While reading “Dangerous Roads are Safer” by Tom Vanderbilt, I was reminded of a video I saw on YouTube a few years back. “Conversation with an Engineer” is an 8 minute video created by Strong Towns. The video follows a conversation between a resident and a project engineer about changes being made to the street in front of the resident's house.
I believe the point of the video is that many traffic engineering standards designed to improve safety can actually make our streets more dangerous and less livable. In this example, the project engineer wants to straighten and flatten the street, widen the street so there is more of a buffer between the cars and the houses, and remove street trees so cars will not hit them if they swerve off the road. Whenever the resident questions how these standards will make her street more safe, the engineer responds: “Building the street to the meet the standard will enhance safety by allowing cars to flow more smoothly.”
When the resident points out that these changes will make cars drive faster and that will make the street less safe, the engineer responds by saying the city will post an appropriate speed limit. Of course, this will not do much to limit the speed of cars. What was limiting the speed in the first place was the combination of the narrow lanes, trees, and curves in the street. The engineer says the street is currently not safe because it does not meet the standards. If he were to just open his eyes, walk down the street, and talk to some of the residents of the neighborhood, he might notice the street is currently safe the way it is.
The engineer might be well-educated and well-versed in engineering vernacular and standards, but his actions are not solutions to safety problems. Instead, they are causing safety problems.
Editor: Darwin Moosavi