Crossing any street in America could increase your risk of severe injury or death. In March 2017, the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) released a report showing 2016 as the deadliest year in two decades for pedestrians in the US. Preliminary statistics reveal that nearly 6000 pedestrians nationwide lost their lives that year in traffic accidents, which is an increase of more than 11% from the previous year. This number is surprising because traffic deaths decreased 18% during the same period.
Safety and survivability on the nation’s roads, streets and highways have dramatically changed the landscape for drivers in America. However, this trend is not reflected in individuals outside the cars compared to passengers and drivers inside vehicles. In response, many large cities, including Chicago, New York City, and Los Angeles have turned their attention to increasing traffic law enforcement and redesigning streets and intersections to create a safer environment for drivers, motorcycles, bicyclists, and pedestrians.
Walking Is Good for Health
Many advocacy groups including Chicago’s Active Transportation Alliance promote better health opportunities in the metropolitan area by walking in bicycling or taking public transportation to commute. A survey report released by Kaiser Permanente in 2013 suggests that of the commuters who want to walk more, 94% believe walking is good for health. Of those, 87% believe walking instead of driving “could help ease anxiety” and make them “less depressed.” In response, many cities including Chicago have developed walking options in areas that previously lacked safe sidewalks.
However, there are other factors to consider that will ensure walkable communities provide a safe environment away from drivers who speed, talk on their phones, or text while driving. City leaders and road developers recognize that many individuals are afraid that walking could kill them because of the unpredictability of motorists on city streets.
Pedestrians watching out for distracted drivers is only part of the solution. Many pedestrians are struck and killed each year because of their own distraction especially in walking with their head down staring at their electronic devices. A distracted driver moving toward a distracted pedestrian crossing an intersection is a dangerous combination creating a scenario that could easily end in severe injuries or death.
Recent surveys on distracted walking reveal that nearly four out of five adults believe distracted walking is a grave concern. More than 50% have been involved in some type of encounter while walking distracted. While driving distracted is a crime, walking distracted is not. However, it can be just as dangerous, or more, for the pedestrian’s safety and well-being.
Other Significant Factors
A study of the data accumulated by the GHSA revealed that three out of every four pedestrian-related fatalities occurred at night. One-third of those were not crossing the street at an intersection. Researchers and road developers are combing the data to determine solutions for making the street safer for pedestrians to ensure they can only cross at the intersection.
Alcohol plays a key role in many pedestrian deaths, where 15% of walkers lose their lives each year by drunk drivers. One out of every three deaths is the result of the pedestrian being legally drug with a BAC (blood alcohol) level of 0.8 or above.
Keeping Pedestrians Safe
There are efforts that major cities can take to increase pedestrian safety. One answer involves transforming a crosswalk into a speed humps to slow traffic to notice walkers and yield to pedestrians crossing the intersection. Another answer involves installing pavement area strobe lights at the intersection that are turned on by sensors tripped by an approaching pedestrian. However, this option does not impede the flow of traffic but simply warns the driver that a walker is nearing the intersection to cross.
Road engineers and developers in the future will need to figure out methods to keep traffic in motion while traveling at lower speeds to provide a more pedestrian-friendly environment. The right solution will allow the driver to reach their destination on time while still increasing the safety of the roadway for everyone.
However, any answer to improving safety comes at a cost to the community. Adding a complete set of traffic lights at the intersection can run $80,000 or more and take up to a year to design, gain approval, and install. Reconfiguring intersections with speed humps and flashing lights could cost $20,000 to $30,000 or more. Though monetarily speaking, the financial costs are still much less the $250,000 on average it costs the community any time a pedestrian is injured or killed.
Local communities will need to decide how best to spend the money to improve roadway safety. Most city, state and federal departments of transportation operate on tight budgets with an extensive list of projects that will likely never be funded. This capital funding restraint leaves city leaders and road planners to make tough choices by prioritizing what is important to keep their residents and visitors safe while commuting on foot. Every community needs to create safe, walkable sidewalks and pathways where adults and children can comfortably walk to their destination without fear of injury or death.