pedestrians

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.

 

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.

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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?  
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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: 

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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 Two

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

Control Paradigm: 1920s-1960s

“…[While] the automobile of today is as nearly perfect as science and industry can make it…the driver, figuratively speaking, is still wearing rompers.  He just hasn’t been able to keep up with improvements made on the road and the machine.”  

-John Maher, Mind over Motor

Image courtesy of Fighting Traffic Facebook page

Image courtesy of Fighting Traffic Facebook page

The education, engineering, and enforcement efforts of various entities within the prior paradigm were influential in lowering the rate of traffic fatalities.  Given the steady increase in driver registrations, however, the overall number of fatalities continued to increase into the 1920s and 1930s. In 1934, traffic fatalities increased almost 15% to a total of over 36,000 persons.  Rather than surmising a particular threshold of fatalities that would therefore therefore elicit political intervention, Steve Bernadin contends that “motordom members” were powerful enough to overcome divergent interests and rationalize the persistent problem of traffic fatalities. The primary way they did this was to absolve the vehicle–and its primary product of speed–from contempt and place culpability on the driver. 

 During this paradigm, industry reports, magazine articles, and even drivers’ manuals begin to describe the vehicle as a “perfect product”.  In his book Mind over Motor John Maher describes the automobile as “one of the finest products of the American age” while criticizing the driver’s ability to properly handle such a product.  Blanke quotes a 1937 drivers’ manual that describes the automobile as “nearly perfect as science and industry can make it…”.  The alleged accomplishments in automobile safety coupled with the advances in roadway engineering meant that the driver was the final element in attaining a safe driving environment.  Those who eschewed safe driving practices were characterized as inept at best and reckless at worst.  The former was assigned to both new drivers and non-drivers equally; young drivers must learn how to control and maintain their vehicle, while non-drivers must learn that the street is the domain of motorized traffic.  In this regard, both motorists and pedestrians could therefore exhibit reckless or careless behavior.  The more concerning issue, however, was not the inept drivers but the reckless drivers who in the words of Secretary Hoover were the “largest of the contributors” to the rising amount of fatalities.  It was these drivers to whom multiple organizations would appeal. 

Attempts to reach the reckless driver consisted of various voluntary appeals.  Some campaigns used pictures of mangled vehicles and deceased motorists to scare the driver into proper behavior.  Paul Hoffman, President of the Automotive Safety Foundation and former executive for Studebaker, viewed such campaigns as ineffective and propounded that scientific traffic policies are “a rational approach to an emotional problem”.  A collection of organizations researched methods and practices that would help identify the people groups wherein reckless driving may occur.  Jeremy Packer describes how psychologists developed character typologies and sociologists posited theories of estrangement and deviant behavior among adolescents.  Insurance companies paired their actuarial science with voluntary programs like the “Not Over 50 Club” which distributed vehicle stickers for drivers who presumably did not drive over 50 miles per hour. 

Although no longer exclusive to the NSC, the ‘Three E’s’ remained in service during this paradigm.  The role of education in training youth was especially heightened; not only were efforts to encourage playtime in park spaces reinforced, but training materials were geared toward young people with the assumption that they would eventually become drivers.  Regarding engineering, organizations created during the first paradigm (e.g. Institute of Traffic Engineers, American Association of State Highway Officials) worked with Congress to develop roadway studies and traffic safety reports.  The 1946 Action Program for Traffic Safety was a summation of accident prevention policies and practices that municipalities and safety organizations were instructed to use.  Local enforcement mechanisms were less the result of trial and error and more the recommendations of traffic engineers and city managers.  

During the 1940s, representatives of automotive interest groups including Paul Hoffman were looking for momentum at the federal executive and congressional level.  This was especially difficult as the realities of World War II were more pressing to lawmakers.  Nonetheless Hoffman and others worked with Presidents Roosevelt and Truman to advance automotive safety; they maintained that a free-flowing transportation network is crucial in both peacetime and wartime, and after World War II they recruited military leaders and declared a “war against accidents”.  The intent was to elevate the ‘Three E’s’ of traffic safety as an important issue for both congressman and their constituents, with the awareness of the latter encouraging the accountability of the former.  Using similar military-themed rhetoric President Eisenhower launched The Crusade for Traffic Safety in 1954, a media campaign designed to propagate the message of traffic safety throughout the country.  The campaign featured a pledge that included the elements of personal responsibility and morality indicative throughout the control paradigm: “I personally pledge myself to drive and walk safely and think in terms of safety.  I give this pledge in seriousness and earnestness, having considered fully my obligation to protect my life and the lives of my family and my fellow men.”

 

Healing City Scars

"When distance and convenience sets in; the small, the various, and the personal fade away.
- Jane Jacobs, The Death and Life of Great American Cities

Saturday morning I spent a few hours observing, photographing, and traversing several intersections in Rockford. My first stop was Ethel Avenue and 251.

Intersection of 251 and Ethel Ave, looking south. Number of lanes: 7 (including turn lane). Speed limit: 45. Distance cars have traveled from north without interruption: 1.6 miles. 

Southeast corner of Ethel Ave. and 251 intersection, an unassuming crosswalk button capable of stopping 6 lanes of commuter traffic.

At this point in the city, 251 runs parallel to the river as well as to a well-travelled section of multi-use path that includes The Symbol, Sinnissippi rose gardens and lagoon, Nicholas Conservatory, the YMCA, fishing piers, and lots of public park space. To the immediate north and east of this intersection lies Sinnissippi park, with a golf course, band shell, pickle ball courts, and acres of oak-forested park land. 

This intersection provides the only non-vehicle access (other than Spring Creek Road bridge) from east side neighborhoods to these incredible city amenities, from Loves Park to nearly downtown. It is also the only vehicle access (again, other than Spring Creek Road bridge) from west side neighborhoods to the east side, from Loves Park to nearly downtown. This was not always the case. 

Whitman Street Interchange. Photo courtesy of Rockford Reminisce

During the 1960s, as the great American experiment of urban renewal, suburban sprawl, and car madness began to take hold, Rockford was not immune to the appeal of fresh pavement and the "convenience" that an expressway bisecting the city would offer. Dozens of homes were bulldozed, and the working-class, downtown adjacent neighborhoods on the west borders of this interchange were neatly separated from those on the east. Numerous connecting streets were widened and made into one-ways to accommodate the interchange. And that fabulous expressway? Yeah. It never came. 

If neighborhoods are the fabric of a great city, the fine-grained network of economic vitality, the Whitman project ripped a gaping hole in Rockford's rich tapestry (although it is arguable that we avoided the full extent of the damage because of the expressway that never materialized). Many great American cities were irreparably damaged and bear the lasting scars of the expansion of the highway system. The Institute for Quality Communities at the University of Oklahoma has created a unique representation of this damage in the form of "city sliders" which overlay aerial photos of downtowns of major American cities in the 1950s with the downtowns in those same cities today. 

Downtown Cincinnati, 1955 and 2013. Click image to visit article with live "slider"; within article click and drag circle with arrows to view before and after images. 

Downtown Cincinnati, 1955 and 2013. Click image to visit article with live "slider"; within article click and drag circle with arrows to view before and after images. 

At their best, city streets provide access to services and amenities, connect neighborhoods and districts, and promote economic activity. However, for any of these "bests" to be achieved, city streets must first be designed for the people living, working, and playing on them. The Whitman Interchange represents all the worsts that a city street can be: a literal, physical barrier to services and amenities, a disconnecting of neighborhoods and the people therein, a portal of convenience for people who don't live in the city to get through it as quickly as possible with no opportunity for interaction with city residents or with the city economy. In short, convenience for some has led to disaster for many. 

The word "disaster" may seem hyperbolic, but I use it very intentionally. A natural disaster may last only a few minutes but change the physical landscape and the emotional connection of a community forever; the response to such a disaster can unite residents and strangers in a common act of rebuilding. For urban communities, infrastructure projects such as those I have discussed also drastically alter the physical landscape, and with those physical changes come a social and emotional toll. Those living in the wake of these projects are left to reknit the delicate network of businesses and homes and find new ways to navigate the everyday paths of life (to shops, to schools, to workplaces, to churches), and all too often "the small, the various, and the personal fade away." Worse yet, these disasters are accepted as normal and necessary; the strangers that traverse these disasters for the convenience they offer have no reason to unite with residents in an act of rebuilding, or to become familiar with the diverse, unique assets of each region of the city. 

How do we begin to fully heal the scars of failed roadway projects across our city? How can we avoid further wounding the intricate and fragile web of places and people? How do we respond to current and (planned) future projects that continue to divide and damage, rather than unite and support, the regions of this city? Below, more pictures I took Saturday to highlight a few such projects.

South Main and Island, looking west. El Tanampa bar housed in purple building, a long-standing business in southwest Rockford, now accessed only by right-in, right-out traffic. 

South Main and Knowlton, looking north. Bus stop on gravel path in front of strip with Chiquita grocery, Family Dollar, Rent to Own, and across street from South Main Food & Liquor. 

Google streetview, South Main and Lincoln, July 2012 (the month after Michael and I moved to Rockford). House has already lost some yard due to road widening/retaining wall addition. Note truck in driveway. 

South Main and Lincoln, photo taken Saturday (August 15, 2015). Yard is nonexistent, retaining wall doubled, trees gone, driveway gone (same story for many houses in this stretch of road). Sign on door indicates that house is condemned. 

North Main and Fulton looking west, taken standing in front of Olympic Tavern. Former site of an insurance office, hair salon, clock repairman, tailor (further to south), barbershop (northeast corner of this intersection), and other homes and businesses. Removed to widen and slightly alter route of North Main (Rt.2). 

North Main and Fulton looking west, taken standing in front of Olympic Tavern. Former site of an insurance office, hair salon, clock repairman, tailor (further to south), barbershop (northeast corner of this intersection), and other homes and businesses. Removed to widen and slightly alter route of North Main (Rt.2). 

There is much, much more to say on this topic and no easy answers available to unravel 60 years of failed urban experiments. Even now Rockford city officials are weighing options for how to "deal with" the Whitman Interchange, in which 2 out of 5 bridges are currently closed due to structural issues. I urge them, as I urge you, to consider the needs of the people of this city first, and not settle for what is bigger, faster, more convenient. Remember, cities are for people.