Showing posts with label Pedestrian Safety. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Pedestrian Safety. Show all posts

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.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Will Pedestrian Countdown Signals Suffer the Same Fate as Marked Crosswalks?

A recent study from University of Toronto PhD student Sacha Kapoor and Arvind Magesan evaluated the impact of installing pedestrian countdown timers at various intersections throughout Toronto over a four-year period. After much parsing of data, the study concluded that installing countdown signals resulted in a five-percent increase in crashes versus intersections without the special signals. But there are nuances to that conclusion:
"The data reveals starkly different effects for collisions involving pedestrians and those involving automobiles only. Although they reduce the number of pedestrians struck by automobiles, countdowns increased the number of collisions between automobiles. We show that countdowns cause fewer minor injuries among pedestrians for every pedestrian on the road and more rear ends among cars for every car on the road."
Further, while the the countdown signals increase crashes overall, at the most dangerous intersections the installation of countdown signals reduced crashes and made the intersections safer.

Unfortunately, nuances don't fit nicely into a soundbite. If you scroll through headlines of recent stories covering this study, you'll see two themes emerge:
  1. Pedestrian countdown timers cause more crashes
  2. Pedestrian countdown timers safer for pedestrians, hurt drivers
Neither of these statements is false, but they also don't tell the whole story about the effects of the signals. More importantly, if you're a policymaker faced with a decision about whether or not to install countdown signals, they could easily lead you to the wrong conclusion. 

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.

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

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.

Monday, February 14, 2011

An Un-Valentine to South Lake Tahoe

I spent last weekend in Lake Tahoe, and while the primary purpose of the trip was skiing, I took advantage of a non-ski day to visit the shopping center about a mile from house where we were staying. Although friends dropped me off at the center, as a self-respecting pedestrian advocate I insisted I could manage the walk back along highway 50, the only route connecting the center and the nearby residential neighborhoods.

And that was my first mistake.

I snapped some pictures so I could share the absurdity with you (and also publicly shame Lake Tahoe's transportation planners). Come along with my as I catalogue the UN-walkability of my journey.

Here's where things started:
So right away you see that there is neither a sidewalk, nor a decent shoulder in place on the road -- despite the fact that this is (again) the only road that pedestrians could travel to access the shopping center. So I guess we have to assume that everyone in this area has a car and can drive?? Also, note that vehicles here have four wide travel lanes--far more space than is necessary to keep up traffic flow in my opinion, as I have never seen congestion in this area even on a holiday weekend. Two travel lanes plus a two-way turn lane would be more than adequate, not to mention safer for everyone.

Undeterred, I continued my trek...until I reached this:

Monday, February 7, 2011

Why is Caltrans encouraging distracted driving?

Am I the only one who's been noticing these signs around lately?

It seems like every time Caltrans has nothing better to throw up on its digital message boards, this is what appears. I admit this isn't, strictly speaking, a pedestrian issue -- hopefully none of you are spending much time walking along the freeway. But still, it disturbs me that Caltrans thinks it is a good idea to prod drivers into hopping on their cell phones mid-commute. Sure they could dial using their bluetooth devices...but as we all know, just because your hands are free doesn't mean your brain is.

I do understand that the idea behind the 511 system is to make more efficient use of our roadways by keeping drivers well informed about traffic conditions, and to some extent I applaud our transportation officials for trying to improve congestion without building more roads.


This message board demonstrates the subtle way that we (or at least, the people in charge of highway signs) favor efficiency over safety in transportation. Doesn't it seem a little odd that the Secretary of Transportation devotes loads of publicity to the dangers of distracted driving, while at the same time every few miles on the freeway we have signs encouraging us to get on the phone in the name of reducing traffic? So in other words, we would really, really like you to stop gabbing on your cell phone while driving because it's super dangerous--unless of course talking on your phone can help get our freeways moving, in which case by all means put your life and the lives of those around you at risk.

I'm not saying that all intelligent transportation systems are a bad idea, because more efficient traffic movement means less incentive to ditch sidewalks for travel lanes. But we need to be very careful about where we place our priorities. Sure it's great to have less congestion, but at the expense of people's lives? I don't think so.

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. 

Monday, December 6, 2010

Coming in 2014: One less way for cars to kill you

As reported in the LA Times and elsewhere, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is recommending that new regulations be adopted to require all new US vehicles to include backup cameras by 2014. The NHTSA estimates that about 300 people are killed and 18,000 injured each year due to backup crashes. The vast majority of those killed are children, who are particularly difficult to see when backing up a vehicle, and older adults. While these numbers aren't huge compared to overall pedestrian fatalities in the US, they certainly aren't insignificant. Since we have the technology available to (hopefully) prevent these deaths and injuries, I think it's great that the federal government would like to require it in all vehicles.

I have to back down a loooonnngg driveway every time I leave my house, passing by a home where two young children live along the way. Even though I slow down and double check to make sure they aren't around when I pass by, it still makes me nervous every time. I'd love to have one of these cameras in my car, and I'm glad to know that the next vehicle I purchase likely will.
photo courtesy of

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

LAPD Hits Peds Where it Hurts

Namely, in their pocketbooks.

As reported in this story from the LA Times, pedestrians who jaywalk in downtown LA will pay a nearly $200 fine for their offense. The hefty fines, along with a "zero tolerance" policy for pedestrians crossing the street outside of crosswalks, is intended to reduce crashes and lower crimes rates over the holiday season. Because, as LAPD Lt. Paul Vernon explains, "Jaywalking is often done by thieves, purse snatchers and robbery suspects to target their victims."

If only we could just keep everyone inside their cars, where they would be safe from such villainy.

Of course, if you take a look at the LAPD website you'll see that, mysteriously, the top five traffic violations causing causing collisions have nothing to do with pedestrians. For the record, they are:
  • Following too close
  • Running a red light
  • Driving under the influence
  • Left turn violations
  • Speeding
It seems to me that if the City of LA was really interested in improving safety over the holidays, it would turn downtown into a pedestrian-only zone and get rid of the real safety problem: cars.

Monday, November 22, 2010

The Trouble in the Valley Continues

We've heard a lot in the last few weeks about the crashes that killed pedestrians Conor Lynch and Emely Aleman, but today I'd like to talk about another recent crash in the Valley that hasn't received quite as much attention. (Apparently--cue frustration and gnashing of teeth--it takes a child or two dying before people really start to take note of the challenges pedestrians face on the streets out there.)

Earlier this month Julia* was hit by a car while crossing the street at Ventura Blvd and Etiwanda Avenue with the signal and in the crosswalk. The crash sent her to the hospital for weeks, and although, unlike Lynch and Aleman, Julia survived her crash, she's facing a painful recovery (not to mention some painful battles with her insurance provider).

Some might be tempted to dismiss this incident, arguing (with a hint of fatalism) that there's not much that can be done about drivers who flagrantly break the law and run a red light. Perhaps. But let's take a closer look at that intersection, shall we?

Here's a picture of the northeast corner of the intersection, looking south across Ventura Boulevard.

For strarters, notice the crosswalk striping: two measly white lines. This may be considered the "standard" for crosswalk striping, but it's hardly going to get the attention of drivers zipping down Ventura Boulevard at 45 or 50 mph. And there's not even a median refuge to help pedestrians as they navigate seven lanes of traffic. I would argue that an intersection with this kind of traffic volume/speed requires a more extensive crossing treatment. Please, at least give the poor pedestrians a stop bar behind the crosswalk!

Monday, August 16, 2010

6 principles for safer walking

I'm such a list person, so naturally I was excited when I found this list from a recent webinar  presented by Charlie Zegeer, director of the Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center.  In one succinct slide, he sums up the best ways to create safe pedestrian streets:
  • Keep it simple
  • Shorten crossing distances
  • Carefully select crossing locations and marked crosswalks
  • Create visible crossings
  • Proper traffic control (signs, signals, guards)
  • Slow down traffic speeds
I've read my share of tomes on improving pedestrian safety, but sometimes short and sweet is easier to digest. Like a cookie.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

The (bleak) Future of Personal Transportation

The combination of reading this post from NYC Streetsblog about how pedestrian crashes are the top danger for kids in the Big Apple and this report on the future of personal transportation in the world's mega-cities (hint, the authors don't predict more foot travel) got me riled up for the umpteenth time about the dangers of pedestrian travel, particularly in the developing world. I've copied one of the report's tables that I find particularly distressing:

Likely changes in personal transportation in metropolitan areas by 2025

See all those little "++"s under road fatalities in Latin American and Asian countries? Those represent people dying, folks. And by "people," I mostly mean poor people, because that's the demographic that gets hit hardest--so to speak--by this trend. On top of it all, children, the elderly, and other particularly vulnerable road users are sure to be overrepresented in those statistics, since they are the ones most likely to be killed or injured in vehicle crashes.

All the more reason that the work of pedestrian advocacy groups like the Right To Walk Foundation in India and ABRASPE in Brazil is so important. Now if only we could get something started in Shanghai...

Sunday, June 6, 2010

This Week on Foot

Sparking nationwide debate over the intelligence of pedestrians, this week we learn that Woman sues Google over Utah walking directions. Plantiff Lauren Rosenberg blames faulty Google routing for directing her to a high-speed boulevard with no sidewalks in a trek across Park City, where she was hit and injured while crossing. Lost in scorn over Rosenberg's lack of common sense, the public appears to be missing some of the key issues this story raises, namely: why doesn't the four-lane boulevard have sidewalks? And, if the Park City could afford to clear the roadway of snow, why not the adjacent pedestrian path? If we're looking for people to blame here, it seems like Google isn't the only one at fault...

Pedestrians in Nagpur, India won't have to face the same challenges crossing the street that Rosenberg did, as Nagpur to get 22 foot-over-bridges soon. The real question, of course, is will people (and particularly the elderly and disabled) be able to make the climb to use them?

If Nagpur is looking for serious solutions to pedestrian problems, maybe it should look to British Columbia, where Vancouver judged Canada's most walkable city. I wonder if the folks over at the Victoria Transport Policy Institute are jealous?

Of course, it takes more than just footbridges to make a community walkable. In fact, according to one recent study of walkability Good neighborhoods have lots of intersections. Turns out that neighborhoods with short blocks arranged in a grid pattern have the most walkers. Speaking as a person living in an anti-grid neighborhood (seriously, there are so many twists and turns here that after three years I still get lost coming home from the grocery store sometimes), I agree with the results of the research.

One thing that doesn't seem to improve neighborhood walkability? Speeding ambulances, like this one in New York City where Pedestrian Struck By Volunteer Ambulance. As I explained in an earlier post, I believe that the tradeoffs we make in pedestrian safety by designing "ambulance-friendly" roads aren't always worth the improvements in response time, a topic that Tom Vanderbilt also explores in an interesting post here.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

This week on foot

New Jersey, where a New Law Says Stop, Not Yield, for Pedestrians, continues to be in the pedestrian safety spotlight this week. The goal of the law, which requires drivers to stop completely once a pedestrian enters a crosswalk or face a $200 fine and 15 days of community service, is to eliminate ambiguities about driver behavior and Protect Pedestrians in crosswalks.

The Pacific Coast Highway could certainly use some of that protection, where this week Authorities seek witnesses to Malibu crash that killed pedestrian. The crash was the second pedestrian fatality in Malibu in the past month.

At the New York auto show this week Volvo revealed one potential solution to pedestrian safety: New Volvo S60 brakes automatically if it detects pedestrians. The vehicle is just one of a growing number of cars that are taking pedestrian safety out of the hands of drivers--a trend that I would like to see a lot more of (and not only because I have a running bet with my husband over whether or not we'll see cars that drive themselves entirely in our lifetime).

Of course, there are other options for improving pedestrian safety, as we learned in this nice Streetsblog feature about Making Streets for Walking: Dan Burden on Reforming Design Standards (e.g. if we want people to drive slowly then we need to--I know, this sounds crazy!--design roads that make it uncomfortable to speed). The piece focuses on the new street design publication recently released by the Institute of Transportation Engineers and the Congress for New Urbanism: Designing Walkable Urban Thoroughfares: A Context Sensitive Approach .

Now if they could only do the same thing for parking lots like this one in Hattiesburg where there was a Pedestrian hit in Wal-Mart parking lot...

Sunday, March 28, 2010

A Distracted Driving Update

I'm over a month in to my anti-distracted-driving quest. Aside from the rare 30-second call to my husband to tell him I'm on my way to pick him up from work, I've managed to keep off the phone pretty consistently so far.

My biggest complaint has been missing out on all that talking time during my 2-hour commute (I haven't been calling my mom as much lately, I think she's worried), and I have been tempted give in and allow myself hands-free conversations while driving on the freeway. But then I saw this (you might have seen other versions floating around on the internet).

It reminded me of the recent study showing that people talking on cell phones were so absorbed in their conversations they missed a unicycling clown...and reminded me to stick with my no-talking-at-all-while-driving rule.