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Better road safety means improving design

APD blotter logo

Vincent Baudoin, a Precinct 1 Town Meeting member, submitted this letter to the editor.

I am writing in response to two recent police blotters from Nov. 7-13 and Nov. 28-Dec. 5 that included commentary about safety from Arlington Police Department (APD) spokesman Capt. Richard Flynn.

I want to sincerely thank Flynn and the APD for their efforts to enforce traffic rules and keep road users safe. However, it is disappointing to see the commentary focus exclusively on human error. This focus is ineffective and ignores the many things we could be doing to improve safety for all road users.

Yes, human error on the part of drivers, cyclists and/or pedestrians is a proximate cause in most traffic collisions. Unfortunately, human error is a factor we cannot eliminate, despite decades of trying. As Flynn observes, “The police periodically issue information . . . but accidents still seem to keep happening.”

Other root causes of collisions

Fortunately, even if we cannot eliminate human error, we can improve street safety by focusing on other root causes of collisions. The most important of these is road design. Unlike human error, road design is entirely under our control.

Flynn claims that “Signs and traffic light systems are optimized for safety.” This is not true. If signs were “optimized for safety,” the speed limit would be 5 mph or less everywhere. The reality is that signs, traffic lights and roads in general are designed to balance multiple priorities, including vehicle speed, traffic volume and cost, as well as safety.

I recognize that society’s desire for mobility means that safety will never be the only priority. However, in a thickly settled town like Arlington, we must demand that safety be the HIGHEST priority. We live with antiquated roadways that were designed 50-plus years ago to prioritize vehicle speed and volume, with safety for people outside cars as an afterthought at best.

3 goals suggested

Luckily, our understanding of how to build safe streets has come a long way. We can achieve vastly safer streets by focusing on three goals:

* Reduce vehicle speeds. At speeds above 20 mph, the risk of severe injury or death for pedestrians increases sharply. A 2011 study showed that an impact speed of around 30 mph corresponds to 50-percent risk of severe injury and 25-percent risk of death for a pedestrian struck by a vehicle. We can use road design to discourage speeding and implement traffic calming measures that induce drivers to slow down in areas where vulnerable road users are present.

* Build safe infrastructure for pedestrians and bicycles. Many collisions occur when vulnerable road users such as pedestrians and cyclists are forced to share space with motor vehicles. Better infrastructure like sidewalks, bike lanes and better street lighting will benefit drivers and vulnerable road users alike.

* Encourage "alternative modes." The car is great for that camping trip to New Hampshire, but for simple tasks like going to the grocery store, commuting to work and taking the kids to school, there are good alternatives. By expanding options for walking, biking and public transit in our community, we can reduce vehicle trips, which has benefits that go well beyond safety.

Please be safe when using the roads. Personal responsibility is important. But when people get hurt, we must focus on the factors we can control. We must push the town and the commonwealth to make safety the highest priority for our streets. Anything else is negligence.


This letter was published Wednesday, Dec. 13, 2023.

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Comments

Mark Kaepplein on Wednesday, 13 December 2023 21:41
MBTA riders oppose reduced speeds!

Reduced speeds is a nice theory, but people, including MBTA bus riders have places to go and already lose enough of their time in transit. Travel speeds continue to decline in Massachusetts while time lost in travel continues to rise. This is no recipe for a healthy economy and greater productivity.

Cars are ideal for shopping and transporting goods. They are also better for seniors who have mobility challenges.

I wholeheartedly agree that better street lighting is needed, but the town budget is wasted on unneeded headcount and continued hiring for newly created positions they didn't want to talk about in Town Meeting or the tax override vote.

Reduced speeds is a nice theory, but people, including MBTA bus riders have places to go and already lose enough of their time in transit. Travel speeds continue to decline in Massachusetts while time lost in travel continues to rise. This is no recipe for a healthy economy and greater productivity. Cars are ideal for shopping and transporting goods. They are also better for seniors who have mobility challenges. I wholeheartedly agree that better street lighting is needed, but the town budget is wasted on unneeded headcount and continued hiring for newly created positions they didn't want to talk about in Town Meeting or the tax override vote.
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