Highway Safety Group Tells Pedestrians to Be Safe on Roads Built to Kill Them

Dumb pedestrian.
Dumb pedestrian.

The Governors’ Highway Safety Association wants you to know it’s working really hard on pedestrian and bicycle safety. The coalition of state road safety agencies just put out another report in a series of well-intentioned but off-base attempts to draw attention to the issue.

In Everyone Walks: Understanding and Addressing Pedestrian Safety, GHSA notes that pedestrian deaths have increased 15 percent since 2009 and recommends a “3 E” approach — engineering, enforcement, and education. Except, forget the engineering part, because GHSA’s members — state highway safety offices — “are tasked with tackling the behavioral side of traffic safety — laws and their enforcement, and education — but do not usually handle infrastructure or engineering,” according to spokesperson Kara Macek. So the 21 recommendations in the report barely touch on infrastructure, arguably the most important factor in making streets safe for everyone.

The recommendations are still wide-ranging, touching on everything from FHWA Section 403 highway safety grants to slow speed zones to the relative merits of overtime pay for traffic cops. But the two E’s left in the “3 E” approach put a heavy emphasis on pedestrian behavior. Case studies include a Philadelphia enforcement campaign that issued 85 percent of its 1,525 warnings to pedestrians. Minnesota warns pedestrians, “Getting smashed at the bar? Don’t get smashed walking home,” and California berates texters with this message:

This California PSA puts the responsibility where it belongs: with the driver going 40, not the family walking 3 mph.
This California PSA puts the responsibility where it belongs: with the driver going 40, not the family walking 3 mph.

There are some worthy ideas in there too. Gainesville, Florida, planted pedestrian decoys to catch drivers who don’t yield, and they installed feedback signs at key sites showing how many drivers are yielding appropriately.

By letting drivers know how they were doing, Gainesville improved yielding rates by 26 percent.
By letting drivers know how they were doing, Gainesville improved yielding rates by 26 percent.

And Washington state earmarks traffic camera revenues in school zones for pedestrian safety projects, and the Seattle police department’s Aggressive Driving Reduction Unit works to reduce speeding, failure to yield, and distraction.

The Look Alive Louisville campaign received a $307,000 FHWA highway safety grant to focus enforcement on dangerous, wide arterials with few crosswalks. While the city hasn’t been immune to pedestrian-blaming, Louisville also appears to understand that people get hurt because there aren’t adequate crosswalks or the street wasn’t well-lit. The city is working on improving the built environment for safety, including pedestrian medians and new sidewalks, though that’s not covered by the grant.

  • Gezellig

    The elderly are disproportionately killed when walking legally through crosswalks. They are also disproportionately not smartphone users.

    But our infrastructural status quo is definitely not the problem here–move along faster, granny, and remember if you get hit it’s YOUR fault:

    http://photos1.blogger.com/blogger/2398/858/1600/DSC07485.jpg

  • KevinJWalsh

    It’s a bad idea to cross the street while looking into a device, not victim-blaming. Stay alert while crossing the street.

  • Wewilliewinkleman

    One morning while having coffee on my front porch, I saw two women gazing into their devices walk into each other. There are numerous incidents in Chicago where sexual assaults and robberies happen when the victims are gazing into their devices and not paying attention to their surroundings. No lets not blame victims here, but god, use some common sense. Or don’t people teach their children to look both ways before crossing the street.

  • Alex Brideau III

    I’m not keen on blaming pedestrians for being hit by drivers failing to yield at intersections, but personally I advise everyone to put down their phone when crossing, if only to take away yet another excuse a bad driver might try to use for hitting pedestrians.

  • danger d

    Don’t look at your phone while crossing the street because that is EXACTLY what the driver who will run you over is doing too!

  • Abatu

    many city streets have crosswalks that are used..and tell the citizen when to walk or not

    it doesn’t matter if they were looking at a device or not the moment you hit someone on a crosswalk (where according to the drivers handbooks they MAKE you read) you’re supposed to slow down and make sure no one is in your path

    drivers are ignoring the law..but you expect pedestrians to look both ways?

    at an intersection you’re supposed to be slowing down incase of a pedestrian anyway (because that’s where they’re supposed to be walking..at the crosswalk)
    you hitting someone at a crosswalk PERIOD is your fault since you were ignoring traffic laws that were provided to you when you got your DL
    you’re driving a 2+ ton machine that’s capable of coming out of nowhere on a deserted street
    you have legal obligations

    people that hit others on a crosswalk should be held as murderers since they blatantly ignored traffic laws and got someone else killed (or seriously injured..which should be attempted murder)

  • Wewilliewinkleman

    Certainly you are correct about drivers responsibilities to pedestrians. But being right and being dead or severly injured is small consolation. My contribution when crossing the street to my safety is to be totally aware of my surroundings and not taking needless risks like being inattentive with an electonic device.

  • neroden

    Given that motorists are apparently given a blank check to kill anyone they like in New York City, and probably several other cities, it’s absolutely offensive to spend any time at all criticizing pedestrians.

  • neroden

    Probably the safest thing to do is to set up Jersey barriers and tire-slashers on any street, to reliably stop cars, before crossing the road.

    What, you say that’s not legal? Huh, then why are motorists allowed to get away with simply blowing through crosswalks?

    When it comes to people being killed in crosswalks, the problem is 100% the motorists.

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