The State With the Deadliest Traffic in America Admits Its High-Speed Streets Have to Change

This intersection in Tampa ranks as a "hot spot," among the most dangerous in Florida for cyclists. Image: Florida Department of Transportation Research Center
This intersection in Tampa ranks as a "hot spot," among the most dangerous in Florida for cyclists. Image: Florida Department of Transportation Research Center

In the last few years, the traffic fatality rate in America has risen alarmingly high, wiping out a decade of progress and widening what was already an enormous gap between the U.S. and peer nations like the UK, Japan, and Germany.

A primary reason so many people get killed in car crashes in this country is the prevalence of streets designed for lethal driving speeds. The national traffic safety establishment finally seems to be confronting the problem. Earlier this month the National Transportation Safety Board released a draft report with several recommendations to curtail deadly speeding. Advocates hailed the report as a breakthrough that should spur change at transportation agencies around the country.

One state transportation agency that’s taking steps to get motor vehicle speeds under control is Florida DOT, reports Rayla Bellis at the State Smart Transportation Initiative. As the most dangerous state for walking and biking, Florida also has the most room for improvement. Bellis reports that the state DOT will not just be reducing speed limits, but also redesigning streets for greater safety:

The Florida Department of Transportation plans to lower speed limits and design speeds in some areas from their current 40-45 mph limit to a 25 mph limit to improve roadway safety. They will start with a pilot program in the Tampa Bay region. This makes FDOT one of the first states to tackle head-on the safety impacts of vehicle speeds.

Speed is one of the most significant factors in roadway crashes and fatalities in the U.S., and an especially serious problem for pedestrians and bicyclists. A 2011 study conducted by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found that nine out of 10 pedestrians survive a crash with a car going 20 mph. However, only five out of 10 pedestrians survive when hit at 30 mph, and just one in 10 survive when hit at least 40 mph.

FDOT has been working to improve conditions for people walking and biking since 2014 through the department’s Complete Streets implementation initiative, which aims to address the state’s ongoing pedestrian danger epidemic. FDOT is also considering other strategies for reducing vehicle speeds, including reducing lane widths to 10 feet in some urban areas. The department will be finalizing its plans later this year based on feedback submitted by stakeholders in response to the department’s draft FDOT Design Manual and new draft Complete Streets Handbook.

FDOT’s government liaison administrator Stephen Benson noted, “When people drive slower, it improves safety. If we don’t design roads like a highway, they won’t drive on the roads like a highway.”

More recommended reading today: Systemic Failure gives a virtual tour of a very pedestrian-unfriendly BART station. And City Observatory considers whether you can call a house with a three-car garage a “net zero” energy home.

27 thoughts on The State With the Deadliest Traffic in America Admits Its High-Speed Streets Have to Change

  1. There’s no amount of engineering that can fix the depicted intersection, and indeed no amount of tweaking at the margins can fix Tampa at all. The whole place should just be abandoned.

  2. Take a gander at the businesses that make their home at this unhappy intersection: “collision center,” “paint and body shop,” “auto repair,” “car wash,” “auto trader.” It’s a hub for an entire economy built around wrecking, repairing, and replacing automobiles.

  3. With global warming that may well happen. If Tampa doesn’t get flooded it’ll likely become too hot for humans to inhabit.

  4. Changing speed limits on these highway-esque arterial roads is a way for FDOT to put the onus on local municipalities and police for enforcing the limits on their lethal street designs, rather than engineering them to be lower-speed roads in the first place.

  5. There are already homicide charges available to DA’s, for those cases where there is clear evidence of criminal intent.

  6. Fun fact about Florida. It has the easiest vision test of all 50 States.

    Because of the large number of older people in Florida, you can drive legally with 20/70 vision there. Most States require 20/40 or 20/50.

  7. “Metro” Tampa is larger than Delaware and has a “density” of 1 dwelling unit per acre. It is the least-dense metro area we have. It is two orders of magnitude less dense than any real city. Literally any other city in America would be a better outcome in terms of environmental impact. In any case 25% of the people in metro Tampa showed up in the last ten years, so they can just go back to wherever they came from. The rest of the people have one foot in the grave anyway. And, as Joe R. rightly points out, the entire thing will be inundated within a century so we won’t have to think about this problem any more.

  8. It’s ironic and sad that the generations of older Americans that created these environments where transportation by private automobile is the only option then lowered the safety standards for licensure so they could continue use the infrastructure as their faculties abandoned them. Excuse the pun, but it demonstrates no foresight whatsoever.

  9. As may be but realistically a solution is needed to the cited problem and that does not include the wishful thinking of just “abolishing” a city.

    Now, Detroit is an example of what happens when lots of people leave but it’s hardly a positive story. And Tampa is a lot more prosperous, successful and populous than Detroit.

    As for flooding in 100 years time because of global warming, maybe, but a lot of ciastal US cities will be in the same boat if Tampa is under 10 feet of water.

  10. And someday I hope that Hillsbourough and Pinellas County finally wake up and put aside their petty differences and come up with a transit system that actually works there (and more importantly, that the voters will approve funding for such a system, since this is what has shot down every attempt so far.)

  11. Tampa and St. Pete are in the process of revitalizing and expanding their downtowns, Many of the other towns, including the ones that are inhabited by a religious cult, are doing similar things. The problem is that without a coherent regional transit system to connect everything and so much area in between these towns that was developed as low density residential and strip commercial, it’s going to be difficult to re-imagine the region as anything but a car-centered hellscape.

  12. If you read the article the point is not to arbitrarily reduce speed limits, it’s to incorporate design features that will encourage folks to drive slower on some roads depending on context (i.e. “engineering them”). See the quote from the FDOT rep at the very end.

  13. Tampa’s just at the border of “totally definitely doomed by flooding” and “maybe not doomed by flooding”. (Miami’s doomed.)

  14. That is impressive in a devious, manipulative way. Kind of like the Catholic church with their property tax free. Thanks for the link.

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