How Cities Can Make Dangerous Intersections Safer

After Rice University Professor Marjorie Corcoran was killed at a Houston intersection, anyone examining the scene on Google Street view could see why. 

Corcoran crossed the light rail tracks and was hit by a train. At the intersection, pedestrians faced a pair of uncoordinated pedestrian signals –– one letting them cross four traffic lanes and the tracks, another letting them traverse Main Street’s six lanes. Along with two traffic lights, the entrance to the university was obscured by foliage and heavily traveled by pedestrians, bicyclists, and motorists –– a recipe for disaster.  Check out these tips to enjoy a better commute –

Like many cities, Houston has long prioritized vehicles. Yet, any town with traffic should note how pedestrians and bicyclists use roadways while prioritizing their safety. So how can cities make dangerous intersections safer?

Left-Turn Signals

Intersection improvements are often reactive. Following Corcoran’s death, the light rail crosswalks were painted red, new signage was installed, and the trains were required to blast their horns more often (a development that is often at odds with residents living nearby). Yet it’s possible to be proactive. 

Like Houston, many cities grew exponentially in the 20th century. Traffic engineers didn’t anticipate the booming growth. Los Angeles is the perfect example. Most L.A. intersection lights were erected early last century. Left-turn signals were left out of the mix –– the first one didn’t arrive until 1965. Five years ago, just 15 percent of lighted intersections had arrows for making a left turn. 

The result is that cars often run the red –– turning left and hoping to beat opposing traffic. These racing cars can easily hit pedestrians on the crosswalk. At many of San Diego’s dangerous intersections, left-turn arrows could play a role in reducing fatalities. As part of Vision Zero, L.A. has been adding 75 new turn arrows a year. 

Innovative Pedestrian-Friendly Solutions

Crosswalks are often hard to see and easy to ignore. In the 21st century, new designs are making roads safer. A raised crosswalk becomes its own little speed-bump –– warning drivers to slow down as they approach. Protected intersections save bicyclists and pedestrians alike by using a design that keeps motorists turning 90 degrees rather than angling over the crosswalk. On the other hand, Henry Barnes designed “Barnes Dance ” coordinates lights so that pedestrians only need to wait for a single signal at an intersection instead of two. They then safely cross with all four lanes of traffic stopped. 

Stop Signs

It’s counterintuitive, but intersections with stoplights are usually the most dangerous. If you have a dangerous intersection in your neighborhood, advocating for a set of lights may not be the best solution. That’s because the fastest speeds are usually clocked by cars racing through light-controlled intersections. 

Four-way stop signs force every driver to pause for a few seconds. That’s usually enough time to see if there is a pedestrian waiting to cross. 

What You Can Do

In the early 2010s, the traffic App Waze transformed neighborhood streets. Residents watched quiet lanes transformed into speedways as stressed commuters raced to avoid backed-up main thoroughfares and freeways. Narrow roads became clogged, while the risk to pedestrians rose. 

Whether your local street has become laden with traffic or just has a risky intersection, there are steps to take. Those who have brought complaints to city hall suggest that you detail the problem instead of demanding a specific solution. Document the issue –– from cars racing through the intersection to near-collisions. 

Vision Zero provides tools like maps featuring serious accidents and dangerous intersections. You can also take a video of the problem. If the neighborhood has changed due to an influx of retail, for example, note that as well. The process takes time, but those who have succeeded say it’s well worth it knowing their nearby intersection is safer.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *