Of Course, There Is Another Way to Lower Pedestrian-Vehicle Collisions

Like Commandante Atrios, I don’t play around with my cell phone when I’m a pedestrian, especially in D.C. (which is far more dangerous for pedestrians compared to Boston. Really). But this approach to solve the problem seems doomed to failure (boldface mine):

Pedestrians listening to music, texting, talking or otherwise absorbed in their phones are making themselves more vulnerable by tuning out traffic around them, experts say. While there is little hard data on the problem, safety experts say there is plenty of anecdotal evidence. Many say they think smartphone distractions are at least partly to blame for the number of pedestrian fatalities beginning to rise again in 2010 after years of holding steady or declining slightly….

In the Washington region, pedestrian deaths as a percentage of all traffic fatalities grew from 20 percent in 2005 to 24 percent in 2013, according to the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments….

Allan Williams, a transportation consultant to the governors group and other safety organizations, said data showing the link between cellphone use and pedestrian collisions is limited. He said one study found that distracted walking accounts for about 4 percent of pedestrian injuries….

Safety experts say they’re not trying to cast blame. They note that studies show drivers cause about half of all pedestrian collisions by speeding, running red lights, making illegal turns and blowing through crosswalks. Many also note that more can be done to make roads, particularly wider streets in the suburbs, safer for pedestrians by improving crosswalk markings, installing flashing signals that alert drivers to pedestrians in the road, lowering speed limits, and building raised “refuge island” medians where pedestrians can stop halfway.

Sure, one shouldn’t be a fucking idiot while crossing the street. But guess what? People are always fucking idiots; this is one of the few constants in life. What makes the situation dangerous isn’t the phone, but the car and how fast it’s going. Waiting for the evolution of the New Urban Person is like waiting for Godot–we’re going to be here for a while. Instead of expecting a cultural shift, build a transportation system that is pedestrian-friendly–and, yes, that will come at the expense of drivers.

As I’ve noted before, the issue is how many people should be hit so drivers can get to where they’re going five minutes faster? The problem is rarely phrased that way though. Odd, that….

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7 Responses to Of Course, There Is Another Way to Lower Pedestrian-Vehicle Collisions

  1. Chris Fox says:

    You should see it in Vietnam. The danger isn’t pedestrians, their peril is perennially right-pegged, it’s the drivers. The vehicle of choice here is the motorbike, and often carrying more than one person, e.g. wife and two children, while the driver has cigarette smoke going into his eyes as he texts on a tiny Nokia screen ….

    … as he bursts out of a blind alley into heavy traffic without so much as a glance. The chances of everyone getting killed are in double digit percentages and chalk outlines in the road are everywhere. But, hey, the fortune reader said this would be a good month.

  2. jemand says:

    pretty sure the bigger smartphone risk to pedestrians is not *their own* smart phones but drivers’ phones..

  3. Min says:

    When I first moved to Japan I found the traffic situation in Tokyo terrifying. On the large thoroughfares you would have five cars jockeying for three lanes of traffic. The taxi drivers were like kamikaze wannabees. I remember getting out of the subway and then standing at the crosswalk while cars zipped by. There was not traffic light for the crosswalk. Then a schoolgirl came up, stuck her raised hand out, and stepped into the crosswalk. Cars screeched to a halt to let her cross and I scurried after her. If the crazy drivers in Japan can avoid hitting pedestrians, we can to.

  4. dr2chase says:

    Here, let me help you with that Overton Window. You’re asking for too little — if I can ride my bicycle from home to Kendall Square four minutes faster than the Google estimate for driving that same trip in current conditions (*), why do all those other people with similar commutes need to drive cars? They’re needlessly increasing the risk for everyone around them, they’re making Cambridge and Somerville noisier places, and their traffic jams impede emergency vehicles. They should not just drive more carefully — they should not drive, unless it is really, truly necessary.

    (*) I’m in my 50s, overweight, and ride a 65lb bicycle. Yeah, I’ve got strong legs and a decent CV system — I wonder how that happened, hmmm? I know women about half my size who pedal 90lb box bikes with a couple kids in the front. I’ve hauled people, groceries, lumber, logs, pallets, shrubberies, camping gear, and other bicycles. What people “need” is to get off their ever-fattening asses and unlearn a little physical helplessness.

  5. “pedestrian deaths as a percentage of all traffic fatalities grew from 20 percent in 2005 to 24 percent in 2013”

    What are the actual numbers? Did something happen to make other fatalities decrease, like safer cars (airbags for example)? Lies, damn lies, and statistics — I think they looked for something to support their “conclusion.”

    • dr2chase says:

      Here’s national data, the DC regional data is consistent with it, so I don’t see any reason to suspect it.


      There is a trend of generally decreasing auto fatalities and generally flat pedestrian fatalities, and a pretty steady trend of increasing fraction of the deaths. I re-entered their data in a spreadsheet to see if I could figure out where they got their weird percentages from, but could not.

      year total ped ped/total as %
      2003 42884 4774 11.1%
      2004 42836 4675 10.9%
      2005 43510 4892 11.2%
      2006 42708 4795 11.2%
      2007 41259 4699 11.4%
      2008 37423 4414 11.8%
      2009 33883 4109 12.1%
      2010 32999 4302 13.0%
      2011 32479 4457 13.7%
      2012 33561 4743 14.1%

      So, what data do you have that would lead you to suspect the claimed figures for DC?

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