Tag Archives: drivers

Local planning

What’s bad for Montgomery is bad for DC too

Caution by M.V. Jantzen
"Caution" by M.V. Jantzen

As many people have now realized, the current highway-based, auto-oriented Gaithersburg West sector plan will waste money on unsustainable, outdated forms of growth that will lead to more congestion and auto-centric developments. However, attention must be paid to the serious negative effects I-270 highway expansion will have on areas other than Montgomery County, particularly the District of Columbia. The foregone conclusions of the traffic studies say little about the effects of this decision elsewhere in the region.

The technology companies of Montgomery County have tremendously contributed to the economic growth of the greater Washington region, and more jobs and more vitality in the future are a boon. However, the design of any new developments must also have a positive effect on the rest of the region. Employing effective land use policies, encouraging compact development, and investing in efficient transportation will increase the benefits to the region in many other ways.

Vastly increasing the capacity of highway-scale roads throughout the region will likewise increase the number of automobile trips undertaken. Wider highways up the road will only encourage growth, which will bring calls for I-270 widening closer to the District, just as the highway lobby has pushed planners with good intentions to widen I-66. But that, in turn, will only make trips from further out easier, and so more individuals will opt to drive from further out, filling up the highway. Conversely, any resident of DC that finds a job in the corridor will have to commute from the city by car or move and still commute by car.

But between the Beltway and downtown, where will these drivers go? The project assumes that people will basically commute from Clarksburg to Gaithersburg. Although many will commute within the corridor, history has shown that many will also continue on into DC, into the growing Central Business District. Some, perhaps, will park and ride the Metro or MARC in. But most will simply drive in, pouring cars into the city, onto Wisconsin Avenue, Connecticut Avenue, Beach Drive, Georgia Avenue, Sixteenth Street, River Road, and the Clara Barton Parkway.

The new drivers, passing through the neighborhoods of Northwest will themselves be more traffic, meaning more idling, more speeding, and more side-street cut-throughs. The idling and the stop-start traffic will not only make everyone’s commute harder – the new cars will compete with the excellent bus service in Northwest – the engines will release greenhouse gases and noxious pollutants into the air along the way. Moreover, all the new, frustrated drivers will add more than a few chances for injuries and collisions.

For all the fears that middle-height transit oriented development along corridors in northwest, the sprawlway will have much more severe and lasting consequences for Wards 3 and 4. Politicians and citizens alike need to support rational development, development of a reasonable density, designed for humans, and designed for transit accessibility. Only through TOD can one part of the region grow without adversely affecting the others. But more importantly officials need to coordinate with their peers in Maryland, Virginia, and the District of Columbia to and work together as a whole, the way the economy of the region does. Otherwise, no infrastructure project can be said to benefit the region, especially one with such an adverse impact as the Sprawlway.

Russia

Russia still outrageously dangerous

Today, checking up on the general doings of Russia, I came across three interesting articles about very different automobile collisions. Russia, I just learned, is the worst country in terms of per capita automobile fatalities. This situation has some historical roots in Stalinist city planning that called for large highways with few pedestrian crosswalks, but automobile fatalities weren’t really a problem when only 2% of the country could own a car. Now, when there are something like 2.5 million drivers in Moscow (still, only 16% of inhabitants), the roads get clogged, noisy, and deadly. According to the article, there were 236 fatalities per million Russians, nearly twice the United States’ 136 deaths per million. Calculating the death rate based on automobile use, 900 motorists die per year per million automobiles or motorcycles on the road in the Russian Federation. The United States isn’t even close.

The term many people seem to use to describe contemporary Russia is dikaya, meaning “wild,” as in The Wild West. Dikiy kapitalizm, dikie nochi, dikie voditeli. Russian drivers are notoriously bad, impatient, and unprepared. But it’s not just lax licensing and bad drivers, the roads themselves are terrible, most designed for puttery small cars like the Lada and if not, then just poorly maintained. Moreover, the speed limit on all streets within Moscow is 60kph, around 38mph, but in reality, nobody drives the limit. 

The government has enabled the newfound love for motorcars, looking to the Interstate Highway System for inspiration. In Moscow alone, the Federal Government has spent hundreds of billions of dollars to expand the road network, including building a twelve lane freeway on the already massive Leningradsky Prospekt, right up to the center of the city, and putting tunnels under multiple plazas on Tverskaya Street. I lived off Leningradsky Prospekt for a while, near its intersection with the Third Ring road, and crossing either road was a slow and onerous process that sometimes required me to use graffitti-covered and patently unsafe pedestrian overpasses. And incidentally, one part of the Third Ring is a leaky tunnel that causes cars, moving at freeway speeds, to aquaplane in the summer and slide on black ice in the winter, resulting in a spectacularly morbid video and many severe injuries. 

The second article, a real gut punch, is one that has become familiar to pro-pedestrian bloggers. On may 13th, a driver named Roman Zhirov killed a visibly pregnant woman named Yelena Shumm, who was walking in a crosswalk with the right signal. Her death is a tragedy in itself, but not quite the horrible act of malfeasance that it has since become. Soon afterward, the police got the license place of the car and located the owner of the blue Forester seen speeding away from the scene, but have yet to file charges. You see, Mr. Zhirov is a member of the Internal Affairs Division of the police.

The State Prosecutor’s office has apparently begun some investigation into that unit, but so far, nothing. Unsurprisingly, the story has been picked up by the news media in Moscow, thanks in part to the murdered woman’s husband, Alexei, who has started a very depressing livejournal. Take a look at the google translation if you don’t speak Russian. 

I can’t much end on such a miserable note, but I can’t find much related to счастливое водительство that is very happy at all. Still, at least only broken bones resulted from the high profile collision between a jaywalker and a motorcycling rock star that happened two days ago. That’s still not great, but at least the reporters in those blog posts use the active voice to describe the motorists’ actions.