Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Freaking out about Walking Drunk

You may have caught the recent Freakonomics broadcast on the perils of walking drunk, a story that's been causing controversy ever since it appeared in the opening chapters of Super-Freakonomics. The quick summary, for those in the dark, is that the Freakonomics authors did some number-crunching and determined that walking drunk is eight times more likely to get you killed than driving drunk.

According to co-author and economist Steven Levitt, "Truly, if you're faced exactly with two choices, walking drunk or driving drunk, you absolutely should drive drunk."

Shockingly, this statement upset some people. But is it true?

We know that in terms of deaths per trip, pedestrians are over-represented when compared to drivers or vehicle passengers. However, even though our Freakonomics friends threw out some assumptions about total miles walked in the US, we don't have great data on overall exposure to walking dangers (e.g. how do you count all those crashes that happen in parking lots?). Thus, contrary to what Levitt and company suggest, it's hard to actually know how dangerous walking is on a per-mile basis.

On the other hand, it's true that walking isn't always safe--particularly if you're walking home after a night at the bars. Nighttime walking, especially on weekends, is highly associated with pedestrian fatalities.  Of course, this is the case whether you're stumbling drunk or stone-cold sober (although it's worth noting that about a third of pedestrian fatalities involve drinking), but I suppose the publicity for your book is better if you focus on perils for tipsy pedestrians...

...which brings us back to Levitt's argument that you should drive, rather than walk, drunk. It could be true that driving is the "correct" choice if you're only considering your personal safety. However, as anyone who's taken Economics 101 could  point out (and has, if you read the comments on the Freakonomics page), there are significant external costs associated with both drunk driving and driving in general. Factor those in, and walking becomes much more appealing from an economic standpoint--but not safer for the pedestrian. Advocates, planners, and traffic engineers: that's your job.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Pedestrian Jobs Available

If you're looking to start the new year with a new job, there are a couple of great opportunities for expert pedestrians available.

First, here in Los Angeles the LADOT is seeking at least two full-time consultants to develop a Safe Routes to School Strategic Plan. The Strategic Plan will include the development of a Phase 1 ranked list of schools and recommendations for infrastructure and non­infrastructure safety countermeasures for implementation. Consultants will build networks and partnerships to deliver a feasible strategic plan based on data driven recommendations that has a broad base of support.
More information and application materials are available here.

On the other coast, Bike Walk Connecticut is seeking an Executive Director. The Executive Director is responsible for managing the overall affairs of Bike Walk Connecticut including the implementation of board-approved projects, programs, policies and procedures in fulfillment of its mission and strategic plan. More information is available on the Bike Walk Connecticut website here.

Friday, December 30, 2011

This Week on Foot

As 2011 wraps up, we see Pedestrian Safety Changes Coming to Village in Ridgewood, but wonder
Did America's Cup Avenue Change Newport's Walkability? If not, then at least in Michigan Detroit Complete Streets Coalition Makes City Streets Safer For Bikers, Pedestrians, while further south
New Orleans' 'complete streets' ordinance draws praise.Of course, we could have figured this complete streets thing out a little sooner if we had paid attention to the Warning of Urban Sprawl...in 1959
Meanwhile, the Times Square Pedestrian Plaza Drives NY Post Columnist Mad, but in Janesville it's signs that are coming under fire with much Bash, bang, bother: Pedestrian signs face vehicular assault.
Thankfully it's not all negative news out there though, as Research offers fixes for Toronto's high-rise isolation and Pedestrian safety, new police chief among top Dublin stories in '11 in Columbus Ohio
Finally, for those in Washington who'd like to get more involved in pedestrian advocacy: Seattle Pedestrian Advisory Board seeks new members.

And remember, New Year's Eve is one of the most dangerous nights of the year for pedestrians, so stay safe as you celebrate the start of 2012! 

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Make 2012 Distraction-Free

"Wear more red lipstick."

When I decided to limit my New Year's resolutions to one simple idea each year, that was what I started with. Last year it was the slightly more ambitious "Learn to bake a decent homemade chocolate chip cookie." My husband particularly enjoyed that one.

If you're searching for your own resolution this year, why not make it "Give up distracted driving"? Regular readers of this blog don't need to be reminded of the dangers of talking or texting while driving--but just in case you need a refresher you can find a nice summary here on the US government's distracted driving website. (I find it especially compelling to remember that using a cell phone--even hands-free--is like driving drunk.)

Driving used to be a time when we were safe from outside distractions, but now we feel obligated to use driving time "productively." It reminds me of a vintage ad for washing machines I saw once that showed a housewife relaxing with a drink in a lounge chair while the laundry ran. "Take a break while the washer does the work," the ad urged. But of course, instead of relaxation, that "found" time was only used to complete an ever-growing list of other chores and household obligations.

Friday, December 23, 2011

This Week on Foot

This week we're reminded that Statistics show pedestrians at risk during holiday season, which perhaps is why in Las Vegas Santa Claus crosses Nellis to make the case for pedestrian safety. Meanwhile there's Growing concern over rise in Hispanic pedestrian deathsWhy have pedestrian accidents been increasing? we wonder, as a Pedestrian dies when struck by SUV in Panorama City, a
Good Samaritan, pedestrian remain hospitalized following crash near Klamath Falls, and in San Diego a Pedestrian killed by car was 17-year-old boy.

Fortunately, in Michigan there's a new Pedestrian safety law: New strobe lights and crosswalk rules approved in Ann Arbor. And other cities are working on pedestrian safety too: East Palo Alto moves to build pedestrian-bicycle bridge over 101, Pedestrian flags debut in Park Ridge, Sidewalk studies go full steam ahead in Florida and the Meridian Township to find ways to promote walking biking. Will one of those ways be scramble intersections? Maybe not in Canada, because although Vancouver sees future in ‘scramble’ intersections, Toronto sees congestion.

On the national level Biking and Walking Score Big in TIGER III, but elsewhere in the world Cyclists, walkers a neglected lot and a Raging cyclist mystifies pedestrian. Of course, what cyclists should be angry about is the fact that Funding for NH bike, pedestrian trails runs dry. Without funding, we're going to have a hard time Fixing suburbs with green streets that accommodate everyone. Perhaps the USDOT has some ideas about what to do about that problem in this Q & A with Polly Trottenberg, Asst Sec of Transportation Policy at the USDOT.

Finally, if you're looking for a good read over the holiday weekend, you might want to check out this piece from the Economist about The wisdom of crowds: The strange but extremely valuable science of how pedestrians behave. Happy Holidays!