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

Sunday, March 7, 2010

This Week on Foot

Some weeks it sure seems hard to find any good news on the pedestrian front. Seems like I shouldn't have to scour through pages and pages of headlines about pedestrian deaths before I discover anything positive.

Take this story from the small Washington state town where my family is from, which describes a Day of tears: Driver gets prison for hitting, killing pedestrian (the tears must have made a difference for that driver, who only received a three-year sentence, as opposed to the Swedish Rapper Sentenced 15-to-Life for Killing Pedestrian here in LA).

Or there's this story from Long Beach, California, where LBFD rescues pedestrian pinned under Metro Blue Line in downtown Long Beach. Or the sad tale from Detroit, where a DDOT test-drive ends in a pedestrian's death.

All that mayhem makes the fact that Berkeley Police Focuses on Pedestrian Safety in March to Remember Zachary Cruz (a six-year-old killed on his way to an after-school program in Berkeley) seem almost cheerful.

But all is not completely bleak on the pedestrian front. In the UK Road safety group C76 triumphant as Kings Langley C76 route repairs commence. At least London pedestrians will have safer access along one major roadway soon.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Safe Routes to School Travel Data Report

In its recently released report Safe Routes to School Travel Data: A Look at Baseline Results from Parent Surveys and Student Travel Tallies the National Center for Safe Routes to School summarizes two years of travel data from the national safe routes to school program. Some of the key findings:
  • Most children travel to school by car or school bus, although walking does make up a fairly significant portion of school trips (11 percent in the morning and 15 percent in the afternoon)
  • Walking peaks in fifth grade, when nearly a quarter of kids walk or bike to school, then drops when children enter middle school (possibly due to middle schools being further from home than elementary schools)
  • Distance is the biggest factor in parents' decision to allow their kids to walk to school, and makes a dramatic difference in walking rates. Over 40 percent of children who live less than a quarter-mile from school walk to school. However, the percentage of walkers drops to nine percent for children living between 1/2 and one mile from school--and to two percent or less for children who live more than a mile away from school.
  • Although distance was important, traffic speed, traffic volume, and intersection crossing safety were also major factors in whether or not parents allowed their children to walk to school. Weather also made a difference to parents, but not as much as has been shown in previous studies.

Based on this data, the National Center for Safe Routes to School suggests that in the short term safe routes to school programs focus efforts particularly on areas within a mile of schools, where many children already walk. Since safety concerns are a major reason that parents don't allow their children to walk to school, identifying strategies to lower traffic around schools, reduce traffic speeds, and provide children with safe crossings could have a strong influence on the number of kids who walk to school.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Free FHWA Pedestrian Safety Webinar Tuesday

Date: Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Time: approximately 1:00-3:00 pm Eastern Time (that's 10-12 am for those of us on the west coast)

The Details: This webconference will focus on tools for improving safety. There will be two presentations and discussions.

Dan Nabors (of VHB) will discuss Pedestrian Road Safety Audits (PRSAs). Case studies and programs such as Montgomery County, Maryland’s PRSA program will be highlighted. Montgomery County’s PRSA program includes an innovative funding mechanism, a before and after study, and has resulted in numerous engineering, enforcement, and education safety countermeasures.

Sarah Weissman (of the Transportation Safety Resource Center at Rutgers University) will discuss “Plan4Safety,” a multi-layered decision support tool and program created for the New Jersey Department of Transportation (NJDOT). Plan4Safety identifies crash hot spots, integrates statewide crash data, roadway characteristic data, calculates statistical analyses, incorporates network screening layers and models, and includes visual analytical tools (GIS).

You don’t need to register. Just follow below instructions:

Select “enter as guest,” type your name in the space provided, then click on
“enter room”


Phone: 800-988-0375, passcode *:* 8220909

Monday, February 8, 2010

Ventura County Takes Notice

In a clear effort to win my heart, Scott Hadly titled his part of the Ventura County Star's feature on traffic safety "Driving riskiest thing people do, yet traffic safety gets little notice." Scott, you have no idea.

The series combines personal stories with hard data on 15 years of fatal crashes in Ventura County, even providing some fancy online spreadsheets for data geeks like me to play around with.

A few quick statistics:
  • Between 1994 and 2008 1,005 people were killed in Ventura County traffic crashes.
  • 208 of the fatalities were pedestrians--that's about 21 percent of all deaths. As I've complained about before, we don't make the effort to count how many people actually walk in Ventura County (or anywhere, for that matter), so it's hard to say just how disproportionate that is--but given that nationwide walk trips are around six percent of travel, we can assume that pedestrians are dying at much rates than they should be.
  • About a third of pedestrian fatalities were related to speeding. This shouldn't come as a surprise, as pedestrian death rates jump dramatically with speed. Traffic calming anyone?

Monday, February 1, 2010

It's Not About the Hands

Today the LA Times reports on a new study by the Highway Loss Data Institute that shows no difference in crash rates following the adoption of California's hand-held cellphone ban. The results have been dismissed by some because of a small sample size (not to mention the fact that just because the law has been adopted, doesn't mean everyone is following it). However, many see the study as further evidence that the true danger of cell phones doesn't come from the way that they are held, but from how they are used while driving.

My personal efforts to give up the distracted driving habit are entering their second week, and so far so good. I admit to having a few moments of "Drat [or other, more forceful, curse word]! I really wish I could use my phone right now," but overall giving up the cell phone hasn't caused as much pain as I expected. The true test comes this weekend, when I have a two-hour drive to San Diego. Alone.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Road Rage Rapper Defends Himself

As reported today in the LA Times, Swedish rapper David Jassy continues to insist that his November 2008 killing of a pedestrian in Hollywood was motivated by "fear." The confrontation with John Osnes began when Osnes banged the front of Jassy's SUV after Jassy nearly hit him while he was crossing (in a crosswalk) the Sunset Strip.

It ended when, after a tussle between the two men, Jassy ran over Osnes with his vehicle. Jassy explained, "I was in fear for my life. I didn't know if he had a gun, a knife. I know L.A. is way more dangerous than Sweden is."

Apparently so.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

You know it's a big deal when Oprah gets involved

Yes, Lady O has joined the fight against distracted driving, as we learn here on her webpage--where you can even take the No Phone Zone Pledge along with her other fans.

The nice thing about Oprah's campaign is that there's none of this half-hearted, mixed-signal, we-know-you-can't-spend-20-minutes-out-of-touch-because-heaven-forbid-you-allow-yourself-time-to-think-so-here-have-a-bluetooth-device stuff to muddle things up. As one of her guests put it, "It's not where your hands are, it's where your head is."

Okay, so it's a clear message, and it's in the interest of pedestrian safety, and even the DOT is all over it...and boy is it hard. I spent my entire 55-minute drive home contemplating whether or not I could bring myself to cut the wireless phone cord. (Yes, I realize that it is only because I wasn't on the phone that I had 55 minutes to contemplate this.)

The thought of losing out on all that convenient chatting time seems horrid, and I'm only marginally moved by the example of people like Oprah and Ray LaHood who are probably driven everywhere by someone else and don't even have to deal with this issue.

Nonetheless, as a good pedestrian advocate I'm going to stop ignoring the clear evidence of the dangers of distracted driving and give it a try. I'll let you know how the experiment goes.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Newsflash: Walking is still dangerous

In the newly released study Dangerous by Design, Transportation for America ranks metropolitan areas across the US by its "Pedestrian Danger Index" (calculated by dividing the annual pedestrian fatalities in each area by the percentage of people who commute to work on foot). Just for kicks, they also throw in rankings for pedestrian and bicycle spending.

At this point you probably expect the obligatory rant about LA's low spot on the spending list, or at least an astonished exclamation about how the top 10 most dangerous cities are all in the south.

Sorry, but I've got other things to complain about today.


1. Census data undercounts pedestrian trips. This is because the census only allows respondents to check one box next to the "how did you get to work today" question. It's a silly system since at least part of every trip is made on foot--even if it's just a walk through a parking lot. (Unless, of course, you're carried to work in a litter. And if you are, please let me know how I can get a job there too).

2. Census data only includes commute trips. At last count, those made up just over 15 percent of total travel in the US. So, we're in the dark about 85 percent of the trips Americans take, many of which could be walking trips.

3. Biking and walking are not the same. I'll save my polemics on the inevitable, illogical grouping of these two barely-related modes for another day. But I would like to point out that funding data nearly always combines the two, so we rarely know how much money is spent on pedestrians alone.

With so many data problems, rankings like Transportation for America's don't tell us much about the state of the pedestrian world. But they should remind us that if we're going improve walkability, we need a far better understanding of what's going on out there. If we can do it for freeways (and for the record, Caltrans does), we can do it for sidewalks.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Pedestrian injured in Oak View

A pedestrian was seriously injured in a crash on Sunday evening in the Oak View community, the Ventura County Star reports. The 32-year-old victim was crossing North Ventura Avenue outside of a marked crosswalk when he was hit.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Pedestrian and dog killed in Montebello

The LA Times reports that the 84-year-old wife of a former Montebello mayor was killed last night crossing the street at the intersection of Jefferson Boulevard and Alfred Place. The intersection has no traffic signal or stop-control, and the crosswalk was unmarked. The driver fled the scene and has not been aprehended.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Silent but Deadly

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has released a report comparing the difference in pedestrian and bicycle crash rates between hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs) and internal combustion engine vehicles (ICEs).

The analysis shows that HEVs are more likely to be involved in pedestrian crashes while performing certain manuevers, namely slowing or stopping, backing up, entering or leaving a parking space, and turning. The authors hypothesize the higher HEV crash rates may be due to HEVs' quiet crusing at slow speeds; when traveling straight (presumably at higher--and noiser--speeds) HEV and ICE crash rates are comparable.

The good news is that pedestrians are less likely to be injured if they are hit at slow speeds. Nonetheless, as HEVs become more prevalent we need to consider carefully how to address the problem of quiet cars. Over in Japan, Nissan has been giving this issue some serious thought, hiring a team of composers to come up with a "beautiful sound" to accompany their electric vehicle the Leaf.

For those feeling less poetic, Datasystem Co has developed a device that will emit your choice of 16 sounds, including a "boing" and a "meow"-- and for the less whimsical, a simple "Excuse me."

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Pedestrian killed in Woodland Hills

A yet-unidentified pedestrian was killed by the suspect in a police pursuit while crossing Don Pio Drive near Topanga Canyon Boulevard last night, as described in this LA Daily News article. My first thought was that this was simply one of those sad, haphazard incidents that are impossible to prevent, but then I wondered: could there be a way to design our roads or vehicles to keep crashes like this from happening?

Turns out we already have the technology to do this. For example, the newest vehicles equipped with GM's OnStar system feature the Stolen Vehicle Slowdown option. The system gives police officers the ability to bring vehicles to a stop remotely (GPS is used to pinpoint the vehicle location), thus facilitating the capture of theives--and potentially preventing car chases like the one yesterday in Woodland Hills.

Now we just have to convince the public to turn the steering wheel over to Big Brother in an emergency...

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Unsafe Routes to School

I'm sure someday my children are going to roll their eyes when they hear me say this, but I really did walk uphill both ways to get to school. Every morning, rain or...well, this was friend, her little brother, and I would slither down the two wooded hills behind their house, hop puddles along the main thoroughfare, and then push our way up through another damp, brushy hillside before arriving--a mile later--at school. We were 10, and that 30-minute walk was one of the most fascinating parts of my day.

Apparently if I were to let my kids do that today I would be recklessly endangering their lives--and running the risk of criminal charges, as was the mother in this NY Times article describing current attitudes about walking to school. As the article explains, today's parents are reluctant to allow their children to walk to school (only about 13 percent of kids walk or bike to school on their own), due mainly to safety concerns. Rebellious parents who refuse to chauffer their offspring everywhere face serious social pressure from others who chide them for their thoughtless parenting.

Along with improving infrastructure along main school routes, improving parent attitudes is a major part of encouraing walking in the next generation. It's not enough to just cite the statistics (e.g. there were only 115 abductions by strangers in all of the US last year), schools need to actively engage parents and students in promoting walking and biking. Happily, programs like International Walk to School Day are making it easier for schools to do just that.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Public Safety vs. Public Safety

"A minute is a long time to wait if you're not breathing."

I tried it out while researching this post, and concede that the fire chief who made this comment has a point.

It's a concern that comes up frequently in debates over installing traffic calming devices on streets where high speeds hinder pedestrian safety. Pedestrian advocates argue that slowing down traffic improves walkability and reduces pedestrian injury. Fire departments contend that in a life-threatening emergency every second matters, so it's counterproductive to introduce obstacles to vehicle travel.

So who's right? Good question.

Research on emergency response times has centered on cardiac arrests, as there's reasonable consensus that time is of the essence when your heart has decided to stop beating. In general this research shows that response times under five minutes produce the best results in terms of survival (not to depress you, but this does not necessarily mean the survival rates are high when a victim is reached within the five minute window--just better than they would be otherwise). Many fire departments set a goal of responding to 90 percent of life-threatening calls within five minutes, and the LAFD appeared to be achieving that goal--at least prior to its recent budget cuts.

While there hasn't been much investigation of how traffic calming measures impact emergency response times, the work that is available (summarized in this report by Reid Ewing) suggests that speed humps and traffic circles slow down emergency vehicles by 3-14 seconds per measure. The biggest delays are to the largest vehicles, so an ambulance won't be slowed as much as a ladder truck.

By these estimates, a series of traffic calming measures along an emergency route could conceivably delay responders enough to be problematic--at least for cardiac events. But only if emergency response times were right at the cusp of five minutes, or if vehicles were confronted with a whole slew of traffic calming measures in a row. Given this, it doesn't necessarily follow that all traffic calming is a bad idea; in areas with high pedestrian traffic the benefits of improved pedestrian safety might outweigh the costs of slower response times.

I don't mean to downplay the importance of timely emergency response, but it's important to recognize that rejecting traffic calming measures based simply on blanket assertions instead of case-by-case evaluation could actually harm public safety. I'm hoping decisionmakers are sophisticated enough to recognize this...but I won't hold my breath.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Cool Pedestrian Stuff #3: "Divans"

A 1911 New York Times article describes this "novel auto invention" that was intended to prevent vehicles from knocking down and crushing pedestrians. As the article explains, the "scissorlike fender" attached to the front of private vehicles and streetcars and scooped up errant pedestrians, bearing them along in a "sort of divan" until they could be safely deposited elsewhere. The inventor claimed that the device had been proven effective at vehicle speeds up to 60 mph, though I'm skeptical that any encounter with an object traveling so fast--no matter how cushy--would be comfortable for a pedestrian. (Of note: the article blames these crashes on the "careless pedestrian" who steps thoughlessly in front of moving vehicles. Hmm, sounds familiar.)

Researchers today continue to investigate solutions for decreasing the impact (sorry, bad pun) of pedestrian crashes. One solution is to create vehicles that can sense when they are hitting pedestrians and implement appropriate safety mechanisms. In this example, designed by Bosch, the vehicle automatically raises its front hood when it hits a pedestrian to help decrease pedestrian injury.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Enough already. Seriously.

A 60-year-old woman and her dog were killed crossing Shoreline Drive in Ventura on Monday. Although there was a marked crosswalk nearby, the two were not using it when they were struck.

Here's hoping the rule of threes applies in this case, and we won't see any more pedestrian deaths for a while...

Sunday, August 23, 2009

A bad weekend for pedestrians

The LA Times reports that a 10-year-old boy was killed and several other members of his family were injured when a driver hit them as they were crossing Tweedy Boulevard in South Gate. The crash occurred when the driver made a left turn from San Vicente Boulevard (which has a stop sign) onto Tweedy Boulevard. The family was walking inside a marked crosswalk that has a brick-style treatment to distinguish it from the rest of the road.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Pedestrian killed in Santa Paula crosswalk

The Ventura County Star reported today that a 65-year-old woman was killed and two children hurt while attempting to cross Harvard Boulevard in the City of Santa Paula. Initial investigations by police suggest that drugs and alcohol were not involved in the crash. The driver claims she was not speeding (the speed limit on Harvard Boulevard is 35 mph) at the time. Harvard Boulevard is a four-lane roadway with a two-way left-turn lane in the center.

Although the crossing where the incident took place is unsignalized, the City of Santa Paula recently installed in-roadway warning lights (IRWL) at the intersection. Studies of the effectiveness of this treatment have been mixed (you can find a nice summary of the research here), with most showing only little improvement in pedestrian safety after installation.

Particularly relevant for this case, the two studies that examined whether or not the lights encouraged motorists to yield to pedestrians in the crosswalk (e.g. attempting to cross a middle lane of traffic) had "inconsistent" results. As rightly warns, "...caution should be exercised, and perhaps additional treatments implemented if IRWL is considered for uncontrolled crosswalks at multi-lane locations."

This is yet another reminder that mere visual cues are not enough to protect pedestrians. While I appreciate the City of Santa Paula at least attempting to address crosswalk safety, it frustrates me that the City stopped short of more significant roadway treatments like raised medians or intersection bulb-outs. On high-speed, high-volume roadways like Harvard Boulevard these improvements are critical to ensure that pedestrians can cross the street safely.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

True or False Sense of Security?

A warning to Angelenos who travel on foot: LADOT is trying to kill you.

What other explanation is there for LADOT's policy not to mark crosswalks--and sometimes to even go so far as to remove them--in the name of "pedestrian safety"? It's like a doctor saying to a patient with cancer, "Well, this medicine isn't working. Let's just do nothing and hope the problem will go away."

To be fair, it isn't just LADOT that thinks this way. Ever since Bruce Herm's 1972 study of crosswalks in San Diego (in which he found more pedestrians were injured or killed in marked crosswalks than unmarked crosswalks) transportation departments across the country have been dutifully scrubbing out zebra stripes in an attempt to protect pedestrians.

The logic behind this seemingly illogical move is the so-called "false sense of security" argument. This much-quoted phrase comes from the Herms study, and represents his attempt to explain why marked crosswalks were riskier for pedestrians than unmarked crosswalks. Herms hypothesized that pedestrians felt so safe between those bright white lines that they threw caution to the wind and boldly stepped out into the road--only to be hit by motorists, who didn't care in the slightest whether the crosswalk was marked or not.

Despite the fact that this was mere speculation on Herms' part (his study wasn't intended to evaluate how carefully pedestrians crossed streets), the idea has become transportation dogma. You can even find it front and center on LADOT's pedestrian policy page, right after the part where we learn that "the Los Angeles Department of Transportation has found that pedestrian accidents are significantly reduced at unmarked crosswalks located at non-street intersections."

I have to wonder where LADOT is getting its data, given that one of the most comprehensive studies on crossing safety, published in 2005 by the FHWA , shows that there is no statistical difference in pedestrian crash rates between marked and unmarked crosswalks on two-lane roads. Not to mention a 2002 FHWA study that found "no evidence" that pedestrians are less vigilant in marked crosswalks.

Admittedly the evidence is not entirely clear-cut. Some recent research does show that pedestrians are less observant when crossing at marked crosswalks. Elderly pedestrians appear to be particularly at risk, as do crossers at high-volume, multi-lane intersections.

I don't dispute that in many cases marked crosswalks alone aren't adequate to protect pedestrians. Sometimes it takes median refuges, flashing lights, raised crossings, or one of the many other solutions have have been shown to increase pedestrian safety at crossings. But the suggestion that the solution to this problem is to remove marked crosswalks?? It really twists my shoelaces into knots. Pedestrians in Los Angeles--and everywhere else--deserve more sophisticated thinking from their policymakers.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Wanted: Pop-culture Publicity

I might not have quite the same rock star clout as Bono, but I'm still hoping to raise awareness about pedestrian safety and here's one big reason why: the World Health Organization estimates that in 2002 about 130,000 children between the ages of 5 and 14 were killed in roadway crashes. By conservative estimates roughly 52,000 of these fatalities were pedestrians. To put it in another way, twice as many as kids died crossing the street as starved to death.

Funny how I haven't seen any infomercials encouraging me to support a sidewalk in Nigeria for just a dollar a day.

Worse than that? In its most recent status report on road safety WHO predicts that roadway crashes will overtake HIV/AIDS as one of the leading causes of death worldwide. If current trends continue half of the fatalities will be what WHO terms "vulnerable users," aka motorcyle riders, cyclists, and pedestrians--but that little statistic masks the fact that in low- and middle-income countries vulnerable users generally die at much, much higher rates.

So here we have what is clearly one of the world's biggest public health problems, a problem that is only expected to get worse over the next few decades, a problem that disproportionately affects children, the elderly, and the poor, and...silence.

This is partially because the people hurt or killed in pedestrian crashes just aren't the ones that get a lot of face time with policymakers. Much of the world--including pedestrians themselves--holds the attitude that people on foot are second-class citizens who don't deserve the same rights and attention as people who can afford a car. (One study of pedestrian crashes in Mexico City found that while drivers blamed pedestrians or "circumstances outside their control" for crashes, pedestrians blamed themselves).

Perhaps a well-timed documentary from Mr. Gore is in line?