Faster Isn’t Better, and Cars Aren’t Safer

Much of the Streetsblog Network seems to be distracted by the inauguration — who isn’t? — but we’ve got some new stuff up there for you to think about if you can tear yourself away from the wall-to-wall coverage.

1801508204_09abe29a51.jpgPhoto by happyshooter via Flickr.

From Detroit’s, some thoughts about how the American fetish for speed can actually prevent us from getting where we need and want to go:

Accessibility/new mobility — being able to readily get between locations — is more valuable than high-speed mobility.

Also, WalkBikeCT offers up an essay from Todd Litman of the Victoria Transport Policy Institute debunking the safety myth that surrounds travel by car,

that air-tight excuse you’ll
so often hear from people who have just used their car for a short trip that they could have easily made on bike, on foot, or, gasp — on the bus. I know this excuse well, it’s one I’ve heard from many a friend,
and one I’ve shamefully employed myself on occasion.

The only real problem with this excuse is that it’s not actually true. Driving is not safe. It never was, and it isn’t now. Over 40,000 Americans die each year from automobile collisions. Any mode of travel that kills 40,000 people per year cannot rightfully be called "safe".

Also, the National Journal’s transportation blog challenges its experts to come up with improvements to the stimulus package, and Kaid Benfield at NRDC’s Switchboard looks at how transit has helped create an urban renaissance in Charlotte, NC.

  • Sorry, but Todd’s well-meaning essay is suffused with flabby thinking. The fact that fewer people are murdered by strangers than killed in vehicle crashes — which I’ve helped disseminate on this blog — unfortunately says nothing about the comparative risk of standing at a bus stop vs. driving a car. Todd may be right that the former is less than the latter, but he hasn’t demonstrated in his article that WalkBikeCT linked to.

  • True enough. Just a few blocks from me on Queens Boulevard a woman was seriously injured while waiting for the bus. A taxi driver tried to make a tight U-Turn, failed and crashed into her.

  • It’s circular logic though to say that because someone was injured by an automobile that we must armor ourselves with automobiles at all times to be safe. If automobiles cause the damage riding in one is not making it safer for anyone.
    I think Todd make an excellent point about the perceptions of safety when it comes to transportation. I think most people are aware(though often it does little to dispel their fears) that they are statistically safer flying than in a car but few people are aware of how much safer you are in other car alternatives as well. This may be because there is a lot of money to be made in air travel but not much to be made in walking.

  • Gary, your point about circular logic is an old chestnut but is still spot-on. However, it doesn’t cure Todd’s lazy use of statistics. We can all agree that taking the bus is socially beneficial compared to driving. But Todd’s point is that taking the bus reduces one’s risk compared to driving. It would be lovely if that were true, but Todd hasn’t established that quantitatively.

  • > If automobiles cause the damage riding in one is not making it safer for anyone.

    Further (to Charles re Gary), I think this _does_ in fact follow directly. Certainly it does for my parents, who cannot conceive of life outside their respective 6.5K SUVs.

    They drive huge cars because they’re convinced that, if they’re walking or driving a smaller car, one of the millions of Americans who isn’t qualified to operate a car will hit them and kill them; but if they’re driving an SUV, they’ll be safe.

    I think this is not an unreasonable concern, and when I am in suburbia outside my car, I am often afraid that someone’s gonna jump the curb at 60mph.

    The trouble is that the rational move for an _individual_ in suburbia is to wrap themselves in more steel; for a society, it is to mitigate suburbia.

  • J. Mork

    Unfortunately, Kaja, I’m afraid that someone’s going to jump the curb at 60 mph pretty much every time I cross Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn.

  • I think kaja is right on, the issue here really is not whether the individual is in a car but the type of place a person. Todd may not have provide the quantitative numbers to support his argument but they do show that in more suburban places crash’s are more frequent and more often involve serious injuries or fatalities. While you may feel very threatened on the eastern parkway that is because that street does not belong in Brooklyn at all and would be more at home in suburbia. It may be that the street is safer than suburbia(I don’t actually know the data) because of how dangerous it appears. There’s a great bit about this in Tom Vanderbilt’s Traffic.

  • Rhywun

    There’s also the fact that New Yorkers drive like complete ^*%$(# morons.

  • I didn’t like the blurb from the M-bike article but I liked it more when reading it. The density / speed issue is important. Going 30mph for 30 miles is the same result as going for 60mph for 60 miles… and the former is probably safer. Yet, I wasn’t sure about the statement that in Europe “transportation is not as fast” isn’t necessarily a good thing. In Bordeaux we have a tram which is brilliant and far better than bus or car… but, it could be faster. My fear is that because of the American fixation with car speed that we will end up downplaying the need for speed in transit systems and that would be a mistake.


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