© 2024 Connecticut Public

FCC Public Inspection Files:
WPKT · WRLI-FM · WEDW-FM · Public Files Contact
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Cars, or People? Re-Thinking Connecticut Road Design

Ryan King

When it comes to road design, more productive cities prioritize people over cars, according to Charles Marohn of the Minneapolis non-profit Strong Towns. 

Here in the United States, Marohn said, our roadways put cars before people. 

Credit Chion Wolf / WNPR
Norm Garrick, Associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of Connecticut.
"We need to design for safety. We need to design for the context."
Norm Garrick

The same is true for Connecticut.

Speakingon WNPR's Where We Live, UConn engineering professor Norm Garrick said road design ties back to how we value our cities.

He used Hartford as an example. 

"Is it just a place we want to get people out quickly as possible?" Garrick said. "A city needs to consider where its value lies, what’s important to make it function as a place, rather than a place where people just come in or out."

Garrick noted that the highway-like design of Asylum Avenue in Hartford doesn’t support local businesses, and is not pedestrian-friendly.

Credit Ryan King / WNPR
Asylum Avenue in Hartford.

Different By Design

Marohn said there are fundamental differences between streets and highways: highways connect places, while streets connect people.

I-84 through Hartford.
Credit State of Connecticut
State of Connecticut
I-84 through Hartford.
Credit TEDx1000Lakes / Creative Commons
Creative Commons
Charles Marohn speaks at TEDx1000Lakes in Grand Rapids, MN in 2011.
"When we design with a mindset that forgives the driver, what we fail to do in urban areas is forgive everyone else." Charles Marohn

“We describe streets as the platforms we use to create value in places. [They’re the] first and last mile of each trip,” Marohn said.

Marohn said that streets and highways need fundamentally different design.

“When we build a highway, we employ techniques of forgiving design. The idea is that we want to forgive the mistake the driver makes,” Marohn said.

Highway designers build wide lanes and shoulders, making room for minor slip-ups. 

But when highway design is applied to streets, Marohn said it encourages drivers to drive faster and doesn’t take into consideration the different functions of streets or the addition of pedestrians or businesses.

"If you just look at cars: cars stop; they turn," Marohn said. "They do all sorts of things you don't have on a highway… When we design with a mindset that forgives the driver, what we fail to do in urban areas is forgive everyone else."

Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy recently announced his plans to widen the often-congested I-95, and his intention to introduce legislation that would fund transportation projects.

Marohn said we won’t solve congestion by making roadways wider. "Trying to solve congestion by making roads wider is like trying to solve obesity by buying bigger pants," he said. "It’s not a supply-and-demand problem.”

Garrick said that both of the governor's plans may be a mistake.   

“Transportation is not divorced from the larger society. Why should we dedicate funds just to building stuff, when it’s about the land use, it’s about all kind of health issues. We need to have a more holistic view of transportation,” Garrick said.

Credit Ryan King / WNPR
Matts Belin said that if a car hits a pedestrianat a speed over 31 mph (50 kph), there is an 80% chance of fatality, but under 19 mph (30kph), the rate drops to 20%.

An Alternative Approach

Matts Belin, project manager at the Vision Zero Academy in Sweden, offered some solutions for road transportation problems on Where We Live using Sweden’s “Vision Zero” program as a template.

"If you take a traditional approach, the problem that you try to solve is the problem with accidents," Belin said. "…but with Vision Zero, the problem is not [that people get in] accidents, the problem that we try to solve is the problem that people get killed or seriously injured."

According to Belin, people get killed because the system is not designed for human errors. In urban areas, Vision Zero limits vehicles to speeds that cannot kill pedestrians if accidents occur.

Garrick said this is a good idea. "In the U.S., we design so that people can go as fast as they desire," he said. "The change in Sweden -- and other places in Europe, such as the Netherlands -- is that we need to design for safety. We need to design for the context."

Ryan King is an intern at WNPR.

Ryan Caron King joined Connecticut Public in 2015 as a reporter and video journalist. He was also one of eight reporters on the New England News Collaborative’s launch team, covering regional issues such as immigration, the environment, transportation, and the opioid epidemic.

Stand up for civility

This news story is funded in large part by Connecticut Public’s Members — listeners, viewers, and readers like you who value fact-based journalism and trustworthy information.

We hope their support inspires you to donate so that we can continue telling stories that inform, educate, and inspire you and your neighbors. As a community-supported public media service, Connecticut Public has relied on donor support for more than 50 years.

Your donation today will allow us to continue this work on your behalf. Give today at any amount and join the 50,000 members who are building a better—and more civil—Connecticut to live, work, and play.

Related Content