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The Simple Change to Traffic Lanes That Will Make Our Streets Safer

October 14, 2014
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The Simple Change to Traffic Lanes That Will Make Our Streets Safer
States and counties believe that 12-foot lanes are safer, but Jeff Speck’s research has proved them wrong. David McNew/Getty Images
America's big, fat roads need to go on a diet.

There’s a well-intentioned but flawed characteristic of America’s roads: They’re way too wide.

The standard 12-foot wide traffic lane we see in most parts of the country are a death trap, according to Jeff Speck’s incredibly detailed and extensively researched essay in The Atlantic’s CityLab.

The Washington D.C-based city planner argues that wider roads cause drivers to travel faster, and thus, cause way more damage if they hit another vehicle, bicyclist or pedestrian. The ideal road width, he contends, is 10-feet wide because drivers will slow down thinking there’s less space to cruise.

The reason why our country’s roads got so wide in the first place is because many states and counties believe that bigger lanes (some as wide as 14-feet) are safer and reduce congestion. However, this design is especially dangerous in communities where there’s more foot traffic.

MORE: D.C., New York City and Boston Named Tops for Foot Traffic

Speck points out that even though accidents happen on 10-foot lanes just as often as 12-foot lanes, since cars are traveling slower, it’s less likely to result in a fatality if someone is hit. “According to a broad collection of studies, a pedestrian hit by a car traveling 30 m.p.h. at the time of impact is between seven and nine times as likely to be killed as one hit by a car traveling 20 m.p.h,” he writes.

For those who are wondering if 10 feet is enough space for their large SUV or truck, Speck counters that in his hometown of D.C., there are even 8-foot lanes that work wonderfully.

With 34,000 people killed on American roads annually, it’s time to look at what changes need to be made immediately.

Speck’s most important point is this: “What would happen if these lanes were reduced to 10-feet wide, as proposed? Three things. First, cars would drive more cautiously. Second, there would be roughly eight feet available on each side of the street for creating protected cycle lanes, buffered by solid curbs. Third, the presence of these bike lanes would make the sidewalks safer to walk along. All in all, an easy, relatively inexpensive win-win-win that DOT [the Department of Transportation] could fund tomorrow.”

DON’T MISS: Houston Bikers Need Safe Roads. Here’s the Simple Plan to Make That Happen.

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