Who Should Stand Trial For Roadway Death Traps?

If I dig a big hole in the sidewalk, fill it with spikes, cover it with leaves and walk away, and then you accidentally bump someone inside while you’re drunk, who should be held responsible? If the victim dies, who committed homicide?

That’s essentially what’s going on in Salt Lake City after an accident in March that left a little girl dead and her mother in critical condition. According to KSL, the woman who hit the victims is going to stand trial because she had sedatives in her blood. Another KSL story states that the “impact sent both victims flying.”

Clearly the driver messed up and should answer for her mistake. But what is this saying about other accidents? Does that mean it’s okay to run over people if you’re not drunk or on drugs? Apparently so.

More importantly, the situation illustrates how we’ve been conditioned to overlook the underlying problem in these types of situations. And as usual, the street where the accident occurred is an appalling stroad:

1500 South State Street in Salt Lake City, where a driver killed a little girl in March.

1500 South State Street in Salt Lake City, where a driver killed a little girl in March. This street is basically as wide as a nine lane highway.

Looking north toward the intersection where the girl died.

Looking north toward the intersection where the girl died.

The same intersection, looking south.

The same intersection, looking south.

This is a perfect storm of bad design.

For starters, despite the painted crosswalk, there’s no signal or stop sign. That means pedestrians have to try to make it across the street during gaps in traffic. That’s a dangerous proposition on its own, but the lack of traffic signals along with the enormous street — literally wider than many freeways — means cars are more likely to speed.

As a result, it’s very difficult to make it across the street quickly enough. In fact, it’s more or less a super high stakes, high speed version of Frogger:

On top of those problems, the street is lined with parking lots, apparently abandon buildings, narrow sidewalks that abut the road, etc. It makes walking an unpleasant activity that few people will realistically try. In fact, I bet most people who walk in this environment are those that have no other choice — meaning people without sufficient access to transportation.  That’s just a guess, of course, but in any case I don’t see a single person in the Google images. The result of these conditions is fewer pedestrians and less awareness of people among drivers.

So why is this environment so hostile to humans? I can only speculate, but traffic flow and capacity are often cited as reasons for building this kind of disaster. And in this case, the pursuit of those ideas literally cost a little girl her life.

An earlier KSL story mentions that UDOT is responsible for the intersection and is finally going to install a traffic light:

The Utah Department of Transportation is responsible for the crossing since State Street is a  designated highway. UDOT spokesman Adan Carrillo said a light is to be installed at the intersection this summer.

The story also mentions that the area has seen many near misses before.

Thankfully, a light should increase safety. But if UDOT is responsible for the intersection why isn’t UDOT responsible for the carnage it causes? In reality, there should be two criminal defendants on trial: the driver and the street designer.

Which brings us back to the analogy at the beginning of this post.

Obviously, the driver is to blame for her actions. But this road is a lot like a big, gaping pit of spikes and because we’re so used to these environments its also camouflaged to some degree. It’s awful and fatalities are the logical result.

More importantly, when I think about who should be blamed for death traps, the obvious conclusion I arrive at is the person who made them.

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1 Comment

Filed under driving

One response to “Who Should Stand Trial For Roadway Death Traps?

  1. Pingback: Walkability, Congestion, and other Things Missing from Streets | (pro(vo)cation)

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