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.


  1. You two continue to have an amazing site. I think you nailed it when it comes to the hazards pedestrians face and how even in a more densely populated area like downtown the streets are "biased" toward cars. I have thought the way you think about getting around for decades, as I do not drive. Activism did not do much good since dealing with the "cars only" old guard establishment was pretty pointless. Things are slowly changing, and it is young people like you who can present information and arguments in a concise and graspable way.
    Edmond where I live is one of those high speed limit/low pedestrian priority suburban communities. Things are slowly improving, with sidewalks and trails being added. We have a large university (UCO) and many younger physically active professionals. I have seen "close calls" with pedestrians over the years, and have had a few myself. One of those six-lane intersections with crosswalks can be hazardous if drivers are not paying attention. Within a mile of where I live, there have been several horrible accidents with a bicycle and motorcycle where the riders died. Too much speed and people not paying attention. By "horrible" I mean so bad that a chaplain had to be called out to calm down the witnesses. When it comes to drivers and pedestrians, the real problem is not with the eyes, it is with the brain. Driver can be looking right at you and not "see" you.
    It is hard to change the "car culture" in America, especially in places like Oklahoma where that's all there's ever been. Look at that icon of the last 50 years or so, the suburban shopping mall with its acres of parking lots. It was designed to be accessable ONLY by car. A bus may go there, but it is an ordeal. When I was a kid I thought this was insane. I still do, but malls are no longer "cool" anyway. Try walking to Penn Square or Quail Springs. It is an epic journey. Even if you take a bus, you feel "naked" walking up to it, as if you are from another planet because you are not attached to a car.

  2. Carless, have you discovered that some parts of the metro area are literally "unwalkable"? Last summer I was walking near N. Western Ave. and 2nd St. (Edmond Rd, ) in Edmond. In areas where there are no sidewalks, you can often walk on the grass. If it has not rained in a while, as it often hasn't around here, it should not be muddy and there is sometimes a path where others have blazed a trail. It was near dark and this is what I found. The sidewalk just ended. There was no grass or path. There was dense brush and tall weeds 2-3 feet deep. Walking was impossible. This went right up to the busy road. I literally had to turn around and go back to the intersection. I could not walk home from there. I had to call my wife to come and pick me up. There is a reason for this that you would never guess. It is an area right on the border of Edmond and Oklahoma City. Apparently the two cities decided to "compromise": neither one maintains the side of the road, let alone builds sidewalks.
    Another dangerous hazard you will never see coming - in those areas of no sidewalks along busy roads, be very observant when you notice storm drainage or grates at the edge of the road. Since there is no sidewalk to stop it, there can be erosion underneath the path from the drainage. Right where you will be walking, there could be a gaping hole or you could cause one by walking over the thin layer of soil. In low light or in the dark, this could be very dangerous because you may not see it. I am speaking from painful experience.
    If you are going to walk in this place that is rated one of the most "unwalkable" in the country, you will become educated very quickly.

  3. See my blog at regarding an incident involving a disabled vet in a motorized wheel chair riding along in the right lane of NW Expressway in Warr Acres.

    1. I actually read this last week; very well written. I've noticed how dangerous NW Expy is whenever I've been out there. It's a shame too, because there are so many multi-family developments right there in proximity to retail, restaurants, Lake Hefner, etc. It would be a great place to focus sidewalk improvements.

  4. Such an impressive work you have done here, totally changed the concept of blinds.

    Roller Blinds & Vertical Blinds