speed

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.”

 

The Big Mouth of The South, One

Speed kills sense of place. City and town centers are destinations, not raceways, and commerce needs traffic—foot traffic. You cannot buy a dress from a car. Even foot traffic speeds up in the presence of fast moving vehicles.  Access, not automobiles, should be the priority in city centers.  -Project for Public Spaces

July 5th, 2015.  Two vehicles, headed north on South Main street, are involved in a collision.  The rear vehicle rolled over and crashed into a pole at the northeast corner of South Main and Loomis street.  One motorist was pronounced dead at the scene.  

This display has been left at the crash site for the last nine months.  Flowers, crosses, LED lights, even an enclosed container for candles mark the place of the where the crash occurred.   In all sincerity, it’s an impressive tribute.  And, unfortunately, quite common. 

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You’ve seen displays like this in your city as well.  From my experience, I tend to see them near the roadside, usually on high-speed roadways where the posted speed limit is 45mph or higher.  Where did this particular crash occur?

Image courtesy of Google

Image courtesy of Google

 Main Street and Loomis Street is just 1.2 miles away from State and Main, our City center.  It’s an old, historic part of our city, and bears the marks of traditional urban development, even in its “Old and Blighted” state: A solid row of mixed-use buildings, on-street parking, walkable, and adjacent to dense neighborhoods.  In other words:  This is not a suburban area that was designed around the automobile.  

And still: One motorist drove fast enough to roll a vehicle over on Main Street and lose his life.  There are a lot of unknown variables here: Vehicle speed, condition of the cars, relationship between both of the drivers, and more.  I’m not suggesting that a burden of responsibility should not fall on the drivers; the risk of injury increases as speed increases, and each driver chose to take that risk.   I am suggesting, however, that the design speed of the street in general, and the lack of traditional traffic-calming measures in particular, actually causes motorists to drive well beyond the posted speed limit of 30mph, a speed limit that should not be causing rollover accidents. 

No one–pedestrians, cyclists, motorists–should die on Main Street.  No loved ones should ever have to leave a tribute like this, especially in an urban area.   Again: The space between your foot and the gas pedal is up to the driver, and not the traffic engineer.  I get that.  But from a planning and design standpoint, shouldn’t local governments do everything in their power to minimize the risk of traffic-related crashes?

The problem is that our Main Street is not really a main ‘Street’.  Even more: It’s not really ours.  ‘Route 2’ is the other name for our Main Street, which is owned and operated by IDOT.  

 I’ll take the next couple of posts to show you how our DOT does roads; I’m sure it won’t surprise you.  In the meantime, take a look at South Main before IDOT begins construction on this stretch in Spring: 

IDOT is only aiming to succeed at what we’ve tried to do for decades: Make each driver the King of Main Street, and all pedestrians his subjects.  Success like this, however, comes at a cost.  

From Andres Duany:  "The Department of Transportation, and its single-minded pursuit of traffic flow, has destroyed more American towns than General Sherman.”

More to come.