Wednesday, February 19, 2014

DON'T WALK | Why We Need Better Pedestrian Infrastructure

Every now and again I read a news story about an unfortunate accident where a pedestrian was struck and killed by a motorist. There will usually be discussions ranging from people who are saddened to hear such tragic news, to those who are appalled when the driver gets off without even a ticket, to those who use their apparent logic to say that the pedestrian was asking for it by not paying attention. I’m of the opinion that a good deal of pedestrian infrastructure is set up to leverage liability onto the pedestrian in case of a collision.

Think about it: Push-button crosswalks force pedestrians to wait minutes at a time to cross the street (please, cars, can I please cross your street?!), and when these are on all the corners of a grid-patterned street network, it’s just not reasonable to have to wait several minutes at every intersection… which is why people jay-walk CONSTANTLY. Here’s another example, the crosswalk signs say “WALK” and “DON’T WALK”; when it’s the pedestrian’s turn to cross the street “WALK” illuminates for 5 to 10 seconds and then “DON’T WALK” starts to flash until it stops and it is no longer safe for the pedestrian to be in the crosswalk. Disregarding the psychological negativity of the sign saying “DON’T WALK” 90% of the time, if I’m a driver who glances over at the crosswalk sign and my eye catches “DON’T WALK” so I think it’s safe to turn, I may hit a pedestrian, and I may be able to defend myself saying that I saw the sign say “DON’T WALK”; how was I supposed to know that people were crossing the street in my blind spot?

And let’s not get into areas of the city that don’t have sidewalks so pedestrians are forced to either walk on the shoulder or in the street… how well does a wheelchair do on a grassy shoulder compared to a paved street?

Here’s the good news:  In downtown you’re less likely to be killed as a pedestrian if you get hit by a car than if you are hit on one of the major arterial streets in the city (May, 23rd, Penn, Reno, etc.). Do you know why? Speed limits. Sure, you can’t guarantee that people will obey the posted speed, but the difference between the number of pedestrian deaths on roads below and above 30 mph is staggering.

Since 2003 there have been 1,401 pedestrian collisions and an even 100 pedestrian fatalities in Oklahoma City. Of these 1,401 collisions, 953 occurred in areas of the city with sidewalks resulting in 51 fatalities. The remaining 448 collisions occurred in areas without sidewalks, resulting in 49 deaths.

This is a map of the pedestrian collisions since 2003. Fatalities are the big red dots.

Let’s break that down by the percentage of collisions that are fatal:

51/953 = 5.4% fatality rate in areas with sidewalks

49/448 = 10.9% fatality rate in areas without sidewalks

You are twice as likely to be killed in a collision in areas of the city that do not have sidewalks.

Less people walk in these areas, but virtually the same number are killed, because the same roads that don’t have good sidewalks also have higher speed limits. THEY ARE DESIGNED FOR CARS ONLY.

94% of the 100 fatalities occurred on streets with a speed limit of 30 mph or higher. Another fun fact, 47% of the 100 deaths involved alcohol; unfortunately the data doesn’t tell whether that means the driver or the pedestrian were under the influence of, but it’s clear that it’s safer to be sober when on the roads, whether you’re driving or walking.

Below is a map that breaks the city into 1-mile squares and illustrates the areas of the city where the most accidents occur. The map below that shows the likelihood that being hit by a car as a pedestrian will result in death based on the ODOT severity of incident scale (1 means no injury, 5 means a fatality) based upon the number of pedestrian collisions that occur in the area. Though the majority of accidents occur in the downtown area, it’s clearly more dangerous to be a pedestrian further out from downtown.

The two red squares in the middle of the map are over downtown. 

This map makes it very clear that pedestrians should be very careful on major arterials and to stay away from highways!

We need safer streets for everyone.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Our Guide To Pedestrian Etiquette

Last post, we talked about the hazards of being a pedestrian, which focused on outside threats that must be avoided by those who are walking. Now, I'm going to turn the tables: How can YOU be a good pedestrian?

The single most important thing that you, as a pedestrian, must do is pay attention. The burden of responsibility here should be equal between cars and pedestrians, but sadly, that's not usually the case. More often than not, pedestrians need to be extra vigilant to avoid being struck. Paying attention while walking means that you need to avoid texting and talking on the phone at critical times during a walk; i.e. when you're crossing the street or in an otherwise potentially unsafe situation, like a construction area. Also, while walking with a friend or a group of friends is fun and usually safe, make sure that you're not so distracted by your conversation that you make a mistake like crossing the street when you're not supposed to, or not noticing when something dangerous comes into your path. 

One of the best things that you can do from the standpoint of safety, which is related to paying attention, is walking decisively. Many car drivers are already too confused by and dismissive of pedestrians as it is, and waffling while walking just makes it worse. Use your right of way, and cross with purpose at intersections. Your confidence will help drivers have more respect for pedestrians.
Ideally, car drivers will always have a close eye out for pedestrians, but if it's nighttime and you're wearing all black, you're going to be difficult to spot. If you're walking after dark, try to wear white or bright colors, or stick a piece of reflective tape for runners on your jacket or bag to increase your visibility.
I know this can sometimes be a huge pain, but you should only cross the street using crosswalks whenever possible. Sometimes this is not feasible. At my work, for example, the inbound bus stop is located across the street from my building, and there is zero pedestrian infrastructure in the area: no sidewalk to be found, and certainly no crosswalk. I have no choice but to cross the street in the afternoons, and it's not always easy. When the proper pedestrian infrastructure is in place, however, you should always use the crosswalk rather than dashing across in an unmarked area.

Hopefully, when you're out walking, you're not the only person using the sidewalk. The golden rule is to keep to the right. If you're not already to the right and you come across other walkers or runners, then move over. If you're walking in a group and you approach other walkers, you should break up your group and move to the right to allow room for the other walker(s) to move past you. If everyone on the sidewalks follows this etiquette, everything should run smoothly for all.
Between this post and the last post, we run the risk of making it seem like being a pedestrian is scary, but it's really not. Walking is one of the safest forms of transportation, especially in a city with proper pedestrian infrastructure, but as with anything, there are steps that you can take to make it as safe as possible. Now that you know how to safely be a pedestrian, have fun and enjoy what naturally happens when you slow down and get a chance to notice the world around you. Keep your eyes peeled, pay attention, and go forth safely onto the sidewalks!

Do you have any pedestrian safety and etiquette tips that you'd like to share?

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Watch Your Step! - Six Hazards of Being a Pedestrian

Today we're going to look at some things that make being a pedestrian more difficult. Most of the things on this list could be prevented, and in an ideal situation wouldn't be an issue. Let's take a look at some hazards involved with being a pedestrian:

1. Poop. Dog poop, everywhere.

We’ll start the list off with a bio-hazard. I love seeing people out walking their dogs, but I hate that nobody in this area picks up after them. There’s poop in the planters, poop in the grass, and poop on the sidewalk. Where do dog owners get off thinking it is acceptable to leave a steaming pile of feces on the sidewalk? Our building doesn't have any trash cans or disposal bags outside, which would make a big difference, but I don’t think it would solve the problem. If you own a dog, pick up after them. Period. It’s disgusting, unsightly, and selfish. If you can’t pick up after your dog, then you don’t deserve to own one.

Right on the sidewalk that's still covered in snow a week later.
Good grief; do you dog owners have no decency?
Oh come on! Horse poop?! In Midtown?!

2. While we’re on the subject of animals… 

Being chased by a dog is no fun… well, that’s not always true. We were chased down the street by three adorable puppies the other day, and that was the cutest attack ever. But I still felt like I had the responsibility to make sure the pups got back to their owner’s property, which wasn't easy. If you have dogs, please put them in an enclosure or have them leashed. We've been chased down by barking angry dogs and I’m not sure what to do in the situation. I don’t want to hurt an animal, but I’m not going to let an animal bite me or my wife.

Pit Bulls can be sweet, but I'm not willing to wait to find out when one is charging me on the street.
Other animals can pose a hazard as well. In downtown OKC when the weather is warm grackles are EVERYWHERE;  Thousands of them sitting on electrical wires and on the ground, just waiting for the moment to drop poop on you from above.

It’s amazing how much of an issue poop is when steps aren't taken to control animal populations.

Multiply this by several hundred, and you've got the flocks that swarm downtown OKC.
"This is my turf!"

3. Okay, no more poop. Another hazard is the weather.

If you’re a pedestrian you have to be prepared for Mother Nature. Whether it’s hot, cold, or both hot and cold at the same time (Oklahoma City has demonstrated to me that this is possible several times; freezing wind and baking hot sun. How do you prepare for this?!) you need to be sure that you've got the appropriate clothing and accessories. An umbrella, sunglasses, scarves, gloves, hats, and other appropriate clothing choices will keep you comfortable regardless of the weather.

4. Distractions

Texting and talking on the phone while driving is a serious issue that creates a hazardous environment for drivers on the road, cyclists and pedestrians. But pedestrians are not innocent here by any means. I’ve seen people texting while walking and walk right out into an intersection when they don’t have the right-of-way. This behavior is bad for many reasons. It puts your life in the hands of drivers who may not be paying attention either. It also gives pedestrians a bad reputation, which is the last thing that needs to happen if we want to successfully campaign for better pedestrian infrastructure. Groups of pedestrians that are too engrossed in their conversation to be aware of their surroundings are also at risk of injury.

Here Elizabeth demonstrates how not to cross the street.

5. Unsafe Intersections

In Oklahoma City there are plenty of road intersections that are perfectly safe, but there are also those that are potentially dangerous for pedestrians. In particular the Classen diagonal that runs from Midtown up to 16th Street has several difficult intersections. These three intersections have very poor pedestrian crossings, either no crosswalks, faulty signals, or no signals. 

Classen and 11th: A six way intersection with two crosswalks
Classen and 13th: This intersection is HUGE. There aren't sidewalks on each side of the road, so this one is particularly difficult.
Classen and 16th: Do you want to cross this on foot?

6. Poorly Maintained Infrastructure

Sidewalks can fall into disrepair and become hazardous for daily use. This can be realized in many different ways: vegetation can be allowed to take over the sidewalk, with street trees making the sidewalk uneven, or shrubs having to be pushed out of the way. With all the snow and ice we've been having lately it’s become apparent that clearing sidewalks is not a high priority. While none of the streets are covered in snow thanks to the snow plow trucks, I have to walk like a penguin so that I don’t slip and fall on the ice-covered sidewalks in downtown. There should really be some effort given to ensuring that sidewalks are maintained as well as streets. It’s not fair that pedestrians have to deal with snow and ice for a whole week after it has fallen because pedestrian safety isn't a priority.

Where'd the sidewalk go? It snowed 5 days ago.
It's areas like these that make me glad I'm not wheelchair-bound.
These are just some of the hazards we face as pedestrians, and the majority could be avoided by taking personal responsibility. The others require municipalities to properly implement pedestrian infrastructure, which is our main goal at CarlessInOKC; walking needs to be a safe and easy option. What other hazards can you think of? Feel free to comment and start a discussion!

Monday, February 3, 2014

A Day in the Life of CarlessInOKC - Video

This is a video that shows what a typical Saturday looks like for us here at CarlessInOKC. We visit a few local businesses, get a TimeCar to travel across town for groceries, and we walk! I apologize in advance for the shakiness...