Avoid statistically inevitable outcomes…

We cannot ethically continue to design roads in a way we do not give pedestrians and drivers a fighting chance to avoid tragedies.

Current speed limits in many Lehigh Valley town centers simply do not give folks a fighting chance. That was the case was in Emmaus in May. The 11 year old who lost her life wasn’t the only victim. The elderly driver who has to live with this is also a victim. An investigation ruled correctly the driver was not at fault. The driver was obeying the posted speed limit.

Statistical reality caught up with us in the Borough that day. The same will happen in Macungie as it’s inevitable with the current design of Main St.

In Emmaus, the 11 year girl was an unforeseen variable. Problem is 11 year olds tend to do that. No matter how well raised. So do elderly, the disabled, pets, someone who leaves a restaurant and had a glass of wine with dinner. I can go on and on but you get the point.

By nature and by design town centers are full of unpredictable variables. (that comes with density) They are complex environments. It’s what makes them special places. Within them not everyone behaves in a predictable manner. This is a baseline. It is. You cannot change it. We have to accept it.

What can we change?

We can change the speed limit. We can change the road design to match the speed limit. The “inconvenience” factor relating drivers is negligible to non-existent.  Let’s quantify.

IF Chestnut St. was a straight shot with no stops, driveways, crosswalks etc. and considering the “business district” is 1 mile in length.

1 mile travel time: (roughly the length of Emmaus business district)
35 MPH – 1:45 seconds mile
25 MPH – 2:24 seconds to go 1 mile

Under the best (unlikely) scenario the difference is 39 seconds of travel time. Of course the route isn’t a straight shot. The road has traffic signals, crosswalks and driveways. Statistical reality is that your almost never going to have that “straight shot” through town. Therefore, accelerating to 35 mph for brief periods of time to get from one obstacle to the next won’t get you somewhere 39 seconds faster. Reality is  it’s just a few SECONDS quicker if anything at all. Not to mention the incredibly inefficient waste of gas/wear and tear on your automobile that comes with rapid accelerations/decelerations. And just the plain stupidity of accelerating from red light to the next.

On the flip slide there is an irrefutable and direct correlation between a 10 mph speed reduction and a reduction of both the frequency and severity of accidents. From 25 to 35 mph the death rate DOUBLES. (Triple A foundation for traffic studies) Full stop. Again, from 25 to 35 mph the death rate DOUBLES.
Screen Shot 2015-07-28 at 11.06.59 AMGive everyone a fighting chance.
First, it’s my opinion you take the “convenience” of drivers where in measurable terms equals mere seconds of drive time completely out of the equation. It is an asinine argument. It’s also an inflated argument where perception isn’t reality. But let’s say it was. To think seconds of your time is worth putting yourself and everyone around you at higher risk is incredibly selfish and tragic.

Visual perception at different speeds.

Visual perception at different speeds.

Reducing the speed limit on Main St. Macungie (35 to 25) Chestnut street in Emmaus (35 to 25) and Hamilton Boulevard in Lower Macungie (from 40-45 to a consistent 35mph) needs to happen now. Followed by aggressive traffic calming strategies so the physical design matches the posted speeds.

I know for a fact Macungie Borough, Emmaus Borough and Lower Macungie Township have all requested over the years lower speed limits on Chestnut, Main St. and the Boulevard. The problem each time from what I understand is Penndot. Somewhere there is a disconnect. Penndots own smart transpiration guidebook outlines a 25 mph desired operating speed on a “Main Street“. In Lower Mac the catalyst for a request was actually Hamilton Crossings shopping center. Clearly,the developers understand slower speeds are good for business and the economy of the upstart Boulevard.

Common sense dictates lowering the speed limits. Standards reinforce it. Local municipalities who know the roads best have requested it. Residents have demanded it. So what is the issue here? When we set operating speed too high we have a statistical inevitable outcome of tragedy. 

What we know:

  • Slower speeds are safer for everyone
  • The loss of travel time is negligible to non-existent
  • Slower speeds in town centers actually ease congestion
  • Slower speed is better for downtown businesses

You can also sum up this entire argument here. ELIMINATE STROADS! As deadly as a STRAOD designed too fast through a Borough is, a STROAD designed with highway geometry seemingly for 55+ mph but posted artificially at 45mph or containing traffic signals is just as dangerous.

Very few roads should be posted between 35mph and 55mph. That is the tragedy zone. Design it as a road (get people from A-B) or make it a street (multi modal value capture) But please, STOP BUILDING STROADS.

STROADS: Dangerous Expensive Low return on investment

STROADS:
Dangerous
Expensive
Low return on investment

Rt. 222 bypass: Road, Street or Stroad?

I subscribe to a notion that to get the highest return on investment from roadways we should clearly define what they are supposed to accomplish. We should then design them to serve that purpose.

bypass

Pictured is the Rt. 222 Kutztown bypass. A well designed ROAD with on/off ramps and low accessibility paired with highway geometry allows for 55 mph speed limit. This ROAD safely moves automobiles quickly and efficiently through this corridor.

 

ROAD  

  • High speed by design 
  • Highway geometry
  • Low accessibility
  • A place for automobiles only. This facilitates safely moving them at high speeds.

 

 

East-Blvd-After-Dual-Left-Hard-Turn-Lane-e1357934233263

This picture is a similar representation of the Hamilton Boulevard vision outlined in the 2013 corridor study. This boulevard has Bike lanes, landscaped medians, street-trees and sidewalks to create a friendly pedestrian environment. Traffic travels at safe speed through calming measures. This means high land value for adjoining commercial properties. This STREET will generate a high return on investment for the community.

 

 

STREET 

      • Slow by design
      • Complex environment
      • High accessibility
      • A place to capture value and encourage commercial development
      • Designed for all modes of transportation. A generally pleasant environment.
      • Facilitates high value development

 




So which type is the the bypass and which is the boulevard? The argument I would make today is that they are both closer to side by side Stroads. A Stroad is a street/road hybrid. Where a futon is a piece of furniture that serves both as an uncomfortable couch and an uncomfortable bed, a STROAD moves cars at speeds far too slow to get around efficiently but way too fast to support productive private sector investment. The result is an expensive mess that really does nothing well. As taxpayers why do we spend public money on very expensive things that don’t accomplish any goal particularly well?

 

STROAD

Here is the Macarther Rd. STROAD. An obviously dangerous place for pedestrians. But despite highway geometry this does not move automobiles quickly or efficiently either. Lots of accidents. Dangerous for automobiles. Dangerous for pedestrians. Very expensive to build and maintain. Jarring environment. Not very pleasant place.

STROAD 

      • Does not move automobiles quickly or safely
      • Dangerous for pedestrians
      • Very expensive to build and maintain
      • Encourages low value development.

 







Side by side stroads is the direction we’re headed today.

STROADS are the futon of the transportation network.

STROADS are the futon of the transportation network.

On the Rt 222 bypass today we clearly have a stroad. It was built with highway geometry but because of traffic signals instead of on/off ramps we’re limited to a 45 mph. Therefore the bypass doesn’t move cars very efficiently or quickly. Because it doesn’t our increasing volume of local freight traffic reacts logically by using shortcuts and local roads. The bypass is also very dangerous. The Millcreek intersection particularly. The whole thing is quite frankly a speed trap since the posted speed doesn’t correspond to the design speed. Therefore: STROAD

On the the boulevard we have a developing stroad. As of late township staff worked hard to require higher quality development. (I acknowledge that but we still have work to do. And the bar was very low..and that we are constrained by our dated zoning code) Still, most road improvements have been of a stroad flavor. This directly conflicts with stated goals of safety, value and walkability. It also fundamentally encourages low value strip development. For ex. planned driveways off of Hamilton Crossings will be super sized and therefore super fast. That will not make it a very safe place for people. Therefore businesses will respond rationally and over build parking lots, seek oversized signage, supersized driveways ect. All this eventually compounds and you wake up one day with Macarther Rd.

To fix this we need to STOP and all get on the same page and decide once and for all what purpose we want these two roads to serve.

Keys:
Bypass – Purpose to move cars efficiently and quickly between clusters of destinations

  • Grade separation on the bypass. Get rid of the signals and build ramps.
  • Raise the speed limit to 55
  • Limit access

Boulevard – A vibrant community center. A multi-modal corridor.

  • Calm traffic using techniques/strategies outlined in Penndots smart transportation manual.
  • Transit corridor
  • Make safe for everyone. Sidewalks, landscaped medians and bike lanes
  • People oriented
  • Fix our zoning code to allow high value development (as opposed to only strip malls)
    • Neighborhood Commercial