Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Pedestrians: Not Quite Equal in the Eyes of the Law

During a recent crosswalk sting here in the San Fernando Valley, police issued over a dozen tickets to pedestrians for violations that included starting to cross a street when a red hand was flashing. As one officer on the scene explained it, "The red hand works for two reasons: to basically safeguard the pedestrian and allow the traffic to start moving."

That got me wondering why (at least here in California) we allow drivers to speed through yellow lights, but refuse to extend the same privilege to pedestrians. Here's language in the CA Vehicle Code:

"A driver facing a steady circular yellow or yellow arrow signal is, by that signal, warned that the related green movement is ending or that a red indication will be shown immediately thereafter."

However, when the flashing "Don't Walk" or red hand signal is shown, "No pedestrian shall start to cross the roadway in the direction of the signal."

Notice that while a yellow light is just a warning to drivers, and doesn't prohibit them from entering an intersection, a flashing red hand means a pedestrian can't even start to cross--even a really speedy one, who knows they can make it across the intersection in plenty of time.

While some might argue that this is to protect pedestrians, I have to suspect (particularly given the statement of the police officer above) that the law is written this way to make sure those pesky pedestrians don't interfere too much with drivers who want to make right turns on red. If we really care about promoting alternative transportation modes at the same level of driving, we're going to have to examine laws like these that subtly bias the transportation system against pedestrians.

Monday, March 26, 2012

DOT Driver Distraction Guidelines

Photo courtesy of USDOT
A little over a month ago the DOT released its draft guidelines for In-Vehicle Electronic Devices. The guidelines, which are voluntary for now, include several key recommendations:

1. Prohibit certain tasks while driving, including displaying images or video not related to driving; displaying automatically scrolling text; requiring manual text entry of more than six button or key presses during a single task; or requiring reading more than 30 characters of text (not counting punctuation marks).

2. Design devices so that tasks can be completed by the driver while driving with glances away from the roadway of 2 seconds or less and a cumulative time spent glancing away from the roadway of 12 seconds or less.

3. Design devices so that functions designed to be performed by the driver through visual-manual means should require no more than one of the driver’s hands to operate.

4. Locate devices as close as practicable to the driver’s forward line of sight and include a specific recommendation for the maximum downward viewing angle to the geometric center of each display.

Is this enough to keep us safe on the roads? Given that a key problem with in-vehicle devices is cognitive distaction, not visual distraction, these guidelines might not go far enough. Personally, I've given up many in-vehicle distractions (like talking on my cell phone--even hands free), regardless of what the law tells me I can or can't do.

Tell the DOT what you think of their proposed rules by following the instructions here.  

Friday, March 23, 2012

This Week on Foot

This week has been busy on the legislative front, as the House to introduce three-month highway bill extension and SCAG Transportation Committee Meets to Discuss Regional Plan One Last Time. Promoting all transportation modes is an important part of that plan, and we need all the help with that we can get here in LA, where It’s Not Easy Being Green: Sunset Triangle Plaza Edition. Maybe we should all go listen when Matt Tomasulo Speaks On Guerrilla Urbanism At City Share March 28? (Too bad it's not in LA).

Elsewhere in the country, San Rafael police say pedestrian at fault for crash that killed him , 'Darlington is not pedestrian friendly', and Montgomery continues "pedestrian removal" in Wheaton. But it's not all bad news: Seminole County project seeks pedestrian safety and in Virginia there are New pedestrian crosswalk signs to be installed. In the Northwest Residents Question Parking, Pedestrian Access at Northgate Light Rail Station, and Bowmanville seniors demand pedestrian crosswalk to address safety in their neighborhood. Sadly, it's too late for thePedestrian Expert Killed Crossing St. Louis Street A Decade Ago, but we can remember her and work to promote the cause she believed in.

On a lighter note, basketball fans can try Deciding the Sweet Sixteen by Walk Score. But what if it's fuel, not playoffs, that you're thinking about this month? Concerned about gas prices? Demand Complete Streets  And while you're thinking about that, maybe you can decide: Does Ticketing Drivers Make Pedestrians Safer?

If that's too much of a conundrum for you, take heart--at least this week we've learned Why People in Cities Walk Fast. Oh, the places we go (within walking distance)...

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Crosswalks and Crashes: What we DO know

Adam Choit's short film about his attempts to get a crosswalk on Sunset Boulevard, and the LA DOT's subsequent response, have reminded us once again how easy it is for traffic engineers, policymakers, and others to blithely cite "studies" proving how dangerous marked crosswalks are without technically, to use a scientific phrase, "having the slightest clue what they are talking about."

Happily, a recent publication from the Oregon DOT includes a nice summary--with citations--of the latest research on crosswalks, pedestrian crashes, and what the research really shows:

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Register now for Pedestrians Count 2012

May 3 -4
Pedestrians Count 2012
California WALKS is pleased to announce LA's second pedestrian count. Pedestrians Count! 2012 will be held in Los Angeles on May 3rd and 4th, 2012. The seminar promotes pedestrian safety, transit access, healhty environments and sustainable communities coordinating with cutting edge research. It also explores latest best practices in pedestrian data collection and analysis with strategic community advocacy. Professionals, academics and community leaders will share their current and most promising work.
More info here.

LA DOT: Your Ignorance is Showing

Thanks to Curbed LA and Erik Griswold for bringing this awesome advocacy effort to my attention. Filmmaker Adam Choit put together this short segment in hopes that it would convince the powers-that-be of the real need for a marked crosswalk along Sunset Boulevard between Poinsetta Pl and Gardner St where there are no marked crosswalks or other pedestrian treatments along 1300 feet of a seven-lane road.

When asked how this could be, LA DOT's response was "Observations of pedestrian behavior and safety studies in cities throughout the world have produced evidence which suggests that pedestrians are cautious when crossing at locations where crosswalks are not painted."

(Sound of me banging head on table in frustration).

Actually, safety studies have produced any amount of evidence to the contrary, including this study released just a few weeks ago. There have been a whole slew of studies showing how dangerous it is for pedestrians to try to race across wide, high-speed roads without anything but a prayer to protect them. Come LA DOT. You can do better than this.

Monday, March 19, 2012

APBP Webinar on Sidewalk Maintenance

Because we all know how much we need it here in LA...

Wednesday, March 21 | 3:00 to 4:00 p.m. Eastern Time
Efficient and cost-effective maintenance of pedestrian facilities is an important safety measure. Attend this webinar to learn why maintenance programs are important, and how to make the case for maintenance at budget time; how to overcome the barriers to implementing a good maintenance program; and how to develop the elements of a program that includes both routine maintenance and responding to hazards. Best practices for inspection, replacement and snow removal will be discussed, as well as findings from recent research into pedestrian facility maintenance. The session will include a preview of the new FHWA publication, "A Guide for Maintaining Pedestrian Facilities for Enhanced Safety," due to be published by the end of 2012.
Register here.

Friday, March 16, 2012

This Week on Foot

This week Volvo rolls out V40 with pedestrian air bag, which is earning the company lots of attention from advocates who are concerned that it gives drivers a "pass" to hit pedestrians (or at least be less vigilant when watching for them. You can join the debate on this Streetsblog Open Thread: The Volvo Pedestrian Airbag. Personally, I'm all for any technology that helps protect pedestrians, and I'm willing to bet that the parents of the 11-year-old twin girls hit by car in Studio City, 1 critical, 1 serious feel the same way. But not everyone agrees, like this Washington Post blogger who wonders Will driverless cars really slow for pedestrians?

If they do, hopefully New Jersey drivers will start using them on Route 22, where, With 9 pedestrian deaths over 3 years, Route 22 ranks among N.J.'s most dangerous roads. Fortunately, folks in the area are working on that problem with Regional Responses to Most Dangerous Roads for Walking Report.

Elsewhere in the country, Aging Houstonians want safer streets, Planning Commission to hear about changes to growing city, and in Seattle they're thinking about Freeing Food Carts to create more walkable environments. In Chicago they're searching for a Complete Streets policy? What Complete Streets policy? while up in San Francisco they're talking about Why Apple's New Campus Is Bad for Urban America. Outside the US Perth CBD evolving to be more pedestrian friendly, but in India there's no Civic Sense: Poor pedestrian left in the middle of the road.

Back home we're still debating the transportation bill. You can Compare the Senate and House Transpo Bills, Side-By-Side, but is the bill Bipartisan? Comparing the 2012 bills to past transportation bill votes.

Also, we're reminded this week that it doesn't take much brain power to realize that pedestrian safety is important. It's a No Brainer: Active Kids = Smarter Kids. In other words, It's the Design, Stupid.

Finally, in honor of Saint Patrick's Day Leprechaun helps call attention to pedestrian safety. Whatever it takes...

Monday, March 12, 2012

Pedestrian Research News

Time again to curl up with a cup of coffee and your favorite guilty pleasure: research papers! Or is that just me?

www.pedbikeimages.org / Dan Burden

Effects of Pedestrian Perceptions of Safety: An Examination of Pedestrian Crossing Behavior in Marked versus Unmarked Crosswalks

This study revisits the "false sense of security" argument often just to justify eliminating marked crosswalks. Using surveys and observations at marked and unmarked crosswalks, the study examined pedestrian attitudes and behavior towards crosswalk marking. Survey data collected showed many pedestrians believe they have the right of way only in marked crosswalks.When observing pedestrian behavior in three different crosswalk treatments, however, pedestrians surprisingly showed higher levels of cautiousness in marked crosswalks than unmarked crosswalks. These findings suggest that marked crosswalks do not give pedestrians a false sense of security or correlate with reckless behavior.

Neighborhood Crime and Travel Behavior: An Investigation of the Influence of Neighborhood Crime Rates on Mode Choice – Phase II

This report describes the second phase of a research study conducted by the Mineta Transportation Institute evaluating the impact of neighborhood crime on mode choice. While it has always been assumed that the threat of crime influences the decision to walk or ride a bike, there has been little research on the topic of neighborhood crime and travel.

The analysis in this study shows that high crime neighborhoods tend to discourage residents from walking or riding a bicycle. As the authors describe, "When comparing a high crime to a lower crime neighborhood the odds of walking over choosing auto decrease by 17.25 percent for work trips and 61 percent for non-work trips." The researchers also investigated the impact of neighborhood crime on the access portion of transit trips (walking, bicycling, or driving to a transit stop). They found that  this part of the transit trip is sensitive to neighborhood crimes, and that in high crime neighborhoods people forgo walking and bicycling in favor of driving to transit stations.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Preserving Mobility for Older Americans

My mom likes to say that being old isn't hard, but getting there is rough.

Not that she would know, of course.)

For many, one of the roughest parts of aging is giving up driving. Sacrificing the car keys also means sacrificing the freedom to go, comfortably, the places you want to go. As a new generation creeps into the "should you really be driving?" age group, it's no surprise that greater attention is being paid to the mobility needs of older adults, as with the newly-released white paper from AASTHO and TRIP Keeping Baby Boomers Mobile: Preserving the Mobility and Safety of Older Americans.

The paper offers a series of recommendations related to road design, education, licensing, vehicle design, and alternative transportation modes that aim to preserve older adults' ability to move throughout their communities on their own.

Unfortunately (though perhaps not surprisingly for a paper written by a highway association), several of the key recommendations do little to improve the overall safety of the road, and may in fact harm more vulnerable users like pedestrians and cyclists.

Let's begin by examining one of fundamental premises underlying these recommendations, that in the name of safety we must redesign our roads to accommodate older drivers. The paper emphasizes that older drivers are disproportionately represented in fatal crashes. This may be true, but that has more to do with these drivers' frailty than unforgiving roads. In fact, older drivers tend to self-regulate their driving (e.g. drive only during the day, choose "easier" routes), which largely negates the effect of decreased physical abilities on their driving skills.

And let's not forget that while older drivers may be likelier to cause a crash than other adults, the really dangerous ones are younger drivers. According to one RAND study, older drivers may be 16 percent more likely to cause a crash, but younger drivers are 188 percent more likely to do so.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Streets are not for Children

...but they should be. Unfortunately, for the past century various organizations have been campaigning to keep children off streets in the name of "safety." Bike Delaware has posted some interesting images, like this one, from early efforts to keep kids from playing in the streets--because  those streets belong to vehicles, not people, right?

Lest you think that the auto lobby was entirely to blame for this, check out this 1914 NY Times article about "Movies" of Street Car Accidents Shown in Brooklyn Schools . (Yes, the battle for street space started when "movie" was still a slang term that had to be put in quotes.)

Sadly, children seem to have learned the lesson. Want a sign of how important private vehicle travel is to our culture? According to one recent study, of the 25 words every normal toddler should know before age two, only one has to do with transportation: "car."

Friday, March 2, 2012

This Week on Foot

This week we learn about Where the Sidewalk (and Money) Ends, or: It Won't Be Easy Implementing Complete Streets. It will be especially hard if Congress passes a transportation bill that cuts funding for alternative transportation modes, but fortunately the latest Transportation Bill Amendment Would Restore Bicycle, Pedestrian Funding. We'll continue to follow the progress (or lack thereof) of the bill closely.

Meanwhile, at the state level "Complete streets" bill gaining attention in West Virginia, and Complete Streets Building Momentum in Jefferson County, Ala. Elsewhere in the country Zoning reform strengthens Nashville's impressive sustainability efforts, a New bicycling and pedestrian committee holds first meeting in Florida, and Stakeholders meet, brainstorm about pedestrian-safety improvements in Nevada while Cops continue campaign to protect pedestrians here in California.

It's been a busy week for Walk Score, as MRED integrates Walk Score in internal MLS system and Greater Greater Washington asks Which city's rail system has the best Walk Score? Others are wondering about The Green Leap: Can We Construct Urban Communities That Conserve Biodiversity? If so, we can probably all agree that It Starts With Better Design.

Read more here: http://www.bradenton.com/2012/02/28/3907703/new-bicycling-and-pedestrian-committee.html#storylink=cpy