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Posts from the Pedestrian safety Category

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Awful Pedestrian Shaming Campaign Gets the Smackdown It Deserves

Montgomery County, Maryland, used this ill-considered poster to blame pedestrians who are hit by cars. Photo: Montgomery County

Montgomery County, Maryland, thought this was a good public safety message. Photo: Montgomery County

This PSA from Montgomery County, Maryland, has got to be one of the all-time worst examples of pedestrian shaming. The young girl with tire treads across her face, it’s implied, was struck and killed by a driver because she was “wearing black.”

The message was the county’s response to two recent pedestrian fatalities. According to the county, police will be ticketing drivers, pedestrians, and cyclists who break laws. The victim-blaming posters combined with the everyone-gets-fined approach to enforcement tells us this “safety campaign” won’t make pedestrians any safer.

On Twitter, Colin Browne succinctly summed up what’s wrong with Montgomery County’s approach:

Can Montgomery County replace its campaign imagery with Colin’s version?

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Why Do We Put the Onus for Traffic Safety on Kids?

It’s Walk-to-School Day, a day when children all over the country get to enjoy the simple experience of traveling somewhere using their own power. It makes me happy because I love seeing the pictures of kids walking with their parents. But it’s a sad day too, because we shouldn’t need a special day to celebrate such a normal, healthy, human activity.

Walk-to-School Day also is also a reminder of the many ways we’ve engineered walking out of the lives of children, and how forbidding our culture and environment can be toward walking.

The tweet at the top of this post from the National Transportation Safety Board is a good example. Here we have a federal safety agency putting the onus for children’s well-being in traffic on… children. There was no tweet from NTSB warning drivers to slow down and be extra careful. (In their defense, the next tweet was a photo of NTSB Vice Chairman Bella Dihn-Zarr accompanying D.C. schoolchildren on their walk to school.)

This is par for the course. Last year, on Bike to School Day, the NTSB Twitter account reminded kids to wear a helmet to “prevent death.” Very encouraging!

Sure, it’s important to teach kids about traffic safety. But how many children follow NTSB on Twitter for safety tips? What exactly is the agency trying to communicate here?

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What Killed Eduardo Dill: ‘Failure to Yield Right of Way’ or Awful Streets?

Screen Shot 2016-09-30 at 10.26.08 AM

Wide lanes, lack of medians, wide corners, and wide open views all tend to encourage people to drive faster through the El Paso neighborhood where Eduardo Dill was killed.

Tragedy struck El Paso again on September 22, when 27-year-old Susanna Lozano, driving her F-150 pickup truck, struck and killed 53-year-old Eduardo Dill as he attempted to cross a neighborhood street in his electric wheelchair.

Police said that the “contributing factor” to the crash was Dill’s “failure to yield the right of way,” according to El Paso Proud, because he was not in a crosswalk.

Blaming the victim of a fatal crash is all too typical in El Paso and other Texas cities. But if we continue to chalk up traffic fatalities to the behavior of victims, we won’t make progress in preventing them.

Last year, 48 people were killed in crashes on El Paso streets. In 2016, the death toll is on track to rise significantly, according to KFoxTV. Police say there have already been 50 traffic fatalities so far this year.

In this case, the questions we should be asking are: Why did Eduardo Dill attempt to cross Vista Del Sol Avenue where he did? And what can be done to prevent similar crashes in the future?

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The 4 Biggest Sins Committed By Reporters Covering Pedestrian Deaths

Each year, motorists on American streets kill nearly 5,000 pedestrians. The loss of life is enormous — equivalent to 12 jumbo jets crashing with no survivors — but the steady drumbeat of pedestrian fatalities doesn’t register as an urgent public safety crisis. Maybe it would seem more urgent if the press covered pedestrian deaths as the preventable outcome of a broken system, instead of a series of random “accidents.”

Reports that accuse pedestrians of "darting" into traffic are remarkably common. Image:

Reports that accuse pedestrians of “darting” into traffic are remarkably common. Image: WKRN Nashville

Most local media reports of pedestrian deaths are just a few sentences long. In that brief space, they still manage to trivialize the issue of pedestrian safety and gloss over the underlying causes of traffic fatalities.

Here are four common problems with how pedestrian deaths are covered in American media and why reporters need to change their approach to traffic violence.

Blaming the victim

The default stance of most coverage is to blame victims for their own deaths. Maybe the reporter will note that the victim was not in a crosswalk, or jaywalking, or reportedly “darted” into traffic.

The underlying message is the same: If only the victim had followed the rules, he or she would still be alive. What never seems to get much scrutiny is how the driver’s actions could have prevented the fatal collision — by traveling at a safe speed, for instance, or just driving attentively on a busy city street.

In reporters’ defense, crash information tends to come directly from flawed police reports that reflect a survivor’s bias.

These reports are often based on a single eyewitness — the driver who hit the victim. Depending on a witness who is potentially culpable for killing someone cannot produce a trustworthy account. Nevertheless, the driver’s version of events is often repeated by police, becoming the basis for local news stories.

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FHWA’s New Goal: Eliminating Pedestrian and Cyclist Deaths in America

Pedestrian and biking safety has been lagging. Can federal officials reverse the trend? Graph: FHWA

Pedestrian and cyclist deaths account for a growing share of traffic fatalities in America. Can federal officials reverse the trend? Graph: FHWA

The Federal Highway Administration wants to eliminate pedestrian and cyclist fatalities “in the next 20 to 30 years.” In a new strategic plan [PDF], the agency calls for reducing serious injuries and deaths 80 percent in the next 15 years, which would be an intermediate goal on the way to zero.

FHWA also calls for boosting the share of short trips Americans make by biking or walking. It defines short trips as five miles or less for bicyclists and one mile or less for pedestrians. The agency’s goal is to increase the share of these trips 50 percent by 2025 compared to 2009 levels.

Now for the bad news. As admirable as these goals may be, federal transportation officials have limited power to see them through. Decisions about transportation infrastructure and street design are mainly carried out by state and local governments.

Nevertheless, the feds do have some means to influence street safety by changing design standards and using the power of persuasion. FHWA can certainly help move local decisions in the right direction. To encourage safer transportation engineering, the agency says it will ramp up its professional training and recognize states for making progress on walking and biking.

Here’s a look at some of the more promising ideas in the agency’s plan.

Promote safer streets through better design standards

One obstacle to safe streets is the widespread application of highway-style engineering strategies to local streets where people walk and bike. Wider and straighter roads might be better for cars-only environments, but they are terrible for pedestrian and cyclist safety.

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Streets Without Sidewalks Are Killing Florida Pedestrians

Florida is the most dangerous state in the nation for pedestrians, according to Transportation for America. More than 5,100 people were killed while walking in the state between 2003 and 2010, and four Florida cities rated among T4A’s list of the most dangerous for walking.

This map, produced by the Florida Department of Transportation, overlays pedestrian-vehicle crash locations with gaps in the sidewalk network.

This map from the Florida Department of Transportation shows locations of pedestrian injuries and fatalities (red dots) on streets with no sidewalks in the Orlando area.

But to its credit, the Florida Department of Transportation is trying to change that. A new study conducted by FDOT District 5, which includes Orlando [PDF], pinpoints the locations where pedestrians and cyclists are being struck.

FDOT researchers analyzed data on demographics, street geometries, traffic volumes, and crashes to determine the conditions that increase the risk of pedestrian injuries and fatalities. The findings aren’t exactly earth-shattering, but the exercise demonstrates FDOT’s new data-driven approach to pedestrian safety under Billy Hattaway, the top official in District 1 and the leader of the state’s safety initiatives for walking and biking.

Few state departments of transportation are systematically analyzing pedestrian safety data like this — but all of them should.

Florida DOT identified two factors that make streets especially dangerous for walking.

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State DOT Engineers Say They’ll Do Better on Walking, Biking, Transit

In a welcome sign from an industry group that has been slow to embrace street designs that prioritize walking, biking, and transit, the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) released a statement last week saying it intends to “better address multi-modal issues.”

"Stroads" -- dangerous for pedestrians and cyclists. Can the engineering profession do better? Photo: Strong Towns

The engineering profession can do better than this. Photo: Strong Towns

AASHTO’s street design manuals are highly influential and lay out standards that many engineers view as gospel. While the guidelines are supposed to be flexible, in practice they promote a highway-style approach to city streets, emphasizing the movement of motor vehicles more than a welcoming pedestrian environment or safe routes for biking.

That appears to be changing — slowly. The group’s Committee on Highways recently passed a resolution [PDF] saying its next “Green Book” — the big book of street design standards — “should address designing in and for a multi-modal transportation system.” That version is due out in 2021.

Five years may be a long time to wait, but this is an encouraging development, said Ian Lockwood, an engineer with the Toole Design Group and a voice for reform inside the profession. “‘Multi-modal issues’ is their way of saying ‘allowing and encouraging cities, counties, and states to design streets that are safer and more comfortable for people who are walking, cycling or using transit,'” he said.

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3 Graphs That Explain Why 20 MPH Should Be the Limit on City Streets

Graph: ProPublica

A still from ProPublica‘s interactive graph.

Speed kills, especially on city streets teeming with pedestrians and cyclists.

The investigative news nonprofit ProPublica has produced an interactive graph that deftly conveys how just a few miles per hour can spell the difference between life and death when a person is struck by a motorist. ProPublica’s Lena Groeger used data from the AAA Safety Foundation to chart the plummeting likelihood of survival as motorist speed increases.

The average pedestrian struck by a driver traveling at 20 mph has a 93 percent chance of surviving. For a 70-year-old, the chances are somewhat lower but still a robust 87 percent.

As Groeger puts it:

Once cars reach a certain speed (just above 20 mph), they rapidly become more deadly. According to [AAA’s Brian] Tefft’s data, a person is about 70 percent more likely to be killed if they’re struck by a vehicle traveling at 30 mph versus 25 mph.

In collisions at 30 miles per hour, about one in five pedestrians will not survive. For older pedestrians, the odds are significantly worse:

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Google Patents “Flypaper” to Save Pedestrians By Sticking Them to Car Hoods

Google engineers' newest concept for pedestrians would glue them to the front of cars. Image: U.S. Patent Office

Not the Onion. Image: U.S. Patent Office

The minds at Google have come up with a novel idea to protect pedestrians in the event of a collision with the company’s self-driving cars.

The tech behemoth was awarded a patent this week for what it describes as a “flypaper or double-sided duct tape”-type substance beneath an “eggshell” exterior on the hood of the car. In a collision with a human being, the shell would crack and the person would stick to the adhesive. The idea is that after the initial collision, the flypaper will prevent people from hitting the asphalt or getting run over, which is how severe injuries are often inflicted.

A Google spokesperson told the San Jose Mercury News the patent doesn’t mean the company will go ahead with implementation. Even if the idea works as planned, it’s easy to envision scenarios where it would backfire, like if the car strikes another vehicle or a tree while someone is glued to the hood.

A much more important question for the impending autonomous car future is how these systems will minimize the potential for collisions with pedestrians in the first place. A fleet of robocars won’t need flypaper if they can’t exceed, say, 15 mph while operating on crowded city streets.

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What If We Measure Streets for Walking the Way We Measure Streets for Cars?

“What you measure is what you get,” the saying goes. In transportation, the dominant metrics are all about moving motor vehicle traffic, so America has built a transportation network that moves a lot of cars. Our streets may be dangerous, expensive, and inefficient, but they do process huge volumes of motor vehicles.

Photo: Billie Grace Ward/Flickr via City Observatory

A quintessentially American transportation metric — and a highly influential one — is the Texas Transportation Institute’s congestion report, which ranks cities based on the time drivers spend moving slower than “free-flowing” traffic. By focusing so intently on driver delay, the report obscures more meaningful information, like the total time people spend commuting.

City Observatory has been doing a fantastic job debunking the TTI report. On April Fool’s Day, City Observatory’s Joe Cortright published a tongue-in-cheek takeoff on TTI’s methodology that he’s calling the “Pedestrian Pain Index.” The idea sounds simple: What if we measured the transportation system for pedestrians the same way we measure it for drivers?

The Pedestrian Pain Index sums up how many minutes people around the country spend waiting for the “walk” signal at intersections. If you multiply that number by the same “value of time” assumptions that TTI uses to assign a dollar figure to the cost of congestion, pedestrian delay at intersections costs the U.S. economy $25 billion annually.

Cortright says it’s not as easy to produce this analysis as the one for car congestion, because transportation agencies have developed all sorts of tools to measure motor vehicle delay. Not so much for pedestrian delay. Here he explains his methodology:

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