City streets have many more road hazards than freeway or suburban roads

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In the picture above you can see a city street unlike a freeway, not only has vehicles on all sides to watch for, but also business driveways and intersections that bikes and pedestrians could be coming out from as well as vehicles.

In a recent study from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration,

(2008 Motor vehicle Crash Data From FARS and GES):

29.7% of all vehicle collisions happen at 30 MPH or less.

This study also showed 45% of fatal urban (city) crashes occur on local roads and city streets as opposed to highways and interstates.

since virtually all inner-city streets are 30 MPH or less, this study shows if you are in any type of collision, there's almost a 30% chance it will be while city driving.

You are also nearly as likely to be on a city street if involved in a fatal collision in the city limits, as on the freeway through the city on city streets!

City driving tips especially for unfamiliar city streets

Many people will avoid driving in any busy downtown area, big or small because it can be very confusing with one way as well as two way city streets and many intersections.
Also there is more traffic and pedestrians in a relatively confined area on city streets.
These tips can help you navigate in a downtown area that you may not be familiar with.

1. Try to avoid the busiest time of day (around 2:00-6:00 P.M.)

The time people start going home from work will cause a lot of congestion in any business district.
This will slow you down, cause more frustration and have more risk of a collision. If you must drive during rush hour in town, be extra cautious and vigilant, especially at intersections.

2. Before driving into an unfamiliar city, plan your route with a map or navigation device.

Preferably have the directions step by step written out unless you have a GPS.
Know the names of streets before your turns, then you won't be signaling and slowing at the last minute.
Also only look down at your directions if you are pulled to the curb or stopped at a stop sign or light.

3. Be looking well ahead before you approach an intersection on city streets.

City blocks frequently have restricted lanes for each direction.
Looking well ahead will allow you to see what lane you need to be in by looking at the markings on the road as well as signs approaching the intersection.
You will also be prepared for unexpected problems at the intersection.

4. As you are stopped at a light, take time to look ahead at the new road you will be coming onto.

If you are turning, looking into that road will allow you to clearly see what lane you will be coming into.
If you are going straight you can see where your lane goes and if traffic is backed up ahead.

5. Make a turn onto a new road only when you are sure it is safe and legal.

City streets can be confusing. If you aren't sure you can safely and legally make your turn, continue straight and turn where you know it's safe.

6. Look at the color of the divider lines on the road you turn onto when turning left.

The color of divider lines is probably the quickest way to know if the road is a one way or two way street, other than seeing one way signs.
If the divider line is yellow, get on the right side of it, it is a two way.
All white lines, it is a one way street, turn into the left lane on a left turn.

7. If you find you turned the wrong way onto a one way street, quickly and calmly look for the nearest place to pull over and turn around.

If you didn't immediately end up in a collision you will be ok.
Don't panic, other drivers will stay clear of you until you get turned around.

8. If you turned into a wrong lane don't immediately swerve into the correct lane. Wait until you can safely lane change into the correct lane.

If it is on a one way you turned into the wrong lane, and you didn't have a collision, you are safe and might just stay where you are.
If you suddenly swerve to the other lane someone could be in that lane right behind you.
If it is on a two way and you got into the lane of oncoming traffic, do a quick check over your shoulder and move over if it is clear.

9. Look first left, then center, then right before entering ANY intersection on city streets.

Many people run red lights and try to beat the yellow lights.
This is more common in busy city areas.
A quick glance all directions will keep you safe from red light runners.

10. Stay in the right lane unless you know you will be turning left soon.

If you are unfamiliar with the area the right lane will be safer because it's the lane with slower traffic and it will be easier to turn off the road from the right than from the left lane.

Pedestrians In The City
Bicyclists In The City
Driving Through city blocks

Pedestrians in the city:
Probably the biggest hazard

Even on a city street with a vacant building like the one pictured above, you have several pedestrians passing by at anytime of day.

The reasons people on foot are a major hazard for drivers in the city are because there are many of them, they are more vulnerable, and its usually a crowded area with many other distractions.

Watch for pedestrians, especially before turning onto a new street

In this picture look what is happening with the pedestrians crossing the street.
A car is turning left in front of them while they are on the crosswalk!

Was the driver in the wrong here?

The answer is no.

Look to the right of the picture on the side pole under the white sign. It's barely visible, but the red hand signal is up!
One of my students calls these "suicide pedestrians".

My point in showing this is that just like drivers don't always obey the law, neither do pedestrians.

As a driver, your goal should be to avoid ALL collisions, even if it wouldn't be your fault! Therefore:

Be vigilant in watching for pedestrians ANY place, especially while city driving.

Below is an older man crossing a divided four lane road with a median and no intersection where he is crossing!
This is also a curved road, making it more dangerous.
Notice a white car passing on the side of the road he just left.

It is VERY common for me to see four or five or more pedestrians jaywalking in one hour and a half lesson with a drive student in a big city.

In this picture a car is turning while the pedestrians are in the crosswalk. The pedestrians are crossing legally, and in Oregon, so is the driver.

The law in Oregon says you must give pedestrians a lane and a half at an intersection with a light, and that is about the space the pedestrians have here.

Bicyclists in the city:
the second biggest hazard

Bicyclists are very vulnerable to injury in a collision but being on a bike, if a driver does hit them, there is a reasonable chance it will only do damage to the bike, not the cyclist.

This is why I say they are second under pedestrians for hazards to watch out for on city streets.

Look over your shoulder for bicyclists or pedestrians passing you before a turn.

This is especially for right turns and especially when there is a bike lane to your right.
Although it is not uncommon to see a cyclist riding on the wrong side of the road,
so looking over your left shoulder on a left turn is a good idea too.

Watch for cyclists running stop signs.

When you come to an intersection with a stop sign for the cross street watch for a bicyclist running the stop sign.

By law they should stop at stop signs, but they frequently don't stop, especially if they are coming down hill and don't want to lose momentum.

In Oregon, bicyclists are trying to change the law so they can legally not stop at a stop sign.

In my opinion as a driver, they would just be making themselves more likely to be hit by drivers expecting them to stop or not seeing them.

Keep plenty of distance with bicyclists ahead of you since they are more vulnerable to injury if they are hit.

Pass when you see it's clear on the left and keep your foot off the gas until you have passed them.

This picture shows about 3 car lengths behind the cyclists, which would be about three seconds on this road at 25 MPH.

Driving through City Blocks

Remain very light on the gas pedal driving between inner-city blocks.

In this picture we just got past one traffic signal, this light coming up is red and so is the light the next block down.

Inner-cities have short blocks, and at almost every intersection there are traffic signals.

This is the "business district", no wonder it is only 20MPH speed limit!
With these conditions, having a lead foot on the throttle would cause a collision very quickly.

Make sure you can clear the intersection before proceeding into it.

In this picture the red pavement is for pedestrians and the narrow light colored pavement is the cross street.
The tracks are for the transit system, making this road more congested.

The signal lights are positioned on poles to the left and right,you can see they are green, but we can't proceed because traffic is backed up to the crosswalk ahead.

This is very common on city streets especially in heavy traffic.

One Way streets

When you enter the heart of almost any city in the U.S., and probably in other countries as well, you enter a "One Way Grid".

When you enter the One way grid, you will likely see the sign left below.
When you exit the One way grid you will likely see the sign right below.

One way grids have proven to increase traffic flow and reduce vehicle and pedestrian collisions compared to two way city streets.

Traffic signals can have shorter cycle timing on one way streets because there is no need for left turn signals.
There is also no oncoming traffic to wait for while turning left. This not only speeds up traffic, it eliminates collisions from not yielding the right of way on left turns.

Pedestrians also only need to look one direction for traffic, aside from looking behind for drivers turning onto the road they are crossing. Studies have shown one way streets have fewer pedestrian collisions than two way streets.

Most of the problems drivers have with one way city streets is when turning, especially left.
One rule to remember when turning:

Turn into the closest lane you legally can turn into.

On a one way street this would be the nearest left lane when turning left, unless pavement markings guided you into another lane.

It's fairly easy to remember to turn into the right lane when turning right because that is the correct lane on both one way and two way streets, unless you live where you drive on the left side of the road.

One exception to this rule,at least in Oregon and probably other states is when the closest lane to turn into is a turn lane only and you want to go straight, you may by-pass the turn lane to get into the lane that goes straight.

The turn lane will normally have a solid white divider line as seen in the picture below.

Sometimes there will be a two way street crossing a one way street in the middle of a one way grid.

A one way street will have all white divider lines.

If you are turning left and see all white lines, get into the closest lane you can.
If you see a yellow divider it is a two way street, get on the right side of the yellow line.

To know which direction the one way goes, beside looking at the way arrow:

All the cars will be parked the same direction on both sides of a one way street.

Signs and signals will be going one direction one a one way road.

Notice the stop signs are facing one direction on BOTH sides of the road. This is a one way street with no white divider lines, it only has one lane.
This is the exception, not the rule. Most of the time with no divider lines the road is a two way street.

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