Changing the “Standard” Way of Thinking

A traffic engineer speaks up for pedestrians, safety

For decades, the focus of engineers building roads and highways has drifted towards creating wider, faster roads to allow for constantly increasing traffic.

While focusing on more efficient transportation, civil engineering may have lost sight of what is most important: public safety.

Engineer Charles Marohn describes the priorities engineers learn in school as:
1. Speed
2. Traffic Volume
3. Safety
4. Cost

After years of following these guidelines, creating “highways” through towns and seeing the consequences, Marohn began to consider the human consequences planning. He wrote:

“Taking highway standards and applying them to urban and suburban streets, and even county roads, costs us thousands of lives every year”.

Marohn has developed a safety-first philosophy. Streets running through towns are not high-speed racetracks: the lanes should be narrower, the sidewalks wider, and the speed limits lower.

In towns where his theory has been implemented, car crashes and injuries have fallen dramatically. Property values are up, there are more pedestrians patronizing local businesses, and citizens report a higher quality of life.

This is a great reminder that although thinking about safety “according to standards” may meet basic requirements, we should always look to improve those standards even if it means doing rethinking an established mentality.


The Atlantic Cities, What Happens When a Town Puts People Before Cars?