High-Speed Streets Cause Tragedy in Jacksonville
Last Friday night, a woman and her daughter were struck by a car while crossing the street to attend Yom Kippur services in Jacksonville, Florida. The mother died instantly, the daughter was hospitalized. The driver, though apparently sober, had killed a six-year old with his car in 2009, and had accumulated 20 traffic citations in the past 15 years(mostly for either speeding or driving with a suspended license). The street is a typical Stroad (wide street designed for highway speeds); it is nine lanes wide (counting turn lanes). (If you want to look at the street, go to Google Street View and look at 10140 San Jose Boulevard, Jacksonville, Florida.
What have we turned from this tragedy?
*First of all, the killer's record of recklessness and carnage suggests that reckless driving, including killing someone with a car, may be viewed too leniently by police and prosecutors. Despite his record of traffic violations, he is still on the road- despite the fact that negligent homicide and reckless driving are technically crimes in Florida.
*Second, wide, high-speed stroads are dangerous for pedestrians. Automobile-dependent urban regions with lots of stroads have higher pedestrian fatality rates; according to Transportation for America's Dangerous by Design study, Jacksonville is the third most dangerous region for pedestrians in the United States. By contrast, Boston is the safest and New York is the third safest.
Why is this the case? Because a nine-lane stroad by definition is designed to facilitate high-speed driving, and a pedestrian hit by a car going 40 miles per hour has only about a 15 percent chance of survivial (as opposed to a 95 percent chance when hit by a car going 20 mph). Stroads also are more dangerous for motorists; for example, Jacksonville had 57 non-pedestrian deaths in car crashes in 2011, while Boston (which has a population about 2/3 that of Jacksonville) had only 10 and Washington, D.C. (with a population similar to Boston's) had only 19.
Fast traffic is perfectly acceptable for an interstate highway with no pedestrians and nothing to attract them. But 50 mph traffic has no business on any street with lots of shops and other attractions that people may wish to walk to.* Yet in Jacksonville, most shops are on stroads, because highway engineers have a nasty habit of widening commercial streets and thereby turning them into stroads, and zoning laws sometimes limit commercial activities to those streets.
*Third. push buttons at intersections don't do much to protect pedestrians. This intersection has a button that pedestrians can push before crossing.** But I lived near that intersection for several years and never knew what the button was for anyhow. Since I have pushed these buttons many times without any immediate results, it seemed obvious to me that the button did not turn the light from red to green. I just read that the lights do give pedestrians a few extra seconds to cross the road; however, I lived in Jacksonville for four years and never learned this, so evidently it is not widely publicized. At a minimum, pedestrian push-buttons should have signs nearby explaining their results.
Even where pedestrians have the right-of-way due to a red light, this protection is no substitute for better street design. In such a situation, a pedestrian is still vulnerable not only to motorists running red lights, but also to motorists making left and right turns from other streets at an intersection.
Ultimately, the best pedestrian protection policy is narrower, slower commercial streets. Where a street is too wide, it needs to be calmed through wider medians and wider sidewalks (among other things).
*Especially not a synagogue, since under traditional Jewish law people may not drive or ride public transit on Sabbaths and holy days. (I note, however, that Jewish denominations are divided on this issue; Orthodox Jews follow the traditional view, Reform Jews reject it, and Conservative rabbis are divided). It seems to me as well that a syngogue has no business on a stroad.
**The victims of this crash were Orthodox Jews, and thus not allowed to push the button on holy days because activating electric sources violates Orthodox religious law. But the holy day may not have yet begun when they were crossing, so we don't know whether they pushed it or not. But as explained above, the light doesn't help much anyhow.
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