Excerpt from 6 part series – Houston Chronicle Out of Control Part 3 – In Houston’s traffic carnage, design makes a difference by Dug Begley
The tight curves of older freeway intersections such as Loop 610 and Interstate 69 northeast of downtown, for example, force motorists to lean on the brakes to avoid a barrier or railing. In the merge lanes along frontage roads parallel to Interstate 10, veteran drivers know that a speeding car could suddenly appear from any direction. Spots along Westheimer and FM 1960 have morphed into a string of shopping center entrances, crossed by streets pocked by potholes and sloppy asphalt patches that mimic motocross ramps.
Many of those design decisions, made decades ago, were aimed at reducing crashes, but some are adding to the severity of wrecks that still occur. Some think the design calculations need to get back to basics.
“I will trade a dented fender and wheel for a dented body,” said Gary Schatz, former deputy director of Austin’s transportation department, who’s now in private practice redesigning roads to improve safety.
The nine-county region is the most deadly major metro area in the country for drivers, passengers and people in their path, a Houston Chronicle analysis shows. Speed and impaired driving lead the list of reasons, but data shows that more than one-quarter of fatal wrecks occur at intersections.