Sunday, April 24, 2016

Is the street Open or Half-Open?

Cruising down the street at a CicloSDias event in Pacific Beach
I have a confession to make: sometimes I have a problem fully embracing Ciclovia events. Turns out I might not be alone, although the reasons outlined in this post from LA Streetsblog might be a little different from mine.

As Joe Linton writes, there were two Open Streets events this Saturday in the LA area. One, in Lawndale, opens a two-mile route from 8 am to 10 am. The second, in Burbank, allows cyclists who pre-register to ride a one-mile parade ride (the streets were already closed) for an hour and a half before the parade starts.

In both cases, Linton questions the short duration, minimal length of the route, early hours (too early for many adjacent businesses to be open), and (in the case of Burbank) pre-registration requirement. I'd add the requirement (in Lawndale) that kids under 13 be accompanied by an adult to the list of concerns. I was well under 13 when I rode my bike unaccompanied to school, piano lessons, and who knows where else--certainly more dangerous places than a car-free public street full of vigilant adult eyes.

Linton suggests that events like these, with their many restrictions and short duration, don't really demonstrate the benefits of a "true" Open Street event, where long routes full of engaging activities help the public imagine different (and maybe even better!) ways of using street space than just for moving cars. He points out that these lackluster "ciclovia-itas" might even backfire, giving critics an easy example to point to when they complain that it isn't worth the trouble to close streets to traffic.

To these criticisms I'd also add my own, which I think can be a problem with many ciclovia events: they're too bike-centric. As a cyclist I love biking and enjoy the ability to zip down a street unencumbered by pesky automobiles. As a pedestrian, I feel nervous about wandering a street filled with less-than-expert cyclists pedaling in every direction--and I definitely wouldn't turn my unpredictable two-year-old loose in that sort of environment.

Open streets events are often sold as a way to highlight and encourage visitors to local businesses that line the route. But it's pedestrians who visit those businesses, not cyclists (unless they're riding their bikes into the business, a cyclist becomes a pedestrian once they dismount). I'm not saying that who can't open streets to both modes at the same time, but if you look at the Burbank and Lawndale events (as an example), they're billed as primarily biking events. The "ticket" to the Burbank event is even a bike-shaped pin.

If we want to have successful Open Streets events that fulfill the true intent of the Ciclovia movement, we do need to make sure the routes and hours are long enough to provide value to participants. But we also have to make sure that all users feel safe and welcome along the Open Street route. Otherwise, the street is only "half-open" to pedestrians. 

Friday, October 30, 2015


photo courtesy of WalkArlington

A quick reminder that the most fun night of the year is also one of the most dangerous for pedestrians--especially short ones who have a tendency to be more focused on the next sugar handout than the cars on the street (that's me I'm describing). 

If you're looking for a neighborhood that with give you the most treat for your trick, check out Zillow's Trick or Treat Index for 2015, which ranks cities and neighborhoods based on factors such as crime rates and housing density. 

Have fun!

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Walking Comes First in European Transportation Policy

It seems like we're always looking to Europe as we try to improve pedestrian safety here in the US. Are they really doing things so much better over there? Short answer: yes.

You can see why by taking a look at this one simple chart from the European Transport and Safety Council's new report Making Walking and Cycling on Europe's Roads Safer. It illustrates one of the report's key recommended policies:  

"Further develop a policy of modal priority for road users, particularly in urban areas, the hierarchy being based on safety, vulnerability and sustainability. Walking should be at the top of the hierarchy, followed by cycling and use of public transport."

That's pretty wonky policy language to wade through, so let me put it more simply: Walking comes first.

Let me translate a few more of those wonky policies for you.

"Give priority in road maintenance to the quality of surfaces on footways, cycle paths and the parts of carriageways most used by crossing pedestrians and by cyclists."

Walking comes first when maintaining roads.

"Provide shorter and safer routes for pedestrians and cyclists by ensuring that routes are direct and that the quickest routes are also the safest. Travel time should be increased on unsafe routes and decreased on safe routes."

Walking comes first when designating travel routes.

"Prioritise the safety of cyclists and pedestrians when developing sustainable urban mobility plans."

Walking comes first when drafting transportation plans.

You get the idea.

It's worth noting that the report also devotes a considerable amount of space to promoting low speed limits in urban areas, particularly those with lots of bike and ped traffic:

"Encourage local authorities to adopt zones with a speed limit of 30km/h in residential areas and areas used by many pedestrians and cyclist."

"Introduce lower speed limits for junctions and intersections."

"Prepare national enforcement plans with yearly targets for compliance in the areas of speeding, especially in urban areas, where there are high numbers of pedestrians and cyclists."

I'll do the math for you--that's 18 mph. Most of the roads in my neighborhood are designed for speeds at least twice that high, and that's just the residential roads. I'd love to see a state law lowering the default speed on residential roads to 18 mph, but I doubt that's happening any time soon. Until then, maybe Pacific Beach can be the test case?

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.