Monday, March 7, 2011

Zero Fatalities

Last week I introduced Complete Streets. Today I want to mention Zero Fatalities. Zero Fatalities simply comes from answering the question How many deaths should we accept on our roads? It is hard to justify any answer that is not zero.

Now I have said for a long time that this could be done by armoring cars and slowing them down so that collisions were not a big deal. Of course going slower, using more gas, and taking 5 minutes to get in and out of the safety harness in your car would only be acceptable to a very few people. But it turns out that taking a Zero Fatality position does not have to be so radical.

Utah first did something about the Zero Fatality idea. They have been followed by others including the American Road & Transportation Builders AssociationAmerican Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials and  Volvo.


Some of the ideas attack the most common causes of fatalities on the road: eliminate distractions or make cars that won't start if a driver is drunk. Others tackle the safety features of cars. Some are changing the way we build roads, like using roundabouts instead of standard intersections.
In fact a roundabout (especially to drivers not used to them) makes a tradeoff between more non-fatal accidents while greatly reducing fatal accidents. Now I see this working well for cars. After all, if you hit another car it is at an oblique angle instead of a t-bone accident common at a standard intersection. But based on the roundabouts they have added in Raleigh on Hillsborough Street, near NC State University, I worry about the effect on cyclists and pedestrians. The pedestrian issue seems at least partially addressed in the picture above with cross walks outside the actual roundabout. But for cyclists that try to ride through the roundabout, the drivers are busy looking for cars and their chance to get in and out of the roundabout. I fear they may have little attention left to notice a cyclist. 

In another local case of roundabouts, there is a neighborhood that has some to allow the traffic to flow. This presumably saves gas by not having to stop at a spot that has very little traffic. The light traffic makes this pretty easy to cycle through in my opinion. Does anyone have experience riding through roundabouts they would like to share?

My favorite ideas related to Zero Fatalities involve the basic ideas touted by Nicholas Negroponte of MIT Media Lab fame: Move bits not atoms. Now transportation is all about moving atoms, but by moving bits it means doing it smarter. I think smarter cars, roads and even bikes are a big part of achieving zero fatalities on our roads. Cars are starting to have systems (radar or whatever) to detect things they might collide with. If these systems could respond to transponders to help them recognize a car, then a bike could also have one. Wouldn't it be great if a friendly voice was telling that driver there is a bicycle ahead or there is a bicycle on your right or even do not open you door, a bicycle is approaching on your left.

Keep riding for health, ride safely for a long life and we may live to see the day with zero fatalities.

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