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Posts from the Pedestrian safety Category

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Check Out Austin’s New Polka-Dotted Intersection Neckdowns

This new painted polka-dot intersection bumpout was design to make a dangerous intersection safer and more comfortable for pedestrians. Photo: Austin Mobility

This new painted polka-dot intersection neckdown was design to make a dangerous intersection safer and more comfortable for pedestrians. Photo: Austin Mobility

Safer streets for pedestrians don’t have to be expensive, or boring, for that matter. That’s the lesson from Austin’s new polka-dotted intersection neckdowns.

In an effort to get drivers to slow down and give extra room to those on two feet, the city recently installed this colorful intersection treatment at the intersection of East 6th Street and Waller in East Austin.

Photo: Austin, Tx.

Photo: City of Austin

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What Happened When a Newspaper Became an Advocate for Bicyclists

In too many cities, newspaper coverage of bicycling has stoked some of the darker aspects of human nature. Opinion pieces about bike lanes tend to cater to the reactionary opposition, goading the trolls of the comments section, where casual death threats are standard fare.

News Press reporters Janine Zeitlin and Laura Ruane accept an award for their coverage of bike safety issues in South Florida. Photo: Florida Department of Health via News Press

News-Press reporters Janine Zeitlin (center) and Laura Ruane (right) accept an award for their coverage of bike safety issues in South Florida. Photo: Florida Department of Health via News Press

But a newspaper in South Florida has taken a very different approach over the last few years, unabashedly advocating for safer streets for cycling. And it’s earning accolades in the process.

The News-Press in the Fort Myers, Florida, region won praise from the Columbia Journalism Review and local safety advocates for its “Share the Road” series, highlighting the danger faced by cyclists in a deadly corner of the deadliest state for biking.

Starting in the summer of 2014, News-Press reporters have shed light on bicyclist fatalities on local roads, and what can be done to stop the loss of life.

In the year the series launched, eight cyclists were killed in Lee County (population 661,000), the News-Press reported. By comparison, in Portland (population 609,000), one cyclist was killed in 2014 and zero in 2013.

The News-Press dug into the problem, running a feature on each of the 12 people killed while biking in Lee and Collier counties, which include the communities of Naples, Cape Coral, and Fort Myers. These areas are both huge tourist destinations and home to lots of low-income workers and immigrants. The roads are notoriously dangerous for people walking or biking.

Led by reporter Janine Zeitlin, who used to bike but stopped because it felt too risky, the News-Press combed through data about what was causing the collisions. Among the factors they identified: “wide and fast roadways,” “lagging infrastructure and laws,” “bad drivers,” and “lack of safety education.”

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Federal Report: Bad Street Design a Factor in Rising Ped/Bike Fatalities

Screen Shot 2015-12-10 at 2.40.09 PM

A new report from the non-partisan Government Accountability Office [PDF] examines why people walking or biking account for a rising share of traffic deaths in the United States. While the conclusions aren’t exactly earth-shattering, one culprit the GAO identified is street design practices that seek primarily to move cars.

The investigation was ordered by U.S. representatives Rick Larsen (Washington State), Peter DeFazio (Oregon) and Eleanor Holmes Norton (DC) in response to increasing pedestrian and cyclist deaths. Between 2004 and 2013, traffic deaths dropped steadily for drivers, but inched up for people walking or biking, according to the GAO. The cause of the discrepancy isn’t clear.

The GAO interviewed officials from state and local transportation agencies, U.S. DOT, and bike and pedestrian advocacy groups about obstacles to safety. Its conclusions reflect the attitudes of the institutions that were interviewed, without adding much in the way of data analysis.

One factor the GAO points to, for instance, is “alcohol use” — a favorite of the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (one of the groups interviewed). This can refer to both drunk driving or a victim who was struck while drunk. The GAO notes that in 14 percent of pedestrian fatalities, the victim was drunk or high. But the report presents no data to support the notion that intoxicated pedestrians account for the rising share of pedestrian fatalities. Nor is it clear why alcohol-related fatalities would increase for pedestrians and cyclists while declining in the aggregate.

Another part of the report, however, does delve into institutional obstacles to safer streets. The GAO notes that many transportation agencies, especially state agencies, still don’t see protecting pedestrians and bicyclists as a priority.

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“Adam Ruins Everything” Explains the Origins of “Jaywalking”

Think the origins of “jaywalking” in 1920s car industry propaganda are too esoteric for a mainstream audience? Watch this clip from truTV’s “Adam Ruins Everything” that adapts research from Peter Norton’s Fighting Traffic, a history of how motordom conquered American streets in the early 20th century. It’s a good sign when productions backed by the entertainment industry start devoting attention to topics like this.

Hat tip Michael Briggs.

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#DontBlockMyWalk Shows What Nashville Pedestrians Are Up Against

A Twitter campaign launched by Bike Walk Nashville is giving people a taste of what it’s like to walk the sidewalks of the Music City — and it’s not pretty.

Below are some shots tweeted by local residents using the hashtag #dontblockmywalk that show how Nashville’s pedestrian right-of-way gets treated as a dumping ground, loading dock, or construction zone — with no attempt to compensate people on foot for what’s been taken away:

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How to Make Big Box Stores Less Terrible for Walking: 8 Expert Tips

Is there any way to integrate walking into the big box development model? Photo: @fineplanner/Twitter

It’s no coincidence that the most dangerous streets in many communities are the ones in front of big box stores.

As a rule, big boxes generate a lot of motor vehicle traffic — and they tend to be a nightmare to navigate without a car. Even though the industry is shifting and some mega retailers have started to create smaller, more urban stores, big boxes likely aren’t going away soon. Is it possible to salvage the streets and parking lots around big boxes to make them more walkable for the people who shop and work at these stores every day?

To find out, I interviewed June Williamson about how communities can make better use of big box sites. Williamson is an architect and co-author, with Ellen Dunham-Jones, of Retrofitting Suburbia. Here are her tips…

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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 a 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:

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Meet the Man on a Mission to Make Florida Walkable and Bikeable

Fowler Avenue in Tampa, one of the country's most dangerous cities for pedestrians. Photo: FDOT

Fowler Avenue in Tampa, one of the country’s most dangerous cities for pedestrians. Photo: FDOT

Billy Hattaway just might have the most challenging job in any American transportation agency. As the Florida Department of Transportation’s lead official on bicycle and pedestrian safety, he’s charged with making Florida — consistently rated among the deadliest states for walking and biking — safe for people to get around under their own power.

Since FDOT hired him for the post in 2011, Hattaway has been leading the effort to reform the way this enormous agency designs and builds streets, winning accolades from advocates and the national press in the process. He also heads up one of Florida DOT’s seven districts, directing policy for the southwest corner of the state.

Can Billy Hattaway change the culture at the Florida Department of Transportation? Photo: BikeWalkLee

Billy Hattaway’s job is to change the culture at the Florida Department of Transportation. Photo: BikeWalkLee

We recently spoke to Hattaway about how the reform process is going. Here’s what he had to say. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

What were you doing before you were at FDOT?

I was working in the private sector. I worked for 25 years at Florida DOT in three stints. I was trying to advance these [street safety] concepts in the late 80s and early 90s and I didn’t have much success. So I went to the private sector.

I was consulting with VHB [Engineers], which is based in Boston. Most of the work that I did was bike and pedestrian planning. I was doing station area planning for the extension of the Phoenix light rail. It was all form-based code and street design basically for the Phoenix light rail.

It sounds like you have been given a very hard job.

We had to do a lot of structural changes to the organization to drive the change. We have 6,500 employees and you’re trying to change 50 years of planning and design culture.

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AASHTO Chief: Don’t Blame Street Design for Cyclist Deaths

This is a pretty revealing (read: depressing) exchange between a U.S. representative and the president of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, which represents state DOTs.

The transportation agencies that comprise AASHTO essentially dictate how streets are designed throughout the U.S. They are aware that pedestrian and cyclist deaths are not declining as fast as total traffic fatalities. But don’t worry, says AASHTO President Jon Cox, because there is absolutely no problem with the design of America’s streets.

Around 49 seconds in to this clip from a House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee hearing on Tuesday, Representative Rick Larsen of Washington State questions Cox about the rising share of pedestrian and cyclist fatalities:

A few of us asked the [Government Accountability Office] to look at this trend. And one suggestion we’ve heard is that we’re over-engineering or overbuilding roads so the posted speed limit may not match the size of the road. As a result that contributes to a more unsafe road for bikers and pedestrians. Has AASHTO looked at this issue — the relationship between design standards and road safety for bikers and pedestrians?

Cox, who runs the state DOT in Wyoming — the least populated state in the union! — gave this response (emphasis added):

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Mother Jones Rang in 2015 By Blaming Drunk People for Getting Hit By Cars

In a hyperbolic article, the left-wing publication Mother Jones interpreted national pedestrian fatality stats to mean people who have been drinking shouldn't walk anywhere on New Year's Eve. Image: Mother Jones

Here’s how Mother Jones presented U.S. pedestrian fatality data in a New Year’s Eve warning to avoid walking after having some drinks. Graphic: Mother Jones

This was the New Year’s revelry advice from Mother Jones, the left-wing, reader-supported magazine: Whatever you do, don’t walk anywhere after drinking. That’s because, Maddie Oatman writes, it makes you more likely to be struck by a driver.

As the basis for her reporting, Oatman used some well worn stats from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. In a recent report, NHTSA noted that about a third of pedestrians killed while walking had blood alcohol content of .08 percent or higher at the time. That spurred a victim-blamey, click-baity frenzy in the national media about the dangers of “drunk walking” — as if people on two feet have the same responsibility to remain sober as people operating heavy machinery.

It’s extra disappointing to see a progressive publication like Mother Jones fall into this trap. Telling people not to walk drunk because they might get struck by a car is like telling college women not to drink because they might get raped. It takes a structurally vulnerable class of people — pedestrians — and puts the onus on them to prevent violence at the hands of another group. It is victim blaming, plain and simple.

Walking, on its own, is plainly not dangerous, and neither is walking drunk. What adds an element of risk is traffic — fast-moving traffic in particular. Entirely overlooked in the the NHTSA study and Mother Jones was how road design puts pedestrians — whether they’re healthy and alert and fit, or affected in some way by old age or disability or alcohol — in harm’s way.

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