Minimizing Infrastructure’s Risk to Individuals: Planning Matters

It’s often our infrastructure’s most extreme failures, like the Minneapolis bridge collapse or the Amtrak crash outside Philadelphia, that tend to put infrastructure in the news.

In a series “exploring infrastructure from an individual’s perspective,” Brookings calls attention to the importance of sound proactive focus through planning and design in developing infrastructure that minimizes risk to users, as opposed to focusing primarily upon the structural engineering phase.

Much analysis on safety improvements in infrastructure focuses on engineering. For one example, see my blog post from yesterday about engineering to reduce pedestrian fatalities.

That focus oriented around planning and civil and traffic engineering, as opposed to structural engineering. Brookings’ point appears to be that at the structural engineering phase, it’s too late to only start thinking about risk minimization. Of course, for county planners, budget officers, and many civil and traffic engineers, this is not likely new news. It may, however, serve as an important reminder for policymakers as they determine where to prioritize public investment.

[I]t isn’t about America’s failing infrastructure systems—it’s about how America’s infrastructure systems are failing its people, placing them at risk, and ultimately hindering their ability to benefit from economic opportunity.

Like in the Route Fifty article, Brookings also calls attention to the rising numbers of pedestrian and traffic fatalities in America, but instead of focusing on engineering our way out of this madness, it places focus on commuters’ behavior and design’s role in perpetuating it. Cars account for more than 85 percent of trips to work, street designs encourage high speeds, and increased distractions like smartphones make driving more dangerous.

Many analysts attribute declines in fatalities during the Great Recession to the reduction in vehicle miles traveled. Largely for this reason, it is important to hone in on the uptick in fatalities per billion miles traveled in the graph above, beginning in 2014 (the red dotted line). 

Brookings also factors into its analysis the roles poor design and deferred maintenance play on counties’ financial risk, as well as costs to motorists.

Finally, Brookings calls attention to risks inherent in water infrastructure and from climate change. Water infrastructure places our residents at particularly significant risk – and not just in Flint. The number of annual health-based violations to the Safe Drinking Water Act rose by 47.8 percent from 1982 to 2015.

Read the article here.