Cure for obese highways
Effective people-moving highways can be designed so as not
to destroy the livability of areas around them, according to highway engineer and traffic
consultant Walter Kulash.
In the midst of the debate over the future of state Highway 75 through the
valley, Kulashs message is critical. Kulash spoke in three public presentations
He is no wild-eyed just-hatched New Ager out to save the world. Kulash is
a veteran traffic engineer who knows his stuff.
He was part of the move-as-much-traffic-as-
possible era of highway building. Along with engineers at all levels of government, Kulash
changed. Tighter highway budgets and better research changed the mission of transportation
They learned that bigger streets and highways are less efficient than
smaller ones. Highways with slower speeds actually move more cars more safely because
lower speeds result in less serious accidents. Lower speeds require less space between
vehicles and thus allow more vehicles to be on a highway at the same time.
They learned that bigger, faster highways take an unnecessarily huge toll
on the landscape and on the livability of adjacent properties. At higher speeds stopping
sight distances must be longer and the radius of each curve must be larger.
Contrary to popular local opinion, Kulash predicted a five lane highway
will fill up in just 5 years, not 20.
He said studies show that wider, faster highways induce more traffic
because they encourage people to live farther away from their jobs. Then, bingo! A new
highway is soon as congested as the old one.
Kulash said professionals now realize "road size, not congestion is
the choice." The only question is whether we will have two-, three-, five- or
Kulash was optimistic. He said there are many ways good highway designers
can strike a balance among competing needs for speed, safety, highway capacity and valley
The light bulb went on when he pointed out a major problem with state
Highway 75: It has no useable shoulders. Any car that must veer onto what passes for a
shoulder is in danger of rolling or sinking in snow or mud.
Kulash said highway departments all over the country saved money for
future construction of bigger highways by failing to improve smaller ones with such things
as hardened gently sloped shoulders.
Kulash summed up the problem by quoting futurist Glen Heiemstra who wrote,
"Trying to address traffic congestion by widening roads is like trying to cure
obesity by loosening your belt."
Cute, but it may be the key to resolving the debate over Highway 75.