Monday, January 31, 2011

NHTSA Releases 2009 Pedestrian Fatality/Injury Statistics

In its early release of its (ironically named) Traffic Safety Facts 2009 the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) provides a trove of gloomy, if enlightening, statistics on pedestrian deaths and injuries in the US. Here's some of the info I found most interesting. All data comes from the NHTSA.

2009 Traffic Fatalities

You can see from this data that pedestrians constituted a pretty high percentage of the people killed in traffic crashes in 2009. It's hard to know if pedestrian deaths are disproportionately high, though, because we don't have good data about what percentage of trips are taken on foot.

2009 Traffic Injuries

This chart shows traffic injuries from crashes in 2009. What I wanted to point out here was the significantly lower number of pedestrians injured compared to the number killed. It almost sounds like good news, until you realize this discrepancy probably means that pedestrians are more likely to be killed than injured in traffic crashes. 

Thursday, January 27, 2011

This week on foot

The week reaction continues to last week's suggestion that distracted walking may be causing increased pedestrian fatalities. In response, Arkansas, New York Lawmakers Move to Ban Headphones While Walking. Of course, one savvy blogger points out that Safety Group’s Pedestrian Fatality Report Substitutes Guesswork for Analysis, as I'll also discuss in a post next week on the NHTSA latest pedestrian fatality data. In the meantime people everywhere continue to insist that Smart phones foster dumb habits among pedestrians. No mention of the habits they foster in drivers...

And speaking of drivers, this week I found competing editorials regarding whether or not drivers should give pedestrians the right of way at crossings. Some believe Cars shouldn't stop for pedestrians at crosswalks, while others insist Pedestrians should always have the right of way. You can imagine where I fall in this debate.

Meanwhile, snow continues to wreak havoc in climes less balmy than ours here in Southern California. Not only does Sidewalk snow removal sparks debate for city, in Winnipeg City councillor to introduce motion on off-road vehicles after pedestrian killed in snowmobile collision. And for those in Illinois, don't forget that a Deadline to shovel sidewalks expires in Des Moines.

Snow isn't the only thing causing a fuss in the sidewalk department. In Toronto cyclists get sidewalk warning, while here in California we see an epic Battle of the Sidewalk Signs. And then there's the Texas Man claims lost lens caused him to strike pedestrian...on a sidewalk.

Finally, this week Santa Barbara provides us with even more evidence of its pedestrian unfriendliness, when Santa Barbara Council Votes to Pull Out Bulb-Out Requirement for Chapala Street.


At least Cowley residents get pedestrian crossing at long last

Monday, January 24, 2011

Whose sidewalks are they, anyway?

As I was trolling the internet for pedestrian news this week, I was disturbed to come across this story about the City of Santa Barbara's latest efforts to clear its downtown streets of itinerants and panhandlers. The city's redevelopment agency (sidenote: Santa Barbara needs a redevelopment agency??) plans to devote $50,000 to rearranging sidewalk benches in the city's shopping district so that they are perpendicular, rather than parallel, to the street.

Photo courtesy of Google Streetview
The idea is that this will make panhandling less lucrative for people sitting on the benches because they'll only be facing one direction, and thus have only half the opportunities to ask passersby for money. The backs will also be removed from several benches, further discouraging lingering. The city's actions stem from longstanding frustration on the part of downtown business people with the way the homeless use the sidewalks. "It's just like they've made the street their living room," one anonymous business owner complained. The hope is that changing the angle of the benches will force the homeless to relocate out of downtown.

Wow. There are so many things wrong with this idea, it's a little hard to know where to begin criticizing it.

Friday, January 21, 2011

This Week on Foot

Pedestrians and health advocates everywhere are groaning over statements this week from Governor's Highway Safety Association Director Barbara Hasha suggesting that Michell Obama's "Get Moving" campaign might actually be working--and the result is that Exercise, iPods could be causing pedestrian deaths. I won't dwell on the absurdity of this much, except to point out that 1) a single year's rise in pedestrian deaths is hardly a trend, so it's a bit early to begin pointing fingers, and 2) wouldn't rising vehicle miles traveled and rising rates of distracted driving be an equal (and more plausible) possibility? And as if American madness wasn't enough, there's the Road Madness in Ghana, we are all not safe.

No indeed we aren't, and there are efforts on many fronts to address that problem. In Canada City brass hope signs cut crossing confusion --they think a sign instructing "Wait for Gap" is easier for pedestrians to understand than "Pedestrians Yield to Vehicles"-- and in Glendale Plan clears path for cyclists and pedestrians. Meanwhile China TV shows grisly deaths as driving lessons and in Wisconsin UW Wants Pedestrians To Stop Walking In Street (here's a thought: maybe you shouldn't close the sidewalk then).

Elsewhere in the world pedestrians fight back--sometimes a bit too strongly, like the Suspect stabs man in pedestrian-rage incident.  But it's easy to understand where the anger comes from when in places like Toronto Sidewalk snowed under near Scarborough Town Centre and there's no snowplow in sight.

Finally this week, a note on vehicle safety. Grist explains that Smaller SUVs are safer than bigger ones, but walkability trumps all . It sure does.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Walk San Diego Forum - Jan 21

For anyone in the SD region, WSD is holding its first lunchtime forum of the year:

Coast Highway101 – Our region’s next complete street?

Special guest presenters will be:
Diane Langager, Principal Planner, City of Encinitas
Mike Nichols, Councilman, City of Solana Beach

Come hear what the cities of Encinitas and Solana Beach are doing with the planning of Coast Highway 101 to make it safer for bicyclists and pedestrians and how public participation has made road diets and roundabouts part of the solution.

Date: January 21, 2011
Time: 12:00-1:00 P.M.
Location: 193 Horton Plaza, 1st level, (Next to Victoria’s Secret)
Suggested: Lunch Donation is $5.00, RSVP by January 19th, $7.00 at the door

Please RSVP to Cynthia Offenhauer
Free Parking at Horton Plaza Garage

The Mystery of the Blue Sign Continues

As promised, I did some searching this weekend to try to discover why it is that pedestrian signs in much of Europe are blue, in contrast to the yellow signs found elsewhere in the world. Sadly, I have to report that while I did confirm that the current sign conventions were adopted in the late 1960s as part of the Vienna Convention on Road Signs and Signals, I have yet to identify anything definitive related to the blue color choice.

That said, I am dubious of the theory that blue signs are easier to see at night. While I wasn't able to find any research that examined blue signs specifically, I did come across one study that showed yellow and white signs are more visible at night than green signs. This suggests to me that blue might not be the best choice for pedestrian safety signs, despite Vienna conventions. This is not to say European sign standards have nothing on their American counterparts. After touring Erope on a quest to learn more about innovative traffic control practices, FHWA officials recommended the US adopt Europe's practice of increasing the saturation of color on traffic signs, regardless of shade.

Interestingly, I also came across a study suggesting that sign-makers have more to worry about that just color choice. This 2001 survey of five countries in the Middle East shows that age, gender, education and income all play a role in how well drivers understand signs. Young women with low incomes and low education levels had more difficulty understanding the intent of roadway signs thant their older, richer male counterparts--though even more disturbing was the fact that just slightly over half the drivers correctly identified all signs. As motorization rates continue to increase throughout the developing world, this could have dangerous implications for roadway safety--particularly of pedestrians.

Friday, January 14, 2011

This Week on Foot

This week we're reminded why all this pedestrian safety stuff is so important by two incidents across the world from one another. First, in Canada, a Teenage pedestrian's death 'needless', while in South Africa a Pupil (7) Killed on Way to School. It's sad when a young person can't even get an education without risking their life.

Fortunately, this week is also full of news of worldwide efforts to address this issue. Oregon believes Enforcement can reduce pedestrian deaths-- but the fact that Portland begins construction on South Waterfront pedestrian bridge over I-5 can't hurt either. In New York a New Traffic Signal is Cause for Celebration, while in New Jersey a pedestrian is pleased that the New audible alert law benefits blind pedestrians.  Meanwhile, Colorado invites us to check out the new "hybrid pedestrian beacon", and in the UK Volvo's pedestrian detection system wins safety award.

With so much good stuff happening out there, it's no wonder that one Seattle pedestrian complains that Street Paint Is Really Expensive, Apparently. Why else wouldn't the city finish crosswalk markings at one of the area's most heavily used crossings?

Meanwhile, the Bethesda-Chevy Chase community voices pedestrian concerns, while here in LA Streetsblog points out a Pedestrian Friendly Ralphs Needed for Pasadena .
Perhaps better zoning regulations could encourage that Ralphs to get in line. Pasadena could look to Florida, where City of Miami Receives National APA Award for Pioneering Zoning Reform . Pennsylvannia certainly is, where York City Council, residents discuss proposed zoning revision. Let's hope they're successful in their efforts!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Worldwide Walking: Signs

To end on a lighter note, I wanted to share a few pedestrian-oriented signs from Austria--but only after first posing the question: can any one explain why pedestrian crossing signs in Europe are blue instead of yellow or green? It strikes me as an odd color choice, as I can't imagine blue signs standing out very well at night.

I find this bright yellow "Children at Play" sign much more striking, especially with snow as the background. Of course, we know that while signs like these are charming to look at, they don't do much to slow traffic.
This sign, on the other hand. Well, it's pretty hard to miss...

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Mission Beach Walk - January 15

For those of you in the San Diego area:

WalkSanDiego Community Walks

Saturday, January 15, 2011, 8:30 a.m.

Mission Beach Walk – Meet at the North Shore Cafe, 3125 Ocean Front Walk, San Diego, CA 92109 (Next to the Wave House)

Join us to walk the Boardwalk and Mission Beach community and hear about the history of the development of this area by John Sprekels, the old trolley line and trivia from the past. A modest paced, three-mile walk on flat terrain.

Reservations not needed

The walks are open to everyone; they are free to WalkSanDiego members, with a suggested $5 donation for non-members. For further information, contact Dave Schumacher.

Worldwide Walking: Munich

So does Munich really deserve the moniker of most walkable in the world?

Like Vienna, Munich is rife with pedestrian zones:
Pedestrian-only plazas:
And toucan crossings:
But like I said in my last post, I'm not as impressed by the walkability of cities that developed when the only real form of transportation was walking. Not to say they aren't great--just that it's a lot harder to create a walkable city after the fact, and cities that manage to do so deserve extra credit.

So while I appreciated everything that Munich had to offer in the way of walkability, I wasn't quite ready to call it the best in the world...until I discovered this:

Monday, January 10, 2011

Worldwide Walking: Vienna

Freshly back from two weeks in some of the world's most walkable cities, I'd like to share some observations and pictures about walkability done right.

First, Vienna. As you can see in this shot of the center of town, pedestrian zones abound throughout the city--but that isn't necessarily saying much in a city that developed pre-automobile. Does it represent forward, pedestrian-oriented thinking on the part of city leadership, or just a lack of funding to "modernize" the city? To answer that question, we need to look outside the city center:
This is one of the main arterials that rings the central part of the city. As you can see, there's quite a bit of pavement devoted to travel here--but unlike what you might find here in LA, most of is not given over to vehicles. In fact, when you add in the wide sidewalk and bike path on the opposite side of the street (not visible here), the majority of right-of-way is granted to non-motorized modes. I think this says a lot about the value placed on walking and biking in Vienna.

Finally, from the same location, one last note on crosswalk design. Here you can see a midblock crossing stretching across the frontage road. While I'm impressed by the attention to pedestrian safety (even though this is a narrow, low-volume road, engineers have still added extra safety measures including signs and an advance stop bar), what I like the most is the placement of the crossing.
See that low wall to the left? That's an entrance to the subway system. Even though it's located only about 100 feet from the main intersection, Vienna officials put a midblock crossing right at the entrance because they understood that pedestrians wouldn't walk 100 feet out of their way to cross at the intersection. I suspect that you would never see a similar set-up here in the US, because roadway designers would much rather make a pedestrian walk out of her way to cross a street than to deal with the challenges of midblock crossings. And if they did "jaywalk" and take the most direct route? Well in downtown LA that would be a $200 ticket...

Tomorrow: does Munich deserve to be called one of the world's most walkable cities?

Friday, January 7, 2011

This Week on Foot

This week I returned to all sorts of gloomy news on the local pedestrian front. First a Train kills pedestrian near Fairview Avenue in Goleta. Then there was a Pedestrian Struck And Killed Near 105 Freeway Offramp, a Pedestrian, 93, dies after San Carlos collision, and a Pedestrian dies after being hit by car in Irvine.

Sheesh! Thank goodness the President Signs Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act to require the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to evaluate how much sound that must be made by electric and hybrid vehicles to ensure pedestrian safety. Of course, some people persist in blaming the pedestrians, not the vehicles, for our many pedestrian safety problems. They claim that Pedestrians take too many risky chances . Hmm, you mean like crossing the street?

Elsewhere in the world things aren't looking so bright either. Our friends in India complain that Pedestrians’ safety is low priority in Pune, and in England a Skate park set to get go-ahead despite pedestrian reservations. Perhaps these problems are the reason Baku starts raids to prevent pedestrian rundown accidents.

But despite the many obstacles pedestrians face, there's still reason to get walking. As one recent study points out, The Faster you Walk, the Longer you Live. And if that's not motivation enough, a new device promises to let you Walk to charge your cellphone. See, walking just became even more energy efficient.