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December 19, 2005

All I Want for Christmas is a Sidewalk

It's the most dangerous time of year to be a pedestrian or a bicyclist: short days mean commutes in the dark, overcast weather obscures pedestrians even during daylight, and rain and snow increase the stopping distance for both drivers and cyclists. But as the Seattle Times reports, better infrastructure, such as in Washington's recently updated wish list of pedestrian and cyclist projects, can make walking and biking both safer and more convenient -- not just in wintertime, but year round.

Periodically King County compiles reports on the causes and situations surrounding pedestrian deaths, most recently for the years 2000 through 2003. In short, most fatalities occur when pedestrians either (a) do not follow traffic regulations, and/or (b) are impaired by age (old or young) or alcohol.

This suggests two things to me. First, that walking is fairly safe if you are a sober, law-abiding adult, especially if you have a safe place to walk. But in King County nearly 13 percent of the pedestrians were hit walking on a road without a sidewalk. And while people over the age of 60 made up one out of every four deaths, most were following the law and crossing in a crosswalk. With limited mobility, seniors often take more time to cross, so changes such as longer signal times and better lighting at crosswalks can make a big difference.

Second, because responsible walking is not as dangerous, building safer places to walk, and advertising them, could not only reduce pedestrian fatalities, but also encourage more walking. (And as we've reported before, there seems to be safety in numbers for pedestrians -- that is, the more pedestrians there are on the streets, the lower the odds that they'll be struck by a car.)

Reading this and other pedestrian fatality and safety studies, it seems to me that, yes, pedestrians need to be visible, follow the law, and look well before crossing the street, but they also need a decent infrastructure for walking -- including sidewalks, bike paths, streetlights, and signaled street crossings. Other countries with much higher pedestrian rates also have much lower fatality rates. We can do better, too.

Posted by Jessica Branom-Zwick | Permalink


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Very good points, Jessica.

Also, responsible walking and bicycling are safer when motorists DRIVE responsibly.

One thing I've noticed, here in Eugene, is that many motorists are rarely using their turn-signals (regardless of whether or not they have the hindrance of a cellphone in their hand).

Plus, many drivers seem to be perpetually in a hurry, and find it "inconvenient" to wait for a pedestrian to finish crossing the road before pulling forward in their cars. In fact, just this afternoon when I was crossing the road, a driver who had stopped at a Stop sign, didn't wait until I had finished crossing, and came barreling towards me as they pulled away from the Stop sign. Obviously by law and common courtesy, the driver needs to wait until a pedestrian has crossed the road -- that's one of the reasons why Stop signs are there. Fortunately, the driver did slow down (in the middle of the road!) and let me finish crossing rather than run me over.

A few months ago, I also saw a bicyclist on a well-lit street at night, get hit by a car that turned right in front of the bicyclist. The driver didn't even stop to see if the bicyclist was OK. Thank God the bicyclist was.

Posted by: Michelle Parker | Dec 19, 2005 5:59:44 PM

Why not sign up with a charrette team at Open Space Seattle ( http://www.open2100.org )? It's a UW-organized project in which citizens will brainstorm a "comprehensive network of parks, civic spaces, streets, trails, shorelines, and urban forests that will bind neighborhoods to one another, create ecological conduits from the city's ridgelines to its shorelines, and ensure a wealth of green spaces for all citizens to enjoy."

I've signed up for a Greenwood/Pipers Creek team; I have an idea for a linear park/walking network (needed in sidewalkless Greenwood) and restoration of the old Greenwood wetland.

Posted by: David | Dec 19, 2005 10:20:20 PM

I think the problem is that pedestrians are viewed as "soft" obstacles that don't translate to any danger for the occupants of the vehicle. So we just need to start violently swinging baseball bats every time we enter a roadway. That will at least make drivers more aware of us as a potential dent-maker. Add some spikes to the bat and you become a potential paint-scratcher, too.

Unfortunately, this is more cumbersome than leaving the bat at home, and the cars still have the advantage in overall mass, so I've not yet tried this plan out. It might have some kinks in it still.

Hm, "mass". I wonder if it's time for Pedestrian Mass...

Posted by: Eric | Dec 20, 2005 6:51:56 AM

I've long had the fantasy of a small hand-held explosive that I could stick on a car. It would have a remote trigger, and when detonated, it'd blow up the paint and maybe make a small dent -- nothing major.

I'd carry the explosive in my hand, and if a car came close enough that I could stick it on while I was legally crossing the street, I would. Then a few seconds later, I'd detonate it. Some combination of the bang and the car damage might make the driver more careful in the future.

I know this is a bad idea in reality, but it's so appealing to think about when you're being cut off by a cell-phone idiot.

Posted by: Steve Mooney | Dec 20, 2005 10:44:54 AM

A SUV jeopardized me in a crosswalk. I reached up and gave it a good open handed slap on the side. Much to my surpise I left a substantial dent! So sorry.

Posted by: Carter | Dec 22, 2005 1:26:19 PM

I almost got ran over when crossing a narrow street in a residential area in NW Portland when a taxi ran a stop sign while I was in the middle of the crosswalk. I slapped the side of his window, because I was really pissed - and the next thing I knew, the taxi driver skidded the car to a stop (with his passenger in the back), got out of the car and started swearing at me that he was going to beat the crap out of me. Luckily, a police car drove by right at that point, and I took off - but it was pretty scary.

I'd prefer just to cary around a light anti-armor rocket launcher in next time any drivers get stupid.


Posted by: Justin | Dec 23, 2005 9:58:42 AM

What a difference a New Year makes!

Question: How did the Oregonian (safely) cross the road?

Answer: They simply waited for the next new-and-improved pedestrian law to take effect!

Heads up, drivers:

As of January 1, 2006, there's a new Oregon law that regulates how drivers must yield to pedestrians at intersections. According to Sen. Ginny Burdick, "[T]he new law's intent is to have drivers wait until pedestrians are about halfway into the next lane before proceeding through an intersection."

Here's to safer walking (and driving) in Oregon. Happy New Year!


Posted by: Michelle Parker | Jan 5, 2006 5:45:48 PM