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How Engineers Deflect Criticism of Their Dangerous Designs

11:49 AM EDT on October 6, 2015

As people who've tried to make their neighborhood streets safer for walking and biking can tell you, engineers are amazingly adept at shutting down dissent.

Chuck Marohn at Strong Towns -- an engineer himself -- knows the drill inside out (it inspired this classic animation from 2010). In a new post, he explains:

Transportation engineers can be intimidating. They are hard to oppose. When a member of the general public shows up at local meeting to express concern over a project -- for example, their quiet local street being widened as if it were a highway -- they more often than not find themselves verbally outgunned by the project engineer.

There are a handful of ways engineers deflect criticism. Chief among them is to resort to quoting industry standards. Having a huge budget and all the clout that comes with it doesn’t hurt either. There are, however, a number of reliable threads that I’ve heard engineers use time and again.

This last summer I wrote a series that looked at child pedestrians being killed in automobile collisions, the finale of which included this line: The engineering profession -- with a growing number of notable exceptions -- employs a systematic approach to design prioritizing the fast and efficient (but not safe) movement of automobiles over everything else. As a general rule, engineers show a conscious indifference to pedestrians and cyclists, misunderstanding their needs where they are not disregarded completely.

That post from last summer was picked up by an engineering thread on Reddit, where engineers offered a series of predictable defenses. From "the standards won't allow it" to "it's the politicians' fault" to "you're not an engineer so you wouldn't understand," Marohn broke down the comments into five categories. Check out his full post to see them all.

Elsewhere on the Network today: Cyclelicious writes about how bikes are helping people cope with natural disasters all over the globe right now. And The Urbanist reports on why some Seattle bus routes are using the shoulder of highways.

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