Saturday, September 3

Traffic Engineers Distracting My Motorists

Mostly, I have a lot of respect for the various branches of engineering. Our lives have been enhanced greatly by the advances they've made. Just the very fact you can read this is due to engineers. Thank an engineer next time you fly and have landed safely. My respect is greatly tempered by engineering that attempts to mix psychology with science. A notable offender in this regard is traffic engineering. To a large degree, this is unavoidable, because keeping traffic from terminally clogging up and from crashing into each other requires understanding of what and why people do what they do while IN traffic.This is not just the idle observation of a structural engineer; the Arizona Department of Transportation, here, states: "Traffic Engineering applies engineering principles to help solve transportation problems, and brings into play a knowledge of psychology and habits of users of the transportation systems."

Bellaire Before the "Improvements"
The real problem is that traffic engineers tend to get a little wrapped up in the mechanical aspects of traffic. They start adding more signs and dots and other traffic gew gaws that promise to make traffic "flow" and "keep us safe." Pretty soon, the forest has been lost amongst the trees and we start getting zones where motorists can run off the road without damaging themselves and markings that are more distracting that helpful. What's more, they tend towards ever increasing "channelization" without regard to any useful purpose it serves and sometimes without remembering that creating traffic channels can create conflict between motorized traffic and the rest of the road-using traffic. Indeed, the same Arizona source linked above, forgetting that many road users are NOT motorized traffic, and getting tunnel vision, also states: "...chances of ...becoming involved in an accident are least when he/she is traveling at the average speed of traffic." Other than getting bikes and pedestrians OFF the road entirely, the document does not explain how this is to be accomplished other than also noting it is not a good idea to set speed limits too low. So we have an inherent conflict. A conflict, which, because most traffic engineers are mostly motorists and NOT cyclists, tends to get resolved in favor of a motoring-centric approach. This tendency is exacerbated because a lot of traffic engineers work for cities and their political masters want to go faster and with less delay from those poor and pesky pedestrians and idiotic people on bikes. Of course, being politicians, few would actually SAY something like this.

Protruding Dots Represent a Diversion Fall Risk for Cyclists
and are Worse in Front of an Elementary School Where Children Can Be Expected
I've posted about elements of this before. Traffic engineers created my nemesis road. They took a perfectly good and usable road and made it a stress creator for cyclists. They compounded the error by making something dangerous for cyclists under the cloak of "Safe Routes to School." What's more, any emergency response now finds itself unable to proceed due to traffic engineers not creating any way to pass at all. I offered special scorn for "the killer B's:" these are Bollards, Bott's Dots, and bricks. Especially offensive are situations where the traffic engineers ignore established guidelines and use an even number of bollards that create added collision risks. Or they use BIG dots as if they meant to create a fall hazard for cyclists.

Even Numbers of Bollards Lead to Head-On Collisions.
Bricks Make Things Worse
However, I really got a little hot this week (beyond the amount justified by our continuing heat), when I saw the local engineers get carried away with dots and stripes in a local school zone. Specifically, Bellaire Elementary in Hurst, Texas. Crimeny, this is NOT a freeway onramp. A couple of traffic calming devices would have done the trick admirably. Why, I might wonder, would anyone feel it necesary to put in left-turn only and two-way left turn lanes in front of an elementary school? Would you allow YOUR school child to ride down this street after the traffic engineers got done with it? I guess the traffic engineers think they have done their job. They got any bikes OFF the road and thus reduced speed differentials. I hope they're happy (he says very sarcastically). We really DO need to cut government waste! Better to have simply left bad enough alone than to spend a lot of money to make things worse.

Northern Approach to Bellaire Elementary, Looking Like it Did in the Olden Days. A Simple Four Lane Road with Sidewalks
Northern Approach to Bellaire, Where the Traffic Engineering Distractions Start. A Left Turn Lane at a Four Way Stop Onto a Local Residential Street?
You Gotta Be Kidding!
Another Shot of the Road Desert They've Created at Bellaire Elementary.
Would YOU Let Your Second Grader Cross This Gauntlet?
Temporary Traffic Cones - Ready for the Motorist Dropoff Rush. The New Road Features Makes the Rush Even Worse
Traffic Engineer Handiwork Across from Bellaire. Any Cyclist Hitting These Dots Will KNOW IT!
Before the Traffic Engineers, This Portion was Simply One Lane Each Direction with Wide Lanes
No Reflector in Front of this Fire Hydrant. Just a Splash of Blue Paint


limom said...

Boy those yellow things look evil.
I hope they don't pop up around these parts.

Pondero said...

I'm with you, Steve. As a civil engineer, I have some insight on how these designs are prepared. It seems to me that we (engineers) have a culture that not sufficiently comprehensive, and the practice of our craft is often more rule-following than true engineering. Hopefully, we will find a way to restore our noble profession.

cycler said...

Fortunately traffic engineers here have learned pretty quickly that anything that protrudes above the pavement gets sheared off by the first snow plow that goes by. It seems like if they wanted traffic calming they could have just put on-street parking for the drop off zone, but I'm not sure I understand all the variables in the intersection.

Have you seen the site Strongtowns ?

This animation that they did is a great example of the circular logic through which traffic engineers turn neighborhood streets into highways in the name of "safety"

Steve A said...

Cycler has just flagged a good reason for cyclists to move to Boston!

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