Addressing the epidemic of pedestrian deaths
There are not many positive benefits of COVID-19, but one of them is the ability to view webinars from home presented by experts on various subjects free of charge. On April 12, I viewed a 90-minute webinar addressing the escalating increase in pedestrian deaths presented by the Maryland Department of Planning. The presenter was Angie Schmitt, a Cleveland-based planner and writer. Among other books, she is the author of “The Silent Epidemic of Pedestrian Deaths in America.”
She began with an alarming statistic: Pedestrian traffic deaths has increased 46% from 2010 to 2019 while all other traffic deaths have increased only 5%. Schmitt said far too many pedestrians are killed while trying to run across busy streets and highways, that older adults are disproportionately killed, and that pedestrians in lower income areas are struck and killed at higher rates. She also mentioned that the faster growing areas of the nation are the most dangerous for pedestrians.
Schmitt further explained that the shift from cars to light trucks and SUVs are more likely to seriously injure or kill pedestrians — these vehicles are heavier, harder to stop, and because the front of these vehicles is much higher than sedans, they hit pedestrians higher up on the body where vital internal organs are located, causing greater injury or death.
Schmitt pointed out that good lighting is important. Converting street lighting from older light sources to LED lighting has a significant benefit on pedestrian safety.
She also spoke about a relatively new concept called “centerline hardening,” a technique to make intersections safer for pedestrians by encouraging drivers to make left turns at slower speeds. Bollards, rubber curbs, and even just painting center lines about 6 feet into the intersections are used to block the diagonal path through the intersection. This creates smaller radii at intersections, slowing turning traffic.
But one of the best takeaways from this webinar were her comments on pedestrian refuge islands like the three just installed last fall on Route 11 in Malone. Schmitt said these reduce pedestrian/vehicle crashes by over 40%. Pedestrian islands are perhaps the most significant safety feature of the entire Malone Pedestrian Safety Action Plan. Controlling speeds is extremely important to reducing or mitigating the severity of pedestrian/vehicle crashes.
Lastly, Schmitt touched on some of the things other countries, including Canada, are doing to promote traffic safety. She said the U.S. is falling behind the rest of the world in traffic safety and said that U.S. traffic deaths per capita are twice what they are in Canada. If we had the same traffic death rate per capita as Canada we could save almost 20,000 lives annually.