Pedestrian Collision Research: Next Steps.

This week I have attempted to demonstrate how unsafe arterial roads are for pedestrians in the City of Rockford.  Improving mobility outcomes will never come through slinging mud at municipal officials.  So I’ve met with Mayor McNamara to present my findings and discuss the administrative implications from the research.  My emphasis in this series has been on reducing vehicle speed, as I believe that is the most significant variable at play.  Speed increases risk, reduces recognition, and extends the stop distance of vehicles.  Reducing speed gives pedestrians a fighting chance in the event of a collision.  Additionally, I hope that the construction basic pedestrian infrastructure is one of the fruits of this research.  There are several portions of State, for example that have both sustained a higher proportion of pedestrian collisions while lacking sidewalks, bus platforms, etc.

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 You can imagine how difficult this gets for people who walk in the winter.

You can imagine how difficult this gets for people who walk in the winter.

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I’m also in the process of meeting with a select council members to discuss the findings.  In particular, I plan on meeting with Alderman Tuneberg, Logemann and Beach. Together, 53% of all collisions happen in these wards. 

My next steps are not fully materialized yet, but it involves focusing on a section of 11th street, gathering data on pedestrian and motorist behavior, and preparing a municipal plan for addressing this issue.  Although is my final project for graduate school, I hope that the recommendations will be considered by city officials. 

I’ve been presenting my findings to friends and residents as well.  We all have a stake in ensuring our transportation network really lives up to the aims we espouse in our municipal documents, namely safety. So here are a few things you can consider:

  • Have a roadway improvement in your neighborhood?  If you’re like Rockford and have a Complete Streets policy in the books, then that policy probably has some performance measures to ascertain success.  For example: Linear feet of sidewalk or bike lanes, or rate of children walking to school.  Ask your council member: How is our ward contributing towards that end?   
  • Long before the dump trucks arrive, you should really get familiar with your community’s Capital Improvement Plan.  Unlike super-amazing places like Seville, most active transportation improvements take a long time.  Look ahead, see what the city has planned for the next five years, and make sure your council member knows that you support safe roadways that slow vehicle speeds and improve pedestrian mobility. 
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 This example is from the twin cities, courtesy of Bill Lindeke.

This example is from the twin cities, courtesy of Bill Lindeke.

  • Every time you see one of these signs–“Sidewalk Closed”–ask yourself, “What’s the Plan B?” If the sidewalk is closed for a construction project, the city is required to provide an alternative.  Here’s one example from the Twin Cities for context.  Given our incomplete sidewalk network, I think it’s important that we fight to keep what we have connected. 

A final thing to do: Be careful.  For those who walk in Rockford: I hope this research shows you the roads that are most unsafe to walk near.  For those who drive in Rockford: Be mindful that there are other people that cannot or choose not to use a motor vehicle for their mobility needs.   

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I’ll close with this newspaper excerpt that I shared in the first post.  Pedestrian collisions have been around long before Motordom appeared.  Seeing the transition and effects of roads to stroads in excerpts like this, however, show me that we have a long road ahead.  I earnestly hope the next forty years are better for non-motorized users of our transportation network.

 

Safety for Whom?

How has safety been used to alter or maintain asymmetric relations of power?  This is not just a question of who gets to drive and with how much latitude as if the equation is simply car=freedom=equality.  As noted previously, automobility and the freedom it promises needs to be understood as obligation as well.  The system of automobility in the U.s. in many ways demands that one must drive a car.  The disciplining of mobility organized through traffic safety is thus a means of keeping the system running smoothly, even as if often works as a means of keeping systems of social inequality intact. 

-Jeremy Packer, ‘Mobility Without Mayhem’

Yesterday I shared the below map as a means to satisfy the hypothesis: Pedestrian collisions occur more frequently on principal arterial roads in the City of Rockford. 

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From 2006-2015, 81% of all collisions–446 out of 551–occurred on principal arterial roads in the City of Rockford.  

Strong Towns readers are keenly aware of the following design features of principal arterial roads (read: “Stroads”).  Nonetheless, I think it is helpful to visualize the features that characterize our most unsafe roadways in Rockford. 

 South Main Street, looking north from Morgan Street.  IDOT recently completed this roadway project which includes four 12' travel lanes.  12' lanes are wide, especially given that this stretch is in a compact, walkable area of our city and is less than one mile from city center.

South Main Street, looking north from Morgan Street.  IDOT recently completed this roadway project which includes four 12' travel lanes.  12' lanes are wide, especially given that this stretch is in a compact, walkable area of our city and is less than one mile from city center.

 During the South Main reconstruction project, IDOT removed the on-street parking and demolished a tax-producing building so drivers could have ample parking.

During the South Main reconstruction project, IDOT removed the on-street parking and demolished a tax-producing building so drivers could have ample parking.

 Fixed hazardous objects such as utility poles and parked cars are removed from the right-of-way.  This gives drivers a false sense of security, and unduly places a higher risk on pedestrians. 

 Image courtesy of Google.

Image courtesy of Google.

Pictured here is Jefferson Street looking west towards our downtown.  We’ve given drivers an oversupply of travel lanes–four lanes on the bridge–while the annual average daily traffic (AADT) ranges only 6,000-8,00 cars a day.  This communicates to the driver an environment that is frictionless…until friction sets in. 

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These dots are vehicle crashes, not pedestrian crashes.  See the concentration of dots?  153 in ten years.  Here’s what happens when speeding vehicles meet a compact urban environment with minimal setbacks: 

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Among the 3 E’s, I believe that engineering at the municipal level can play a significant role in reducing speed and improving pedestrian safety.   Tomorrow I will share the steps I’ve taken since the above research took place, and also give you some action items that may be helpful for your community.

Pedestrian Safety, Mapped: 2006-2015 Findings

Yesterday’s post began with the following questions: 

  • How ‘safe’ are pedestrians; 
  • What areas are less safe than others for pedestrians; and 
  • How can we work together to maximize safety and accessibility for non-motorized users of our transportation network?  

Using IDOT crash data for the City of Rockford, I put together the following:

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From 2006-2015, 551 pedestrians were hit by the driver of a vehicle in the City of Rockford.

Rockford-Pedestrian-Fatalities.jpg

Of the 551 collisions, 23 were fatal.  (note: It is likely that these fatalities occurred at the scene. It is unlikely that IDOT has obtained data from area hospitals, so the number of fatalities may be higher). 

I explored the attribute tables afterwards.  I found that 56% of collisions happened in the daytime, not at nighttime (when people are often blamed for not wearing reflective, bright-colored clothing).  I also found that inclement weather–snow, rain, fog, wind combined–was present in only 18% of the collisions.   

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I then overlaid zoning districts onto the collisions. Pictured here is our C-4, mixed-use district, the most compact, walkable space we have in Rockford.   City Market, Friday Night Flix, Stroll on State…we have a lot of people out walking downtown.  Surely most of our collisions are happening in this district?  While not insignificant, only 15% of all pedestrian collisions occurred here. 

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Pictured here are a couple of our commercial districts.  This is where most folks are getting their groceries, cashing their checks, or dining out.  33% of all pedestrian collisions occurred here.  So what about these districts?  More particularly, what does the type of roadway bisecting these zones tell us about pedestrian collisions?

The city and our regional MPO have classified our roadways with seven designations ranging from ‘local streets’ to ‘interstate’.  The following slides show four of those roadways: Minor collectors, major collections, minor arterials, and other principal arterials.  Recall the hypothesis: 

Pedestrian collisions occur more frequently on principal arterial roads in the City of Rockford.

 Less than 1% of all pedestrian collisions occurred on minor collectors.

Less than 1% of all pedestrian collisions occurred on minor collectors.

 Just over 1% of all pedestrian collisions occurred on major collectors.

Just over 1% of all pedestrian collisions occurred on major collectors.

 9% of all pedestrian collisions occurred on minor arterials.  Notably, Auburn and Broadway have a significant collection of collisions.

9% of all pedestrian collisions occurred on minor arterials.  Notably, Auburn and Broadway have a significant collection of collisions.

 81% of all pedestrian collisions occurred on principal arterials.  We can accept the above hypothesis.

81% of all pedestrian collisions occurred on principal arterials.  We can accept the above hypothesis.

From 2006-2015, 81% of all collisions–446 out of 551–occurred on principal arterial roads in the City of Rockford.  Let me note the most dangerous roads in particular: 

  • State Street: 23% of all collisions (126 of 551) occur on State Street, which is owned by IDOT.  
  • 11th: 9% of all collisions (46 of 551) happen here. The highest concentration of collisions are on the portion of 11th that is also owned by IDOT. 
  • Charles: 8% of all collisions (39 of 551) happen here.
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As you can see, these streets do a great job at moving a large number of vehicles every day.  However, they do a poor job at moving pedestrians. 

Tomorrow I will look at some of the design characteristics typifying arterial roads that frustrate pedestrian mobility and compromise pedestrian safety. 

 

Research: Pedestrian Collisions in Rockford

If you were to close your eyes and place a finger on any transportation-related document your city is producing, there’s a good chance you’d land on one word: Safety.

“The City recognizes the need to develop a safe, efficient, accessible and integrated multimodal transportation network that balances the need and desire for access, mobility, economic development and aesthetics while providing for the health and well-being for people of all ages and abilities.”  -City of Rockford, Complete Streets Policy, Jan 2017

 Excerpt of our Complete Streets policy.

Excerpt of our Complete Streets policy.

 Excerpt of our LimeBike agreement. 

Excerpt of our LimeBike agreement. 

These excerpts are from recent resolutions and agreements that the Rockford City Council has adopted.  All the right words are here: “multimodal”, “all ages and abilities”, “safe routes to school”, even “maximize carbon-free mobility”.  All good.

Recently my interest has been in the alignment of this municipal value–safety–with the existing conditions of pedestrian mobility.  I began with the following questions:

  • How ‘safe’ are pedestrians; 
  • What areas are less safe than others for pedestrians; and 
  • How can we work together to maximize safety and accessibility for non-motorized users of our transportation network?  
Rockford-RRSTar-Pedestrian-2.jpg
 January, 1974.

January, 1974.

Every so often I would hear of pedestrians getting hit by drivers on certain roads.  So I began to research our library’s newspaper archive.  Turns out we’ve had a problem with pedestrian collisions for some time.  The above example in particular is telling:  Once a “comfortable country road”, Alpine Road has now sustained two pedestrian collisions in the last month…January 1974.  Over forty years ago.

 Alpine, looking north, just north of Alpine/State intersection.  Image courtesy of  Bob Anderson.

Alpine, looking north, just north of Alpine/State intersection.  Image courtesy of Bob Anderson.

 Alpine today.  Image courtesy of Google.

Alpine today.  Image courtesy of Google.

Eventually it was time to pair qualitative research with quantitative research. I began with the following hypothesis: 

Pedestrian collisions occur more frequently on principal arterial roads in the City of Rockford.

So I obtained ten years of data from the Illinois Department of Transportation (2006-2015, to be exact).  Merged together, here was my initial finding: 

Rockford-Pedestrian-Collisions.jpg

From 2006-2015, 551 pedestrians were hit by the driver of a vehicle in the City of Rockford.

More to come tomorrow. 

 

A History of Traffic Safety in the United States: Part Four

This is a four-part series on the history of traffic safety reforms in the United States.  Part one is here, part two is here, and part three is here.

Analysis: Responsibility Paradigm, and the 21st Century ‘Traffic Fight’

Norton’s fourth paradigm, which covers the 1980s to the present day, bears similarities to the paradigms of the past.  Although the automobile industry remains governed by safety mandates, this paradigm elevates more responsibility to drivers for the safety of those inside and outside of the vehicle.  The ‘E’s of education and enforcement are instrumental towards this end.  For example, organizations such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) and increased law enforcement penalties responded to the acute problem of drunk driving, especially in the 1980s.  Federal and state transportation departments have organized a number of awareness weeks ranging from work zone safety to distracted driving to “Start Seeing Motorcycles”.  The notion that safety is a “shared responsibility” between motorists and pedestrians re-emerged, and various state and local campaigns have encouraged the latter to wear reflective clothing and refrain from texting while walking.  

  Image courtesy of    Baltimore Complete Streets

Image courtesy of Baltimore Complete Streets

An interesting feature of the responsibility paradigm is the deviation from the roadway as an automobile-exclusive utility and the willingness to reclaim the roadway for public spaces and other transportation modes.  Eric Dunbaugh refers to these roadways as “livable streets” that respect the adjacent urban built environment and improve the quality of pedestrian walkways. This approach to street design arguably stands in contrast to the engineering efforts in previous paradigms that were chiefly concerned with moving automobile traffic, mitigating congestion, and eliminating road hazards.  Indeed, the roadside design guides of the 1960s included such ‘forgiving design’ features as clear zones and removal of fixed hazardous objects such as trees within a certain buffer (Ibid, 287).  Dunbaugh contends that the design cues of “livable streets” are no less safe than the forgiving design approach, with the former being more context-appropriate in urban areas.  

Roadway reclamation within this paradigm includes both benefits and challenges.  Brian Ladd highlights the traffic-calming benefits that exist within shared roadway space.  John Pucher and Ralph Buehler mention that the most convenient bicycle facilities typically occupy space that was previously allocated exclusively to motor vehicles (2008, 512).  Peter Muller accepts that the automobile will remain in urban settings, but states that coordination with other transportation modes is a more effective response than building additional freeways (2017, 83).

  Image courtesy of    Veloce Today

Image courtesy of Veloce Today

Colin Divall’s idea of a “useable past” is especially salient for enriching the discussion around automated vehicles.  The previous paradigms demonstrate how Americans have used technology to improve safety outcomes throughout most of the 20th century.  During the “Safety First” paradigm motordom advocates argued that, in contrast to the horse and carriage, the handling and braking features of automobiles would actually improve traffic safety for pedestrians. During the 1939 World’s Fair, one of the vignettes of General Motors’ Futurama exhibit illustrated a remotely controlled driverless automobile with its passengers playing a board game.  O’Connell and Myers summarize a 1960s conference that outlined approaches to electronically control vehicles ranging from notifications inside the vehicle to fully automated driving that removes the driver from his previous responsibilities.  Underscoring this theme of automation is the shift from disciplining the driver to intelligently controlling the machine being driven.  Although such a shift would resonate with crashworthiness advocates of the 1960s, critics such as the head of engineering mechanics for General Motors argued that electronic implements are more fallible than human drivers.     

Any meaningful discussion on using the past to inform an automated future should include the potential redistribution of the roles and responsibilities of multiple actors including the driver, the insurance company, and the automobile manufacturer with its attendant electronics and software companies. Ethical questions abound: Which actors are culpable in a traffic accident?  How are ethical norms operationalized into computer algorithms?  Can computers negotiate in-the-moment ‘trolley problems’ that result in less harmful and more moral outcomes than a human counterpart? Will intelligent control further reinforce the idea of a street as a unimodal utility at the expense of more vulnerable, less equal roadway users?  The assemblage of power among automobile-oriented interests of previous paradigms suggests a useful precedent from which safety advocates in general and mode-specific interests in particular can learn.

This series provided a brief history of traffic safety reforms in the United States.  Using Norton’s four traffic safety paradigms as a framework for the series, I attempted to show how streets have and continue to be a contested space, not only with the advent of the “horseless carriage” but also with the imminence of automated vehicles.  From municipal traffic engineers to the National Safety Council and to automotive companies, the trajectory of traffic safety reform in the 20th century shows multiple actors using rhetoric, power, and organization to legitimate a particular mode, namely motorized vehicles, to the street.  The persistence of and continued interest in multimodal networks including bicycle, pedestrian, bus and light rail suggest that streets will continue to remain a contested space in the 21st century. 

 

REFERENCES

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Blanke, D. (2007).  Hell on Wheels: The Promise and Peril of America’s Car Culture, 1900-1940. University Press of Kansas.

Brilliant, A. E. (1965).  Some Aspects of Mass Motorization in Southern California, 1919-1929.    Southern California Quarterly, Vol.47, No. 2 (191-208).

Damon, N. (1958).  The Action Program for Highway Safety.  Annals of the American Academy    of Political and Social Science, Vol. 320, No. 1 (15-26).

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Governors’ Highway Safety Association. (2016).  Everyone Walks: Understanding and Addressing Pedestrian Safety.  Accessed 5 May 2018. https://www.ghsa.org/sites/default/files/2016-12/FINAL_sfped_0.pdf

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