Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Are Right Turns on Red Dangerous for Pedestrians?

As part of the ongoing red light camera debate, we've been hearing assertions that right turn on red (RTOR) violations aren't that dangerous, because collisions due to RTOR violations are generally less severe than other types of crashes. But does this hold true for crashes involving pedestrians? And for that matter, is it true at all? (I'm always skeptical of broad statements--including my own--made without proper references.)

I took a stroll around the internet in hopes of answering those questions, and here's what I found:

The push to allow RTORs began in the mid-1970s as part of a national effort, sparked by the 1975 Energy Policy and Conservation Act, to conserve energy. By the end of the decade, most states had adopted laws allowing the RTOR in most locations. One of the earlier studies examining the safety effects of the new laws was published in late 1980. Adoption of right turn on red: Effects on crashes at signalized intersections showed an increase in crashes when RTORs were allowed, with a 60 percent increase in crashes involving pedestrians (though this large percentage increase could be due, in part, to the relatively low number of right-turn crashes involving pedestrians).

A slightly more recent study (1994) from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration showed that while RTOR crashes represent a very small number of collisions at signalized intersections overall (0.4 percent), these crashes frequently involve bicyclists and pedestrians (22 percent of all RTOR crashes). And although the analysis shows that RTOR crashes rarely result in fatalities (less than one percent of all fatal ped/bike crashes involved RTOR), when a cyclist or pedestrian is involved in a RTOR crash they are nearly always injured.

A1996 evaluation of Pedestrian and Bicycle Crash Types of the Early 1990s from the Federal Highway Administration had similar results, showing that only about two percent of pedestrian crashes involved right turns on red.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

This Week on Foot

Let's take a break from the red light camera debate and talk about all the good work that's happening this week to improve pedestrian safety. Here in LA, Traffic Light Construction Begins at Deadly Intersection in North Hollywood, while a Downtown “road diet” plan goes forward in Sonoma County. There's a Safety upgrade coming to Woodward, in Florida Pasco willing to give incentives for pedestrian-friendly developments, and in the town of Laurinburg the City Council steps up pedestrian efforts.

Elsewhere in the country, Chicago Experimenting With the “Pedestrian Scramble”, and in Georgia Schools get grant for pedestrian improvements while Community groups gather for traffic safety event in Hawaii. And outside the US Awareness drive helps cut pedestrian deaths in Dubai.

Perhaps all this positive news is because a Livability trend puts walking expert in demand-- and that Walking expert prescribes ‘road diets,’ traffic circles for cities seeking street makeovers. Or it could just be that cities have figured out that Streets Built For Bikes and Pedestrians Also Yield More Jobs.

I guess they missed that lesson in some parts of Florida, where a Bike-Ped Defunding Proposal Sparks Mutiny in Mica’s Home District  London business owners also don't seem to get it, because they're Walking into a new debate this week in that town.

On  a final note, an update from the January 2009 case of a woman who sued Google Maps for directing her to walk on a street without sidewalks. This week we hear from a Utah judge: Car vs pedestrian accident not Google's fault. I guess that means we're still stuck just blaming the drivers, planners, traffic engineers, and public officials who promote vehicle travel over walking.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Further delay on red light camera issue

In gridlock rivaling that on the 405, the LA City Council returned the red light camera program to the City's budget committee (chaired by RLC supporter Bernard Parks) for additional review after a wacky spell in front of the Council, rife with competing motions, seemingly-contradictory actions, and computer glitches. You can read the full story here in the LA Times, but I offer no promises that the story will clarify anything (except perhaps for the Times' oh-so-subtle implications that the cameras do nothing more than fill the coffers of private firms).

Councilmember Parks will return the program to the Council for debate after additional review, which gives you time to contact your councilmember to urge them to support the program.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

LA City Council Continues Red Light Camera Debate

We have a little more time to wait, but things aren't looking good for the future of red light cameras in LA. As reported in the LA Times,  the Council needs at least eight votes to take any action on the program. Currently, five councilmembers have voted in favor of continuing the cameras--at least long enough to do additional analysis of their effectiveness-- while seven councilmembers would like to end the program immediately. The debate will continue at today's meeting, and again until there are at least eight votes one way or the other.

Best quote of the hearing, from Councilmember Parks in response to the assertion that a $500 red-light ticket could devastate a low-income family, "What is even more devastating is if you lose a life or cripple someone for life because of a traffic accident."

Most discouraging assertion by the LA Times, "A Times investigation in 2008 found that some cities, including Los Angeles, get most of their photo enforcement money from citing slower, rolling-stop right turns, which many experts say cause fewer and less serious accidents." That might hold true for vehicle crashes, but I'd like to see the data for pedestrian crashes...  

Friday, June 17, 2011

This week on foot

This week has been full of debate on the red light camera issue. As you know, Two L.A. councilmen want to hold off ending red-light camera program--but many Angelenos would like to see the program disappear, like Jay Beeber: Folk Hero Stops L.A.'s Red Light Cameras. Even the Freakonomics blog has weighed in, and it's Seeing Red: Why L.A. Needs to Keep its Traffic Light Cameras. The City Council Delays Vote on Red Light Camera Until Tuesday, so it looks like we'll be hearing more about this issue for at least another couple days.

And why do we want those cameras? Two words: pedestrian safety. We're certainly missing it here in Southern California, where just this week there was a Pedestrian killed in Hollywood, and in SAN MARCOS: Pedestrian hit by vehicle, dies. Further east a Pedestrian killed by Metrolink train in Palmdale (okay, probably a camera couldn't have stopped that one, but it's still a sad statement about the dangers pedestrians face.)

Ironically, just as many Angelenos are arguing over red light cameras, the LA Times reports that Crosswalks are increasingly deadly for the elderly within the region. It just goes to show that Walkability’ key to an age-friendly city.
Of course, elsewhere in the country things are a little brighter. Traffic, pedestrian deaths in Utah trending toward new low in 2011; safety efforts credited. Meanwhile, In Washington County, momentum grows for adding bicyclists, pedestrians into transportation system, while an Oregon Bill clarifies traffic stops for pedestrians and in Chicago Diagonal crossings, fewer right on reds could give pedestrians a leg up.

But that doesn't mean everyone out there is supporting pedestrians. In Canada, a Saskatoon pedestrian hit by car to be ticketed, while in Nogales a Pedestrian circulation study sparks debate over priorities. Seems to me that there isn't much to debate when you consider the Lost Value from Wide Streets...but I guess I'm a little biased.

Vote Delayed on Red Light Cameras

LA city councilmembers have delayed their vote on the City's red light camera program until next Tuesday to allow more of the council to attend the meeting and vote on the issue. While not a "win," this does indicate that the council is taking the issue seriously --and it gives you more time to contact your councilmember to encourage them to vote in support of the program. In partciular, Paul Koretz, Bill Rosendahl, and my own rep Dennis Zine have indicated their opposition to continuing the program. Tony Cardenas and Bernard C. Parks made the motion to extend the program while additional evaluation is performed.

You can sign a petition in support of the RLC program by clicking here (full disclosure: the petition is sponsored by the Traffic Safety Coaltion. While the coalation itself is a non-profit made up of a diverse group of traffic safety advocates, they do receive their funding from RLC companies.) Alternatively, you can contact your councilmember directly (info on the City's website here)--or even better, do both!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Red Light Cameras

Perhaps you've been following the debate over the City of Los Angeles' abrupt move to consider eliminating its red light photo enforcement program in the LA Times or Streetsblog. For reasons I'll discuss in a moment, I believe this is dangerous and shortsighted on the part of the City, and I hope you'll join me in speaking out in support of red light cameras ASAP (the City Council will take this issue up in the next few days).

The Traffic Safety Coalition has already put together a petition for you to sign in support of the cameras, conveniently saving me the effort of having to create one myself. Please take a moment to sign here--I promise it won't take more than a minute, and it will help us send the right message to the City Council before it's too late. Do it now, I'll wait.

Finished? Okay, let's talk a little more about the issue of red light cameras in LA. As you're surely aware, red light cameras (aka RLCs) spark some serious, and often misinformed, vitriol. Setting aside the more ludicrous arguments against the cameras (sorry, nothing in the US constitution protects your "right" to run a red light), there are legitimate questions regarding their effectiveness. Here are a few of the latest studies on the subject:
Each shows that there are indeed reductions in crashes at intersections where RLCs are installed, though the studies acknowledge that in some cases the total reduction is diminished due to increases in particular types of collisions.

Friday, June 10, 2011

This Week on Foot

This week begins with some outrageous decisions from our legal system. First, there's No jail time for driver who killed pedestrian in a crosswalk because he was paying more attention to his text messages than the road in front of him. Then, the Kenosha DA won't charge driver in 2010 pedestrian death in Wisconsin, because the pedestrian was walking down the wrong side of the road at dusk in dark clothing--which apparently is a greater crime than drinking and getting behind the wheel, as the driver in this case did.

And as if a biased legal system wasn't enough, pedestrians still have to deal with the problem of poor pedestrian design, as pointed out to us this week by Raise the Hammer with thisWalkability Fail Near St. Joseph's Hospital and this Walkability Fail At Aberdeen and Dundurn.

Fortunately there are some lawmakers who'd like to make things easier for pedestrians--or at least to give local jurisdictions more control over speed limits (and thus, more ability to lower them). As Streetsblog reports this week the Newest Attempt to Give Cities Power Over Speed Limits Gains Ground in Sacramento . But at the same time local leaders are considering making things more dangerous for pedestrians by removing red light cameras here in LA. It's a shame that L.A. traffic cameras may get the red light, since they can discourage the kinds of bad driving (e.g. illegal right turns on red) that are particularly dangerous to pedestrians.

And it is dangerous out there for pedestrians. This week there was a Man hit by minivan crossing Oxnard street , while across the country In Lower Hudson Valley, elderly pedestrians more likely to be hit (and also more likely to die from their injuries). Perhaps the Hudson Valley is facing some of the same problems as Corpus Christi, where Downtown Crosswalks Prove Too Speedy For Pedestrians: 13 Seconds Just Isn't Enough
But it's not all bad news out there. In New York,  Yeshiva University proposes new pedestrian plaza (because Public plazas are good for the city). And across the ocean Street Delivery gives the city back to pedestrians for sixth time in Romania. For those of you interested in doing the same thing, this week the Atlantic teaches you How to Turn a Parking Lot Into an Ideal Green Community.

Finally, this week we have news that its not just pedestrians who are benefiting from the pedestrian detection technology that's being installed in new vehicle models: Volvo Using Pedestrian Detection System To Spot Animals, Too.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Improving Pedestrian Design

A couple resources for planners and engineers hoping to improve roadway design to better accommodate pedestrians and bicyclists:

First, from the Journal of the American Planning Association, Designing for the Safety of Pedestrians, Cyclists, and Motorists in Urban Environments. In this article, the authors probe at one of the underlying premises that leads to today's emphasis on "vehicle-oriented" roadway design: wide roads are safe roads. Opening with this disturbing quote, "...every effort should be made to use as high a design speed as practical in the interests of safety," from the 2004 AASHTO "green book" (one of the primary guides for American roadway design), the article proceeds to debunk the theory that vehicle crashes are the result of random error and thus roads should be designed to be as forgiving (read: fast) as possible. Obviously such an attitude presents some concerns for vulnerable road users like pedestrians, who are much more likely to be killed or injured on high-speed roads than those where supposedly "dangerous" speed treatments are in place.

While the JAPA article explains why the old theories of roadway design should be thrown out, that doesn't solve the problem of what to do with all the high-speed, pedestrian-unfriendly roadways that have already been built. Enter Caltrans, and its newest complete streets resource, Complete Intersections: a Guide to Reconstructing Intersections and Interchanges for Bicycles and Pedestrians. In it, Caltrans walks through (sorry, the ped puns are hard to avoid) appropriate treatments for each type of intersection, including three- and four-leg intersections, as well as more unique situations like mid block crossings and roundabouts. I particularly appreciate the "Guiding Principles" that Caltrans lays out for intersection design. So often in the past these appear to have been missing from the engineering thought process. Hopefully the new guidance from Caltrans marks a change for the better:
  • Observe (watch how the intersection is currently used)
  • Pedestrians and bicyclists will be there (people will walk, regardless of whether or not an engineer thinks walking is unsafe at a particular location)
  • Maintain and improve (instead of removing pedestrian facilities)
  • Tee it up (to 90 degrees, which forces motorists to make slower turns at intersections)
  • One decision at a time (don't force people to worry about too many things at once)
  • Slow it down
  • Shorten crossings
  • Improve visibility
  • Clarify the right-of-way (because not everyone has memorized the vehicle code like some of us have)
  • Keep it direct (pedestrians won't walk out of their way to get somewhere)
  • Light at night
  • Access for all (including young and old pedestrians, and people with disabilities)

Thursday, June 2, 2011

This Week on Foot

Why Do The Designs Of Our Roads Consistently Ignore The Safety Needs Of Pedestrians? our friends in Hartford ask this week. Well, perhaps it's because of articles like this one that place the blame for crashes on those annoying walkers...since as everyone knows that Distracted Pedestrians Pose Hazard to Themselves, Drivers

Of course, the real question is what to do about the problem. Many believe that better roadway design is a good start, which is why Complete Streets Bill Introduced in Senate this week. But Watch your steps -- Without policy changes, expect more pedestrian fatalities . Hopefully things won't get as bad as they are in India, where there's a 40% rise in pedestrian deaths so far this year. Seems like India could use some New opportunities for New Urbanism? Or perhaps they could learn some lessons from Eugene, Oregon about Staying safe on dangerous streets .

Of course, it turns out that one safety improvement tested in Oregon isn't working so well, as we learn from TriMet: Audible pedestrian warning system is not effective. Maybe Oregon could follow London's lead, where Pedestrian Crossing For Parliament Square Could End Brian Haw Protest.

More pedestrian crossings might help out here in LA as well, where we can at least be happy (?) with news from the CHP: 1 person - not 3 - died on LA County roads it patrols during Memorial Day weekend . Still, I'm not sure this means we've really solved the The foot challenge for Sun Belt cities.
 As they're saying in Idaho, it's Time to take risk to Twin Falls pedestrians seriously...as well as the risks to pedestrians in other states.

Maybe part of the problem is inconsistency. For instance, this week Crime Voice noted that Penalties vary for fatal text-and-drive crashes. Then again, it could be poor urban design, as in Madison where one Pedestrian claims Dollar General failed to provide safe entrance. Of course, there's always this problem: 11-year-old motorist hits vehicles, pedestrian at Kansas mobile home park.

Not really sure what to do about that last one, unless you choose to go the escapist route and lose your worries in some good literature. If so, you might want to check out 'The Most Beautiful Walk in the World: A Pedestrian in Paris' by John Baxter