In the 1990s as a new neighborhood developed in west Las Vegas, NV, USA, the city approved the installation of several roundabouts on major thoroughfares. Depending on the source, they are considered the first modern roundabouts in the United States. The first office I worked in following my move to the valley was located just down the street from them. As we’ve all experienced, some of the first feedback we hear when designing a roundabout is that people do not understand how to drive them and lots of crashes occur.
Certainly, I have witnessed a couple unique behaviors from motorists at these roundabouts: reversing through the roundabout after missing a turn or failing to navigate the approach and landing in the center landscaping; but on the whole, tens of thousands of drivers navigate the roundabouts every day without incident. Further, to paraphrase a metropolitan police department officer: crashes still happen, but drivers don’t have to call the ambulance.
Perhaps that is the most compelling aspect of the Safe System Approach—the acceptance of the fact that humans are fallible, and mistakes are inevitable. Those mistakes, however, should not result in death or a trip to the hospital.
There’s a corollary to that as well: accepting humans for who they are, not for what we wish they would do. As planners and designers of the transportation system, this should be the core of our work. For instance, when two attracting land uses are located across from each other, we cannot assume pedestrians will divert to the nearest controlled crossing, hope drivers will heed the speed limit sign, or wish site developers would have aligned building access points to the transportation infrastructure.
To advocate more strongly for the Safe System Approach, ITE recently joined with the Johns Hopkins Center for Injury Research and Policy in a Safe System Consortium, which resulted in a set of recommendations aimed at Congress and the U.S. presidential administration. The Consortium hopes these recommendations can change the course of road safety and help leaders and practitioners work toward a more equitable transportation system that leads to fewer injuries and deaths.
As I write this, I’m enjoying an iced coffee at a café on the newly renovated Water Street outside city hall in Las Vegas. I’m proud to have had a small influence on this street design, so I have to brag a bit. Anticipating all the users of this facility, leadership on this project considered the primary user to be a pedestrian. As such, the roadway is curbless for much of its length. Frequently used for parades and other events, the facility’s retaining walls also serve as seating. Slow speeds are critical due to the vehicle/pedestrian interaction, and the narrow lanes, gates, and landscaping provide visual cues to slow without excessive signage. And even though the primary users walk, the street still accommodates transit vehicles and parents dropping off their kids at hockey practice.
Vision Zero is achievable. Eliminating serious injuries and fatalities on our roadways is wholly compatible with other transportation goals of system efficiency and access—if we plan for all users, influence policy, anticipate conflicts, control design, and retrofit existing infrastructure for modern use.
This blog is from the June issue of ITE Journal.