A conversation between an engineer and a home-owner – Part 7/7

Eng.: Yes. You are one of the benefitting property owners who will be assessed for the project.
Resident: You must be kidding me. I have a nice quiet neighbourhood street today. My kids play in the yard and it is safe. I can walk across the street to the grocery store, or up the street to the restaurant, and it is safe. To make it safer, you are going to flatten, widen, and straighten the street and add two more lanes of fast-moving cars. This is done because of traffic projections – because we want new growth in the tax subsidy area on the edge of town. And while my neighbourhood crumbles and my home drops in value, you are going to assess me, too.

I felt bad for her. She truly didnʼt get it.

Eng.: Iʼm sorry. But the traffic projections require a four-lane street for safety reasons. We must follow the standard.

This conversation is a composite of many conversations Iʼve participated in during my years of working as a civil engineer and urban planner for cities across Minnesota. The thoughts and words I attribute to myself in this dialogue are all ones Iʼve believed or expressed at one point or another during my career.

For many years, I believed that my education, training, and licence gave me superior insight into how cities work. I believed that I was uniquely positioned to know what was best for society – at least when it came to transportation.

I believed that the optimal approach to city building was reflected in the codes and standards that had been developed by others in my profession and that adhering to them was the only responsible approach an ethical person could take.

I believed that the straighter, flatter, and wider we could make a street, the safer it would become, and that requiring clear zones free of obstacles on each side was a critical component of public safety.

I believed that the speed people drove reflected their own level of responsibility or recklessness, that my designs had no influence on traffic speed, and that the only real way to address speeding was through police enforcement and public awareness campaigns.

I believed that automobile crashes, and the frequent incapacitations and deaths that accompanied them, were random events mostly caused by driver error, that the best thing I could do to reduce human suffering was too strive to continually improve our transportation systems to higher and higher standards.

I believed that I could use models and simulations to predict future traffic flows and that I had an innate sense for how drivers would respond to the designs that I and other engineers put in place.

I believed that Level of Service and other measurements of traffic efficiency were strongly correlated with economic success and that the potential for increased jobs, growth, and economic development were all directly tied to the free flow of automobile traffic.

I believed that government transportation programs, public debt financing of infrastructure projects, and local tax subsidies for development were all responsible options taken in response to the private marketplace and that government leadership was reinforcing the natural outcomes being expressed in a market-based economic system.

Most of all, I believed that my efforts to plan, design, and engineer transportation systems were a service to society, that I was part of creating a prosperous America that could be shared by everyone, and that the only real impediments to success were a lack of funding and the political courage needed to stand up to naysayers.

In all these beliefs and more, I was wrong. Utterly and shamefully wrong.

What follows here [in the book] is my confession, along with my insights and recommendations for making things better by using a Strong Towns approach to transportation.

More on this topic:

The PEI Public Library Service had ordered a copy of the book and holds can be placed at this time.

TITLE:               Confessions of a Recovering Engineer
AUTHOR:         Charles L. Marohn, Jr.
ISBN:                 978-1-119-69929-3
Published:         September 8, 2021
PAGES:               272
PUBLISHER:    John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

It is also available for purchase as an e-book.

A recent book review on the Urban Cycling Institute site asks and answers the question: “Who might be interested in this book? It is especially enlightening for people that feel frustrated about the design of their own street or the mobility system as a whole.”

A lengthier and more detailed book review in The Bulwark, entitled “All Roads Lead to Roads”, concludes that if you read Confessions, you’ll no longer be able to ignore the professions and systems that Marohn methodically exposes.

Report an error, or send a question or comment by e-mail to:
newcharlottetownproject @ eastlink.ca

Posted: Dec 16, 2021 7:01 AM AT | Last Updated: December 17, 2021 3:15 PM AT

Author: New Charlottetown Project

Barbara Dylla has lived in Charlottetown since 2017. The aim of this blog is to inspire and encourage Charlottetowners to be more aware of municipal affairs, to participate as engaged citizens, to support an issue close to their heart, so that together we create a sense of the larger community we live in. And, along the way, become a united community passionate about making Charlottetown the best it can be.

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