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Comment of the Week: Does Vision Zero require gravel freeways?

Posted by on April 3rd, 2015 at 3:21 pm

speed of light

A freeway outside Delft, Netherlands.
(Photo: Edwin van Buuringen)

The most important concept in American streets advocacy right now seems to suggest that all rapid car travel should be abolished.

That’s the perspective of BikePortland reader Tait, who argued semi-satirically this week that if preventing one person’s death is truly more important than fulfilling everyone else’s desires, maybe we should cut freeway speeds to 35 mph, or even lower.

In a comment beneath our post Tuesday about some Oregon legislators’ effort to raise cars’ freeway speed limit from 65 to 75 mph, Tait had this to say:

Commuters aren’t the only road users. For a 600mi drive down to California or 400mi drive to Ontario, an extra 10mph cuts an hour or more off the driving time, which is significant. (And would be also, to commercial freight and shipping, if it applied to them.)

There is a tradeoff, so just saying “always choose the lower speed” isn’t a feasible answer. Why not make the interstate limit 45? 35? At 35 mph, most car accidents at least are nonlethal, and survivability for non-car crashes is significantly better than even 45, much less anything higher. At 25, we’d even have survivability for a significant fraction of car-to-non-car accidents. I mean, when lives are at stake, what right has anyone to complain about their Tualatin to downtown Portland commute taking 1.5hrs? I’m exaggerating for effect, but as a serious question, what rate of fatality is acceptable?

I think the focus on fatality is actually slightly misplaced. It’s a secondary factor, but the primary concern should be accident rate, not accident lethality. And the effect on accident rates of a 65 to 75mph limit change is fairly small. If we could get the accident rate down, then the increased lethality might be more than offset, resulting in overall fewer lives lost.

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Tait isn’t questioning the urgency of reducing traffic fatalities. But this week’s still-rolling discussion of freeway speed limits tests the outer edges of the policy campaign that Oregon Walks and the Bicycle Transportation Alliance launched on Monday.

Vision Zero’s believers, like New York City’s Paul Steely White, say Vision Zero works as a political campaign because it’s easy to understand. But I’ve never yet had a conversation with someone outside the streets advocacy world who finds the concept easy to accept. Is that because they haven’t awakened to its merits? Or is it because, deep down, they don’t actually share the values it’s built on?

Yes, we pay for good comments. We’ll be mailing a $5 bill to Tait in thanks for this great one. Watch your email!

NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. BikePortland is an inclusive company with no tolerance for discrimination or harassment including expressions of racism, sexism, homophobia, or xenophobia. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

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invisiblebikes
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invisiblebikes

What I am finding is that many politicians are clinging to false data showing that collisions and fatalities are trending down. They are using data that shows these trends but they are omitting many other factors attributing to the falling trends (i.e. technological advancements in safety, less new cars on the road, getting rid of old cars, etc)

I think the fact that Volvo officially announcing they are working towards Zero Fatalities in a Volvo car by 2020 speaks volumes of what the auto industry is doing to make driving safer (at least for motorists)
But along with Volvo, Jaguar and Subaru have added pedestrian safety as well as cyclist safety to their plan for VisionZero.

It’s very apparent that VisionZero is catching on and we need to stick to our guns and keep pushing… that means traffic calming designs should include freeway designs and speeds.

Cheif
Guest
Cheif

Yes saving lives is worth it. Limit freeway speeds to 35 tops, 25 is fine. If you have to travel across the country faster than that take the train or an airplane.

J_R
Guest
J_R

If you want to reduce motorist-related fatalities the number one way is to end drunk driving. Who’s with me on amending the Oregon Constitution to allow random sobriety stops like they have in civilized countries around the globe?

jeg
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jeg

A 10 mile per hour increase in speed will statistically lead to more deaths. We should focus on fatality, not crash rate. If someone dies, that’s the end. At slower speeds, injuries are survivable.

I believe the push in this person’s comment about focusing on crash rate as opposed to fatality rate is disingenuous– It’s an attempt to derail vision zero as a concept.

Your convenience is never worth a life. Keep Oregon at its current speeds; I would argue for slower, but that would probably be counterproductive.

It doesn’t matter if cars have gotten safer, another point I see being driven home. Speed still kills. Show me a Volvo that has no fatalities, then I’ll listen to you about passengers. But other vehicles? Lower income people in poor vehicles? Pedestrians.

The importance is fatality rate– period. Accident rate should always be weighed with fatalities. Slower speeds mean less death.

Dwaine Dibbly
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Dwaine Dibbly

Get rid of the speed limits on limited access highways (where you don’t have bikes or pedestrians) and let Darwin sort it out. The increased fuel consumption will help to drive prices up, too.

adp
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adp

If saving lives is most important, then you must favor laws forcing cyclists to wear helmets, safety clothing, and use lights 24/7.

spencer
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spencer

Our society cannot continue to prioritize unsafe and negligent behavior at the expense of our citizens’ lives. I drive quickly when the road allows. How many of our drivers have actually learned when it is appropriate to drive quickly? I’d venture that < 10% of the American populace has that capacity.
Hypothetically, so we can drive fast now, how do I drive fast when the person in front of me in the left lane has their cruise control set at 67 mph?
The state has bigger transportation problems to solve than just how fast rural residents can drive. Those that drive fast use a radar detector.

rain waters
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rain waters

Funny how Im always in a hurry when I’m driving my car. It’s 21 years old with well under 150k miles. Speed kills so I’ve always viewed it as an evil mistake I’m responsible for till it dies a rusty death in ’34 or so. I put far more miles on bikes and my life is blessed because of it. Eventually anyone with a functional brain and heart comes to realize that anything much over 15mph is detrimental any way it’s looked at. I know that sounds insane to most even here on a bike site, but hold that thought till your last breath and reconsider.

Suburban
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Suburban

Human life has never been more important than convenience, speed, and profit. What has changed to make it trump “guaranteed-on-time”? I agree with rain waters that zero-vision is generally considered insane, and it is clear that most road users vote with their right foot.

Tait
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Tait

My argument distills down to one point, I guess: there is a need for convenient (timely, all-hours) high-speed and/or long-distance transportation. Whether that’s 55mph or something else is debatable, but it’s not 25mph. We don’t have public transportation infrastructure that fills this need, especially along the I-5 corridor, so cars are it. If the answer to the high-speed transportation need is “we don’t need high-speed transportation” then I am definitely not on-board with that vision.

I don’t think high-speed transit and zero fatalities are mutually exclusive, but short of autonomous cars, our progress toward that goal has been a walk, not a run. There’s a lot more we can do.

There was an April Fool’s article about extending MAX out to central Oregon and Bend. I was disappointed, not only that it was a joke, but that such an idea is seen as so obviously a joke to so many.

rick
Guest
rick

I want lower speed limits on numerous roads in Oregon.

Stretchy
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Stretchy

Is a bicycle safer to ride at 10mph than 15mph? How about 7mph? What about pedestrian safety? Should we pass a law that all bicycles must be walked in any bicycle-pedestrian mixed use zone like the Hawthorne bridge?

I know bicycle-pedestrian accident fatalities are exceedingly rare but, even one death is too many.

HJ
Guest
HJ

Having recently lost my father to an accident while he was out riding my focus is far less concerned with speed (the vehicle involved was probably going about jogging speed) and far more concerned with distraction levels. I don’t think raising the speed limit to 75 on the interstate in the middle of nowhere is a big deal, in fact as someone who has to drive I5 now and then I actually support it.
What I DO think is a big deal is cracking down on the space cadets operating 2000+ lb. killing machines. IMHO vehicles should be equipped with a device that won’t let the car start unless the texting and call ability of the driver’s cell is deactivated while the vehicle is moving.
Also I think they need to make the drivers’ exam a lot tougher. It seems pretty clear to me from the absolutely horrific driving behaviors on the road anymore that people have no real concept of the rules of the road. I mean whatever happened to getting it drilled into peoples’ heads that you never ever cross a double yellow? I see this all the time in places where there’s no reason to do it.

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)
Admin

What concerns me about raising the speed limit is that it will contribute to a general culture of speed that our society suffers from. Giving a green light to go faster – regardless of where and when – is just another sign that speed is good/valued/permissible. Going fast will then carry over to other roads where safe speeds are even more important.

Given how pervasive and dangerous our society’s culture of speed is, I hate to see any encouragement of it at all — especially from the state via a sanctioned law.

Eric U
Guest
Eric U

Virginia has a 70 mph speed limit, and they have a reputation of prosecuting and jailing speeders that go 10mph over. So you rarely see people going over 80 there. I think it may reduce the range of speeds that people drive, which makes things safer. I could support a 75 mph speed limit if it was treated as a real limit instead of a soft limit like the usual practice