Preventing Deaths on the Road
Preventing Cyclist Death on the Road
On Thursday, March 21, 2019, Oklahoma City lost a passionate member of its blossoming food scene. VAST co-executive chef Chad Epley was killed in a hit and run while biking home from work. More than that, this tragedy took away a fun brother, a dear son, a close friend to many.
We don't know all the details of the circumstances involving the crash, other than it occurring around the intersection of Classen Blvd and NW 16th Street. Often in situations involving a motorist and a non-motorist, reports and comments tend to question what the non-motorist could have done differently, or how conscientious they were for their own safety. However, engineering practice dictates that personal protection is the LAST and least effective step to hazard mitigation. Infrastructure-based design is the FIRST and most effective step.
Figure 1 Hierarchy of hazard control mechanisms and effectiveness.[i]
Based on road design, situations like this do not come as a surprise. Oklahoma City has been designed around the car, with zoning laws that promote sprawl, infrastructure funding dedicated to making vehicular travel as smooth as possible, and design that reinforces cars over people. One would be hard-pressed in OKC to walk or bike more than a mile without having to deal with getting across a wide street that has speed limits at or exceeding 35 mph, with design that encourages even higher speeds:
- 2 to 3 lanes in each direction, often with additional turn lanes;
- 11-foot lane widths or larger;
- Stoplight signals with timing to support motorized traffic on arterials;
- Crosswalk buttons that are often located in ways that are not easily accessible, especially from an ADA standpoint; and
- Traffic sensors further designed for large amounts of steel rather than smaller vehicles.
Classen Blvd has long known to be a divider in the city. Safe connections between the Plaza District and the Central Business District, or even Midtown, are rare to non-existent for those traveling by bus, by foot, by scooter, by wheelchair, by bike-share. Simply put, the environment is not inviting to encourage people to use streets without 2+ tons of steel for protection. This further hurts our economy. The Plaza District is loved not just for its businesses, but for its atmosphere. It is a rare neighborhood in Oklahoma where sidewalk space is larger than road space. The lack of massive parking lots allows it to maintain its atmosphere. However, parking is a constant complaint from residents who end up with cars flooding all side streets, as well as from visitors from suburbs who want to enjoy the district, but give up when driving through with no place for their car. Visitors who travel by bike are rare, but are welcomed by 10 usually empty bike racks, including one indoor rack at Oak & Ore.[i] Safe and inviting routes for active transportation, especially across Classen Blvd, would yield improved traffic and better business for our city
Beyond dealing with historic infrastructure design choices, current funding allocations further reflect Oklahoma’s car-centric value system. From the 2017 League of American Bicyclists report, at $0.26 per capita, “on both a per capita basis and as a percentage of federal spending has spent less on biking and walking over the past five years than every other state.”[ii] For comparison, the state’s total 2017 transportation spending amounted to $450.20 per capita[iii], or nearly 2000 times as much. (Notably, 71% of that budget is funded through income tax, sales tax, and property taxes; only 29% from fuel and vehicle taxes.[iv]) The prioritization is even more explicit in the Oklahoma Highway Safety Plan,[v] where the state’s documented goals for traffic fatalities in 2017 included a 3.5% reduction in overall fatalities, but only limiting pedestrian and bicycle fatalities to an increase of 16%. Value systems such as these make our citizens feel unwelcome, that our lives only matter when inside of a motor vehicle; the infrastructure and culture that manifests from this value system yield unsafe conditions for us; exacerbating both stress and cost on our emergency crews and healthcare system.
Oklahoma City is improving with the Better Streets Safer City Program: of $718M on transportation and trails projects, 84% are dedicated to car-based infrastructure, 3% to public transit, 7% to sidewalks, and 6% to bicycle projects. Six per-cent of funds to bicycle projects is an improvement, but we should not be surprised if active transportation rates remain low. For non-car transportation to be adopted, it needs to both be and feel convenient and safe. This requires more than a few neighborhood streets, and more than just paint for protection. The Better Streets, Safer City program will be a good start for the city, but it should not be seen as sufficient.
Figure 2 Better Streets, Safer City $718M Budget for Transportation Projects, Millions of Dollars.[X]
There are known solutions throughout the world to designing infrastructure in a way where a single mistake does not have to end in the death of a person. Even more, there are known solutions that can improve safety of all road users with little-to-no impact to motor-vehicle traffic. For instance, a 4-to-3 Lane conversion has been known for over a decade to reduce crashes by up to 47%, while allowing traffic to flow even more freely on roads with less than 20,000 vehicles per day;[i],[ii] and yet, the Oklahoma City Metro area continues to repave almost every arterial with the more dangerous 4-lane design. We need to follow these design paradigms that encourage and protect all road users, including children, elderly, parents with strollers, and those with physical challenges. We need to commit to people-first design, both in planning and in funding. We need to proactively encourage forms of transportation that support physical health, that improve the vitality of our community, that ensure the safety of our citizens.
What can you do to change the status quo and promote a safer world for cyclists and walkers?
Contact your City Council person - for OKC look at https://www.okc.gov/government/city-council and attend City Council Meetings
Become an active member of your local and state Bike Advocacy organizations:
for Metro OKC: www.OKCBike.org
For Oklahoma: www.BikeOK.org
[i] Engineering safety, https://roadsafetyatwork.ca
[ii1] OKC Bike Rack Map, http://www.okcbikerackmap.com/
[iii] 2017 League of American Bicyclists report, https://bikeleague.org/sites/default/files/BFS2017_ReportCard_Oklahoma.pdf
[iv] US Transportation Spending by state, https://www.usgovernmentspending.com/compare_state_spending_2017d60a
[v]2010 data on road spending, https://taxfoundation.org/gasoline-taxes-and-tolls-pay-only-third-state-local-road-spending/
[vi] Oklahoma 2018 Highway Safety Plan, https://www.nhtsa.gov/sites/nhtsa.dot.gov/files/documents/oklahoma_fy2018_hsp.pdf
[vii] Better Streets, Safer City project budget data, https://www.okc.gov/residents/better-streets-safer-city-projects.
[viii] 2009 data and video on the 4-to-3 Lane Conversion from StrongTowns and Iowa DOT, https://www.strongtowns.org/journal/2019/1/23/iowa-dot-helps-educate
[ix] Iowa Department of Transportation data on the 4-to-3 Lane conversion, https://iowadot.gov/traffic/4-to-3-Lane-Conversion/4-to-3-lane-conversion-myths
[X] Better Streets, Safer City project budget data from https://www.okc.gov/residents/better-streets-safer-city-projects.