The Strong Towns Podcast

One of the Most Dangerous Assumptions We Have Made

August 1, 2022

Thanks to technology, cars and roads just keep getting safer, right? That’s the message we hear in the news and advertising on a regular basis. But if that were the case, traffic fatalities should be going down as technology progresses. And they’re not.

What’s more, according to these standard beliefs subscribed to by much of the public, when driving dramatically decreased during the early months of the pandemic in 2020, we should have seen a drop in traffic deaths, too. Instead, we saw an increase. Beth Osborne, director of Transportation for America, calls this “one of the most dangerous assumptions we have made in the United States”—that deaths as a result of car crashes are just “the cost of doing business” and will naturally go up or down in correlation with the amount of traffic.

The truth is that the design of our streets is fundamentally dangerous and fewer cars on the road actually means people will drive more quickly, taking more risks, and leading to more crashes. This is because engineers have built American streets to highway standards, removing all potential obstacles and widening streets to the point of absurdity. Car crashes aren’t the result of mere human error or recklessness, they’re the result of design

That’s why Osborne’s on the Strong Towns Podcast this week, to talk about Transportation for America’s new Dangerous by Design report and to encourage you not to look away or shrug your shoulders about the “cost of doing business” in America.

According to Transportation for America’s new report, 18 people a day were struck and killed in 2020. In any other context—terrorist attack, plane crash, mass shooting—these numbers would be horrific. We should take them seriously on our streets, too.

The good news is that, if design got us into this mess, design can get us out, too. In this conversation, Osborne and Marohn dig into the issues with street design in America and how we can move toward safer, more financially productive streets everywhere.

Additional Show Notes

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