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Posts from the Pedestrian safety Category

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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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Fast Changes to City Streets: A 9-Step Guide for Creative Bureaucrats

Marshall Avenue and Monroe Avenue, Memphis, Tenn. Photo: John Paul Shaffer

pfb logo 100x22Michael Andersen blogs for The Green Lane Project, a PeopleForBikes program that helps U.S. cities build better bike lanes to create low-stress streets.

For most of the 20th century, cities answered transportation problems by adding more pavement.

More freeways. More lanes. More parking lots. More things that couldn’t be reversed or revised.

So it made sense, at the time, for the public process around civil engineering projects to focus, above all else, on not making mistakes. Generations of city workers embraced the value of “Do it once and do it right.”

But today’s transportation problems are different, and so are the projects that respond to them. Naturally enough, the process of planning and designing such projects has begun changing, too.

From the experimental lawn chairs scattered across New York’s redesigned Times Square on Memorial Day 2009 to the row of plastic posts on Denver’s Arapahoe Street after a bike lane retrofit last fall, city projects are tackling big problems with solutions that are small, cheap, fast and agile. But until now, no one has created a short, practical guide for cities that want to create a program to do things like these.

Today, we’re publishing that guide.

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Finally, a Little Accountability for State DOTs on Bike and Pedestrian Safety

In a win for bike and pedestrian safety, the Federal Highway Administration announced yesterday that it will require state transportation agencies to do something they have never had to do before: set goals to reduce bike and pedestrian fatalities, and track progress toward attaining those goals.

The news is part of FHWA’s roll-out of several “performance measures” for state and regional transportation agencies. The system of metrics is supposed to make the agencies more accountable for the billions of dollars in federal transportation funds they receive every year.

Advocates for walking and biking pressed FHWA to include bike and pedestrian safety measures in the performance standards, after they were initially excluded. Andy Clarke, former head of the League of American Bicyclists, now with the Toole Design Group, said the League helped solicit more than 11,000 comments in favor of creating performance measures for bike and pedestrian safety.

FHWA must have been listening. In its announcement, the agency said, “Non-motorized safety is of particular concern and improving conditions and safety for bicycling and walking will help create an integrated, intermodal transportation system that provides travelers with real choices.” Translation: The feds value walking and biking.

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StreetFilms
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Peatónito: Protecting Pedestrians in the Crosswalk

Peatónito (“little pedestrian”) might be the most beloved figure in the world of street safety. How can you not love a superhero who protects pedestrians from cars?! Since donning the cape and luchador mask three years ago, he’s become a media sensation in Mexico. This week he’s in New York City for Transportation Alternatives’ Vision Zero for Cities 2016 conference, and Streetfilms was lucky enough to squeeze in this exclusive whirlwind walking tour of Brooklyn and Queens streets showing him in action.

Jorge Canez, the man behind the mask, has been a pedestrian advocate in Mexico City for quite a while. He’s been involved with many tactical urbanism-type of interventions, like painting crosswalks with his own spray can. As Peatónito, he’s attained a new level of fame for gently scolding drivers, escorting pedestrians though dicey intersections, and pushing cars (or occasionally walking over the tops of cars) to make motorists more aware of their transgressions.

Come along for a fun short as Peatónito hits the intimidating streets near Brooklyn’s Barclays Center, the constantly blocked bike lanes on Jay Street by MetroTech, and crosswalks in Jackson Heights, Queens, helping children walk to school.

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Traffic Engineers Still Rely on a Flawed 1970s Study to Reject Crosswalks

When St. Louis decided not to maintain colorful new crosswalks that residents had painted, the city’s pedestrian coordinator cited federal guidance. A 2011 FHWA memo warns that colorful designs could “create a false sense of security” for pedestrians and motorists.

Shoddy, 50-year-old research is an obstacle to grassroots street safety efforts like this fleur-de-lis crosswalk in St. Louis. Photo: Rally St. Louis

That may sound like unremarkable bureaucrat-speak, but the phrase “false sense of security” is actually a cornerstone of American engineering guidance on pedestrian safety.

You’ll find the words “false sense of security” in Washington state DOT’s crosswalk guidelines too. The city of Stockton, California, makes the same claim. The list goes on.

What gives? Well, you can trace this phrase — and the basis of some engineers’ reluctance to stripe crosswalks — to one very influential but seriously flawed study from the 1970s.

In 1972, a researcher named Bruce Herms conducted a study of crosswalk safety in San Diego. He found that intersections with marked crosswalks had higher injury rates than ones with unmarked crosswalks. He concluded that marked crosswalks should only be installed where they are “warranted” because they can give pedestrians a “false sense of security,” encouraging risky behavior.

But there were problems with the study. For one, Herms didn’t actually study why people made certain decisions at crosswalks — that “false sense of security” was just speculation on his part.

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Get Real — Colorful Crosswalks Aren’t Endangering Pedestrians

Volunteers in the Tower Grove neighborhood of St. Louis painting a crosswalk. Is this really what endangers pedestrians in St. Louis? Photo: RallySTL.org

Volunteers in the Tower Grove neighborhood of St. Louis painting a crosswalk. The city says this creates unsafe conditions. Photo: RallySTL.org

In the summer of 2014, residents of Tower Grove in St. Louis painted crosswalks with patterns like a fleur-de-lis to add some neighborhood character. Now city officials say the crosswalks should fade away, citing safety concerns.

The order comes from new bike and pedestrian coordinator Jamie Wilson, who cites a 2011 recommendation from the Federal Highway Administration. Wilson told The Post Dispatch he has “an ultra conservative approach when it comes to safety,” and “while he doesn’t believe someone’s going to trip and fall” over a colorful crosswalk, “we want to be consistent with the memo the feds put out.”

St. Louis residents in a handful of neighborhoods had raised funds and spearheaded efforts to create crosswalks that added to neighborhood identity. For example, the crosswalk pictured above, in the Tower Grove neighborhood, contains the “fleur-de-lis” that symbolizes the city of St. Louis on its flag.

“People were excited about the project,” Dana Gray of the Tower Grove Community Development Corporation, which helped facilitate the crosswalk painting, told the Post Dispatch. “We had lots of volunteers come out to participate, and they felt like it was drawing attention to the neighborhood.”

Taking a close look at the memo Wilson described, FHWA doesn’t say colorful crosswalks are off limits. It does however warn that they can “reduce” the visual “contrast” between the white crosswalk lines and the street, unless painted with “subdued colors.”

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Comparing What Counts as Acceptable Delay for Pedestrians and Motorists

This video, from the Ontario-based advocacy group Sudbury Moves, puts in perspective how patient we ask people to be at pedestrian crossings.

Think it’s no big deal to wait 90 seconds to cross the street? Well, people don’t expect to wait that long at the drive-through. In the time it takes to wait for a walk signal, two cars full of passengers are able to order and get their food from this Tim Horton’s. (To me it looks like it may be three cars, but I’ll accept the filmmakers’ accounting.)

The video is boring, just like waiting at the light is boring and frustrating. But it’s a strong comment on how transportation systems prioritize motorists over pedestrians. And the stakes are pretty high, since the pedestrian signal is so inconvenient (in addition to making people wait, it’s only activated if someone pushes a button) that a lot of people disregard it.

Sudbury Moves produced another video explaining why this particular intersection is broken. After a motorist struck a person crossing the street, police fined the pedestrian $50 for crossing against the light.

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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

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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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