116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Marion leaders were wise to tap the brakes in their recent discussion on automated speed enforcement.
At a City Council meeting last week, staff presented a preliminary plan to install traffic cameras at certain spots where accidents are common. Elected officials were skeptical of the idea, The Gazette’s Gage Miskimen reported.
In one portion of Highway 100, a recent traffic count showed 95 percent of drivers going over the 55 mph speed limit. When almost everyone is doing it, it’s hard to conclude it’s the drivers who are the problem.
When confronted with traffic problems, policymakers and the public often turn to speed limits and enforcement, but that’s a narrow view of the problem. What goes overlooked is that our roads lend themselves to risky driving.
“We can't regulate our way to safety. We must design our streets to be safe,” says the advocacy group Strong Towns.
Big, open roads with wide peripheral visibility might seem conducive to traffic safety, but there is considerable evidence that these so-called “forgiving” designs actually lead to higher speeds and potentially more severe collisions.
The National Association of City Transportation Officials points to research showing that designing streets with the goal of reducing speeds may be the best way to reduce pedestrian injuries and fatalities. They recommend traffic features that narrow the driving lane and the driver’s visual field as ways to slow down vehicles.
Traffic cameras are one tool, but cities should exhaust less invasive remedies first. As we’ve seen in Cedar Rapids for the past decade, traffic surveillance and automated ticketing are fraught with legal and political pitfalls.
Marion has already taken up some traffic calming measures in the trouble areas, such as adding traffic lights and indicator beacons and changing speed limits.
The situation is complicated by overlapping jurisdictions. The highways running through Marion are governed by the Department of Transportation, whose approval is needed before the city can implement changes. The state has its own engineering standards, which cities must meet through traffic studies.
We’d like state and local officials to come together and brainstorm some innovative ways to promote traffic safety in Marion, and especially for the state to give cities more leeway in traffic planning. Maybe that idea is a highway mirage in this era of state-local relations, but it’s worth a try.
(319) 398-8262; firstname.lastname@example.org