Written by: Reneé Whittenberger, P.E. Senior Project Engineer
I enjoy a schedule packed full of work, activities, socializing and fitness. I always have somewhere to be and I want to get there promptly. I push the limits on my time, my energy and in my jeep.
Naturally, I want to get there efficiently. I take the fastest route and get in the fastest lane. I arrange my trips to avoid the long lights, the 25 mph speed limits and roads without a passing lane. I’ll even pay a cent or two more for gas if the station is on the right side, saving me the time of waiting to make the left turn. No one wants to spend any more time on the roads than they must, right? And that’s just the “in-between time.”
Well, I should say, I used to be that way. I changed my mind, and now I’m changing my choices and actions.
I believe knowledge is power and I’ve learned things that have made me think twice to change my perspective. Statistics such as 5 percent of vehicle-pedestrian collisions at 20 mph result in fatality, 45 percent at 30 mph, and 85 percent at 40 mph. have changed the way I think about sharing the roadway.
The more I have learned about multimodal design, the more my travel and design philosophies have changed. I drive much slower on non-highway roads now, not because I am avoiding a ticket, but because of the statistics on speed and pedestrian fatality. Nothing is more important than saving a life. I can either organize my life to accommodate schedules, no longer “making it up on the road,” or I can be late.
Through research, I’ve found that as your speed increases, your “cone of vision” diminishes. This means the faster you drive, the less you can see around you. Combine that with increasing stopping distances as speed increases and you have a recipe for tragedy.
Visual perception at different speeds
Now that I drive slower, my perspective is literally and figuratively wider! I can see my neighbors, my fellow road users, the natural and planned greenery everywhere and many other aspects of our community. I feel much more a part of this ecosystem than I ever did when my focus was about getting to my next activity. I don’t miss the speed or the rush at all.
Luckily, I can do more than change my mind and my actions. I get to impact my community through design. At Environmental Design Group, I use these and other principles of safety for pedestrians, cyclists, transit users and drivers to improve and enhance a road user’s experience. We can apply traffic calming measures to cause drivers to slow down and be more aware of their surroundings. We can use known principles and observations of human behavior to influence how users work and move, and we can creatively organize spaces to enhance the flow of users by providing a safer, more enjoyable experience for all.
There are several factors at play in every traffic scenario, but I am grateful that I can impact the safety of my community both by my own behavior and by design.