4/11/2017 | 3 MINUTE READ

It’s Time to Walk the Walk on Pedestrian Safety

Facebook Share Icon LinkedIn Share Icon Twitter Share Icon Share by EMail icon Print Icon

While autonomous vehicles and other emerging technologies are transforming daily commutes and personal mobility, there also has been a resurgence in self-transport via good old foot power. And walking is expected to become increasingly popular and essential as part of the overall urbanization, healthy lifestyle and multi-modal transportation trends.

Share

Facebook Share Icon LinkedIn Share Icon Twitter Share Icon Share by EMail icon Print Icon

While autonomous vehicles and other emerging technologies are transforming daily commutes and personal mobility, there also has been a resurgence in self-transport via good old foot power. And walking is expected to become increasingly popular and essential as part of the overall urbanization, healthy lifestyle and multi-modal transportation trends.

The downside, of course, is that as people walk more and share the road with vehicles, they also put themselves at a greater risk of being in an accident. It’s already happening—and the consequences are dire. Pedestrian deaths on U.S. roads jumped 25% from 2010 to 2015 and were up another 11% through the first half of 2016 and are on pace to hit 6,000 fatalities for the full year, according to a preliminary estimate by the Governors Highway Safety Assn. (GHSA). By comparison, overall traffic-related deaths rose 6% from 2010 to 2015 and climbed another 6% last year to 40,200.

Pedestrians accounted for a 25-year high of 15% of all the traffic fatalities in the U.S. in 2015. This is up from 11% in 2006. Delaware had the highest pedestrian fatality rate (3.38 per 100,000 people) last year, while Idaho had the lowest (0.48). Florida was the only other state that had more than 3 deaths per 100,000 people

The GHSA report attributes the recent increase to a surge in smartphone usage, which the authors note has become a growing distraction for drivers and pedestrians. The number of multimedia messages soared 45% from 2014 to 2015, and the volume of wireless data usage more than doubled during the period, according to industry reports.

Other contributing factors include increased miles travelled—both by cars and walkers—and alcohol usage. One-third of the pedestrians killed last year were intoxicated, which is more than twice the rate for drunk drivers involved in pedestrian crashes. Three fourths of all pedestrian roadway fatalities occurred after dark.    

To counter the sobering statistics, the report evaluates ways in which states and cities are trying to improve pedestrian safety. Some of the most promising efforts include public information campaigns, identifying high-risk zones and conducting educational outreach in these areas, high-visibility enforcement of traffic laws and redesigning infrastructure to better accommodate pedestrians and bicyclists.

Virtually every state is making provisions for pedestrians in their latest strategic highway safety plans and many are launching “Share the Road” promotional campaigns. Cities also are working to make pedestrians more visible and keep them away from vehicles by adding more streetlights, sidewalks, walking overpasses/underpasses, “refuge islands,” rapid-flashing beacons, new traffic signals, and installing countdown clocks that allow for ample crossing time at intersections. Additional tools include “road diets” that create space for other uses (bicycle lanes, sidewalks, turn lanes), roundabouts and the use of “traffic-calming” devices such as speed bumps and curb extensions where appropriate.

New York alone plans to spend $110 million over the next five years to improve pedestrian safety. As part of the initiative, the state has identified 20 focus communities that account for about half of all its pedestrian-related accidents.

Massachusetts, meanwhile, awarded $279,000 last year to 71 local law enforcement agencies to address pedestrian and bicycle issues. In Minnesota more than 450 instructors have been trained in the "Walk! Bike! Fun! pedestrian safety curriculum that has been taught to some 43,000 elementary school students in three years. 

Florida’s “Complete Streets” approach assesses an area’s transportation ecosystem, then city planners work to redesign and improve it to enhance safety and mobility for the various local constituents. Recent improvements include high visibility crosswalks and countdown signals, advanced warning signs, targeted speed limit reductions and improved intersection lighting. The state also is training first responders on the most common pedestrian and bicycle crash injury types to better prepare them to quickly diagnose problems and take the appropriate actions.

On the enforcement and awareness side, Utah is deploying undercover police officers to bring attention to motorists that don’t yield to pedestrians. And some cities in Iowa have banned texting and cell phone use while crossing a street. Violators are fined $50 for the first offense and $150 thereafter.

The advent of autonomous and connected vehicles also promises benefits. But the limitations and unpredictability of humans still have to be accounted for—at least until someone invents a self-walking pedestrian.