How to Restore Walking and Cut Traffic Accidents
The bias in our national philosophy towards high speed mobility has long been a topic that PPS has advocated against. In addition to stifling Placemaking, forcing people into cars has contributed to a host of growing national problems. Most compelling of those problems is the incredible pedestrian carnage. Yet until recently public outcry was minimal and government investment in transportation paid only lip service to annual fatalities that amount to the equivalent of one major airplane crash each month. Fortunately, the pendulum has swung back towards our cities, states, and federal government taking action.
In a two part series, long time PPS friend and PPS Senior Fellow Jay Walljasper will walk us through the growing new vision to address this tragedy. Part 1 - A New Vision to Fix the Tragedy No One Ever Thinks About - describes emerging pedestrian safety initiatives around the world. Part II lays out the recipe for How to Restore Walking as a Way of Life. - PPS Transportation Director, Gary Toth
The gravest danger to walkers as well as bicyclists and motorists is other motorists who drive dangerously. According to data collected by the New York City Department of Transportation from 2008-2012, "dangerous driver choices" contributes to pedestrian deaths in 70 percent of cases. "Dangerous pedestrian choices" is responsible in 30 percent of cases and joint responsibility in 17 percent of cases.
As the old saying goes, speed kills. Two landmark studies, one from the US and one from the UK, found that pedestrians are killed:
- 5 percent of the time when struck by a car traveling 20 mph
- 37-45 percent of the time when struck by a car traveling 30 mph
- 83-85 percent of the time when struck by a car traveling 40 mph.
In light of these findings, it's scary to realize that traffic on many if not most American roads travels closer to 40 mph than 20 mph.
"If we could do one switch to make safer streets it would be to reduce car speeds to 20 mph," says Bricker, "which would reduce pedestrian fatalities by 90 percent."
Many experts think it's not as simple as changing the speed limits. Charlie Zegeer, project manager at the University of North Carolina's authoritative Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center (PBIC) says, "Research shows that lowering a speed limit doesn't work to slow traffic– it's the roadway design that affects the speed."
Here's a few of practical steps to slow speeds, deter distracted driving and help make walking a safer, comfortable and enjoyable experience for everyone. This is where Vision Zero hits the road.
- Reduce the number of travel lanes on wide streets wherever possible. Downsizing four-lane suburban and urban streets to two travel lanes with an alternating turn lane in the middle has become a popular trend across the country. Not only does this create safer streets, it lessens noise for residents and creates an opportunity to add sidewalks, bike lanes and landscaping. (This is known as a road diet, lane reduction or 2+1 road.)
- Reduce the width of travel lanes. Wide lanes send an unmistakable message for drivers to speed up.
- Reduce the length of crosswalks. A shorter walk across the street is a safer one. This can be done in a number of ways, but most commonly by extending the sidewalk out into the intersection. (This is known as a curb extension or bulb-out.)
- Add medians in the middle of busy streets as a refuge for crossing pedestrians. This has been shown to reduce traffic accidents by 56 percent, according to Gil Penalosa of 8-80 Cities.
- Make crosswalks more visible. Elevate them to curb level, or mark them with wide swaths of paint.
- Give pedestrians a head start at traffic lights. Five seconds allows pedestrians to enter the crosswalk first and be far more visible to motorists, says Penalosa. Lining up waiting cars a few feet back from the intersection accomplishes the same thing.
- Ban right on red turns at busy intersections. Drivers, busy watching out for other cars, often don't see pedestrians crossing the street on green lights.
- Keep the turning radius 90 degrees at intersections. Rounded street corners encourages drivers to turn without stopping or looking for pedestrians.
- Install traffic circles, roundabouts, speed bumps, speed tables and other traffic calming devices, which help motorists drive safely and keep an eye out for pedestrians.
- Convert one-way streets to two-way, which encourages safer, slower driving.
- Pay close attention to road designs at bus stops. Pedestrians often rush across the street to catch their bus, not paying attention to oncoming traffic.
- Create pedestrian streets, bridges and underpasses in busy areas to minimize conflict with traffic and enhance the convenience of walking.
- Separate bike lanes on busy streets with curbs, posts or other physical dividers. Protected bike lanes create a more comfortable, enjoyable trip for pedestrians too.
- Strict enforcement of laws against speeding, failure to yield to pedestrians, drunk driving and reckless driving. Injuring or killing people with a car is no less tragic than doing it with a gun.
- Install red light cameras and other of means photo enforcement. It's expensive to station a police car at every unsafe intersection, but technology can nab lawbreakers at a fraction of the cost. Washington, DC now uses cameras to detect and fine drivers who do not yield right-of-way to pedestrians as well as those who speed or run red lights, says Charlie Zegeer of the Pedestrian and Bicycling Information Center.
- Convert traffic lights to four-way stop signs at less busy intersections. Motorists rocketing through intersections to avoid a red light is one of the most common–and dangerous–causes of speeding.
- Establish Safe Routes to Schools campaigns, which bring educators, parents, neighbors and kids themselves together to find safe, satisfying ways for students to walk and bike to school.
- Training programs about pedestrian safety for traffic engineers, transportation planners, police, city officials, citizens and children. "All the kids in the Netherlands have three weeks instruction in the rules of the road at school," notes Penalosa. "They role play being pedestrians, bicyclists and drivers."
- Put Pedestrians First. "Every city should have a by-law of one sentence stating: "In this city, pedestrians come first," declares Penalosa. "Everyone is a pedestrian at some point during the day, even if you are just walking from your parking space. So everyone has a stake in Vision Zero."
"These pedestrian improvements also improve motorists' and biyclists' safety," Zegeer adds. "It's a win-win-win. Everyone's safer."
Jay's outstanding articles are the latest in a long line of PPS promotion of roadway safety. For instance, in Exiting the "Forgiving Highway" for the "Self Explaining Road", we discussed the dramatic reduction in unnecessary road deaths that would have occurred if we followed the Dutch approach to Sustainable Safety. And In Wider, Straighter, and Faster Not the Solution for Older Drivers, chided the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) for perpetuating the myth that wider lanes will lead to increased safety for senior citizens. Perhaps our most important work is the creation of the Rightsizing Resource Guide, a powerful resource for citizen's who want to press their transportation agencies to retrofit streets for safer and more equitable operation.