Monday, November 22, 2010

The Trouble in the Valley Continues

We've heard a lot in the last few weeks about the crashes that killed pedestrians Conor Lynch and Emely Aleman, but today I'd like to talk about another recent crash in the Valley that hasn't received quite as much attention. (Apparently--cue frustration and gnashing of teeth--it takes a child or two dying before people really start to take note of the challenges pedestrians face on the streets out there.)

Earlier this month Julia* was hit by a car while crossing the street at Ventura Blvd and Etiwanda Avenue with the signal and in the crosswalk. The crash sent her to the hospital for weeks, and although, unlike Lynch and Aleman, Julia survived her crash, she's facing a painful recovery (not to mention some painful battles with her insurance provider).

Some might be tempted to dismiss this incident, arguing (with a hint of fatalism) that there's not much that can be done about drivers who flagrantly break the law and run a red light. Perhaps. But let's take a closer look at that intersection, shall we?

Here's a picture of the northeast corner of the intersection, looking south across Ventura Boulevard.

For strarters, notice the crosswalk striping: two measly white lines. This may be considered the "standard" for crosswalk striping, but it's hardly going to get the attention of drivers zipping down Ventura Boulevard at 45 or 50 mph. And there's not even a median refuge to help pedestrians as they navigate seven lanes of traffic. I would argue that an intersection with this kind of traffic volume/speed requires a more extensive crossing treatment. Please, at least give the poor pedestrians a stop bar behind the crosswalk!

Moving on, let's take a look at those corners. I think the aerial shows it best.

See those smooth curves? They're designed to make it easy for drivers to zip around the corners without stopping, which is long as there isn't a pedestrian crossing at the corner. Then they become an invitation for drivers to ignore the pedestrian right of way, and lead to incidents like the one Julia is now all too familiar with.

The angle of the crossings don't help matters, either. Notice how the crosswalks send pedestrians across Ventura Boulevard at an angle. Not only does this lead to a longer crossing (and more time exposed to traffic), for northbound crossings it puts the pedestrian's back towards oncoming traffic. Not an awesome setup for pedestrian safety.

Finally, one last shot of the southwest corner of the intersection.

Though not directly relevant to Julia's case, it's important to point out that this curb ramp (as well as the others at the intersection) does not meet current ADA design requirements. When a single ramp is set at an angle so it can serve two marked crossings, the distance between the edge of the ramp and the crosswalk markings must be at least four feet to allow someone in a wheelchair to safely maneuver in either direction. Clearly that standard hasn't been met here.

Finally, a word on the other factor in this crash: the driver. Even at an intersection that is engineered as poorly as this one, drivers have a responsibility to be aware of pedestrians. I know how hard this can be. Even I admit that when I'm behind the wheel I'm constantly reminding myself to check for pedestrians before turning, stop a few feet before the crosswalk, keep a careful watch for walkers in dark clothes when I'm driving at night, etc. etc. Drivers should never forget that driving is a serious privilege that comes with serious responsibility. The cushy seats, sound systems, and air conditioning make it easy to forget, but a car is a potentially deadly machine, and it should be treated as such.

Still, when we design our roads in a way that invites trouble, it shouldn't make us surprised when pedestrians like Julia (and Conor, and Emely) get hurt. But as advocates, citizens, and just decent human beings, it should make us angry.

*(I'm not using her last name to preserve her privacy)

1 comment:

  1. Hi Katie, this is great and you are correct, so much more could be done. Still no police report, Julia in rehab with the left side of her body completely broken. Her attitude is good! I'll keep you posted.
    All the best!