Here is an example of a common sprawl intersection right here in Brevard County. SR520 and Courtenay Pkwy in Merritt Island. The County just did some improvements in the area. It looks much nicer. They enhanced the painted plain white stripes for the crosswalk and it is now painted to look like it’s made of brick. Looks great, and maybe it made it a hair safer. I don’t know. At least it’s a little more attention-getting, but it’s still not what I would consider a safe crossing! The crosswalks are way too long, the lanes are much too wide, and there are too many lanes at the crossing. At the very least if the crossing is going to be that long it should have a refuge halfway across, but nope.
See, it is very unsafe to build them this way, but we do it all the time. The car rules the road, and pedestrians and cyclists are left to fight for survival. This really must change! In populated areas if we build things with the comfort and safety of pedestrians and cyclists’ as a priority we can strike the proper balance. The convenience of drivers sometimes won’t even need to be compromised with some careful planning.
We ought to minimize the number of lanes at an intersection so that crossing the street is as safe as possible. But don’t we need all these lanes? Didn’t some engineer study this carefully and decide the lanes were necessary? Well, it’s probably true that the intersection was designed based on real perceived needs. But if we work at it we might be able to find solutions that will meet all the needs including safety for cyclists and pedestrians. Here are a couple of thoughts on what we should do to improve this intersection and others like it…
1) Cut down the number of thru-lanes at and approaching this intersection. How do we do that? How about providing more alternate thru-ways nearby? This is a basic consideration that we need to be making for thru-streets all over our sprawling county. Fortunately, in the case of this particular spot there already are alternate routes nearby. Because of this fact I believe this intersection could be served by 4 thru-lanes in both directions rather than the 6 we have now.
2) Cut down the number of turn-lanes. The number of turn-lanes at this intersection is just way over the top and needs to be reduced. All 4 approaches to this intersection have 2 sets of left turn lanes, and there are 2 dedicated right-turn lanes coming from the north and 1 from the east. It is very possible that we can reduce the number of left turn lanes from each approach to one and eliminate the dedicated right turn lanes entirely. Why do we have the additional turn lanes now? For stacking at red lights. Why don’t I think we need them? Many times the proper timing of lights is all that’s necessary to handle the stacking requirements. Let’s get creative and not allow outdated “standard” car-centric engineering practices to overrule the need for pedestrian- and bike- safety!
3) Reduce the vehicle lane widths to 10′. They’re 12′ now. For the safety of everyone using these streets we need to reduce speeds. Reducing the lane widths is the best way to do this. 12′ lanes accommodate highway speeds. Reducing the lanes to 10′ will help to slow vehicles to under 35mph. This is the speed at which pedestrian fatalities are drastically reduced in the event of a pedestrian-vehicle collision. Above 35 the opposite effect occurs. At 45mph 90% of collisions will result in the death of the pedestrian!
Wide lanes produce high speeds!
4) Shorten the turning radius at the corners. To accommodate wide truck turns, rather than making the curb radius so large, we can just hold the stop bars back from the intersection. This along with other recommendations in this article contributes to the slowing of vehicle speeds. Reducing speeds improves safety for everyone – drivers, pedestrians, and bicyclists. A smaller turn radius also makes the crosswalk shorter.
5) Park behind buildings. Allow the buildings to be built closer to the street and move the off-street parking behind the buildings. Minimize sidewalk crossings on and off the main road by combining rear parking accesses. Did you know that having buildings built closer to the road causes drivers to slow down because the perception of motion is enhanced by having objects closer to the street?
Couple more little things:
6) Raise the crosswalk and add textured pavers.
7) Light the crosswalk well at night.
Go the extra mile:
8) Add bollards at the crosswalk entrances.
We can go on and on with improvements. I’ve tried to list the most important ones first. When deciding what is appropriate to do at a given intersection or along a given street we can set priorities based on the busy-ness of the place. Higher-volume pedestrian places need the most intervention. All of our populated places should meet some basic safety standards. Notice intersections in your area that could use some improvement? Let’s talk about it and see if we can’t make some changes! Our voices are starting to be heard. The excitement is building!
Barry Watkins, Walkable Brevard, Viera, Florida, USA, firstname.lastname@example.org, 321-355-2747, walkablebrevard.wordpress.com, facebook.com/groups/walkablebrevard, twitter.com/walkablebrevard