Archive for December, 2011

Pedestrians at Risk in our Cities

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It’s no secret that pedestrian fatalities and serious injuries have been rising in our cities.  As more people explore active transportation options they are coming into conflict with vehicular traffic.  A recent article on USA Today shows that this is a real problem and it is reaching a new level of visibility in the debate on transportation in the US.

Most people understand that the faster a vehicle is driving, the more dangerous it can be for pedestrians and people on bicycles.  Risk is a combination of probability and consequence, and the data in the chart shows a surprising increase in the risk as the vehicular speed increases above 20 mph, as shown in the figure.

This data is well known amongst traffic engineers, and it causes them to design streets in a way that I don’t approve of.  Instead of designing streets that encourage drivers to be more aware of pedestrians and to drive slower, they isolate cars into traffic sewers and funnel them through the city at high speeds.  The problem is that this cuts up the city, street by street.  Pedestrians have only the option of staying on their own block or sprinting madly across several lanes of traffic. We need a better system, one that recognizes that there are places for traffic segregation and there are places for traffic integration.

This isn’t as difficult as it sounds.  There are many successful models for building communities which are safe for pedestrians but preserve access for vehicles.  You can look to the dutch “Woonerf” or “Shared Space concept.”  The British have their own “Home Zone” initiative.  But you can also find great examples here in Indianapolis.  Our own Monument Circle is a fantastic place to see cars and vehicles negotiating space safely, and the finished Georgia Street is going to be a model for other cities for many years to come.

Georgia Street during construction (image credit: Curt Ailes)

 

The examples above are great for low speed interaction between cars and people, but we also have some great ideas when it comes to managing high-speed traffic issues.  The Cultural Trail is designed to move a large amount of people on foot or on bike through downtown, and it really elevates active transportation to the same quality and accessibility that vehicles have.

Indy's Cultural Trail (image credit: Curt Ailes)

These local examples show that there are two effective strategies for reducing pedestrian risks:

  1. establish pedestrian zones where cars and people interact at very slow speeds – do this for both commercial and residential areas with local traffic
  2. establish arterial zones where cars and people are segregated – give people and cars separate facilities where the speeds are too dangerous for mixing