Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Latest Child Traffic Safety Statistics

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is out with its latest fact sheet on traffic safety, this time focused on child safety. Including data from 2013, the latest year from which data is available, here are a few key statistics:

  •  Of the 4,735 pedestrian traffic fatalities, 236 (5%) were children
  • One-fifth (21%) of the child traffic fatalities were pedestrians
  • Of the estimated 66,000 injured pedestrians in traffic crashes, 10,000 (15%) were children
It took me a minute to recover from that first statistic--nearly 5,000 people killed walking in just one year. The good news is that according to the fact sheet, the number of child pedestrian traffic fatalities decreased by 36 percent, from 366 fatalities in 2004 to 236 in 2013. The biggest decrease came in the oldest age group. Does this mean our roads are getting safer, or are kids just walking less?

Here's one statistic that might help answer that question: 81 percent of child pedestrian traffic fatalities occurred at non-intersection locations, an increase from 77 percent in 2012. This suggests to me that any improvements in safety could be due to fewer kids walking, and not to safer roads.

It's also an important reminder that we continue to have a serious problem with roadway design. Roads are for people, and they need to keep all people safe--especially kids. Right now we've only designed them to keep drivers safe, and the result is dire for kids who dare to venture into roadways outside the designated pedestrian crossing locations.

The fix for this problem is not to push kids off roadways or blame them for "foolishly" using space that is meant for cars. The fix is to create roadways where kids aren't killed when they walk in "non-intersection locations." It's time to stop protecting cars at the expense of protecting children.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

When you design roads this way, people die

One of the downsides of being a pedestrian advocate and transportation planner it that I have to spend a disproportionate amount of time reading horrifying stories like this one, about a 7-month-old baby killed (and father severely injured) at a street crossing here in San Diego. It's so hard to wrap my head around what it must be like for these parents as they try to pick up the pieces of their lives.

This week the City is working on updates to the intersection aimed at preventing similar crashes in the future, including installing a new signal at the intersection. We say it so often that it's cliche, but it shouldn't take the death of child to fix intersections that are so obviously dangerous. Here's a picture of the crossing where the crash took place:

Notice that the northbound right "turn" isn't really a turn at all, more of a channelized "veer" that aims high-speed traffic straight at a crosswalk. Moreover, the crosswalk is set back just enough from the intersection to make pedestrians less visible to drivers. This is a space designed for cars, and cars alone. Is it any surprise that people are hurt and killed here?

The most frustrating part is that there really isn't much purpose to this stretch of roadway, other than moving cars as quickly as possible at the expense of walkability and pedestrian safety--a point neighbors have picked up on. They've asked the City to close down the road and make the entire space into a park. Let's hope the City listens, before someone else is killed at this crossing.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Walking and Access to Jobs

A newly-released report from the Center for Transportation Studies at the University of Minnesota ranks the 50 largest metropolitan areas in the US based on accessibility to jobs on foot. According to Access Across America:Walking 2014, New York has the highest job accessibility by walking. As you can see by the map below, there are hundreds of thousands of jobs within walking distance in Manhattan and the surrounding neighborhoods, but the entire region provides fairly good access to jobs on foot.

Compare New York to San Diego, where even the densest neighborhoods can't offer many jobs within easy walking distance.

The study will provide a basis for future work on walking and employment access. According to the authors, "Using this data as a starting point, future reports in the Access Across America series will track the way that accessibility in these metropolitan areas evolves in response to transportation and safety investments and land use decisions." It's important to have a baseline; one the big challenges in pedestrian advocacy is simply a lack of data about walking. With studies like this, we'll have a better understanding of existing conditions for pedestrians, which can help us determine how to effectively improve walking conditions.

You can find the full ranking of cities in the report, but here's the top ten:

1. New York
2. San Francisco
3. Los Angeles
4. Chicago
5. Washington
6. Seattle
7. Boston
8. Philadelphia
9. San Jose
10. Denver

And one last map, for people who continue to insist that LA is only for driving. Take a look at all of that green and yellow...

Friday, June 5, 2015

Walking Towards Change

Photo courtesy of The European Magazine

One cold December day in 1913, a man put on a Santa suit and started America down the path towards criminalizing walking. “Jay-walker!” he taunted, startling people who strolled in the middle of the street. With the help of the auto lobby the term soon became ubiquitous, and suddenly roads were no longer the rightful domain of pedestrians.

A century later we’re struggling to overcome the problems we created by shifting the focus of public space from people to cars. In 2013, nearly 5,000 pedestrians died in traffic crashes in the US, and 66,000 were injured. Obesity rates in the US have soared in the past two decades, driven by neighborhood designs that discourage physical activity. Air pollution, water pollution, habitat loss, and other environmental troubles are all linked to the predominance of private vehicle travel in America.

Read the full article in the European Magazine here.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

The Two-Road System: A New Vision for Sustainable Living

Image courtesy of Access Magazine

In the latest issue of Access and have figured out a solution to all our transportation problems. Okay, maybe not quite every last one. But, they do offer a radical new design for cities that would lessen the safety and pollution problems created by excess vehicle travel (aka, how we get around most cities today).

The concept centers around the idea of a two-road network. In two-road cities, one street network would be dedicated to pedestrians, bikes, mopeds, golf carts, and other "low-speed, low-mass vehicles (LLM). The other would serve cars, vans, trucks, and the rest of the "fast, heavy vehicle" inventory (FHV). By separating LLMs from FHVs, walking, biking and other sustainable forms of travel become safer and easier, leading to environmental benefits in the form of reduced vehicle miles traveled. At the same time, the FHV network becomes more efficient, because it isn't required to carry the high volumes of traffic it does today.

Delucchi and Kurani acknowledge that they aren't the first to consider the idea of separating transportation modes in this way. They point to work by William Garrison at UC Berkeley, but if you read this post about the history of the sidewalk you'll see that the idea has been around much longer than that.
Leonardo Da Vinci's vision for a two-road system, circa the late 1400s

Nonetheless, the two-road network idea has yet to gain much traction in the real world. Delucchi and Kurani note that some cities have managed to at least partially implement the system (Davis in California, Houten in the Netherlands). But they suggest that future cities could be constructed around this pattern, particularly in developing countries that are expanding quickly into green space. Using the two-road system could help these countries become more sustainable, even as they embrace the automobile.

As incomes rise in places like India and China, people are driving more and more. This is already creating serious problems for pedestrians in those countries (and everyone else impacted by pollution from driving). A two-road network is one way to reduce pedestrian injuries while potentially lowering pollution from vehicle travel.