Signal Timing and Pedestrian/Bicyclist Safety

Signal timing can be a great thing. It can move automobiles and bicyclists more efficiently through the city while also providing for a safer, more predictable traffic patterns for pedestrians. In order to achieve this success and a safe right-of-way for automobiles, bicyclists and pedestrian then this timing needs to be done at the right speed. What is that speed though?

In New Haven, CT they are moving forward with a signal timing project that will keep downtown speeds there between 25 and 30mph. But many Complete Street advocates would argue that 25mph is too fast. Studies have shown that a pedestrian hit at 20mph has a 5 percent chance of death, while a pedestrian hit at 30mph has a 45 percent chance of death. These findings have led to many cities looking towards urban traffic speeds in the 15 to 20mph range (bicyclists travel around the 12mph mark).

Personal experience makes me say that posted speed limits do very little to manage speeds. Signal timing does seem to work out of the appeal avoided stop-and-go traffic. Urban environments, when well designed, also will naturally reduce traffic speeds in most cases. This is a reaction of mental comfort levels for drivers. When there are lots of people around, buildings and other structures close to the street, and plenty of things to observe drivers tend to naturally slow down – self-regulating in a way.

With that said there are streets in Cincinnati that are in need of reduced traffic speeds. Aside from the typical residential streets that people always seem to clamor for lower speeds, what streets would you like to see made safer for bicyclists and pedestrians by reducing traffic speeds? My top pick would be the Calhoun/McMillan network. The parallel streets are complimentary of one another and both have large pedestrian and bicyclist volumes. Due to their straight orientation, one-way traffic flow, limited traffic-calming designs, and lack of a completely built out urban streetscape the speeds are very high and very unsafe for anyone other than automobile drivers.