Wednesday, April 30, 2014

People (in cars): The truly deadliest animal

You can't fault the creativity behind Bill Gates' efforts to draw attention to the problem of malaria by designating this week Mosquito Week. The accompanying movie poster (Skeeternado!) and infographic--not to mention abundant press coverage--show just how much clever marketing and deep pockets can help promote a cause. Of course, if you're reading this blog it shouldn't take you long to spot the major error in the graphic:

As many of the comments on this blog post have noted, the latest figures from the World Health Organization show that last year 1.24 million people died in traffic crashes. Not only does that number trump malaria deaths, it's on par (or higher, depending on the year) with deaths from HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis.

A disproportionate number of those deaths are pedestrians. A disproportionate number of those pedestrians killed are vulnerable users like kids, adults, the poor. I've written before about how road safety--especially pedestrian safety--would benefit from a high-profile sponsor like the Gates Foundation. Any takers?

Friday, April 25, 2014

New Baby to Walk, Same Problems with Walking

We might live 100 miles further south and 12 miles closer to the beach, but the problems we have taking this baby for a stroll are the same we faced the first time around: poorly maintained, narrow sidewalks, obstacles blocking the pedestrian travel path, and inconsistent curb ramps all combine to make walking with a stroller an exercise in frustration. 

All those baby books that recommend taking your child for a soothing walk in the evening obviously never tried it in my neighborhood, where every five feet the sidewalk juts up with a Mt.Everest-like buckle. The next time my kid is awakened for 31st time as I bump her over another tree root, I'm planning to call the Mayor's office and just hold the phone over the stroller so he can enjoy her screams as much as I do. 

People who have never tried to heft a 50-pound load of baby, diaper bag, stroller, and three gallons of milk over a curb this high might be inclined to discount this problem as just another mommy-centric rant in a world that places undue importance on the comfort of children and their hovering parents. But as I said to my husband as we sweatily manhandled our stroller over yet another sidewalk obstacle, "Imagine doing this in a wheelchair." Cities have a legal, if not moral, obligation to provide sidewalks that allow all their citizens to travel with relative safety and ease, regardless of physical ability. What makes walking easier for someone with a stroller is also going to make it easier for someone in a wheelchair. Or someone with a cane. Or someone who just doesn't want to trip if they get caught up in scintillating conversation with the person walking next to them. 

And guess what? Improving walking conditions for parents can also help conditions for people who drive--even if they don't have kids. Moms (and dads, but mostly moms) make a lot of short trips in their cars that add significantly to local congestion. Things like taking the older kids to school, picking up some bread from the store, or filling a prescription could all be accomplished on foot, but unless walking is easier and safer that's not likely to happen and we'll continue to be plagued by traffic and the many problems that go along with it. 

Then of course there's the health piece--walking for exercise is pretty much the only thing new moms are allowed to do in the first weeks after having a baby, but it's not easy to get the full benefits of walking when you have to stop every few feet to maneuver around a parked car or shimmy between, say, a fire hydrant and a pole: 

I especially love the added insult of having a ADA curb ramp immediately adjacent to a sidewalk that someone in a wheelchair would never be able to use. San Diego, you can do better than this. 

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Pedestrian Traffic Fatalities by State (2013)

Here are a few good--or rather, bad-- stats on pedestrian fatalities by state. Want to take a guess which state has the most? Nope, it's not New York with uber-walkable NYC...

Worth noting, however, is that even though our fair state has the most pedestrian fatalities, we don't have the highest percentage of pedestrian deaths; that dubious distinction goes to New Jersey, followed closely by New York (the full table also includes Washington, D.C. with 47 percent, but it's hardly reasonable to compare state statistics with city statistics, so we'll set that aside).

 The real question is how these numbers compare with the number of people out there walking--we know that pedestrians are ove-represented when it comes to deaths/injuries, but are these percentages wildly disproportionate? Without good data on walking mode share, we can't really know--all the more reason to push for better pedestrian counts.