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Engineer Roads for Speed Control

Knoxville is pondering the use of automated speed cameras to ticket people who violate the speed limits. I am opposed. I am a treat the problem, not the symptom type of guy. My quality assurance training taught me that if you automate a flawed process, you simply perform that flawed process with greater efficiency.

Florida came up with a solution. I read about it a couple of years ago. (unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find the reference) An architect and civil engineer reduced speed by eliminating traffic controls, removing signs, putting people and trees closer to the road, and narrowing the roads. widening the double yellow narrows the roadThey engineered speed control! It worked. Would you like to try it? Knoxville is engineering roads for speed right now! The roads that connect Kingston Pike to Sutherland passing by West High School are changing to reduce speed. If you turn from Kingston Pike to Forest Glen Dr you will undoubtedly notice that the double yellow widens briefly, the road has some lines painted across it, and some ruts have been carved into the road to audibly warn you to slowdown. These are fairly intangible but work! You cannot help but slow down.

What happens when people get used to the lines and drive fast anyway? Firstly, the faster you drive over the ruts, the more horrid the noise which sounds like you are destroying your tires. Secondly, in addition to the psychological narrowing, the roads are being physically narrowed at the midpoint. With the addition of this median, cars will slow down. Maybe they’ll add a tree! (doubt it)

Why not engineer the roads and use speed cameras? Speed cameras treat the symptom. The symptom is that people are speeding. Physical narrowing of Tobler LnThe problem is that people feel like they are making good time and packing more into their lives by speeding. The truth of the matter is that if you are speeding in a town or city, you may be shaving a minute or two off your commute but due to traffic patterns, and the placement and timing of lights and other traffic controls, your commute does NOT change that dramatically as compared to simply driving the speed limit.

Won’t cameras teach people to slow down? No, cameras work after the fact, catch the wrong people, and cannot identify the driver. They also cannot judge the situation. Safe driving sometimes includes speeding up. Often we try to avoid an accident by slamming on the brakes. It feels natural. Sometimes accidents can be avoided by speeding up and I shouldn’t have to speed a day of my life in court plus fees explaining that to repeal a ticket from a robot. Since speed cameras have their effect after the incident, they in no way prevent tragedy! The camera that send a ticket to a speeding high schooler for speeding from West High to Kingston Pike does not save the life of the child who runs out into the road to get his lost ball. The re-engineered roads, which treat the problem and force the new high school driver to slow his vehicle, give that driver the opportunity to stop in time to save the life of the child running into the road to get his lost ball.

Update: Groovy!

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Say NO to speed cameras

I was against red light cameras (and still am! $2 million TN dollars went to TX because of Redflex!) and I sure am against speed cameras. Speed trapping makes roads dangerous! Roads should be predictable. We don’t need people slamming on their brakes for police cars and cameras. Sometimes to avoid a problem it is safer to speed up then slow down even if that means hopping above the speed limit. An officer can see, "that truck was about to sideswipe him and he avoided it by speeding up." A camera cannot make that judgment.

I often drive fast on the Interstate. It is safe because the relative speed of traffic is the same and visibility can be several miles. I don’t drive recklessly. There is a huge difference between driving fast and driving recklessly. A slow driver can drive recklessly. In town, I tend to drive the speed limit. I recognize the lights have been timed such that you will make little gain by speeding in town. The few seconds you shorten your trip by speeding is not worth the danger you place pedestrians and other drivers in within the unpredictable confines of busy roads.

Speed cameras and red light cameras are profit tools for public, tax funded law enforcement. We don’t need them! We fix traffic problems through better civil engineering (narrow roads, curves in roads, reduction of traffic signs, removal of speed limits, etc.) and through education. Could you imagine the impact it would have if a police officer pulled you over for speeding and instead of giving you a ticket brought a video player to your car and forced everyone in the car to watch a 15 minute educational video on how speeding wastes fuel, puts unnecessary wear and tear on the vehicle, places people at unnecessary risk, and reduces travel time by less than a few minutes than staying under the speed limit? The 15 minute delay per incident may be reason enough to slow down. But even if the message did not reach the driver, perhaps it would get through to some of the passengers and then you’ve made a difference. Will a bill in the mail have that same impact?

UPDATE: Michael Silence has put up a poll to see if Knoxville wants speed cameras. When I took it, 86% said no.

Update: UT to probe ethics of using traffic cameras. Think about the other cameras we can have in our future "beeeep Our facial recognition software has identified you as Jane Doe. You have been standing in the same spot for 5 minutes and one second which constitutes loitering under ordinance w37704. A fine of $45 has automatically been assessed to your cell phone bill."

Related: Google is mapping Knoxville. How will you be immortalized for the world to view? Do speed cameras change driving habits? See Driving Patterns – Let the Ass Merge.

Update: More details including Chattanooga’s numbers.