Saturday, December 19, 2009

This week on foot

This week we're presented with an avalanche of evidence that pedestrians still don't get the funding, attention, or respect they deserve.

Consider one Albany resident's plea for officials to Clear snow away from bus stops. In a letter to the editor, Wendy Montano observes that after a large snowfall streets are immediately plowed for drivers, but sidewalks and bus stops remain buried and inaccessible.

Even in areas without snow, pedestrians still have it tough. As Construction begins at San Diego border crossing , millions of dollars are being spent to reduce crossing time for motorists. At the same time, the "improvements" to the pedestrian crossing include a new bridge that is actually longer than the one that exists today.

Of course, even a long bridge is better than no bridge at all, according to this Midland resident who is lobbying for better accessibility in his neighborhood: Seeking a safe crossing, Braley speaks up

While I don't always advocate pedestrian bridges (I'd rather see improvements at the street level), perhaps a bridge could have helped out the Pedestrian, 78, fatally struck by car in Pasadena.

Of course, according to Jim Perskie's editorial on Atlantic City, Pedestrian deaths increase: Could it be the state's fault? , the problem is the pedestrians themselves.

Tampa seems to agree, as this week's Safety program yields dozens of warnings for pedestrians

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Walking in Ecuador (the Good)

Okay, we've established that Ecuador has some challenges when it comes to the pedestrian environment. But what about its successes? As I observed in my jaunts through cities large and small, in many places Ecuador has really done things right.

Consider this street in Quito's New Town:
Note the street furniture, large trees, and narrow roadway. The bricks are a nice touch also, though I wonder if they present any type of maintenance or accessibility problems.

Even better is this street in Banos: What I loved the most about this street (aside from the fact that cars are allowed only half of the space the pedestrians enjoy--take that Ventura Boulevard with your seven travel lanes and narrow sidewalks) was the perfectly proportioned mixed-use buildings on either side. With shops below (that blend so well with residences above that my husband didn't even realize the housing was there, and kept asking where people actually lived in Banos), this street shows us density as it should be done.

But perhaps most exciting to me were the pedestrian streets like this one that littered the roadway network in Quito's Old Town:
About half the streets in this part of town were limited to walkers only, or opened only occasionally to vehicle traffic. Add to this numerous plazas, colonial architecture, and narrow one-way streets, and you can understand why--even with Quito's fancy BRT system--we usually opted to travel on foot.

And this was only in the cities. In many of the rural areas we visited vehicles were so rare that the question of who the roadways belonged to (vehicles or people) was moot. Pedestrians (and sheep, and chickens, and horses) embraced the streets and footpaths as their own, only rarely interrupted by the passage of a motorcyle or an inter-city bus. If only Angelenos had it so good.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Walking in Ecuador Part 1 (the Bad)

Nothing gives you a better sense of a country's transportation system than trying to navigate it while dragging around a bunch of luggage. I say this as a person who has sprinted through the Paris subway system with a rolling suitcase, juggled two loaded duffel bags on Madrid's airport bus route, and, now, teetered along Quito's sidewalks with a hefty backback.

The good news is that people in Ecuador walk a lot. The bad news is that in many places they're forced to do so along sidewalks so narrow that a tall person walking along them risks decapitation from the mirrors of passing trucks. I was especially aware of the emaciated sidewalks as my bulky backpack and I shimmied our way through the streets during rush hour, knocking people from the curb left and right (see above).

Add to this the heavy cloud of diesel fumes permeating the cities, crumbling street furniture, and poor signage, and you end up with a pedestrian environment that is barely tolerable for the able-bodied, not to mention the challenges that a person with disabilities might face.

Still, either by design or by luck Ecuador manages to get a lot right. Next up: Walking in Ecuador Part 2 (the Good).

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Great Los Angeles Walk, November 21

Join a troop of other Angeleno walkers this Saturday at the Shrine Auditorium on Jefferson for a 13-mile trek through the streets of LA. The walk begins at 8:30 am and all the details can be found here on the Great Los Angeles Walk blog.

Unfortunately I'll miss out on this year's trip, as I'll be trekking through the Andes in Ecuador that day. Look for posts and pics of South American walking when I return in two weeks!

This week on foot

Complete Streets is Topic A in Meeting with Secretary LaHood, where he pledges to work with pedestrian advocacy groups to address pedestrian safety in the U.S.

At least LaHood won't have to worry about iPods, as we learned in a study released this week showing Cell phone use – but not music – reduces pedestrian safety

So what does that mean for the Roadmate App introduced for IPhone, which features a "pedestrian mode" to help users navigate on foot?

Perhaps the new book Walk this Way, featuring the latest research on models of pedestrian behavior, can help us figure it out.

Unfortunately, this research is unlikely to answer the question Why do South Africans Hate Pedestrians? (The author's theory--and my new favorite pedestrian term-- is "carpartheid")

Nor will it resolve the brewing conflict between bicyclists and pedestrians in Philadelphia, where Phila. bike coalition says harsher penalties, license plates not the answer to pedestrian deaths.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Cool Pedestrian Stuff #4: Crosswalk Art

Adding a little visual interest to your otherwise uneventful crossing.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

This week on foot

In a clear case of adding insult to (literal) injury: Pedestrian cited after being hit by car on North Side in La Crosse.

Irritated by the poor street design and pedestrian un-friendly laws that help create situations like the one in La Crosse, Portland activists Protest for Pedestrian Rights.

In response, Portland's Mayor insists City of Portland "committed" to Pedestrian Safety.

Elsewhere, the battle over competing uses on public sidewalks rages on. In Iowa City a Group wants city to revisit panhandling--and Also would like smoke-free ped mall during the day. Wouldn't we all?

Monday, November 9, 2009

Newsflash: Walking is still dangerous

In the newly released study Dangerous by Design, Transportation for America ranks metropolitan areas across the US by its "Pedestrian Danger Index" (calculated by dividing the annual pedestrian fatalities in each area by the percentage of people who commute to work on foot). Just for kicks, they also throw in rankings for pedestrian and bicycle spending.

At this point you probably expect the obligatory rant about LA's low spot on the spending list, or at least an astonished exclamation about how the top 10 most dangerous cities are all in the south.

Sorry, but I've got other things to complain about today.


1. Census data undercounts pedestrian trips. This is because the census only allows respondents to check one box next to the "how did you get to work today" question. It's a silly system since at least part of every trip is made on foot--even if it's just a walk through a parking lot. (Unless, of course, you're carried to work in a litter. And if you are, please let me know how I can get a job there too).

2. Census data only includes commute trips. At last count, those made up just over 15 percent of total travel in the US. So, we're in the dark about 85 percent of the trips Americans take, many of which could be walking trips.

3. Biking and walking are not the same. I'll save my polemics on the inevitable, illogical grouping of these two barely-related modes for another day. But I would like to point out that funding data nearly always combines the two, so we rarely know how much money is spent on pedestrians alone.

With so many data problems, rankings like Transportation for America's don't tell us much about the state of the pedestrian world. But they should remind us that if we're going improve walkability, we need a far better understanding of what's going on out there. If we can do it for freeways (and for the record, Caltrans does), we can do it for sidewalks.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

This week on foot

It's been a rough week for pedestrians.

In Scotland, vehicles just can't seem to keep their tires out of the town of Thurso's pedestrian zone. Drivers abusing pedestrian area

Then, in Austria a Pensioner dies after avoiding zebra crossing. Note the not-so-subtle laying of blame on the pedestrian, who carelessly crossed a full five meters away from the designated crosswalk. No mention of the driver who carelessly hit her.

It just goes to show, Even on a sidewalk, pedestrians must be wary--or at least they should be according to the Texas jury that refused to award damges to a pedestrian struck by a vehicle while walking on the sidewalk because he admitted he "hadn't been paying attention to the cars around him." Which would make sense. Because he was on the sidewalk.

And if you think Texas is a tough place for pedestsrians, consider Ohio, where we learn of Youngstown's plans to demolish pesky pedestrian bridge. Maybe that will get rid of those pesky pedestrians.

Of course, bicyclists in LA are getting their share of jabs also:
Bicycle ire from cyclists, motorists and pedestrians. And then there's cycling on the sidewalk...

At least London has something to cheer about. London Pedestrians Cross at New Japanese-style "Scramble Crossing"

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

LA 2.0 - December 5, GOOD Think Space

Do your friends and family refuse to listen to your latest pontification about the sad state of our city's streets? Want to spend some time with a bunch of people who don't suddenly remember other important things they have to do when you mention the words "smart growth"? Check out the upcoming think tank sponsored by GOOD Magazine, Sheridan/Hawkes, and the Public Studio.

The plan is to spend an afternoon inter-disciplinary collaboration, emerging with "a list of the top five catalytic strategies to improve the physical urban environment of Los Angeles." All the juicy details are available here.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Piano Stairs

Setting aside the somewhat suspicious fact that this project is sponsored by a car company, I like the "theory" that making walking fun will encourage more people to do it. Of course, that's the entire premise of walkability: creating pleasant pedestrian environments makes people want to walk. Obviously we aren't going to integrate musical instruments into every sidewalk (or could we?), but we can provide street furniture, trees, art, and other elements that lend foot travel panache instead of tedium.

Pedestrian injured in Oak View

A pedestrian was seriously injured in a crash on Sunday evening in the Oak View community, the Ventura County Star reports. The 32-year-old victim was crossing North Ventura Avenue outside of a marked crosswalk when he was hit.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

This week on foot

Powell gets ready to incorporate 'pedestrian scale' guidelines
Controversy over a proposed big-box retailer leads a Missouri suburb to adopt clearer requirements for pedestrian-friendly development.

Montgomery aims to improve pedestrian safety in parking lots
Startled by the number of pedestrian crashes in parking lots, a D.C.-area county works to improve parking lot safety.

Residents fight crossing closure
Residents of the UK city Wareham argue that eliminating the main pedestrian crossing over the town's rail line would split the community in half. Safety officials argue that keeping it in place would hurt pedestrians even more.

Experts have few answers about spike in train-pedestrian fatalities
Across the ocean, US officials struggle with similar problems.

K-rails are affecting pedestrians, kids
Glendale parents complain that barriers put in place to protect homes from mudslide damage interfere with walking routes to local schools.

Salute all cars kids. It's a rule in China
But at least their children don't have to salute every passing car.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Show your support for pedestrian-friendly changes to CEQA

For decades the California Environmental Quality Act has been making life difficult for pedestrians in the name of enviromental protection.

Hidden deep in the appendices of the CEQA Guidelines is a checklist intended to help jurisdictions decide which transportation impacts from new projects are "significant." The checklist provides a number of questions to consider, nearly all of them focused on vehicle flow, parking, and traffic congestion. Only at the end is there a suggestion that jurisdications should also, maybe, if they have the time and feel like it, consider impacts to "alternative transportation" (no explicit mention of pedestrians to be found).

Not surprisingly, the result has been years of environmental studies that go to great lengths to examine traffic conditions and provide solutions to project-induced congestion problems...while entirely ignoring--or even harming--pedestrians and other transportation modes.

Spurred on by agency staff and advocates in the Bay Area, the California Natural Resources Agency has proposed changes to the CEQA guidelines (available here) that incorporate alternative transportation modes more fully into environmental analysis. The proposed guidelines tone down the emphasis on driving and vehicle-focused performance measures, and instead encourage jursidictions to evaluate impacts to all aspects of the transportation system--including impacts to pedestrian facilites.

While this won't completely eliminate the anti-pedestrian bias in environmental documents (individual jurisdictions still adopt their own specific thresholds of significance, most of which are currently based on level of service for drivers), it is an important first step.

I encourage you to contact tothe California Resources Agency to show your support for these changes. The public comment period ends November 10. Comments should be sent to:

Christopher Calfee, Special Counsel
ATTN: CEQA Guidelines
California Resources Agency
1017 L Street, #2223
Sacramento, CA 95814
Facsimile: (916) 653-8102

Thursday, October 22, 2009

This week on foot

Amendment prohibits pedestrian harassment
The Columbia City, MO City Council passes an amendment to its municipal code making it a crime to honk at, shout at, or otherwise intimidate pedestrians. Violations could cost offenders as much as $1,000.

Go to the dark side with BMW night vision
BMW introduces a new night vision system that uses infrared cameras to detect pedestrians nearby and alert drivers to their location. The system is smart enough to pare down detection in pedestrian-heavy areas (so drivers aren't overwhelmed by alerts when driving next to crowded sidewalks) and to distinguish between pedestrians and animals on the side of the road.

Damaged bridge puts pedestrians at risk
Pedestrians in Lagos, Nigeria struggle to make it across a busy roadway after the street's pedestrian bridge was destroyed by a passing truck.

New high tech system could protect pedestrians
Software engineers in Israel are developing an in-vehicle video system that identifies pedestrians and alerts drivers to stop, or even applies the brakes.

SFPD and Health Department Announce Pedestrian Safety Campaign
San Francisco receives a $300,000 grant to fund efforts to improve pedestrian safety.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Space Wars

I don't like to get to down on the City of Ventura too much, because the city does sport some lovely pedestrian amenities like countdown pedestrian signals at major intersections and a very walkable downtown. Still...take a look at the sidewalk-bike-lane combo above.

Now, I concede that by providing sidewalks and striping bike lanes at all, the city clearly acknowledges the fact that bicyclists and pedestrians might (imagine it!) actually want to use the roadway network. This is more than many cities do.

However, lurking there in the background you'll see not two, not three, but four travel lanes for vehicles, and that's only in one direction. In fact, vehicles on this road (Victoria Avenue, in case you were wondering) luxuriate in a full 100 feet of roadway width compared to the 20 feet of sidewalk space that bikes and peds--and landscaping--must share.

Maybe I'm greedy, but it seems to me that the cars might be able to sacrifice a few of those feet for a bike lane and leave the sidewalk for the walkers. Oh, I know the argument: the cars NEED that roadway space to keep traffic flowing freely (nevermind that, despite driving that road at rush hour nearly every day, I have yet to see even the mildest traffic jam).

Ventura claims that its goal is to provide residents with, "more transportation choices by strengthening and balancing bicycle, pedestrian and transit connections in the City and surrounding region." Let's not sugarcoat things: a bike lane on a sidewalk next to an eight-lane road is not balance. It's putting vehicle travel ahead of other modes, and putting it so far ahead that the other modes don't have a chance to catch up. If Ventura--and any other city--wants to acheive balance, it needs to make real changes in the allocation of roadway space. I think Victoria Avenue would be a great place to start.

Friday, October 16, 2009

This week on foot

Muni hopes new decals will save passengers
The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency slaps bright yellow stickers on the back of its streetcars to raise awareness about pedestrian safety issues.

Crossing to their own beat and Pedestrians Take Their Chances on NYC Streets
Authorities in New York and Boston struggle with issue of jaywalking.

Woman Collapses on Lagos Pedestrian Bridge

A 52-year-old woman dies in Lagos after attempting to climb the steep steps of a Nigerian pedestrian bridge.

Pasadena Moves a Step Closer toward Building Gold Line Station Pedestrian Bridge
The Pasadena City Council approves a contract to build a pedestrian bridge connecting the Gold Line's Sierra Madre Villa Station to the south side of the Foothill (210) Freeway. The bridge will allow pedestrians to access the station from both sides of the freeway.

Japan Helps Ha Noi, HCM City Move to Improve Pedestrian Safety

Eighteen new pedestrian bridges will be constructed in Viet Nam as part of the Ha Noi Urban Transport Development Project.

Public Buses in Cleveland to Issue Vocal Warning to Pedestrians

Following two pedestrian deaths in 2008. Cleveland's transit authority plans to replace it's current warning system (audible "beeps" when buses turn into a crosswalk) with a verbal warning "caution, bus turning, pedestrians look both ways, look both ways."

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Demanding the Right to Walk

Here in the US we tend to think of walking as a sustainable, healthy form of transportation. But is it also one of our fundamental human rights? The pedestrian advocacy group The Right to Walk Foundation in Hyderabad, India believes so. The group recently filed a petition with the State Human Right Commissioner alleging that city officials' refusal to address walkability concerns in Hyderabad constitutes aviolation of citizens' fundamental rights to education, work, an adequate standard of living, and freedom of movement and residence.

The petition calls for six changes to pedestrian policy in Hyderabad, such as the implementation of manned pedestrian crossings, clear demarcation of sidewalks and a "no encroachment" policy, and the requirement that all government employees travel to work using non-motorized or public transportation at least one day a week.

I especially like that last suggestion--but I think it ought to be extended to politicians as well.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Just the Essentials

Final Score: Pedestrian-friendly references - 85, References to "cars" or "driving" - 10.

In its newly released draft report highlighting the Essential Smart Growth Fixes for Urban and Suburban Zoning Codes, the EPA sends a clear message that the car has been booted off the throne (presumably by the foot of an irritated walker).

The report identifies 11 policy areas in which local governments can change their zoning codes to promote what the EPA calls "complete neighborhoods—places where residents can walk to jobs and services, where choices exist for housing and transportation, where open space is preserved, and where climate change mitigation goals can be realized." Nearly every chapter includes modifications to improve walkability, such as revising street standards to add "narrow local streets" categories or reducing block lengths to improve pedestrian connections.

While I'm not sure I agreee with how the EPA characterizes all of the suggested changes (is requiring sidewalks on both sides of the street really a "wholesale change" in the regulatory framework, or a "thing we obviously should have been doing for years and ought to put in the code starting tomorrow"?), I'm encouraged to see walking featured so prominently in a national-level policy document.

I wonder if our Board of Supervisors would notice if I slipped some of these into our next ordinance update?

Thursday, October 8, 2009

This Week on Foot

Pedestrians told to switch off to avoid car accidents
Police in Victoria, Australia blame distracted walking for uptick in pedestrian deaths.

Use of walkway over the Hudson steady as week begins
Thousands turn out on foot, bike, and segway to celebrate the opening of a new footbridge over the Hudson in Albany, New York.

Pedestrian safety drive a success
Traffic safety officials in Dubai credit a pedestrian safety campaign for a 29 percent drop in pedestrian fatalities.

Traffic signal puzzle for pedestrians
A lack of proper signals and other protections make crossings especially dangerous for pedestrians in Calcutta.

DART restores left turns, forms safety program
To help protect pedestrian safety, Des Moines, Iowa buses are required to honk, then pause, before making right turns over crosswalks.

"Luxury Intersections" could save lives
Canada looks to traffic innovations in Sweden as a model for improving its own pedestrian safety.

10th International Conference on Walking and Livable Communities
Walk21 holds its 10th conference in New York.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Happy International Walk to School Day!

Grab a kid and join the nearly 3,300 schools across the country who are participating in walking events today. Here's a rundown of some of the fun activities kids in LA area schools will take part in.

Serrania Elementary in Woodland Hills
Classes will track walking routes to count how many kids walk and bike to school today.

Edison Elementary in Burbank
We will have parent volunteers stationed at each corner outside our school handing out Clif Bars, Twisted Fruit snacks, WTS pencils, water, activity sheets, etc. to promote walking to school. Participants will sign a WTS banner. We are looking to create a 100 Mile club to promote fitness at our school throughout the entire year.

Robert F. Kennedy Elementary in Compton
Students, parents, teachers, and other staff will be walking from opposite directions to school. A special breakfast will be provided and nutrition and physical activity pamphlets will be given out once on campus. Incentives will include cookbooks, pens, and jump ropes. Those walking will have posters and banners promoting healthy living.

Repetto and Ynez Elementary in Monterey Park
Repetto and Ynez School's administrators, teachers, students and parents meet together at a nearby park. Our District's Network for a Healthy California, Monterey Park Fire Department and local city officials kick off the morning with an inspiring message as our schools begin walking to their respective schools. It's a great morning to "walk for health!"

Hermosa View Elementary in Hermosa Beach
We will be having meeting points along our safe walk to school routes to have kids meet and walk to school together. We will also encourage kids to decorate their shoes for walk to school day. We will encourage city officials to join us for our Walk to School Day to encourage our kids!!

La Mariposa Elementary in Camarillo
We are trying Walking School Buses this year. This event kicks off out Walk or Wheel Wednesday Program.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Pedestrian and dog killed in Montebello

The LA Times reports that the 84-year-old wife of a former Montebello mayor was killed last night crossing the street at the intersection of Jefferson Boulevard and Alfred Place. The intersection has no traffic signal or stop-control, and the crosswalk was unmarked. The driver fled the scene and has not been aprehended.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Silent but Deadly

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has released a report comparing the difference in pedestrian and bicycle crash rates between hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs) and internal combustion engine vehicles (ICEs).

The analysis shows that HEVs are more likely to be involved in pedestrian crashes while performing certain manuevers, namely slowing or stopping, backing up, entering or leaving a parking space, and turning. The authors hypothesize the higher HEV crash rates may be due to HEVs' quiet crusing at slow speeds; when traveling straight (presumably at higher--and noiser--speeds) HEV and ICE crash rates are comparable.

The good news is that pedestrians are less likely to be injured if they are hit at slow speeds. Nonetheless, as HEVs become more prevalent we need to consider carefully how to address the problem of quiet cars. Over in Japan, Nissan has been giving this issue some serious thought, hiring a team of composers to come up with a "beautiful sound" to accompany their electric vehicle the Leaf.

For those feeling less poetic, Datasystem Co has developed a device that will emit your choice of 16 sounds, including a "boing" and a "meow"-- and for the less whimsical, a simple "Excuse me."

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

A Confession

I consider myself (this is not the confession) a pretty good driver. I hang out in the slow lane on the freeway, come to a complete stop at stop signs, have an only-normal-for-geeky-folk understanding of the California Vehicle Code, and above all I carefully yield to pedestrians in crosswalks...or do I?

After watching footage of a crosswalk sting in Sacramento (posted here on Streetsblog), I realized (this is the confession) I hadn't the slightest idea what "yielding to pedestrians" really meant. Had I been doing it wrong all these years? In an effort to alleviate my guilt--and perhaps bring a little enlightenment to others confused by this question--I did some research.

First, the law itself: California Vehicle Code 21950 states that "The driver of a vehicle shall yield the right-of-way to a pedestrian crossing the roadway within any marked crosswalk or within any unmarked crosswalk at an intersection."

People v. McLachlan (1939) clarifies that "yielding" doesn't necessarily mean stopping any time a pedestrian has a toe inside the crosswalk, " is clear that when a pedestrian crossing a roadway in a crosswalk is so far from the path of an approaching automobile and proceeding in such a manner that no interference between them is reasonably to be expected, the driver of the automobile need not wait for it to develop."

Moreover, once a pedestrian is walking away from a driver, the yielding point is moot, "It is equally clear that a driver, after having allowed a pedestrian to proceed undisturbed and unhurried in front of him and to reach a place safely out of the way of his automobile, with no apparent further danger of conflict between them, may proceed."

Just how far out of danger must pedestrians be before a vehicle can legally proceed through the crosswalk? People v. Hahn (1950) cautions that, "[the pedestrian's] right of way is not to be measured in fractions of an inch nor tested by split seconds. He is entitled not to just as much space as his body, clothes and buttons require, but to as much as will afford him a safe passage."

In other words, it might be okay to drive through a crosswalk if you give pedestrians ample berth--but whooshing past pedestrians so closely that their nosehairs flutter in the breeze isn't kosher. When in doubt, I suggest measuring according to this handy rule of thumb from the Hahn case, "The pedestrian's heart, as well as his body, should be free from attack."

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Pedestrian killed in Woodland Hills

A yet-unidentified pedestrian was killed by the suspect in a police pursuit while crossing Don Pio Drive near Topanga Canyon Boulevard last night, as described in this LA Daily News article. My first thought was that this was simply one of those sad, haphazard incidents that are impossible to prevent, but then I wondered: could there be a way to design our roads or vehicles to keep crashes like this from happening?

Turns out we already have the technology to do this. For example, the newest vehicles equipped with GM's OnStar system feature the Stolen Vehicle Slowdown option. The system gives police officers the ability to bring vehicles to a stop remotely (GPS is used to pinpoint the vehicle location), thus facilitating the capture of theives--and potentially preventing car chases like the one yesterday in Woodland Hills.

Now we just have to convince the public to turn the steering wheel over to Big Brother in an emergency...

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Walkability Rocks: An Anecdote

It all started when I decided to walk to the library to return a DVD, thus killing the two proverbial piegons by exercising AND running an errand at the same time (not to mention demonstrating the link between walkable neighborhoods and lower obesity rates).

Had my house key not fallen out of my pocket somewhere along the way, this would have been a brilliant plan.

Happily I realized my key was missing in time to return to the library, where I found no key...but two helpful librarians who let me use their telephone (extra kudos to the Woodland Hills branch staff). After begging my husband to come home early from happy hour and rescue me I walked a block to the drug store to pick up a magazine, which I read contentedly at Starbucks (sorry, no hipster coffee shops--walkable or not, this is still the Valley) until it was time to walk back to my now-unlocked home.

On the way back I imagined what my evening would have been like if I lived in a less walkable neighborhood. I suspect there would have been a lot more frustration and sitting (tremendously bored) on the front step. Granted, walking to the library probably wouldn't have been an option in the first place--but since I've managed to lock myself out many occasions not involving libraries, I argue that the point still stands: walkability makes even the most irritating situations a little more bearable.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Then of course, there's this...

I'm not sure if the idea is to encourage or terrify, but at least it gets kids out on the street.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Unsafe Routes to School

I'm sure someday my children are going to roll their eyes when they hear me say this, but I really did walk uphill both ways to get to school. Every morning, rain or...well, this was friend, her little brother, and I would slither down the two wooded hills behind their house, hop puddles along the main thoroughfare, and then push our way up through another damp, brushy hillside before arriving--a mile later--at school. We were 10, and that 30-minute walk was one of the most fascinating parts of my day.

Apparently if I were to let my kids do that today I would be recklessly endangering their lives--and running the risk of criminal charges, as was the mother in this NY Times article describing current attitudes about walking to school. As the article explains, today's parents are reluctant to allow their children to walk to school (only about 13 percent of kids walk or bike to school on their own), due mainly to safety concerns. Rebellious parents who refuse to chauffer their offspring everywhere face serious social pressure from others who chide them for their thoughtless parenting.

Along with improving infrastructure along main school routes, improving parent attitudes is a major part of encouraing walking in the next generation. It's not enough to just cite the statistics (e.g. there were only 115 abductions by strangers in all of the US last year), schools need to actively engage parents and students in promoting walking and biking. Happily, programs like International Walk to School Day are making it easier for schools to do just that.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Public Safety vs. Public Safety

"A minute is a long time to wait if you're not breathing."

I tried it out while researching this post, and concede that the fire chief who made this comment has a point.

It's a concern that comes up frequently in debates over installing traffic calming devices on streets where high speeds hinder pedestrian safety. Pedestrian advocates argue that slowing down traffic improves walkability and reduces pedestrian injury. Fire departments contend that in a life-threatening emergency every second matters, so it's counterproductive to introduce obstacles to vehicle travel.

So who's right? Good question.

Research on emergency response times has centered on cardiac arrests, as there's reasonable consensus that time is of the essence when your heart has decided to stop beating. In general this research shows that response times under five minutes produce the best results in terms of survival (not to depress you, but this does not necessarily mean the survival rates are high when a victim is reached within the five minute window--just better than they would be otherwise). Many fire departments set a goal of responding to 90 percent of life-threatening calls within five minutes, and the LAFD appeared to be achieving that goal--at least prior to its recent budget cuts.

While there hasn't been much investigation of how traffic calming measures impact emergency response times, the work that is available (summarized in this report by Reid Ewing) suggests that speed humps and traffic circles slow down emergency vehicles by 3-14 seconds per measure. The biggest delays are to the largest vehicles, so an ambulance won't be slowed as much as a ladder truck.

By these estimates, a series of traffic calming measures along an emergency route could conceivably delay responders enough to be problematic--at least for cardiac events. But only if emergency response times were right at the cusp of five minutes, or if vehicles were confronted with a whole slew of traffic calming measures in a row. Given this, it doesn't necessarily follow that all traffic calming is a bad idea; in areas with high pedestrian traffic the benefits of improved pedestrian safety might outweigh the costs of slower response times.

I don't mean to downplay the importance of timely emergency response, but it's important to recognize that rejecting traffic calming measures based simply on blanket assertions instead of case-by-case evaluation could actually harm public safety. I'm hoping decisionmakers are sophisticated enough to recognize this...but I won't hold my breath.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Where the Sidewalk Really Started

London, in case you were wondering.

It all began with a 1764 survey of the local infrastructure by the Commission of Sewers and Pavements (one can only imagine the sins a bureaucrat had to commit to end up on the sewer commission). The commission found that London roads were “defective, even in the principal streets.”

Apparently 18th century Londoners hated walking on cracked pavement and muddy roadway shoulders as much as we do today, because a year later concerns over the commission's findings prompted the creation of the city's first curbed sidewalk. Other cities followed suit, and by 1823 Paris had even enacted a law requiring property owners to install sidewalks adjacent to their buildings. (No one paid much attention to it, as these were the days before binding developer agreements.)

Of course, pedestrians had been on the minds of city leaders long before the apperance of sidewalks. Heavy traffic congestion led Julius Caesar to ban the use of cars and chariots between sunrise and sunset on the roads of ancient Rome--though (no big surpise) he reneged on an earlier promise to grant pedestrians the right of way over other road users. Nor did other pledged improvements, such as road paving, ever materialize.

In fact, it wasn't until 1,000 years after Caesar's reign that paving began in earnest throughout Europe (Paris began the trend in the late 1100s). Paved roadways made walking easier for pedestrians in medieval cities...but it also made walking easier for horses, oxen, and other types of "heavy vehicle" traffic.

The increasing chaos on city streets got architects thinking about how to design city transportation networks that served everyone. Leonardo da Vinci recommended that the problem be addressed by separating pedestrians from other forms of traffic. Here is one of his drawings from the late 1400s, showing how the concept might look:

Although his designs weren’t adopted at the time, da Vinci's vision of pedestrian-only spaces was prescient-- today you can find "pedestrianized" streets everywhere from New York to Costa Rica.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Cool Pedestrian Stuff #3: "Divans"

A 1911 New York Times article describes this "novel auto invention" that was intended to prevent vehicles from knocking down and crushing pedestrians. As the article explains, the "scissorlike fender" attached to the front of private vehicles and streetcars and scooped up errant pedestrians, bearing them along in a "sort of divan" until they could be safely deposited elsewhere. The inventor claimed that the device had been proven effective at vehicle speeds up to 60 mph, though I'm skeptical that any encounter with an object traveling so fast--no matter how cushy--would be comfortable for a pedestrian. (Of note: the article blames these crashes on the "careless pedestrian" who steps thoughlessly in front of moving vehicles. Hmm, sounds familiar.)

Researchers today continue to investigate solutions for decreasing the impact (sorry, bad pun) of pedestrian crashes. One solution is to create vehicles that can sense when they are hitting pedestrians and implement appropriate safety mechanisms. In this example, designed by Bosch, the vehicle automatically raises its front hood when it hits a pedestrian to help decrease pedestrian injury.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Enough already. Seriously.

A 60-year-old woman and her dog were killed crossing Shoreline Drive in Ventura on Monday. Although there was a marked crosswalk nearby, the two were not using it when they were struck.

Here's hoping the rule of threes applies in this case, and we won't see any more pedestrian deaths for a while...

Sunday, August 23, 2009

A bad weekend for pedestrians

The LA Times reports that a 10-year-old boy was killed and several other members of his family were injured when a driver hit them as they were crossing Tweedy Boulevard in South Gate. The crash occurred when the driver made a left turn from San Vicente Boulevard (which has a stop sign) onto Tweedy Boulevard. The family was walking inside a marked crosswalk that has a brick-style treatment to distinguish it from the rest of the road.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Pedestrian killed in Santa Paula crosswalk

The Ventura County Star reported today that a 65-year-old woman was killed and two children hurt while attempting to cross Harvard Boulevard in the City of Santa Paula. Initial investigations by police suggest that drugs and alcohol were not involved in the crash. The driver claims she was not speeding (the speed limit on Harvard Boulevard is 35 mph) at the time. Harvard Boulevard is a four-lane roadway with a two-way left-turn lane in the center.

Although the crossing where the incident took place is unsignalized, the City of Santa Paula recently installed in-roadway warning lights (IRWL) at the intersection. Studies of the effectiveness of this treatment have been mixed (you can find a nice summary of the research here), with most showing only little improvement in pedestrian safety after installation.

Particularly relevant for this case, the two studies that examined whether or not the lights encouraged motorists to yield to pedestrians in the crosswalk (e.g. attempting to cross a middle lane of traffic) had "inconsistent" results. As rightly warns, "...caution should be exercised, and perhaps additional treatments implemented if IRWL is considered for uncontrolled crosswalks at multi-lane locations."

This is yet another reminder that mere visual cues are not enough to protect pedestrians. While I appreciate the City of Santa Paula at least attempting to address crosswalk safety, it frustrates me that the City stopped short of more significant roadway treatments like raised medians or intersection bulb-outs. On high-speed, high-volume roadways like Harvard Boulevard these improvements are critical to ensure that pedestrians can cross the street safely.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Cool Pedestrian Stuff #2: Donkey Stickers

Living out the dreams of frustrated pedestrians everywhere, the Streetpanthers are a group of activists who have taken the job of enforcing pedestrian laws into their own hands.

Their work takes place primarily in Thessaloniki, Greece. Aside from maintaining a website, online forum, blog, and 1,800-member facebook page, the Streetpanthers roam the streets planting "donkey" stickers on vehicles parked in crosswalks, on sidewalks, and generally anywhere that interferes with pedestrians' ability to safely navigate the streets.

The stickers say something along the lines of "I'm a donkey, I park where I want and ignore the rights of pedestrians"...though from what I gather the original Greek might not be quite so polite.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

True or False Sense of Security?

A warning to Angelenos who travel on foot: LADOT is trying to kill you.

What other explanation is there for LADOT's policy not to mark crosswalks--and sometimes to even go so far as to remove them--in the name of "pedestrian safety"? It's like a doctor saying to a patient with cancer, "Well, this medicine isn't working. Let's just do nothing and hope the problem will go away."

To be fair, it isn't just LADOT that thinks this way. Ever since Bruce Herm's 1972 study of crosswalks in San Diego (in which he found more pedestrians were injured or killed in marked crosswalks than unmarked crosswalks) transportation departments across the country have been dutifully scrubbing out zebra stripes in an attempt to protect pedestrians.

The logic behind this seemingly illogical move is the so-called "false sense of security" argument. This much-quoted phrase comes from the Herms study, and represents his attempt to explain why marked crosswalks were riskier for pedestrians than unmarked crosswalks. Herms hypothesized that pedestrians felt so safe between those bright white lines that they threw caution to the wind and boldly stepped out into the road--only to be hit by motorists, who didn't care in the slightest whether the crosswalk was marked or not.

Despite the fact that this was mere speculation on Herms' part (his study wasn't intended to evaluate how carefully pedestrians crossed streets), the idea has become transportation dogma. You can even find it front and center on LADOT's pedestrian policy page, right after the part where we learn that "the Los Angeles Department of Transportation has found that pedestrian accidents are significantly reduced at unmarked crosswalks located at non-street intersections."

I have to wonder where LADOT is getting its data, given that one of the most comprehensive studies on crossing safety, published in 2005 by the FHWA , shows that there is no statistical difference in pedestrian crash rates between marked and unmarked crosswalks on two-lane roads. Not to mention a 2002 FHWA study that found "no evidence" that pedestrians are less vigilant in marked crosswalks.

Admittedly the evidence is not entirely clear-cut. Some recent research does show that pedestrians are less observant when crossing at marked crosswalks. Elderly pedestrians appear to be particularly at risk, as do crossers at high-volume, multi-lane intersections.

I don't dispute that in many cases marked crosswalks alone aren't adequate to protect pedestrians. Sometimes it takes median refuges, flashing lights, raised crossings, or one of the many other solutions have have been shown to increase pedestrian safety at crossings. But the suggestion that the solution to this problem is to remove marked crosswalks?? It really twists my shoelaces into knots. Pedestrians in Los Angeles--and everywhere else--deserve more sophisticated thinking from their policymakers.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Wanted: Pop-culture Publicity

I might not have quite the same rock star clout as Bono, but I'm still hoping to raise awareness about pedestrian safety and here's one big reason why: the World Health Organization estimates that in 2002 about 130,000 children between the ages of 5 and 14 were killed in roadway crashes. By conservative estimates roughly 52,000 of these fatalities were pedestrians. To put it in another way, twice as many as kids died crossing the street as starved to death.

Funny how I haven't seen any infomercials encouraging me to support a sidewalk in Nigeria for just a dollar a day.

Worse than that? In its most recent status report on road safety WHO predicts that roadway crashes will overtake HIV/AIDS as one of the leading causes of death worldwide. If current trends continue half of the fatalities will be what WHO terms "vulnerable users," aka motorcyle riders, cyclists, and pedestrians--but that little statistic masks the fact that in low- and middle-income countries vulnerable users generally die at much, much higher rates.

So here we have what is clearly one of the world's biggest public health problems, a problem that is only expected to get worse over the next few decades, a problem that disproportionately affects children, the elderly, and the poor, and...silence.

This is partially because the people hurt or killed in pedestrian crashes just aren't the ones that get a lot of face time with policymakers. Much of the world--including pedestrians themselves--holds the attitude that people on foot are second-class citizens who don't deserve the same rights and attention as people who can afford a car. (One study of pedestrian crashes in Mexico City found that while drivers blamed pedestrians or "circumstances outside their control" for crashes, pedestrians blamed themselves).

Perhaps a well-timed documentary from Mr. Gore is in line?

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Cool Pedestrian Stuff #1: PedFlags

These little guys caught my eye on a recent trip to the Pacific Northwest--a region that tends to get dreamy-eyed and giggly at the mere mention of alternative transportation modes.

I thought they were a new innovation, but it turns out that the City of Kirkland's PedFlag program has been in place since a series of pedestrian fatalities in 1994 led the city to bump up its efforts to address pedestrian safety.

After a group of rogue pedestrian advocates set up their own version in a Seattle suburb, the Seattle Department of Transportation implemented a one-year pilot program to test out the idea themselves. SDOT plans to decide this fall whether or not to continue the program.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

A Pedestrian Blog? That's so...pedestrian.

I'll admit that walking isn't the most glamorous mode of transportation out there. Compare a sneaker to a maglev train, or a lear jet, or even one of those goofy segways: it just doesn't have that much caché. But to quote Enrique Peñalosa, one of my favorite ped activists (and a pretty snazzy politician to boot),

"God made us walking animals — pedestrians. As a fish needs to swim, a bird to fly, a deer to run, we need to walk, not in order to survive, but to be happy."

The problem is that the way we've built our cities and transportation systems generally makes walking a very unhappy activity. Our streets are dangerous, polluted, congested, and just plain ugly. And on top of it all, there's rarely a place for the poor, persecuted pedestrian to walk to.

But this blog is going to change all that.

Okay, maybe my eyes are a little too big for my flip-flops. After all, this is "Where the Sidewalk Starts" not "Where the Sidewalk is In Place Along All Major Streets and is Connected By Thoroughly Signed and Marked Crosswalks With the Occasional Median Refuge Thrown In As Appropriate." But as they say, every great journey begins with a single step (love those walking cliches!). Consider this step one.