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Rising pedestrian deaths & design

  • 1.  Rising pedestrian deaths & design

    Posted 09-26-2018 03:29 PM
    Edited by Tirza Austin 11-13-2018 01:37 PM
    The following was trending on my LinkedIn feed today:

    "The National Transportation Safety Board says that pedestrian deaths have risen 46% in 2016 from 2009. New York City proved an exception with 101 deaths last year - the lowest since 1910 - as a lower speed limit and some safer street designs took effect."

    What do you think is causing the increase in overall pedestrian deaths? What can we do as civil engineers/transportation experts to save more lives?

    Stephanie Slocum P.E., M.ASCE
    Engineers Rising LLC

  • 2.  RE: Rising pedestrian deaths & design

    Posted 09-27-2018 07:32 AM
    Edited by Tirza Austin 09-27-2018 07:32 AM
    Dear Stephanie, your question is interesting since this is a worldwide issue. It requires a multidisciplinary study (psychology, engineering, sociology) because I noticed that new technologies and its absorbing magic, generates a loss of awareness, increasing traffic accidents (i.e. texting in WhatsApp, using headphones). The discussion is open.

    Andres Guzman Ing., M.ASCE

  • 3.  RE: Rising pedestrian deaths & design

    Posted 09-30-2018 08:03 AM
    Edited by Tirza Austin 09-30-2018 08:02 AM
    I agree with all the causative factors you all have mentioned. While "educating" the road users - vehicle drivers and pedestrians - is the first step, some form of deterrents such as a reasonably heavy fine should help. In Montreal, Canada, use of cell phones while driving was an offense. Similarly, use of cell phones while crossing a road should be punishable too. Installation of cameras at some crossings (hot spots) with warning that the road users are being watched might help. In one country, the police would book an offender and ask him/her to attend session with the police station where they would be made to watch some videos of consequences of such acts and given a lecture and then let go - wasting about half a day or more at such "correction cetnres". Not a bad idea if one values one's time.

    Arun Kumar Rao M.ASCE

  • 4.  RE: Rising pedestrian deaths & design

    Posted 10-03-2018 03:21 PM
    Edited by Tirza Austin 10-03-2018 03:20 PM
    It's really interesting that there are a number of comments noting that human psychology and engineering design need to work hand and hand to solve this problem. 

    If civil engineers are not leading the change on this (and understanding that most us have no educational background in psychology), who do we think would be the best positioned/knowledgeable to do so? (I don't have an answer, it almost seems like it needs to be a coalition led by.....who? The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), someone else?)

    I'm also curious if anyone from New York City can comment on the "exception" in the original post, which stated that the lower speed limit and some safer street designs caused reduced deaths. Was this design, psychology, or a combination of both? Are there lessons we can learn?

    Stephanie Slocum P.E., M.ASCE
    Engineers Rising LLC

  • 5.  RE: Rising pedestrian deaths & design

    Posted 10-03-2018 05:31 PM
    Edited by Tirza Austin 10-03-2018 05:30 PM
    I requested a stop sign from the town (yeah I am that neighbor).  The request was reviewed by the police and their findings were submitted to the planning board for review, where it died.  I told the police, the town would be liable for an accident because they did not post a stop sign.  They said state law dictates who has the right-of-way and who will be held responsible.  They did not seem interested in why I felt the right-of-way was unclear.  This in no way prevents an accident.  Meanwhile at the beach, controversy was stirred up when street vendors (food trucks) were denied licenses citing pedestrian concerns.  Again the police were cited as the reason for the ban (with no data).  This is managed on a local level in so many ways.  Introduce electric scooter apps and you have a real municipal nightmare.  Get involved locally... if an engineer is not serving on the town council or planning board, we should really question why not?  Who else is better qualified?

    Chad Morrison P.E., M.ASCE
    Professional Engineer
    Greenville RI


  • 6.  RE: Rising pedestrian deaths & design

    Posted 10-04-2018 09:57 AM
    Edited by Tirza Austin 10-04-2018 09:57 AM
    Former FHWA Administrator Tom Larson had eminent qualifications in both civil engineering and psychology.  He professed the importance of transportation engineers understanding both.     Penn State Engineering: About the Institute
    Psu remove preview
    Penn State Engineering: About the Institute
    The Thomas D. Larson Pennsylvania Transportation Institute is Penn State's transportation research center, a major, multidisciplinary unit within the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. Since its inception in 1968, the Larson Institute has maintained a threefold mission of research, education, and service.
    View this on Psu >

    David Cooper P.E., M.ASCE
    Pittsburgh PA

  • 7.  RE: Rising pedestrian deaths & design

    Posted 09-27-2018 07:34 AM
    Edited by Tirza Austin 09-27-2018 07:33 AM
    Pedestrians, like drivers, are impatient which causes them to walk out in front of cars, expecting them to stop suddenly!  Plus, impatient drivers exercise "right turn on red" as an absolute right regardless of pedestrians which causes them to operate as if it's a green arrow.  Both sides are at fault but the pedestrian usually loses more.  The 3rd cause is that modern pickups and SUV's have heavy sideposts at the windshield plus very large mirrors; these cause left and right blind spots for drivers that cameras can't fix!  So, a jaywalking or legal pedestrian often can't be seen!

    James Justin Mercier, P.E.
    Life Member ASCE
    Sr. Life Member IEEE
    Austin Texas

  • 8.  RE: Rising pedestrian deaths & design

    Posted 09-27-2018 11:10 PM
    Edited by Tirza Austin 09-27-2018 11:09 PM
    Hi Stephanie,
    I agree with Andres that the matter needs an in-depth multi-faceted study for a conclusive deduction. As a minimum, the study should look into related changes in the design of vehicles, smartphones effect on pedestrians' and drivers' behavior, social behavioral change in general, the effect of population growth, increase in the number of vehicles on the road, etc.

    If my imagination is not taking the better of me, I must say that I have noticed an increase in the use of cell phones (text or talk), the application of makeup, and similar activities during the course of driving in the past decade or so. Effective Sept 1, 2018, texting while driving became a driving offense in Texas. This law was brought about because there was a spike in <g class="gr_ gr_2040 gr-alert gr_gramm gr_inline_cards gr_disable_anim_appear Grammar only-ins doubleReplace replaceWithoutSep" id="2040" data-gr-id="2040">distr</g><g class="gr_ gr_2040 gr-alert gr_gramm gr_inline_cards gr_disable_anim_appear Grammar only-ins doubleReplace replaceWithoutSep" id="2040" data-gr-id="2040"><g class="gr_ gr_2040 gr-alert gr_gramm gr_inline_cards gr_disable_anim_appear Grammar only-ins doubleReplace replaceWithoutSep" id="2040" data-gr-id="2040">acted</g></g> driving accident. I am hoping that this measure makes a dent in casualties' statistics. 

    Farhad Tayyari P.E., PMP, CFM, LEED AP BD+C, ENV SP
    Sr. Project Manager
    Dikita Engineering
    Dallas TX
    (214)634-8844 EXT 134

  • 9.  RE: Rising pedestrian deaths & design

    Posted 09-27-2018 11:12 PM
    Edited by Tirza Austin 09-27-2018 11:11 PM

    I never forget visiting a friend in the hospital. He was convalescing from injuries he sustained from being run over by a vehicle at a cross street as he exercised in his neighborhood. Since then, I adopted the idea of minimizing my exposure as a pedestrian to traffic. When I want to exercise, I go to a park. One of the things we were taught as little kids in elementary school in West Africa is to always watch out for vehicles as we walked and avoid conflicts with them.  There were no sidewalks or pedestrian safety appurtenances and yet pedestrian accident casualties were very minimal.  We were taught to be fully responsible for our safety as we walked.

    In addition to all the robust pedestrian safety design features we use as civil engineers, I suggest, if not already in place, we develop a strong and comprehensive curriculum for pedestrian centric safety courses from elementary school through college. From this exercise, pedestrian situational awareness will become second nature. This exercise will save lives.

    Justin Obinna P.E., M.ASCE
    Transportation Engineer
    Texas Dept of Transportation
    Austin TX

  • 10.  RE: Rising pedestrian deaths & design

    Posted 10-01-2018 10:32 AM
    Edited by Tirza Austin 10-01-2018 10:31 AM
    It is important to address issues related to both pedestrian and driver behavior, distracted driving and distracted walking. At the same time it is equally important to address infrastructure related issues. Poor road infrastructure for pedestrian kill thousands of them all over the world. See below how safe is the infrastructure for pedestrian in more than 50 countries. Visit Vaccines For Roads - Because Every Life Matters for more information.

    88% of the road network assessed is not safe (1- and 2-star) for pedestrian

    Jigesh Bhavsar P.E., M.ASCE
    New Delhi ND


  • 11.  RE: Rising pedestrian deaths & design

    Posted 10-01-2018 05:20 PM
    Edited by Tirza Austin 10-01-2018 05:19 PM
    I think any solution to this problem has to be on several fronts simultaneously.  As engineering and safety professionals, we can only do so much to make the roads safe.  Beyond that, it is an interaction between motorists and pedestrians and we can't always be there to stop the unfortunate from occurring.  For that matter, law enforcement can't be everywhere at once.  I am appalled at how many instances I see of entire right turn lanes full of cars turning on red without stopping or cars not stopping for school buses and law enforcement is nowhere to be seen in either case.  There are only so many police officers; they can't be everywhere at once.  

    I don't personally have data to support this but the increase in pedestrian-related crashes and the increase in smartphone use can't be a coincidence.  As I said, law enforcement can't be everywhere and engineers can't make the roads/crosswalks 100% foolproof, so the rest has to be common sense on the part of the users.  Education can play a role but there are already laws on the books about making a full stop at a red light and not passing a stopped school bus with its lights on yet it happens regularly.  I have personally witnessed a crash where one driver stopped for a stopped school bus and the driver behind him didn't.

    Engineers can continue to look for ways to make crossings safer, law enforcement can continue to patrol problem areas, educational campaigns can help to raise awareness, and fines can be raised to the point where motorists and pedestrians begin to take the laws seriously but, at the end of the day, pedestrians AND motorists have to take their own safety seriously and prioritize their safety over responding to a text or chat.

    Don't misunderstand me, I am not suggesting that we throw up our hands and say "oh well, there's nothing more we can do," we can try to incorporate more separated right turn lanes with islands and petition our city/county/state lawmakers to require that new road projects also include pedestrian facilities.  At the same time, though, I don't like the thought that we have to take responsibility for the good or bad decisions of the traveling public.

    James Talley P.E., M.ASCE
    Highway Engineer
    Sterling VA

  • 12.  RE: Rising pedestrian deaths & design

    Posted 10-02-2018 04:38 PM
    Edited by Tirza Austin 10-02-2018 04:37 PM
    I'm with James Talley. It's not an issue of throwing our hands up, but the most common request I get from neighborhood advocates is, "Put in a crosswalk - it will be safer for the children then." And when that is the demand, my concern goes up - because they think the safety is given and automatic. My concern then becomes, if I put a crosswalk in, are kids just going to step out into traffic without looking - because mom and dad said it is safer.

    And in many of these cases, the roads are transition areas from rural or commuter traffic, into residential neighborhoods. And most of this kind of traffic doesn't automatically slow down in these transition areas.

    If anyone has a simple - very low to no cost solution - I am all ears.

    Michael Britton P.E., M.ASCE
    Transportation Planning and Traffic Operations Supervisor
    San Luis Obispo County Public Works
    San Luis Obispo CA

  • 13.  RE: Rising pedestrian deaths & design

    Posted 10-03-2018 10:54 AM
    Edited by Tirza Austin 10-03-2018 10:54 AM
    I'm curious about education - hopefully some of you with kids can weigh in here. I never had kids, so my knowledge of what we teach kids about pedestrian safety is limited to what I was taught in the dark ages of the 1980's. But back then, we watched a filmstrip every year that talked about how to walk safely - safe crosswalk use, where to walk on streets that didn't have sidewalks, etc., etc. Now, I lived in a relatively dense suburb of New York City at the time, so maybe it was more relevant to us and therefore more heavily stressed (and we were inundated with the infamous "Don't Cross the Street in the Middle of the Block" PSA jingle). This thread makes me wonder if schools are still including this in Elementary School curriculum.

    Mike Lach Coryell, P.E., M.ASCE
    McMillen Jacobs Associates
    Seattle WA

  • 14.  RE: Rising pedestrian deaths & design

    Posted 10-03-2018 10:50 AM
    Edited by Tirza Austin 10-03-2018 10:50 AM

    Others have alluded to this, but I want to state bluntly that this is not really an engineering problem, but a problem of human psychology.

    To ensure maximum safety, roadways and related infrastructure need to be designed so drivers, bikers, and pedestrians approaching areas of conflict with other modes of travel get that primal feeling of confusion, disorientation, or some danger signal that puts them on their guard.  No amount of law enforcement or public education campaign can match this.

    This doesn't mean designing deliberately dangerous roadways, but instead using visual, tactile, and audio cues (maybe even smell if you can figure out how to make it work) to trigger that raising of one's guard. Blocks of bright warm colors, changes in ground texture (rumble strips, grass strips, bumpy pavement), mazes of bollards or trees, creative use of plants, pavement bump-outs, changes in elevation (raised crosswalks), low beeping tones similar to those used at hearing-impaired accessible crossing signals, combined with clear sight lines, are all ways this can be achieved. 

    If you have a specific location in mind, nothing beats going out there with some props (traffic cones, cardboard boxes, throw rugs, whatever else is handy and movable) and playing with different layouts to see what gets people's attention. 

    John Zollers EIT, A.M.ASCE
    Philadelphia PA