Lonely roads are quiet roads

Photo credit: Hüsna Kefelioğlu

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

On the Atlas Obscura website, reporter Frank Jacobs details the loneliest road in every state in America. According to Jacobs, telematics specialists at Geotab obtained data from the United States Federal Highway Performance Monitoring System to find each state’s route with the lowest annual average daily traffic. The database covers interstate highways, federal highways and state routes more than 10 miles long. The least trafficked road was Alaska’s State Route 11, from Fairbanks to Deadhorse, averaging only 196 vehicles each day. Geotab didn’t provide average traffic counts for roads in all states, only for the five least trafficked. But even in the nation’s most populous state of California, where I live, there is a least trafficked road. It’s State Route 139, from Susanville to the Oregon border. I’ve been to Susanville, and I am not surprised. It’s the county seat of remote Lassen County, with most visitors to Mt. Lassen National Park approaching from Interstate 5 to the west. That’s how I approached Mt. Lassen when I visited it several years ago.

A road without much traffic is by definition a quiet road, and that’s a good thing. Compared to the loneliest roads, here in Los Angeles the Santa Monica Freeway (I-10) carries about 240,000 vehicles daily at its intersection with the San Diego Freeway (I-405). Anyone who has had to change a tire on the shoulder of a busy freeway knows those roads are very noisy. Unfortunately, traffic noise isn’t confined to the road, but extends into nearby neighborhoods. Road traffic noise is a proven health hazard, causing increases in blood pressure, cardiovascular disease and even death. This study by Halonen et al. of the adverse health effects of road traffic noise in London is one of the best I have seen. I have no doubt that similar results would be found in any major city around the world, with a disproportionate impact on the poor, and minority vulnerable populations.

Road traffic noise can be reduced by many things: reducing the number of vehicles by encouraging bicycle travel or use of public transit; better combinations of tire composition and road surfaces; and a variety of fences and plantings to absorb or block the noise. Quieter roads will help create a quieter, healthier and better world for all.

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