Setting to catch is a bad model for safety

Have you ever noticed how difficult it is to get down certain streets, especially during the daytime? The light turns green and everyone accelerates quickly trying to make the next light. Sure enough, as you approach, the light turns amber and drivers give the pedal an extra pulse to burn through the intersection. Why? Because if you adhere to the speed limits, these lights set-to-catch will stop, stop, stop you at endless intersections wasting your time and wasting your fuel as you brake, idle, and resume.   It encourages you to speed with many consequences to safety & mobility, increasing stress, injury and even killing.

I’ve noticed that Bloomfield Avenue in Bloomfield, Glen Ridge, and Montclair are a challenge to traverse efficiently during the day. If I obey the speed limits, I am stopped at Ella (The school, I accept this), Orange, get through JFK but stop again at Municipal, resume to watch the light drop as I reach the six corners, and at Ward, and at Hillside, Ridgewood, Highland, & Maple. Out of twelve signaled intersections, I get stopped at nine IF I obey the 25 mph limits. But if I accelerate to 35 mph, I might get through 6 corners, Ward, Park, Hillside and Ridgewood.

I notice a lot of people travelling a lot faster than 35 mph on Bloomfield and they seem to do it for the same reason I do.

Sadly, this timing of the lights is probably done in the name of traffic calming; I would assert that it really is traffic throttling.  The county could time the lights so that as you approach them doing the speed limit, they would turn green.  But the county doesn’t do that during the day.  And people circumvent the “gotcha signals” through speeding.  The consequences of this paired action & reaction are many and varied.

(1) Speed kills. Getting hit by 2 tons of steel and plastic is dangerous, even in a protected vehicle. According to the UK Department of Transport Traffic Advisory Leaflet 7/93 (TAU, 1993), report, if a vehicle that is moving 20 mph hits you, you have a 5% chance of being killed. The death rate increases to 45 % at 30 mph impact speed and 85% for 40 mph impact speed.

How fast did I accelerate to sneak through the lights? How fast do other drivers go? If I’m being naughty, I drive 35 mph and am regularly passed by swifter drivers. What happens when they hit a pedestrian at that speed?

Well, read the police traffic reports from prior years.

Oct 12, 2015, an older gentleman was hit and killed next to the IHOP on Bloomfield Ave.

June 6, 2012, a 69-year-old Montclair man died after being hit near the Starbucks.

June 25, 2016, a Verona artist was hit, killed, and the driver ran off without accepting responsibility.

The three most dangerous streets in Essex County are McCarter Highway, Bloomfield Avenue, and Broad Street in Newark.

(2) Speed dissuades. A fast moving 2-ton car is a powerful disincentive to a bicyclist and pedestrians. Add in the commercial vans, pick-ups, busses, and 18 wheel semis, and the streets becoming ominous and forbidding. Dill & McNeil (2012) determine that men are on average are willing to accept more risk, women are more likely to go out of their way to ride on “Bike-only lanes and boulevards.” In Denmark, women take 55% of all bicycle trips. In the USA, women take 33%. This is why women are used as “Indicator species” in determining road safety. If they feel unsafe, will they let their children ride on the streets?

In order for the Streets to be Complete and accessible to all we recommend several changes.

First, and easiest, is to synchronize the lights to reward drivers who are driving 25 mph.

(1) Drivers will begin to adjust their driving habits to the new patterns and not feel a need to speed yet will increase the level of service. Which leads to our second prediction.

(2) The death rate from accidents will fall because the drivers will be travelling slower.

Second, expand the campaign that Montclair began to enforce laws that protect pedestrians in walkways in Newark, Bloomfield, Glen Ridge, and Verona.   Together with the first recommendation we predict that:

(1) The death rate from accidents will fall because the drivers will be more vigilant and there will be less ambiguity in the crosswalks: you must stop.

Third, begin putting in BUFFERED and in some areas, PROTECTED bicycle lanes on Bloomfield Avenue. This system can be expanded to perpendicular streets like Grove and Mountain in Montclair, Ridgewood in Glen Ridge, Broad, Franklin, and Belleville in Bloomfield, Park and Prospect in Newark. This infrastructure will encourage interested-yet-concerned bicyclists like women and parents with children to cycle on these important arterial roads.

By increasing the visibility of bicyclist and pedestrians while giving motorists an incentive to obey the speed limits, we can begin to achieve streets that are accessible and efficient to all: COMPLETE STREETS.

by Charles Sontag, PhD

Thank you Mary Ebeling for the comments, suggestions, and corrections.

Photo courtesy of People for Bikes

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