9. Road safety

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This is the 9th episode of a series 25 building blocks to create better streets, neighbourhoods, and cities. Casualties in traffic are main threats to the quality of the living environment. ‘Vision zero’ might change this.
Any human activity that annually causes 1.35 million deaths worldwide, more than 20 million serious injuries, damage of $1,600 billion and is a major cause of global warming would be banned immediately. Except for the use of the car. This post describes how changes in road design will improve safety.

The more public transport, the safer the traffic

Researchers from various universities in the US, Australia and Europe have studied the relationship between road pattern, other infrastructure features and road safety or its lack. They compared the road pattern in nearly 1,700 cities around the world with data on the number of accidents, injuries, and fatalities. Lead researcher Jason Thompsonconcluded: <em>It is quite clear that places with more public transport, especially rail, have fewer accidents</em>. Therefore, on roads too public transport must prioritized.

The growing risk of pedestrians and cyclists

Most accidents occur in developing and emerging countries. Road deaths in developed countries are declining. In the US from 55,000 in 1970 to 40,000 in 2017. The main reason is that cars always better protect their passengers. This decrease in fatalities does not apply to collisions between cars and pedestrians and cyclists, many of which are children. Their numbers are increasing significantly, in the US more than in any other developed country. In this country, the number of bicycle lanes has increased, but adjustments to the layout of the rest of the roads and to the speed of motorized traffic have lagged, exposing cyclists to the proximity of speeding or parking cars. SUVs appear to be 'killers'and their number is growing rapidly.

Safe cycling routes

In many American cities, paint is the primary material for the construction of bike lanes. Due to the proximity of car traffic, this type of cycle routes contributes to the increasing number of road deaths rather than increasing safety. The Canadian city of Vancouver, which doubled the number of bicycle lanes in five years to 11.9% of all downtown streets, has the ambition to upgrade 100% of its cycling infrastructure to an AAA level, which means safe and comfortable for all ages and abilities. Cycle paths must technically safe: at least 3 meters wide for two-way traffic; separated from other traffic, which would otherwise have to reduce speed to less than 30 km/h).  In addition, users also need to feel safe.

Street design

Vision Zero Cities such as Oslo and Helsinki are committed to reducing road fatalities to zero over the next ten years. They are successful already now: There were no fatalities in either city in 2019. These and other cities use the Vision Zero Street Design Standard, a guide to planning, designing, and building streets that save lives.
Accidents are often the result of fast driving but are facilized by roads that allow and encourage fast driving. Therefore, a Vision Zero design meets three conditions:
• Discouraging speed through design.
• Stimulating walking, cycling and use of public transport.
• Ensure accessibility for all, regardless of age and physical ability (AAA).
The image above shows a street that meets these requirements. Here is an explanation of the numbers: (1) accessible sidewalks, (2) opportunity to rest, (3) protected cycle routes, (4) single lane roads, (5) lanes between road halves, (6) wide sidewalks, (7) public transport facilities, (8) protected pedestrian crossings, (9) loading and unloading bays, (10) adaptive traffic lights.


Strict rules regarding speed limits require compliance and law enforcement and neither are obvious. The Netherlands is a forerunner with respect to the infrastructure for bikes and pedestrians, but with respect to enforcement the country is negligent: on average, a driver of a passenger car is fined once every 20,000 kilometers for a speeding offense (2017 data). In addition, drivers use apps that warn of approaching speed traps. Given the risks of speeding and the frequency with which it happens, this remissing law enforcement approach is unacceptable.
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