Coal and University: an example of what “Vision Zero” might look like

Rebecca Atkins at Albuquerque TV station KRQE had a piece yesterday that provides a great illustration of what a “Vision  Zero” approach to traffic safety in Albuquerque might look like.

The piece framed the issue, a pedestrian-car conflict zone on a busy approach to Central New Mexico Community College, as a “jaywalking” problem – students rushing to class ignoring an inconvenient crosswalk in favor of a more dangerous direct route to campus. If I was the reporter doing the story, I would  have framed it differently – as a roadway design that has privileged the convenience of automobiles at the expense of the safety of pedestrians.

Here’s the intersection in question, at the corner of Coal and University SE:

“slip lane” and “pork chop”

The problem area is what’s called a “slip lane”. You’ve seen these a million times – they make it easier for the cars turning right from University onto Coal, but force the students to cross not one street but two to get to class. They cross University or Coal onto that little island (yes, they really call them “pork chops”), then have to cross another street.

One of the main principles of “Vision Zero” is a push to use engineering to reduce places where big, heavy, fast-moving cars have to share the same space with vulnerable pedestrians. It recognizes that both can make mistakes – drivers looking left at oncoming traffic and not seeing pedestrians, and pedestrians worrying about whether they’ll get in trouble because they turned in their homework late and not seeing cars. Slip lanes provide a great example. “Right-turn slip lanes are generally a negative facility from the pedestrian perspective,” the Federal Highway Administration dryly notes. They’re an explicit tradeoff – more car convenience equals less pedestrian safety.

In a “Vision Zero” world we’d never design an intersection this way, and we’d probably want to begin redesigning intersections that have slip lanes so that distracted drivers have fewer chances to hit pedestrians, and distracted pedestrians have fewer chances to get hit. An incredibly pedestrian-busy intersection like Coal and University might be a good place to start.


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