Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Monday, October 18, 2010

In a world where automobility is prioritized, it can be difficult to recognize that automobility priority exists and is a factor in pedestrian deaths

Last week, the Post ran an article about an increase in pedestrian deaths, and seemingly an inability to explain the likely cause of this increase. See "Few common links in spate of pedestrian fatalities."

Sarah Yeomans' letter to the editor of the Post, "After I was hit by a car in D.C.," reminds us that people so take for granted the purpose of managing the street network is to prioritize vehicle speed and throughput, making it difficult to acknowledge that high speed traffic and low speed pedestrians often don't mix very well, especially in places where movement of motor vehicles is prioritized over people on foot or on bicycle.

She writes:

As I came to find out, this intersection has been the site of several pedestrian injuries and fatalities as a result of cars striking people while they are crossing legally in the crosswalk. But the city has not taken actions that could make the intersection safe, such as putting in a light or even adding the flags that have been used with some success on Connecticut Avenue.

Here's the problem...

Most jurisdictions do not have a systematic process for evaluating each pedestrian and bicycle accident to determine if there are systematic design or other problems, and a program to address systemic failures.
Child struck by car 1959 Pulitzer Prize winner
Child struck by car. 1959 Pulitzer Prize winner for photojournalism.

I know it doesn't make sense, but that's the way it is. Police departments handle the collection and maintenance of traffic accident data. Even though money is provided to police departments as part of the national highway safety program for traffic enforcement to reduce accidents (car on car, car on pedestrian, car on bicyclist, etc.), police departments don't usually work very closely with planning and transportation departments to analyze the data, and they don't usually have transportation engineers and planners on staff either.

This needs to change. We need to link the transportation engineers, planners, and police department personnel (officers and accident and crime analysts) in a systematic fashion to yield substantive improvements and reprioritize safety in ways that favor the most vulnerable (pedestrians and bicyclists are far more vulnerable to accidents compared to motor vehicles).

In the Western Baltimore County Pedestrian and Bicycle Access Plan, this was one of the recommendations (even though additional explication was excised from the draft).

What I proposed as part of an intra-agency standing committee on bicycle and pedestrian issues was a standing committee on safety, that would bring the county police, transportation (there this department is a unit of the DPW), and planning departments together along with the State Highway Administration, to work on these issues at the county level. (There is analysis of accidents done on state roads in Maryland, but it isn't done in this kind of integrated fashion that I proposed for all roads/accidents.)

Portland, Oregon and San Jose, California do this kind of systematic evaluation. Probably other cities do as well.

The Federal Highway Administration publishes two excellent resources:

- PEDSAFE: Pedestrian Safety Guide and Countermeasure Selection System

- BIKESAFE: Bicycle Countermeasure Selection System

which are printed manuals with software programs that address the common accidents and propose particular, systematic responses. The items can be ordered FOR FREE from the FHWA.

This needs to be done locally. I don't think it's done in DC. It probably isn't done in any of the counties, although maybe Arlington does it.

And then there is a large set of land use planning, transportation planning, and traffic management strategies (speed limits) to use to make communities truly pedestrian centric and livable.

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