Group Urges Road Enhancements in IL to Prevent Traffic Deaths
Written by Zeta Cross, The Center Square
Published May 8, 2023
When it comes to car crashes and traffic deaths, some say smart road design can save lives.
Dave Simmons, executive director of bike rider advocacy group Ride Illinois, said 1,280 people died in traffic crashes in Illinois in 2022. Across the U.S. in 2022, 42,795 people died in motor vehicle crashes.
“A stunning number of deaths,” Simmons said. “Our friends at Families for Safe Streets say that that is equivalent to the crash of a medium-sized passenger jet every single day.”
The good news is that 54 fewer people died in Illinois traffic crashes in 2022 than were killed in 2021. The news that fatalities declined last year is welcome, Simmons said, but with so many fatalities overall, there is no cause for celebration.
“If we pause and look at the big picture, it is still way too many people,” he said.
For many years now, roads in the U.S. have been designed based on traffic flow and the efficiency of motor vehicles, Simmons said.
“That’s led to where we are at,” he said.
Other countries that have taken a slightly different approach to infrastructure don’t have the sky-high traffic fatality numbers that we have, he said.
“It is a uniquely American thing. We have a lot of people dying and being injured on our roads,” he said.
Ride Illinois believes better road design prevents traffic deaths by encouraging drivers to pay more attention. If a speed limit sign says 35 mph but the road is designed as a straightaway where vehicles can go 45 or 50 mph, most people will wind up going faster, even if they don’t realize it, Simmons said.
“People are going to go too fast. People are going to text. Pedestrians are going to cross the streets outside of crosswalks. We are all human beings,” he said.
Simmons asked “how do we prevent crashes even though people are people?”
One answer is designing roads that make it easier for American drivers to pay better attention, he said. Bump-outs at intersections slightly extend the curb into the road, making pedestrians waiting to cross the street easier for drivers to notice.
Side paths are bidirectional shared-use paths that give pedestrians and bike riders a safe pathway next to busy traffic lanes.
A road verge is a strip of grass or plants, and sometimes also trees, located between a roadway and a sidewalk. A road verge can define a bike path and give pedestrians on the sidewalk a barrier between them and traffic.
“Adding greenscapes, whether it is trees or a bump-out or narrower lanes, can serve to calm traffic,” Simmons said. “Maybe the road does not have to be straight as an arrow? Design it with a few little winding turns.”
Better designed roads make downtowns more attractive and pedestrian friendly, he said.
Give people a high-quality walking experience with sidewalks and side paths and greenscapes and they are much more likely to walk rather than take the car. Simmons said walking on the edge of traffic is less enjoyable.
More than $800 million in federal taxpayer funds is available to help communities with projects in high-crash areas. Ride Illinois encourages communities to apply for funding and follow the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Complete Streets guidelines to make roads safer for all users.