Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Pedestrians: Not Quite Equal in the Eyes of the Law

During a recent crosswalk sting here in the San Fernando Valley, police issued over a dozen tickets to pedestrians for violations that included starting to cross a street when a red hand was flashing. As one officer on the scene explained it, "The red hand works for two reasons: to basically safeguard the pedestrian and allow the traffic to start moving."

That got me wondering why (at least here in California) we allow drivers to speed through yellow lights, but refuse to extend the same privilege to pedestrians. Here's language in the CA Vehicle Code:

"A driver facing a steady circular yellow or yellow arrow signal is, by that signal, warned that the related green movement is ending or that a red indication will be shown immediately thereafter."

However, when the flashing "Don't Walk" or red hand signal is shown, "No pedestrian shall start to cross the roadway in the direction of the signal."

Notice that while a yellow light is just a warning to drivers, and doesn't prohibit them from entering an intersection, a flashing red hand means a pedestrian can't even start to cross--even a really speedy one, who knows they can make it across the intersection in plenty of time.

While some might argue that this is to protect pedestrians, I have to suspect (particularly given the statement of the police officer above) that the law is written this way to make sure those pesky pedestrians don't interfere too much with drivers who want to make right turns on red. If we really care about promoting alternative transportation modes at the same level of driving, we're going to have to examine laws like these that subtly bias the transportation system against pedestrians.

Monday, March 26, 2012

DOT Driver Distraction Guidelines

Photo courtesy of USDOT
A little over a month ago the DOT released its draft guidelines for In-Vehicle Electronic Devices. The guidelines, which are voluntary for now, include several key recommendations:

1. Prohibit certain tasks while driving, including displaying images or video not related to driving; displaying automatically scrolling text; requiring manual text entry of more than six button or key presses during a single task; or requiring reading more than 30 characters of text (not counting punctuation marks).

2. Design devices so that tasks can be completed by the driver while driving with glances away from the roadway of 2 seconds or less and a cumulative time spent glancing away from the roadway of 12 seconds or less.

3. Design devices so that functions designed to be performed by the driver through visual-manual means should require no more than one of the driver’s hands to operate.

4. Locate devices as close as practicable to the driver’s forward line of sight and include a specific recommendation for the maximum downward viewing angle to the geometric center of each display.

Is this enough to keep us safe on the roads? Given that a key problem with in-vehicle devices is cognitive distaction, not visual distraction, these guidelines might not go far enough. Personally, I've given up many in-vehicle distractions (like talking on my cell phone--even hands free), regardless of what the law tells me I can or can't do.

Tell the DOT what you think of their proposed rules by following the instructions here.  

Friday, March 23, 2012

This Week on Foot

This week has been busy on the legislative front, as the House to introduce three-month highway bill extension and SCAG Transportation Committee Meets to Discuss Regional Plan One Last Time. Promoting all transportation modes is an important part of that plan, and we need all the help with that we can get here in LA, where It’s Not Easy Being Green: Sunset Triangle Plaza Edition. Maybe we should all go listen when Matt Tomasulo Speaks On Guerrilla Urbanism At City Share March 28? (Too bad it's not in LA).

Elsewhere in the country, San Rafael police say pedestrian at fault for crash that killed him , 'Darlington is not pedestrian friendly', and Montgomery continues "pedestrian removal" in Wheaton. But it's not all bad news: Seminole County project seeks pedestrian safety and in Virginia there are New pedestrian crosswalk signs to be installed. In the Northwest Residents Question Parking, Pedestrian Access at Northgate Light Rail Station, and Bowmanville seniors demand pedestrian crosswalk to address safety in their neighborhood. Sadly, it's too late for thePedestrian Expert Killed Crossing St. Louis Street A Decade Ago, but we can remember her and work to promote the cause she believed in.

On a lighter note, basketball fans can try Deciding the Sweet Sixteen by Walk Score. But what if it's fuel, not playoffs, that you're thinking about this month? Concerned about gas prices? Demand Complete Streets  And while you're thinking about that, maybe you can decide: Does Ticketing Drivers Make Pedestrians Safer?

If that's too much of a conundrum for you, take heart--at least this week we've learned Why People in Cities Walk Fast. Oh, the places we go (within walking distance)...

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Crosswalks and Crashes: What we DO know

Adam Choit's short film about his attempts to get a crosswalk on Sunset Boulevard, and the LA DOT's subsequent response, have reminded us once again how easy it is for traffic engineers, policymakers, and others to blithely cite "studies" proving how dangerous marked crosswalks are without technically, to use a scientific phrase, "having the slightest clue what they are talking about."

Happily, a recent publication from the Oregon DOT includes a nice summary--with citations--of the latest research on crosswalks, pedestrian crashes, and what the research really shows:

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Register now for Pedestrians Count 2012

May 3 -4
Pedestrians Count 2012
California WALKS is pleased to announce LA's second pedestrian count. Pedestrians Count! 2012 will be held in Los Angeles on May 3rd and 4th, 2012. The seminar promotes pedestrian safety, transit access, healhty environments and sustainable communities coordinating with cutting edge research. It also explores latest best practices in pedestrian data collection and analysis with strategic community advocacy. Professionals, academics and community leaders will share their current and most promising work.
More info here.