The Heart of the Matter

Note: Nothing new to read here — just thinking out loud and boiling things down.

The rules of safe movement are these:

  1. First come, first served.
  2. Drive on the right.
  3. Pass on the left.

Everything should follow from these rules. Everything includes (but is not limited to):

  1. Traffic laws
  2. Traffic controls
  3. Engineering of streets and roads.
  4. Driver behavior.

Laws, controls, and engineering should never put any street/road user into the position of having to, or feeling the need to, violate the rules of safe movement. One essential test of laws, controls, and engineering is that these do not direct, encourage, or suggest street/road users violate the rules of safe movement.

Driver behavior must include proper obligations and expectations that follow from the rules of safe movement (operative word: safe):

  • There is one obligation: Ensure your behavior creates a safe environment for all street/road users. (example)
  • There is one expectation: That other road users are meeting their one obligation.

Beyond the rules of safe movement and the obligation/expectation, there exists in traffic no other expectations or guarantees. For example, no street/road user has any right to expect to go any particular place at any particular speed in any particular amount of time. To believe that one does have the right to go any particular place at any particular speed in any particular amount of time is, at a minimum, discourteous. (The adjective I prefer here is “totally freaking outrageous,” but I understand I must be “reasonable.”)

To the extent that drivers of all vehicles (and all other street/road users) embrace 1) the rules of safe movement  and 2) the obligation/expectation is the extent to which we have a safe street/road network that operates with a culture of care and respect. To the extent that laws, controls, and engineering use the rules of safe movement as an essential characteristic is the extent to which we have a safe street/road network that operates with a culture of care and respect.

And now you know why we don’t ;-)

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Comments 8

  1. Peter wrote:

    All road users? Does that include pedestrians?

    Posted 12 Nov 2013 at 5:02 am
  2. Andy Cline wrote:

    Peter… Good question. While writing that I briefly thought about pedestrians. It seems to me there are some differences that might need to be taken into account if “all road users” is to include them. I certainly consider pedestrians the king of the road, and all of us on wheels ought to yield to them in all cases. But I’m struggling with what their obligation(s) might be.

    Posted 12 Nov 2013 at 2:30 pm
  3. JAT in Seattle wrote:

    Obligation is a treacherous word as applied to pedestrians, since they are the most vulnerable (by the same token they are only intermittent “road” users) but I’m going to risk treachery by throwing out a couple candidates:

    Behave predictably – particularly at crosswalks and intersections (which are crosswalks in most jurisdictions). Don’t loiter at the crosswalk threshold when you don’t intend to cross.

    Have reasonable expectations as to the stopping ability of vehicles

    Don’t grovellingly thank the operators of vehicles who’ve simply fulfilled their obligation to stop for you, and the corollary:

    Don’t rant like a crazy person for all the abuses and oppression you suffer at the operators of vehicles who stop for you.

    – flame on, people!

    Posted 12 Nov 2013 at 4:58 pm
  4. Andy Cline wrote:

    JAT … Yep. The obligation thing is a sticking point. But good try! Let’s see where the discussion leads.

    Posted 12 Nov 2013 at 8:55 pm
  5. Peter wrote:

    If you would consider pedestrians to be road users, they would be no need for any facilities for them, or to force them to walk on sidewalks and cross at crosswalks. This would be the ‘shared space’ approach, which I think is very rigid and will only work in very limited low volume scenario’s.

    But if you don’t consider them to be road users in all aspects, the logic breaks down. If there are certain users with their own facilities and space, that use the road only on limited occasions, why not others?

    Posted 13 Nov 2013 at 1:18 am
  6. Andy Cline wrote:

    Peter… I think it is useful to think in terms of conveyance and what differences vehicles and devices play in this. We have historically treated pedestrians differently, including the suggestion that they walk against traffic when no special facility exists. If we treat them the same as driver’s of vehicles, then appears to conform to the rules of safe movement. If we treat them as special — with special facilities — then we may risk setting up conflicts. I’m comfortable with the idea of special facilities for any conveyance as long as the rules of safe movement are not violated. That can include HOV, bus, and bicycle lanes.

    Posted 13 Nov 2013 at 9:24 am
  7. Keri wrote:

    Pedestrians have entirely different operating characteristics from vehicles. They can stop instantly and jump sideways or backwards at will.

    Anyone who has observed the dynamic of walking in a crowded pedestrian space can easily see how pedestrian proclivities for using those rather abrupt operating characteristics, to dart to and fro with no warning, make them incompatible with vehicles whose drivers can’t adjust with similar abruptness.

    Shared space is appropriate where you wish to discourage vehicular traffic or make pedestrian traffic a priority. In places where you need to accommodate efficient vehicular movement, it is necessary separate pedestrians and create predictable crossing places where vehicle traffic is required to yield to them.

    That is a much simpler division than attempting so segregate vehicular traffic by vehicle type. Here is where you start to add layers of complexity and risk breaking rules of movement — especially in an urban area where intersections are frequent and speeds are low for all vehicle types.

    Posted 13 Nov 2013 at 9:04 pm
  8. Khal Spencer wrote:

    What Keri said.

    Posted 19 Nov 2013 at 10:57 am