Sunday, February 28, 2010

Free FHWA Pedestrian Safety Webinar Tuesday

Date: Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Time: approximately 1:00-3:00 pm Eastern Time (that's 10-12 am for those of us on the west coast)

The Details: This webconference will focus on tools for improving safety. There will be two presentations and discussions.

Dan Nabors (of VHB) will discuss Pedestrian Road Safety Audits (PRSAs). Case studies and programs such as Montgomery County, Maryland’s PRSA program will be highlighted. Montgomery County’s PRSA program includes an innovative funding mechanism, a before and after study, and has resulted in numerous engineering, enforcement, and education safety countermeasures.

Sarah Weissman (of the Transportation Safety Resource Center at Rutgers University) will discuss “Plan4Safety,” a multi-layered decision support tool and program created for the New Jersey Department of Transportation (NJDOT). Plan4Safety identifies crash hot spots, integrates statewide crash data, roadway characteristic data, calculates statistical analyses, incorporates network screening layers and models, and includes visual analytical tools (GIS).

You don’t need to register. Just follow below instructions:

Select “enter as guest,” type your name in the space provided, then click on
“enter room”


Phone: 800-988-0375, passcode *:* 8220909

Monday, February 22, 2010

Hollywood Walk Audits - Feb 25 and 27

This week the Hollywood Community Studio is hosting two hour-long walks for people interested in making Hollywood a more walkable place to work and play.

For the uninitiated, a walk audit is a short walking survey of a neighborhood to evaluate the area's pedestrian friendly (or unfriendly) features. Walk audits focus on all aspects of the walking environment, including sidewalks, crosswalks, street furniture, landscaping, lighting, adjacent buildings and other elements that contribute to the pedestrian environment. Often hosted by local pedestrian advocacy groups, walk audits can the the first step in a process to improve community walkability. The great thing about walk audits, aside from the fact that they get people out walking in their neighborhood, is that they provide planners and community leaders with data on the pedestrian enviroment that might not otherwise get collected in a typical traffic study.

"Auditors" often use checklists to help evaluate the walkability of a neighborhood. Here are a couple of examples that you can use in your community:
Partnership for a Walkable America
City of Los Angeles

Saturday, February 20, 2010

This Week on Foot

It seems like we've been hearing a lot lately about the dangers pedestrians face in inclement weather, and this week is no exception. First, in Maryland there was a Pedestrian killed on Branch Avenue while avoiding snowy sidewalks (proving why it's so important to clear the sidewalks and the roadways after a storm). Then, in Montreal Snow removal trucks kill 3 pedestrians.

Even though they rarely have to worry about snow, Seattle bicyclists and pedestrians were hoping for increased safety from proposed legislation that would have increased penalties for drivers who hurt or kill "vulnerable" road users. Unfortunately, the 'Vulnerable Users' bill dies in state Senate -- but supporters promise to bring it back again.

At least pedestrians in New York got some good news this week when they learned that Broadway pedestrian plazas made permanent, NYC might create more . The popular car-free spaces in central Manhattan have not been without controversy, but during their eight-month pilot period they were popular enough to convince Mayor Michael Bloomberg to keep the plazas in place.

Other cities around the world are considering implementing similar projects. Pedestrians to reclaim Queen Street in Brisbane, Australia, and a Bus terminus at Valletta to make way for pedestrians in Malta.

Abu Dhabi is also working to make its streets more pedestrian friendly, where a new street design manual explains Narrower lanes will cut speeding . Maybe they'll let us borrow it to use in LA?

Monday, February 15, 2010

Enjoy the Walk

Michelle Obama isn't the only one with a campaign to encourage physical activity.

Tipped off by a story last week in the Ventura County Star, I learned about an ambitious walker named George Throop who is traveling from Vancouver, Washington to Washington, D.C. on foot in the hopes that his example will inspire others to "Walk 20 Minutes Today." Guessing that anyone who had already walked through three states would have something to say about walkability, I caught up with George and his current walking buddy (Colin Leath from Santa Barbara) over the weekend.

First, the obvious question: why walking? George explained that he chose walking because it was something that pretty much anyone can do; it doesn't take expensive equipment or special training to walk. He also wanted to keep his message direct. Instead telling people to do something vague like "exercise more," George decided to focus on one simple lifestyle change: walk 20 minutes a day for better health.

Then there's the community-building aspect of walking. People who walk in their neighborhoods every day get to know their community and their neighbors. Their eyes are out on the street instead of inside houses or cars, leading to safer communities. Plus, placing an emphasis on walking helps to generate demand for pedestrian infrastructure and the political will that it takes to push for pedestrian-friendly communities.

George is realistic about what walking can accomplish in terms of people's health. He acknowledges that walking 20 minutes a day won't prevent all health problems, but he believes it can increase awareness about preventative health. He hopes that walking 20 minutes each day will create some momentum in people's lives, moving them towards a healthier lifesytle overall.

So how is it out there? George says that walking conditions have been mostly good so far. Many neighborhoods have sidewalks, particularly in middle class areas (though they often lack curb ramps). However, in poorer neighborhoods the sidewalks are often run down--or nonexistent. Interestingly, sidewalks are also missing from many of the the wealthier communities George has traveled through ("maybe they're inside the gates?").

Some of the most challenging walks have been along rural roads, such as Box Canyon Road in Simi Valley, which aren't built to allow pedestrian access. Highway 1 along the California coast, with its many blind curves, was also a dangerous stretch--although George points out that the good thing about walking is that you can generally hear cars coming early enough to get out of their way. However, George explains that freeways have been the biggest barrier to walkability he has encoutered. He's often confronted by freeways without a pedestrian crossings, forcing him to take long and time-consuming detours.

With his neon yellow safety vest and bright signs advertising his trip, distracted driving hasn't been much of a problem for George yet. On the contrary, he is often the distraction. George explains that drivers regularly veer towards him while trying read his signs, quickly correcting themselves when they realize what they're doing.

Not surprisingly, both George and Colin agree that walking across the country is different that traveling by other modes. George explained that the more you slow down, the greater the experience--which is partly why he has moved the finish date of his trip from June to November. Colin, who has already completed a cross-country bike trip, finds walking more social than other modes. He notices that people are more likely to stop you with questions--or even join the walk for a block or two--when you travel at "human speed."

This week you can find George and Colin walking through Los Angeles along Wilshire Boulevard. After they cross they city, they'll cut north to Glendale and follow Interstate 10 east to Phoenix, El Paso, and eventually the White House. George is hoping he'll be able to convince President Obama (and maybe the rest of the first family) to finish the last 20 minutes of the walk with him.

You can learn more about George and his walk on his website:

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Fighting Childhood Obesity

Thanks to my friend Jessica for sending me the scoop on a newly published study in Preventative Medicine that investigated the link between traffic around the home and childhood obesity. The study tracked about 3,000 children from various communities in Southern California from age 9-10 to 18 to see how the built environment surrounding their homes affected their health.

The study shows a statistically significant correlation between the level of traffic within 150 meters of a child's home and their body mass index (BMI). Children living in areas with higher traffic density showed about a five percent increase in BMI.

The study authors suggest there could be a couple reasons for the correlation. Part of the problem could be that the high traffic levels instill a sense of fear in parents, who are then less likely to allow their children participate in "active" transportation (walking or biking) or outdoor play. Lung function could also play a role, as children exposed to air pollution from nearby traffic are more likely to have asthma, which may inhibit their ability to exercise.

Hopefully the first lady will keep this all in mind as she moves forward with her campaign (summarized here) against childhood obesity. Physical activity is a key component of the campaign, but without better community design it's going to be a hard task to get children to move more...

Friday, February 12, 2010

This Week on Foot

This week has brought us a hodgepodge of policies, innovations, and decisions, representing all that is good and bad for those of us on foot.

Starting on a positive note, we learn that there are Fewer pedestrian accidents in Reno recently, due at least in part to a hefty enforcement program between October and December of 2009.
The same is true across the world , where in Jamaica Road fatalities decrease by 20% over same period last year.

Things don't look so good in North Dakota, where a Bicycling-pedestrian bill tabled. The bill would have required drivers to give bikes a pedestrians a three-foot clearance while passing.

Of course, things are even worse in South Dakota, where a Proposal gives drivers pedestrian protection. Yes you read that right, drivers would be protected from pedestrians--who would lose some of their crosswalk rights under the proposed bill.

At least South Dakota walkers don't live in Algeria, where Wayward Algerian pedestrians face hefty fines for crossing outside a marked crosswalk.

Fortunately one Oregon city has taken the opposite route, instructing drivers to Stop for pedestrians or face a fine.

Hawaii and North Carolina are also working to improve the pedestrian environment. In Honolulu 'Pedestrian flags' meant to make crossing Pali safer and in North Carolina an 'Enhancer' crosswalk gives pedestrians, cyclists help in crossing busy street. Volvo has also gotten into the game, creating a new system that spots pedestrians in the car's pathway and warns drivers to brake--or brakes for them: Volvo S60 has pedestrian tracking.

Such a system might have helped the woman in the Atlanta area who faces a Gwinnett first: Vehicular homicide charge for texting. Perhaps automatic brakes would have prevented the death of James Eaton, who was struck and killed by distracted driver Lori Reineke.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Ventura County Takes Notice

In a clear effort to win my heart, Scott Hadly titled his part of the Ventura County Star's feature on traffic safety "Driving riskiest thing people do, yet traffic safety gets little notice." Scott, you have no idea.

The series combines personal stories with hard data on 15 years of fatal crashes in Ventura County, even providing some fancy online spreadsheets for data geeks like me to play around with.

A few quick statistics:
  • Between 1994 and 2008 1,005 people were killed in Ventura County traffic crashes.
  • 208 of the fatalities were pedestrians--that's about 21 percent of all deaths. As I've complained about before, we don't make the effort to count how many people actually walk in Ventura County (or anywhere, for that matter), so it's hard to say just how disproportionate that is--but given that nationwide walk trips are around six percent of travel, we can assume that pedestrians are dying at much rates than they should be.
  • About a third of pedestrian fatalities were related to speeding. This shouldn't come as a surprise, as pedestrian death rates jump dramatically with speed. Traffic calming anyone?

Friday, February 5, 2010

This Week on Foot

This week begins with the end of the trial David Jassy. The Swedish rapper convicted of 2nd-degree murder claimed he acted in self defense when he attacked and killed pedestrian John Osnes, a story neither the witnesses nor the jury believed.

In happier news, Glendale Downtown alley to become more pedestrian friendly with new decorative pavers, lighting and benches. Business owners in the area plan to take advantage of the enhancements with outdoor concerts and other alley-oriented activities.

But enhancements in New London haven't been met with the same enthusiasm. Pedestrians still wary at Parade, even with classy crosswalks, because the town's new "talking" crosswalks and speed humps don't seem to be having the effect they were intended to.

Some Tulare pedestrians are also fed up with pedestrian improvements. The result? Tulare City Council votes to close pedestrian path after years of vandalism.

Pedestrians in Asia, on the other hand, are having the opposite problem. In Mumbai, Pedestrians ignored, roads preferred over footpaths. And in Jakarta, Pedestrian bridges don’t work for jaywalkers, who risk crossing at street level rather than deal with garbage, crime, and other problems associated with the city's bridges.

Monday, February 1, 2010

It's Not About the Hands

Today the LA Times reports on a new study by the Highway Loss Data Institute that shows no difference in crash rates following the adoption of California's hand-held cellphone ban. The results have been dismissed by some because of a small sample size (not to mention the fact that just because the law has been adopted, doesn't mean everyone is following it). However, many see the study as further evidence that the true danger of cell phones doesn't come from the way that they are held, but from how they are used while driving.

My personal efforts to give up the distracted driving habit are entering their second week, and so far so good. I admit to having a few moments of "Drat [or other, more forceful, curse word]! I really wish I could use my phone right now," but overall giving up the cell phone hasn't caused as much pain as I expected. The true test comes this weekend, when I have a two-hour drive to San Diego. Alone.