Jim Aloisi is a Boston-based lawyer, historian and transportation policymaker. He is a former Massachusetts state secretary of transportation. His most recent book is The Vidal Lecture.
Tanzeel Merchant is a Toronto-based urban designer, architect, planner and writer. He writes for Forbes India.
As cities across North American densify, innovate and refocus their priorities, there is a shared acknowledgement that the era of the automobile is over, and other modes of mobility, such as walking, cycling and transit, are in ascendance. However, these changes are constrained by powerful legacies of our past — the existing, auto-centric infrastructure of highways, inequitable transportation funding across modes, and outdated ways of thinking.
When proposing a road like this, traffic engineers should have to answer the question: Will the project make people safer or less safe? Photo: PBS
Times have changed, and our planning and review processes need to change along with them. We now live in an era where young people are choosing not to get drivers’ licenses and buy cars, or are delaying those decisions, and older people are drawn to the virtues of a healthier lifestyle. Despite these trends, many transportation officials continue to shortchange funding for the mobility offered by walking and bicycling. Many streets, especially in new suburban neighborhoods, are not pedestrian friendly. Bicycle routes (if they exist at all) are often poorly designed and unsafe. Equitable funding for these modes of transportation is not, and has never been, a reality.
Safe walking and biking ought to be a right, not a privilege. A spate of recent tragedies involving pedestrians and bicyclists points to the urgent need to make mobility safety a critical element of new focus. If you hit a pedestrian at 20 mph, 5 percent will die; at 30 mph, 45 percent will die; at 40 mph, 85 percent will die.
Walking and bicycling are also cost-savers for cities. Integrating these modes into street designs comes at a small cost, with huge returns in terms of reduced vehicular congestion, lower emissions, less wear and tear of roads, stronger local economies and more vibrant neighborhoods.
Planners and decision-makers need a better approach to ensure active transportation is safe and convenient. We propose requiring public infrastructure and transportation projects to undertake a Safety Impact Review (SIR) as part of the process of permitting projects meeting certain thresholds. An SIR would ensure that desired outcomes are baked into development and infrastructure projects right from the start.