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. 

Friday, April 12, 2013

This Week on Foot

We start out the week with the tepid announcement that Bike and pedestrian enhancements don’t necessarily hurt business--which is great, since so many cities are working on them this year, from Chicago, where a in the New Chicago Plan: Pedestrians Come First to Canada where the City of Montreal launches pedestrian safety campaign, while in Phoenix's Walkability Gamble Might Actually Pay Off, San Francisco rolling out plan to improve pedestrian safety, and a new Plan would make West Shore more pedestrian friendly. In other words Sidewalks -- now there's a vision.

At least, in some places...they're still Running Out of Sidewalk Near Lake Murrary, and Sherman Oaks Ranks Average in the Walkability Ratings. For that matter, Austin Ranks Low in Walkability Survey. At least Bellingham Stands Out On Walkability.

Other places, not so much--like in Encinitas, where a Pedestrian struck on Hwy 101 in Encinitas. Fortunately, across the country Police step up efforts to quell pedestrian- and cycling-related crashes, like in DELAWARE: Group formed to study rising pedestrian fatalities--and even in India, where
HC notice to State on plea to ensure pedestrian safety.

Speaking of efforts to improve pedestrian safety: Police Stings for Drivers Who Don't Yield in Crosswalks: Does It Really Work? And while we're on the topic, here's some Survey Results: Are San Diego Adults Driving Distracted? (I think that was a rhetorical question).

Finally, this week you can get a Sneak peek at the making of the island pedestrian walkway, or peruse ChoiceMaps: A New Way to Measure Neighborhoods from our friends at WalkScore.
courtesy of


Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Stay Sober, or Get in a Car

Photo courtesy of Angela Denning-Barnes, KYUK
Alaska might be different from the rest of the country in a lot of ways, but when it comes to blaming problems with pedestrian safety on pedestrian behavior, it's just the same as everywhere else. Last week the small city of Bethel, AK made headlines for its proposal to amend its public decency ordinance to prohibit walking on public streets while intoxicated.

According to one city council member, "Public streets and roads, ice roads or highways, are very dangerous areas. They have a lot of fast-moving, big vehicles. A lot of foot traffic as well. To have an intoxicated person in those particular areas makes for an exponentially greater risk of harm not only to the person who’s intoxicated, but anyone who’s traveling on those roadways..."

We've heard this argument before, perhaps most memorably from the guys at Freakonomics, who raised a lot of eyebrows by suggesting, 

"Truly, if you're faced exactly with two choices, walking drunk or driving drunk, you absolutely should drive drunk."

Statistically, that's true (if you only care about your own safety, that is)--but that doesn't make it good policy. As I've explained, there are external costs associated with encouraging driving at the expense of walking. If walking while intoxicated is dangerous, it's probably also dangerous while sober. Making a law to forbid walking drunk might seem like the easy solution, but it neglects the true problems that pedestrians face. 

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Cool Ped Stuff #26: The Stumblr

This week's Golden Footprint awards highlighted a ton of inspiring projects, from the Mike Gotch Memorial Bike and Pedestrian Bridge in my neighborhood, to the City of La Mesa's Safe Routes to School program that uses an often-overlooked resource (older adults) to help ensure student safety on the way to and from school.

Photo courtesy of The Stumblr
But as a blogger I had special appreciation for the electronic activism, and clever title, of The Stumblr, which received special recognition for providing a platform to "showcase" San Diego's worst sidewalks (and for generating some national buzz about the sad state of our most important piece of pedestrian infrastructure). Brainchild of Voice of San Diego writer Liam Dillon, the site allows anyone to submit a photo of their favorite pedestrian debacle, which Dillon will then display prominently on the page. Judging by the dismay of the city councilmembers present at the awards ceremony, it might just be enough to generate some sidewalk improvements.

I wonder if it would work on the LA City Council?

Yes, there really is a sidewalk under this creative landscaping in Woodland Hills. 

Friday, February 15, 2013

This Week on Foot

This week we learn that while Good health can be a walk in the park --not to mention The Link Between Kids Who Walk or Bike to School and Concentration--we still face The disturbing and sometimes tragic challenge of walking in America . Fortunately, all over the country people are working to address that challenge. In New Jersey Metuchen Announces New Program for Pedestrian Safety , while Pedestrian safety projects, funds in SF to shift to major streets . There's A pedestrian mall for The Triangle , a Pedestrian Wayfinding Initiative in Chinatown , and an Elaborate pedestrian tube proposed for Coronado Bay Bridge . In Florida Orlando to fund new pedestrian bridge at Universal , while in Santa Barbara COAST to Lead Eastside Walk of New Pedestrian Improvements on Milpas Street . Further south Complete Streets comes back to Texas Senate , and PB planners formulate aggressive project list for community’s future .

Still, there's plenty of danger out there. This week we consider what happens When cycling and pedestrian worlds collide . In Washington, DC the DDOT Releases Study of Bike and Pedestrian Crash Locations, and in Canada we find that Most vehicle-pedestrian collisions happen at intersections. Perhaps that's why a new Bill would ban pedestrian texting while crossing roads .

But eliminating distracted walking won't solve all pedestrian safety issues. We need to focus on the broader concept of walkability--which can be difficult because 'Walkability' factors of a city cover wide span . Still, Vibrant, Walkable Downtown Areas Make a Positive Difference in the Chicago Real Estate Market, Reports RE/MAX, so we need to keep trying. Towards that end, here's What We Can Learn About Walkability From Looking at Pictures .

Of course, walkability has it's naysayers: Living the walkability life is driving me crazy says one Canadian columnist. And elsewhere Eateries face $1m insurance for outdoor dining (which improves walkability), while AAA fights to keep unnecessary parking rules (which hurt walkability). Let's hope these folks are in the minority.