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.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

This Week on Foot

Let's take a break from the red light camera debate and talk about all the good work that's happening this week to improve pedestrian safety. Here in LA, Traffic Light Construction Begins at Deadly Intersection in North Hollywood, while a Downtown “road diet” plan goes forward in Sonoma County. There's a Safety upgrade coming to Woodward, in Florida Pasco willing to give incentives for pedestrian-friendly developments, and in the town of Laurinburg the City Council steps up pedestrian efforts.

Elsewhere in the country, Chicago Experimenting With the “Pedestrian Scramble”, and in Georgia Schools get grant for pedestrian improvements while Community groups gather for traffic safety event in Hawaii. And outside the US Awareness drive helps cut pedestrian deaths in Dubai.

Perhaps all this positive news is because a Livability trend puts walking expert in demand-- and that Walking expert prescribes ‘road diets,’ traffic circles for cities seeking street makeovers. Or it could just be that cities have figured out that Streets Built For Bikes and Pedestrians Also Yield More Jobs.

I guess they missed that lesson in some parts of Florida, where a Bike-Ped Defunding Proposal Sparks Mutiny in Mica’s Home District  London business owners also don't seem to get it, because they're Walking into a new debate this week in that town.

On  a final note, an update from the January 2009 case of a woman who sued Google Maps for directing her to walk on a street without sidewalks. This week we hear from a Utah judge: Car vs pedestrian accident not Google's fault. I guess that means we're still stuck just blaming the drivers, planners, traffic engineers, and public officials who promote vehicle travel over walking.

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

This week on foot

This week has been full of debate on the red light camera issue. As you know, Two L.A. councilmen want to hold off ending red-light camera program--but many Angelenos would like to see the program disappear, like Jay Beeber: Folk Hero Stops L.A.'s Red Light Cameras. Even the Freakonomics blog has weighed in, and it's Seeing Red: Why L.A. Needs to Keep its Traffic Light Cameras. The City Council Delays Vote on Red Light Camera Until Tuesday, so it looks like we'll be hearing more about this issue for at least another couple days.

And why do we want those cameras? Two words: pedestrian safety. We're certainly missing it here in Southern California, where just this week there was a Pedestrian killed in Hollywood, and in SAN MARCOS: Pedestrian hit by vehicle, dies. Further east a Pedestrian killed by Metrolink train in Palmdale (okay, probably a camera couldn't have stopped that one, but it's still a sad statement about the dangers pedestrians face.)

Ironically, just as many Angelenos are arguing over red light cameras, the LA Times reports that Crosswalks are increasingly deadly for the elderly within the region. It just goes to show that Walkability’ key to an age-friendly city.
Of course, elsewhere in the country things are a little brighter. Traffic, pedestrian deaths in Utah trending toward new low in 2011; safety efforts credited. Meanwhile, In Washington County, momentum grows for adding bicyclists, pedestrians into transportation system, while an Oregon Bill clarifies traffic stops for pedestrians and in Chicago Diagonal crossings, fewer right on reds could give pedestrians a leg up.

But that doesn't mean everyone out there is supporting pedestrians. In Canada, a Saskatoon pedestrian hit by car to be ticketed, while in Nogales a Pedestrian circulation study sparks debate over priorities. Seems to me that there isn't much to debate when you consider the Lost Value from Wide Streets...but I guess I'm a little biased.