ottawa by this truck, journalists discussed whether bike helmets should be mandatory after she is right-hooked and sucked under the rear wheels of a ready-mix truck that doesn't even have side guards.

In Europe, they recognize that this is a problem and have developed trucks that are actually designed to keep walking and biking people safe. A great example is the Mercedes Econic, designed for maximum visibility, safety and ergonomics.

view from inside the Econic© Mercedes Econic

The advantages of the driver's low seating position, supplemented with the extensive panoramic glazing and the mirror system, provide the driver with virtually unrestricted visibility in front of the vehicle and on both sides – a clear advantage in confusing urban traffic with pedestrians and cyclists. In addition, the Econic is easy on drivers and co-drivers. The cab can be reached with just one step. On a busy workday that saves them several metres they don't have to climb up or down.

view from inside© Mercedes Econic

We could have nice things like this; the American regulators could just demand it. It doesn't cost any more to build a truck this way. But in North America, we can't even get mandatory side guards on every truck because the industry says it would cost too much.

Terrible roads designed for speed are a problem, which is why we are fans of Vision Zero. But terrible trucks are a problem too. With a rapidly aging population, there are going to be a lot more shrinking people going slowly across those very wide streets, almost invisible to the drivers of those giant ready-mix trucks.

It is not fair just to blame the highway engineers; the truck manufacturers, the regulators, and the concrete industry are all complicit.

And if our community manager permits it, I will delete every comment trying to blame people looking at their phones. That Brooklyn 87-year-old was not Snapchatting.

Death by concrete truck is a problem that we can't ignore any longer
Yes, North American roads are badly designed. But so are the trucks.

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