Wednesday, April 30, 2014

People (in cars): The truly deadliest animal

You can't fault the creativity behind Bill Gates' efforts to draw attention to the problem of malaria by designating this week Mosquito Week. The accompanying movie poster (Skeeternado!) and infographic--not to mention abundant press coverage--show just how much clever marketing and deep pockets can help promote a cause. Of course, if you're reading this blog it shouldn't take you long to spot the major error in the graphic:

As many of the comments on this blog post have noted, the latest figures from the World Health Organization show that last year 1.24 million people died in traffic crashes. Not only does that number trump malaria deaths, it's on par (or higher, depending on the year) with deaths from HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis.

A disproportionate number of those deaths are pedestrians. A disproportionate number of those pedestrians killed are vulnerable users like kids, adults, the poor. I've written before about how road safety--especially pedestrian safety--would benefit from a high-profile sponsor like the Gates Foundation. Any takers?

Friday, April 25, 2014

New Baby to Walk, Same Problems with Walking

We might live 100 miles further south and 12 miles closer to the beach, but the problems we have taking this baby for a stroll are the same we faced the first time around: poorly maintained, narrow sidewalks, obstacles blocking the pedestrian travel path, and inconsistent curb ramps all combine to make walking with a stroller an exercise in frustration. 

All those baby books that recommend taking your child for a soothing walk in the evening obviously never tried it in my neighborhood, where every five feet the sidewalk juts up with a Mt.Everest-like buckle. The next time my kid is awakened for 31st time as I bump her over another tree root, I'm planning to call the Mayor's office and just hold the phone over the stroller so he can enjoy her screams as much as I do. 

People who have never tried to heft a 50-pound load of baby, diaper bag, stroller, and three gallons of milk over a curb this high might be inclined to discount this problem as just another mommy-centric rant in a world that places undue importance on the comfort of children and their hovering parents. But as I said to my husband as we sweatily manhandled our stroller over yet another sidewalk obstacle, "Imagine doing this in a wheelchair." Cities have a legal, if not moral, obligation to provide sidewalks that allow all their citizens to travel with relative safety and ease, regardless of physical ability. What makes walking easier for someone with a stroller is also going to make it easier for someone in a wheelchair. Or someone with a cane. Or someone who just doesn't want to trip if they get caught up in scintillating conversation with the person walking next to them. 

And guess what? Improving walking conditions for parents can also help conditions for people who drive--even if they don't have kids. Moms (and dads, but mostly moms) make a lot of short trips in their cars that add significantly to local congestion. Things like taking the older kids to school, picking up some bread from the store, or filling a prescription could all be accomplished on foot, but unless walking is easier and safer that's not likely to happen and we'll continue to be plagued by traffic and the many problems that go along with it. 

Then of course there's the health piece--walking for exercise is pretty much the only thing new moms are allowed to do in the first weeks after having a baby, but it's not easy to get the full benefits of walking when you have to stop every few feet to maneuver around a parked car or shimmy between, say, a fire hydrant and a pole: 

I especially love the added insult of having a ADA curb ramp immediately adjacent to a sidewalk that someone in a wheelchair would never be able to use. San Diego, you can do better than this. 

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Pedestrian Traffic Fatalities by State (2013)

Here are a few good--or rather, bad-- stats on pedestrian fatalities by state. Want to take a guess which state has the most? Nope, it's not New York with uber-walkable NYC...

Worth noting, however, is that even though our fair state has the most pedestrian fatalities, we don't have the highest percentage of pedestrian deaths; that dubious distinction goes to New Jersey, followed closely by New York (the full table also includes Washington, D.C. with 47 percent, but it's hardly reasonable to compare state statistics with city statistics, so we'll set that aside).

 The real question is how these numbers compare with the number of people out there walking--we know that pedestrians are ove-represented when it comes to deaths/injuries, but are these percentages wildly disproportionate? Without good data on walking mode share, we can't really know--all the more reason to push for better pedestrian counts. 

Monday, March 31, 2014

CicloSDias Comes to PB

The latest incarnation of CicloSDias came to our neighborhood this weekend, providing a great excuse to walk and bike in what would otherwise be a pretty unfriendly stretch of Garnet Avenue and Cass Street. Here are some pictures of the festivities.

For the unfamiliar, the Ciclovia movement started in 1976 (!) in Bogota Colombia, but grew to international prominence under the leadership of mayor Enrique PeƱalosa in the 1990s. Since then cities across the world have followed suit with their own version of Ciclovias (sometimes know as Sunday Streets or Open Streets events), including several dozen cities in the US (more info in this nice write-up from Atlanta Streets Alive).

While Sunday's Pacific Beach event was populated primarily by cyclists in all shapes and sizes, there were also plenty of walkers, a handful of skaters, and (this being a beach town) any number of skateboarders enjoying the sunny weather and lack of cars. Despite the abundance of cyclists, I felt pretty comfortable walking the route with my two-week-old in her stroller; I didn't see anyone pedaling at an unsafe speed or being overly aggressive towards slower folks. While it would have been nice to have a few more booths or activities along the route, the adjacent businesses provided lots of excuses for pit stops.

From an anecdotal perspective, whether or not the event increased business traffic seemed to depend on the type of business. Some of the restaurants seemed slower than usual, and I doubt the auto-parts store was seeing much action, but the cafes and ice-cream shops seemed to be doing a brisk trade (they got our business, at least!).

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Trip and Fall Lawsuits vs. Sidewalk Repair

Reading through this article about how much the City of Helsinki spends on trip and fall compensation over the winter ($1.37 million) got me wondering about those same costs here in San Diego. Granted, conditions in Finland aren't exactly comparable to those here, but according to a study cited in the article Helsinki would save at least $10 for every $1 spent on road maintenance and planning. Would fixing our sidewalks before someone falls actually save us money in the long run?

On their face, the calculations here, suggest no--at least, not in legal fees. Repairing San Diego's sidewalks would cost at least $6 million each year, and it would take another $170 million to install sidewalks in all the place they're missing. But the City only pays out about $350,000 each year to resolve trip and fall lawsuits (yet another reason we're lucky not to have snow and ice, I guess). The situation is the same for our largest neighbor to the north. Los Angeles has a sidewalk repair backlog of $1.6 billion, while the city spends a "mere" $3 to $5 million on trip and fall suits each year.

But these numbers don't take into account the added value that well-kept sidewalks might contribute to their adjoining properties. There's little research how sidewalks specifically impact property values and sales, but one study suggests that walkability in general adds up to $34,000 to home values, and another shows rents in walkable shopping areas can be over 50 percent higher than those in their less-walkable counterparts. Retail sales in walkable areas are higher, too.

Since sidewalks (particularly those in good repair) are a critical piece of the walkability puzzle, they're obviously adding something to the mix, and cities are benefiting from those sidewalks in the form of higher revenues from sales and property taxes. Add that to the decreased legal fees from trip and fall lawsuits, and it's hard to understand why any city would hesitate to fix its sidewalks sooner rather than later.