Why you should never sit next to a breakaway post – Streetsblog USA

Editor’s note: A version of this article originally appeared on Strong Towns and the Dear Winnipeg blog and is republished with permission. It focuses on Winnipeg, Canada, but the policies and infrastructure it discusses are also relevant to the United States.

It seems that every time there is a report about a traffic accident involving a pedestrian, it is followed by a flurry of discussion about the words used to describe the incident.

Take for example an accident on Portage Avenue in Winnipeg, Canada, which happened a little over a week ago. It was the original title:

Understandably, readers were upset that the broken bus shelter and utility pole were charged more than the actual human being who had to be taken to hospital. CBC quickly corrected the headline:

Much better. Yet, still not good enough. Because some will say, rightly, that vehicles have drivers. And for the same reason we never see titles like “Man shot dead” or “Chris Rock slapped in the hand”, the title here should have read “Driver crashes into pedestrian , a bus shelter, a hydro pole on Portage Avenue in Winnipeg”.

It makes sense. Using “vehicle” or “car” is very neutral language, and it tends to take personal responsibility out of the situation. Using “driver” reminds us of the human behind the accident and unconsciously makes it easier to assign blame.

And I completely understand this desire. Except I don’t think it’s that useful, because in the overwhelming majority of cases the driver is do not to blame for the carnage. The traffic engineers who designed the street are, because drivers can only do what the design lets them.

Let’s be clear: it was no accident. Massive property damage and injured (or killed) pedestrians cause our transportation system to work exactly as intended. That’s how it was designed to work. To understand this, we will need to explain a few traffic engineering concepts. So let’s go !

The traffic engineering profession has long understood that man is imperfect and will always make mistakes. It’s inevitable, and if you can’t change the users, change the system. Traffic engineers therefore came up with the concept of “forgiving design”, which was a way of designing the transportation system to “forgive” drivers’ mistakes, so that when they made the most common mistakes, qu ‘they are involuntary or through negligence, the results end up being catastrophic.

One of these elements is the development of the “clear zone”. Now, I’ve talked about light areas before, but it bears repeating, so be patient if you already know all of this.

What is a Clear Zone? The Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices gives us a fairly simple definition:

The total roadside border area, from the edge of the traveled lane, that is available for a wandering driver to stop or regain control of a vehicle.

Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD), Section 1A. 13

Basically, it’s a buffer zone on the side of the road to allow uncontrollable wandering cars. Of course, the manual says you want to keep this area clear of any fixed objects, like signs, trees, streetlights, etc., because vehicles hitting stationary objects at high speeds are really dangerous for the occupants of those vehicles. .

So how big should this buffer be? The answer is that it depends on the traffic speed. The faster the vehicles go, the larger the clear area you need. And luckily for us, the traffic engineers bothered to make those calculations.

On page 77 of the Winnipeg Transportation Standards Manual are the guidelines for “clear areas” in our own city. City engineers say that at traffic speeds of 60 km/h, the clear zone should be at least 3.5 m from the face of the sidewalk, but that a distance of 5.0 m is desirable.

Now, it’s important to stop here to acknowledge that these concepts were developed for highways. And they saved a lot of lives in this context. But, when you don’t recognize that urban areas are fundamentally different places than highways, you get pretty messed up results.

For example, here’s what the required clear area looks like on a typical block of Henderson Hwy in my neighborhood:

The red zones, which are the “minimum” clear zones, cover the entire sidewalk. And the yellow areas, which extend to the “desirable” light areas, look great in shop windows.

If you want to see a 3D example, here’s what the site of that aforementioned crash on Portage Avenue looks like with the clear area outlined:

These are the “zones” that are meant to remain “free” of any stationary objects due to the very real possibility of cars leaving the roadway. And yet, this is where we tell people to walk, wait for the bus and access local businesses. You can see the inherent conflict.

But surely cars leave the roadway so rarely that it’s insignificant, right?

My friend, you are surely joking.

It’s such a common occurrence that traffic engineers have had to invent brand new technology in order to continue to “forgive” driver errors. Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you: the breakaway base!

The separation base was designed as a way to always be able to place objects in the cleared area without endangering the lives of the occupants of the vehicle. Instead of a vehicle going off the road, hitting a stationary, stationary street light and killing everyone on board, the bases feature shear pins designed to break when hit with real force. The result is that the post detaches from its base at the time of the collision, and most of the kinetic energy of the collision is dissipated away from the occupants of the vehicle.

Pretty awesome, actually.

But this leads to an obvious question regarding the placement of this bus bench:

If vehicles leave the road often enough that we need streetlights to keep vehicle occupants safe, how can it be safe for pedestrians and transit users to sit, stand or to walk in this same space?

The answer is, it is not. [Even though you could argue that pedestrians have breakaway bases themselves…]

From 2012 to 2020, there were 179 (reported) collisions where a vehicle left the road in urban areas of Manitoba, according to collision statistics from Manitoba Public Insurance. In 36% of them, someone was injured. In 6% of them, someone died.

But these were no accidents. Traffic engineers designed city streets that required an open area, designed separation bases for infrastructure in those open areas due to the expected frequency of collisions, and then put their professional seal on a plan that highlights clear people, sidewalks, bus stops and businesses in the same areas.

Of course, people get hurt. Of course, people die. It’s the design.

As a well-known road safety advocate Tom Flood said“These are not accidents, they are results.”

Totally predictable results.

And the only reason it’s not even worse is because of congestion. Congestion slows traffic to a speed where clear areas reduce to zero, which solves this whole problem for us. Unfortunately, the traffic engineering profession seems to have taken it as its purpose to alleviate congestion, which simply puts people back in the cleared area and puts them back in life-threatening danger.

But try talking to a traffic engineer to make sure people don’t have to walk, wait for the bus, or access local businesses in the cleared area, and you’ll get blank stares.

You could say it’s unethical. One could speak of gross negligence. I could even go so far as to call him a sociopath.

And it’s probably at least some of those things.

But it’s not like there isn’t a solution here. A common suggestion is to line sidewalks with bollards.

And it would work… for pedestrians and transit users. But remember the whole reason for the separatist bases? That vehicles hitting stationary objects at high speed are dangerous for the occupants of these vehicles?

Yes, just installing a bunch of bollards and calling it a day just shifts the risk of death from people outside vehicles to those inside vehicles. It’s not ethical either.

But we could design our streets for slower speeds, just as congestion has shown us. This is what the World Health Organization recommends, and not just in residential areas. They recommend maximum speeds of 30 km/h where “people and traffic mix”. It’s a policy that recognizes that there are places for high speeds and there are places for slow speeds. And the places for slow speeds are wherever people walk, live, work and play, which has benefits far beyond safety, such as economic activity, climate action, livability and, as we have already measured here on several occasions, the financial viability for the City.

To do otherwise is to ask people to hang out in the cleared area, literally putting their lives in danger just to wait for a bus, buy a jug of milk, or go to the dentist. A request so blatant that any engineer who agrees to affix his seal to it should lose his license to practice. Yet somehow they don’t.

Because most people don’t know clear zones and breakaway basics. So there is no one to question them.

But now you to know.

So the next time you’re walking down the street, waiting for a bus, or heading to a local store and come across a pole with a removable base, remember that means you’re out of control. cars have been designated to go: in the cleared area.

Knowing this, you can choose to remain silent and be complicit, as the City is spending $50,000 on marketing to attract more people to stand in the open area take the bus. You can choose to say nothing as the city prepares to spend $10 million on amenity upgrades to get more people to walk, sit, eat, drink, shop and spend more time in the clear zone in downtown public spaces.

Or you can choose to talk about the deadly design of our streets for anyone outside of a vehicle. You can’t be for climate action without addressing it. You can’t be for active transportation without worrying about it. You cannot be for Downtown, for local commerce, for economic recovery, for municipal solvency, without addressing this.

So tell your friends about it. Talk to your family, your colleagues, your adviser. Just as important, talk to any candidate seeking your vote in this fall’s election. This heinous practice must stop, and ending it starts with you.

Finally, one last request for those of you who work in the media: consider changing the way you report on this stuff in the future.

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