The Street: Design for People

I will be appearing at The Street: Design for People August 9 at 12:30 at the Powerhouse. Tickets via Eventbrite (not free, sadly). This is organized by Foreground, who published my piece on The Future of the Footpath.

A panel of experts examine how the burgeoning urban pressures of the 21st century are affecting how we design and occupy our streets, at a public forum on 9 August at the Powerhouse Museum, Sydney.

Streets are essential for transporting both people and goods, but they are much more than just thoroughfares. They have their own intrinsic value, serving myriad civic functions, from social interactions to commercial exchange, and from cultural expression to political debate. They are also constantly changing.

For the past month, Foreground has been running a special series examining the street, from green streets that work as a hedge against the effects of climate change, to the effects of changing traffic and mobility patterns on street parking, safety and shared usage, and how encroaching privatisation is challenging its legacy as a civic commons.

As the culmination of this special series, Foreground is convening a public forum of experts with a professional interest in the street to examine how this critical piece of infrastructure might address the burgeoning urban pressures of the 21st century.

Speakers

Professor David Levinson teaches at the School of Civil Engineering at the University of Sydney, where he leads the Network Design Lab and the Transport Engineering group He is the author of the influential blog The Transportist, and is also an advisor to Sidewalk Labs spinoff Coord, which recently launched a data integration platform for urban mobility.

Dr Nicole Kalms is a founding director of the XYX Lab at Monash University, which leads national research in space, gender and communication. Her recent book Hypersexual City (Routledge 2017) examines sexualized representation in neoliberal cities.

Libby Gallagher is a registered landscape architect with over 20 years of professional experience on a range of public, mixed use and private projects in Australia and overseas. Recent award-winning projects include the Quality of Landscape Study for the City of Sydney and the Cool Streets Pilot Project for Blacktown Council.

Andrew Mackenzie (moderator) is a co-founder and co-editor of Foreground. Andrew has been a writer, curator, editor and publisher on art, design and architecture for over 20 years. He writes for various journals and newspapers and is a co-director at Uro Publications, and independent Australian publisher of books on architecture and design.

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Antecedents to a Pedestrian Bill of Rights

Below are some sources that make points similar to what might be in a Pedestrian Bill of Rights. Feel free to share more, I will add to the post. These are not in a particular order.

A shared space street in Bern, allowing only bikes, pedestrians and transit. http://pedbikesafetyinternationalscan.blogspot.com/2009/05/shared-space-street-in-bern-allowing.html
A shared space street in Bern, allowing only bikes, pedestrians and transit.

 

The illustrated Charter of Pedestrian Rights  (PDF) in English by Mexican pedestrian advocates   says:

As pedestrians we have the right to:

  • Cross the street calmly and safely
  • A city that fits my needs
  • Adequate public transportation services
  • Organized urban centers
  • Socialize in public spaces
  • Play in the streets
  • Suitable street furniture
  • Spacious sidewalks
  • A healthy environment and enjoyment of the space
  • Walk calmly on the street.

National Street Service: Jaywalker’s bill of rights

  1.  The right to cross without intimidation from motorists, whether in the crosswalk or not
  2.  The right to medical care without cost for injuries inflicted by motorists
  3.  The right to fewer moving traffic lanes
  4.  The right to lower motorists’ speed
  5.  The right to pass by
  6.  The right to stop, sit, recline, and rest without harassment or intimidation
  7.  The right to avoid activities one finds dangerous or unsavory
  8.  The right to express needs and desires for the neighborhood
  9.  The right to determine one’s own safest, most suitable route

LA’s new Mobility Principles for transportation happiness:

  • Freedom to Get Around
  • Freedom from Disruptions
  • Freedom from Harm
  • Freedom to Connect
  • Freedom from Exclusion

Austroads – Level of Service Metrics (for Network Operations Planning)

Pedestrian LOS

  • Mobility
    • Footpath congestion
    • Grade of path
    • Crossing delay or detour
  • Safety
    • Exposure to vehicles at mid- blocks
    • Exposure to vehicles at crossings
    • Trip hazards
  • Access
    • Crossing opportunities
    • Level of disability access
  • Information Amenity
    • Traveller information available including signposting
  • Amenity
    • Footpath pavement conditions
    • Comfort and convenience features
    • Security
    • Aesthetics
  • The Right-Of-Way When Using Crosswalks: Motorists failing to yield the right-of-way at crosswalks is the No. 1 dangerous behavior contributing to fatal traffic crashes in San Francisco. Motorists “shall yield the right-of-way to a pedestrian crossing the roadway within any marked crosswalk or within any unmarked crosswalk at an intersection.” Motorists must always stop for pedestrians crossing at streets corners, with or without traffic signal lights and whether or not the crosswalk is marked by painted lines. Further, even if the marked crosswalk is the middle of the block, motorists must stop for pedestrians.
  • The Right To Unimpeded Use Of A Crosswalk: A crosswalk is the part of the roadway set aside for pedestrian traffic. Motorists and bicyclists must stop behind the line at traffic signals and stop signs.
  • The Right Not To Be Struck By A Speeding Vehicle: Motorists traveling at an unsafe speed is the second most dangerous behavior contributing to fatal traffic crashes in San Francisco. Speeding increases stopping distance and collision force. When a person is hit by a vehicle traveling at 20 miles per hour, there is a 90 percent chance of survival. The survival rate drops to 20 percent if a person is hit by a vehicle traveling at 40 miles per hour. Motorists approaching a pedestrian “within any marked or unmarked crosswalk shall exercise all due care and shall reduce the speed of the vehicle or take any other action relating to the operation of the vehicle as necessary to safeguard the safety of the pedestrian.”
  • The Right Not To Be Struck In The Roadway: While pedestrians should not jaywalk and always use crosswalks to cross a roadway, even if the pedestrian is within a portion of the roadway other than a crosswalk motorists must slow down. Motorists are under the duty “exercise due care for the safety of any pedestrian” no matter where the pedestrian is on the roadway. This rule also applies to bicyclists because, as a rule, bicyclists have the same duties and responsibilities as motorists.
  • The Right To Unimpeded Use Of Sidewalks: Adult bicyclists, and even teenage bicyclists, are prohibited from riding on sidewalks in most California cities. In San Francisco, it is illegal to bike on a sidewalk if the bicyclist is 13 years of age or older. Of course, bicyclists can dismount and walk their bike on sidewalk. At that point, they are pedestrians under the law.

Los Angeles Walks reports on Los Angeles City Council file Number 87-2261 —  Pedestrian Bill of Rights

which says “The People of Los Angeles have the right to:”

  • 1. Safe roads and safe places to cross the street
  • 2. Pedestrian-oriented building facades, trees, flower stands, trash cans, awnings, etc.
  • 3. Safe and comfortable bus stops and public transit stations
  • 4. Appealing use of landscaping and available open space
  • 5. Full notification of all street widening that impinge on public open space and sidewalks
  • 6. Access to streets and buildings for disabled people
  • 7. Clean surroundings, requiring removal of graffiti and advertisements from public property
  • 8. Have needs of pedestrians considered as heavily as the needs of drivers
  • 9. Public works of Art

Arrol Gellner offered a Pedestrian Bill of Rights:

  • 1. When traffic laws say pedestrians have the right of way, that shouldn’t just mean that if you’re hit by a car, it’s not your fault. People on foot shouldn’t have to fear, evade, negotiate or maneuver around cars, whether moving or parked, just because planners routinely put the convenience of people inside vehicles far above that of people using their own two feet.
  • 2. No pedestrian should ever find that the only way to reach that store or office on foot is to cross a huge desert of asphalt, with moving cars threatening on all sides. Any parking area with more than two rows of stalls should be required to have a pedestrian walkway running down the strip where cars usually face off nose-to-nose. If these walkways reduce the space available for parking cars, well, boo hoo. Cars already take up 20 times as much space as a person does. Enough is enough.
  • 3. No pedestrian should ever be expected to cross more than four lanes of traffic, whether or not there are crossing signals present. The vast six- and even eight-lane boulevards that are being imposed on more and more of our suburbs tear neighborhoods apart and form virtual Grand Canyons to people on foot.
  • Once and for all, planners should shake the wrongheaded belief that the way to fix traffic congestion is to make roads wider. This is like telling a 400-pound man with a heart condition that what he really needs is some bigger pants. The wider we make our roads, the more traffic will arrive to fill them up, and the more impassable our cities will become to people on foot.
  • 4. In dense urban areas, pedestrians should be free to shop, stroll or sightsee without constant threat of assault by cars, buses or taxis. Hence, planners should provide centralized public parking at the fringe of city cores, offer a shuttle service and make downtown blocks pedestrian-only zones. Sedentary car jockeys would benefit from having to walk a few steps to get where they’re going, and the rest of us would be blessed with a quieter, greener and less-polluted city.
  • 5. Lastly, American planners should recognize that, in relative terms, cars are a mere fleeting speck of technology, like the chariot, the man-of-war and the steam locomotive. We bipeds, on the other hand, are hopefully here for the long run. It’s just plain dumb to continue building an entire nation around a machine that’ll likely be obsolete in 50 years — especially considering that, no matter what takes its place, we’ll always want to get around on our own two feet.

Breines and Dean (1974) write about a  Pedestrian Bill of Rights in The Pedestrian Revolution: Streets without Cars:

  • The city shall not harm the pedestrian.
  • The streets belong to all the people, and shall not be usurped for the passage and storage of motor vehicles.
  • People shall have the right to cycle in safety; that means ample provision of bikeways separate from trucks, buses and automobiles.
  • To reduce dependence on the automobile, city and suburban residents shall have the right to convenient, clean and safe mass transportation.
  • People shall be freed from the heavy burdens of daily travel by having the opportunity to live near their places of work.
  • Urban residents shall have plentiful and generous open public places – outside of parks – for gatherings and ceremonies.
  • Pedestrians shall have the right to breathe clean air on streets, free of the harmful fumes of vehicles.
  • Standing room only on city streets shall end by providing benches for sitting and relaxation.
  • The sounds of human voices shall replace vehicular noise on city streets.
  • Concern for the welfare of pedestrians shall extend to the surface under foot — with paving congenial for walking — and shall include human-scale street furniture and signs.
  • Urban man shall have the right to experience trees, plants, and flowers along city streets.
  • Cities shall exist for the care and culture of human beings, pedestrians all!

 

Donald Appleyard (1981) included a “Statement of Street Dwellers Rights” in Livable Streets.

  • The Street as a Safe Sanctuary
  • The Street as a Livable, Healthy Environment
  • The Street as a Community
  • The Street as Neighborly Territory
  • The Street as a Place for Play and Learning
  • The Street as a Green and Pleasant Land
  • The Street as a Unique Historic Place
This is being updated as part of: Donald & Bruce Appleyard, Livable Streets 2.0, Elsevier. Forthcoming 2019.

What will the footpath of the future look like?

I have a new piece up at Foreground on the Future of the Footpath. An excerpt below:

Technological developments will bring changes large and small to urban transport infrastructure over the coming decades, but the most widely felt impacts will be on the humble, low tech footpath.

 

Starship-Robot-Delivery-footpath-1024x523
Starship’s robot delivery service makes use of the footpath, rather than the road. Image: Starship

This article is part of Foreground’s The Street special series

Walking is the most widespread mode of travel, and much of it occurs on footpaths, among the least technologically sophisticated elements of the transport world. Nevertheless, footpaths are far from immune to the technological disruption already besetting transport infrastructure in cities around the world. In the future, footpaths may remain physically similar, made of asphalt, concrete, or brick, but how they are used, and what we know about how they are used, will change – if change isn’t already afoot.

Start with the kerb, the edge of the footpath and the street itself. Kerb space is an extremely valuable asset. …

Read More ….

A Pedestrian Bill of Rights

A Pedestrian Bill of Rights (v.0.1)

  1. Pedestrians have the right to safely and conveniently walk along and cross any public right-of-way without regards to who they are, with whom they are associating, when or why they are traveling, or where they are coming from or going to. #NoPoliceStops
  2. In the event of a conflict with vehicles, pedestrians automatically have the right-of-way. Where no dedicated footpaths are available, any pedestrians have the right-of-way over any other traffic and speeds shall be limited to that traveled by those pedestrians. Pedestrians shall never be required to give way to self-driving vehicles. #Right-of-Way #Footpaths #SharedSpace #StopForNoBot
  3. Any pedestrian may cross roads at any point at any time where they will endanger neither themselves nor others by doing so. #JaywalkingIsNotACrime.
  4. In the event of a collision with a pedestrian, the controller of the vehicle is always liable. #TheCarIsAlwaysWrong
  5. The space on a right-of-way allocated per pedestrian shall be no less than space allocated per traveler by vehicle. #SpatialEquity
  6. Any place accessible by vehicle must remain accessible to pedestrians on a route no less direct.  In the event of blockage due to weather or other causes, pedestrian paths shall be cleared before vehicle paths. #SnowPriority #AccessEquity #Connectivity #MinimizeCircuity
  7. Speed limits on streets shall be established both to minimize total pedestrian collisions and to minimize total injury and loss of life in the event of a collision. #SlowTraffic
  8. Every intersection of two, or more, rights-of-way contains crosswalks. There is a crosswalk on every side of every intersection. Such crosswalks must remain unimpeded when pedestrians have right-of-way.  #EveryIntersectionIsACrosswalk
  9. All at-grade road crossings shall be at the elevation of the pedestrian way. #BowToNoCar
  10. Every traffic signal shall have automatic pedestrian phases that allot at least as much green (“walk”) time for pedestrians as is allotted to vehicles, and is long enough to ensure pedestrians safe passage. At least one such phase per cycle shall ensure pedestrians may cross diagonally unimpeded by vehicles. #EndSignalInequity
  11. All pedestrian routes shall be designed such that wheelchairs may pass at all times. No temporary or permanent signs or utility posts or parked vehicles or other temporary or permanent street furniture shall obstruct this minimum passage width. #FreePassage #Inclusion
  12. Previous or current rate of use must not be used to determine future use, or proposed infrastructure. #HistoryIsNotDeterminative
  13. Should traffic levels, the built environment, and topography topology warrant, paths for pedestrians may be grade separated when that is safer and more convenient for pedestrians. #KeepThemSeparated
  14.  The air quality for pedestrians along roads shall be no more dangerous to health than the level experienced in the absence of vehicles, and the noise level experienced by pedestrians along roads shall be no louder than the level that would be experienced in the absence of vehicles. #NoNoise #NoEmissions #EVs.
  15. Pedestrian paths shall be buffered from high-speed vehicles. Footpaths and the adjacent environment shall be designed to bring joy rather than dread to the act of walking. #WalkingIsAGood #Verges

 

Definition: A pedestrian is a person traveling by foot and is inclusive of those using assistive devices.

Definition: A vehicle includes any road-worthy vehicle including car, truck, bus, and bicycle capable of traveling at speeds faster than a pedestrian could sustain, and includes electric or motorized vehicles, excluding assistive devices traveling at pedestrian speeds.

 

This was compiled with input from the Twitter community in response to a request, and most of these ideas were identified by others.  It is aimed to advance pedestrian rights and design environments that encourage walking and improve safety and public health.

PBoR (dragged)

Cage the Automobile

Is the purpose of bollards to keep people in or keep cars out? A reader writes:

 

Bollards done wrong, Egypt.
Bollards done wrong. It’s a long pedestrian street, would you bollard the entire street,  because they are proposing low risers. You will end caging the people like in Egypt.

After the attack in Toronto last week with a guy driving a van and killing 10 people and injuring 15, Montreal announced a new plan for Saint Catherine street making it pedestrian friendly, with a nice wide sidewalk showing young people walking, yet  when the mayor was asked if they planned for pedestrian safety from such attack she said ‘no, we did not.’

So the moral question: should we change our planning for pedestrians to ensure safety from a crazy person in a van, terrorists, drunk drivers,  just incapacitated drivers. This is not the first, and will not be the last, time a driver plows down pedestrians. By doing so we show weakness to terrorists? Are we converting the outdoors to a Zoo placing pedestrians in cages. Should the woonerf, for example, be like an open zoo.

It’s a moral and ethical question how much separation should we have in an era when crazy people uses cars as weapons to kill random humans. How many incidents and deaths will it take to change the approach for pedestrian environments to make it as safe as air travel.  If we  add more small obstacles, how much will they spoil the pedestrian environment and sense of freedom.

 

The crazy person in a van problem is only going to get worse with automation and especially connectivity, a remote control car bomb is even easier than a suicide.

This Delft Bollard is a casualty of the Car Wars.

In my view, cars should be in the cages, the people should be free. And then the cages need to be made smaller and smaller.

All urban streets in heavily pedestrian trafficked areas should have bollards or equivalent to keep the cars away from the people. Woonerfs are fine for residential streets, and if people want to encroach on shared space that is also fine, but cars should not encroach on people space. Just as we don’t let cars in most buildings, there should be outdoor public spaces where they are also prohibited.

We don’t need fences or chains like in the photo of Egypt, just lots of posts (trees, bike racks, benches, bus stops, street furniture, planters etc.) that make it impossible for a car to run down the sidewalk or into buildings. This furniture of course should not interfere with the free flowing movement of people, and might require taking lanes from the storage, or even movement, of cars. As with all good urban design, examples of this are in Delft, with some lowerable Bollards to allow service, emergency, and freight vehicles in when needed.

 

Delft defining Pedestrian domain.
Delft, lowerable Bollards on a bridge

 

 

 

 

 

Safety in Numbers: Pedestrian and Bicyclist Activity and Safety in Minneapolis

Recent Report:
AbstractThumbnail
This investigation aims to evaluate whether the Safety in Numbers phenomenon is observable in the midwestern U.S. city of Minneapolis, Minnesota. Safety in Numbers (SIN) refers to the phenomenon that pedestrian safety is positively correlated with increased pedestrian traffic in a given area. Walking and bicycling are increasingly becoming important transportation modes in modern cities. Proper placement of non-motorized facilities and improvements has implications for safety, accessibility, and mode choice, but proper information regarding estimated non-motorized traffic levels is needed to locate areas where investments can have the greatest impact. Assessment of collision risk between automobiles and non-motorized travelers offers a tool that can help inform investments to improve non-motorized traveler safety. Models of non-motorized crash risk typically require detailed historical multimodal crash and traffic volume data, but many cities do not have dense datasets of non-motorized transport flow levels. Methods of estimating pedestrian and bicycle behavior that do not rely heavily on high-resolution count data are applied in this study. Pedestrian and cyclist traffic counts, average automobile traffic, and crash data from the city of Minneapolis are used to build models of crash frequencies at the intersection level as a function of modal traffic inputs. These models determine whether the SIN effect is observable within the available datasets for pedestrians, cyclists, and cars, as well as determine specific locations within Minneapolis where non-motorized travelers experience elevated levels of risk of crashes with automobiles.
Recent publications from this report include:

9 Barriers to Walking in Sydney

I am a pedestrian in Sydney, living in a car-less household, so I have had a few months experience in the pedestrian environment. As nice as walking in Sydney is, walking in Sydney should be nicer. For a city with such high densities of people and shops, such a large number of parks, doors on the street, and gorgeous weather, and such terrible internet service driving people from their homes, walking should be the dominant mode. Yet there are barriers to living the motor-free lifestyle here (and undoubtedly elsewhere). Some that come to mind.

  1. At Broadway, for instance, the Pedestrian is not allowed to cross on this side of the street, and is instead forced to cross two roads (or maybe three) to cross one. Is this really safer, running the pedestrian through more potential vehicle conflict points.
    At Broadway and City Road, for instance, the Pedestrian is not allowed to cross on this side of the street, and is instead forced to cross two roads (or maybe three) to cross one. Is this really safer, running the pedestrian through more potential vehicle conflict points.

    T-Intersections Intentionally missing crosswalk markings (and pedestrian signals) are quite common, especially at T-intersections, where pedestrians might only have markings and a signal on one side. While this undoubtedly makes cars go faster (the presumed purpose for this), it makes the walker’s life more miserable, reducing choice and potentially adding travel time. For longer distance trips, backtracking can be avoided by crossing upstream where the signal is available. For short distance trips, this is inefficient. The largest T-intersection I have encountered where this is an issue is City Road at Broadway, where to get from the east side of City Road to the north side of Broadway (which houses a nice shopping mall) requires crossing both streets instead of just one.

  2. Fences. Walking midblock is strongly discouraged on some roads. Presumably for safety and for traffic flow, but still creating a chaffingly regulated environment for the pedestrian who wants to cross the shopping street.

    A regulated pedestrian environment (Hume Highway in Ashfield)
    A regulated pedestrian environment (Hume Highway in Ashfield)
  3. Obey
    Obey

    OBEY Pedestrians must obey traffic signals or risk getting run over. While almost all of the Pedestrian Actuation (Beg) Buttons work, the phasing of traffic signals is so chaotic as to be nearly unpredictable as to when the pedestrian has right-of-way without a light. The pedestrian phase is extremely, needlessly short, just enough for pedestrians already at the corner when the light changes to make it across on the green walking man, not enough for someone not there, even when the car phases would make it safe for pedestrians to cross. Drivers only look at traffic lights, not for context, so if you are in the crosswalk (marked or otherwise) you will very much risk getting hit (or at least the ire of the driver) if you do not have a green walking man providing moral and legal support. In many cases these are absurd.

    For instance the figure at Thai Tha Hai restaurant.

    I think I can make it across, even if the standing man is red.
    I think I can make it across, even if the standing man is red.
  4. Uneven sidewalks. For a variety of reasons, most sidewalks appear original, although wheelchair curb-cuts have been retrofitted in most places. While roads are periodically resurfaced, the sidewalks, which were likely fairly even when first poured, have unevened with the heave and ho due to poor construction, changing soil conditions, trees, recent construction and the like. Except for the few sidewalks that have been shaved, this leads to tripping hazards. While these hazards are easily identified (send out some interns), it won’t be solved unless someone develops a multi-million dollar robot to ride all the Sydney sidewalks and provide a report, with a large construction contract on the other end.
  5. Shared paths. Many sidewalks are marked as shared paths with bicycles. This isn’t as much of a problem for the pedestrian as it might seem, since so few people bike. That is a problem for other reasons.
  6. Circuity.
    A commute in Sydney
    A commute in Sydney

    Much of the network is circuitous (see [1],[2],[3]), missing links abound. I previously noted the lack of railway crossings, but there are other issues on the street network. I haven’t tested whether this is especially bad here compared to other places, but subjectively it is noticeable. So for instance my trip from home to work more or less as shown in the image could be much straighter than it is, were there a southern/western crossing of the tracks at Redfern station.

  7. Crowding. While pedestrian crowding is not common on most sections of sidewalk, there are times are places where this is a problem. (In the map, the path to and from Redfern Station gets crowded at peak times). Crowding is a problem for several reasons. Pedestrian speeds are slowed to the speed of the slowest traveler, so overtaking is required. The sidewalks are narrow in place, worse on trash collection days, when the rubbish and recycling bins are out. The crowding is especially a shame given the use of space to store empty cars on streets, space that could be reclaimed for more productive human movement.
  8. Lawson St. and Everleigh St. The navigation sign is correct, and there is nominally a shared zone. Spot the mistake.
    Lawson St. and Everleigh St. The navigation sign is correct, and there is nominally a shared zone. Spot the mistake.

    Navigability. While soon our Augmented Reality glasses may make navigation an irrelevancy, in the meantime, I often try to figure out where I am. This requires looking at my phone because there are not street signs visible to pedestrians. The signs are aimed for autos, and on one-way streets for cars (which are still two-way streets for pedestrians), the signs all face the direction the autos are moving.

  9. Fumes and Noise. Cars and especially trucks and buses produce fumes and noise and other externalities that increase the unpleasantness of walking and lower the pedestrian’s expected lifespan. While electrification will eventually do away with both fumes and noise, trucks will be the last surface vehicles to electrify, so this will likely be a feature on the roads for decades. Given the rate of construction in Sydney, many of these are especially large, loud, and polluting construction-related vehicles.

All of that said, there are plenty of nice parts. Some of the best features of walking in Sydney are below:

  • There are some pedestrian only streets (e.g. Kensington, shown)
  • There is a lot of traffic calming within shopping streets and neighborhoods. (The effect of the traffic calming is to push more traffic to the signalized arterials, where it is controlled, but now more congested than it otherwise would be.)
  • Drivers almost always obey the marked crosswalks if a pedestrian is waiting to cross (though what constitutes ‘waiting to cross’ is a bit ambiguous). (They will not yield at unmarked crosswalks unless the pedestrian is in the street, and even then only reluctantly and with ire.)
A pedestrianized street in Chippendale. Kensington Street.
A pedestrianized street in Chippendale. Kensington Street.
A more supportive pedestrian shopping street in Summer Hill, with a pedestrian crossing table.
A more supportive pedestrian shopping street in Summer Hill, with a pedestrian crossing table.

Why Looking at Crash Stats Alone Doesn’t Tell the Whole Story About Pedestrian Safety | Streetsblog

Stephen Miller at Streetsblog writes Why Looking at Crash Stats Alone Doesn’t Tell the Whole Story About Pedestrian Safety: New research from Minneapolis shows that there is safety in numbers for pedestrians.

This map shows the number of crashes involving pedestrians in relation to the number of people who walk at a given location. Via Murphy, Levinson, and Owen

This map shows the number of crashes involving pedestrians in relation to the number of people who walk at a given location. Via Murphy, Levinson, and Owen

Some intersections are riskier to cross than others, but looking at the number of pedestrian injuries alone doesn’t tell the whole story. A new study from Minneapolis combines crash data with pedestrian counts to deliver a more nuanced picture of traffic dangers for people on foot. Among the findings: There’s safety in numbers for pedestrians.

Using data from the city government, University of Minnesota researcher Brendan Murphy and his co-authors looked at 448 intersections where both pedestrian counts and automobile counts were available, then cross-referenced that data with the city’s crash reports. They found a strong negative correlation between the number of pedestrians and the risk of being hit by a car.

While the study found people are less likely to be struck by a driver at locations where lots of people walk, it does not establish causation, Murphy says. “We don’t have good statistical evidence to show that if a place is safe, people will walk — or in the other direction, that if people are walking, they make the place safer,” he says. “I personally think it’s a bit of both.”

Per person, pedestrian-rich areas downtown and near the University of Minnesota pose a low risk for people walking, though they have a high absolute number of pedestrian crashes. Quieter intersections in more residential neighborhoods also pose a lower risk.

A few streets jump off the map as high-risk areas, like Lake Street, which runs east-west across South Minneapolis, and Penn Avenue in North Minneapolis. Both are used by a steady if not enormous number of pedestrians, but are meant first and foremost to move lots of cars. “We can ask, ‘How are those roads designed?’” Murphy says. “They are two lanes each way, no shoulder or bike lane.”

The study looked at all crashes involving pedestrians, not just injuries and fatalities, in order to include enough data points to reach reliable conclusions. It also looked at the stats from 2000 to 2013 in aggregate, rather than year-by-year, so it doesn’t take into account intersection redesigns or major changes like the opening of a light rail line. If there were enough data, Murphy says, “it would be really nice to do a year-by-year analysis.”

The study did not consider the relationship between pedestrian risk and income or race, but the authors say that needs attention. “Equity is a very big problem in terms of pedestrian safety and poor and minority people are getting killed by cars at much higher rates,” Murphy said.

The authors hope their research will lead to better measurements of pedestrian safety and methods to improve it. In 2016, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s four-year strategic plan set a goal of reducing fatalities for pedestrians and cyclists to 0.15 per 100 million vehicle miles traveled by 2016. But that’s the wrong way to look at the problem.

“If we frame pedestrian deaths in terms of VMT, we’re really framing it in terms of automobiles themselves and car traffic,” said Murphy. “We should be focused on reducing pedestrian deaths as a percentage of the pedestrian population.”

There’s also a need for better data collection. Cities and states regularly collect standardized data on car and truck traffic, but there’s no standard for non-motorized users. This data is often collected manually and its reliability varies from city to city. In Minneapolis, three counts throughout the day at each intersection were added together to create a six-hour total. Other cities have different methods.

“Ideally we would like to have our cities wired up and know how many pedestrians are crossing each intersection,” Murphy says. “We need to focus in on the pedestrian population and really ask ourselves, where are they really experiencing undue burdens of risk and what can we do about it?”

Evaluating the Safety In Numbers effect for pedestrians at urban intersections

Recently published:

Average annual 6-hour pedestrian count by location, Minneapolis
Average annual 6-hour pedestrian count by location, Minneapolis

Highlights

  • Collision risk at 448 intersections in the city of Minneapolis, MN was assessed.
  • The Safety In Numbers phenomenon was observed for both pedestrians and cars.
  • Maps of per-pedestrian crash rates inform discussion of safe vs. unsafe city areas.

Abstract

Assessment of collision risk between pedestrians and automobiles offers a powerful and informative tool in urban planning applications, and can be leveraged to inform proper placement of improvements and treatment projects to improve pedestrian safety. Such assessment can be performed using existing datasets of crashes, pedestrian counts, and automobile traffic flows to identify intersections or corridors characterized by elevated collision risks to pedestrians. The Safety In Numbers phenomenon, which refers to the observable effect that pedestrian safety is positively correlated with increased pedestrian traffic in a given area (i.e. that the individual per-pedestrian risk of a collision decreases with additional pedestrians), is a readily observed phenomenon that has been studied previously, though its directional causality is not yet known. A sample of 488 intersections in Minneapolis were analyzed, and statistically-significant log-linear relationships between pedestrian traffic flows and the per-pedestrian crash risk were found, indicating the Safety In Numbers effect. Potential planning applications of this analysis framework towards improving pedestrian safety in urban environments are discussed.

Keywords

  • Pedestrians;
  • Safety;
  • Collisions;
  • Urban planning