Memphis choosing revenue or safety in road design, leads to accidents, traffic expert says

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — FOX13 Investigates is looking at some of the most dangerous intersections in Shelby County, places where cars fly, people wildly switch lanes and others slam on brakes.

FOX13 Investigates has been tracking the issue at these intersections for months, dating back to last winter. The accidents mount at these so-called ‘dangerous intersections,’ and FOX13 investigates wanted to know why.

FOX13 Investigates: Most dangerous intersections in Memphis

One of Memphis’ busiest stretches of roadway is found on Winchester Road, which is also the site of four of the city’s five most dangerous intersections: Winchester Rd. at Plough Blvd; Winchester Rd. at Kirby Parkway; Winchester Rd. at Riverdale Rd.; Winchester Rd. at Germantown Rd.

The intersections collectively racked up 563 accidents in 2021 alone.

FOX13 Investigates took the problem intersections to one of the nation’s top traffic experts, Chuck Marohn.

”We wind up building a lot of these when we really shouldn’t be,” Marohn said in a Zoom interview with FOX13 Investigates.

RELATED: Memphis drivers push for traffic light at dangerous intersection after a child is killed in a crash

For decades, Marohn worked as a civil engineer and urban planner before founding the group Strong Towns, whose work pushes against traditional development in cities and on roads.

Marohn blames the design of the roads, which he calls ‘stroads,’ for much of the problem.

”You can’t move vehicles at high speed and have cars that are switching lanes; cars that are randomly turning in and out of accesses. … [I]t’s trying to do to two things at once that directly conflict with each other, it fails at both,” Marohn said.

Memphis added red light cameras at several intersections on Winchester. But, years later, those same intersections are still on the most dangerous list.

”You can’t combine those things together—high speeds and random stop with a speed camera like that—and expect anything other than a high rate of crash. People might be inspired by safety to put these in; they don’t actually improve safety, so they wind up to be just about revenue,” Marohn said.

They aren’t generating all that much revenue. FOX13 Investigates pulled the numbers showing Memphis issued nearly 20,000 tickets last year but collected less than $270,000 from the red-light cameras.

“These are loser investments for the city but (cities) do them anyway because we get money today,” Marohn said when asked by a reporter if Memphis’ government had prioritized profit over safety by designing the roads the way they did.

“There really isn’t a reason for the Memphis region to build another foot of this kind of design,” Marohn said.

Marohn said the planners and engineers should stop designing “stroads” and design roads that slow traffic and give drivers making turns safer places to do that.