Friday, October 30, 2015


photo courtesy of WalkArlington

A quick reminder that the most fun night of the year is also one of the most dangerous for pedestrians--especially short ones who have a tendency to be more focused on the next sugar handout than the cars on the street (that's me I'm describing). 

If you're looking for a neighborhood that with give you the most treat for your trick, check out Zillow's Trick or Treat Index for 2015, which ranks cities and neighborhoods based on factors such as crime rates and housing density. 

Have fun!

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Walking Comes First in European Transportation Policy

It seems like we're always looking to Europe as we try to improve pedestrian safety here in the US. Are they really doing things so much better over there? Short answer: yes.

You can see why by taking a look at this one simple chart from the European Transport and Safety Council's new report Making Walking and Cycling on Europe's Roads Safer. It illustrates one of the report's key recommended policies:  

"Further develop a policy of modal priority for road users, particularly in urban areas, the hierarchy being based on safety, vulnerability and sustainability. Walking should be at the top of the hierarchy, followed by cycling and use of public transport."

That's pretty wonky policy language to wade through, so let me put it more simply: Walking comes first.

Let me translate a few more of those wonky policies for you.

"Give priority in road maintenance to the quality of surfaces on footways, cycle paths and the parts of carriageways most used by crossing pedestrians and by cyclists."

Walking comes first when maintaining roads.

"Provide shorter and safer routes for pedestrians and cyclists by ensuring that routes are direct and that the quickest routes are also the safest. Travel time should be increased on unsafe routes and decreased on safe routes."

Walking comes first when designating travel routes.

"Prioritise the safety of cyclists and pedestrians when developing sustainable urban mobility plans."

Walking comes first when drafting transportation plans.

You get the idea.

It's worth noting that the report also devotes a considerable amount of space to promoting low speed limits in urban areas, particularly those with lots of bike and ped traffic:

"Encourage local authorities to adopt zones with a speed limit of 30km/h in residential areas and areas used by many pedestrians and cyclist."

"Introduce lower speed limits for junctions and intersections."

"Prepare national enforcement plans with yearly targets for compliance in the areas of speeding, especially in urban areas, where there are high numbers of pedestrians and cyclists."

I'll do the math for you--that's 18 mph. Most of the roads in my neighborhood are designed for speeds at least twice that high, and that's just the residential roads. I'd love to see a state law lowering the default speed on residential roads to 18 mph, but I doubt that's happening any time soon. Until then, maybe Pacific Beach can be the test case?

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Latest Child Traffic Safety Statistics

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is out with its latest fact sheet on traffic safety, this time focused on child safety. Including data from 2013, the latest year from which data is available, here are a few key statistics:

  •  Of the 4,735 pedestrian traffic fatalities, 236 (5%) were children
  • One-fifth (21%) of the child traffic fatalities were pedestrians
  • Of the estimated 66,000 injured pedestrians in traffic crashes, 10,000 (15%) were children
It took me a minute to recover from that first statistic--nearly 5,000 people killed walking in just one year. The good news is that according to the fact sheet, the number of child pedestrian traffic fatalities decreased by 36 percent, from 366 fatalities in 2004 to 236 in 2013. The biggest decrease came in the oldest age group. Does this mean our roads are getting safer, or are kids just walking less?

Here's one statistic that might help answer that question: 81 percent of child pedestrian traffic fatalities occurred at non-intersection locations, an increase from 77 percent in 2012. This suggests to me that any improvements in safety could be due to fewer kids walking, and not to safer roads.

It's also an important reminder that we continue to have a serious problem with roadway design. Roads are for people, and they need to keep all people safe--especially kids. Right now we've only designed them to keep drivers safe, and the result is dire for kids who dare to venture into roadways outside the designated pedestrian crossing locations.

The fix for this problem is not to push kids off roadways or blame them for "foolishly" using space that is meant for cars. The fix is to create roadways where kids aren't killed when they walk in "non-intersection locations." It's time to stop protecting cars at the expense of protecting children.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

When you design roads this way, people die

One of the downsides of being a pedestrian advocate and transportation planner it that I have to spend a disproportionate amount of time reading horrifying stories like this one, about a 7-month-old baby killed (and father severely injured) at a street crossing here in San Diego. It's so hard to wrap my head around what it must be like for these parents as they try to pick up the pieces of their lives.

This week the City is working on updates to the intersection aimed at preventing similar crashes in the future, including installing a new signal at the intersection. We say it so often that it's cliche, but it shouldn't take the death of child to fix intersections that are so obviously dangerous. Here's a picture of the crossing where the crash took place:

Notice that the northbound right "turn" isn't really a turn at all, more of a channelized "veer" that aims high-speed traffic straight at a crosswalk. Moreover, the crosswalk is set back just enough from the intersection to make pedestrians less visible to drivers. This is a space designed for cars, and cars alone. Is it any surprise that people are hurt and killed here?

The most frustrating part is that there really isn't much purpose to this stretch of roadway, other than moving cars as quickly as possible at the expense of walkability and pedestrian safety--a point neighbors have picked up on. They've asked the City to close down the road and make the entire space into a park. Let's hope the City listens, before someone else is killed at this crossing.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Walking and Access to Jobs

A newly-released report from the Center for Transportation Studies at the University of Minnesota ranks the 50 largest metropolitan areas in the US based on accessibility to jobs on foot. According to Access Across America:Walking 2014, New York has the highest job accessibility by walking. As you can see by the map below, there are hundreds of thousands of jobs within walking distance in Manhattan and the surrounding neighborhoods, but the entire region provides fairly good access to jobs on foot.

Compare New York to San Diego, where even the densest neighborhoods can't offer many jobs within easy walking distance.

The study will provide a basis for future work on walking and employment access. According to the authors, "Using this data as a starting point, future reports in the Access Across America series will track the way that accessibility in these metropolitan areas evolves in response to transportation and safety investments and land use decisions." It's important to have a baseline; one the big challenges in pedestrian advocacy is simply a lack of data about walking. With studies like this, we'll have a better understanding of existing conditions for pedestrians, which can help us determine how to effectively improve walking conditions.

You can find the full ranking of cities in the report, but here's the top ten:

1. New York
2. San Francisco
3. Los Angeles
4. Chicago
5. Washington
6. Seattle
7. Boston
8. Philadelphia
9. San Jose
10. Denver

And one last map, for people who continue to insist that LA is only for driving. Take a look at all of that green and yellow...

Friday, June 5, 2015

Walking Towards Change

Photo courtesy of The European Magazine

One cold December day in 1913, a man put on a Santa suit and started America down the path towards criminalizing walking. “Jay-walker!” he taunted, startling people who strolled in the middle of the street. With the help of the auto lobby the term soon became ubiquitous, and suddenly roads were no longer the rightful domain of pedestrians.

A century later we’re struggling to overcome the problems we created by shifting the focus of public space from people to cars. In 2013, nearly 5,000 pedestrians died in traffic crashes in the US, and 66,000 were injured. Obesity rates in the US have soared in the past two decades, driven by neighborhood designs that discourage physical activity. Air pollution, water pollution, habitat loss, and other environmental troubles are all linked to the predominance of private vehicle travel in America.

Read the full article in the European Magazine here.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

The Two-Road System: A New Vision for Sustainable Living

Image courtesy of Access Magazine

In the latest issue of Access and have figured out a solution to all our transportation problems. Okay, maybe not quite every last one. But, they do offer a radical new design for cities that would lessen the safety and pollution problems created by excess vehicle travel (aka, how we get around most cities today).

The concept centers around the idea of a two-road network. In two-road cities, one street network would be dedicated to pedestrians, bikes, mopeds, golf carts, and other "low-speed, low-mass vehicles (LLM). The other would serve cars, vans, trucks, and the rest of the "fast, heavy vehicle" inventory (FHV). By separating LLMs from FHVs, walking, biking and other sustainable forms of travel become safer and easier, leading to environmental benefits in the form of reduced vehicle miles traveled. At the same time, the FHV network becomes more efficient, because it isn't required to carry the high volumes of traffic it does today.

Delucchi and Kurani acknowledge that they aren't the first to consider the idea of separating transportation modes in this way. They point to work by William Garrison at UC Berkeley, but if you read this post about the history of the sidewalk you'll see that the idea has been around much longer than that.
Leonardo Da Vinci's vision for a two-road system, circa the late 1400s

Nonetheless, the two-road network idea has yet to gain much traction in the real world. Delucchi and Kurani note that some cities have managed to at least partially implement the system (Davis in California, Houten in the Netherlands). But they suggest that future cities could be constructed around this pattern, particularly in developing countries that are expanding quickly into green space. Using the two-road system could help these countries become more sustainable, even as they embrace the automobile.

As incomes rise in places like India and China, people are driving more and more. This is already creating serious problems for pedestrians in those countries (and everyone else impacted by pollution from driving). A two-road network is one way to reduce pedestrian injuries while potentially lowering pollution from vehicle travel.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Complete Streets are Complete for Everyone / Jan Moser

This new post from Strong Towns offers a helpful take on creating streets that are universally accessible. Written from the perspective of someone who both implements streets for people with disabilities and uses a wheelchair herself, the post from author Heidi Johnson-Wright highlights some of the key elements that make a street "work" for someone in a wheelchair (not to mention those of us who push strollers, etc.). Here are some

Build wide sidewalks
For me, the ideal accessible pedestrian path of travel is as wide as the sidewalks lining the great avenues of New York City. Plenty of room for walkers, wheelers, babies in strollers and then some. Lots of space for me to safely pass around slow walkers when I'm in a hurry.

Keep paving in travel ways smooth
...smooth concrete with narrow stress joints works for me. I also love wide, flat flagstones like the ones used throughout Barcelona. I dislike even the smoothest of pavers and despise brickwork. What looks like tiny seams to walkers means major up-and-down bumping for wheelers.

Avoid "cookie-cutter" curb ramps
...differences in terrain and limitations of space require different ramp designs in order to be compliant and safe. Level landings at top and bottom are essential...And please: TWO curb ramps per corner instead of a single diagonal ramp.

Keep sidewalks clear of obstructions, even temporary ones
Coordination between local public works, transit, utilities, and state DOT is essential to preventing obstructions caused by landscaping, light poles, street signs, signal boxes, bus shelters, bus benches, newspaper boxes, bike racks, etc. Just as bad are sidewalks suddenly blocked off with little or no warning...I mean many months of torn up or obstructed rights of way due to long-term construction projects which provide no alternative, accessible, safe pathway.

If you take a look at the street from last week's post, you'll see it follows the bulk of the these rules. The sidewalk could be wider, but paving along travel ways is smooth, two curb ramps are in place, and obstructions are pushed to the edge of the sidewalk in the "street furniture zone."

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Complete Streets, Ecuador Style

I was browsing through some of my non-American transportation pictures when I came across this photo of an amazing street in Baños in Ecuador. Isn't it great?

But before I break down the details of what makes this street so awesome, a note on why I was looking at streets in Ecuador in the first place: So often when we point to examples of the best complete streets, we're showing places in affluent (read: white) neighborhoods in Europe or the US. At the same time, we're often working in neighborhoods that don't exactly share those demographics. It's worth noting that Copenhagen and San Francisco don't have the monopoly on walkability.

For the record, I'm just as guilty as the next planner of doing this-- thus my perusal of South American streetscapes. Which brings us back to the street above. First, let's look at land use: two stories of residential over street-level storefronts. This keeps the density relatively high while maintaining a "human scale:" the buildings are probably about 35 feet high and are proportionate to the width of the street. The variety of commercial uses on the ground floor serve residents in the neighborhood, making it easier to accomplish daily errands without driving.

About those commercial uses--notice how they're set up with outdoor displays, café seating, and windows to engage people walking down the street. You can see at a glance that this street would be interesting to explore. Importantly, those outdoor displays and café tables aren't blocking the sidewalk, and neither are the planters and benches on the other side of the travel way. I especially like how there are decorative tiles in the street furniture zone of the sidewalk, but not in the pedestrian pathway. Decorative paving looks great, but it can be tricky to navigate (e.g., try walking on cobblestones in heels).

Friday, April 10, 2015

How 15 mph Makes a Difference

I've written before about how critical slower speeds are to pedestrian safety, and this week has a great post that pulls together a lot of important information about vehicle speed and safety. I especially liked this graphic that shows the difference between what a driver traveling at 30 mph sees vs what a driver traveling at 15 mph sees.
Notice how all the pedestrians on the sidewalk disappear at the higher speed. As Bill Lindeke writes in the post,
"If you look at the average speed of traffic on a urban commercial streets, there are a lot of things that begin to change when you slow down cars from the 30 to 35 mile per hour range into the 20 to 25 mile per hour range. Most importantly, perception, reaction time, and crash outcomes are far better at 20 than at 30 mph, while traffic flow doesn’t seem to change very much."
Even thought risk of death and injury is dramatically higher when vehicle speeds exceed 20 mph, most local roads (especially older ones like those in my neighborhood) are designed to encourage much greater speeds. Until we address this problem (admittedly a challenge, given the cost of retrofitting roads to narrow them) speeding and the dangers it presents will continue to be a problem for pedestrians. 

Friday, April 3, 2015

Lawsuit forces LA to maybe do something about its sidewalk problem

Let's begin with one of my favorite (I should say least favorite) pictures of a sidewalk in the neighborhood where I used to live, deep in LA's San Fernando Valley. No, this is not a picture of a dirt path next to a road where there should be a sidewalk. There is an actual sidewalk underneath all that dirt. If you squint you can see a little piece of it at the bottom of the embankment in the middle of the picture.

Lest you think this is unusual, here's another:

I probably have a few hundred similar shots, just from the area right around my house. And I lived in a "nice" part of the city.
Given that this is the typical state of LA's sidewalks, it should come as a surprise to no one that an ADA lawsuit against the City has resulted in what's described as "the biggest agreement of its kind in US history." The deal has yet to be finalized, but as part of the settlement the City will pay $1.3 billion to fix problems like the ones shown above.
That sounds pretty great, and is definitely a win for advocates pushing for improved mobility for people with disabilities (not to mention the rest of us who'd like to be able to use our sidewalks safely). But...let's not get too excited. First of all, the $1.3 billion in spending is over 30 years. In other words, it's possible that my grandkids could still be walking on the same decrepit sidewalks I walked on when I lived in LA--only 30 years worse for the wear.

Monday, March 30, 2015

The Paradox of the Cul-de-Sac

Last week I posted this article from The Atlantic about how urban design--specifically long blocks and meandering street patterns--can lead to less walking and poorer health for residents. The cul-de-sac in particular gets a bad rap, a feature that leads to homes that are literally and figuratively cut off from the surrounding environment. So reviled is the cul-de-sac that they are often banned, or at least discouraged, in newer planning codes. I've recommended such code language myself.

But I have a confession to make: I live on a cul-de-sac.

Actually, here's the real confession: I love living on a cul-de-sac.

This sits uneasily with me, given my extensive knowledge of the reasons I shouldn't like cul-de-sacs. I know my cul-de-sac interrupts a grid network that's clearly desirable, given the number of people who hop the neighbors fence at the end of the cul-de-sac. I realize that I have to travel an extra three blocks every time I leave my house to go to the grocery store, and that I'm more likely to drive because of those extra blocks (well, I'm probably not more likely to drive, but my neighbors might be).

Even so, I love the fact that there is (seemingly) less traffic on my street. I love that my kids can play soccer in the space in front of my house, and I love that our neighborhood can do things like, say,  shut down the street with orange cones and set up an obstacle course for toddlers as part of an annual block party without getting grief from the authorities or needing a street closure permit.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Cool Ped Stuff #31: Let's Walk To...

I can publish a blog post, but that's about as fancy as my technical web skills get.
Fortunately, there are a slew of people out there who are way better at this stuff, and they're using their skills to figure out new and creative ways to use all the neighborhood-level data about land use and transportation that's becoming more accessible every day.
Let'sWalkTo a fun site that let's users search for bars, restaurants and entertainment (you know, the essentials)--plus some other key amenities--by walking time. The goal is to facilitate walking and make it easier for people to get out and explore new locations on foot. Here's shot of what the site looks like in my neighborhood:

I don't really need to be convinced to walk places in my own community (unless it's raining. Californians are weird that way), but I could see myself relying on this site a bunch when I'm in a new neighborhood or a city I'm not familiar with. The site is still pretty new, so try it out and send along any suggestions for improvements.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

NHTSA Pedestrian Safety Facts

Photo courtesy of

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is out with its annual report on pedestrian safety (or rather, lack thereof), and has put together a helpful fact sheet that outlines some of the key findings from its evaluation of traffic crashes involving pedestrians in 2013.

There aren't many big surprises (children and seniors are disproportionately hurt or killed while walking, alcohol plays a role in many pedestrian crashes, more people are hit at night), but a couple things struck me:
  • Over two-thirds of pedestrian fatalities were men. It's hard to say why this is. I suspect one reason is that men walk more at night, whereas many women wouldn't feel safe doing so. Irony.
  • California, Texas and Florida have the most pedestrian fatalities. They also have the most people, so that's not especially surprising. On the other hand, those are all states with large Hispanic populations, who tend to walk more--and thus run more risk of being hit by cars (especially if they're living in poorer neighborhoods without good pedestrian infrastructure).
  •  Nearly 70 percent of fatalities happened at "non-intersections." There are still many people who would argue that this means pedestrians were "jaywalking"--and thus at least partially culpable for the crash. Hopefully we're moving toward a time when we recognize that poor street design, not people asserting their rights to use public space, is the real problem.
You can read through the full fact sheet here.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Strategic Framework for Increasing Walking in California

California Walks is building support for its Strategic Framework for a walkable California. A collaborative effort of the advocates from across the state, the Framework outlines some ambitious goals for California, including:
  • By 2020, every California walks at least 30 minutes each day
  • By 2020, deaths and serious injuries among seniors and children who walk are reduced by half
  • By 2016, California adopts a Vision Zero policy to eliminate traffic fatalities in 10 years
  • By 2020, Active Transportation Program Funding is tripled
With five years or less to achieve this vision, California Walks will need plenty of help. You can help spread the word about the Strategic Framework and volunteer for one of the Action Teams here.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Newest self-driving prototype has built-in crosswalk

Photo courtesy Mercedes-Benz
Mercedes-Benz is getting a lot of buzz for introducing the "F 015 Luxury in Motion" concept car at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this week. Debates over the appeal of the vehicles' look aside (Wired describes them as "bars of soap on the outside and sleek, vaguely European conference rooms inside"), the cars--do we still call them cars?--represent yet another step toward what many now see as an inevitable future where computers do all the driving.
Is this good for pedestrians?
I've long said that the safety benefits of driverless vehicles outweigh any potential costs. Driverless cars don't get drunk or distracted by their cell phones. Not only do they recognize and react to a pedestrian in front of them, the Mercedes model can even project a real-time crosswalk and pleasantly direct the person to cross. Forget safety, imagine the cost savings in crosswalk paint.
There is a potential downside, of course. Driverless cars will make driving easier and more appealing, and that could lead to an even more auto-dominated streetscape. Cars provide amazing mobility, but they don't over the health and social benefits that active transportation does. As we move toward a time when cars do their own driving, we need to take care that "car potato" doesn't become the new "couch potato."