Friday, September 4, 2020

Roundabouts Emerging to Addressing Urban Systematic/Structural Transportation Racism in America

The Roundabout Emerging as Antidote to the Traffic Signal Role in

        Urban American Systematic and Structural Transportation Racism!

It took the current Environmental Justice outreach by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) to determine in a very low-minority Vermont (Census, 94% white) state the urban traffic signal may well qualify as a transportation racism practice.

In the current first federal inter-agency guided Burlington, VT application of new Environmental Justice regulations, absent when the Champlain Parkway project route got channeled through the heart the minority/low-income King Maple neighborhood, the signal as a racist treatment when replacing two-all-stop intersections became a target of neighborhood defenders.  ( For details: ) Note the City itself always opposed the route through King Maple for the project, a vestige of the 1960 auto-age thinking. 

First King Maple did qualify as minority with 21% minority residents (commenters identified 24% as a more likely number after a Census analysis).  The neighborhood may have the highest concentration of minority residents in the entire State.   The federal initial finding that the low-income population did not rise to Environmental Justice guidelines is being challenged.  It was a shock to many that the City overall has a poverty household percentage of 24.7% (Census) compared to the State 10.8% and US percent 11.8%.  The Burlington percentage rivals that of poor southern states' counties. 

There is a direct relationship between being poor in America, being a minority in America and transportation discrimination and racism.  These groups are highly dependent first and foremost on walking and public transit.  That dependency makes pedestrian safety the most important aspect, highest level of safety for pedestrians is a must in these neighborhoods.   All-way-stop control is practical in low traffic conditions and as is the newly emerged roundabout which handles all traffic volumes—both provide far lower rates pedestrian injuries and injury severity, including fatalities versus the traffic signal.  Signals increase speeds at an intersection which is a major factor in frequency and severity of pedestrian injury, the higher the speeds the higher the injuries and their severity.  Plus signals inherently increase delay for pedestrians versus the roundabout or all-way-stop control.  

 While less than 9% of households lack access to a car nationally, the figure is about 30% for Burlington's King Maple area.   It is clear that low-income/minority pedestrians walk more, use transit more, and bike more—for transportation—than the well-to-do neighborhoods.  And the figures of pedestrian deaths per 100,000 persons confirms this:  Hispanics 51% higher, African Americans 87% higher, and Native Americans 386% higher respectively than Whites. 

Just increasing traffic (or decreasing it!) in a low income neighborhood has a higher impact in pedestrian injuries when compared to a similar change in more affluent areas—a Montreal study found not only higher rates of injuries per population in low income areas intersections, but found a change  1,000 vehicle a day changing injuries 5% (up if vehicles increased, down if vehicles decrease—per thousand vehicles).

A Streetsblog USA analysis connects the dots:

In some states, racial disparities are even more stark. In 

Louisiana, for example, people of color are nine times 

more likely to be killed while walking than white people. 

In Texas, the risk is about three times greater. SGA

[Streets Blog USA] attributes these disparities 

to “disproportionately unsafe conditions for walking” 

where people of color live in these states.

                        Angie Schmidt January 10, 2017  

 ( https:// )

In any case, the roundabout is generally a better choice for safety for all modes.  But even more important the choice of a traffic signal shifts to the status of transportation towards discrimination and racism when applied to a minority/low-income neighborhood.  And vice versa--when applying roundabouts in an urban area there must be a priority given to conversion of signals to roundabouts minority/low income neighborhoods as a relief to an existing context of context of transportation racism and/or discrimination!

Burlington, a college city of 42,000 population records about 150 road injuries a year, a fatality every three years—with recent fatals three pedestrians, three car occupants and one cyclist.  About one injury is recorded each week, either a pedestrian or cyclist, and two car occupant injuries.  Over a quarter of its roughly 75 traffic traffic signals (has no roundabouts) are listed in the state’s high crash intersection list (19 of the 111). It has no interstate or freeway mileage, and is the largest City both in the State and in its one metro area.     

The United States since first in 1990 in world's highway safety since has fallen to 15th place with over 21,000 excess deaths yearly when its fatality rate per vehicle mile is compared to the top four nations (Norway is number one now).  And the U.S. recent record in pedestrian safety, a 50% increase in the last decade, is even more disturbing when racial and low-income impacts are considered. 

Separately major organizations promote roundabouts and converting signals to roundabouts--American Automobile Association (AAA), Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) and American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) among them. But none of these groups nor Federal Highway Administration Itself recognize the connection of roundabouts and addressing transportation racism and discrimination.   

In sum, installing traffic signals in urban areas now represents a form of transportation racism in minority/low income areas.  Many jurisdictions with “roundabouts first policies”—NY State Department of Transportation and Canada’s British Columbia and Alberta Ministries of Transport come to mind—avoid entirely having to deal with signals in the first place.  For those jurisdictions where traffic signals remain common practice expect challenges in terms of racism as well as discrimination when applying traffic signals in minority/low-income areas.  Burlington, Vermont brings this traffic signal as urban racism to the fore with the remedy all-way-stop control and in most cases today the modern roundabout. 


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